Exodus 12:1-12:36 On The Lam’

Standard
time of firsts… provides a lamb… perfection… blood… personal… forever… discipline… catechism… follows through… gives in… blessing… time to leave… urgency… bargaining chip… reversal… conquerors

Exodus 12:1-12:36

And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month [shall be] unto you the beginning of months: it [shall be] the first month of the year to you.

In some ways, it feels like the whole book has been leading up to this moment, a time of firsts (ri’shown) and beginnings (ro’sh).

Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth [day] of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of [their] fathers, a lamb for an house:

In the house (bayith) of slavery, under a sentence of death, God provides a lamb (seh) — as promised. He even makes explicit provision for those who can’t afford a lamb:

And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take [it] according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb.

The idea of sinless perfection (tamiym) is also introduced:

Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take [it] out from the sheep, or from the goats:

Interestingly, the lamb stays with them from the 10th until the 14th; perhaps to give the family time to bond with it before the synchronized slaughter (shachat):

And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.

The primary goal of this presumably being the blood (dam):

And they shall take of the blood, and strike [it] on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.

Though the flesh (basar) also plays a major role:

And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; [and] with bitter [herbs] they shall eat it.

Each detail seems rich with significance, even now at the very first passover (pecach):

Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast [with] fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof. And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. And 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.

I wonder how much of this is command (prescription) versus prophecy (description). Certainly the next section is descriptive in nature:

For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I [am] the LORD.

Well, that certainly supports the hypothesis that the various plagues were judgment (shephet) against specific Egyptian gods (‘elohiym). But this time, its personal (b@kowr).

In contrast to the earlier plagues (negeph) where the infestations were universal, and the latter where Goshen got a free pass, this time the Israelites have to actively invoke protection:

And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye [are]: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy [you], when I smite the land of Egypt.

I suspect that such a progression is rather common. We start out suffering, then at some point God sovereignly heals/protects us, but eventually we have to start taking responsibility — though not by our own power. And it is usually only after we invest ourselves in the process that we truly remember (zikrown):

And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.

Forever (`owlam) is a long time, no matter how you translate it. And the penalties for forgetting are rather severe:

Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.

I suppose a certain amount of discipline is essential in order to ensure continuity. As is being set apart (qodesh) for a shared experience (miqra’):

And in the first day [there shall be] an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save [that] which every man must eat, that only may be done of you.

Having the day (yowm) off probably also helps perpetuate (`owlam) the observance (shamar):

And ye shall observe [the feast of] unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever.

This adds another week of ritual for the bread, in addition to the four for the lamb:

In the first [month], on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even. Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land. Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall ye eat unleavened bread.

Again, this is pretty serious stuff. Moses faithfully relates the instructions, at least the part about the lamb:

Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said unto them, Draw out and take you a lamb according to your families, and kill the passover.

with a special emphasis on passing it down:

And ye shall observe this thing for an ordinance to thee and to thy sons for ever.

Even to the point of a formal catechism:

And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It [is] the sacrifice of the LORD’S passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped.

Apparently Moses made his point well, since the people obeyed (`asah):

And the children of Israel went away, and did as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so did they.

as in fact they do to this day. Now that’s perpetual!

For His part, God follows through, presumably on the 14th:

And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that [was] in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

This finally gets through to Pharaoh:

And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for [there was] not a house where [there was] not one dead.

Who finally gives in:

And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, [and] get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as ye have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also.

He gives them everything they’d asked for (dabar), then makes a curious request for a blessing (barak). What’s up with that? This isn’t like one of the plagues where he’s asking for it to stop. Is he asking for comfort in his sorrow? Unlikely. Perhaps he just wants Moses to speak/think well of him, and not call down any more curses.

Pharoah isn’t the only one who thinks it is time for them to leave:

And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We [be] all dead [men].

Another odd phrase; perhaps they too feared further cursing. Their urgency (chazaq) leads to haste (mahar), which explains the unleavened bread (batsaq):

And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneadingtroughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders.

This origin implies to me that the ritualized description earlier in the chapter was God telling Moses what would happen; alternatively. perhaps it is a later formalization inserted here for explanation’s sake.

In addition to furnishing a persistent ritual, the eagerness of the Egyptians to send the Israelites on their way is a useful bargaining chip:

And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them [such things as they required]. And they spoiled the Egyptians.

Its a curious reversal of fortunes: from not wanting to release them (for free) the Egyptians actually pay (nathan) them to leave. Rather than sneaking out as convicts, they are sent forth as conquerors.

Perhaps God really did know what He was doing all along.

Prayer

God, I want to believe in your freedom. Teach me to obey, and sacrifice, and pass your word on, even as it has been passed on to me these countless generations. Grant me the courage and patience to persist in hoping, though at times it seems the oppression only gets worse. May I survive to see your glory, and obtain freedom not as an escaped slave, but as one who is more than a conqueror. Through Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title alludes both to the sacrificial lamb and being on the lam.

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