Exodus 12: The Meal that Teaches Salvation
This session deals with Exodus 12 again, this time focusing on the Passover meal that commemorates the exodus rather than the exodus event itself. It is interesting how meal and event are woven together in the passage, so that at one moment Moses is giving instructions for their last supper in Egypt and preparing them for Yahweh’s coming, and then at another, with no sharp division, the instructions are for how Israel is to celebrate the Passover meal as an annual festival to the LORD (see JEDP: Sources in the Pentateuch for an analysis of the various strands of this narrative). Moses moves back and forth with great fluidity between present last meal and future commemorative meals. This Passover meal is to be annually reenacted from its inception. It is forever to keep the generations of Israel tied to the event of their salvation, the night the LORD passed over them when He struck all the firstborn of Egypt.
The meal itself consisted of roasted lamb or goat, bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. The purpose of the bitter herbs was to remind them of the bitter years of slavery that they suffered in Egypt. Yahweh never wanted them to forget where they had been. The bread was made without yeast because there would be no time to let the dough rise. When Yahweh struck the Egyptians Pharaoh ordered the people to leave Egypt immediately. This is also why the Israelites were to eat with “your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand.” They were to eat in haste because the LORD was about to strike, bringing a decisive end to their time of bondage in Egypt.
Before the lamb or goat was roasted, the Israelites were to drain the blood from it and use a hyssop branch to spread the blood on the doorframes of their homes. The blood would be a sign to Yahweh that Israelites lived in that house, and thus the firstborn of that house would not be struck dead when the Destroyer struck down the firstborn of all the houses of the Egyptians. The blood served as a protective, identifying mark of belonging to Israel.
To be quite honest, this puzzles me. Why did Yahweh need blood on the doorframes of Israelite houses in order to know where the Israelites lived? Yahweh has been making a distinction between the Israelites and the Egyptians without any such help. For example, the Israelites did not suffer from the plagues of the flies, livestock disease, hail, and darkness. If Yahweh could figure out who was who when working those judgments, why the need for blood on doorframes to identify Israelites during this last judgment? Could it be that the sign was more for the Israelites than Yahweh?
In one sense, the slaughter of the lamb and covering of the door posts with its blood was a test of Israel’s faith. Did the Israelites really believe that tonight they would be set free? After all, Yahweh through Moses had already worked nine plagues and still the Israelites were due to report to the brick plant the next morning. Why would this plague have any different results?
And what about what the Egyptians would think and say? The Israelites probably looked crazy covering their doorframes with lamb’s blood. And the Egyptians (and Israelites?) may have even thought that Moses gave up with the sacrifice of all these lambs and goats within Egypt. After all, he had been demanding the release of Israel to go worship Yahweh in the desert. Now it would appear that they have resigned themselves to worship Yahweh there in Egypt. And why worship a god who does not deliver? The whole meal, from smearing blood onto doorframes to eating with your walking stick in hand was an act of tremendous reality-denying, Pharaoh-defying faith.
And what would be the significance of the blood? Staying close to the text of chapter 12 it does not appear to carry any atoning significance. The blood is not covering Israel’s sins, only their doorframes. But it does seem to offset the life that is going to be required of the Egyptian households. Perhaps the blood on the doorframes was a rendering of life to the One who alone has a rightful claim on life. Perhaps this act was a tangible way for Israel to acknowledge Yahweh’s claim on life and to commit their lives to Yahweh.
While I still have questions about the meaning of the blood on the doorframes, verses 14, 17, and 24-26 make one thing clear: this meal is to be celebrated annually from generation to generation as a means of remembering Yahweh’s salvation. In short, the meal teaches the event. Eating the meal every year would teach the event, engraving it deep within Israel’s self-understanding and God-understanding. Eating the meal not only is a reminder of that last supper in Egypt, but it is a re-experiencing of that event. One would taste the slavery as well as sense the expectation. One would know that had it not been for Yahweh life would be unbearably bitter. Eating this meal, re-tasting this event, would also breed hope for the future. Yahweh will save as Yahweh has saved. If the present has become bitter, the meal testifies that there is reason to pray that Yahweh will once again break the chains that bind, remaking life surprisingly sweet.
Who is Israel? Israel is the people liberated from Pharaoh by Yahweh, that they might worship/serve Yahweh. How does Israel teach her children that this is who they are? Every year they eat a meal together called Passover. Israel is the people of the Passover.
Moses gives regulations regarding who may partake of this meal. Only those who are circumcised may participate; that is, only those who are members of the covenant with Abraham. As Moses states it, the issue is not blood descent but covenant membership. An alien or stranger (that is, not a descendent of Abraham) may eat the Passover so long as they have joined the covenant people through the initiation of circumcision. Theoretically, the Passover and the identity of self and God that it offers are open to all, to whoever would be joined with the covenant people.
From a New Testament perspective the church is the true Israel (Rom 9:6f; Gal 3:6-7). The initiation of circumcision has been replaced with the initiation of baptism. One is baptized, rather than circumcised, into the covenant people.
The Lord’s Supper is our Passover. It is the meal that teaches the event of our salvation: God giving His Son Jesus that we might be saved. When we celebrate Communion or Eucharist, we are reminded of the exodus, the God who brings freedom, the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection, and the promise of Christ’s return. The event of our salvation is brought forward into the present. The future of our salvation, the consummation of the Kingdom, is brought backwards into the present. We are called to live true to both events in this in-between time. Like the Passover meal taught Israel, this meal teaches us who we are: a people saved by the mercy of God in Christ Jesus that we might declare His praises. We are a people of the Eucharist.
Even more, this meal, like the Passover did Israel, teaches us who God is. God is the One who loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son, that we might be reconciled to God and one another and receive eternal life. God is the One who alone has a claim on life, and yet offers up His life in the life of His Son, that we might receive life.
How shall we teach our children (and remind ourselves) who we are and who God is? By eating a meal together called the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.