Exodus Lesson 8 - Life or Death At Midnight
Foreshadowing is the literary term for something that happens in a story which points to something that will happen in the future. Exodus 11-12 is an incredible example of this. The Passover points to Jesus' death like few other stories in the Old Testament, so let's join Stephen as he tells us why.
“LIFE OR DEATH . . . AT MIDNIGHT”
(Exodus 11 & 12)
We’re studying through the Bible, a book at the time. We’re in the book of Exodus, as most of you know. Your study notes may be helpful, as you follow along. And we are, this morning, in chapter 11, where the plot thickens. In fact, it climaxes with the final plague. Last week we studied the battle between the gods, as the God, known as Yahweh, the only true God, takes on the Egyptian gods and goddesses and confounds each of them. What a fascinating thing it is to discover that, at the hand of Moses by the power of God, the Egyptian gods are futile, they are impotent, they are silent to death. And he has proven himself and his case and yet, we have noticed that Pharaoh continues to harden his heart. And, of course, the sovereign God is behind the scenes in that account as well. Well, Moses will go back one more time and he will give, what we all know as, the tenth plague. The word “plague,” could be translated “stroke.” This is the final stroke leveled at Egypt, in order that the people of Israel might go free.
Let’s take it up at chapter 11, verse 1. God is speaking with Moses, “One more plague I will bring on Pharaoh and on Egypt; after that he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will surely drive you out from here completely. Speak now in the hearing of the people that each man ask from his neighbor and each woman from her neighbor for articles of silver and articles of gold.” Now this is a little misunderstanding here, if your text may say “borrow,” this is actually an asking that they give them these articles of silver and gold. These will be used one day to construct the tabernacle, as they cover items with gold and silver. You think, is this really fair that they go and manipulate the Egyptians, who are now, perhaps, in terror of them? Well, if you understand that this is nothing more than back wages for 430 years of slavery, you can understand that this is justifiable. They are, in a sense, asking for wages that have been withheld for centuries. And they received their wages, and the Egyptians give it to them because God is motivating their hearts to give. Verse 3, “And the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Furthermore, the man Moses himself” - and this is interesting - “was greatly esteemed in the land of Egypt, both in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people.” - I think, a reference to the Israelites. Well, if you have been studying with us, you know there was a time when they hated Moses. They despised him. They felt like it was Moses who had brought all of these plagues and made their bondage even more difficult. You know, the first three plagues, that affected Egypt, affected Goshen, or the Israelite, as well. And they weren’t too thrilled with Moses’ plan. And yet, Moses was willing enough to stand alone and to do what he knew God wanted him to do. And, ultimately, we see, what we rarely see on planet earth, and that is vindication. That is, these people who once hate him, and people who may reject you, family members or coworkers who may not love you very much because of your position. Not because of your personality, let’s not make a mistake, but because of your stand. If you continue standing alone, maybe there will also come vindication here on earth. We know vindication will come in heaven. And what I find great about this is, that God moves, in such a way, that Moses, who has stood alone for all of these years and, perhaps, for the year that it took the plagues to affect the people, he now is revered and respected by, not only the Egyptian but, the Israelite. It is worth the time standing alone.
Verse 4, “And Moses said, ‘Thus said the Lord,’” - now he’s speaking to Pharaoh - “About midnight I am going out into the midst of Egypt, and all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of the Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the first-born of the slave girl who is behind the millstones;” - that is, grinding the meal - “all the first-born of the cattle as well.” And I want to explain to you, at least briefly, why this was such a horrendous plague. Not just because there was death to the first-born, that is the hideous nature of it, but Yahweh is still taking on the Egyptian polytheistic perversions. And, do you know, in Egypt, the protector of the first-born was supposedly the Pharaoh himself? Pharaoh was the embodiment of the sun god Ra. And what he declared to the people was that he was the protector of the first-born; not only the people but, the cattle. So what God will do in this plague is reveal his impotence, his complete lack of power in the eyes of his people. This will devastate Pharaoh, as well as devastate the land. “Moreover,” - verse 6 - “‘there shall be a great cry in all the land of Egypt, such as there has not been before and such as shall never be again. But against any of the sons of Israel a dog shall not even bark, whether against man or beast, that you may understand how the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. And all these your servants will come down to me and bow themselves before me, saying, ‘Go out, you and all the people who follow you,’ and after that I will go out.’ And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger.”
Let me review. There were four ingredients to this final plague. The first, it will happen around midnight. The second, there will be national death; that is, death to all first-born. And I would take it, from the text, that there will be death to the first-born in the Israelite home, who does not smear blood on the doorposts and lintel of their homes, as we’ll see in a moment. Third, there will be great sorrow. And fourth, there will be an exodus.
So, after he explains all of that to Pharaoh, Moses, in hot anger with righteous indignation, leaves the courtroom. And now, in chapter 12, he will address the people of Israel and prepare them for this exodus. Look at verse 1, “Now the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.’” - which is interesting, there’s a change in calendar. It’s like telling someone in April that now you’re going to act like this is January. Why was that? Because they are now redeemed as a nation. This is a special day and, from their calendar, they view this event as when Israel was, in a sense, born again, made a nation. He says, “I want you to go and” - “Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying” - verse 3 - “On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household.” And this is the ingredient, I believe, of substitution. “Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb. Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight.” - or between the two evenings, that is, at midnight.
Now picture, for a moment, you being there. And you’re, in effect, told that you are to take a lamb. And, I’m sure, there was other revelation given to the Israelite so that they understood that this lamb would be the substitutionary one, this would be the death one, this would be the one who is slain that they might, on the other hand, live. As one individual said it, rather crassly but truthfully, in every home in Egypt that night, there was either a dead lamb or a dead first-born. There was either, in a home, the blood smeared on the lintel or on the doorposts or there was the breathless form of a child or, maybe, an older teenager or young person, the first-born in every home. This was the substitutionary act that they didn’t understand, like you and I understand today. They didn’t have the rest of the picture. They didn’t know what would come later. But, we now know that this is a beautiful picture of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. And there will come a day when we will either experience death or we will stand before God with our hearts bathed in the blood of the Lamb.
There’s another element to the Passover, not only substitution but, there is symbolism. And, I think, I’ve made reference to that. Let’s look at verse 7, as well, “Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel”. Now, coming out of the door of that home, there would be this wall over here and this wall to your left and there would be beams, and they would smear blood on that beam and on this beam and the lintel was the cross-beam directly over the door and they were to put blood there. He’s very explicit in how He gives instructions. “And they shall eat the flesh” - verse 8 - “that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled at all with water, but rather roasted with fire” - fire is the picture, by the way in the Old Testament, of judgment. That is, this lamb went through the judgment so that you wouldn’t have to experience it. Another picture of Christ, obviously. “And” - “you are to eat” - “its legs along with its entrails. And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire.” That is, this lamb is entirely going through the judgment of fire. Note verse 21, “Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said to them, ‘Go and take for yourselves lambs according to your families, and slay the Passover’” - or paschal - “lamb. And you shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin,” - that is, catch some of the blood that drains from this dead animal - “and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and the two doorposts; and none of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning. For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door”.
There is another ingredient and that is, protection. But, in case you have missed it, let me just briefly remind you of some of the symbolic things. And let me just read them for you. And just listen, you couldn’t take this down quick enough. Number one, the sacrifice must be lamb. Christ, in the New Testament, was the Lamb of God. Remember in John, chapter 1, verse 29, John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching and his first declarative word to the nation, as it were, is what? “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Jesus Christ was clearly seen as the paschal Lamb, the “pascha,” the Passover Lamb that would shed His blood so that Israel would be redeemed and the Gentile would be redeemed.
Number two, the lamb must be without spot or blemish. A perfect picture of Jesus Christ, in I Peter, chapter 1, who was “without blemish and . . . spot”.
Number three, the lamb must be in the prime of its existence. That is, a one-year-old lamb that was in the prime of their life. Interestingly enough, Jesus Christ died in the prime of His life, as a man of thirty-three years of age.
Number four, the lamb’s blood is shed that they might have life. In the New Testament, I Peter, chapter 2, and John, chapter 3, as you well know, Christ’s blood was shed that you and I might have life.
No safety, except behind the blood stained doors. They were not to go outside when the death angel came over that land. There was safety only behind the blood stained lintel and doorposts of that home. And, in the New Testament, as well today, there is no safety, according to Mark, chapter 16, except behind the blood of Jesus Christ.
There is incredible significance to this symbolism to this “pascha,” this Passover Lamb, that we see fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But there is also protection. Note verse 23 again, “For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you.” The words “pass over,” in your New Testament translation, are an interesting Hebrew word which, literally means, “to cover with wings.” And I want you to get a little bit different picture than you may have been taught or learned or, perhaps, in your own original studies. That is this, here’s the picture, the picture is, not just that God or Yahweh, let’s refer to Him as Yahweh, not just that Yahweh is passing through the land, it’s not just that; it’s that God sends a death angel, which could be a pre-incarnate Christ or what we call a Christophany. What Yahweh is doing is shielding the home. He is, in a sense, spreading with wings over the home where there is blood. And, as He protects the home, the death angel, perhaps Jesus Christ, goes through the land. What a beautiful picture of security. For the believer who is behind the blood, it’s as if God has spread His wings over your life, you will never fear judgment. When the death angel comes, in Revelation, chapter 19, to send all those who have rejected Christ to the eternal flames of hell, there will be no doubt or fear in your heart, if you are behind the blood. Because Yahweh spreads His wings over you. So imagine, if you can, that night, at midnight. Yahweh, as it were, enveloping the homes with His wings, as it were, where there was bloodshed on the doorposts. And, as the death angel came, there was protection.
And I want you to note the significance. You have heard it, perhaps you know it well, but what the person was like on the inside was not the issue. The issue was, is there blood? Because Yahweh said, “When I see the blood, I will, as it is, pass over you.” We know the hymn. Do we recognize the significance? If an Israelite would poke his head out the window that night, as the death angel came through, and explained to him what a good man he was, he would die. It wasn’t that they were part of Abraham’s seed, it was when God saw blood. It wasn’t that they had been circumcised, it was that God saw blood. I honestly believe, ladies and gentlemen, our hands are full of things, works, deeds. And there are many who believe that, when the death angel comes, they will show them what they have done. God is interested in the Lamb’s blood. In fact, He says, in Revelation, chapter 20, it talks about those who are not written in the Lamb’s book of life are cast into eternal fire. What is God interested in? What you can do? No. Is there blood on the heart? Have you gone to the Lamb and acknowledged Him?
There is also submission, fourthly, and I love this. Verse 24, “And you shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children forever.” Underline “for . . . your children”. It’s interesting, this was not just for them, it was for the next generation. “And it will come about when you enter the land which the Lord will give you, as He has promised, that you shall observe this rite.” - this Passover - “And it will come about when your children will say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ that you shall say, ‘It is a Passover’”. Don’t slough that off. That is the same responsibility for those who have children today. When your children ask you, “What does this mean?” You are to reveal to them the significance and raise up. That’s our responsibility, as a church body, to raise up another generation that understands the scriptures. YAHWEH, TRUTH. So, when your child asks you, “Mommy, Daddy, why do we go to church?” Don’t say, “Because I said so.” Get ready. Explain why. Some of you are looking at me like you want me to tell you why you’re here! I’m not going to. When your child asks you, “Why do we pray before we eat?” Don’t say, “Because we’re different from the dogs and the cats.” Explain the significance why you do these things. Are they rituals or do they have meaning? In our home, we’ve got another kind of problem. Our three and a half year old boys haven’t yet asked, “Why?” The problem we have is, I will pray before a meal and we’re three bites into our meal and one of the boys will say, “Hey, we forgot to pray before we ate.” Has that ever happened to you? You know how unspiritual it feels to tell them, “We prayed.” And they say, “No we haven’t.” “Yes, we have. And I’m not praying again. Eat your food!” You know! They were to explain to their children, “Look, son or daughter, this has tremendous meaning. When we smeared the blood on the doorposts and on the lintel, that was protection, that was God’s plan for our salvation.” We are to express the same to our children. “This is God’s plan.”
Now I know you have heard about the Passover, if you’ve been in Sunday school. You’ve got the thing down pat. You know exactly what happened. And when we come to a chapter like this, it’s one of those chapters that pastors fear because everybody kind of goes, “Oh, hum, I’ve been through this one a half a dozen times.” But I want you to picture, for just a moment, being there. They submitted to this. Imagine hearing, for the first time, this plan. “I want you to kill a lamb. I want you to catch blood in a basin and smear it on the doorposts and on the lintel. And then I want you to roast it.” But, not only that, the text tells us, “You’re to eat with your clothes on. It’s midnight but get out of your pajamas. Get your kids dressed. Take your shoes and put them on.” - which was a very unordinary thing because they took their shoes off when they entered the home. “Eat with your shoes and your clothes on. Take that staff, hold it, men, in your hand, and then eat this roasted lamb. You’re ready to go.” “Where are we going?’’ “Well, you’re going to leave Egypt.” “Is it going to happen immediately?” “Well, we don’t know. There’s no map. Why blood?” All of these questions racing through their mind and the significant thing, men and women, is verse 28, “Then the sons of Israel went and did so; just as the Lord had commanded”. “You want me to smear blood on the doorposts? I’ll do it. You want me to put it on the lintel? I’ll do it. You want me to eat roast lamb at midnight? I’ll do it. Hold my staff, eat with one hand? I’ll obey.” Wow! So, all the kids, and Mom and Dad, and if there is another home without children or a single person, they got together and they formed a group, no larger than ten, and they ate with anticipation. What a picture of the believer! Staff in hand, ready to obey. That’s the significant part of this. Ready to follow.
So the plague arrives on schedule. Look at verse 29, “Now it came about at midnight that the Lord struck all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne” - and, by the way, historians tell us, the archeologists have revealed, interestingly enough, they don’t know the significance of it, we do, that Ramses II oldest son never reigned, the younger son reigned, we know why. It struck, not only that boy but, it struck - “the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of cattle. And Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead. Then he called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, ‘Rise up,’” - there are five imperatives in these two verses, the first is “Rise up” - “get out from among my people, both you and the sons of Israel; and go, worship the Lord, as you have said. Take both your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and go, and bless me also.” It’s as if Pharaoh says, “Go! Go! Just go!” The wailing could be heard through Egypt. Why? Because they had been given warning. They had been told, “If you would smear blood, you would be saved, too, when the death angel comes.” They said, “We have our gods. And Pharaoh, the embodiment of the sun god, he is the protector of the first-born.” And so, they did not surrender and there was great death.
In light of that tragedy, it’s hard to rejoice. But the last part of the chapter gives us the second result and that is, liberty. Verse 33, “And the Egyptians urged the people, to send them out of the land in haste, for they said, ‘We shall all be dead.’ So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls bound up in the clothes on their shoulders.” They’re just packing this stuff together as quickly as they can do it. “Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing” - verse 37 - “Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children.” - and women - “And a mixed multitude also went up with them” - verse 41 - “And it came about at the end of four hundred and thirty years, to the very day, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It is a night to be observed for the Lord for having brought them out from the land of Egypt; this night is for the Lord, to be observed by all the sons of Israel”. What a night!
Can you go back, in your thinking, to a night or a day or an afternoon, you may not remember the day, I don’t, but I can remember the night when I knelt beside my bed, all alone, upstairs in that little room and I said, “Lord Jesus,” - as an eighteen-year-old - “I surrender my life to you.” Unsure of my salvation, unsure if I was part of the family, I said, “It’s time to stop the battle.” Perhaps, you can go back, in your own thinking, and remember a time, maybe on a college campus or in the cafeteria of some corporation or in your home with your parents, wherever but, can you go back to some time when you have been redeemed? Not a time when you turned over a new leaf or you started becoming a moral person but, a time when you applied the blood of the Lamb on the doorposts of your heart. I fear for people who may stand before God one day with hands full of good things, good deeds, morality, integrity, church. The problem is, my friend, the heavenly home is reserved for people whose names are in the Lamb’s book of life. How do you get into the Lamb’s book of life? By applying the blood of the Lamb. I John, chapter 1, verse 7, says, “the blood of Jesus . . . cleanses us from all sin.” It is acknowledging Him as your Savior.
There are a lot of things to be learned from this. Let me draw the strings two ways. First of all, for the believer, obedience marks the lifestyle of faith. Can you imagine more than two million people in the early morning hours? The women, they run and they take the dough from bread they planned to make and they just wrap it in clothing, they put it over their shoulder and they head out of Egypt. Two million! I heard one individual’s comment, it’s rather earthy but, how do you handle the sanitation problems for two million people? Where’s the next meal coming from? What do we wear? God says, “Go!” We’re just going. Man, that is the lifestyle of faith. Willing to change, to move, to follow, whatever it may be. I see dust being kicked up by two million people dancing all their way out of Egypt. Although, in their hearts, they’re probably wondering, “Why?” I think Moses was probably the one who was weighed down with the thoughts, “Lord, where’s breakfast?” But obedience, as seen of them, marks the lifestyle of faith.
For the unbeliever, if you’ve never trusted Jesus Christ, surrender marks the beginning of life. Just try, for a moment, my friend, to think of the logic behind the Passover. There is none. There is none except in the genius of God’s mind as He devised the plan. All of the things would not make sense. “You mean that I will be saved by blood; the blood of the lamb? That doesn’t make sense! Why don’t I begin to imitate the character of a lamb? Meek. Why don’t we just put a lamb on the doorstep? That’s unmistakable.” “No. Kill it. Apply the blood.” Why is it, in the New Testament, that God’s plan is so reversed, according to our human logic, that He says, “I don’t want you to do anything. I just want you to take the blood of the Lamb.” It doesn’t make sense. Where’s the logic? And yet, that’s the plan of God. He sent His Son to die and shed His blood and, by accepting that sacrifice as our way into heaven, we can also be saved.
I read, this past week again, the story of John Wilkes Booth, who you know assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Not many people know what happened after that. I love history and, in my readings, came across that story. But, John Wilkes Booth joined up with his co-conspirator and they headed out of Washington. Well, 2,000 soldiers galloped out of Washington after them. They knew, basically, where they were headed. Finally, a detachment of 25 soldiers, along with two detectives, tracked them down. And they were hiding out in a plantation, in a tobacco barn that was filled with tobacco leaves and hay. Now, Stanton had ordered that these men be kept alive. So, they were hoping that they would surrender. Booth was fairly determined to fight his way out. But his companion, by the name of Harold, decided to surrender and so, there through the slats of the barn door, he held out his hands. And the soldiers, who had now surrounded the barn, manacled him and drug him out and tied him to a tree. The story is recorded that he began to babble his innocence, delirious, knowing that he would be hanged, until they finally said, “Be quiet or we’ll gag you.” Then they centered their thoughts on Booth, who was still in that barn with all of the soldiers surrounding it. Finally, one of the lieutenants, Lieutenant Doherty(?), decided the best way to do it would be to smoke the quarry out with fire. And so, he had one of the soldiers make a straw rope and lit it and threw it into the barn. And it lit fire on the hay there, and the tobacco leaves instantly became a blaze of fire. And Booth, it said, leaned toward the slats of the barn door to get away from the flames. But one soldier noticed he had raised his shoulder, he was struggling with a crutch, trying to raise his carbine with the other, as if to fire. And this soldier impulsively, against orders, raised his and fired and the bullet struck Booth in the back of the head. And he slumped forward and they drug him out to escape the flames. The story tells that they drug him up, finally, onto the porch of the home. It seemed he was dead but they dashed water on his face and his lips began to move. They all leaned forward to hear what this dying man would say. He said, “Tell my mother I thought that I was doing the best that I could do.” And then he asked the soldiers to raise his paralyzed arms so that he could view his hands. And history records that his last words, as he looked at his hands, were the words, “Useless. Useless.” Two hours after Corbit(?) shot and struck Booth in the head, as the sun was rising, John Booth died.
My friends, salvation, for you, will begin when you view your hands and say the words, “Everything that I do to gain salvation, all of the works, all of the acts are useless, useless.” THAT is surrender to the plan of God who, in His divine counsel, had a Lamb, we know as Jesus Christ, die, go through the fire of judgment, so that our acceptance of Him and His shed blood would give us eternal life. As a believer, do you have that obedient mark where you are willing to move if God says? If you don’t know Christ, would you accept Him today? Let’s pray.
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