Happy Passover (Special Days and Occasions)

The Season of Freedom and the Time for Questions! . . .

Hand of God and AdamOne of the greatest aspects of our being created in God’s image and according to His likeness is our insuppressible longing for freedom. In the very beginning, when He brought us forth into existence, He made us free moral agents, capable of making our own choices and deciding on the course of our destinies. Even the choice between the faith in God and the denial of His existence was left up to us by the One who would not accept a forced obedience or contrived worship from His creation.

A careful look through the pages of human history will quickly reveal that our innate yearning for freedom and self-expression has demonstrated itself in an almost continuous struggle for freedom and independence on the part of the oppressed of the Earth. Every conquered nation would ultimately seek to reverse their pitiful plight of slavery and servitude by revolting against the rule of the usurpers. Thus, for instance, the American Declaration of Independence from the Empire of the Great Britain, (July 4th, 1776), is but one among many other similar cases in recent history where human desire for liberty and self-determination created a more democratic society with greater equality for its citizens.

It should be noted here that other instances of such liberations and democratizations proved to be much less viable than their American equivalent. Their downfall was almost always precipitated by the widening inequality between the haves and the have-nots. The economic disparity brings about other forms of social and legal distinctions, resulting in the abuse of power on the part of those who have a more ready access to it. With the ever-increasing signs of the growing economic inequality in this country, one is left to wonder as to how long this worthy experiment in freedom and justice for all will last.

Beautiful MounatinAlthough I find myself among those who fervently pray for the prosperity and success of the American ideas of liberty from all oppression and justice for all the oppressed, I also understand that no individual or society are truly liberated unless their freedom has come from above, from the Creator of the free humankind! Human hearts and minds that have never been liberated by the Spirit of the God of Israel and set free by the precepts of His Law, remain to be dedicated slaves to the natural tendencies of greed, selfishness, and a host of other qualities plaguing the fallen humanity. The true liberty for both society and its individual members can come only from our Maker! The dramatic case of just such a liberation is vividly described in the Word of the Almighty. The season of remembering that occasion is almost upon us! Are you ready for it?!

Within the space of a few short hours, many of us will start the Festive Season of the most profound solemnity and heartfelt joy. The Feast of Passover is the time to celebrate God-given gift of freedom and enjoy His intimate presence in our lives! It is a season of deliverance and also the time for genuine questions related to our existence in the world created by the LORD. In our today’s reflection, I would like to take a careful and lingering look at the major events and central themes of the Biblical Passover!

Passover Center?

At the CenterAs we all know very well, the Feast of Passover is a biblical holiday prescribed by the LORD Himself as a perpetual reminder of the awesome deliverance which He wrought in behalf of His people Israel. (Ex. 12; Lev. 23; Num. 9; Deut. 16) A very important question to ask is: “Who or what is at the very center of this celebration?” The answer to this query will determine the contemporary significance of this ancient feast as well. Depending on whom you might ask, the responses will be different. My dear Christian friends, for example, who are getting ready to celebrate Easter, which is just another good old pagan festival re-consecrated to mark the resurrection of Jesus, would reply that Jesus Christ, exemplified in the Paschal Lamb, is at the very center of this festive occasion. After all, the Christianity is built around the mission idea of calling the world into the intimate relationship with the Lamb of God. It puzzles me, though, as to why they refuse to call the world back to the God of the Lamb!

I honestly believe that, in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, Jesus of Nazareth is the Perfect Lamb of God, through whose blood the LORD of Heaven reconciled the world to Himself. (I Cor. 5:7; II Cor. 5:19; Heb. 9:26) However, if you ask the sacred text of the Bible itself, it will tell you that even though the idea of the Paschal Lamb is an important part of God’s plan of salvation, both the center and the substance of that great story of Redemption is the person and might of the One and Only Living God, - the LORD God of Israel. It is quite logical and understandable that the God of Israel, who happens to be the Creator of the Universe, is the foundational and immovable center of His Word!

The Dogma of the Supremacy of Christ

In a clear contradiction to the message of the entire corpus of the Hebrew Bible, revered as the Word of God by Jesus Christ himself, the early Church deliberately shifted the focus of their theology and practice from the Holy One of Jacob and onto the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. The doctrine of “the Most Blessed Trinity,” formulated in the 4th through 5th centuries CE, became the first huge rift between the faith of Israel and that of the Church. The Messiah of Israel was now “promoted” by the Church leadership to the rank of the Second Person within the Trinity, with the Holy Spirit voted into the position of the Third Commander-in-Chief almost a century later! Over time the apostate Church managed to create even a wider gap between themselves and the monotheistic people of Israel with the introduction of “the Doctrine of the Absolute Supremacy of Christ.”

John Dunns ScotusThe dogma was finally formulated and adopted by the Catholic Church in the 13th century CE. The man most responsible for articulating that belief was “Blessed John Dunns Scotus” (c. 1265-1308). Along with the Catholic faith in Trinity, their belief in the Supremacy of Christ has been a staple of religious life for all the churches comprising Christendom ever since! Did you know, by the way, that the Doctrine of Christ’s Absolute Supremacy stems from the Catholic understanding that He is the King of Heaven with Mary being the Queen? How does that square up with the biblical message?

With the advent of that new unbiblical doctrine and being ever forgetful of the Jewish roots of the faith in Yeshua (Jesus), the Medieval Church grew more and more paranoid in its relationship to the Jewish people. Over time, the so-called Passion Plays, staged in the days leading up to the “Good Friday” and Easter, became popular occasions for wreaking vengeance on those “Christ-killers,” whose stubborn refusal to accept Christendom’s idolatry and apostasy served as a constant reminder of the Church’s impotence to subvert the LORD’s Chosen Monotheists!

Jewish people suffered persecution and death at the hands of European Christian mobs, who were thus preparing their souls for the holiest of days in their calendar! The times were dark indeed! And so were the souls and minds of those unfortunate people. Are we any different? Do we keep our minds sufficiently open in order for God’s new light to penetrate the darkness, give us His light, and therefore, liberate us from all falsehood? That is precisely the meaning of the biblical Passover with the Holy One of Jacob at its very center! We shall see that powerful point proven over and over again as we behold the story unfold in the Bible! Come, let us get centered on what is truly biblical!

Passover Theme # 1: The Living God of the Bible is One!

Moses Receives LightThe stage for the spectacular liberation of the Jewish people by their God is set in the Book of Exodus. It begins long before Moses’ famous encounter with the Almighty in the desert, by letting us know that the people who have brought prosperity and stability to the Egyptian Empire are viewed with jealousy, greed and suspicion by the ethnic majority of that country. In fact, this particular scenario would be repeated in pretty much every nation on the face of the Earth where the Jewish exiles have been scattered. Their staunch faith in One God, frugality, cleanliness, moderation in all things, and mutual help have always produced prosperity and stability both in their own ranks and among the general population of the region. What happened in Egypt would occur again in the countries of the Medieval Europe, territories of the Turkish Ottoman Empire and in the vast spaces of the Tsarist and later on Communist Russia as well. By persecuting and expelling the loyal Jewish subjects from their respective countries, their citizens thought to enrich themselves and satisfy their innate anti-Semitism too.

The first, and, perhaps, the greatest theme of the entire exodus experience, is the identity of our Liberator! Moses was the first among his contemporaries to be privileged to come to know His Name and His character. By the time when the LORD of Heaven personally introduced Himself to Moses at the burning bush, Moses had been a humble shepherd of his family’s flocks for forty long years in the wilderness that belonged to the Medianites, far away from his people Israel in Egypt. Prior to that, he had spent the first forty years of his life learning the Egyptian wisdom, their sciences, religion and beliefs. As we know today so well, all the ancient peoples worshiped a variety of gods and goddesses. Egypt’s superstitious beliefs and pagan venerations exceeded those of many other ancient civilizations. The forces of nature, celestial bodies, elements of the world, members of the animal kingdom, natural phenomena, etc were all conceived of as divine manifestations and worshipped by the ancients. Every single aspect of human existence was connected by the Egyptians to one deity or another. Before Adonai could commission Moses to fulfill a great mission, He had to give him a spell of forty years in the desert to wean him away from those idolatrous practices of Egypt.

Moses sees the burning bush 1The LORD of Heaven begins His work with Moses by demonstrating that the true Living God of the Universe is above the objects and elements of this world. “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” (Exodus 3:1-3) – The Holy One shows to Moses that as the Creator of all things, He is in full control of nature and its forces. We are shown that neither the fire nor the bush are sacred and deserving of human veneration. The Lord utilizes them both to draw attention to Himself! Having piqued Moses’ curiosity by that unusual display of His power, HaShem speaks from the fiery midst of the burning bush through His angel.

The Angel of the LORD

Since the center of the Bible is the Living God, who alone is worthy of worship, a few words about the “Angel of the LORD” are in order at this point. The persona of the Angel of the LORD is an enigmatic one. He appears in many passages of the Hebrew Scriptures, often speaking for God in the first person. Thus, the Bible states in one place: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. “ (Deut. 5:15). This passage clearly tells us that it was the LORD Himself who saved His covenantal people from the slavery in Egypt. In another passage, however, we read the following: “Our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our ancestors, but when we cried out to the LORD, he heard our cry and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.” (Num. 20:15-16) – So, was it the LORD Himself or one of His proxies that led Israel out of Egypt?

Pillar of FireWhile instructing Moses during their arduous journey, the LORD says: “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him.” (Exodus 23:20-21) –This text confirms that although it was the Adonai Himself who was personally involved in Israel’s liberation, He used a special “commando” angel to accomplish the task. It also seems that, according to the Scriptures, the Angel of the LORD has an unprecedented authority among other celestial beings. His status is derived from the fact that the LORD has put His Name in him. What does that mean?

Trying to justify the worship and adoration of the “Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity,” namely Jesus Christ, some within the ranks of Christendom have suggested that the Angel of the LORD represents Christ, whom God the Father sends and in whom He puts His own Name. This way, they say, God the Son is one and the same god as God the Father. It sounds pretty logical doesn’t it? Is there any substance to Christianity’s claim with respect to this point of theology?

Let us take a look at a few passages explicating the meaning of the phrase “put My Name in him.” (1) In a priestly benediction, pronounced over the children of Israel, God’s Name is believed to be put on those being blessed: “The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Num. 6:22,27) – Were the Israelites automatically presumed Divine when the Name of HaShem was put upon them and in their midst?

Incidentally, in the text of Exodus 8:18, the inspired writer uses the same word “בְּקֶ֥רֶב” (in the midst), when saying that the LORD Himself is in the midst of the land where His people dwell: “And in that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there, in order that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the land. I will make a difference between My people and your people.” (Ex. 8:22-23, NKJV) – Does that mean that the land has somehow become divine as well? What it does mean, though, is that by virtue of God’s presence in the midst of it, the Land of Goshen is now sanctified for His special purpose!

Let us take a look at a few more examples where the Holy Name of God is said “to have been put” in a non-divine entity: (2) Both the City of Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord are said to have the Divine Name put in them by God: “In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever.” (II Kings 21:7) (see also I Kings 5:5; 9:3; 21:4; etc). I trust that we can all easily agree that none of these things are made divine or somehow equal to the LORD of Heaven by virtue of His Holy Name being put in their midst. The same is true of the Angel of the LORD, who seems to be used by God in His face-to-face dealings with many human beings.

People such as: Hagar, Abraham, Moses, Balaam, Joshua and Israelites, Gideon, Samson’s parents, Elijah, etc have all experienced God through His representative Angel. None of them, however, would have inherited eternal life had they chosen to worship the Angel alongside the LORD. Having established His everlasting covenant with the people of Israel, the LORD instructs: “Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb . . .You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens . . .Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments . . .” (Deut. 4:10-12) –The visible forms of God’s angles allow human beings to relate to the Lord through them. The worship, praise and reverence belong to the invisible God of Jacob and Him alone! How many gods have you come to embrace?

The Name of God

Moses at the Burning BushAs part of His self-revelation, the LORD makes His awesome Name known to His servant Moses: “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” (Ex. 3:5-6) – In His all-seeing wisdom, the Creator of the Universe chose to be known as God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel).

Before thus introducing Himself to Moses and the children of Israel, the Almighty had been diligently working to mold and fashion a special nation that would make His glory known to the rest of the world: “This is what God the LORD says — the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles . . .” (Isaiah 42:5,6) – Since Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah and a true son of His God and the people of Israel, the New Testament correctly applies this prophecy to him as well. As a fit representative of His monotheistic people, Jesus the Messiah is the truest expression of Israel as the light unto the nations.

First through Abraham, then through Isaac and finally through Israel and his descendants, the LORD desired to make His Name known to all the world. The creator chose the Name of the LORD God of Israel as His covenantal Name for all times! In Exodus 3, the Lord repeats the Name “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” three times, making sure that both Moses and those whom he would teach afterwards would not forget it! “Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I Shall Be Who I Shall Be.” ("Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.") This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I Shall Be (Eheyh) has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:13-14) – In this stunning verbal interaction with Moses, the LORD confirms that His Name shall never change. He will always be the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! Hundreds of years later, the prophet Isaiah would exclaim: “Our Redeemer—the LORD Almighty is His Name— is the Holy One of Israel.” (Is. 47:4)

While speaking with Moses, Adonai also underscores that He “Shall always Be” with Israel! The mission of Moses was crystal clear from the start: he was to lead the chosen people out of idolatry and slavery of Egypt and into freedom and monotheism of One God! The question then is: “Where are the churches and other spiritual-religious bodies today who profess, worship and call the world back to this very God?” Who does your organization worship?

The most foundational expression of Jewish faith, which they have preserved through millennia of suffering and persecution at the hands of Gentile idolaters, has been the “Shema” confession found in the last book of the Torah: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut. 6:4-5) – This affirmation of the biblical faith has preserved a tiny nation of God’s monotheists in the face of the world’s and Church’s polytheism. The LORD is One and His Name is One and the same! Listen, also, to this eschatological prophecy: “And in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem . . . And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be—“The LORD is one,” and His Name One.” (Zechariah 14:8,9) – How many names does your church confess today? Does it confess the name of the Holy One of Israel? If it doesn’t, it is time to think long and hard about your salvation and your eternal destiny!

Passover Theme # 2: God of Israel is the Only Living God

Hezekiah's PrayerIf you were requested to summarize the central message of the entire corpus written by biblical authors with the help of a single verse from their writings, what passage would you choose? Here is the one, which, I believe, succinctly sums up the major thrust of the Scriptures. In this text, King Hezekiah is in the Temple in Jerusalem, praying to God for deliverance and salvation from the mighty Assyrian army: “Then Hezekiah prayed before the LORD, and said: “O LORD God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God. . .Now therefore, O LORD our God, I pray, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the LORD God, You alone.” (II Kings 19:15-16; 19) – Hezekiah’s supplication is in harmony with the longing of every genuine prophet of God. Their desire is for all the Earth to come to know the One and Only Living God!

The theme of Hezekiah’s prayer has been a fervent refrain of all the prayers uttered by God’s prophets and the Messiah himself. Foreseeing the future, Isaiah the prophet declares: “Whoever invokes a blessing in the land will do so by the one true God; whoever takes an oath in the land will swear by the one true God.” (Is. 65:16) Jesus also prays: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus the Messiah whom You have sent.” (John 17:3) The righteous Habakkuk predicts: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14) – These words are the truest expression of what the Bible and God’s plan are all about! Are you part of this plan?

The entire experience of the Exodus, with its God’s self-revelation at the burning bush, the Ten Devastating Plagues against Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, is masterfully designed to drive home the point about God’s holiness, power and uniqueness in the idolatrous world around us. Before we get to deal with the Ten Plagues and the hardening of the pharaoh’s heart, we should say a few words about God who truly cares. . .

God Who Cares Deeply

Even before the LORD discloses His glorious Name to Moses, He lets him know that the sufferings of the Israelites have not been overlooked by the compassionate Deliverer: “The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey . . .” (Ex. 3:7-8) – The quick succession of action verbs, “have seen . . . have heard . . . am concerned . . . have come down to rescue . . . bring them out of slavery and into a goodly land,” communicates God’s close involvement in our human experience.

The Season of Passover is a very special and potent season of deliverance on all levels of our existence! If you feel that you may not be walking in the freedom of the LORD God Almighty in your life, remember that He is still the same Mighty Savior as He was in the days of Moses and the splitting of the Red Sea! “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” (Is. 59:1-2) – Today is the day to rid our lives of all idolatry and sinfulness, and be delivered by the Holy One of Jacob from every aspect of slavery in our existence. The LORD is close to all who come to Him and call on His Name in truth! Would not you come to Him today?

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The Ten Plagues . . .

Prior to Moses’ arrival back to his adoptive homeland of Egypt, its ethnic majority had ruled over and abused the people of Israel for at least a few hundred years. The first Pharaoh who did not care to learn about Joseph the Jew and his loyal service at the king’s court initiated one of the first recorded genocides in human history by commanding that all male Jewish babies be drowned in the Nile River. Little did he know that his own family and the rest of his murderously obedient country would pay a deadly price for his hateful antisemitism.

Moses Before PharaohHaving displayed God’s miracles in the presence of the Pharaoh and his court, Moses delivered to the prideful monarch a warning concerning the possible consequences of his non-compliance with God’s orders: “. . . ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’”(Ex.4:22-23) – The plagues directed at the Nile River and the death of all the Egyptian firstborn sons, would come as a direct result of the Pharaoh’s genocidal policies against the Jews.

The Ten horrific Plagues that broke out in Egypt, just before the Israelites left it, were engineered by the Almighty to impress on the minds of both His people and the watching nations of heathens that the God of Israel is the Only Living God and that He rules over the world’s elements, its nature and its animal kingdom as well. They were shown to be His obedient servants, just as the Angel of the LORD prior to them. The Plagues ravaged the land of the Egyptians and all those living in it for almost an entire year. During that period of judgment and redemption, there was sufficient time allotted to both God’s chosen people and their adversaries alike to behold the majesty and justice of the Mighty Creator. The first three plagues affected both the Egyptian overlords as well as the Land of Goshen, where Israel resided at the time. The rest of the Plagues, on the other hand, fell squarely on the Egyptians, leaving the people of God untouched. God’s promise to make a difference between those who served Him and those who didn’t stood true.

Pharaoh’s Arteriosclerosis (Hardening of Heart)

Many theologians have puzzled over the biblical account about Pharaoh’s hardening of heart toward his Israelite slaves. First, the text states that it was God Himself who hardened the heart of the king: “The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.” (Ex. 4:21) Later on we read that it was Pharaoh who was responsible for his heart troubles: “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.” (Ex. 8:15) – So, which text is correct? Is there a contradiction in the Bible? The answer to this puzzle is very simple and yet, in my opinion, quite profound.

During the intense periods of personal and communal sufferings in Egypt, due to the presence of one plague or another, it was the LORD God of Israel who did the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Had He not done so, the monarch would most likely have been disposed to let the slaves escape sooner rather than later. However, in that case, his decision would not have been a voluntary one, but the one forced on him by the adverse circumstances! When a successive plague would run its course and there was a relief in the land, Pharaoh hardened his own heart and refused to free the people of Israel (Ex. 8:15). That course of action only served to prove that the Pharaoh had no inclination to let the captives go free out of his own free volition! One of the textual hints corroborating this conclusion is found in his courtiers’ pleas for him to let the Israelites go (Ex. 10:7). Compelled by scenery of destruction of their livelihoods, their pleas were actuated by fear and trepidation rather than compassion for the Jews or their own free will!

Pharaoh’s troubles, however, began long before the first plague occurred. His curse was in his denial of the One Living God: “Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’” Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.” (Ex. 5:1-2) – Do you know the LORD God of Israel today? Whose Feasts and Holy Days are you celebrating this year? Is it the LORD’s Passover, Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits or the Catholic Easter?

1 – 3 The Nile . . .The Frogs . . . and The Lice . . . (Ex. 7:14-8:19)

Nile Into BloodThe Ten Plagues of God brought against Egypt and her people touched upon every element of their world, every human sphere of their existence and every tenet of their pagan faith. Egyptians were truly masters when it came to turning natural into supernatural. They devised a complex system of worship and belief that scrupulously connected heaven, celestial bodies, earth, seas, rivers, springs of waters, trees, plants, animals and everything else to their respective deities.

By turning the waters of the Nile River into blood, commanding the hoards of frogs to infest people’s houses and turning the dust of the land into pernicious lice, the LORD showed His mastery and dominion over the “gods” of Egypt and the elements of the world as well. All three entities mentioned above, namely the Nile, frogs and the earth (lice) were considered divine in the ancient Egypt and worshiped devotedly by the adherents of their respective cults. The first three plagues affected all living in the Land of Egypt, both the Jews and Egyptians alike. The fourth plague, however, brought with it a sharp distinction between the oppressors and the oppressed!

4 – 9 The Flies . . .The Livestock . . .The Boils . . .The Hail . . .The Locusts . . . and The Darkness (Ex. 8:20 – 10:29)

By means of the first eight plagues that collectively led up to the time of unprecedented darkness in Egyptian homeland, the LORD had shown His dominion and total control over the so-called “gods” of Egypt. His power over the sources of all livelihood (Nile, water, food, etc), the fertile earth (dust and lice) , the animal kingdom (frogs, flies, locusts, death of cattle), the health and well-being of all creatures including men (boils), the heavenly spheres (hail), and even the Universe itself (darkening of the celestial bodies) was absolute and unchallenged!

The Bible tells us that Plague #4 entailed some destroying and pesky swarms. It fails to mention, however, what those swarms were made of. Were they swarms of flies, bees, yellow jackets, hornets or something else? Traditionally, the text is assumed to be speaking of the plague of flies. The Jewish tradition, on the other hand, asserts that those were the hordes of wild animals. Since both flies and wild animals were worshipped by the Egyptian polytheists, this particular fact does not change our understanding of the matter too much.

I would like to bring to your attention a few very important things developed by the sacred text in its description of the fourth through ninth plagues. First, as we have mentioned before, plague # 4 introduced a welcome distinction between the children of Israel and their slave masters: I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’”(Ex. 8:23) - The same is true today for all of us who worship the One God of Israel! Are you in?

Second, during one of his heart-to-heart talks with the stubborn Pharaoh, Moses states the primary purpose of everything transpiring in Egypt at the time: “Moses replied, “It will be as you say, so that you may know there is no one like the LORD our God.” (Ex. 8:10) – This, in fact, is the most significant theme of the Exodus experience. It jives perfectly with the message of the rest of the Bible: the Living Creator is One and His unchangeable Name is the LORD God of Israel! What about you? Do you believe in three co-equal, co-eternal and co-dependent gods running the Universe (Christian Trinity)?

Animal worship

Third, in relating Pharaoh’s negotiations with Moses and Aaron, the text reveals a very significant piece of information that will become crucial in our understanding of the entire Passover experience! Take a listen to the text: “Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.” But Moses said, “That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the LORD our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us? We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, as he commands us.” (Ex. 8:25-27) – What exactly is going on in this verbal exchange between Moses and Pharaoh? To find a satisfactory answer to that question, we will turn to the science of Egyptology.

Egyptology is a well-developed branch of archeology, concerned with the study of the history, traditions, culture and beliefs of ancient Egypt. As a result, we have a well-attested body of knowledge that one of the predominant forms of worship among primitive Egyptians was the worship of animals. The text of Exodus 8:25-27 cited above readily confirms that information. So, what does the Egyptian practice of animal worship have to do with Moses and Israelites?

What animals would the worshipping Israelites have sacrificed on their altars as sacred offerings to YHWH? They would have offered sheep, goats and larger cattle, of course. Why would such sacrifices be detestable to the Egyptians? The text of Exodus 8:25-27, as rendered by the NIV (New International Version), and many other English-language translations for that matter, does not allow us a complete and thorough appreciation of what is at stake during these negotiations. With your permission I will adduce a more precise translation of the passage, done by the Jewish Publication Society. Here is what the text says when rendered correctly: “Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, "Go and sacrifice to your God within the land." But Moses replied, "It would not be right to do this, for what we sacrifice to the LORD our God is untouchable to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice that which is untouchable to the Egyptians before their very eyes, will they not stone us! So we must go a distance of three days into the wilderness and sacrifice to the LORD our God as He may command us." (Ex. 8:21-23) – The numbering of the verses is slightly different here, but the text is exactly the same.

Egyptian Animal WorshipNotice that the word “untouchable” is a more appropriate translation of the word referring to the Israelite sacrifices as perceived by the Egyptians. Why would the sacrifices of sheep, goats and bulls be “untouchable” to the Egyptians? The answer is very simple: they worshipped those animals as deities in ancient Egypt! The episode of Israel’s idolatry out in the desert, by the foot of Mount Sinai, illustrates this point quite dramatically (Ex. 32). Once the children of Israel did not have Moses to guide them into the ethical monotheism of Judaism, they conveniently slipped back into a well-known form of worship among the Egyptians, - animal worship! Together with Aaron they fashioned a golden calf and proceeded to pay homage to that Egyptian idol! After all, that was the type of worship they had witnessed in Egypt for the past few hundred years! We will return to this topic at the end of our reflection with some astounding conclusions, indeed!

Fourth, the plague of darkness preceded the last and most terrifying of them all, indicating that by then the entire idol-worshipping Land of Egypt was in utter darkness, both physically and spiritually! The supreme god of the Egyptians, the Sun-god Ra, was powerless to save his subjects from the hand of the God of Moses and Aaron! Every Pharaoh of Egypt was presumed to be the first-born son of Ra. The upcoming tenth plague would deal with the son of Ra as well. It is truly frightening to “fall into the hands of the Living God” when you do not worship and obey Him! The darkening of the Sun, Moon, stars and everything else that might provide light and warmth, exemplified God’s role as their true Creator! Thus, the One who calls Himself the LORD God of Israel is not an ethnic deity, circumscribed by the territory of a small tribe of people. The Holy One of Jacob is the Ruler of the Universe! Do you worship Him or something else?

The Death of the Firstborn . . .

The death of every Egyptian firstborn was the last and most dramatic of the Ten Plagues that struck Egypt before our ancestors left it for good! It is closely tied with the very first Plague too. The Nile River was turned to blood in remembrance of all the Jewish babies drowned in its waters during the Egyptian genocide. Since Israel is declared to be the LORD’s “first-born son,” the poetic justice of the death of all the Egyptian firstborns is undeniable as well. What is even more significant is that the Tenth Plague had finally broken even the Pharaoh’s resolve to resist the LORD’s plan concerning His covenantal people. The usually green and luscious Egypt must have resembled a war zone by the time the last plague had rolled by! Israel, on the other hand, was on the threshold to their long-awaited freedom! We have now come to the most crucial part of our entire Passover reflection!

The Passover Sacrifice

Passover LambThe symbolism and the meaning of the Paschal (Passover) Lamb of the Exodus experience is unquestionably the greatest cornerstone of all of Christian theology. The Apostle John develops this imagery in his Gospel (John 1:29-36) and later on in the Book of Revelation, which is replete with the references to Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God. The Apostle Paul is another writer of the New Testament books, who helps firmly to establish the Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is the Paschal Lamb of God. Referring to the Feast of Passover, he exhorts his listeners: “Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (I Cor. 5:7-8) – Notice that the early Messianic community still kept the appropriate biblical holidays!

Every smart Christian toddler, who has been to a few Sunday or Sabbath school classes, has been taught pretty well that the blood of the slaughtered lambs that Israelites applied to the doorposts of their houses just before they left Egypt, symbolized the blood of Christ as a true Passover Lamb. The Church teaches that the children of Israel were spared destruction at the hands of the Destroying Angel of the LORD precisely because their sins had now been “covered by the blood of the lamb.” Therefore, they teach that by accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we will be spared eternal destruction at the end of the age as well!

Although I thankfully accept the LORD’s sacrificial provision for my sins and those of the entire world in the blood of His Perfect lamb, I would like to ask the following question: “What did the Passover sacrifice of the lambs truly mean in its original, historical circumstances?” You will be astonished at what we will discover shortly!

The Biblical New Year

Prior to giving the Israelites some meticulous instructions as to the Passover sacrifice, the LORD God of Israel establishes the month of Aviv (Nisan) as the beginning of the year for His people! “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” (Ex. 12:1-2) – In our family we have come to celebrate the New Year in accordance with the LORD’s command, namely on Nisan 1st of the Jewish calendar. Although we used to “meet” the New Year as everybody else around us on January 1st, we have since learned that the entire month of January, and especially January 1st, is dedicated to the pagan Roman god Janus.

JanusThat heathen deity was exemplified by a two-headed monstrosity, believed to be presiding over new beginnings and transitions, - hence the New Year’s celebrations. It is important to understand that we bow down and revere the power whose festivals we celebrate in our lives! If that Power is the LORD God of Israel, then Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, etc are a natural choice; but if our god is the Catholic Trinity, then Easter, Christmas and other festive days are prescribed to us! Choose today whom you will worship and obey! “As for me and my house, - we shall serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15)

The Paschal Lamb

By the time when Moses delivered to his people some of the most detailed instructions concerning the Passover sacrifice, they had witnessed the power of their God in the Land of Egypt for almost an entire year. Their faith in the LORD of Heaven and their desire to be free had been steadily growing over that period of time. They had come to see that the mightiest of all Deliverers was among them, shielding them from the plagues affecting the rest of the country and pleading their cause for freedom! They had seen a complete reversal of fortunes, - the once mighty oppressors were now groaning in fear and apprehension before the eyes of those who used to serve them as slaves. Israel was finally ready for the act of faith in HaShem (the LORD) and the act of defiant courage that would fly in the face of the Egyptian idolaters! That act of courage and faith would be carried out during their Passover sacrifice!

Applying the BloodHere are the instructions: “Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. . . The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.” (Ex. 12:3,5-7) – Not only were the Israelites commanded to slaughter a sheep or a goat for their Festive Meal, they were also instructed to smear some of the sacrificial blood on the doorframes of their houses.

The blood of the Passover sacrifice is declared in the text to be a sign for both the people of Israel and their God. What is really going on in this passage from a spiritual and theological point of view? As we have stated above, Christian theology teaches, in no uncertain terms, that by virtue of the sacrificial blood covering the sins of Jewish people, they were spared the last plague in Egypt. Is that really so? What about the preceding nine plagues, five of which did not touch a single Jewish life, and all that without shedding of any blood?

We have seen thus far that the major themes of the entire exodus story have to do with the One Living God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, whose Name happens to be the LORD God of Israel and the judgment against polytheism of the Egyptians and anybody practicing it as well. All the nine plagues, building up to the screaming crescendo of the Last One, were designed to teach both Israel and Egypt that the God of the Hebrews is the Only Living God out there, and that the total control over the entire Universe belongs to Him.

Egyptian DeityWe have also discovered that the people of Israel were both unwilling and unable to bring appropriate sacrifices of sheep, goats and bulls in the presence of the Egyptians (Ex. 8). That was due to the fact that the Egyptians worshipped all the animals in question. Thus, for instance, sacrificing a bull in their country would put the superstitious Egyptians in the mind of their god Ptah, represented by a bull, stirring up their outrage and desire for vengeance. (It was most likely the pagan image of Ptah, (the golden calf), that the Israelites re-created in the desert by the Mount Sinai). A cow would stand for an Egyptian deity called Hathor. What is even more fascinating is that their god Amun was conceived as a ram (or a lamb). Knowing these facts all too well, the Pharaoh showed himself to be a cunning and ruthless negotiator when he proposed that Moses and Israel should sacrifice their animals in the midst of Egypt! They would have been attacked by the animal worshipping mob! Do you know any modern-day worshippers of the lamb-god?

By ordering His people to slaughter a lamb (or ram) while still dwelling in Egypt the LORD drew a very clear line in the sand of their existence. Those who trusted HaShem and were willing to serve Him in freedom of their own land would obey the command and slaughter an Egyptian deity right in the midst of that idolatrous land! The ones unwilling to risk their lives by sacrificing a lamb would be left unprotected from the Destroying Angel and stay behind after Israel’s departure! This is a true biblical understanding of the Passover Sacrifice of Lambs. It stands in an unbroken harmony with the rest of the Exodus story, which focuses on the LORD’s triumph over the “gods” of Egypt and the rest of pagan world!

Having given injunctions concerning the slaughtering of lambs, the LORD states: “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.” (Ex. 12:12-13) – Bringing judgment on all the gods of Egypt is what is finally accomplished during the Passover Night. By slaughtering the lambs on the night of the Passover, Israel was joined inseparably and forever to their God. Just as the LORD was meting out His exacting justice on the first-born sons of the Egyptians, Israel was finally unafraid to kill an Egyptian god of ram on the very turf of their former masters!

The blood smeared on the Hebrew doorframes was a potent sign to both the Israelites and their God. To Israel, the blood of an Egyptian deity, displayed proudly on their dwelling places, was a sign of their courage, faith in Adonai a sure symbol of their immediate and irrevocable departure from the land of slavery and idolatry! To God, that same blood on the houses of His people symbolized their final and total commitment to the LORD who is above the “gods” of Egypt, all nature and its animals! That is why the Destroyer “passed over” the houses of the first monotheists on Earth! Are you in a good company?

Lamb, Snake and Immanuel! . . .

I know that you may feel shocked that the original meaning of the Paschal Lamb had more to do with Israel’s triumph over an Egyptian idol-deity than with the atoning blood of the sacrifice for sin. I was also greatly shaken when I first delved into the text in earnest and found this fact to be true for myself. God’s Word is much more powerful than we can even imagine! Many of its places, which we deem to have been fully plumbed as to their deepest meaning, continue to surprise a careful student of the Scriptures!

Thus, for instance, in our previous study, dedicated to the Name “Immanuel,” we were able to see that in its original context the name applied to Isaiah and his sons as signs and symbols in Israel. We discovered that the name had no initial connotation of God being incarnate in human flesh. That particular meaning became a long-standing legacy of the Church ignorant of the Hebrew Scriptures and seeking to invent its own religion. Therefore, when we apply the Name “Immanuel” to baby Jesus born in Bethlehem, it has nothing to do with some “Second Person of the Blessed Pantheon of Trinity,” as the Church suggests that we believe. According to its biblical understanding, the name implies that the God of Heaven is working among us for our salvation. His act of anointing Jesus as Israel’s Messiah is a fabulous example of such workings! So, you can see that God’s prophecies have more than one rigid application to them. However, one must be very cautious not to read into the prophecy what is not there originally!

Bronze SnakeAnother good example of that is the episode with a brass snake, which Moses was commanded to fashion in the desert, so that the people of Israel may be saved from the plague of some fiery serpents (Numbers 21). Amazingly, Jesus Christ compares himself to a bronze serpent in his nightly conversation with a Jewish Elder Nicodimus: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:14-15) – Just as the act of faith, displayed when the people of Israel looked at the Bronze Serpent lifted up on a stick, was the act of faith in their Living God, so is our faith today, - it resides in the One who provided the Lamb, not in the blood of the sacrifice. Where do you put your faith?

Unfortunately for Israel, Moses’ Snake was preserved and later worshipped alongside Adonai by the people who were supposed to be strict monotheists. They had tasted many a trouble and woe before the Snake was finally destroyed by the righteous King Hezekiah (II Kings 18). Both the Bronze Serpent and the Passover Lamb are, first and foremost, symbols of idolatry and evil. Miraculously, though, the Holy One of Jacob provides salvation even through them! By doing that, He draws our attention to the Only Source of Life and Immortality, - the LORD God of Israel! Who do you worship today? Is it a Bronze Serpent or a Paschal Lamb? As for me and my house, - we shall serve the Holy One of Israel!

Unleavened Bread

As a direct result of God’s miraculous activity among the Egyptians and the Israelites’ final and daring act of courage and defiance, their former enslavers begged them to depart from Egypt with a tremendous haste! That is why Moses exhorted his people to eat the Passover fully prepared for leaving: “This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.” (Ex. 12:11) – I hope that all of us reflecting together on these important themes of the Passover are just as much in haste to leave the oppression of sin and godlessness of our own existence as were the Israelites in Egypt!

The LORD’s Passover is followed immediately by the Feast of Unleavened Bread and then by the Festival of Firstfruits! We are told in the Bible that because of Israel’s hasty departure from the land of oppression their bread dough did not have time to rise. Since making bread with any type of yeast requires much time for its preparation, we are commanded to eat our bread without leaven during the seven days of the Unleavened Bread. Leaven also symbolizes sin and corruption in the language of the New Testament. We are, therefore, encouraged to leave such things behind and draw nigh to our God with sincerity and truth! The Feast of Firtsfruits falls in the middle of all these festive celebrations. It speaks of Israel’s immergence from the parted waters of the Red Sea as God’s firstfruits on Earth! But that is another story for some other time!

Let us briefly summarize the major points of our today’s discussion:

1) The Passover is a Season of Deliverance, Freedom and Life-changing Questions;

2) The centerpiece of the entire experience is the LORD God of Israel; He is the only Real God out there;

3) The LORD reveals Himself to Moses, Aaron, Israel, Pharaoh, Egyptians and also to the rest of the world as the Only Living and Reigning God of the Universe;

4) The Ten Plagues were designed to show God’ sovereignty over His Creation and its elements. They were God’s judgments against all other “gods” and all idolatry. He alone is to be feared and worshipped;

5) The Angel of the LORD is but one of God’s servants. Our worship belongs singularly to the God of Israel;

6) The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was, in fact, a consequence of his capacity for a free will; without the hardening of his heart by the LORD he would not have been free to choose the course of actions that he pursued. During the times of relief Pharaoh is said to have hardened his heart himself;

7) The Feast of Passover falls on the 14th of Nisan, - the first month in the biblical calendar. The traditional New Year’s celebrations in the West are a vestige of ancient pagan Roman belief in the “god” of new beginnings and transitions, called Janus;

8) Slaughtering a lamb (goat) by the children of Israel, right before their Exodus from slavery, was an act of courage, obedience to God and defiance of Egyptian reverence and worship of the Ram (lamb)-god.

Happy Passover 1
May the Living and Reigning God of Israel grant you and your households a powerful Season of Deliverance, Joy and Freedom during this year’s Passover! Happy Passover to you!

Next Year in Jerusalem!