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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Exodus 12

 

 

Verses 1-36

When Pharaoh heard Moses speak the words, commencing with "Thus saith the Lord" as recorded in Exodus 11:1-10 he was listening to the voice of God for the last time, though doubtless he did not know it. The preliminary judgments had run their course. The time for talking was over. Decisive action was now to start. Chapter 12 begins with the Lord speaking to Moses, but all, that He now has to say concerns the people, whom He had chosen as His own.

There was now to take place an event of an epoch-making character. This is indicated in verse Exodus 12:2. By it the Jewish calendar was to be entirely recast. They had, and still have, their reckoning on a secular basis, since their New Year 5712 fell on October 1st, last. Now, however, their reckoning, in the Divine estimation, was to begin in the month of the Passover, which comes, as we know, in our spring.

Here we reach a point when the typical value of all that happened to them becomes very conspicuous. Reading verse Exodus 12:2 we have to remind ourselves that the appropriation of the death of Christ lies at the very beginning of everything for us. If we have not started there we have made no real beginning at all. What was typically represented in the Passover lies at the basis of all God's dealings with us.

In verses Exodus 12:3-5, our attention is centred upon the many lambs that had to be selected by the Israelites. Their number was to be determined by the number of households, except that, when those included in a household were unusually few, two houses were to be combined. Thus early do we see that a house formed a unit in the Divine reckoning, and the principle of "Thou and thy house," is emphasized.

It was a stringent condition that the lambs selected were to be without blemish, and this was not to be determined in a hurried way, since though chosen on the tenth day they were not to be slain until the fourteenth, and hence their unblemished state carefully ascertained. The lamb was to be a faint foreshadowing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who passed through every possible test, thus displaying His perfection before He died. It is worthy of note that though the fact is made quite clear that there were many lambs, yet after verse Exodus 12:3 the word is always in the singular. It is "the lamb," or "your lamb," or, "it." So we have before us the lamb that typifies, "the Lamb of God."

On the fourteenth day between the evenings the lamb was slain, and its blood applied to the two side posts and the lintel, outside the house where they dwelt, and inside the house its flesh was to be eaten by the family. The blood marks on the door were the external witness that death had already taken place within. The eating of the flesh within the house typified the realization and appropriation of the death of the lamb by those who were sheltered by its blood.

The way in which this was to be done, as recorded in verse Exodus 12:8 is very significant. It was to be roast with fire, and accompanied with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. All three details are important.

First, roast with fire, and not sodden with water. To boil is to apply the heat indirectly through the medium of water. To roast is to subject the body of the lamb to the direct fierceness of the flame, which is ever figurative of the searching judgment of God. If we are sheltered from judgment by the precious blood of Christ we are ever to digest inwardly as applying to ourselves, the fierceness of that judgment, which He endured in order to accomplish our deliverance.

Second, the bread which they were to eat with it must be unleavened. This is not the first mention in Scripture of unleavened bread for we had it mentioned in Genesis 19:3, where it formed part of the food offered to and accepted by angels; but consistently leaven is used as a figure of sin, and its fermenting properties make it a very apt type. If we enjoy the benefits that reach us as the result of Christ bearing the judgment of our sins, then the sins for which He died, and the sin to which He died, are not to be countenanced by us. How plainly the antitype is seen in 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Corinthians 5:8.

Third, the bitter herbs typify that inward work of self-judgment, which must ever accompany the benefits we receive. Sin and its judgment, from which we are delivered is a very bitter thing, and it is the plan of God that we should be made to realize it deeply. And let us once more emphasize that eating implies, an inward appropriation.

Let us further notice that the lamb was to be roasted whole — "his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof." There was to be no mutilation of the carcase as it was exposed to the fire. And further in the eating of it no bone was to be broken — see verse Exodus 12:46 of our chapter. The force of this we see when we read John 19:36, "A bone of Him shall not be broken." Moreover what could not be eaten was to be burnt with fire. Nothing was to be put to unholy use or left to some chance happening. Even about the type there was a sacredness that was to be observed.

And further again, they were to realize that these solemn acts to be performed were not only designed for their safety but also had a great end in view. They were going to be sheltered from the impending judgment in order that they might be delivered from the grip of Pharaoh and from the bondage of Egypt. Hence they were to eat it in the manner prescribed in verse Exodus 12:11. They were not to eat it reclining, as though it was an ordinary meal, but standing with staff in hand, girded for the journey and in haste, as just about to depart. The import of this we must never forget. God has sheltered us from His judgment in order that He may deliver us from Satan and from the world-system, of which he is the god and prince, and bring us to Himself. This is plainly stated in Galatians 1:4.

The word "passover" occurs for the first time in Scripture at the end of verse Exodus 12:11. We are told that the Hebrew word thus translated means to pass over protectively, rather like a bird stretching its wings over its young, and not merely the negative idea of omitting to notice when it is a question of judgment. On that fateful night Jehovah was going to smite the firstborn and execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, but, wherever the token of death was seen on the house, over it His wings of protection should be spread and the plague should not enter to destroy.

In this we may see another delightful Gospel type. In virtue of the blood of Christ the believer is clear of the judgment. But it is not merely that, righteousness having been satisfied, the believer can be exempted from judgment when the stroke falls upon the world, but rather that the very righteousness of God instead of being a sword to smite him has become a shield to protect him. This fact, when we really lay hold of it, exerts a very establishing effect upon our souls.

It is also important for us to remember that the blood of the lamb was outside for the eye of God. The word was, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you." Once the blood was there, God would not fail to see it. They had not to see the blood, but rather, knowing it was there, to rest content with the definite word of God that, since it was there, He would pass over them. The blood was for the eye of God: His word was for the ears and hearts of those within.

Verses Exodus 12:14-17, contain further words of the Lord, showing that what He now was instituting was not something to be observed on that particular night only, and then to be treated as having served its purpose and to be dismissed from their thoughts. It was rather to be perpetuated as a yearly feast, so that they might never forget that their links with Egypt had been broken by God, in order that they might be brought to Himself as His own special possession. The Passover was to be followed by the feast of unleavened bread, extending over the next seven days. It was to be marked by the absence of leaven. It was to begin and end with "an holy convocation," in which no manner of work was to be done. If "no manner of work," then even the sort of work which would have been considered the most meritorious was excluded. Man's work was to be shut out, and only God's work was to be considered.

The word, "memorial" occurs in verse Exodus 12:14, and this describes the bearing of the Passover feast among the Jews. It guaranteed the objective reality of the basis of their deliverance from Egypt, and kept them in yearly remembrance of it. They may often have failed to observe it properly, or even observe it at all; but such was its intention. The observance of the Lord's Supper by the saints of today has, amongst other things, a similar intention, as we see in the words of the Apostle — "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come" (1 Corinthians 11:26). We are to show forth, or memorialize, His death, thus establishing its objective reality for all who have eyes to see.

The Passover feast was a matter of a few hours at the most, whereas the feast of unleavened bread covered seven days. This had a typical bearing. The Passover was a prophecy, as well as a memorial commemorating a past event. The prophecy was fulfilled in the death of Christ which, though of eternal importance, took place within a few hours. But the seven days of the unleavened bread feast set forth a whole cycle of time, as signified in 1 Corinthians 5:8. For each believer today it covers the whole period of his life of responsibility. As long as we are in this world of sin, we are to keep clear of the "leaven," as those that are, "dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God" (Romans 6:11).

In verses Exodus 12:21-24, we have the record of how Moses conveyed these instructions to the people, and one or two additional features are mentioned. The blood was to be applied with hyssop, a small plant that grew freely on walls. Several times in Leviticus cedar wood and hyssop are mentioned together. Now the cedar is an emblem of majesty, and by way of contrast hyssop is an emblem of what is humble and insignificant. It was fitting that the hand that applied the blood should be covered with humility. It is when we are brought down into the dust of repentance that we are covered by the blood of Christ.

And further, those covered by the blood had to remain in the house until the morning. While judgment was falling upon the Egyptian world the firstborn were to remain safely housed beneath the blood. When the morning appeared their deliverance from Egypt became an accomplished fact. We pass through the night of this world to the brightness of the morning that is coming. Thanks be to God, the efficacy of the blood of Christ abides throughout the night. No fresh application of it is needed.

Verses Exodus 12:24-27, show how Moses impressed upon the people that the Passover ritual was to be carefully observed, so that future generations might be kept in remembrance of God's work of judgment and deliverance. For the moment the people received the words, and worshipped the God who was intervening on their behalf. Verse Exodus 12:28 tells us that they rendered obedience to all the instructions that God had given. Obedience is always the way of blessing.

At midnight the Lord did exactly as He had said, and the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and beast, died by the stroke of the destroyer. Egyptian custom demanded much wailing when death occurred, so there must indeed have been a great cry in the darkness of that night. We may take it as a forecast of that "weeping and gnashing of teeth" in the "outer darkness," of which the Lord spoke three times in Matthew's Gospel.

Under this tremendous and unprecedented stroke the resistance of Pharaoh collapsed, and he conceded all that had been demanded by Moses. The Egyptian people also were urgent that the children of Israel should depart. They realized that they were all under the death sentence. There was not one house in which there was not one dead. Death indeed had been universal. In the houses of the Egyptians it was the death of the firstborn. In the houses of the Israelites it was the death of the lamb.

The fear of God now lay heavily on the minds of the Egyptians and they were disposed to give to the people all that they asked. Hence they were laden with plenty of raiment and also with "jewels," or "utensils" of gold and silver. Their departure in such haste also helped to the fulfilling of the instructions as regards the leaven. There was no time to leaven their bread, so that any forgetfulness in this matter was avoided. Under these circumstances they could not but eat unleavened bread for the next seven days.

These facts here recorded show how it was that the people had such an abundance of materials and of gold and silver when the time came in the wilderness to construct the tabernacle according to the word of the Lord.


Verse 37

The latter part of Exodus 12:1-51, and the whole of Exodus 13:1-22, are occupied with two things. First, certain historical details concerning the actual departure of the people from Egypt. Second, the record of certain instructions, conveyed to them from God by Moses.

Verses Exodus 12:37-39, show us how greatly God had multiplied the people under the afflictions of Egypt. They went out about 600,000 men, whereas when Jacob went down there the number mentioned in Genesis 46:27 is 70. They went out complete with children, flocks and herds, as verse Exodus 12:38 records, but also with "a mixed multitude," who presently became a source of weakness and trouble. This is a very significant statement and worthy of note.

We do not find such a thought as God having a people of His own until we come to the children of Israel in Egypt. How striking then that as soon as God takes a people for His own and calls them out of bondage to be for Himself, there should be the intermingling of a foreign element, which helped to develop the corruption innate in the people themselves. Thus it was with Israel, and thus it has been in the history of the church.

Verses Exodus 12:40-42 show us the exactitude with which God keeps to His own appointed time. He had mentioned 400 years to Abraham, as we see in Genesis 15:13. We are not told the exact point from which the calculation of the 430 years starts, but on the very day it ended the people went out of Egypt, and they are designated, "the hosts of the Lord," though to all appearance they were but a large collection of liberated slaves. That night of their deliverance they were never to forget. That it was the "self-same day" of the Divine purpose is again affirmed in verse 51.

We have, in the intervening verses, further instructions from the Lord as to the observance of the Passover. It was to be what we may call a household feast, for all outside Israelite households were excluded from it. The hired servant, who might at short notice quit his job, was not regarded as of the household, whereas the bondman, who had sold himself for money, according to the regulations of Exodus 21:1-6, was considered as belonging to it, under one stringent condition, that he was circumcised.

This feast was for all Israel and none could excuse themselves from it. All were to join in this observance which kept alive the memory of the great deliverance from Egypt, while at the same time it had a prophetic value, as pointing forward to the death of Christ. This is apparent to us though in all probability the children of Israel did not know it. In the same way the intention of the Lord in instituting His supper is that all His saints should observe it; the memorial of His death on the one hand, while pointing forward to His coming on the other.

But whether the native Israelite or the servant bought with money or the stranger, all must be circumcised. This outward rite — a cutting around and off of man's flesh — pointed on to that which was effected in the death of Christ, as is shown in Colossians 2:11. In this verse the words "of the sins," have very little manuscript authority. It should read, "putting off the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of the Christ" (New Trans.) As Christians we are to recognize that we have put off the flesh in its totality in the death of Christ. We are "circumcised" in His "circumcision;" that is, His death.

The rite was one which only applied to the males among the people. They had to suffer the pain and inconvenience of it, the female was regarded as circumcised in the male. In this respect also the type is a fitting one, for all the suffering entailed fell upon Christ and we are circumcised in Him. Now that the type has been fulfilled in His death, those who would merely enforce the outward rite are dismissed as the "concision," which means a mere cutting down, a lopping off, and not a complete removal. The true circumcision today are those who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh as said in Philippians 3:2, Philippians 3:3. Such treat the flesh as condemned, and hence are not merely trying to lop off its more objectionable habits.

Exodus 13:1-22 opens with another very important matter. In the previous chapter the firstborn had been sheltered by the blood of the lamb. They are now formally claimed by God as belonging to Him. "They are Mine," is the word, and hence Moses was to "sanctify" them; that is, set them apart for God's special pleasure and service. If we turn to Numbers 3:40-45, we find this confirmed, but that the Levites were taken in substitution for the firstborn to do that service. This is the first mention in Scripture of sanctification as applied to persons. The previous use was in Genesis 2:1-25, when God sanctified, or set apart, the seventh day of creation. Both scriptures help to show the simple meaning of "sanctification" — "to set apart for God." It is because we are thus sanctified that practical sanctification is incumbent upon us. We have not been sheltered from judgment by the blood of Christ to set us free to please ourselves but to be for Him.

Verses Exodus 12:3-10 made clear to Israel that the feast of Unleavened Bread was not something to be observed just as they came out of Egypt, and then to be dismissed as done with; It was for all time, as a memorial of the great deliverance. If we had only the record in the three Gospels of the institution of the Lord's Supper, it might be thought that the bearing of that did not extend beyond the night in which He was betrayed. But the fourth record, in 1 Corinthians 11:1-34, settles the point. It is to be observed, "till He come." Israel was to "keep this ordinance in his season from year to year." We observe the Lord's Supper from Lord's Day to Lord's Day.

Verses Exodus 12:11-16, present another commandment to be observed in Israel, as a further reminder of how God delivered them from Egypt. All the firstborn in Israel, whether of man or beast, were to be regarded as the Lord's. That the firstborn of Israel should be linked together with the firstling of a donkey is a humbling thing, but thus it is in verse Exodus 12:13. The firstborn of man must be redeemed. The firstling of an ass might not be, and in that case it suffered death itself. If redeemed, it was by the death of a lamb in its room and stead, just as the firstborn were redeemed in Exodus 12:1-51. Thus again do we have presented to us that redemption is made effective on a substitutionary basis.

From verse Exodus 12:17 we learn that the Philistines were already settled in the coastal plain of Palestine, and that they were a warlike race. Now for the pilgrim people of God war is inevitable, but God in His compassion did not mean Israel to be faced with it within a few days of their deliverance. Hence what looked like the short and easy cut to Canaan was avoided and the longer route by the Red Sea was ordered of God. There was therefore a good reason for the longer and more difficult route, just as there are good reasons for difficult passages in the lives of saints today. Though the more difficult road had to be taken, they went under authority. Translators, it appears have some difficulty as to the exact meaning of the word translated "harnessed," but in a general way it surely indicates that they went forth in good order as a host and not as a disorderly rabble.

We see from verse Exodus 12:19 how observant Moses was of the dying charge of Joseph, though uttered long before Moses was born. In this charge, as Hebrews 11:1-40 shows, the faith of Joseph expressed itself, for he knew it would be better for his bones to rest in the land in which Messiah's glory should shine than lie entombed in the elaborate and costly sepulchres of Egypt. God did not permit the desires of his faith to be overlooked.

The closing verses of the chapter record how God put before His people the visible symbol of His presence. He became their Leader in this striking way and in spite of all their subsequent failure and faithlessness did not forsake them. In the pillar of cloud He was their guide by day. In the pillar of fire He was their light by night. And what He was, He was always. What they had in this visible way we have in His word today and in the presence of His Holy Spirit.

Exodus 14:1-31 opens with definite direction being given through Moses as to the first movement they were to make. There was nothing haphazard about this, though it led them into what seemed an impossible position. God knew exactly what Pharaoh's reaction to this move would be. Panic-stricken he had let the people go, but he was just the same Pharaoh. His heart was quite unchanged and the hour had now come for his destruction. When God hardens a man's heart his doom is fixed, and God would be honoured in the judgment of him and his hosts.

Thus it turned out in the event. The move they made, as Divinely directed, appeared to the warlike eye of Pharaoh as a colossal military mistake. They were entangled in the land, with the sea before them and the wilderness on either flank It was so apparent that Pharaoh could not resist the temptation to have his last revenge upon them So collecting the very flower of his formidable army, he planted his forces behind them; the obvious thing to do from a military standpoint. The children of Israel were now hemmed in by death on every side — death by drowning in front; death by wilderness starvation on the right hand and on the left; death by the sword of Pharaoh behind.

This the people saw quite clearly They cried out to the Lord, which was right. But they also cried out against Moses, which betrayed their lack of faith. Modern discoveries of the many graves of Egypt and their treasures enable us to appreciate the sarcastic sting in their words, "Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?" A few days before, "the people bowed the head and worshipped" (Exodus 12:27). How different now! Immediately danger appears they betray their lack of faith and claim that they had asked to be let alone to serve the Egyptians. Here at once we see the germ of that unbelief which eventually led to their carcases falling in the wilderness. They did die in the wilderness, not because Moses or God failed them, but "because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:19).

Their words were a cutting blow to Moses, but his answer to them is very fine. No recrimination, but rather a word of calm faith, calculated to still their panic and assure their hearts. The people put their unbelief between themselves and the Egyptians, whereas he saw the Lord between them, and about to act on their behalf. It was not theirs to act, but to see the salvation of the Lord as He acted on their behalf.

While Moses displayed this calm faith that may well fill us with admiration, he yet made a mistake. He bade the people to "stand still," whereas when he cried to the Lord the command was that they "go forward," and he was to act on behalf of the Lord. Their going forward was to be an act of faith by which they would appropriate the remarkable salvation that God was about to effect. If they had remained stationary, the dividing of the sea would not have delivered them.

Can we not see a striking type here? The great salvation which is ours is not something that we accomplish, but it is something that we appropriate in faith, and we are warned against neglecting it. By His death and resurrection Christ has wrought salvation on our behalf, and we have no hand in it. But this does not shut us up to that species of fatalism which would say that there is nothing we can do about it, and that, if we are to be saved, we shall be without any move on our part; and that if we are not going to be saved, that is final and nothing we can do will alter it. Truly only Christ can accomplish the work but it is ours to go forward in faith and receive for ourselves the benefit of what He has done. Let us endeavour to hold evenly the balance between these two sides of Gospel truth.

Moses was to act, lifting up his rod over the sea, when the Lord would carve a way through it for His people. That way would be salvation to Israel but destruction to proud Pharaoh and his host, and that in such signal fashion as to be remembered through many generations. We see in type that a way of life was to be made through the waters of death.

Verses Exodus 12:19-20 record what we may venture to call the decisive move in this tremendous drama. The Angel of God in the pillar of cloud removed from the van of the Israelites and planted Himself between them and the pursuing Egyptians. The Angel was about to walk with them through the waters of death, but He would do so as covering their rear with the cloud of His presence. Whatever was now about to happen, no Egyptian would be able to strike a single Israelite unless he could pierce through the cloud. Before he could touch any of those who were escaping from slavery he would have to overcome God Almighty!

Was not this move then the most decisive of the whole remarkable series? It happily illustrates the great word that the Apostle wrote in Romans 8:31, "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?" Yes, indeed! Who can be? Let us never lose the sense of the security and the triumph of this wonderful fact.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Exodus 12:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/exodus-12.html. 1947.


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Saturday, September 23rd, 2017
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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