Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Passover: It’s Teachings on Justice, Equality and Mercy

The Passover is an expression of the “equality” of all of us before God. We are all sinners who require His mercy, if we hope to avoid condemnation and death. Israel’s Savior made this clear by requiring Israel to make a blood sacrifice so that death wouldn’t strike them as it would the Egyptians:

  • “When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.” (Exodus 12:23)

Moses explained that without the blood of this substitutionary sacrifice, the “destroyer,” the angel of death, would also inflict upon Israel what Israel deserved – death. They too deserved to die for their sins. Moses then added an interpretative note:

  • “When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony.  And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” (12:25-27)

Moses explained that He “spared” Israel – that He had mercy on Israel and “passed over” them. Without the substitutionary blood on the doorposts, Israel would not have been spared. To reinforce the fact that Israel too deserved judgment, God required His people to understand they too deserved to die. Therefore, they were required to make a regular substitutionary offering in place of their own lives:

  • “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’” (13:14-15)

Israel was required to buy back from God’s judgment their firstborn with an animal sacrifice. Instead, of them, the animal would pay the price for sin.

The Passover is an expression of equality in another way. Redemption was also open to the Egyptians. Those Egyptians who took God’s Word seriously were either able to avoid the effects of some of the plagues or even to join themselves to Israel (12:48-49).

However, today’s secularism wants to apply equality even further by eliminating any distinctions among humanity. Brian McLaren, a key writer of the Emergent Church movement, charges that:

  • Christians have been taught to see in "us vs. them" terms for centuries, and it will take time to reorient faithful people in a new direction -- "us with them," working for the common good (Huffington Post Religion Blog, 2/19/03)

However, Scripture has always maintained a sharp distinction between the people of God and those who aren’t. The Passover also reflects this absolute distinction:

  • There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. (11:6-7)

Is this kind of favoritism a violation of God’s just nature? No! For one thing, God has always stated or demonstrated that it is legitimate for Him to be merciful to those He chooses (Rom. 9:14-19). For another thing, we all live in a way that reflects such discriminate mercy. When we throw a party, we have no qualms about inviting only those we want to invite. If someone from the next town complains, “That isn’t fair. You should also have invited me,” you would simply point out that this has nothing to do with fairness but everything to do with our freedom to be kind to only those who we choose.

However, if we are a judge, we must apply the same principles of justice to all indiscriminately. But under this standard of justice, none of us deserve anything from God except condemnation (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, our only hope is in the mercy of God, not in the justice of God.

This might violate our current values, but there is nothing unjust about only being merciful to a select group of people. Nevertheless, God had made His mercy available to all. Any who sought to join His people could. In fact, when Israel left Egypt, they were joined by a “mixed multitude” (12:38) of people, presumably including Egyptians. Besides, there is no scriptural instance where someone who seriously wanted to join Israel was refused.

Instead, we must be free to extend discriminate mercy. If instead I am required to be merciful to all, I can be merciful to none. Instead, true mercy must begin at home with individuals, with those we favor. It is because I favor my children and wife that I can be compassionate and merciful to others who have wives and children. This is because I understand and value of discriminate mercy. If instead, I must be equally merciful to all, mercy will be consumed in a sea of sameness and sterility.

A lack of evidence was never the problem. Egypt had all the evidence. They experienced the 10 plagues of Israel’s God. This caused them to tremble before God and to have a great respect for Moses. However, this was not enough to incline them to accept Israel’s God.

The same was true of the vast number of the Canaanites. They had heard all about the miracles that God had performed for Israel (Joshua 2:10), but they remained unresponsive to this God with the exception of one prostitute.

The Gibeonites’ behavior reflected the deep darkness and rebellion in the heart of humanity. They too had been convinced by the evidence that God was with Israel (Joshua 9:9). However, they oddly decided to deceive the Israelites and to become their slaves rather than to receive their God and to become their brothers.

Does this make God unjust? The Egyptians had all the evidence in the world but instead chose to harden their hearts against God. Should God be required to be merciful to them? To the Canaanites? Many would say “yes.” However, they can only maintain such a position by denying that we are morally responsible agents. Instead, the Passover declares otherwise.

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