Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Easter Bunny Spared, Goose Cooked, Lamb Slaughtered, Israelites Painted Town Red, Dough Failed to Rise to Occasion (Exodus 12)

For years, the assumption was that the first Passover consisted of tasty meat - like sweet tender rabbit. This probably contributed to the tendency to draw bunnies with a big chomp taken out of the back of their necks. I blame the juvenile conflation of Passover, Easter and the so-called Easter Bunny for the confusion. This was despite the Children's Bible referring specifically to lamb rather than rabbit.

Goose Confit for Two
By simultaneous free association on the subject of cute farmyard animals, there was the notion that the animal to whom the meat recently was recently attached was somewhat small. It was only until I was cooking confit d'oie for dinner that it actually hit me that a whole lamb would not fit into any sort of cast-iron pan and the entire carcass would have had to be thrust through a spit outside the house and roasted on an open fire. (No, please don't sing that Christmas Song.) (The Cold Storage-Les Amis Catering partnership can now do this for your dinner parties.)

There would certainly have been no running commentary on the satisfactory crunch of the goose skin as a metal utensil cut through into the slip-and-fall-off the bone flesh beneath, or on the goodness of baby potatoes sprinkled with salt and roasted in the goose fat, or on the role of naked spinach leaves sparsely adorned with cold red pomegranate jewels in balancing the richness of the dish.

(For how to confit a goose, refer to Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie or be lazy and grab a jar/can from Culina.)

When the psalmist urged people to "taste and see" that the LORD was good (Psalm 34), he probably had more in mind than the umami-ness of one-year-old organic grass-fed roast lamb, accompanied by unleavened bread and bitter herbs. But just what God had in mind has been the subject of much late-night/early-morning wrestling over the last week or so. And it'll probably take much more time, revelation, brainpower to hope to suck all the marrow out of Exodus 12.

Still this is the little that has been gleaned:

Wedding Festivities
The Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread were not to be mere celebrations of liberation from oppressors or the birth of a nation like those marked by every country. The people weren't to be rallied amidst mass dances and patriotic song sessions to take pride in and fight for their country. They were celebrations that looked outwards and upwards to Israel coming into relationship with the one and only God – he becoming their God and they becoming his people.

But God is not someone you call up on a whim and cast away when something more interesting comes along. As someone politely put it, God was redeeming a people for himself not for a night's fling but for a long-term marriage relationship. So no one could celebrate the beginning of this relationship (ie, the Passover) if they had not demonstrated their commitment to this relationship by the act of circumcision (Exodus 12:48-49) regardless if they were Israelite or foreigner.

Groom God's Self-Revelation
And who was this God to whom they were to commit themselves?

God had been building up to this rescue from Exodus (or even Genesis!) not just as escape from Egypt but the event by which the Israelites and the Egyptians would know who he was and what it meant for him to be the I AM (see Exodus 5 - 7:7).

The divine self-revelation afforded by this rescue was so earth-shakingly important (it should be!) that God not only instituted the Passover celebration and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread to commemorate it (Exodus 12), he also stipulated severe penalties for failing to keep its ordinances (eg. a nibble on leavened bread during that special set-apart time would result in the offender being cut off from the congregation of Israel, and by association, from the promises of God and a relationship with God - the only thing that would matter to any Israelite or indeed any human. Exodus 12:19). This celebration was so important that there would be no exceptions for the unclean or the journeying (Numbers 9). To highlight, bold, double-underline and frame with dancing zenon-lights how marvellous it really was for Israel to come into relationship with God (to be his people, to serve and worship him), and because Israel was completely clueless about the immense privilege they were about to receive, God decreed that the Hebrew new year would henceforth commence on that very month of rescue (Exodus 12:2).

What else did God intend to reveal about himself in the rescue from Egypt? Perhaps we are tipped off by the specifically-ordained elements of the Passover/Unleavened Bread festivals:

(1) the selection of a firstborn male without blemish (Exodus 12:5) - oh the cuteness overload (see, eg, Farmgirl's 2009 lambing season)! must have made the next step all the more horrific for the kawaii-kult.)
(2) the lamb:household ratio (Exodus 12:3-4)
(3) the killing of the lamb (Exodus 12:6)
(4) the painting of the blood on the doorposts (Exodus 12:7)
(5) the roasting of the lamb "its head with its legs and its inner parts" (Exodus 12:9), that is, roasting the lamb whole (Exodus 12:46). Roasting and not boiling it. And no raw lamb sashimi either (Exodus 12:8-9, 46).
(6) the eating it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8)
(6) the burning of the remains (Exodus 12:10)
(7) the eating in haste with all one's travelling clothes on (Exodus 12:11)

Feast of the Unleavened Bread
(1) will last seven days from the fourteenth day of the first month of the year, fourteenth evening and twenty-first evening inclusive (Exodus 12:15,18)
(2) no leaven may be found in any house and no leavened bread may be eaten during the feast (Exodus 12:15,19,20)
(3) on the first and seventh day, a holy assembly is to be held and no work is to be done but food prep (Exodus 12:16)

God the Absolutely and Completely Sovereign
The statutes were instituted while the Israelites were still sitting in their little houses in Goshen, Egypt and no one could ascertain, using any definable human measurements, that what God had said would happen would actually occur. But God did not instruct Moses to put out tentative party balloons which could easily be taken down if the outcome was not as positive as expected; he was so certain of victory that he instructed him to commemorate this every year unto eternity (Exodus 12:17). What a great demonstration of God's absolute and complete control over events.

And it came to pass that God's prior commands worked out "naturally" in subsequent events so that the later annual commemoration of those events was both obedience to those prior commands as well as a re-enactment of the actual events that took place: eg, God's prior command to Moses was for unleavened bread to be included in the festive meal (Exodus 12:8) and a whole week of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:14-20). Actual events were such that the Israelites were chased out so urgently that they had to grab their dough before it was leavened and had to exit with their kneading bowls in their cloaks on their shoulders (Exodus 12:34) and subsequently, as they journeyed from Rameses to Succoth (Exodus 12:37) baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt. "It was not leavened, because they had been thrust out of Egypt and could not wait" (Exodus 12:39).

Grand stuff and of course, God had already demonstrated his sovereignty in the plagues and Pharaoh's coronary problems – hardening Pharaoh's heart just as Pharaoh was said to have hardened his own heart.

God the Trustworthy Promise-Keeper
Absolute power didn't corrupt absolutely. Despite having no higher authority to crackdown on his failure to keep his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and despite most if not all the Israelites having already forgotten about the existence of such promises, God insisted on keeping them, starting with taking Israel out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 7:8). This was the sort of steadfast God it would be good to be in a long-term relationship with.

Again, the bunny-like multiplication of people in their 430 years in Egypt (in Fibonacci sequence or not) from a cosy 70 person party to Pharaoh's nightmare of a host of 600,000 men (excluding women and children and foreigners) (Exodus 12:39-41) should have already informed the alert that God's promises were being kept.

God Who Loves
The self-revelation of an infinite perfect creator to finite imperfect creatures would surely be limited to the capacity of the latter to fully comprehend what was being communicated. So the rest of the Bible keeps coming back to the Exodus adding layer upon magnificent layer of meaning to the event.

We are told later that God's rescue also showed his love for the Israelites:
And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power (Deuteronomy 4:37)

but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:8)

to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and brought Israel out from among them,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
with a strong hand and an outstretched arm (Psalm 136)

When Israel was a child, I loved him,and out of Egypt I called my son. (Hosea 11:1)
God Who Judges Those Who Do Not Acknowledge Him As God
Most importantly however, the "tenth plague" or the horror movie mass killing of the first-born of every living thing in the land of Egypt: from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne, to the firstborn of the slave girl who was behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle (Exodus 11:5) was a judgement on the Egyptians and their gods (Exodus, Numbers 33:4) whom they claimed existed and were powerful and therefore worshipped. It was a judgement that was partly penal (but not completely since that would have resulted in the death of every single person in Egypt) and partly revelatory – it showed them who's God.

Unfortunately for the Israelites, God was/is not primarily a God of Equal Rights For All, or a God of the Emancipation of Slaves (Begone Ye Evil Oppressors). He was/is a God concerned primarily about himself and his own name (which was/is quite right if he was/is the God of the world).

So the Israelites, after 9 plagues' worth of sitting on the sidelines with their munchies going kekeke at their Egyptian oppressors being beset by bloody water, slimy frogs, itchy gnats, swarming flies, dead livestock, painful boils and sores, hail and rain and thunder and fire at the same time, nibbly locusts (Exodus 7 – 10), find themselves coming face to face with the tenth which they were to avert with lamb blood (Exodus 12:13,23).

Why were they too subject to the tenth plague? It seems that God had not laid his hand on them previously not because they did not deserve the same punishment as the Egyptians but because he wanted to show that he made a distinction between Egypt and Israel, the people to whom he had given his promises and commitment, to demonstrate to the whole world that he was a God unlike any other.

We are told that the Israelites in Egypt had forgotten God's steadfast love and like the Egyptians and the immensely blind and stubborn Pharaoh, did not consider God's wondrous works (Psalm 106:7). Like the Egyptians, they too worshipped the false Egyptian gods (Joshua 24:14) rather than the LORD.

In Ezekiel 20, the LORD explains:
On the day when I chose Israel, I swore to the offspring of the house of Jacob, making myself known to them in the land of Egypt; I swore to them, saying, I am the LORD your God. On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands. And I said to them, Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. But they rebelled against me and were not willing to listen to me. None of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.

"Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. (But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness.
So their eagerness to kowtow to Pharaoh as his servants and their terrible treatment of Moses and God in Exodus 5 had probably less to do with their oppression and more to do with their acknowledgement of Pharaoh as god!

God Who Is Merciful
This was why the killing of the lamb was termed as a "sacrifice" (Exodus 12:27), the lamb being substituted in death for the firstborn of the households of Israel. And the LORD is commemorated in the Passover not only for rescuing them from Egypt but also rescuing them/sparing them from his wrath (Exodus 12:27).

The option of the sacrificial lamb was given as a way out from under the rightful judgement of God on the Israelites. That God did not decree an automatic passing over of a household if a critical number of members were God-fearing is interesting. God had previously demonstrated that he was quite capable of aiming his plagues in the right direction and at the people they were meant for so the blood-painted door frames were hardly for marking the right houses in bright colours so the LORD might know which houses to protect from destroyer (Exodus 12:23). Nor was the blood an effectual talisman in itself that kept death at bay. It was, God said, a sign for the Israelites (Exodus 12:13). God knew their hearts so he didn't need this as a sign of their trust in him and faith (Hebrews 11) in his words through Moses. It was a sign to themselves that they trusted in God and had faith in him.

This then, at least, is the God revealed by the Exodus – a God who is all powerful and all mighty, yet is faithful and trustworthy and stands fast on his promises, who judges those who do not acknowledge him as God yet chooses to loves a community of these sinners and gives them a way out from his wrath.

God Who Is Jesus Who Is Israel and Passover Lamb
It would be too much to try to trace the immense wealth of ways in which all the elements of the first Passover was paralleled and fulfilled in Jesus the Christ.

Suffice to say that he was/is the God who rescued the Israelites (Jude 1:5), Israel (Matthew 2:15) and also the Passover lamb – firstborn, male, without blemish or guilt (1 Corinthians 5:7). And this is not even getting started on the mindblowing-ness of God's directing the whole of history towards this Son with eg, the setting apart of the firstborns (Exodus 13:11-16, Numbers 3:11-13, Numbers 8:9-19, etc), the promise of the servant who would bear the sins of many (Isaiah 53), the sacrifices (Hebrews 9-10)). Or even the eschatological framework of the Passover.

However, this should alert us, who stand looking back after the cross, to the fact that God was not destructiveness and grumpiness in the Old Testament and love and softness in the New Testament. God then as now continues to be concerned about his name and that people worship him and him alone.

Jesus the Passover Lamb should not so much be associated with meekness and mildness (though there is that connotation in relation to his submission to God) as the lamb in Revelation standing at the centre of the throne, looking as if it had been slain (Revelation 5:6). And he had to be slain for the same reason the Passover Lamb had to be killed – for the sins of others, that the judgement of God might pass over them. We are these guilty sinners.

As it was with the Israelites in the past, we have a way out from God's wrath through the blood of the lamb. Will we acknowledge that God is God, that there is coming judgement for refusing to worship him, that there is salvation from his wrath if we trust his words and take hold of the blood of his Son?

And thereafter, will we clear out the leaven, the old false gods, and continue to worship him alone?

Not sure if there is much coherence (or proper grammar) in this post. Too much for the human mind to comprehend all at once. Good thing Jesus left the Spirit to help explain things. Still, shall adjourn for a drink to collect bits of grey and red matter strewn across room.

Current Read/Think-through of Exodus

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