(An Excerpt from Portraits of Christ (from the Epistle to the Hebrews), a Bible Study by Connie Cook)
(From Hebrews 11:28 and Exodus 12)
“Faith led Moses to establish the Passover and spread the blood on the doorposts so that the destroying angel would not kill the firstborn sons” (Hebrews 11:28).
Let’s start our look at the Passover today with the character Exodus 12:23 calls “the destroyer” as he is one of the key players.
It seems to me, from hearing this story told in Sunday School as a child, that “the destroyer” was always called “the death angel.” From that title, I had gleaned the notion that “the destroyer” was one of God’s angels. It seemed to me that God was the one who went through the land of Egypt and killed all the firstborn not protected by the blood of a lamb. From Exodus, I can see where I gleaned that notion.
From Exodus 12:12-13, 23, and 29, God states clearly that He would be responsible for the slaying of the firstborn of Egypt.
The idea of God being responsible for the deaths of all the firstborn — children, adults, animals — presents a few mental hurdles we need to get over in order to understand this account properly.
The first mental hurdle to, er, hurdle is the necessity of death. The first fact we need to grasp is that no one lives forever. Because sin entered the world, because we’ve all sinned, we all will die one day.
And I’m grateful for it. Who could want to live forever with this imperfection — in a world of genocides and war and child abuse and hatred and greed and oppression and pain and sorrow? Who wants to live forever here when there’s a perfect reality waiting just around death’s corner? I’ve come to realize that, because of sin, we all must die. It was the only merciful solution once sin infected the world.
The next mental hurdle to be overcome is the realization that God is the one who has the right to decide when life should end. While the killing of the innocent (relatively innocent, I mean) is a great wrong when any human performs that act, God is well within His rights to decide when is the proper time for any death to happen. Everyone dies someday. It’s up to God to decide when that day is. He made my body and my soul. It’s up to Him to choose when the two will go their separate ways.
If He chose that the lives of millions of firstborn in the land of Egypt should end on the night of the first Passover, well, all those lives would have ended in the not-too-distant future, anyway (like, seventy years or so in the future. A short time in terms of eternity). It was His call to make.
Then, the third mental hurdle to get over is seeing the respective roles of God and the one Exodus calls “the destroyer.” Although God said repeatedly that He would be the one responsible for the deaths of the unprotected firstborn, I believe Exodus 12:23 makes it clear that it was the one called “the destroyer” who was directly responsible. This verse changes the entire picture I had of the Passover as a child. It was “the destroyer” who would strike the firstborn. God was responsible for who died and who didn’t simply because He was in charge of allowing or not allowing the destroyer into the house.
It was God who struck the Egyptian firstborn (as stated in Exodus 12:12-13, 23, and 29), but He used an instrument to do the striking. And that instrument was “the destroyer.”
“The destroyer” is not one of God’s angels. God’s nature is essentially creative, not destructive. He is responsible for the destruction that goes on in our world because Satan (whose nature is now essentially destructive) is still answerable to God. Satan can do nothing that God refuses to him. But the destruction belongs to him as God allows it to him.
The book of Job gives us this kind of a behind-the-scenes peek. Satan was directly responsible for the havoc wreaked on Job and his family. Yet at the end of the book, God came along and seemed quite willing to accept responsibility. And that’s because He was responsible. He is the one in ultimate control. Satan can only act according to his destructive nature by God’s permission. Yet God gives permission and uses Satan’s destruction only insofar as He can turn it to some good and loving purpose.
But for what good and loving purpose did God allow Satan to destroy the firstborn in Egypt?
I can see a few, obvious answers: For the purpose of freeing His people, His firstborn. Then, for the purpose of showing Pharaoh, the Egyptians, and the rest of the world who is really God in order for the world to have the opportunity of knowing Him. And for the purpose of encapsulating, in a moment of time, an object lesson that would illustrate the central event of our history that had been planned from all eternity past — that decisive battle in the cosmic war fought over our universe.
Let me share something with you that I learned about the Hebrew word for “pass over.” I learned that the Hebrew word translated “pass over” in Exodus 12:23 is “pasach,” and it can carry the meaning, not only of passing over (as in, skipping over), but it can also be translated, “to halt.”
For years, I held the picture in my mind of God seeing the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and skipping over the house. He “passed” it “over” for destruction and didn’t go in to kill the firstborn. But when I think of “pasach” as “to halt,” I begin to get an entirely different picture of the Passover.
What happens if we substitute the word “halt” in Exodus 12:23 for the words “pass over.”
“The LORD will go throughout Egypt to kill the Egyptians. When he sees the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe, he will [HALT] over that doorway, and he will not let the destroyer come into your house to kill you.”
Notice the wording of Exodus 12:23. Over what part of the house would the Lord “halt”?
Right! The doorway!
This new picture of mine lends such meaning to, what had always seemed to me to be, the random and arbitrary placement of the lamb’s blood on the two doorposts and on the crosspiece running horizontally along the top of the door (or the lintel). There was nothing random and arbitrary about it. There was enormous meaning in the location of the lamb’s blood.
This is the new understanding I now hold of what really happened at that first Passover:
God and His enemy went together through the land of Egypt to strike down the firstborn of all those who were the rightful property of God’s enemy. This included everyone in the land. Since the beginning of human history, each human inevitably, for a time, chooses to obey God’s enemy, thereby making Satan master. Humanity has sold itself into Satan’s service. And hard service — slavery — is Satan’s service. Satan has the right to do as he wills with his property, and he wills to enslave and destroy.
Satan is only capable of destroying, and that was what he roamed throughout the land of Egypt that fateful night to do. Destroy the firstborn of all those who had sold themselves to him.
Yet God wasn’t willing to see it happen. He wanted to buy back — redeem — a people for Himself. His firstborn, Israel.
In Exodus 4:22-23, there’s a “life for a life,” a “firstborn for a firstborn,” kind of a situation happening. If Pharaoh refused to give God back His firstborn, then God would require the life of Pharaoh’s firstborn in exchange.
But there was another exchange that had to happen first. The people God had chosen as His firstborn had sold themselves (very cheaply — for promises of a freedom that turned into slavery) into Satan’s service. God had chosen a people for His firstborn, but they were the property of His enemy.
Yet God had another Firstborn — His first Firstborn. One who is the Firstborn from all eternity.
As God and Satan passed through the land of Egypt on that Passover night, God had given Satan access to all the firstborn — all those who were Satan’s own to do with as he wished. But the problem was, that number included absolutely everyone. And God wasn’t content with that state of affairs. So God arranged a signal with His people. He arranged for any who were willing to come over to His side, any who were tired of slavery and ready to serve God again, to signal their decision by painting blood on their doorposts and lintels. By the “sprinkling of blood,” a household claimed for itself the protection that God had promised to all who obeyed — the protection of the blood of a lamb.
It’s where the faith of Hebrews 11:28 comes in. It was a very simple act, but it was the acknowledgement back of it of who is really God that made it an act of faith.
Now, an interesting speculation occurs to me: What if an Egyptian had noticed what the Israelites were up to? What if an Egyptian had said to himself, “I don’t know what’s about to go down. All I know is that Pharaoh and our gods are helpless against this Israelite God, and it sure looks like something else is about to happen. I don’t know why these crazy Israelites are painting blood on their doors, but maybe … just in case, I’ll do the same thing”? What would have happened to that Egyptian’s household? Exodus 12:23 says that when God saw the blood on the door, He would pass over it. Period.
I imagine if any Egyptians had been clever enough to copy their Israelite neighbours (through fear of the Israelite God) their firstborn would have been protected. 2 Peter 3:9 makes it plain that God is not willing that any should perish.
At any rate, to return to our reenactment of the first Passover, God and Satan went together throughout the land of Egypt, and Satan was allowed to enter any household and slay any firstborn who belonged to him. But when they came to a house with the blood painted on the doorposts and the lintel, God “passed over” the door. Not the house. But the door. He halted before that door. In fact, He passed Himself over the door. He barred Satan’s way. He matched His hands to the bloody patches on the doorposts. He put His head up against the bloody spot on the lintel. He took up a “you-shall-not-pass-this-threshold” stance.
Satan had the right to the firstborn of those inside. There could be no question about it. All the inhabitants of all the houses had sold themselves willingly to Satan for no other sum than the sum of all the destruction Satan could heap on them. But God was determined that any who were willing should be bought back by Him. At the cost of His own blood. His own life.
The lamb’s blood was only a symbol. It wasn’t really any ordinary old lamb’s blood painted there on the doorposts and the lintel. It was the blood of the Lamb of God.
Those who painted the blood on their doors were simply asking God for His protection from the destroyer. They were admitting that they’d had enough of Satan and His slavery and destruction. They were asking to be rescued. And God will never turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to any who paint His blood on their doors to ask Him for rescue. For those who say to Him, “Okay, I give in. I’m willing for You to save me,” there’s nothing He won’t do. He’s proved it.
It wasn’t only a “you-shall-not-pass-this-threshold” stance that God took with Satan. On the cross, it was a “do-with-me-what-you-will” stance. He opened Himself up to the worst the destroyer could do to Him, rather than let Satan get at his own rightful property. There was another exchange of firstborns. He redeemed back His firstborn, His people, at the cost of His true Firstborn — who was God Himself.
It was Satan’s right to destroy his own property, all those who had sold themselves into his service. Yet God gave Himself in exchange, to buy back a people for Himself. It was His own bloodied head and bloodied hands that left the bloody marks on the cross which the bloody marks on the doorposts and the lintel represented.
What a picture that first Passover paints of the kind of God to whom we are privileged to belong!
Have you painted His Lamb’s blood on your own “doorposts” and “lintel”? Have you turned to Him for rescue from the destroyer? Then, there’s nothing He wouldn’t do to rescue you. Do you believe it?