(Some Thoughts on the Passover)
J. Alec Motyer
Reading: Exodus 12
THERE are times when the Old Testament provides a remarkable visual aid to the New. The New Testament gives a section of particular instruction, where all things are brought into their proper focus. There are true statements in clear, crisp reality, the fourfold portrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels, amplified in explanation after explanation, as the apostolic letters unfold the reality of Jesus before us. But in case we should miss what all this is saying to us, God has prefaced the accounts of Jesus with a book full of pictures in the Old Testament. Of them all [86/87] I think that perhaps the story of the Passover is outstanding. By means of it God addresses our eyes with pictures, vivid clear pictures. As we are blessed with His mercy of clarity of vision, we can enjoy this preview of the Lord Jesus Christ, this picture beforehand of what Jesus was to be and to do afterwards.
I would like to consider the story of the Passover lamb under four headings: Satisfaction, Security, Substitution and Salvation. These words, whose alliteration is quite accidental, sum up four great spiritual ideas: Satisfaction — the Godward idea; Security — the manward idea; Substitution — the explanatory idea; and Salvation — the resultant or consequent idea.
“And the Lord said unto Moses, Yet one plague more will I bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out altogether” (Exodus 11:1). The people of God had been slaves in Egypt, descending into increasing bondage, but God had remembered His covenant and determined on their release. He sent Moses, and put into His servant’s power a sequence of divine visitations upon the land of Egypt. He forewarned Moses, however, that there would be no salvation for the people of God, but only an increasing bondage until, at last, things would come to a head in one plague more, one final divine visitation which would be the climax and, in measure, the solution of the whole problem. This verse shows how God alerted Moses to the fact that the climactic hour had now come. The series of visitations in which there was no salvation had ended, and the moment had come which was going to draw a line across history. More than that, it was going to draw a line across people and across the acts of God. It would mark the great division; one side of which would reveal the acts of God in which there is no deliverance, while on the other side would be the act of God which delivers. The first side would be one of bondage; the other side freedom. And this would not just be the opportunity to choose freedom, not a potential freedom, not a freedom of the will-you-wont-you variety, not an invitation but the reality of actual liberation. “He shall surely thrust you out altogether.” This greatest act of God was going to accomplish liberty for His people. The Israelites would not merely find an open door, enabling them to exercise the choice of whether or not they would go out, but would find themselves thrust out from bondage into liberty.
There is the further contrast between those who lie under the just judgment of God and those who are liberated from those just judgments. On the one hand the Egyptians, and on the other the people of God; on the one hand the visitation of wrath and on the other a visitation of mercy. And that is the essence of what the Passover is all about. It was an act of God which drew that line and made evident those who were in bondage under wrath and those who were liberated and mercifully saved from wrath.
It is against that background that we take up the first word, Satisfaction. God spoke to Moses, saying: “For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both men and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord” (v.12). We note that God is a smiting God. This, I suppose, is a highly unpalatable idea of God to us. Which only shows that we have been failing to bind our minds to the revelation which God gives of Himself in the Scriptures. He affirms that He is a God of judgment, a God who brings visitations of wrath upon those who persistently reject His Word. We should observe, however, that it was not without warning and not without justification that God so acted at this time. This is the reason behind the whole story of the plagues. Through them God gave warning of the impending judgment over and over again. By these preliminary minor strokes He made it plain that His Word and His call are not to be toyed with. Plague after plague gave warning and notice that God is a God of judgment. And when the nine-fold call of God had been nine times rejected, then God came with warning and with justification to smite the land of Egypt.
So the Passover night was a night of divine judgment. But it was a judgment which apparently applied equally to all, for the verse informs us that God proposed to smite “all the firstborn in the land of Egypt”. He did not say that He would only smite Egyptians, but spoke of all the firstborn. So now we begin to see that in principle it is the whole world which is represented in this story, both the world of Israel and the world of the Gentiles, which is the world in which we live. God comes into that entire scene and over the [87/88] whole earth He spreads the one word of judgment. I will smite all the firstborn! None is exempt. The firstborn of the Israelites was as much threatened as were the firstborn of the Egyptians and the firstborn of Pharaoh.
But the God of wrath had provided a place of mercy: “I am the Lord. But the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you” (v.13). Notice what God did notsay, in order better to appreciate what He did say. He did not say: ‘When I see you, I will pass over you’, for that would have been an exercise of favouritism, and there is no partiality or prejudice with this God. He did not say: ‘Whenever I see an Israelite, I will pass over him’. It was not nationality which was satisfying God on that night, nor was it privilege, but it was the sight of shed blood which marked the houses. “When I see the blood …”. It was the sight of the blood which marked the homes where men were which somehow satisfied God. Throughout the land of Egypt there were houses marked with blood, and God had said that when He passed them and saw such marks there would be no plague of destruction on them. That is what I mean by the word Satisfaction. That blood was something which satisfied God. He came in wrath but somehow the wrath was taken away so that He had no quarrel with the people in those blood-marked houses.
This will be a familiar thought to those who are used to the old Communion Service in the Church of England Prayer Book. Think of these words which ring in the communicant’s ears: “the Lord Jesus Christ made there (i.e. at Calvary) by His one oblation of Himself once offered, a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation andsatisfaction …”. Who is satisfied? My dear friends that satisfaction reaches right up to God, and the God of just anger against sin is satisfied. The Bible word for this is ‘propitiation’, and although we do not normally use this word in everyday life we all know what it means to seek to appease or placate someone who is angry with us. For the Israelites propitiation was centred in the blood of a Passover Lamb. For us Jesus is the Lamb, and so far as we are concerned His blood reaches upwards to God Himself, taking away His wrath and leaving Him truly satisfied.
“And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where you are: and when I see the blood I will pass over you and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you …” (v.13). The people of God were to take a bunch of hyssop, a tufty plant which made an admirable brush, and to use it to paint the blood around their doors. By this means they were promised security from the destroyer. Surely this must go down into history as one of its most dramatic scenes. Our visual aid is a vivid one. There is the slaying of the lamb outside of the house; there is the collecting in a basin of that blood, the outward and visible sign that a life had been laid down; there is the taking of the blood and the smearing of it around the door; and then there is the father of the house making it his business to usher his whole household in beneath the sheltering blood. You can see him conducting all the family, the firstborn, the older children, the younger children and the mother with her baby in her arms into the blood-sheltered house and then shutting the door. And the Word of God told them to stay there, to stay where the blood had been shed, for while they were there the destroyer would not touch them.
This, then, is the issue of security. Who are God’s people? How would you have known them on that night in the land of Egypt? Not by their looks or words. Not by their belonging to anything. That had nothing to do with it. How would you know them? You would find them sheltering beneath the blood of the lamb. They had deliberately and by their own volition gone into the place where the blood had been shed. That is how you always know God’s people. They are personally sheltering under the blood of God’s Passover Lamb. God said: ‘Go there, and stay there’! Do not just go and take notice of the blood and then be about your business. No, Go there, and stay there, for it is only when you are there and while you stay there that you are safe. What is more, you will there have fellowship with God. This blood which reaches up to heaven in satisfaction and spreads its influence out over those who find their security under it, is the basis for living fellowship with God.
We ask what is the secret contained in this blood of the lamb whereby it can satisfy God and keep the people in security. How does it do it? And once again we have recourse to our visual aid. “And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants, and all the Egyptians, and there [88/89] was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead” (v.30). The aftermath of God’s visitation in the land of Egypt was that there was not a house in which there was not one dead. Now in the first instance this refers to the houses of the Egyptians, for the judgment of God was upon those who were outside of the blood. It had taken a disastrous form and every house in the land had been transformed into a house of mourning. In every Egyptian house something dreadful which would make the heart of any parent tremble had taken place. So there was a great cry in Egypt. But come with me into the houses of the Israelites and see that there also one lies dead.
In the Israelites’ home the body which we see is not that of the firstborn, but it is the body of a lamb. For when the lamb was killed outside the house and its blood daubed, the corpse was carried inside the house in order that it might be the food and sustenance of the people of God. So in every house there was one dead. In the houses of the Egyptians it was the firstborn, while in Israel it was the lamb. The blood of the lamb had its extraordinary power because it was the blood of the substitute. The firstborn of Israel lived because of the death of the lamb. This is what the story tells us in its plain statement. Listen again to the injunction: “In the tenth day of the month they shall take to them every man a lamb … a lamb for a household … according to the number of the souls” (vv.3 & 4). That is to say there was an accountedness. The question was, How many are there in your house? What size lamb will be needed to provide sufficiently for that number of persons? The verse goes on to say: “… according to every man’s eating …”. So there was a second count taken, not only according to the number but according to the need, according to every man’s capacity to eat. So that the lamb was as far as possible to be the exact measure of the number and of the need of the people of God. And the regulation was given that if any of the lamb remained over until the morning it was to be consumed there and then. Why? Because the function of the lamb was to match the number and the need of the people of God.
If you are mathematically minded you may object that since in the judgment upon the Egyptians it was only the firstborn who died, there is a discrepancy in suggesting that all the Israelites were delivered by substitution. If so, listen again to God’s Word; this time when He was sending Moses back to Egypt on his great mission of deliverance: “And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, my first born” (4:22). So when we speak of the firstborn we are talking of the whole people. The lamb had the measure of that people when the one died, for it died in another’s place and the people of God, God’s firstborn, lived on secure because of that one death.
In Christ we have the one who measured our number and our need, and laid down His life in our place. This is what Jesus taught when He said: “The Son of man came not to be ministered to but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many”. If you think that Jesus is first and foremost the object of your service, and that by serving Him you will earn acceptance with God, then you contradict Him when He affirmed: “… not to be ministered to …”. No, it is He who does the ministering, giving His life as a ransom to be the substitute, taking the place of sinful men.
“Thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand: and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord’s passover” (v.11).
Those who shelter beneath the blood of the lamb are made at that moment the possessors of salvation. It is not just set before them as a potential blessing, a will-you-wont-you invitation, but an immediate experience. One more look at our visual aid will help us to appreciate this. Look how they had to eat. They were eating last thing at night, but they were dressed as though it were first thing in the morning. They were eating at bedtime, but they were all ready for the new day. Why? Because to shelter beneath the blood and to feed on the lamb committed them to a life of pilgrimage. They must be off with God. They are God’s people; they have been purchased by precious blood. They belong to the Lord now, and they must be off on their way, for they have been called to walk with Him.
Does my message find you on this holy pilgrimage? Have you come to rely on the certainty of a satisfied God? Are you restfully enjoying the complete security of the shed blood of the Lamb? Does the glorious gospel reality[89/90] of the Saviour-Substitute liberate you from all bondage and find you feasting on the Lamb and girded for your onward march towards God’s goal? Do you find yourself thrust out — not by some Pharaoh but by the Spirit of the living God? There should be no room for doubt or uncertainty. Could we return to that dramatic Passover night in Egypt we would not find a single soul there who would answer this challenge by saying: ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I think so’. Everyone knew without a shadow of doubt whether or not they were sheltering under the blood of the lamb. If they were not, then there was no security and no salvation for them. But if they were, then they were not only safe but liberated — thrust out with the onward marching people of God. This is what it means that Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us. “Wherefore let us keep the feast.”