“Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.”
When Moses and Aaron delivered these words of God to the Egyptian Pharaoh, the answer was a hard “no.”
“Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?” Pharaoh said. “I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2).
Moses and Aaron pushed back: “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword” (Exodus 5:3).
Pharoah’s answer came in the form of more work, harder work, piled upon God’s people. So, God responded to Pharaoh’s hard heart with not one, not two, not three, but 10 plagues upon the Egyptians to show the impotence of their some 2,000 mythical gods. Many of these deities were animals, including the ram, which was seen as a symbol of fertility.
The ram god Khnum was said to guard the waters of the Nile, which kept the region fertile through seasonal flooding, and was believed to be the deity that gave life to other gods and to humanity. So, when God turned the life-giving waters of the Nile to blood in the first plague, He shattered the Egyptians’ confidence in Khnum. The next eight plagues discredited other gods that supposedly protected crops, livestock, fertility, and health, but the biggest blow to the Egyptians’ polytheistic religion came with the final plague — and the preparation for it.
God instructed the Israelites to take year-old lambs into their homes on the 10th day of the Jewish new year and then, on the 14th day, sacrifice them. He told them to smear the lambs’ blood on the doorposts and lintels of their homes as a shield against the destroyer of life that was to strike down every firstborn in the final plague. Obeying these instructions was like standing in front of a speeding car, for after the fifth plague, Moses had predicted that the Egyptians would stone his people if they sacrificed animals to the Lord in view of the Egyptians. Pharaoh had neither heeded his warning nor granted them permission to travel three days into the desert to worship the Lord (Exodus 8:26-27).
As we know from history, archeology, and the Bible, Egyptians worshiped animals, but most of all, they bowed down to a ram god that supposedly protected life. So, it’s easy to imagine their disgust and fury at what they considered an abominable offering (Exodus 8:26-27). And it wasn’t just one sacrifice quietly performed outside one home but thousands upon thousands of lambs slaughtered in one day throughout the land. By God’s grace the Israelites were spared from stoning as the Egyptians had no time to react to this mass sacrifice before the destroyer of life swept over the land, killing all their firstborns, both men and beast, who weren’t guarded by the blood of the lamb. As morning came and grief and fear gripped the Egyptians, Pharaoh sent the Israelites from the land.
Through all of this, God protected His people from death and made a way for them to journey in freedom toward the Promised Land. At the foot of Mount Sinai, God asked them to mark the anniversary of their rescue with the Passover feast. Generations of Jewish families have celebrated this yearly feast, including well-known families of Hannah and Elkanah with Samuel, who traveled to Shiloh to worship God at the temple (I Samuel 1), Mary and Joseph with 12-year-old Jesus as they took the pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52), and later Jesus and His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion (Matthew 26:17-29). The Passover celebration allowed God’s people to remember their bondage, their need for a deliverer, the power displayed through the plagues that finally convinced Pharaoh to let them go, God’s provision of the lamb, God’s protection at the Red Sea, God’s care in the desert, and His sacrificial love for them.
As we study the Passover of the Old Testament, we see the foreshadowing of the sacrifice of the final Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, who died more than 2,000 years ago to protect us from the consequences of our sin and lead us into the land we are promised, eternity with Him.
— Jaime Sherman