Having dwelt upon the passover and its accompaniments, we have yet to consider the "ordinance of the passover" as the Lord prescribed it for a continual memorial. There are restrictions here which we have not read of before — restrictions which it is important to note and to remember, which apply, not to redemption itself, but to the enjoyment of it.
God begins with us as sinners, or He could not begin at all; but having redeemed us, it is as saints that we enjoy the blessedness of our portion, and then must conform to the conditions which the very nature of God imposes upon those who are called to have part with Him. The "salt of the covenant of God" (which was never to be lacking in any of the sacrifices) is the type of what preserves from corruption, therefore of the holiness which our relationship with God implies; and no joy can be enduring which is not thus perpetuated. Salvation from wrath is from sin also. The gospel of peace is the gospel of reconciliation to God, and therefore of separation from that which is opposed to God.
In the unleavened bread we have already had the first intimation of this; but we now find God insisting much more strongly upon it, and guarding the precious feast of redemption from the profanation of those who would turn God's grace into licentiousness. All is in symbols, of course; for the redemption itself was a symbol of that which, I trust, all of us here know in its substantial reality. Deliverance was but just effected; the people were hardly yet upon the road, before God proclaims how henceforth the passover is to be observed. The deliverance is made the argument, as it were, for the injunctions which follow immediately upon it.
If we keep in mind the meaning of the types that we have considered, that Egypt stands for nature as fallen away from God, Pharaoh for the reign of sin and its bondage, there will be no difficulty in apprehending that, while the first question to be settled is between God and the soul (as the passover has shown us) , it all bears upon our deliverance from sin itself. That passover night sees the people's bonds broken, and at once they begin to leave the place of their captivity. And so in what these types point to. In the safe shelter which love has provided we adoringly learn the love which has provided it, and it is that love which, laying hold upon our hearts, secures them for God. "We love Him because He first loved us." And then, "This is the love of God; that we keep His commandments." Thus not only are we, as sinners, justified by His blood, but as "enemies reconciled to God by the death of His Son." Christ's blessed work, while it shelters and secures, purifies also; so that where-ever we do not find this effect of purification we are obliged to question whether the soul really knows the shelter.
You will not suppose, I trust, that I am at all meaning to put souls at building their peace with God upon their own walk or works. Thank God, we are privileged to build wholly upon Christ. We are justified by faith, and faith has never self as its object, but Christ. We are never called to believe in ourselves. It is the Pharisee who thanks God that he is not as other men are; and his thanking God for it does not make him any whit the less a deluded Pharisee. The publican who can only smite upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner, went down to his house justified rather than he.
While that is fully so, it is none the less certain that "faith, if it have not works, is dead, being alone." That would be a melancholy doctrine to teach that faith might be in the soul and work nothing in it. It is not magnifying grace to suppose it less mighty for purification than it is for justification. "Little children," says the apostle, "let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous." He cannot be righteous by his doings as Christ is righteous, of course; but his practice of righteousness marks him out as one whom God has justified, or declared rightous. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God," says the apostle, "they are the sons of God."
How blessed to see in a soul which has just gone through its passover night, and found in the blood of the Lamb its own judgment borne by Another — and therefore for ever rolled away — the promptitude with which it starts to leave the land of its bondage. "Sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under law, but under grace"; and grace having been learnt, joying in God as having now received the reconciliation, the joy of the Lord is the sure antidote for "the pleasures of sin." There may be, and will be, much to be learnt yet: and Pharaoh's power once for all broken, as it should seem, may struggle again for the ascendency; yet in the true knowledge of grace will be found the secret of power and the guarantee of holiness.
Thus, then, the "ordinance of the passover" connects these things: —
"And the Lord said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the passover: there shall no stranger eat thereof: but every man's servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof. A foreigner and a hired servant shall not eat thereof . . . All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover unto the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it . . . for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof. One law shall be to him that is home-born, and to the stranger that sojourneth among you."
First, the foreigner was to be excluded: the passover-feast was to be for Israel alone. The seed of Abraham, the family of faith, alone can commemorate a deliverance which they only have known. Yet God kept a door open for the stranger who would submit to Israel's law; no more stringent conditions were required from him than from the "home-born." Beautiful it is to see how all lines of demarcation give way before the faith that asks, "Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the Gentiles?" What can the answer be but, "Yea, of the Gentiles also It is man that has fallen away from God, not God from man; it is man that puts distance and erects barriers. God's choicest gifts are His most universal gifts: air, rain and sun are for all; not a bird of the heavens but is welcome to dip its bill in any of God's streams; and in the very centre of the city of God, spite of its "wall great and high," flows that "water of life, clear as crystal," as to which it is proclaimed: "Let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely."
Yes, the wall is impregnable to enemies, but the door is open to receive friends; no "strait gate" either, save as the world makes it; not "strait" as if divine love were straitened; not "strait," as if His arm were shortened that it could not save, or His car heavy that He cannot hear; not "strait," if you remember that it is Christ by whom men enter in; but strait only to His enemies, to His despisers, for no man cometh unto the Father but by Him.
The condition here upon which the stranger could be received and be as one born in the land, was that of circumcision: "Let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof."
For the meaning of this we must go backward and forward. Back to Abraham, the "father of circumcision," who received it as "the seal of the righteousness of faith which he had, being yet uncircumcised," but we must read this in the light of the apostle's saying, that, "We are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh."
Though "Abraham believed God" when under the starry sky God said to him (a lone childless man), "So shall thy seed be," we cannot say that he had no more confidence in the flesh. Though the flesh had thus far failed him, he later took the bondwoman to his heart, and has a child which is but the "wild man," and not the child of promise after all. Nature being yet strong in Abraham, God has to go on for fourteen years as if in His own mind the promise slept — unfulfilled. But "when he was about a hundred years old," and Abraham's body "was now dead," God can come in again, and with a simple yet grand announcement which Abraham's faith had never yet grasped, He says, "I am the Almighty God, walk before me, and be thou perfect." For a dead Abraham an Almighty God alone would do; for Abraham could not help God to raise the dead. There He gives him the covenant of circumcision. The apostle Christianizes it for us in the epistle to the Colossians: it is "the putting off the body of the flesh," Abraham's confidence was no more to be in the flesh, and thus his faith is now shown in that "he considered not his body now dead, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb." The Almighty God could do all, must do all. It is this God we are called to know, and upon these terms are we to be with Him — the terms of "the circumcision of Christ."
This is the secret of unclouded joy, as it is of perpetual worship. For "in Christ are we circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in the putting off the body of the flesh." His cross is God's sentence upon the flesh, His judgment upon it as finding nothing in it that He can accept or take pleasure in at all. But He has put it away thus by the Cross, that it may be removed out of our way, as out of His. In Christ raised from the deaf]. He finds all His pleasure; and in Christ raised from the dead we find all our acceptance with Him. In Christ, to us there can be no condemnation; in Christ no body of flesh, no trace of sin inherent or adherent. In Him then our joy abides unbroken; and the "joy of the Lord is our strength." We may even glory in our infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon us. We rejoice in Christ Jesus entirely when we have no more confidence in the flesh.
How simple then, and how emphatic is the statement: "No uncircumcised person shall eat thereof!" The circumcised man is the man who has heart for the feast, the one with whom faith is in simple exercise; and faith, as I have said, is in an outside object, never in self.
This will make us understand readily some further distinctions. Not only a foreigner, but a hired servant also is excluded: "A foreigner and a hired servant shall not eat thereof." Mark it well; a hired servant cannot eat the passover. This should speak loudly to us. The bondservant, born in the house or bought with money, may eat. Such an one as Paul delights to call himself Christ's bondservant; and His redeemed love to own that they are indeed His, bought not with silver and gold, but with His precious blood. By birth also — new birth — we are His servants. But how many systems of teaching there are which deliberately adopt the principle of hire, and make eternal life itself a thing to be gained by service! It is the natural thought in man's heart, doubtless, as it was in the prodigal's before he met his father: "Make me as one of thy hired servants." But when his father had met him, fallen on his neck, and kissed him, could he look in that face and dishonor his father's love by such a request? And how can God's children do this now, except by not believing that love?
Grace and works are two entirely opposite principles; by uniting them, grace is destroyed: "If by grace, then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace." Grace alone breaks the dominion of sin, as the apostle says, "Sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under the law, but under grace." The hireling with God is the very type of a self-seeker, of one who serves God for his own ends; but the power of Christianity is exhibited in this, "that they which live, live not unto themselves, but unto Him that died for them, and rose again." The principle and power for service under grace is expressed by the psalmist when he says, "O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant and the son of thy hand-maid: Thou hast loosed my bonds." It is a loved bond-service for bonds loosed!
Do you understand this, beloved friends? It is what in another way is expressed to us in the last chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews. "We have an altar," says the apostle, "whereof they have no right to eat that serve the tabernacle." The "altar that sanctifieth the gift" is Christ Himself; the value of His blessed Person gave virtue to His own offering. The offering has been accepted. God has received His portion of the peace-offering, and we have ours still to "eat;" that is what the apostle refers to. But the altar as such is now empty; there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins: none is needed, for "By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified," and therefore our altar is empty; but the Sacrifice, once offered there, is the food of our souls.
If propitiation is effected, if the blood has once for all sprinkled the mercy-seat, can we avail ourselves of the altar? Most certainly; but it is now to the priest's golden altar that we come. It is Christ still; and now "by Him," says the apostle, "let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually; that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name." But is "the fruit of our lips" the only form this takes? No, surely; the next words in the passage are, "But to do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." Thus upon this praise-altar, not alone our praises go up to God, but our deeds also, as part of the self-same "sacrifice!" Our lives are to be the outflow to Him of adoring gratitude. Here the hired servant has no place, while redemption's bond-servant is fully at home.
Then we have,
"In one house shall it be eaten; thou shalt not carry forth aught of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall ye break a bone thereof."
The lamb was eaten under the shelter of the atoning blood, and there alone. Men may admire Christ, as it is the fashion very much to do, while denying the whole reality of His atoning work; but the Lamb can only be eaten really there where its virtue is owned. Apart from this, He cannot be understood or appreciated. Thus the denial of His work leads to the denial of His Person. Universalists and Annihilationists slip naturally into some kind of Unitarian doctrines, as is evident on every hand; and so do Rationalists of various classes.
This unites naturally with the commandment: "Neither shall ye break a bone thereof." God will not have the perfection of Christ disfigured, as it would be, in type, by a broken bone. With the bones perfect, a naturalist can show the construction of the whole animal. Upon the perfection of the bones depends the symmetry of form. God will have this preserved with regard to Christ. Reverent handling becomes us as we seek to apprehend the wondrous Christ of God. And how suited a place to preserve this reverence is "the house," the shelter which the precious blood has provided for us! One might ask, How can irreverence be found in any one so sheltered?
Alas! the injunction, we know too well, is not unneeded.
We must pass on to what is still among the memorials of the passover — the sanctification of the firstborn.
Sanctification naturally connects itself with redemption, as this whole book of Exodus is witness. In the epistle to the Romans, in which so many types of the first part of Exodus find their counterparts, immediately after the full liberty of the redeemed man is reached, we hear of sanctification in the 6th chapter. In Hebrews we find how we are sanctified to God by the blood of atonement: "By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."
This connection is what we find here in Exodus. Deliverance from wrath through the blood of the lamb and our path begun with God; then we find the sanctification of the firstborn among the memorials of their redemption (Ex. 13).
It was upon the firstborn that the judgment in Egypt had descended, but they were spared in Israel. The firstborn are types of human excellency, the sons who had natural claim to birth-right, the place of honor and rule. "He smote the firstborn of Egypt, the chief of all their strength," says the psalmist. "Reuben," says the dying patriarch, "thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power," though he had to add, "Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel." Hence the firstborns in the book of Genesis lose the place of blessing. Cain, what is he? Ishmael gives place to Isaac; Esau to Jacob; Reuben to Joseph. "That which is first is natural, and afterwards that which is spiritual."
But God takes up the firstborn here to show us in this passover scene His judgment upon all that comes of us, and after the blessing of redemption is learned, to teach us to devote to Himself "the chief of all our strength." "Sanctify unto Me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is mine." All these must be claimed for judgment or preserved by redemption according to what is afterwards said:
"Thou shalt set apart unto the Lord all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the Lord's. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb, and if thou wilt not redeem it then thou shalt break its neck; and all the firstborn of man among thy children thou shalt redeem."
How vain to read these typical institutions merely as ordinances in the letter, and no more! Why, of all beasts, the special introduction of the ass here, and only of the ass, to be redeemed with the self-same "lamb" wherewith man himself must be redeemed? Does it not show, when our eye is upon that to which all these ordinances point, that man is himself identified with the "ass" that must be redeemed or slain? Surely so. We have only to listen to the words as to Ishmael, firstborn child of Abraham, to find God characterizing him, not merely as in our version, "a wild man," but as it is literally, "a wild ass man" not the drudge, the ungainly ass we usually see, but the Eastern animal, fleet, beautiful, uncontrollable in spirit and energy. Nature shows itself in this child of Hagar: he, father of the Bedouin Arab of our day; and she a type of "the law which gendereth to bondage."
Hagar's seed is thus the child of law — that law by which God educated Israel in His holy ways, which after so many centuries of patient training developed but a race which, like the wild ass, refused the "easy yoke" of Him who came to teach us, in Himself, the lesson of obedience — the Son of God, yet Son of Man in man's own world.
Such is man! whether educated, refined, traded up in piety, unless God comes in. Ishmael is not merely Israel's picture, he is yours and mine naturally; and in him we may surely find the ass for whom the lamb must die; or whose neck — a neck that will not bear a yoke — must be broken!
But we can read even more in this Ishmael was not the child of Hagar only, but of Abraham also. The man of faith had taken the bond-servant to his heart, and Ishmael was the fruit of it. Though Abraham's seed, Ishmael is cast out. Is it not easily seen here that even the man of faith, if he take up law to produce fruit by, will find that the law is the "strength of sin," not of holiness? The wild ass nature will declare itself in the fruit which God cannot own, instead of the fruit He has promised!
Thus "the firstling of an ass" speaks to us. Blessed be God, for us, because of what we were, the Lamb has already yielded up its life. We have but to apprehend, in peace, the blessedness into which we have entered under the shelter of the atoning blood.