The land had become a mess! It all began with the disaster in the Nile. The sacred Nile, lifeblood of a desert land…the river itself had become as blood. Fish died. They stank. The river stank. The land stank. Day after stinking day!
But a volcano could have caused this disaster. The ash spewing out of the earth could have polluted the river. Run-off from the red, red soil up river simply made the water look and feel and smell like blood.
It’s no wonder, then, that frogs began to fill the land. They were driven from the stinking river to find clean water. But far from that river these frogs began to die. Great heaps and piles of dead frogs. The land really began to stink then!
So, of course, gnats and flies would appear in such a foul landscape. And with them came disease. So no wonder the cattle began to die and boils appeared on the skin of the people. It was a dreadfully stinking time to be an Egyptian.
The debris scattered from a volcano rained down on the land, and it seemed to be like flaming hail, destroying the crops. Suddenly locust swarms filled the land. Their appearance is bad enough any time, but after all of these disasters, it was devastating. Why the sky itself was darkened. Smoke and ash of a volcano could make it seem like night in the middle of the day!
But the king held fast. He acted tough in these tough times. Pharaoh remained strong against the noisy slaves who were trying to use these disasters as an advantage to getting themselves free. But Pharaoh will see the nation through. The gods will certainly not abandon!
In fact, Pharaoh had drawn a line in the sand. He said to those chief troublemakers, Moses and Aaron, 10:28, “Get away from me; take care never to see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die!”
Strong words! A great leader! But what was that curious reply from the rabble-rousers? V29, “Moses said, ‘As you say! I will not see your face again.’” Was that a threat? Or are they giving up this whole freedom nonsense?
Here is where we see what it means to live by faith. Faith is not the same as “seeing whatever you want to see” or “believing whatever you want to believe.” What sort of faith is that? As Martin Luther once wrote, “Faith makes both God and an idol…. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.”
In other words, it’s not our faith which saves us. It’s God who saves us…and our faith relies, depends, trusts, believes Him. So here in Exodus, as also in our own day, there is enough going wrong to leave any sane person confused. What does it all mean?
Faith, then, does not simply believe whatever it wants to be true. Faith believes God and what God has said. And what God has said to the Israelites is this: “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.” That is what God has said. And no matter what is happening in the land, no matter how messy it has become, no matter how many different ways it can be explained, faith holds fast to what God has said. Because things are about to get even stranger!
11:1, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely.” “One more,” God says, and it will be full and final. So much so that Pharaoh will not simply “let” Israel go. He will drive them away from his land. But it will take the unspeakable horror of one last plague.
In v4 Moses continues his speech to Pharaoh that had ended chapter 10. Pharaoh had said, “On the day you see my face you shall die.” And Moses had replied, “I will see your face no more.” And here in v4 he goes on to say why. “Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle [the word “cattle” implies all the livestock]. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever shall be again.” Moses concludes, v8, “‘And all these your servants [your own servants, Pharaoh] shall come down to me and bow down to me, saying, “Get out, you and all the people who follow you.” And after that I will go out.’ And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger.”
Moses is hot with anger. Perhaps it’s because the man is now stretched so thin by all that God has expected of him, he’s ready to explode. Perhaps his anger is directed at Pharaoh, whose hard-heartedness has brought events to this cataclysmic point. Perhaps Moses is angry at God, who could and would do such a violence.
Or perhaps…it is all of the above and more. Because at this point, Moses sounds a lot like Jesus facing the cross. In St. John’s Gospel Jesus had said of the cross, “Now My heart is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour…. Now is the judgment of this world. Now the prince of this world will be cast down. But I, when I am lifted up, will draw all people to Myself.”
Judgment and redemption in one act. A prince cast down. God’s man lifted up. That’s Jesus on the cross. Moses in Exodus. But there will be blood! There will be blood. With God, however, the blood is both judgment and redemption at the very same time. A lamb will die. Judgment for one. Salvation for another.
Because God now undertakes a new thing. 12:1, “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.’” It is a new year, an Easter that dawns now for Israel as Egypt prepares to die.
V3 “…take a lamb for a household… v5, “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old…” v6, “And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.” The lambs of God must die so that the people may live.
V7, “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.” V11, “In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. You shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.”
In other words, the Israelites are being called to act in faith. By putting that blood on their doorposts they are publicly announcing that they side with Moses against Pharaoh. They are putting their necks on the line in faith that this is indeed the moment of their exodus. But will it turn out to be an exodus of death, from a vengeful Pharaoh, or will it be an exodus of life from a redeeming God? It is a test of their faith in what God has said.
V12, God now announces, “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt…” V13, “The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”
“Now is the judgment of this world,” Jesus had said. “Now will the ruler of this world be cast down. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” So in the Sacrament we eat His body, this Lamb of God, and we drink His blood, His blood marking the doorposts of our soul.
And like Israel, it is for us an act of faith, for we do not yet see fully our own exodus. Yet by our Holy Meal we mark ourselves against the world, against the principalities and powers of this fallen age. Because of this Lamb of God and His blood, we live our lives in faith as a marked people…against the world…and for God. It’s no wonder, then, that the world today says to faith the same thing as Egypt did to Israel: “Get out! Go away!”
But soon enough…it is finished. V29, “At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt…” V30, “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 someone was not dead.”
The Bible doesn’t say how many died. But given the suddenness of that much death, it must have been an unspeakable horror! “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” But in the cries of woe, in the mess of death, faith sees it’s redemption!
V31, “Then [Pharaoh] summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, ‘Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone! …and bless me also.”
A day of darkness. God brings down. And God lifts up. It is Israel’s Good Friday. The lamb is slain. And by death comes life. By judgment comes freedom. And we know where all of this will take us! As Luther teaches us to sing at Easter: “Here our true Paschal Lamb we see; Whom God so freely gave us; He died on the accursed tree—so strong His love—to save us. See, His blood now marks our door; Faith points to it; death passes o’er, And Satan cannot harm us. Alleluia!” For if the Son has set us free, we shall be free indeed!