SERIES: Exodus: Moses, God’s Man for the Hour
The Night Nobody Slept[i]
SPEAKER: Michael P. Andrus
Introduction: Imagine you’re an Egyptian mother living about 1400 years before Christ. You retire one night not too long after the sun goes down, as Middle Eastern families generally do, but you’re awakened suddenly in the middle of the night by the sound of your ten-year-old son struggling for breath. It’s not hard to hear since your house has only one room, and you rush to his side only to hear a gut-wrenching last gasp as he dies right in your arms.
The whole household is awakened by your screams, and your husband runs down the street to find a doctor. But he hears cries of anguish coming from the neighbors’ homes as well, and families start pouring into the street—each with a horror story about their eldest son dying in the middle of the night. You’re experiencing the most tragic night in the 5,000-year history of Egypt. The tenth plague has fallen, as Moses, the leader of the Israelites, predicted it would.
Rumors are flying that the King, whose palace has also been struck with death, has summoned Moses and Aaron in the middle of the night. No one knows if they will be summarily executed or what. There is a certain awe and respect among your friends for these two Israelite leaders; in fact, for all the Israelites. You know in your heart that they have been terribly mistreated, and you know also that they have an unexplainable power behind them. This God they talk about—Yahweh—seems so much more powerful than any of the gods you worship.
Soon some Israelites who live not far from you come walking down your street. You and your neighbors gather around them and ask, “What does this mean? Has death not struck your homes too?” The Hebrews tell you that no one has died among them and explain it by a strange account of a sacrifice made in each Jewish home the night before. They also indicate that Pharaoh has just ordered them out of the country that very night. They have come to request silver and gold and clothes for their trip. Partly out of fear and partly out of a collective sense of guilt you and your neighbors all go into your houses and bring out jewels and money and clothes and say to the Israelites, “Please take these and don’t return or we will all die. May your God bless you and help you to reach your homeland safely.” They accept the goods and bid you farewell.
Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? Yes, but that is essentially the account we have in Exodus 11 and 12. The first three points of my message this morning are historical and we will cover them relatively quickly. The last point is theological, and we will focus more of our attention there. It is essential, however, that we not skip the history, because the Christian faith is firmly grounded in historical fact. The reason we can count on God’s salvation in eternity is because He is the same God who intervened in human time and history to save His people. That deliverance did not come without cost, however. The wrath and judgment of God first had to be revealed before Pharaoh would let them go. That wrath culminated in the tenth and final plague,
The death of the firstborn
Let’s read the 11th chapter of Exodus:
Now the Lord had said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. 2 Tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbors for articles of silver and gold.” 3 (The Lord made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.)
4 So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. 5 Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. 6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. 7 But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8 All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.” Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh.
9 The Lord had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.
The threat Moses delivered that the firstborn in every Egyptian home would die is a threat that Pharaoh should have taken seriously, especially considering the previous nine plagues that had come upon him at Moses’ word. But unbelief can be an astounding thing when a man’s heart is hardened against God. Instead of granting Moses’ final request to go, I rather suspect Pharaoh increased the secret service protection for his eldest son. It did no good, however, for the fulfillment of the threat is found in 12:29-30.
The fulfillment (12:29-30). “At midnight (apparently several weeks after the threat was made) the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.”
One can only imagine the sorrow and grief and even panic that must have filled all of Egypt that night. Not a single home was spared, but all the Israelites were spared. Why? Because of the death of the lamb. Let’s read chapter 12 through the 13th verse:
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
The death of the lamb
There are seven different factors I want us to notice regarding this event.
Timing (12:1-2). While God didn’t warn Pharaoh when the Angel of Death would strike, He did warn the Israelites. It would be on the fourteenth day of the month Nisan, and so important was this event that they were now to change their calendar so Nisan would be the first month of their year.
Selection (3-5). A lamb or a goat was to be selected by each household, or a very small household could go in with their neighbors. The selection needed to be done carefully, for the animal had to be a year old and without defect. This was to prevent anyone from choosing an old sick animal that was going to die anyway. God’s purpose was to teach the people that sin is costly, and a sacrifice that didn’t cost something would not be a real sacrifice at all.
Examination (6). The lamb was to be chosen on the tenth of the month and brought into the home but not sacrificed until the fourteenth. That interval allowed them to be sure the animal was healthy and also enabled the family to become personally acquainted with the animal. The children, for example, undoubtedly played with it and probably became somewhat attached to it. All of this heightened the price of the animal’s death.
Sacrifice (6). The killing of the animal, according to verse 6, was to take place at twilight, probably between 3 and 4 in the afternoon by Hebrew reckoning. It was to be done by cutting the animal’s throat and allowing its blood to fill a basin.
Application (7). The blood of the animal was to be applied to the sides and tops of the door frames of their houses. Now stop for a minute and put yourself back into one of those families. Would you be tempted to say, “What in the world is this for? Sprinkling blood on the door frames? What good is that possibly going to do?” I suppose many of the Israelites had similar thoughts, but thankfully they had second thoughts—memories of God’s goodness in sparing them from the first nine plagues. I like F. B. Meyer’s description of the faith of Moses and, by extension, of the Israelites at this point:
“It is a glorious thing for men and angels to see a faith which, with no outward appearance to warrant it, will yet step out on a path of literal obedience, though there seems nothing but thin air to tread upon. It seemed so utterly extraordinary for such a thing to be, as the deliverance of his people, because blood happened to be sprinkled on the outside of their doors. There was no precedent; no apparent reason to justify such a thing to ordinary common-sense; no likelihood of obedience having any connection with deliverance. Many such thoughts may have occurred to him; but he dismissed them from his mind, and simply obeyed.” [ii]
Likewise, the people obeyed.
Consumption (8-11). They were to roast the animal over fire and eat the whole thing, along with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. In other words, they would not only be saved from death by the lamb’s blood, but they would also be nourished by it for their imminent journey. The bitter herbs were a reminder of the bitterness of their slavery in Egypt. The bread had to be unleavened, or without yeast, because yeast was symbolic of sin. As they were eating, they were to have their clothes ready for travel, sandals on their feet, and walking sticks in their hands. They needed to be ready to move out, for this would be their last meal in Egypt.
Well, what was the result of the decision of the Israelites to obey God’s command to sacrifice a lamb? It became their deliverance from the plague of death, and, of course, their deliverance from bondage in Egypt.
The deliverance of God’s people
Promise (12:12-13). God made a promise to them in 12:12-13: “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”
Was that promise fulfilled? Look at 12:31-42:
During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”
33 The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” 34 So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing. 35 The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36 The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.
37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. 38 Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 With the dough the Israelites had brought from Egypt, they baked loaves of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.
40 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt[b] was 430 years. 41 At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord’s divisions left Egypt. 42 Because the Lord kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the Lord for the generations to come.
Fulfillment (12:31-42). Not only were the Israelites spared from the Angel of Death, but that very night, during the night, Moses was summoned by Pharaoh and ordered out of the country. Not only that, God did an amazing thing—he reimbursed the children of Israel for all their years of slavery in Egypt. He did it in a way that resulted in the plundering of Egypt without thievery. The Hebrews simply asked their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, and the Lord made the Egyptians favorably disposed to give them what they asked for. By the way, God still has His ways of rewarding those who have been treated unfairly and of taking wealth away when it has been ill-gotten. He can also do this when people rob Him by withholding their tithes and offerings. See Haggai, chapter 1.
I have gone through the historical account of Israel’s deliverance from the tenth plague rather quickly, but now I want us to camp on five basic theological truths that are taught so clearly from this passage.
Timeless theological truths
All men are guilty before God and deserving of His judgment. Up to this point God had sovereignly distinguished between His people and the Egyptians in that the Israelites were spared from the earlier plagues, like the frogs, the hail, and the darkness. I suspect that some of them were inclined to deduce from this fact that they were intrinsically superior both morally and spiritually to the Egyptians and, therefore, the only people acceptable to God. This was not the purpose of the distinction at all. It was merely to reveal God’s power and sovereignty and to demonstrate His love. Others might have remembered their ancestry and reasoned that because Abraham was a friend of God and because they traced their ancestry to him, they had a privileged position and were spared on this basis. But this also was wrong thinking.
The tenth plague teaches us that all men, Israelite as well as Egyptian, are guilty before God and deserving of His judgment, because the Angel of Death refused to discriminate between Egyptian and Israelite; he would only discriminate between those who had blood on the doorposts and those who did not. Every family in the land was vulnerable to the death of the firstborn, and the only way Israel could be spared from the judgment was by means of the sacrifice provided.
This point is as true of us today as of the Israelites in the 15th century B.C. We are not morally and spiritually superior to other people, because God does not grade on the curve. He is a holy God, and all men fail to match up to His standards. Nor does it matter what our ancestry might be. Christianity is not automatically inherited from our parents, nor is it learned by osmosis from being around Christian people. All of us are guilty and deserving of God’s judgment.
A second important lesson taught here is that …
Deliverance (salvation) is by God’s grace. Why did God both warn the Israelites of the coming judgment and establish a means for them to avoid the Angel of Death? Solely because of His grace. There is no other reason. They didn’t deserve special treatment; in fact, they had done much to forfeit God’s kindness. As Moses looked back on this incident years later, he wrote these words found in Deut. 7:7-9):
“The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. but it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a might hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.”
Deliverance, or salvation from sin and death, is still today solely by God’s grace. No one is deserving of forgiveness and eternal life.
Deliverance (salvation) requires the death of an innocent lamb. God’s grace made a remedy available, but it was still costly. God cannot wink at sin. The Bible says, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.” Many modern people do not like this idea. They think it is barbaric and out of place in our sophisticated, civilized world. We have groups trying to save whales from death, trying to save snail darters and owls and rhinos and trees. For many of these people killing seems to be totally unacceptable, except, strangely, for unborn children and the elderly. But the fact is, God’s justice demands that there be death to atone for sin—”the wages of sin is death”, according to Romans 6:23—either the death of the offender or the death of an innocent substitute, like a flawless lamb or goat.
Through this means God prepared the way for people to understand the death of the Lord Jesus. The New Testament refers often to the sacrifice of lambs in Israel in explaining the death of Jesus. John the Baptist cried out in the wilderness, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Apostle Paul writes, “For even Christ, our passover, is sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7). And Peter adds, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19). The difference is that it was no longer one lamb per household, but rather One Lamb for all humanity.
You can see that God’s deliverance of Israel was gracious but costly—the death of a lamb. But it also required a response from His people.
Deliverance (salvation) comes through the channel of a human response (faith). It was not enough for a firstborn Hebrew on the night of the Passover in Egypt to be an Israelite. Being a Hebrew would not have saved him. It was not enough for him to have heard the instructions for the Passover given to the people through Moses or even to have believed those instructions intellectually. The hearing or the believing would not have saved him. If he were to be saved, he must do what God required. And this meant that he must remain with his family in the house upon which the blood had been spread. By doing so he would give evidence of his faith by acting unequivocally upon it.
Use your imagination for a moment and consider what you would have seen if you had walked down a street in Goshen that Passover night just before midnight, only the homes were those of Americans instead of Israelites. I suggest you would probably have seen some strange sights. Before one house there is a lovely basket of fruit. It is representative of those today who offer to God the fruit of their labors, their good deeds. But it is in vain. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” Next door there stands a lamb on the front porch tied to the doorknob. It is beautifully washed and neatly sheared. This home is representative of the people today who believe in Jesus as a wonderful person and a great teacher. Their hope for salvation rests in His sinless life, His teaching, and His example for mankind. But it, too, is in vain. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.”
Across the street there is a sight that is stranger still. Before the door there is a basin. It is filled with blood. Here is a family that has paid some attention to God’s instructions. The lamb has been slain, but the blood has not been applied. How representative of literally thousands of religious people today. They believe that Jesus died on the cross. More than that, they believe He died for sinful men. Yet His blood has never been applied, i.e., His death has never been appropriated by faith. They are not trusting simply in the merits of His death for forgiveness and salvation.
I heard about a prominent soap manufacturer and an earnest Christian who were one day walking along a busy city street. The Christian was explaining the Gospel message, telling his friend of the work of Christ on behalf of sinful men. The business executive objected. “If what you say is true,” he asked, “why is there such sinfulness and wickedness in the world?” The Christian was hard pressed for an adequate explanation. Then he spotted a young boy seated on the curb. His face and hands were dirty, his clothes were filthy. The Christian responded, “I thought you manufactured soap.” “I do,” said the man. “If that is so, why is this boy so dirty?” “Well,” said the businessman, “the soap must be applied!” “That’s it,” said his friend. “That’s true of the work of Christ, too. It must be applied by faith!”
Where is your sin today? It can be in only one of two places. It can be on your account, in which case you must bear its judgment. If this is your situation you are today in the same position as a firstborn child whose family did not apply the blood to their door frame. Or your sin can be on Jesus Christ. In that case He has already borne your judgment. He has paid its penalty; His blood was shed, and He has become your Passover. If your faith is in Christ, then the angel of death has already passed over you and there is no terror left for you—only eternity with God in Heaven.
There is one final point I would like to make.
Deliverance (salvation) is worthy of a perpetual memorial. Every nation has holidays to mark the turning-point events in its history. And in a certain sense the 14th of Nisan became Israel’s Independence Day. God ordered them to mark it with a lasting ordinance. Look at 12:14: “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.” Passover was to be celebrated along with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, according to Ex. 12:17ff.
And nearly every Jewish home—orthodox, conservative, or reformed—observes Passover to this day. A Jewish family I met in Israel in 1983 came to the States last summer to travel and experience a year of life here. Less than three months ago they stayed overnight at our home on the way to Indianapolis to observe Passover with a large Jewish community there. These people are not religious at all; in fact, they do not even believe in God. But they observe Passover.
Interestingly, that same thing has happened with the church’s counterpart to Passover—the Lord’s Supper. There are many who observe communion though they are hardly religious. It means nothing to them except that it is a cultural part of Christianity. It should mean far more to us; in fact, Jesus promised judgment upon those who participate in a manner that refuses to acknowledge its real significance.
Jesus, who died on the very day of Passover, left us a simple meal with the same two elements as Passover—blood and bread. The blood is symbolized by the fruit of the vine, while the body of the Lamb is symbolized by the bread.
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood (not the Old Covenant given through Moses, but the New Covenant); do this whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor. 11:23-26)
So, both Passover and the Lord’s Supper are designed to remind God’s people of His marvelous deliverance—of the Israelites from their terrible bondage in Egypt by the blood of the lamb on the door frame, and of us from our bondage to sin by the blood of the Lamb on the cross.
As we gather around the Lord’s Table this morning, may we each one be sure that the blood has been applied by faith to the door frames of our hearts.
[i] This sermon title was borrowed from Dr. Charles Swindoll’s Study Notes on the Pentateuch, 1976.
[ii] F. B. Meyer, Moses, 71.