Exodus 12:43-13:22 - The Law and the Lead of the King

April 27, 2014 Speaker: Series: Exodus

Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Exodus 12:43–13:22

[Text: Exodus 12:43-13:22] “The Law and Lead of the King”

Maybe it was your granddad or your brother. Maybe you overheard your parents saying this about one another. But we all know people who fit the phrase “stubborn as a mule.” Problem is – YHWH happens to think that phrase fits you and me.

[Pray – Prepare our hearts, O God, to accept you Word. Silence in us any voices but your own, so that we may hear your Word and also do it. Gracious Father, give us humble, teachable, and obedient hearts, that we may receive what you have revealed, and do what you have commanded; through Christ our Lord. Amen.]

[Read Exodus 12:43-13:16 (saving 13:17-22 for later)]

At this point in the Story, Israel is free. Slavery is behind them. Life with YHWH is in front of them.

Through ten plagues and a Passover night, Israel saw their God and King redeem them from Egypt as YHWH made uncompromising demands to the king of Egypt. Now, Israel hears the demands YHWH was making of them. As their King, YHWH begins to give his people his law.

This is the first time in Exodus we see the word “law” (12:49). And it’s used in reference to the requirement that anyone who wanted to celebrate the Passover meal must be circumcised (more on that in a minute). But in this larger passage, we see that law being joined by a number of “laws” about Israel’s worship. And so, we’re beginning to see YHWH the King assert his rights over his people.

YHWH always has rights over his people. Because Israel rescued by YHWH no longer belonged to Egypt. But they do not belong to themselves either. They are not their own – first as their Creator but now as their Redeemer, Israel belongs to YHWH the King. And this Great King gets to make demands of his people.

Whenever I left the house on my own, Momma used to say, “Remember who you are – and whose you are.” It was her loving, not-so-subtle way of reminding me of the Gospel we believe, that the Creator and Redeemer has come to us in Jesus. By faith in him, slavery to sin is behind us. In him, life with YHWH is in front of us. And as our King he has rights over those for whom he died and rose again.

The Gospel speaks of Jesus as the King who gave himself for his people. Because he died on the cross, we no longer belong to darkness. But, like Israel leaving Egypt, we do not belong to ourselves either. He ransomed us from our slavery to sin and won us for himself. And King Jesus has rights over his people.

So, what does it look like for his people to submit to this King? Well, in the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it looked like obedience to the laws he gave about those times of worship.

The Passover was fresh on the minds of Israel when this law was given – “no foreigner shall eat of it…no uncircumcised person shall eat of it” (12:43 and 48). Just hours before YHWH had passed over their houses because of the blood of the lambs, but he dealt death to the firstborn of Egypt. Because of that dark night of justice and mercy, Israel was walking out of Egypt.

But Israel wasn’t walking alone. Back in 12:38 we hear that a “mixed multitude also went up with them.” These were foreigners, non-Israelites who (for reasons not presented) wanted to go with them out of Egypt. Maybe they’d come to believe in YHWH through the signs of his power and Kingship and choice of Israel (i.e. – the plagues). Or maybe they just saw the wealth Israel took from Egypt. Either way, the Passover meal was for the people of God. And these folks were foreigners. But the issue isn’t their bloodline or race. They were foreigners to the covenant.

The Passover is the meal commemorating YHWH’s faithfulness to his covenant promises to Abraham. Long before, he’d promised to free his people from slavery (Genesis 15) and now it was done. His chosen people were redeemed by the blood of the lambs. And this meal was for them, to remind them of what he had done and to point them forward to his future faithfulness.

So, in this law forbidding foreigners from the Passover meal, we see that King YHWH decides who eats at his table. And if someone (Israelite or foreigner) would eat the meal of YHWH’s covenant faithfulness, they must embrace the sign of the covenant – circumcision. Through circumcision, even a “stranger” could become “as a native” in Israel (12:48).

Circumcision was the sign of the covenant given to Abraham back in Genesis 17. It was the sign that God was doing what he said he’d do, not just redeeming his people from slavery in Egypt, but redeeming them from slavery to sin, cleansing and forgiving them. But most importantly, it was a sign to be embraced by faith, which we understand as the sign came after Abraham was said to have “believed YHWH.” And YHWH counted that belief to Abraham as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

So, if someone wanted to eat the covenant meal, they first had to join themselves to the covenant God and his covenant people by believing in YHWH. Because being a part of the people of God has never been about doing this or that, as if YHWH can be controlled by what we do. Being a part of the people of God has always been about faith in him, believing he’ll do what he says he’ll do.

In this law, YHWH bans from his table anyone who would stubbornly refuse the sign of the covenant. He does not welcome to his table those who do not come by faith.

That’s why we make such a big deal about who eats or (doesn’t eat) the Lord’s Supper. Because it is our Passover, celebrating the judgment of God that fell on Jesus instead of us on when Christ was crucified. It is a meal to be eaten with faith and hope in Christ our crucified and risen King. And, like Israel, to eat this new covenant meal we must first receive the covenant sign. The sign is circumcision no longer because Christ’s crucifixion fulfilled what the bloody rite of circumcision pointed toward (see Colossians 2:11-12). At our time in the Story, circumcision has been replaced by baptism – the sign and seal of our union with Christ, of our cleansing from sin by his blood, of our future hope in him.

So, we do not come lightly to the covenant meal. Nor do we as under shepherds of Christ admit to the table those who stubbornly refuse to repent of sin and return to Jesus our King. Though we humbly pray the Lord gives them the gift of repentance and continued faith in Christ, there are some who have been suspended from the Lord’s Table until the time when they evidence repentance and faith in Christ, which is a day we would love to see.

But to submit to the King’s requirement – to repent and believe in Christ being baptized and professing faith in Jesus – to those who submit, Christ himself admits us to the table of the King. By faith in Christ, the King welcomes you to his table to feed upon Christ our Passover Lamb who was slain for us. No longer a foreigner. No longer a stranger to the covenant. By faith in Jesus, he has brought you near to God – even into his own family as sons and daughters of the King with all the rights and privileges thereof. But only in Christ does the King welcome us. And so always repenting and always believing in him we keep the feast celebrating our redemption in him.

Another part of redemption is seen in the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And YHWH’s laws about keeping that feast mark out another area where Israel would need to submit to their King.

The demands of YHWH about this seven day “service” (13:5) seem so foreign to us. “No unleavened bread for a week? Okay,” we say with confusion. But remember – in the suddenness of the exodus, Israel was thrust out of Egypt without time to make normal bread with yeast. So, this feast was a reminder of their redemption by YHWH.

But there was more to it than that. Because in the law about removing all leaven from their homes and territories YHWH goes on to tell them what the purpose was (in 13:8-9):

“You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth…” (Emphasis mine.)

The feast looked toward the past as a remembrance of “what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.” But it looked to the present (and to the future even) in the phrase “…that the law of the LORD may be in your mouths.”

Sin and rebellious hearts were commonly represented by leaven or yeast in ancient times because sin works in individuals and groups, fermenting and spreading like yeast through bread. But in this Feast Israel was called to be like the unleavened bread in their mouths, themselves free from the fermenting power of sin. They were called to be the people of YHWH with their King’s good law on their lips and in their hearts. Every year in the Feast of Unleavened Bread Israel would be reminded that they belonged to YHWH, to live how he says life works best. They were redeemed to follow their King in obedience.

The call to be an unleavened people is still upon those redeemed by Christ. But this is not merely a call to good behavior. Of course, we are called to reject rebellion that looks like license, like running into lust and gluttony and gossip and anger. But to be unleavened is to be free from self-righteousness, too. It’s the call to reject legalism as an equally deadly form of sin. And so, it’s the call to rest only in the righteousness of Christ counted as ours by faith in him and put no confidence in our goodness, put no confidence in even our best works.

That’s what Paul calls us to in Romans 6. By faith we have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection! So, then, we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. He has removed the leaven of sin from us! So this is a call to live in line with what is already true of us in Christ.

So, why is this so hard for us?

Why did it bother me so much when my mom told me, “Remember who you are and whose you are”? Yes, she was reminding me of the Gospel of Jesus and that was encouraging. But her words bothered me because as I walked out the door I was confronted by her loving, not-so-subtle way of challenging in me what she knew was in herself.

There is a stubbornness in us that does not want to belong to anyone but ourselves. There is a stubbornness in us that does not want to submit to the demands of the King.

In the Passover then and the Lord’s Supper now, we hear the King saying we must come and eat by faith in him. But the natural man wants the benefits of God without the demands of God. We want redemption without obedience. In the Feast of Unleavened Bread back then, we hear the King saying that those who would be loyal to him must leave behind the leaven of sin. But our natural, stubborn selves want to have heaven and sin, too. But YHWH says we cannot have both.

Look again at 13:13. As YHWH gives his law about the Consecration of the Firstborn – the ceremony pointing to YHWH’s ownership of all Israel with the firstborn representing the whole – there is one other creature whose offspring may be redeemed with a lamb just like the sons of Israel – YHWH is drawing a comparison between the two. Now, the sons of Israel would all be redeemed. But if this one creature was not redeemed by a lamb then its neck had to be broken. It’s the last animal I want to be identified with but one YHWH says is an awful lot like me – a donkey.

A donkey. Stubborn. Obstinate. Not exactly a willing follower. But a perfect picture of natural humanity. For Israel throughout their generations, the redemption of their sons and their donkeys would stand as an encouragement and as a warning. They would either belong to YHWH, redeemed by blood and following him by faith. Or they would be dead, their stiff-necks broken like stubborn Pharaoh (13:15).

So many times in their story Israel, like me, chose the way of stubbornness – running into sin, running into self-righteous presumption and all the while deserving a broken neck in judgment.

But see the grace of this King? This God always remains faithful to lead his stubborn and weak people.

[Read 13:17-22]

YHWH was leading an army out of Egypt but he did not ask them to fight – yet. The time would come for them to fight some forty years later in the conquest of Canaan. But that time was not yet. For now, YHWH who knows all things – including the stubborn hearts of his own people – YHWH leads them gently into the wilderness toward the Red Sea where he would soon fight for them.

With them went the bones of Joseph, who died in faith that YHWH would rescue them. But in front of them went YHWH their King, leading his people in a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, to show them the way and give them light in darkness so they did not fall. And the presence of their King “did not depart from before the people.” (13:22)

This is why we always need Jesus. The natural stubbornness of our hearts leaves us deserving death. And even after he rescues us and we are set free by faith in him – even now we need him to keep leading us and giving us light in the midst of darkness. But YHWH isn’t surprised by our stubbornness. Out of his love for stubborn mules, for his enemies, God the Father sent God the Son to die – the one unleavened, faithful Israelite died for wild donkeys like us. As our Maker and Redeemer, he is our King. And King Jesus is subduing us to himself by the power of His Holy Spirit, causing us to believe and to follow him more and more.

We follow him as our King not because we can earn anything from him, but because we already have everything in him. We follow him not because we can control him, but because he compels our hearts by filling them with gratitude.

And when we trust in him, the Scriptures say “…You are not your own, for you were bought with a price…” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); “…knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

We live in a culture of independence – no one can tell anyone else what to believe or think or do. But the Gospel says there is One who speaks truth to be believed and commands obedience to his every word. There is One who has rights over everything, including our lives. Are we willing to listen and submit, always repenting and always returning in an unceasing cycle of grace from him? Or will we stiffen our necks and be broken in the end?

May we be those who joyfully submit to our King as he speaks through this, His Word, calling us to love our God and love our neighbor as ourselves, calling us to renounce evil ways and self-righteousness and selfishness with that which belongs to the Lord. May we revel in the hope that all we are and have belong to him! And may he be pleased to use our witness here to call many more to the hope we have in Christ.

Because our King has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) He has said, “…behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) He has set us free from the fermenting and destroying power of sin. He has welcomed us to his table and feeds us with himself. And our King Jesus still leads us by his Holy Spirit. He is always with us to guard us even as he subdues us. “Remember who you are and whose you are, people of the King.”

[Pray – Father we thank you for your mercy to us firstborn of donkeys. What indescribable grace has been shown to us in Jesus the Son! Through him your Spirit has come and given soft and pliable hearts to us stubborn people. And so we thank you, O King, for subduing us to yourself. And we pray, Father, that you would do as you have promised – never leave us or forsake us, but lead us onward in Christ in grateful obedience to him, in Spirit-empowered mission in this community, in Christ-exalting witness to what he did for us when he lead us out of death with a strong hand. In his name and for the sake of His honor and glory we pray. Amen.]


“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

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