By: William J Jackson
Pesach (Passover) is something that needs to be remember and celebrate from generation to generation (Exodus 12:14, 17, 42). Although we reflect on the plagues, the one major event that we participate in, that shadows the events of that day, is the Passover meal. The slaughtering of the lamb was an action that displayed a commitment to YHVH on an individual bases. We will explain why by starting at the beginning of the plagues.
Some of the plagues appeared to be discriminating, others not. For example, four of the plagues affected both the Egyptians and Israelites (plagues 1, 2, 3, & 8). While there were five others that did not affect the Israelites at all (plagues 4, 5, 6, 7 & 9). In these five plagues, if you were apart of the Israelite community (Goshem), you were unaffected. Interestingly, plague seven, the storm of hail and fire, gave the Egyptians alone an opportunity to acknowledge their belief in YHVH. You see, Adonai gave Egypt a 24 hour notice to prepare for the storm (Exodus 9:18). If you did not believe in His word you would suffer the consequences, and many did (Exodus 9:25). Then there was plague ten, the death of the first born. This would allow the Israelites to show the individual commitment to HaShem.
List of the plagues with references:
4. Insects: Exodus 8:16-20
The requirement to avoid the penalty of plague ten was to sacrifice a lamb and smear it’s blood on your doorframe (Exodus 12:3-7). But sacrificing a lamb would be another issue. Earlier, when Pharaoh told Moses to sacrifice in Egypt (Exodus 8:21), Moses knew this would mean certain death for him and his people. He said this to Pharaoh:
“It would be inappropriate for us to do that, because the animal we sacrifice to Adonai our God is an abomination to the Egyptians. Won’t the Egyptians stone us to death if before their very eyes we sacrifice what they consider an abomination? (Exodus 8:22)
Although some historians might say the Egyptians worshiped animals, the truth is that they didn’t see animals as deities. More accurately, they saw some animals as symbols of their gods (1) . So these special animals were protected by law. For example, frogs were the symbol of fertility in ancient Egypt (Heket). Thus they were protected by Egyptian law (2). That was the irony about plague two where Pharaoh ordering the frogs to be taken away (Exodus 8:4). Another one of these sacred animals was the lamb. Like the frog, people were forbidden to harm it. Such an act was considered a crime punishable by death (3). Thus a follower of YHVH faced a dilemma.
This would be Israel’s great “put up or shut up“ moment. As we know, people can say their loyal to a cause all day long but its times like these that their true heart will match their actions. During this fateful evening, if one truly believed in YHVH, you would have slaughtered the lamb, But, for those not committed to this walk, they probably would have given into the threat of Egyptian authority.
This Pesach we should remember those brave Israelites that put HaShem above the world, while facing a possible death sentence. As a great American hero once said “The fear of G-d makes a hero; the fear of man makes a coward” – Sergeant Alvin York (4) .