In no divine communication about sacrifice, to which we have yet turned, have we met with a single word about blood. In God's instructions to Moses for Israel, concerning the passover, we first learn something about it. The Lord had warned Pharaoh, at the outset of His communications to that monarch, of the penalty He would exact, if His command by Moses was disregarded: "Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my first-born: and I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy first-born." (Ex. 4:22, 23.) Moses, on the occasion of his last interview with Pharaoh, before the execution of this judgment, announced to the king that it must and would be carried out. The day of mercy was over, the carrying out of the sentence was determined upon; and that not only on Pharaoh's house, but on the houses of the Egyptians likewise, and on the first-born of their cattle as well. Nothing like it had ever been known; nothing like it would they ever again endure; and at midnight would it take place. At the time when men are ordinarily least prepared, then Jehovah would go out into the land of Egypt. (Ex. 11:4-6.)
In God's mind it had all been settled centuries before. He had evidently purposed it when He called Abraham to go out from his country, his kindred, and his father's house, and thus made him start from his ancestral home, Ur of the Chaldees. For it was at the end of "four hundred and thirty years, even the self-same day" that Israel departed out of Egypt. (Ex. 12:40, 41.)
Now, from whence are we to reckon this period of time? Its termination being given us, the date of the Exodus, its commencement is not difficult to determine. From the birth of Isaac to the Exodus was to be four hundred years. (Gen. 15:13.) From Abraham's departure out of Haran to the birth of his son was twenty-five years more. (Gen. 12:4; 21:5.) It is probable, then, that his departure out of Ur was five years previous to his leaving Haran; thus the four hundred and thirty years are to be accounted for, comprising the whole period of the sojourn of Israel and the patriarchs in countries which they did not possess.* But God did not, that we read of, declare, at the outset of Abraham's career, what He had purposed as to the duration of the period of their sojourning. His purposing, and the announcement of His purpose, do not always synchronize. He did, however, reveal it to Abraham more than four hundred years before He executed it. Yet He did not carry out His purpose of judicial dealing with the Egyptians till He had warned Pharaoh, and had given him time to avert the impending doom. Thus, on the one hand, we see God purposing to judge the Egyptians; and, on the other, the Egyptians proving by their ways that they deserved it; and God did not carry out His mind, till those who were responsible to obey had refused to let Israel go. Who doubts for one moment that Pharaoh richly deserved his punishment? An opportunity, however, was afforded him of averting it, but he did not make use of it.
*The Hebraeo-Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Septuagint read "Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, and of their fathers who dwelt in Canaan, and in the land of Egypt, was 430 years."
How this illustrates God's ways on a large scale. He has announced that He will judge the world in righteousness. He has appointed the very day, and the judge likewise. (Acts 17:31.) Can any charge Him with injustice for this? He will demonstrate when He judges, as He did in the case of the Egyptians, that He is only acting righteously; for men will have plainly shown that they deserve it. God's sovereignty, and man's responsibility, may seem to some impossible to harmonize; but we see how they were harmonized in the case of Pharaoh at the Exodus. Not only, however, had God determined to judge, He had purposed also to shelter from judgment. He had pledged Himself to Abraham to bring up Israel into Canaan. (Gen. 15) He had promised the same to Jacob (Gen. 46:3, 4), and Joseph on his death-bed reminded the people of it. (Gen. 50:25.), The Lord, too, had announced beforehand to Moses, that He was determined to effect it (Ex. 3:8), and now He was about to accomplish it. Hence, whilst announcing to Pharaoh his impending doom, the Lord, by Moses, told Israel how they could be exempted from the visitation of the angel of death. (Ex. 12)
Here two important points should be noticed. First, though Israel were clearly the subjects of divine counsels, and objects of special divine favours, they had need nevertheless to make use of God's way of shelter from the inroad of death into their houses. Second, though the Lord made known to them the only way of deliverance, they were in themselves no better morally than the Egyptians. Had any of them rested their hopes of security from the impending judgment on the fact that they were part of a favoured people, they would, in common with the Egyptians, have been bewailing and burying their first-born on the fifteenth day of Nisan. (Num. 33:3, 4.) Had they trusted to any goodness in themselves for exemption from the threatened visitation, they could never have been sheltered from it; for they were at that time idolaters who had positively refused to put their idols away. (Ezek. 20:6-10; Joshua 24:14.) Thus God's faithfulness and grace were both displayed on that night, which was to be much remembered (Ex. 12:42); faithfulness in fulfilling His word to Abraham, by judging their oppressors; grace in His dealings with Israel, by sheltering them from the sword of the angel of death. How they had provoked the Lord in Egypt by their disobedience Ezekiel sets forth. So we have to turn to that recital of the nation's ways by the prophet, when the ten tribes were in the land of their captivity, ere we are in a position to estimate aright this display of grace towards them.
It was nothing new for God to deal in judgment. He had dealt judicially with men by the flood. He had overthrown the cities of the plain; now He was about to destroy the first-born of man, and of beast, in the land of Egypt. The old world being ungodly, and proving itself to be disobedient, was destroyed by the deluge, Noah only and his family having a refuge provided for them in the ark. The cities of the plain - illustrations of apostacy - received their just doom, Lot only, with his two daughters, being saved by the intercession of Abraham. (Gen. 19:29) The ungodly and apostates had been thus punished; now idolaters were to be dealt with; and their lying vanities, to which they had trusted, were to be exposed. For Jehovah, the self-existing one, would march through the land of Egypt, supreme in power, and terrible in judgment. He would take up the cause of His people by manifesting Himself to be the true God.
"Who is Jehovah," said Pharaoh, in the pride and dense ignorance of his heart, "that I should obey His voice, to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go." (Ex 5:2.) Such were the words of a mortal creature. But the Lord is known by the judgment which He executes. (Ps. 9:16.) This Pharaoh found to his cost; so men will find by-and-by. "Known by the judgment which He executeth!" How truly was that the case in Egypt; for on all the gods of Egypt did He execute judgment. He had foretold it. (Ex. 12:12.) He fulfilled His word. (Num. 33:4:) The Egyptians discovered by the infliction of divine judgments the inanity of their idols. The proud Pharaoh of the Exodus stooped to ask the blessing of Moses and Aaron, the representatives of the people he had kept so long in slavery, when his first-born lay death-stricken in his house. And Israel could see, surely did see, whilst sheltered in Jehovah's goodness from the infliction of His judgment on their families, the folly of idolatry which they had so long practised.
Against all the gods of Egypt the Lord executed judgment. This is a statement soon read; but how terrible was that of which it treats. Man had no refuge on that day from the avenging arm of Jehovah. The gods of Egypt were powerless when Jehovah rose up to judgment. Shelter, help, deliverance, there was none. The angel of death entered every house of the Egyptians, and with an unerring blow smote the first-born of whatever age or rank he might be. The most exalted in position could not shelter his first-born, the meanest could not escape the observation of God; for "the Lord smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the first-born of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; for there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead. (Ex. 12:29, 30.) It was a terrible moment indeed; for the Lord Jehovah was passing through the land of Egypt, and no power could hinder His passage. The angel of death was entering into houses; and no bolts, no bars, no chains, no incantation, nor demoniacal agency, could shut him out. A power which man could not cope with, and which man could find nothing to resist, was carrying all before it, making the first-born of man and of beast its victims. Every Egyptian was made to feel that Jehovah alone was God, who had the life of His creatures absolutely at His disposal, and who could act in discrimination, smiting those He would, by singling out for death the first-born male in each house. Such was the state of matters among the Egyptians.
With the Israelites how different. Fear, distress, sickness, death, were harassing their oppressors. Peaceful security reigned within their houses. There is a calm, which presages a storm, when all the forces of nature seem resting preparatory to their re-awakening to action with redoubled vigour and violence. There is a calm, which forebodes no disturbance to be at hand, the effect of an atmosphere perfectly serene; all nature enjoying repose after the disturbing forces have spent their strength. The calm peacefulness, however, which reigned in the houses of the Israelites differed from both of these. It was like a calm before a storm, for they awaited the outburst of the judgment. It was like a calm resulting from the knowledge that the tempest would not expend itself on their heads. But it was more; it was the peaceful serenity, which confidence in God's word can alone give, assuring the one who receives it of immunity from coming judgment. Israel knew both the day, and the hour, when the threatened visitation falling on the land of Mizraim would evoke a wail of distress from every house of their taskmasters; but they were insured against the divine visitation by the blood outside upon the door-posts.
Now, this way of escape was quite new to them, and unheard of before. Further, it was a secret between God and them. No Egyptian was informed of it. Neither man, nor any power known to man, nor all the gods of Egypt together, could keep the destroying angel from entering any house that night; but the blood upon the door-post was to prove an effective shelter. So, whilst the Egyptians were learning the powerlessness of man, and all that they had trusted in, to cope with the power of God in judgment, the Israelites were proving how effectual was the shelter provided by blood. Across a threshold thus distinguished the messenger of death did not pass. Inside the house they could feed in calmness and security on the lamb, whose blood was on the lintel and the side-posts outside. For God's word to Israel was: "And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and, the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt." (Ex. 12:13.) What virtue could there be in the blood? they might ask, and probably ask in vain. But their security lay not in what they thought of it, but in what God thought of it. With their door shut they could not see it, nor was there any need for them to see it. The point, and the all-important point was, Would Jehovah see it? He did; so not one of the first-born of Israel was smitten that night. Now, no one could have devised such a way of escape from judgment, and none but God can declare what will exempt from His visitation of wrath; for, since it is divine judgment which is to be executed, to God alone belongs the prerogative of announcing what that is which can screen sinners from it. But why was the blood of the paschal lamb to keep out the angel of death? In the blood is the life of the flesh. (Lev. 17:11.) So, sprinkled outside on the door-posts, it proclaimed that life had been taken on behalf of those who were within. Hence they were secure in the midst of a scene of judgment. Believing God's word, obedient in faith, they proved the sheltering efficacy of blood.
But what virtue was there in the paschal lamb? None intrinsically. It was the type, however, of that, sacrifice which is of priceless and abiding value before God; so there was one mark in common between it and the true sacrifice, which helps to identify it as the type of that which was to be offered to God on the cross. A bone of the former was not to be broken (Ex. 12:46), the foreshadowing, as John the Evangelist points out (John 19:36), of the treatment by the soldiers of the body of the Lord Jesus Christ when dead upon the cross. As then, so it is now. There is a wrath to come. (Rom. 1:18.) Of this Christians were fully cognizant in apostolic days, and were awaiting the advent of Him who delivers from it previous to executing it. (1 Thess. 1:10.) So the Thessalonian saints, but recently idolaters, when sheltered by the blood of Christ from all fear of the coming wrath, could rest in the contemplation of the future on the simple word of God. For the Lord has said: "He that heareth my word, and believeth Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment; but is passed from death unto life." (John 5:24.) Is every reader of these lines, like Israel, sheltered by blood from coming judgment. Is every reader, like the Thessalonians, waiting for God's Son from heaven, who delivers from the wrath to come. If not, why not? C. E. Stuart.