LCN Article
Lessons from the First Passover

March / April 2000

John H. Ogwyn (1949-2005)

The events of the last two and a half centuries had been incredible. It all began about 1704BC when the 17-year-old son of Jacob and Rachel had been sold into slavery by his older brothers. Motivated by resentment and jealousy, they sold Joseph to Midianite slave traders who transported him to Egypt. Over the course of the next 20 years, events took an astounding turn. Young Joseph rose from being a slave to being the number two ruler of Egypt, right under Pharaoh himself.

The Pharaoh under whom Joseph achieved such prominence was from the newly arrived Hyksos dynasty. The Hyksos were Semites, a similar people to the family of Jacob. When a famine gripped all of the surrounding countries, Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt to buy grain and came face to face with the brother whom they believed was probably dead. By 1682BC, Jacob and his entire family of about 70 people came into Egypt. The Hyksos rulers, also known as the Shepherd Kings, showed Jacob’s family of Hebrew shepherds great favor and provided them with land in Goshen, near the delta, to live and to raise their flocks.

For the next century or so things went very well for the family of Jacob. Their numbers multiplied and they were treated well. Just over 40 years after Joseph’s death in 1611BC, the Hyksos were overthrown and expelled from Egypt by Dynasty XVIII of Thebes. The incoming ruler, Amose, is described as a Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph.” He began systematically to oppress the burgeoning Israelite nation. By the time of Moses’ birth, 44 years after the Hyksos expulsion, Israel had been reduced to the status of slaves. In fact, for a period of time, Pharaoh even sought to have all of the Israelite boy babies killed at birth in order to slow down their rapid population growth.

It was in this context that his parents, to protect him from death, hid the baby Moses. Pharaoh’s daughter, Hatshepsut, discovered him in a basket in the edge of the Nile. Reared as a Prince of Egypt in the court of Thutmose I and Thutmose II, Moses achieved prominence. All the while, the condition of the people of Israel worsened further.

By the age of 40, Moses had made a decision to reject his Egyptian identity and to acknowledge his kinship with the people of God. Forced to flee Egypt, he remained in the Sinai desert for the next 40 years, most of that time watching the sheep of his father-in-law, Jethro. At the age of 80, the LORD manifested Himself to Moses through a burning bush, and sent him back to Egypt to begin his real life’s work.

When Moses arrived back in Egypt, Thutmose III, who had sought his life, was dead and Amenhotep II was on the throne. The people of Israel had been ground down through several generations of slavery and had lost all hope. It was in this context, with a people who were in despair on the one hand, and an Egyptian ruler filled with pride on the other, that Moses was expected to accomplish a great work.

The subsequent events, which marked the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery and their journey toward Sinai to enter into a special covenant relationship with God, are the events of the first Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread. These festivals, introduced when Israel was still in Egypt, mark the introduction of God’s great plan of redemption and salvation. Contained in the circumstances surrounding the first Passover observance by Israel are many lessons for the people of God today. We will examine seven of those lessons.

We Cannot Save Ourselves

Life was overwhelming and it appeared that nothing could be done. Egypt was at its height as a major power and Israel was a disarmed, dispirited slave people. These were the circumstances in which God sent Moses to Pharaoh with the message of “Let My people go!” Pharaoh saw no reason why he should do such a thing and so God began to show him! Plague after plague was visited upon the land of Egypt, striking at everything in which they felt pride and confidence.

The tenth and final plague promised to be the most overwhelming of all. The LORD decreed that in one night the He would pass through the entire land of Egypt and every firstborn male in the land, both of people and animals, would be struck dead. Death was coming surely and inexorably. There was only one way of escape. That way was for the people of Israel to take yearling lambs and at dusk, when the 14 day of the first month began, each household was to slay its lamb. The father in each home was to put the blood on the doorposts and the lamb was to be roasted and eaten during the evening.

Only those who were dwelling under the blood of the lamb would be “passed over” by the LORD and spared from death. The people could not protect themselves. Only the blood of the lamb, shed in their stead, could save them.

Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 5:7 that Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. God commended His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). The first lesson we learn from the Passover is the impossibility of protecting ourselves from death, which is the consequence of sin. God took the initiative by providing the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Only by His blood can we be justified; made innocent, before God.

Resist Compromise

God did not spare His people from death so they could remain in Egypt as slaves. He wanted them to leave Egypt behind and come to serve Him. When Moses first went to Pharaoh with the request to let the Israelites go, he flatly refused. However, after several plagues, Pharaoh tried to strike a compromise.

First, Pharaoh suggested that rather than leaving Egypt, why did not Israel simply sacrifice to their God in the land (Exodus 8:25). This would never do, Moses said, because God’s commands were contrary to the customs and practices of the Egyptians. They must come all the way out of Egypt in order to serve God properly. A vital lesson for all of God’s people is the realization that God has called us to leave this world, with its ways and customs, behind us.

After yet more plagues, Pharaoh finally agreed to let the people leave Egypt. However, he insisted, only the adults could go. The children must stay behind. Moses flatly refused to compromise. Israel was not prepared to sacrifice its children to Pharaoh. God’s people must not abandon their children to the world around.

Finally, after three days of darkness throughout the land, Pharaoh once again called for Moses. All of your people can go, he told them, but leave the herds behind. “Not a hoof shall be left behind,” Moses declared (Exodus 10:26). There is never room to compromise regarding our response to God’s calling. We simply cannot serve God on the devil’s terms! “the good old days.” In truth, those days had not been very good, but memory can sometimes be quite selective.

Israel’s greatest problem, after leaving Egypt, was expressed by Stephen in Acts 7:39. Even though their feet left the land behind, in their hearts they turned back again! Israel had not ever truly forsaken Egypt in their hearts and this was reflected in a variety of incidents.

What about Christians today? The essence of the meaning of the Festival of Unleavened Bread is that God has called us to forsake the ways and values of this ungodly world. We are supposed to be engaged in a journey. Do we look back at the world that we have ostensibly forsaken and desire to hold on to it? The true answer to this question is reflected in the way we live. As men, does materialism govern your lives, or are you centered on the Work of God and on building godly lives and families? As women, do you reflect the modesty and true femininity that God values, or the decadent ways of a sensual and God-rejecting society? In order to achieve our calling and reach our destination, we must forsake Egypt in our hearts and not look back.

The Author and Finisher of Our Faith

Why does the Feast of Unleavened Bread have two holy days—one at the beginning and one at the end? The seven-day Feast of Tabernacles has only one holy day, which is at the beginning. Remember, the eighth day, the Last Great Day, is a completely separate festival.

The answer is perhaps most clearly stated in Hebrews 12, where we are told that Jesus Christ is both the Author and the Finisher of our faith. It took a miracle of God to start Israel on their journey out of Egypt, and it took another miracle, that of the Red Sea, to get them completely out of Egypt. Our successful completion of the journey out of sin, spiritual Egypt, will be accomplished only through the power of our Savior.

We need His help not only to start our journey, but also to sustain and finish it. The Passover season reminds us of our need for salvation and deliverance. It also reminds us that these are not objectives that we can accomplish by our own strength or might. We have One who goes before us in order to guarantee our success.

The theme of the Passover season is redemption and deliverance. God takes the initiative and we must respond. However, our human efforts will never be enough, and God knows that before we even start. We should learn lessons from Israel’s example in how to properly respond to God’s incredible love and mercy. The most important of these lessons is to not ever forget to look to the Author and Finisher of our faith. We must put our total confidence in Him, if we are to succeed in leaving Egypt behind and coming to the mountain of God.