This devotional is about Exodus 11:1-12:21.
The most famous–and costly–of the ten plagues was prophesied to Pharaoh and the people of Israel in today’s readings. God promised, through Moses, that, “Every firstborn son in Egypt will die” (v. 5a). The prophecy was very serious and very specific.
So was the promise of deliverance. In fact, as I read this familiar passage of Scripture today, I was struck by how detailed the instructions were to those who believed God’s word about the firstborn sons. Verses 3-10 detailed specifically what must be done to save your firstborn son’s life:
- The ratio of animals slaughtered to families was specific: one lamb per family (with some exceptions, v. 4) had to be killed and consumed (v. 3).
- The animals slaughtered were specific: They “must be year-old males without defect” (v. 5b) and they could only be sheep or goats (v. 5b).
- The date was specific: “the fourteenth day of the month” (v. 6a)
- The time they were to be slaughtered was specific: “at twilight” (v. 6c).
- The sign of their faith in God was specific: “take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs” (v. 7b).
- The menu for this day was specific: no pizza that night; instead, “they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast” (v. 8).
- The way the lambs were prepared was specific: “Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs” (v. 9).
- The way leftovers were handled was specific: “if some is left till morning, you must burn it” (v. 10).
- The way the meal was eaten was specific: “with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.”
Not one of these requirements had the spiritual or physical power to stop an angel from taking a boy’s life. The commands, though specific, were arbitrary. Death angels are not afraid of sheep blood on door posts or leftovers. But following the Lord’s instructions perfectly was important, for three reasons:
- First, and foremost, the substitutionary sacrifice of the lamb whose blood was placed over the door to one’s home looked forward to Christ’s sacrifice for us as our substitute. Being careless with God’s instructions would cause the symbolism that pointed to Christ to be fuzzy instead of clear.
- Second, obedience to these instructions indicated genuine faith in God and his word. If you really believed that God was going to take the life of the firstborn son of every disobedient family, you would be very careful to do exactly what God said to do.
- Third, these instructions would provide the template for the annual observance of the Passover. They gave Israel a specific way to remember and celebrate God’s deliverance for many generations to come.
Now, what does any of this have to do with us Christians? In a general sense, this passage shows us the importance of paying attention to the specifics of God’s word. But, in a more …uh… specific sense, we don’t observe the Passover as Christians because Christ fulfilled the law on that and every other point.
But remember that the lamb and its blood were mere symbols. They had no inherent spiritual power; they merely demonstrated that someone believed God’s word and pointed toward the sacrifice of Christ. So, in the Christian era, isn’t that a lot like baptism? The water of baptism has no inherent power but those who believe in Jesus will be obedient by following his command to be baptized because water baptism symbolizes important spiritual realities about our identification with Jesus’s death burial and resurrection. The Passover lamb pointed toward the death of Christ; baptism points back to it. Both symbols are evidence of faith in God.
These days, however, some people don’t think baptism is very important. They want to change the meaning of it as a symbol by baptizing babies with a different mode besides immersion. And I’ve met some who profess faith in Christ who have never been baptized and don’t seem to think it is very important.
There is no death angel killing firstborns in this age of grace, thankfully. But isn’t just as important, if we believe God’s word, to follow his detailed instructions carefully? If you’re trusting Christ but have never been baptized, let the example of the Israelites at Passover be your guide. If you have been careless about something else God has instructed Christians to do, think about how carefully Israel followed God’s instructions in this passage.
Then go and do likewise, not because you fear losing your firstborn son, but because you fear and love God and want to keep his commands.