Luke Ijaz continues from his last post on the Passover.
All the gods of Egypt have been judged (12:12) – including Pharaoh, at the cost of his firstborn (12:29). If Jesus were providing the commentary, he may well say: “No-one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house” (Mark 3:27). Jesus had now robbed Egypt of one of its most valuable possessions. The health of Egypt’s economy was tied to this slave labour force! Now the Israelites are to be led away and Pharaoh – and every other authority in Egypt – is powerless to stop them.
“During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go…” Pharaoh is resigned to the reality of the moment as he tells the Israelites to “go”. His lapse will not last long (14:5). But for this moment Pharaoh and all Egypt will be pleased to see the backs of the Israelites. They have become “the smell of death” (2 Corinthians 2:24-25).
But the LORD had promised to make the Egyptians “favourably disposed towards this people” so that they would not leave Egypt empty-handed (3:21). The articles of silver and gold and clothing that were now handed over: each of these would be vital in the construction of the tabernacle. Without these articles there would be no tabernacle! How then could they worship the LORD?
We are told that the Israelites “plundered” the Egyptians. It was not theft because those who were “favourably disposed” gave these materials willingly. The treasures and possessions that we like to consider our own – these things are only ever given to us in trust by the LORD God. He reserves the right to recall them at his leisure, and when we fail to steward them well. In Egypt this silver and gold and clothing was being put to no godly use. But for the Israelites, these very same items were to be made available in service and worship to their God (35:4-9, 29). Though some, sadly, would be squandered in funding idolatry (32:2-4).
To “plunder” is a strong word. But here are we not glimpsing something bigger still? These provisions that the Israelites carried with them out of Egypt – even as they headed into the wilderness – speak to us of a down payment of yet greater riches and provisions to come, when they reached their inheritance. Are not all those in Christ one day to inherit (even plunder) the whole earth?
We notice something interesting about this mass of people who (literally) choose to follow Jesus out of Egypt. They are not monochrome! There is an ethnic diversity represented in this very first group of people called to follow the LORD. And judging by the huge numbers of Israelites (12:37), to speak of “many other people” (12:38) joining them would suggest a large minority. Egyptians almost certainly; maybe others – we are not told. This corrects that common misconception that Israel was defined along merely ethnic lines: as though Israel were in some way ethnically bound, even ethnically restrictive. But you did not have to be a native Israelite to be counted in.
True, this is a long way from the post-Pentecost explosion in which all cultural boundaries came down and the gospel was propelled out to every culture. But at this time – when cultural boundaries were first being put in place – these never formed a barrier to the inclusion of people not biologically related to Abraham. Anyone could turn to the LORD and take upon themselves Israel’s cultural distinctives – and so join a people that were modelling something totally counter to every other culture.
It was the experience of the Passover that united this collection of people on the road from Rameses to Succoth. Whatever allegiance to Egypt they may have felt – whether enforced through slavery, or given through birth – the allegiance of this people was now to the LORD God. The Passover had worked that change in their lives. The Passover would continue to define who they were as a people. The whole community were to celebrate it (12:47) – annually. They were never to lose sight of where they came from – and who got them there.
The Firstborn – the only begotten Son of God – would one day be cut off from his Father and die as a bloody sacrifice, in our place. On that basis we can be counted among the LORD’s people. Every male born in Israel was given a very real (prophetic?) reminder of that ‘cutting off’: circumcision. What about those (men) who wanted in? Then they would have to undergo the same (12:44, 48-49). You probably would not choose to join Israel on a whim, without really thinking this through. Circumcision would deflect the half-hearted! But for those who had glimpsed something of that greater Passover, what was this little cut in comparison? It would be a welcome reminder to you that another has paid in blood so that you need never be cut off and never will be cut off.
“I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God” (6:9).