Light from the Sidra

Bo ('Come') 4 January 2014. 3 Tevet 5774

Torah: Exodus 10:1-13:16. Haftarah: Jeremiah 46: 13-28

Please note that unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from Tanach (The Artscroll™ Series/Stone Edition, April 2013. Published and Distributed by Mesorah Publications, Ltd, 4401 Second Avenue / Brooklyn, New York 11232)

Behold. . . the lamb!

The only thing worse than losing your child must be living with the knowledge that you were responsible for the child’s death. When my family and I lived in London, there was a notoriously dangerous intersection at the end of our road. The junction was called ‘Five Ways’ because although only four roads intersected, the major road was a

dual-carriageway; the other three were minor roads. Five Ways was the first set of traffic lights you encountered after driving west from Folkestone, sixty miles away. For many drivers, the rule of thumb was: Green Light – go; Amber Light – go faster; Red Light – pedal to the metal. As a result, some nasty accidents took place at Five Ways but the worst was one night when a driver travelling west tried to beat the red and hit another car that was crossing the junction from the east. His child, who was sitting in the front seat, was not wearing a seat belt and the collision catapulted the boy through the windscreen and into the other car. How do you live with yourself after such a tragedy?

Pharaoh had been warned about the consequences of refusing to bow to the God of the Israelites. But he resisted and caused the death not only of his own firstborn but also the firstborn of all the land of Egypt.

The Passover became Israel’s defining moment. Until the exodus, Israel was a family in slavery to Egypt and its gods; the events of Exodus 12 established Israel as one nation under God. The exodus was Israel’s redemption. The death of the firstborn of Egypt was the ransom price for God’s people: ‘For I am HASHEM your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour: I give Egypt as your ransom. . .’ (Isaiah 43:3).

The death of Egypt’s firstborn appears to us to be barbaric. How could God strike down innocent children? The sad fact is that when nations are ruled by knaves or fools, everyone suffers. Pharaoh had had plenty of warnings of what was to come. Nine plagues had brought the nation to its knees but still Pharaoh hardened his heart.

We’ve seen the problem since the third chapter of Genesis. Adam was the head of humanity. He was warned of the consequences of disobedience to God’s first mitzvah, and the human race has been paying the price ever since. As we will see in the giving of the Torah, the offspring of those who hate God may suffer to the third and fourth generation.

The fact that God struck down the firstborn of Egypt was, in a sense, merciful because, had he chosen, he could have struck down every soul in Egypt. The problem for Israel though, was that they were living in Egypt. How would Israel’s firstborn escape the final and most terrifying plague of all? In an act of even greater mercy, God allowed the people of Israel to substitute a lamb for their firstborn.

But haven’t we seen that principle before? Yes we have. In Genesis 22, God commanded Abraham to offer his firstborn son Isaac on one of the mountains of Moriah. When Isaac asked his father where the lamb was, he was told God would provide a lamb. The means of Israel’s salvation here is a lamb. When its blood was seen on the doorposts, the angel of death would pass over the house.

The principle of redemption and salvation through the blood of a lamb is one of the greatest and most important themes in the Bible, not only in the Hebrew Scriptures but also in the writings of the New Covenant. In Genesis 4, the lamb is revealed as the divine prerequisite for approaching God. In Genesis 22, we see the lamb of divine provision and in Exodus 12, the lamb of divine protection.

That principle of the substitutionary lamb runs through the entire Tanakh and in Genesis 22, as Abraham and Isaac were climbing one of the mountains of Moriah, Abraham told his son that God would ‘seek out for himself the lamb for the offering’ (Genesis 22:8). When God spared Isaac, ‘Abraham raised his eyes and saw — behold a ram! — caught in the thicket by its horns; so Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as an offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that site ‘HASHEM YIREH,’ as it is said this day, on the mountain HASHEM will be seen.’

So significant were the events one of the mountains of Moriah that 600 years later people still remembered that on the mountain ‘HASHEM will be seen.’ Israel would continue to remember that promise. HASHEM would actually be seen as the lamb Abraham promised he would ‘seek out.’

Two thousand years after Abraham offered up his son, another prophet identified the Messiah as ‘the Lamb of God’ who would climb one of the mountains of Moriah as an offering to redeem Israel from bondage far worse than that of Pharaoh; bondage to the Satan and the Yetzer haRa, our own corrupt nature.

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