Friday, May 03, 2013

The Israelites’ Need for a Lamb -- Exodus 12:1-6


Now the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.  Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household.  Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb.  Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.  And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight.’”
 
The climatic event of the story of the Exodus had been shared with Moses.  It was going to happen, but at a significant cost to the Egyptians.  And the Israelites themselves had to follow strict instructions.  God gives Moses (and thus the Israelites) those instructions while they are still in the land of their bondage.  It seems we are most ready to accept God’s way of salvation when we are embroiled in slavery and suffering.
And, through Moses, God then tells the children of Israel that the month they are about to enter “shall be the beginning of months for you”.  In essence what God is about to do for them is so significant that they need to have a whole new calendar going forward.  Up to this point, their years started around the beginning of September on our calendar.  From then on, their very continued existence would be measured from their freedom from bondage and slavery and their mighty delivery. Thus their year was now to begin around the middle of March on our calendar.  This was the origin of what is now known as the Jewish Religious Calendar and still observed today.  So the first month of this new calendar will be at the time of the Passover and the subsequent Exodus from Egypt that followed it at that time.  It is called “Nisan”.  You can learn more about this topic at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_calendar .  The Jewish Civic Calendar year actually begins in and around the Gentile month of September while Nisan is closer to our mid-March to mid-April period of the year.  What is also interesting is that the Israelites got a new calendar when they were being rescued from bondage and the modern world got a new calendar based on the arrival on earth of the King of Kings Who would free us from the judgment and punishment our sins brought upon us.  The parallelism here is striking.
Moses was to speak to “all” the congregation or people of Israel and give them detailed instructions – right down to the date of the month when they were to act.  It is possible that as the plagues occurred the people were becoming more and more cohesive.  God said on the tenth day of what was to become known as the month of Nisan, each household was to get a hold of a lamb and let it actually dwell with the family for four days, so they could identify with it as part of their household, but more importantly that it be separated from the rest of the flock.  Some commentators align the four days to be representative of the time Jesus was taken and then held for interrogations before being crucified about one thousand years later.
No household could be without a lamb, nor could they count on using a lamb of their neighbor’s unless – and I find this most interesting – unless a household was too small to have its own lamb.  How small is small?  Well, historians like Josephus lead us to believe that each lamb normally would be sufficient for as few as ten people.  So a household that had fewer family members than ten was required to partner with another household in the same boat.  What amazes me is why God would even bother with that kind of instruction or approach to the matter?  Surely there were enough lambs around for every family, regardless of how small it was.  I am almost tempted to say that God was indeed a great conservationist.  I will not yield to such temptation seriously.  My better judgment suggests that perhaps God wanted in some small way to model even as early as the Exodus our dependence on not only Him, but also on each other.  I think today of how so many Christians and even Christian leaders want to do their own thing.  They want to have their own church, their own mission – and never get together with others laboring in the same fields as they do, in their own communities.  Sometimes there are good reasons why a group must separate from another large group and go it alone.  Sometimes new locations where the Gospel is to be preached make it necessary.   But woe to anyone who simply wants to be a “big frog” in a “small pond” and he/she allows their ego to say, “I’m going it alone.”  No, God wants us to worship in community and His Son is head of the Whole Body.
God instructs further that the lamb, henceforth known by us as the Passover Lamb (which later also becomes a title assigned to our Lord Jesus Christ), should be unblemished, a male, and one year old.  Commentators have suggested that the slightest blemish would make the lamb unsuitable for the Passover meal.  This is clearly a ‘type’ of Christ Who indeed was without sin when He was sacrificed for us.  No one else would do; no one else would be sufficient to pay for your sin and mine.  In addition, some think the reference to the lamb’s age was a foretelling that Christ would be in the prime of His life when He was killed on the cross.  It could also be a reference to this lamb’s, and also to the Holy Lamb’s, innocence.
On the other hand, the lamb the Israelites could use could either come from the sheepfold or from the herd of goats.  How do we explain that?  The Hebrew word for ‘lamb’ is ‘seh’ and is quite a neutral word according to translators.   Strong’s Dictionary says it is the word for a young sheep or a young goat.  The Israelites did not distinguish between goats and sheep when it came to the newborns.  The word literally means “head of (small) stock”.  If you search the Internet, you will find, sadly perhaps, many sites addressing the issue of whether our Passover Lamb (Christ) was indeed a Passover Goat symbolically, often citing this passage as the source of the issue.  We will leave that to others to stumble over.
Whatever the young animal was, it was supposed to be kept by the household until the 14th day of the month of Nisan.  And then all those lambs were to be killed simultaneously at twilight.  One can see the further parallelism in foretelling Christ’s death here as well.  They were to kill the lamb late in the afternoon as a sacrifice.  But it was not a sacrifice in the formal sense as it was not to be offered upon the altar.  It was simply to be viewed, as Matthew Henry tells us, “as a religious ceremony, acknowledging God’s goodness to them, not only in preserving them from, but in delivering them by, the plagues inflicted on the Egyptians.”  This was the very late afternoon of the night in which they were to become free.
Many of us have been similarly delivered.  Maybe not from Egypt and slavery, but delivered from the bondage of our sin.  I wonder how often we celebrate that fact and acknowledge God’s goodness to us.  For those of us not yet delivered, I wonder if it is time for you to “get yourself a Lamb”.
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