The Passover

(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?

 

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Genesis 11

(An Excerpt from Portraits of Christ (from the Epistle to the Hebrews), a Bible Study by Connie Cook)

After the flood of Noah’s day, the next big event in the history of the world as told by Genesis is a happening called “the tower of Babel.”  We’ll need to touch down on this story before we can land on Abraham’s because the story of the tower of Babel sets the stage for the story of the beginning of the nation of Israel (which story was the story of Abraham’s life).  The tower of Babel comes in at the start of Genesis 11, right before Abraham comes in.

The “tower of Babel” was more than a tower.  It was a city and a tower (Gen. 11:4-5).  That’s an important fact to know because the reincarnation of the city of “Babel” becomes very important again later on in biblical history.  In fact, it becomes iconic.  And I believe the reason for its “iconic-ness” was the reason for the building of the tower and the city.

The people of Babel desired to build a tower “whose top may reach unto heaven” in order, a) to make a name for themselves and in order, b) to keep from being “scattered” all over the earth.

Funny thing!  As to their second motive, God had commanded them to scatter.  He issued this command to Noah and his descendants in Genesis 9:1:  “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.”  Humanity was meant to spread out and fill the earth.  Pretty hard to fill the earth if all of earth’s population has decided to cluster in one spot and to build a city large enough for that purpose.

Genesis 11:8 comments that God “scattered” the people abroad over the face of the whole earth.  When humanity disobeyed His command to fill the earth, He made sure they “scattered” one way or another.  We’ll discuss His means of “scattering” briefly in a moment.

It’s the a) motive I’d like us to concentrate most of our attention on today.  The builders of Babel wanted to make a name for themselves.  In other words, they were interested in self-glorification.

When I was much younger and learning this story in Sunday School, I had the idea that the goal of the builders was to build a tower tall enough to reach heaven — as in, God’s perfect home.  Even as a child, I thought it was a ridiculous idea.  (I suppose I’d had a little education on the immensity of outer space.)  Wherever God’s heaven happens to be, no one could build a tower that tall, I reasoned.

Reading the story as an adult, I now have a better understanding of the “heaven” in Genesis 11:4.  It’s an old English word which simply means “sky” in this context.  The builders of Babel wanted to build the first skyscraper.  In their tower-building, they weren’t thinking about God and His heaven at all.

The motives behind the building of Babel were ones of self-glorification and disobedience.  The motives behind Babel were the same motives behind eating the fruit of the tree that became the tree of death.  That fruit was the fruit of independence from God.  Self-first.  The fruit of the tree of life was the fruit of dependence on God.  Faith.  And here, in Genesis 11:1-9, is humanity, galloping down the same, old, well-trodden pathway of “flesh.”

Because of the motives for its building, Babel became a Scriptural icon of the way of the “flesh.”  It became iconic as the city, the nation, and the people of pride.  Self-worship.  Independence from God.  The city of Babel was eventually reborn as the city and nation of Babylon.

As I was thinking about writing today about the tower of Babel and the iconic city of Babylon, my thoughts turned instantly to Isaiah 14 — a passage descriptive of Satan’s fall through pride and self-glorification.  Isaiah 14 is addressed to “the king of Babylon” (v. 4).  That title as applied to Satan makes good sense when we understand what Babylon came to represent in the Bible.

My thoughts also simultaneously turned to the book of Revelation and “Babylon the Great” (at least, “Babylon” thought it was) (Rev. 17-18).  Again, I believe a major reason the name “Babylon” is given to the city and regime of the “man of sin” is because of Babylon’s representation of the pathway of pride.

When it comes to the city/tower of Babel as iconic of spiritual truth, I was not far off the mark in my childhood understanding, thinking the builders of Babel were attempting to reach heaven all on their own.  Contrary to the desire to build a tower to God’s heaven, though, I believe the desire behind the tower of Babel was the desire for total independence from God.  Humanity thought it could be its own god and make its own heaven.  That is the still the direction most take who attempt towers of Babel.  There are still those (astonishingly! Given the facts of human history!) who believe that we can create our own utopias on earth; that being our own gods will make a utopia of this earth.  Like Satan learned, that kind of effort is only building a skyscraper to hell.  Any striving to unseat God from His throne would turn into the foulest nightmare if it could be realized.  Thank God it never can!  He proved it in Genesis 11.

There are fewer and fewer who believe in God’s heaven at all, but there are still some, believing in  God’s heaven, who take the route of thinking they can make it to God’s heaven by their own efforts of goodness.  This is another form of the tower of Babel.  We have to understand that any attempt to reach heaven that exalts self, thereby debasing God, can never lead to heaven.

Can you see the foolishness of trying to reach God while ignoring what He has to say on the subject of how He can be reached?  In fact, He does want to be reached.  But He can only be reached on His own initiative.  Unless heaven reached down to us, we could never reach up to heaven.

Back to the literal Babel, if God had let humanity go on in its natural course, the world would shortly have found its way back to the state it was in in the days of Noah.  With their unity of language, God saw that, “…nothing will be restrained from them…”  (Gen. 11:6).  Whatever they chose to do they would do.  But God had promised Noah never to destroy the earth again (by water).  At Babel, God found a gentler, less extreme, but equally effective method of stopping humanity in its wayward tracks.

From Genesis 11:7, it seems that God created the seeds of all the nations of the world by creating the seeds of all the different languages.  Then, He supernaturally separated people into language groups and so “scattered” them, dividing them through language.

The next thing we see from Genesis is God, busy doing His creating work of separating out for Himself a special nation; calling one of those nations created at the tower of Babel to be His own people.  And that nation would also be iconic — iconic of the people of faith.

He had (and has) an inheritance for that nation, Hebrews 11:8 and Genesis 12:1-7 tell us.  But that inheritance is claimed only through faith.  We’ll see more of it a little later on.

The end of Genesis 11 may look like verse after verse of irrelevant detail.  Not so!  What I’d like us to notice today from the end of Genesis 11 is something that struck me just recently — the method God used to guide Abram.  A method He often employs in His guidance of me.

Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot (the son of Haran), and his daughter-in-law Sarai, wife of his son Abram.  They set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan.  When they came as far as Haran, they stayed there” (Gen. 11:31).

Compare this verse with Hebrews 11:8: “Faith enabled Abraham to obey when God called him to go to a place that he would receive as an inheritance.  Abraham left his own country without knowing where he was going.”

When I first noticed Genesis 11:31 — really noticed it, possibly for the first time ever — I recognized God’s method of guidance instantly from my own experience.  God led Abram without telling him exactly where he was going.  Hebrews 11:8 is very clear on that point.  Boy, do I recognize that method!

The meaning I find in Genesis 11:31 is this: Abram and his family were already on their way to Canaan.  We’re not told why.  But it was the direction in which they had been moving.  In Genesis 12:1-3, when God spoke to Abram to call him to a land that He would show him, Abram’s family had already been travelling toward it.  Putting together Genesis 11:31 with Hebrews 11:8 and the information that Abram had no idea where he was going when he set out gives me this picture of God’s guidance:

God:  “Abram, get moving, and I’ll bring you to a land I’m going to give you.”

Abram:  “Uh, okay.  Which way?”

God: (silence).

Abram:  “Hmm!  Well, Dad was taking us off to Canaan.  The only thing I know is that I’m not supposed to go back to Ur.  Canaan’s in the opposite direction.  Uh, God?  Should I just keep moving forward in the direction of Canaan, then?”

God: (silence).

I suppose I visualize Abram’s calling in this way, having experienced this method of God’s guidance so  regularly myself.  Here’s a little sampling of the way God often guides me:

Me:  “Lord, You know I want to do Your will in this situation.  Just not sure what it is.  Any thoughts on the matter?”

God: (silence).

Me:  “Okay, then.  Well, I was thinking of doing such-and-such.  It was kind of the direction I was heading already.  Any thoughts on the matter?”

God: (silence).

Me:  “Okay, Lord.  I guess I’ll go ahead with such-and-such, then.  You’ll stop me if it’s the wrong way, right?”

God: (silence).

He is the God who speaks.  It’s one of the first characteristics of His that we need to know.  All the same, He doesn’t talk just to fill airtime.  He speaks when He has something to say that we need to hear.

Terah was already leading Abram and co. off to Canaan-land.  God had already been guiding Terah, probably unbeknownst to Terah.  All God needed to do was get Abram on the hoof again.  He didn’t need to change his direction.

In Genesis 12:6-7, we read of God speaking to Abram again — this time in Shechem in Canaan.  God says (in effect), “Look around!  This is it!  You’re here.”  I looked up Shechem on a map.  It’s pretty much right smack-dab in the middle of the land of Israel.  How long had Abram been wandering around in his promised inheritance before God let him know he was in the right place?  Probably for some little time.

To finish off my scenario of God’s guidance in my life, I’ll sometimes find myself in a situation that resulted from a decision made weeks, months, or years earlier, after seeking God’s leading and hearing only His silence.  But in the middle of the later situation, then I’ll hear God’s voice.  “Look around!  This is it!  You’re here.  I didn’t need to speak to you earlier.  I knew you’d go the way I had planned all along.  Whether you can see it or not, I will always guide the one seeking to go My way.”

Why does God seem to delight in leading us through the midst of uncertainty and silence?  I think there can only be one answer:  He leads us on the pathway of faith.  And what is faith?

Here are three definitions for you, hinted at in the book of Hebrews:  Faith is the sight that sees the unseen.  Faith is believing that God is who He is and that He rewards the diligent seeker.  Faith is dependence on God.

It’s that last definition particularly that I see through God’s method of guidance in Abram’s life (and mine).  He delights in leading us through uncertainty, in the midst of silence, because He delights in growing our faith.  It is of vital importance to Him that we learn total dependence on Him.  (“For we walk by faith, not sight,” (2 Cor. 5:7) is a verse we’re going to see acted out a lot in the Christian life.)

Yet faith in God is never gullibility.  It’s never blind faith.  It’s the lack of faith that is blindness.  But there is certainly an aspect to the walk of faith that feels to us as though we’re stumbling along blindly.  Faith is not blind, but the walk of faith often leads us through dark places.  We can’t see where we’re going; all we can see is the One leading us, step-by-step.  And He often seems to be veiled in a thick fog.

Now.  I want to tie God’s leading in Abram’s life back into the city/tower of Babel.  We walk by faith, not sight.  We walk by the sight that sees the unseen.  The way of faith is the way of dependence on God.  Conversely, then, the way of the flesh is the way of dependence on the visible and dependence on self.

Israel started off as a tiny, invisible nation.  Very invisible.  The people of Babel were all about the visible.  The very visible.

The children of Abraham go out, not seeing where they’re going.  The Babel-ites build cities so they don’t have to go anywhere.  Certainly not anywhere they can’t see or understand.

When God started forming His little, fledgling nation — iconic of the faith-pathway — He began with Abram “…not knowing whither he went…”  Perhaps it was the only way God could start off a faith-nation.  All this has great relevance to us.  We must know that God’s people will and must encounter a whole lot of walking by faith, not sight.  God’s leading will often mean a great deal of uncertainty that teaches us dependence on Him.  The only way to claim our inheritance is by faith.  Not sight.

One more thought, and then we’re done.  I need to get Psalm 127:1 in here somewhere because it seems to me that, “Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it…” has to come somewhere into a post about the city and tower of Babel.

True enough!  If God doesn’t want a house (or tower) built, it just, plain doesn’t get built.  (God is the Builder of everything, as we learn from Hebrews 3:4.)  If God doesn’t keep a city, the watchmen can’t keep it.  But if God does build a house, it stays built.  Even the gates of hell have no power against it (Matthew 16:18).  Hasn’t the little nation of Israel proven the truth of it time and again?

The way of the flesh and the visible looks safe and sound.  The way of faith looks scary and uncertain.  But the visible gives poor security for our deposit.  Faith is the only way of safety and security.