“The blood shall be a sign for you.” That is what the Lord said to me. It was a fearful sign. With it, our firstborn were saved; without it, they would have died.
I was already an old man when God called me to do what I had failed in my younger days to do – deliver my – his – people from their centuries of slavery. The signs had been so evident to me. I had been not only saved from death at my birth. I had been rescued by the very daughter of Pharaoh and then nursed by my own mother. I grew up knowing that I was a Hebrew even as I was raised in the royal court. How could this have happened if it were not from God? Why was I receiving the education, even the pedigree of a ruler if not for this work of deliverance? My mother had spoken to me, sang to me of the redemption that our people longed for. And so, when I saw the opportunity to rescue a brother of my people, I thought then that God was providing the opening. It was my sign and the sign for my people to see in me their deliverer. So much for signs.
Forty years I lived in exile. Then appeared the burning bush – the sign of the holy God. And yet, even as I bowed before it, the voice of God sounding forth; even as the voice gave me the command to be the deliverer I had once imagined to be, I balked. When I was young I was confident in my so-called abilities. Now, as an old man, I had long ago come to terms with my inadequacies.
The Lord gave me more signs, miraculous signs – the serpent-staff miracle, the leprous hand miracle. But I did not want signs: I wanted out! But he, whom I had thought had made it so clear that I was not a savior, would not let me go. He had chosen the time for his people’s redemption, and he had chosen me – the failed savior – to be that redeemer.
He gave me my brother Aaron to be my mouthpiece. He gave me those two signs to perform. And then the plagues. The first, the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, and still Pharaoh would not relent. The sixth, the seventh, the eighth, the ninth – almost relenting but never able to let us go. He swore I would die if ever I appeared before him again. Did he not know? How could he not know the power of the Lord? What would it take? The Lord had told me before I had ever returned to Egypt:
Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”
I had not understood, then, the firstborn of everyone in Egypt was meant. One man’s obstinacy would lead to the death of many. One man’s pride; one man’s folly to think that he was greater than the Lord.
The destroyer would slay the firstborn son of everyone living within the borders of Egypt. Not even we Hebrews were safe from the slaughter. Why was that? We had been preserved from all the other plagues. What was different about this final sign?
The firstborn son – that was the key. The plague was not simply an act of destruction. It was not merely a sign of the Lord our God’s power over Pharaoh and his gods. The Lord God has always regarded the firstborn son as belonging to him. And so he instructed me afterwards, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.” The firstborn of the beasts we were to offer up in sacrifice to the Lord. The firstborn of our people we must redeem with a sacrifice. Only by blood could the redemption be made.
And so only by blood on that night of the final plague could our own firstborn sons be redeemed. Only the sign of blood could cause the destroyer to pass over our homes – blood on the doorposts and blood on the lintels over the doors. Only blood of a lamb, only a lamb without blemish. A lamb whose bones could not be broken, a lamb whose flesh we must eat.
Quietly we each made preparation. Where the households were too small to consume a lamb, one would join another. We gathered outside our homes at twilight. Each head of the home slit the throat of his lamb. We smeared the blood around the doors and entered. Each lamb was roasted and we ate it all. We ate in haste, clothed as though ready to leave at any moment. We ate with bitter herbs and unleavened bread for we had not been allowed even the time to knead leaven into the bread.
We ate, if the truth be told, trembling. It was a somber meal even as the expectation that deliverance from bondage was near. Death was passing through the land. The wails were rising and could be heard even from our far-distant neighbors as the destroyer entered their doors.
Would the blood avail for us? Would the Lord in his wrath pass over our homes? No doubt we each looked at our firstborn sons for any sign of failing. But no one’s health faltered; no son died; no wailing rose from our homes. Before sunrise I was summoned to Pharaoh who gave the order for us to depart.
Our journey is but begun. We have crossed through the Red Sea by yet another of God’s mighty deeds. We have arrived at Mt. Sinai. I am soon to ascend the mountain and to wait on the Lord. What he will tell me I do not know. What lies before us remains unclear. We are safe from Egypt; even so, danger remains. There is a wilderness to cross through, hostile nations to get by.
And yet there is the promise of reaching our home. However long it will take; whatever obstacles might lie in our path, we will arrive at our destination. How do I know? Look up. There is the sign of the cloud and pillar of fire to lead us, the sign of the Lord’s presence. We eat the daily sign of manna, the sign of the Lord’s provision. We have but to look back to the miraculous signs of the Lord’s power that delivered us from Egypt.
And then there is the sign of this Passover meal. No longer will we have to mark our doors with blood. The destroyer will not visit us. But the lambs must still be slain and made our meal. By this are we to remember the redemption of the Lord. And so, when our children ask what is meant by this service, we will reply, “It is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.” The blood of the lambs that were slain redeemed our firstborn sons. Their death gave us life.
May we never forget such a great redemption. May this meal be the Lord’s sign to us that not only did the Lord once redeem us but that he continues to be with us to guide us, to protect us, to lead us safely home.