Moses clashed with Pharaoh through three rounds of increasingly devastating plagues, through which Yahweh revealed himself as the Judge, the Divider of Peoples, and the Destroyer of Worlds. Pharaoh’s heart has only gotten harder, and he still refuses to let the people go. Therefore, the time has finally come. “Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here” (Ex 11:1). Because this final plague’s narrative is lengthy, I’ll divide it into two parts. This week, we’ll look at the plague’s prediction and instructions. Next week, we’ll study the plague’s execution and fallout.
Observation of Exodus 11:1-12:28
Most repeated words: day (16 times), Lord (15x), eat (14), Egypt (14), land (12), house/household (11), all (10), Israel (10), people (9).
- The timing of this one will be very important. They must get the “day” exactly right.
- Another important theme is that of “eating” in the “house.”
As I observe repeated words, I notice some of them come in clusters
- “People” and “all” occur mostly, though not exclusively, in the first section (Ex 11:1-10).
- “House” is scattered all through Ex 12:1-28, but not Ex 11:1-10.
- “Day” occurs almost exclusively in the paragraph of Ex 12:14-20.
- “Eat” occurs only in Ex 12:4-20.
- “Pharaoh” shows up only in Ex 11:1-10, but every other proper name (Lord, Egypt, and Israel) is scattered through the full passage.
Noticing these clusters, we can compile a rough thematic outline:
- Pharaoh’s stubbornness will have drastic consequences—widespread death and an unprecedented outcry—for all the people – Ex 11:1-10
- Only those who “eat” in the “house” can hope to escape – Ex 12:1-13
- Because this “day” is so important, it must become a memorial day to all future generations – Ex 12:14-20
- What to expect when the plague hits – Ex 12:21-28
Interpretation of Exodus 11:1-12:28
Some possible questions:
- Why will God take such drastic action by killing every firstborn in the land of Egypt?
- What are the Israelites to eat in their houses, and why?
- What should they expect when the plague hits?
- So what is God trying to communicate through memorializing this disaster?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- Ex 11:1 says that this last plague will result in Pharaoh driving them away completely. We should remember how the previous Pharaoh oppressed the Israelites by murdering their sons (Ex 1:15-16). And because Pharaoh mistreated God’s son, God promised to kill his sons (Ex 4:22-23). The Lord has set up this event as an act of perfect justice toward an evil dictator. God is about to win this fight, and win big. This is not like a boxing match where you merely knock out your opponent. This is like winning in such a way as to make sure your opponent can never box again—and that he quivers in cowardice if he sees your face again.
- While Ex 12:8 includes unleavened bread and bitter herbs, the section of Ex 12:1-13 overwhelmingly focuses on the lamb. In particular, what they are to do with the lamb’s flesh (Ex 12:1-6, 8-11) and blood (Ex 12:7, 12-13). However, for future celebrations, the chief menu selection is unleavened bread (Ex 12:14-20). These details spawn a few more questions.
- Why must they eat a lamb on that night? “I will pass through the land…and I will strike all the firstborn…When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you” (Ex 12:12-13). God will pass through some, and he will pass over others. The difference is the lamb. So: either the sons die, or the lamb dies. The slaughtered lamb becomes a clear substitute for the sons.
- Why must they eat unleavened bread for future celebrations? The text doesn’t directly or explicitly answer this question. But we get some help by learning what exactly “unleavened bread” is. We usually think it’s bread without yeast, but that’s not technically true. From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: “The ancient Hebrews always kneaded with their bread a piece of fermented dough reserved from a previous baking (cf. Mt. 13:33).”1 “Leaven” refers not only to the presence of yeast, but to the use of a starter lump of dough from a previous batch (which would, typically, have had yeast in it). Therefore, clearing out everything leavened, and eating only unleavened bread for 7 days, refers to getting a fresh start, a new beginning, even a symbolic new birth. This helps us to understand why God wants this day to be their New Year’s Day (Ex 12:2). This feast celebrates their birth as a nation, and it represents the new life God wants for his people.
- The last paragraph (Ex 12:21-28) summarizes and explains what to expect. It repeats what they should do with the lamb’s blood (Ex 12:21-22). It repeats how God will “pass through” some and “pass over” others (Ex 12:23). Those who want to live should hope for Passover and not Passthrough.
- The final verses expect that generations yet to be born will have questions. What should we communicate when they ask what all this means? “It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses” (Ex 12:27). This feast of Unleavened Bread celebrates the fact that Yahweh judges all the earth, that he divides people into those who are his (those who have a substitute lamb) and those who are not, and that he justly destroys all who fall on the wrong side of the divide.
Train of thought:
- You must survive one last plague.
- To survive, you must have a substitute and a new beginning.
- Those without a substitute and a new beginning will be swept away in the last plague; those with a substitute and a new beginning will survive.
Main point: When Yahweh finally strikes his enemies, he will provide a way for his people to be spared.
Connection to Christ: Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed once for all. Eat his flesh and drink his blood, and you, too, can avoid the wrath to come.
My Application of Exodus 11:1-12:28
Who can withstand God’s power and fury at our acts of indifference and rebellion toward him? We, too, must survive one last plague against all the earth.
I cannot escape this plague without the death of a substitute. I need Jesus; I must never let go of him. Whenever I partake of the Lord’s Supper, I proclaim his death until he comes. “Here, Lord, is the blood that was shed for me. Please see it, and pass over me!”
I cannot escape this plague without a new beginning, a new birth. The old must go; the new must come. God doesn’t rescue me just so I can stay the same. He rescues me in order to make me a new person, to conform me to the image of his son. No part of my life is sacred, and I must be willing to clean out the old desires and replace them with godly desires.
The Passover has not been done away with in the New Covenant. Of course, it looks completely different now, but the point is the same. In particular, we don’t keep an annual 7-day ritual anymore. But we keep the Passover when we grow in grace and exercise effective church discipline (1 Cor 5:6-8). Without these things, we will not escape the wrath to come.
Click here to see what I’m doing with this sample Bible study and why I’m doing it.
1Harrison, R. K. (1979–1988). Leaven. In G. W. Bromiley (Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Vol. 3, p. 97). Wm. B. Eerdmans.