Exodus 12 – What Happens in Exodus Doesn’t Happen in Words

Exodus 12 Bible with Equal Exchange Organic Dark Chocolate Mint Crunch

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Today’s PassageExodus 12

The Pentateuch is weird. Genesis is mostly narrative with periodic genealogies. Exodus, too, consists of sizeable portions of narrative containing occasional genealogies, but here in Exodus 12, we see detailed instructions for observing Passover woven into the story. The ancient Hebrews had no problem deriving what ought to be from what is, because in their view, a moral God had created a moral universe, and he had told them how things should be in it. The bulk of the chapter consists of God issuing Passover norms to Moses and Aaron. But you can set those aside for the moment, because I want to talk about that narrative portion in the middle where God does what he’s been saying he’s going to do, namely, killing the firstborn of Egypt.

It happens without fanfare. At midnight, God simply ends the lives of all of Egypt’s firstborn. But when everyone discovers what’s happened, “there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead” (Exodus 12:30). I immediately thought back to the last time a cry was heard throughout Egypt: the time that Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers (Genesis 45:1-3). But I was surprised to find a different verb there: Joseph’s cry was a weeping sob. Here in Exodus 12, it’s an outcry, a shriek (tseaqah). But you know where else the word appears? In Exodus 3:7-9, where God heeds the cry of his people.

And like the firstborn-for-firstborn thing we discussed yesterday, it underscores the reciprocity of God’s judgment against the Egyptians. The oppression of Egypt made Israel, God’s firstborn, cry out, and God heard them. Generations lived and died in slavery. Now, after nine plagues’ worth of warning shots, God takes the lives of one generation’s firstborn children, giving back to Egypt exactly what they’ve given to his people. Egypt makes Israel cry out, so God makes Egypt cry out. But Egypt has no gods to hear them; the one true God has already bested them all.

And just like that, Pharaoh is willing to let the people go. He sends them on their way that same night, before the sun has had time to rise, before even their bread has had time to rise: hence the “Feast of Unleavened Bread.” They have to roll up their kneading bowls in their clothes and carry them like backpacks (Exodus 12:34).

You know, sometimes I get so wrapped up in these word studies and the textuality of the text that I forget the reality of what I’m reading. These are real people, not just words on a page. The ruler of Egypt is a real human being, so devastated by the loss of his son that he screams out in the night and releases the Hebrew slaves to go serve their God. And the Hebrews are real people, who don’t even time to make actual bread with yeast, who have to pack up their stuff with the stuff the Egyptians gave them and get out of Dodge. Moses and Aaron are real people, There is real blood on their doors. This isn’t just some story made of letters and punctuation marks; this is the real thing.

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