There is so much which could be said concerning this marvelous story, which is so incredibly vital to the redemptive narrative. This tale is a masterpiece of foreshadowing, and it gives us essential insight into the atoning work of Jesus. This event in Exodus 11-13:16 is the climax of the Exodus story. This moment is the reason God hardened Pharaoh’s heart after the first nine plagues (Ex. 7:23; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 12, 35; 10:20, 27).
First, we see that the Lord is brining judgement to Egypt for its sin. And what was its sin? The Egyptians, represented by Pharaoh, oppressed and enslaved the Israelites, the kin of the man (Joseph) whom God used to save them. And when the Lord demanded Pharaoh to let His people go to the wild in order to worship Him, Pharaoh refused. He did not turn away from his oppression of Israel, but rather increased his sin (Ex. 5:6-9). So, Pharaoh refused to repent of his sin; thus, the Lord brought justice to the land of Egypt. And the punishment was death. ”This is what Yahweh says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt, and every firstborn male in the land of Egypt will die….” (11:4-5).
Second, notice the unique way in which God spares His people. In the other plagues, Israel was simply exempt: the Lord did not bring the judgement against them. But now, “they must take some of the blood [of the firstborn animals they would sacrifice] and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where they eat them [the sacrificed animals]” (12:7). In order for Israel to pass through the final judgement of God in the land of Egypt, something must die in her stead. You see, the Lord is just. And though He dealt patiently with Israel, even she had to pay for her sins. But God, in His mercy and because of His great love, provides Israel with a means of atoning for her guilt and at the same time obtain salvation. It is this which points to the work of Jesus so profoundly and so clearly. This is what Paul says in Romans: “God presented Him [Jesus] as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25-26). It is no coincidence that Paul said “passed over;” he was intentionally alluding to the Passover in Exodus. Previously, God had not punished Israel for her own sins: His judgement only reached Egypt. But now, Israel’s sins must be atoned for – or propitiated. Thus, blood must be shed. You see, God must punish sin because He is just. That is not to say that justice is some principle by which God must abide; rather, since God is just – since He declares what is right and what is wrong – He punishes sin. Therefore, blood must be spilt. At the Passover, the Lord accepted – temporarily – the blood of animals because of Israel’s faith in His promise (that He would pass over their houses if the blood was painted on the door). But animals would not and could not bear the full weight of God’s punishment against man’s sin (cf. Heb. 10:4). Thus, God sent His Son Jesus to be the propitiation for sin. Through “faith in His blood,” we become covered with the sacrifice of Jesus, just like the houses of Israel.
This leads to the third point: why did the blood go on the door? Well, the door is on the outside of the house; if someone’s door is covered in blood, you are surely going to notice. And that is the point. This was a public demonstration of faith in the promise of God. Even in ancient times, painting your door with blood would be weird, and I do not doubt that Egypt mocked Israel for doing it. But they did, because that is what God told them to do. That should be our response. No matter how weird, or strange, or radical, or uncomfortable, we obey the commands of God. Not because that will earn heaven for us. But because God said to do it.
Finally, we’ll conclude with a great thought. Let’s look at 12:14 – “This day [says the Lord] is to be a memorial for you, and you must celebrate it as a festival to the Lord. You are to celebrate it throughout your generations as a permanent statute.” We are to rejoice in the atoning work of Christ Jesus our Lord. This really, really good news! We are judged and condemned like the Egyptians. Our sins are paid for by the blood of the unblemished Lamb of God. Let us be thankful always for God’s grace and kindness to us in Jesus. Let us celebrate our salvation, because it is a free gift of grace from God.