For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
The Goings of God (2)
Studies on the book of Exodus.
J. Alec Motyer
2. THE REDEEMING GOD (7:8 to 13:16)
IN our last study we saw how the work of God with Moses was concentrated on the great objective of making him an obedient man. We found that God reached the target at which He was aiming: "Moses and Aaron did so as the Lord commanded them, so did they" (7:6). It is interesting to note that it took eighty years of Moses' life to get to that point, for the passage records that he was then "four score years old". It is true that God cannot be hurried; He takes whatever time is required to reach His objective in us which is to make of us men like Moses who will take God at His word and do what He commands.
As we move into this new section of the book we are reminded this was the man whom God was going to use. "These are that Moses and Aaron" (6:27). It was that Moses, and no other, who led the whole people into the experience of salvation. How true it is that it is the obedient life which is the blessed life. That man, and no other, was the man who led others to know the salvation of God.
Why the plagues?
Our present section divides into two parts with a clear dividing mark. "The Lord said unto Moses, Yet one more plague will I bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterwards he will let you go hence. When he shall let you go he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether" (11:1). This is the dividing mark. On the one side of that verse we have the series of nine plagues which were acts of God in which there was no salvation: nine plagues but no deliverance. And on the other side of the verse we have the tenth plague bringing the release of God's people from the land of Egypt.
This is the division of the passage, but it raises two questions. The first is, Why the plagues? It was not only that the nine plagues did not save the people, but that from the start God knew that they would not do so: "When thou goest back into Egypt, see that thou doest before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put in thy hand, but I will harden his heart and he will not let the people go" (4:21). Why did the redeeming God, setting out to deliver His people, spend all this time performing acts which He knew would not deliver?
The second question is, Why the Passover? God announced that the tenth plague would achieve liberation for Israel (11:1). He said that Pharaoh would be so overborne by this final act of judgment that he would not merely allow the people to go but would insist that they did go. Very well then, if the tenth plague was going to bring about deliverance, what was the need for the Passover?
Our first question is, Why the plagues? The answer seems to be that God will not pronounce and execute judgment without having gone to the limit in setting before the sinner the evidence against him, and in making every possible appeal for repentance and obedience. The plagues are a part of the Bible doctrine of the justice of God, Who will not condemn without evidence and Who will not judge without giving the accused every chance to learn of His glory, to respond to His ways and to come to Him in repentance and faith. It is because we are confronted by the justice of God that the story of the nine plagues is punctuated by references to Pharaoh's heart. It is as though Moses, in writing up this great story, was anxious all the time to let us know what was happening in the secret place.
All this was designed to bring the sinner into a better way, but was he responding to God's warnings? Clearly he was not, but over and over again the heart of Pharaoh is mentioned, so that we may see the progress of the divine work. In the whole Exodus narrative, from chapter 4 to chapter 14 there are 20 references to the heart of Pharaoh, God thus allowing us to see that all that happened was an appeal to a heart which remained obdurate, refusing the appeal of God and going on to its own destruction.
It may well be, however, that another question is arising in the reader's mind: "Did we not hear from the beginning that God was going to harden Pharaoh's heart? In that case, what chance had the poor man? The dice seems to have been loaded against him right from the very start. Does it not appear that before any appeal was made to him, it was made impossible for him to respond to that appeal? We can only [16/17] answer this question and appreciate the doctrine of the righteousness of God by trying to understand more about this matter of Pharaoh's heart.
We find that the references fall into three sections: There are the verses which speak of divine actions, such as, "I will harden his heart" (4:21); there are verses which describe a state or condition, such as, "And Pharaoh's heart was hardened" (7:22); and thirdly there are verses which describe human actions, such, as, "When Pharaoh saw that there was respite he hardened his heart" (8:15). This is the evidence set before us. The first group, treating of divine actions, has seven references; the second: describing a state of affairs has six references; and in the third group, which deals with human reactions, there are four references. I suggest that we will understand them a little better if we consider them under three headings.
1. The Lord uses means to achieve an end
When, therefore, the Lord says that He will harden Pharaoh's heart, the implication is that He will make use of a customary means of bringing about that situation. When, for instance, He speaks of Himself as the Lord "who makes peace and creates havoc (Isaiah 45:7), He has already told us just how He creates havoc and calamity. He raises up conquerors in the world. He uses means to achieve His end. Now the customary means of heart hardening, in the providence of God, is that the human heart and will are faced with the truth of God and become hard when they refuse its appeal.
There was a moment when Pharaoh realised that his magicians could not help him but only increase his trouble by adding more frogs to the many who were already there, and he appealed to Moses and Aaron, asking that they would intreat the Lord on his behalf (8:8). He recognised God. What is more, he proved God, for he himself was invited to appoint the time when it should happen. He did so and found that God answered the prayers of Moses for the removal of the plague.
So Pharaoh saw his error, began to realise the truth and had positive proof put before him of the power of God, but in spite of it all, he refused the appeal of the truth and so hardened his heart. At the end of another plague we are told: "When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more and hardened his heart ... and the heart of Pharaoh was hardened" (9:34-35). So it was the action of the man which produced the consequent state: he hardened his heart, and his heart was hardened.
2. The Lord determines the result
"I will harden Pharaoh's heart," God said. This means that when the Lord appoints a means to an end, then His providential power works so as to bring that end to pass. But it means something more than that. It means that the Lord, in His righteous government of the world, reviews every soul of man to determine how long the period of probation shall last and when that period shall end. When therefore He said to Moses: "I will harden Pharaoh's heart", He was speaking in the light of His own determination and foreknowledge. He was saying to Moses: "I am sending you into the land of Egypt at a crisis moment, at a point of no return. Pharaoh has now had all the rope that I am prepared to give him, and you are going into Egypt at the moment when he will hang himself."
The Lord fixes the moment when the end will come. We see this in its general application when we think of the statement in the Bible that "it is appointed unto men once to die". That is the point of no return; there is no further offer of the gospel and no further chance of repentance after that. This is true for every individual. We see it also in the history of man. At the moment of the Fall God determined that every descendant of Adam would be involved in the matter of sin and that from that moment onwards it would be impossible for man to return to God if left to his own devices. A whole race was "dead in trespasses and sins".
We can see it over and over again in the matter of sin in our own lives. Sometimes God allows us to go on with some sin, refusing to hear His calls to repentance, until the time comes when He terminates the period of probation and allows us to be hooked with this sinful habit. This, beloved friends, should warn us with great solemnity to keep short accounts with God, living in a spirit of forsaking sin and fleeing to Him in repentance, so that we should not suddenly find the period of probation ended. What a tragedy even for those saved for all eternity to have to go into God's presence having to face His inquisition into a sin which we refused to abandon. He fixes the time when the period of probation ends.
3. He presides purposefully over the whole process
"The Lord said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the [17/18] heart of his servants, in order that I might show these My signs in the midst of them, and in order that thou mayest tell them in the ears of thy sons and thy sons' sons what things I wrought upon Egypt" (10:1-2). God holds the sinner in a state of impenitence so that He may multiply before the sinner's eyes the grace and the glory of God, heaping appeal upon appeal, until the sinner is granted the grace of repentance or until the moment comes when that grace is withdrawn.
In doing this God displays His glory for His praise among His own people. It is all done purposefully for the praise and the vindication of His majesty. This, then, is the reason for the nine plagues, that through them God may demonstrate that in the condemnation of the sinner He is of unimpeachable righteousness. No accusing finger can be pointed at Him. Did He make His way known to them? Yes! Did He give them every opportunity to repent and return? Yes! Why then are they overthrown? Because they chose the way of condemnation. God vindicates Himself in His judgment of the ungodly.
Why the passover?
Now we have to ask the second question: Why the Passover? It seems that God had achieved what He set out to do by the tenth plague. "When that dire plague falls" says God, "Pharaoh will let you go; he will indeed hasten your departure" (11:1). If that great divine enterprise to liberate the people was achieved by the tenth plague, why did they need the Passover? The tenth plague was a deliberate act of God in final judgment. "Thus saith the Lord, About midnight I will go out into the land of Egypt..." (11:4).
No waving of the rod of God now. For the first time God takes judgment into His own hands, saying "I will go out in judgment and that judgment will come upon all alike". Importance will save nobody -- the first-born of Pharaoh will die. Unimportance will excuse nobody -- "the firstborn of the maidservant of the mill" (the lowest of the low) will also die. Divinity will be no protection -- "all the first-born of the cattle" (even the sacred bulls of Apis and the cows of Hathor) will be smitten. Yet in this context "the Lord doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel" (11:7). This difference was not exemption from judgment but deliverance by substitution.
Previously the Lord had made a difference as when there was darkness over the whole land but "all the people of Israel had light in their dwellings". That was a difference of mercy. Now, however, that the time has come for the judgment of sin, He could not excuse the Israelites for they too were sinners. When Moses came to them, they had also been rejectors of the word and way of God. If, therefore, the Lord had simply drawn a line of demarcation He would have been unrighteous, for however justly He condemned the sinners on His left hand He would have been unjust if He had excused His sinful people on His right.
The difference this time must therefore not be a territorial boundary, nor a national distinction based on ethnic difference or traditional inheritance. It was in fact a difference between houses that were marked with blood and houses that were not. This explains the necessity for the Passover. God must be just as He saves the sinner, and that is why He made the strange decree: "Take a lamb" (12:3). In the eyes of man this may seem a fantastic irrelevance.
What has a lamb to do with our bondage? What has the taking of a lamb to do with the injustice and lack of privilege which our slavery involves? The cry of the oppressed of all ages could rise with those oppressed in the land of Egypt, asking: "What has the taking of a lamb to do with our situation of desperate need?" The answer is that the Lamb is God's way out. This is the fundamental provision; this is the only way of liberty and justice; this is the only hope of a perfect society -- "Take a lamb".
This is God's way of being just and yet the justifier of him that believes. He cannot excuse the sinner, but He can and does provide a perfect atonement for him. In this connection there are four things which we may consider in relation to the Passover.
1. The lamb
We read the instructions given to the Israelites in 12:3-6 and discover various factors in the matter of this deliberately chosen lamb:
i. Number. The lamb was to be equal to the number as well as the needs of God's people. There had to be a counting of heads. "A lamb according to their fathers' houses; a lamb for a household". They were to act in families in this matter. If, however, the household was too little for a lamb, then the next neighbour would share in the lamb -- "according to the number of the souls". The lamb must match the number of the people of God. If in any given household the smallest lamb which could be selected was too [18/19] much for them, then they were told to share with their next door neighbours. The lamb must match God's people as to numbers.
ii. Needs. There also had to be a counting of capacity: "according to every man's eating". The people of God were to be represented in this lamb not only in their numbers but in their needs. God looks upon His people in their totality and in their individuality, so that when it came to the selection of a lamb the number and the need of each person had to be taken into account. The lamb must match the number and the needs of the people of God.
iii. God's requirements. The lamb must also meet the requirements of God Himself: "Your lamb must be perfect" (12:5). The Hebrew word is a glorious affirmative. It means that before the discerning eye of God there must be nothing that could cause offence. It seems a pity that so many translations have turned it into a negative: "without blemish". The lamb must be perfect in God's sight, so that it not only matches the number and the needs of the people but matches the requirements of God Himself.
There was to be no panic or haphazard taking of a lamb, but a careful choice had to be made. "Don't leave the matter until you need it," God said, "choose it now while you have time on your hands, choose it deliberately and thoughtfully while you weigh up all the issues. Examine it carefully and make certain that it is perfect, and then keep it until the fourteenth day." This lamb, then, was equal to the people of God, it was equal to the requirements of God and it was reserved for His appointed day and hour.
2. The blood of the lamb
The people were to take this lamb and kill it. Just like that -- kill it! As they killed they were to take the evidence of death, blood. As the blood flowed out from the knife wound they would say, Life is ebbing away, life is being terminated in death. The scene was a dramatic one. They were to catch that blood in a basin, and then they were to take that proof positive that a death had taken place and paint it round the doors.
On both the upper door post and on the two side posts they were to paint this evidence, so that all who looked at that house would say that it had been visited by death. Each father of a family, with concern for his precious ones, would perform this rite carefully, making sure that the evidence of death was seen round his door and that all the family, the sons and daughters and the mother with her baby in her arms, were safely inside beneath the shelter of that blood. With regard to that blood:
i. God is satisfied (12:13). The blood satisfies God. It does not say: "When I see you I will passover you", for that would be favouritism and would bring the fair name of God into disrepute. What it does say is: "I will go through the land of Egypt in that night and ... I will execute judgments ... and when I see the blood, I will pass over you". They were all in the presence of a sin-hating God who would only stay His judgments where He saw that death had already taken place. "When I see the blood ...". There was something in that blood which satisfied God.
The first effect of its evidence was toward God Himself and so mightily affected Him that His wrath vanished and peace took its place. It was as if He said: "I am now satisfied concerning you, and have no wrath left". When a wrathful God is reconciled to the acceptance of a sinner like me, that is what is involved in the phrase: "reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19). The other Bible word which is used to express God's satisfaction is "propitiation". The precious blood reaches up to God and propitiates Him, enabling Him righteously to change His wrath into acceptance.
ii. God's people are made secure. This is the other side of the same truth: "when he sees the blood upon the lintel and upon the two sideposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not suffer the destroyer to come into your houses to smite you" (12:23). The destroyer could not touch the people of God because God was satisfied concerning them. Note wherein their security lay: "I will smite the Egyptians" says God, but He does not balance that by saying that He would forgive the Israelites. Nationality had ceased to matter. Ancestry had ceased to be of any account.
Nothing now mattered but that they had taken shelter in a place where the blood had been shed and were so secure and free from harm that judgment was irrelevant to them. With judgment all around the Israelites were not only secure, they were actually feasting. This was the result of taking God at His word. God had told them to slay the lamb. God had told them to collect the evidence and to paint the door surround. God had told them to take shelter there. They had done so at His word and by this simplicity of faith in His saving promises they were secure from all harm. [19/20]
iii. Salvation is by substitution. We now come to the third great word which explains the secret of the amazing efficacy of the shed blood. It is Substitution. In these words there is the essence of our salvation: Propitiation, Reconciliation and Substitution. We see the illustration of it here in Exodus but this is in complete harmony with the New Testament, even though we do not use a single New Testament reference. The Word of God speaks with one voice. What God did for His people in Egypt is what He has done always, right up to this moment, and that is to save the sinner by one appointed to die in his place. Salvation can only be by substitution.
"Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and his servants, and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in the land of Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead". Brothers and sisters, listen to that cry! All over the land of Egypt there is a cry such as never was, for bereavement had entered into house after house. But tune your ear sharply, for there is another cry in the land of Egypt: there is the shout of them that triumph and the song of them that feast. In their houses also there is one who is dead, for the lamb has died in the houses of Israel. The people are safe because death has taken place. There in every house, as dramatically and vividly as in any Egyptian house, there is a corpse, there is the evidence of the just judgment of God.
We may object that in the Egyptian houses the dreadful evidence of divine judgment consisted in the death of but one person, the firstborn. Parity of reasoning might suggest that the death of the lamb had only brought deliverance to the firstborn in the houses of the Israelites also. What God had in mind before the night came, though, is found in His words: "When thou goest back into the land of Egypt, see that thou do before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in thine hand.
But I will harden his heart, and he will not let the people go. And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my firstborn". So while it is true that the lamb died for the firstborn, what God had in view was His whole people as His firstborn. From this we see how important it was to reckon the number and the needs of the people of God. Every lamb had to be carefully and peculiarly chosen, for everyone of the people of God was to be represented in it and substituted for by it. The lamb dies for the people of God: salvation is by substitution.
3. The feast of the lamb
It was not only that the lamb's blood was to shelter God's people, but also that its body was to provide a feast for them. In this connection there are two important truths which we should note. The first comes right at the end of the chapter: "In one house shall it be eaten. Thou shalt not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house" (12:46). The lamb can only be enjoyed where the blood has been shed. This is of great significance. The lamb is a feast only for those who are sheltering under the blood. There is no other way in which men may participate in the blessings of the Lamb of God than by the blood of His cross.
The second truth is that where the lamb is enjoyed, that lamb is a total sufficiency for God's people. It was not only their heads which were numbered when the lamb was chosen, it was also their appetites; all their needs were represented there. God's provision was such that all the people who were safe because of the lamb's blood could also come to feast on that same lamb, knowing that all their needs were provided for in that sacrifice. In the feast upon the Lamb of God there is that which fully satisfies the appetite of every saved sinner. No redeemed person is sent away empty or hungry, for all feast upon the Lamb.
4. The life of the lamb
Those who enjoyed this feast were to do so in a particular way: "Thus shall ye eat it, with your loins girded, and your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand, and ye shall eat it with urgency" (12:11). It was a night feast, but they were dressed for morning: it was a night feast but it was not a supper but a breakfast. They ate it in the night but they ate it in preparation for the new day: it was not a preliminary to bed but a preliminary to pilgrimage. As they partook of the feast they became committed to a pilgrimage.
They ate as those who were prepared for action; they ate as those who were committed to go walking with God; they ate it as those upon whom there was a constraint to begin at once. Their loins were girded for action, their shoes and their staff were symbols of their pilgrimage, and the urgency and haste of their manner of eating suggested that they were under constraint to begin at once. The eating of the Lamb of God commits the people of God to a certain way of life.