Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and take for yourselves lambs according to your families, and slay the Passover lamb. You shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and the two doorposts; and none of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning. For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you. And you shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children forever. When you enter the land which the Lord will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. And when your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.’” And the people bowed low and worshiped. Then the sons of Israel went and did so; just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.
Up to this point God has been giving His instructions for the Children of Israel to Moses and now the Patriarch passes them on to the people. But he too, due to the numbers involved, uses the representatives of the entire group – the “elders of Israel”. According to the American Tract Society Bible Dictionary, these ‘elders’ were the heads of the tribes, who, exercised authority over their own families and the people. They were representatives of the nation (see Exodus 3:16, 4:29, and then here again in 12:21). Later in Exodus (chapter 24:1,9) we read that there were 70 plus 2 elders in total, plus Moses and Aaron, it would appear. The number 72 would likely mean that there were six elders from each of the twelve tribes.
Easton’s Bible Dictionary says each elder was “clothed with authority, and entitled to respect and reverence (Genesis 50:7).” Later in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) we read more about the specific roles the ‘elders’ played in ancient Israel. Easton says, “The ‘elder’ is the keystone of the social and political fabric wherever the patriarchal system exists. This is still the case today among the Arabs, where the sheik (i.e., ‘the old man’) is the highest authority in the tribe.”
While all through history we note the various duties of the body known as the "elders" of Israel, we have to realize that some of them were Jesus’ enemies (Matthew 16:21, 21:23, and 26:59 [as part of the whole Council]). For the churches established by the first disciples and early Christians the offices of deacon and apostle were established. But no similar establishment is recorded for ‘elders’ in the New Testament as the office already existed from ancient times. Deacons and apostles were created to satisfy new needs and special situations including those requiring immediate attention. As such, the true ‘elders’ of the churches were more than likely to be the pastors (Ephesians 4:11), bishops or overseers (Acts 20:28), and leaders or rulers (Hebrews 13:7 and I Thessalonians 5:12) of the congregation. Perhaps this is why some Baptist churches today are spiritually overseen by an Elders Board and operationally managed by a Deacons Board. Other denominations take different approaches to the government and operation of the church. Where there are Elder Boards, the Pastor is certainly usually considered as the Chief Elder, or at least one of the Elders. It is also interesting to note that in the New Testament, bishop and presbyter are titles given to the same officers of the Christian church. That is, the elder (usually due to age) or presbyter is also the bishop or overseer He who is called presbyter or elder on account of his age or gravity is also called a bishop or overseer, who has a heavy duty laid upon him (Titus 1:5 and Acts 20:17).
In this current passage in Exodus, we have the elders of Israel being told by Moses how exactly the blood of the lamb is to be transferred to the doorposts of their houses. The attention to detail is impressive to say the least. The people were to use a “bunch of hyssop” (an aromatic herb) and dip it in the blood lying in the basin the lamb was in and then use the soaked hyssop to spread or smear the blood on the posts. In addition, no one from the household was to go outside after that until the morning. Both these latter instructions are new in the sense that Moses did not record God telling him about them. So, we have a choice. We can believe God did tell Moses earlier and he neglected to write that down when he was recording what God had said, or Moses added them himself as further explanations at the time he was passing the instructions to the elders, perhaps being proactive in anticipating the questions the elders, and later the people, might have. That is, “How do we get the blood on the posts?” and “What do we do after that? Can we go outside and see what’s happening?” I prefer the former option although once again we must say, “we don’t know”. I hope by now, you are getting one of the key messages I have been trying to get across over and over – there are many things that we do not know for sure, so why even try to pretend we do? Unfortunately many do and cause more harm to the body of Christ than one could imagine.
It is, however, interesting to wonder as to why they were not to go outside after they applied the blood? I have a friend on one of the social media networks I use who likes to always look for the modern-day spiritual application of much of what we read in Scripture, regardless of its location in the Bible. Jane would be pleased to note that keeping her in mind, I surmise that one could (I say ‘could’) make a connection between the fact that once God saves us through the blood of Christ, He does not want us checking out ‘the world out there’ out of curiosity as Lot’s wife did when she looked back at the burning Sodom and Gomorrah and then she turned into a pillar of salt. The idea is similar. [This is not to say we are to avoid the ‘world’ – it is just to say that we are not to pursue it out of Christianity. One example that comes to mind is the feeling I have often had of going to a “palm-reader” as I walk by their flashing neon signs in our city. My rationale is “let’s just see how accurate they would be about my past and present; I won’t even ask about my future.” But I know and my wife reminds me how wrong that would be for many have taken that route and fallen to the Enemy. God forbid we should pursue the world out of curiosity. Eve did it once. Millions have followed. May we stand strong.]
Again, Moses passes on to the elders the fact that it was mandatory that this whole night was to be observed as a memorial going forward once they “entered the land which God will give you”. There was no doubt in Moses’ mind that God would lead them to the Promised Land. And that was so much an integrate part of Moses’ belief system, that he had no difficulty passing on God’s demand that the Israelites explain the meaning of this rite to their children when they ask about it.
And it appears that the elders and the people they shared the instructions with also believed it, for they “bowed and worshipped” and then they went and did as they were told – exactly as God had commanded Moses and Aaron. They had heard the testimony of two men to whom God had spoken. The elders accepted that testimony. And the congregation of Israel obeyed as they followed the instructions word for word. I cannot help but think what a beautiful picture of living a life of obedience as an individual and as a body of people that represents: A people of God, facing difficulties, having full trust in their God to deliver them, and listening to their leaders who had heard directly from two witnesses that God had spoken to.
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