Redemption at Passover

by Lois Tverberg

“I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God.” Exodus 6:6-7

The theme of Passover is redemption, when God redeemed his people from slavery from Egypt. We miss the full implications if we don’t understand the ancient meaning of that word. If a man fell into debt and went into slavery, a kinsman would be needed to “buy” him back to freedom. But once the man was redeemed by being “purchased,” his relationship to his redeemer changed. Now he was specifically bound to his redeemer, and he became “his,” only as a close family member, not as a slave. As an example, when Boaz acted as kinsman redeemer to Ruth, she became his wife (Ruth 4:9-10).

God is using this image when He told Moses to say to His people,

`I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. `Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God. (Exodus 6:6-7)

God is saying that He will redeem them as a kinsman would, and purchase them as His own people, forming a relationship so that they would be uniquely His, and He would be their God. This verse is recited every year at Passover to remember the relationship that God began with His people through His redemption.

Each of the four verbs God used in the promise above (bring out, deliver, redeem, and take) is related to one of the four cups of wine used in the Seder meal. The third cup of the Passover meal is called the Cup of Redemption, and was associated with God’s promise, “I will redeem you”. This is the cup that Jesus held up at the last Passover supper, and said was His blood shed to redeem us as His people, in a new covenant for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is describing how through His atoning death, he has “purchased us”, to set us free from slavery to sin and death. By this transaction, we have been brought into a new relationship with Him as His covenantal people. His disciples understood the magnitude of Jesus’ redemptive “purchase” of us and expressed it this way:

…You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 1 Pet 1:18-19

Praise the Lord for the great purchase that He made 2000 years ago, when the cup of suffering became the cup of redemption, when He purchased us as His people. Whenever you think of His death and resurrection, remember that we are not our own, but we are His, bought with a price. That should make us eager to serve our resurrected King, Christ the Lord.

Dayeinu – It Would Have Been Enough

by Lois Tverberg

If He had rescued us from Egypt,
but not punished the Egyptians,
It would have been enough. (Dayeinu )

If He had punished the Egyptians,
but not divided the Red Sea before us,
It would have been enough.

If He had divided the Red Sea before us,
but not supplied us in the desert for 40 years,
It would have been enough.

If He had supplied us in the desert for 40 years,
but not brought us to the land of promise,
It would have been enough.

If He had brought us to the land of promise,
but not made us a holy people,
It would have been enough.

How much more, then, are we to be grateful to God for all of these good things which he has indeed done for all of us!

The verses above are from a much longer melody that is sung at Passover celebrations every year. It is a very ancient song, written about 1000 years ago. It is one of my favorite parts of the celebration, as a long list of God’s blessings are recounted, with the idea that if God would have stopped at any one, they would have been completely satisfied. What a wonderful attitude of gratefulness! How much longer would the list be if we as Christians added to them…

If He had redeemed me with His suffering and death,
but not filled me with His Spirit,
it would have been enough.

If He had filled me with His Spirit,
but did not guide my life daily as His disciple,
it would have been enough.

If He guided my life daily as His disciple,
but did not lovingly answer my prayers,
it would be enough.

If He lovingly answered my prayers
but did not give me His promise to spend eternity with Him,
it would be enough.

(Add your own verses here!)

How much more, then, are we to be grateful to God for all of these good things which he has indeed done for all of us!

The Bones of Joseph

Bones laid to rest

by Lois Tverberg

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.” – Exodus 13:15

The Bible shares a detail about the Israelites made their great departure of Egypt that we might see as minor – that Moses brought the bones of Joseph along with them. In Genesis it is recorded that Joseph knew that God would take his family out of Egypt and asked to be taken with them:

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.” So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt. – Gen. 50:24-26

To us it might seem minor, but this detail adds a remarkable amount of continuity and closure to Bones laid to restthe greater story of Joseph and the family of Israel in Egypt. Joseph was the first of the family to go
down into Egypt, and he was exiled there by his own brothers’ hatred. Now, just as his own family sent him down there, his family would need to carry him back out again. Or another way of looking at it is that Joseph had brought his whole family down to Egypt to rescue them from famine, and once again he would be with them when God rescued them from oppression.

In his early years, Joseph had dreamed of being a ruler, but this was the reason his brothers hated him and sent him into bondage. In spite of years of prison and dashed hopes in his own dreams, in faith he interpreted the Pharaoh’s and his servants’ visions, and his accurate interpretation was why Pharaoh set him free. At the end of Joseph’s life, he had one last “dream” – that God would bring his whole family out of Egypt and into the land he ultimately promised, and God fulfilled that one too.

In a sense, once Joseph was sold into bondage, that was the very beginning of the captivity of the family of Israel, because for the next 400 years, at least one of their family was not free to live in the land God gave them. Joseph was allowed to bury his father in Israel, but had to return to Egypt to be buried, showing his (temporary) loss of claim on God’s promise. (See “Enslaving Themselves.”) But when God did come to rescue Israel and they took even Joseph’s bones, it showed that not one person who had waited faithfully on the Lord was left behind when God came to rescue his people.


Photo: Tomas Castelazo

A Night of Watching

Vigil

by Lois Tverberg

It was a night of watching for the LORD to bring them out from the land of Egypt; and so on this night all Israel is to keep the vigil to the LORD for generations to come. Exodus 12:42 (NET)

Most know that the Jewish Passover celebration focuses on remembering how God redeemed his people from Egypt, but it also looks forward to God’s final redemption in the coming of the Messiah. The command to remember the deliverance from Egypt is clear to us, but it might be a mystery as to where Jewish people find the idea that they should look forward to redemption as well.

VigilThe answer is in Exodus 12:42, above, that says that all Israel is to keep vigil for generations to come. They saw this as meaning that they should be watching for what great thing that God will do next. Passover is referred to as a “night of vigil,” of keeping watch. Passover begins with the setting of the sun, as all days do in the Hebrew calendar. As the feast day begins, people are mindful of the need to watch for what God will be doing through the night and in the day ahead. The traditional way to observe this command is to open the front door of the house and look out – to show that you are standing alert. Typically, one of the children open the door to see if Elijah is there, because Malachi says that he will come before the Messiah:

“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty…”See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. Mal. 3:1, 4:5

In Jesus’ time, of course, he explains that John the Baptist fulfilled the role of the “Elijah” who would come before him.

It is fascinating, in light of this tradition, that Christ really did complete his mission of dying for our sins on the very day that they were looking for their redeemer to come. Late at night, just hours after the Passover meal Jesus was arrested in the garden, and in the wee hours he stood trial. Before the next day had fully begun, he was being led out to death. Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 26:40 take on special meaning to me now:

“Could you not keep watch with me for just one hour?”


Photo: A01333441jarh

I Do This Because…

Torah Scroll

by Lois Tverberg

“For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the LORD. On that day tell your son, `I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that the law of the LORD is to be on your lips. For the LORD brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand.” – Exodus 13:6, 8-9

In Exodus 13, God told the Israelites to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread every year in order to remember that the Lord brought them out of Egypt. They were to explain that the reason why they did it was because God redeemed them. By performing this ceremony each year, they would be continually mindful and grateful that God had redeemed them, and would teach their children about God’s love for them.

Interestingly, many of the laws of the Torah are rooted in the redemption from Egypt. Out of gratitude and obligation, when the Israelites realized what God had done for them, they should feel compelled to live differently:

Do not profane my holy name. I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am Torah Scroll
the LORD, who makes you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am
the LORD. – Lev. 22:31, 33

If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him so he can continue to live among you. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. Lev. 25:35, 38

If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Lev. 25:39, 42

Each of the laws above is directly linked to God’s action of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. They should help the poor live in the land because God gave them the land to live in. They shouldn’t hold other Israelites as slaves because God brought them out of slavery. Many other regulations are linked either directly or indirectly back to this act of God on their behalf.

Christians can learn a valuable lesson from this. When we think of our redemption in Christ and the price that he paid for us, it should compel us to live differently. We should forgive others, because he forgave us. We should humbly serve others, because Jesus humbled himself out of love to die for our sins. If we continually remind ourselves of how we’ve been loved, we will love others in the same way.


Photo: Willy Horsch

Night of the Lord

Full moon

by Lois Tverberg

That was for the LORD a night of vigil to bring them out of the land of Egypt; that same night is the LORD’s, one of vigil for all the children of Israel throughout the ages. – Exodus 12:42

Full moonThe night of the first Passover must have been one of great emotion for the Israelites. After hundreds of years of not being able to worship their God, they were commanded to sacrifice a lamb to him in their very homes, worship that would be punished by stoning if the Egyptians caught them. They were to eat a great feast like they hadn’t had in years, with their bags packed so that they could leave for freedom after hundreds of years of misery. And in the midst of all their joyous celebration that night, in the distance they could hear great wails of anguish, as Egyptians found their dead firstborn among their animals and children, and even among their leaders. High overhead that night was the full moon, brightening the sky. It was the 15th of Adar, which always falls on a full moon because of its place in the lunar calendar.

Two thousand years later, on that same night of Passover, there was a full moon overhead when Jesus and his disciples got up from the feast in the upper room to head back to their camp site outside of Jerusalem. That night would have been one of mixed emotions for the disciples too – the Death of Firstbornjoy of the traditional Passover feast that was marred by the arguments over who was the greatest, and the ugly scene of finding out that Judas was a traitor. For Jesus, this night was one of great turmoil because he knew that it would be hours until Judas would bring the authorities to arrest him. While his disciples nodded off from plenty of wine and good food, he would sweat drops of blood waiting for his torture and execution.

This year, on the night of Passover, we looked up at the full moon again. We remembered that this was the “night of vigil” and thought of the battle that was fought to redeem us – first as God slew the firstborn of Egypt to let his people go, and as he later slew his own firstborn to set us, his people free.


Photo: Lachlan Donald from Melbourne, Australia and Caroline Léna Becker

God Unleashed

Plagues of Egypt

by Lois Tverberg

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 desert.'” 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.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.” Exodus 5:1-3

During Moses’ encounters with Pharaoh, God told him to tell Pharaoh that the Israelites needed to take a three-day journey into the desert to worship him (Ex. 3:18, 5:3, 8:27). This is confusing because it sounds as if they are asking for a long weekend off, and then they’ll come back. But in fact, in no place does Moses say that they will return afterward.

Another suggestion is that the phrase “three-day journey” is actually not about the length of time they plan to be away, but the distance they need to travel from Egypt before they worship God. In the Scripture, measuring distance in “days of journey” was common. (See Gen 31:33, Num 10:33, Deut 11:1, 1Ki 19:4, etc.) Moses was likely saying that people must be far away from the false Plagues of Egypt“gods” and oppression of Egypt before they worshipped God, or their awesome God might release plagues and destruction. The Egyptians were the ones in danger!

It seems that Pharaoh was undaunted by Moses’ warnings about the power of his God, and he refused to let the Israelites go a safe distance from Egypt. It is easy to imagine that as this holy God approached his people, getting nearer and nearer, the plagues on Egypt became increasingly worse. First the river ran red from some distant danger sweeping downstream, then the insects started swarming, then the animals started dying, then the sky blackened with hail and locusts and utter darkness as this awesome God approached Egypt.

Finally, when the Israelites went ahead and sacrificed a lamb and worshipped their God right in the midst of Egypt, his full power was unleashed on the Egyptians and destruction poured out on the oppressors of his people. Because Pharaoh would not release Israel to worship their holy God, he came to punish their captors and release them himself.


Photo: John Martin

Bread Without Leaven

Unleaven Bread

by Lois Tverberg

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. Exodus 12:15

Still today Jewish people make great effort to observe the commandment to remove all leaven from their homes and eat only unleavened food for seven days. The home is scrupulously cleaned, and pots and sinks boiled. In some homes an entirely different set of plates is used for one week of the year. The only bread that can be eaten is matzah: dry, flat, unleavened bread that has been carefully prepared to insure no fermentation occurs.

Unleaven BreadWhy do they do this? Surprisingly, the Bible gives multiple explanations about the significance of eating unleavened bread. In Exodus 12:34, it says that it is to commemorate their rapid departure from Egypt, when they didn’t have time to let their bread rise. But in Deuteronomy 16:3, it is called the “bread of affliction” and it seems to be a reminder of the misery of their slavery. Or, it could understood as a picture of eating manna in
the desert for forty years. It is paradoxical that unleavened bread represents both slavery and freedom, but Jewish sources agree that it does.

In the time of Jesus, leaven had gained even more significance beyond the meanings in the Torah. Unleavened bread that is very flat and plain was seen to represent humility, rather than being “puffed” up with pride. Because it is just wheat and water with no old, leavened dough added, it represented purity too. A person who was “unleavened” was like the character described in the beatitudes – meek and pure-hearted, aware of his own weaknesses, who comes to God honestly, without any pretense. In contrast, “leaven” was seen to be a picture of arrogance, boastfulness, hypocrisy, and being full of one’s self – to be “great in spirit” rather than being “poor in spirit.” This gives us insight on why Jesus says that the “leaven” of the Pharisees is hypocrisy. (Luke 12:1) And, it helps us understand Paul’s words to us as well:

Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. – 1 Cor. 5:6-8


Photo: paurian

Blood on the Doorposts

by Lois Tverberg

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… Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people 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… 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. – Exodus 12:3-4, 6-7, 12

What was the significance of putting blood on the doorposts? One very important thing to realize is how it foreshadows the future shedding of blood of Christ, that protects us from judgment, just as the blood here protected the families from judgment.

But yet, the act of putting blood on the doorposts says other things as well. One is that it was a public commitment to the God of Israel in that hostile land, in which that kind of sacrifice was an abomination, which would lead to the person’s being stoned (Ex. 8:26). Only those that were convinced that God would triumph over the Egyptian gods would have done so because of fear of public execution.

Also, putting the blood on the doorposts was a mark of faith that apparently was not limited to Israelites, but anyone who placed his or her faith in God. The text says that many others left Egypt with the Israelites (Ex. 12:38) – perhaps they too had claimed this God by marking their homes. Even some of Pharaoh’s officials feared the Lord – could some of them have even done it? Interestingly, entire homes and families were saved, just as in the New Testament, entire families were baptized and saved (Acts 16:34). Even Rahab the harlot was able to save her family by marking her home with a scarlet cord! (Josh. 6:25) The Bible often talks about salvation in terms of families, while we think in terms of individuals.

Finally, it is amazing that God told people to make a sacrifice and put the blood on their homes. Normally sacrifices were made at an altar in a tabernacle or temple, and only the ceremonially clean could enter in. God’s great shekinah glory would be very present at the altar, apart from the rest of the people. Here, God was telling them to anoint their home as God’s altar and publically place their faith in him. God’s presence came that night and to those who did not fear him, it lead to judgment. But to those who had faith, it would set them free.

Tasting Bitterness

Bitter herbs

by Lois Tverberg

They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. – Exodus 12:8

In Hebrew, the word translated “bitter,” maror, can also mean anguish, distress or agony. In this culture that often uses concrete images to express abstract concepts, the idea of eating terrible foods describes what life is like in a miserable situation. An important example if this is in the beginning of Exodus where it says that the Egyptians “bittered” the lives of the Israelites with hard labor (Ex. 1:14).

God wanted the Israelites to remember forever the misery they left behind, and to teach their children too, so he commanded them to remember this by eating bitter herbs on the night of Passover. In modern celebrations of the Seder, people eat horseradish to remind themselves of
Bitter herbsthe bitterness of slavery, and parsley dipped in salt water to remember the tears that their ancestors shed. Along with dry, unleavened bread, these items are the only foods availaible through the long ceremony that precedes the Passover dinner, which begins very late. As they talk about God’s redemption of people from Egypt, the people relive that hardship for just an hour while they are hungry for dinner but have only dry bread and bitter herbs to eat. Finally, they feast on a meal of wine and meat and wonderful food, reminding themselves of the joy of God’s redemption.

It is important for us too to remember our spiritual hopelessness and misery before we came to Christ. We must never lose our hunger for the presence of God in our lives, and our gratefulness for the future feast that we will someday celebrate with Christ.


Photo: Yoninah