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Parasha Bo (Come): Remembering the First Passover

Parasha Bo (Come!)
Exodus 10:1–13:16; Jeremiah 46:13–28; Revelation 9:1–21

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go [Bo / come] to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them.’”  (Exodus 10:1)

Moses and Aaron with Pharaoh, by Marc Chagall

Moses and Aaron with Pharaoh, by Marc Chagall

In last week’s Parasha, we read of the first seven calamities (makot) that God inflicted upon Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery.

This week in Parasha Bo, God sends the most devastating and final three plagues: locust, darkness and death of the firstborn.

After the final plague Pharaoh finally acquiesces, triggering the Exodus of the Hebrews.

But what were the purposes of the Ten Plagues?  To pressure Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free?  Perhaps, but God is fully capable of setting His people free without a king’s permission.

We see in this Parasha and last week in Parasha Va’era that God does not see the Egyptians simply as an enemy to be overcome; rather, He is committed to communicating something vital to them:

“I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt.  I am the LORD.”  (Exodus 12:12)

Kotel-Western Wall-Wailing Wall-Torah-scroll-Sefer-tik

A 13-year-old Jewish boy gets a little help carrying the Torah scroll.  The average weight of a Torah scroll is 20 to 25 pounds, not including the protective case called a Torah tik.

The plagues demonstrate God’s supremacy over and judgment on all the false gods of Egypt.

When Moses first asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, he responded, ”Who is YHVH, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?”  (Exodus 5:2)

The God of Israel wants everyone to know who He is.  And He wanted to make sure that Pharaoh and all of Egypt knew Him, too.

He even told Pharaoh that He was sending the powerful plague of hail, “so that you [Pharaoh] may know that there is none like Me in all the earth.”  (Exodus 9:14)

Pharaoh Notes the Importance of the Jewish People-James Tissot

Pharaoh Notes the Importance of the Jewish People, by James Tissota

In the end, Pharaoh did come to realize the power of the God of Israel.

But God was not only concerned about the beliefs of the Egyptians.   The Torah indicates that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in order to demonstrate His power to all the nations as well as the powerlessness of their false gods.

God does not want to be known only to this one nation of Israel, either.  He wants His name to be proclaimed in every nation on earth:

“For this purpose I have raised you [Pharaoh] up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.”  (Exodus 9:16)

And God certainly did make Himself known to Pharaoh through the final three plagues.

Praying at the Western Wailing Wall Kotel Jerusalem

An Orthodox Jewish man prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem

The Eighth Plague: Locusts (Arbeh אַרְבֶּה)

“Or else, if you refuse to let My people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your territory.  And they shall cover the face of the earth, so that no one will be able to see the earth; and they shall eat the residue of what is left, which remains to you from the hail, and they shall eat every tree which grows up for you out of the field.”  (Exodus 10:4–5)

Parasha Bo begins with the eighth plague upon Egypt — locusts.  They devoured all the crops and vegetation of Egypt that remained after the hail.  Even though locusts are driven by the wind, a plague of locusts is so devastating that it cuts off the light of the sun and wipes out the food supply of the affected area.

In the Book of Joel, this plague makes another appearance, ravaging the land. The Prophet Joel links it to sin and the Last Days, exhorting Israel to repent and return to the Lord.

God promises Israel that He will make up for all the years that the swarming locusts have devoured:

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten — the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm — My great army that I sent among you.  You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will My people be shamed.”  (Joel 2:25–26)

May 2014 swarm of locusts in Madagascar

May 2014 swarm of locusts in Madagascar

Locusts are also mentioned in the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) as one of the end-time plagues upon the earth.

With the sounding of the fifth shofar in the Last Days, locusts emerge from the bottomless pit.

They will not harm the vegetation, but they will have the power to sting like a scorpion and torment men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.

“Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth.  And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.  They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.”  (Revelation 9:3–4)

ninth plague-Egypt-Israelites-Ra

In the ninth plague, God revealed to the Egyptians that their sun god Ra was nothing but stone and that the God of Israel is the One True God.

The Ninth Plague: Darkness (Hosek חוֹשֶך)

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt — darkness that can be felt.’  So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days.  No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days.”  (Exodus 10:21–23)

With the ninth plague of darkness, Adonai delivered a crushing blow to the worship of the Egyptian sun god, Ra, demonstrating their folly of believing in mythical deities.

Although the Egyptians were plunged into total darkness, the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings in the land of Goshen.

While everyone outside the shelter of God’s covenant live in ever deepening darkness, especially as the end of the age approaches, the light of Believers in Yeshua shines ever more brightly.  (Proverbs 4:18)

Today, there are so many reports of evil, and many are fearful of what may come upon us.  Nevertheless, even when there is total, paralyzing darkness in the world, we can still have light in our dwellings, just as the Israelites had in Goshen.

Shabbat candles

Shabbat candles

It is time for us to stop cursing the darkness and, instead, start living in the light.

Instead of complaining, murmuring and fault finding over the darkness of “Egypt” (the world), we can be all that God has made us to be, shining as lights in the midst of a dark and perverse generation.  (Philippians 2:14–15)

And if we think that we do not know the Word enough to be a bright light, we must remember that even the smallest of lights shine brilliantly in the darkest of places.

The Bible says that the wicked stumble in the darkness and do not even know what makes them trip.  (Proverbs 4:19)

When people are in complete darkness, they cannot perceive anything outside of themselves.  In this state of darkness, it is easy to live in a completely self-centered, miserable world.  

Often a symptom of this darkness is using people for self-benefit.

But God’s presence in our lives promotes a kind of love that is giving, not self-seeking.  (1 Corinthians 13:5)

Torah scroll and yad (Torah pointer)

Open Torah scroll and silver yad (Torah pointer)

We need Yeshua, the Light of the World to set us free from our own preoccupation with ourselves so that we may truly love our neighbor.

Sadly, far too many of us who have been set free from darkness to live in the light still willfully stumble in the darkness of unforgiveness, bitterness and resentment.  We must determine to let these go and walk in God’s holy Light.

Just as paralyzing darkness fell on Egypt, many in the world will one day experience a great, devastating darkness, which is one of the end-time plagues mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

When the angel pours out the fifth bowl of God’s wrath, the kingdom of the beast will be plunged into total darkness.  This foreshadows the state of people who descend into Sheol (hell), where there is a complete absence of all light.  Revelation tells us that even this will not convince the servants of Satan to repent and turn to the Maker of All.

“Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.  They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.”  (Revelation 16:10–11)

Ultra-Orthodox teens walk together at the Kotel (Western Wall) Plaza in Jerusalem.

Ultra-Orthodox teens walk together at the Kotel (Western Wall) Plaza in Jerusalem.

The Tenth Plague: The Striking of the Firstborn (Macat B’Chorot מַכַּת בְּכוֹרוֹת)

“This is what the LORD says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt.  Every firstborn in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.  There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.”  (Exodus 11:4–6)

When Pharaoh still refused to repent and relent after the Plague of Darkness, God sent the tenth and most devastating plague—the Striking of the Firstborn of Egypt.

Egypt’s king refused to let God’s firstborn (Israel) go, so God took Pharaoh’s firstborn and those of his loyal subjects.  The word is clear—God will treat the nations (and individuals) as they have treated Israel!

God acts on behalf of His people and judgment will fall on the enemies of Israel.

While Pharaoh was perhaps unmoved, remaining stubborn and proud as the rest of the land suffered under God’s hand, when God struck down his firstborn son, the hardness of his heart was broken through.  How tragic that it took the death of Pharaoh’s own child to bring him to the place of humility and submission where he was willing to let God’s people go.

May our hearts be soft toward the leading of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) so that God will never need to use ever increasingly painful disciplinary measures to break through our stubborn and willful pride and bring us into a holy place before Him.

prayer-Jerusalem-women's section-the Wall

Women pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Moses prepared the people of Israel for this final judgment on Egypt by instructing them to sacrifice a lamb and to put its blood on the tops and sides of their doors.

“And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it.”  (Exodus 12:7)

The blood of the Passover lamb served as the sign that caused the judgment to “pass over” the Israelites, sparing them from suffering the wrath of God that fell upon the Egyptians.

“Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are.  And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”  (Exodus 12:13)

Spring Lamb-Sheep

Lamb

At the conclusion of this Parasha, Moses leads the children of Israel out of Egypt, and the Lord gives them the ordinances of the Passover.

Thus the Lord did all He had promised; not one Word that the Lord had spoken was left unfulfilled.  Knowing this helps us to trust in God’s faithfulness, power and mercy now and in the days to come.

Today, the Jewish People still celebrate this miraculous Passover each year.

“So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations.  You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.”  (Exodus 12:14)

Individual Believers and entire churches are increasingly commemorating the Passover as well, since it foreshadows Yeshua the Messiah, the Lamb of God who was sacrificed in order to spare us from the judgment of God.

Passover seder, wine,

A man reads from the Passover Haggadah (Order / Telling) as everyone raises a glass of wine, a custom during the Passover seder (traditional dinner).

Because God spared the firstborn Jewish sons from the 10th plague, we find in this Torah portion the command to consecrate or set apart for Him every firstborn male.  (Exodus 13:1–2)

As well, because they were spared, the firstborn traditionally fasts on the day before Passover to commemorate this miracle.

However, the firstborn sons ended up worshiping the Golden Calf along with most of Israel, so they forfeited their right to serve God in the Temple.

God, instead, gave that right to the tribe who did not worship the Calf — the Levites.

Jewish tradition-redeeming the firstborn

The Pidyon HaBen (redemption of the first-born son) is a traditional Jewish ritual that has been practiced since ancient times.

Jewish parents, therefore, redeem their firstborn sons in a special ceremony called the Pidyon HaBen (Redemption of the Firstborn Son).  (Numbers 3:45–47)

In this ceremony the firstborn is fully absolved from the duty to perform Temple Service.

This symbolic ritual of redeeming the firstborn son out of Temple Service continues today with the payment of five silver shekels (or about 4.4 ounces of pure silver) to a man of Cohen descent, according to the command given by Moses:

“Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock. The Levites are to be mine.  I am the Lord.  To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, collect five shekels for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs.  Give the money for the redemption of the additional Israelites to Aaron and his sons.”  (Numbers 3:45–48)

The Israeli Mint has created special edition silver commemorative coins for Pidyon HaBen (Redemption of the Firstborn) services. The weight of the five coins corresponds to the weight of the five silver sheqalim given to the Cohen in Temple times for the Redemption of the Firstborn.

The Israeli Mint has created special edition silver commemorative coins for Pidyon HaBen (Redemption of the Firstborn) services. The weight of the five coins corresponds to the weight of the five silver sheqalim given to the Cohen in Temple times for the Redemption of the Firstborn.

Another custom in Judaism arises from the Exodus story—the custom of wearing tefillin.

Tefillin (phylacteries) are a set of little black boxes containing Scriptures connected by straps. The boxes are worn on the forehead and arm, and straps are wound around the arm and fingers. This custom serves as a reminder to submit one’s head (thoughts), heart (feelings) and hands (actions) to the Lord.

This practice arises from the following command:

“This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips.  For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”  (Exodus 13:9, see also verse 16)

A Jewish man at the Western (Wailing) Wall helps a young man, perhaps his son, to wrap tefillin (phylacteries).

A Jewish man at the Western (Wailing) Wall helps a young man, perhaps
his son, to wrap tefillin (phylacteries).his son, to wrap tefillin (phylacteries).

According to Scripture, in the last days, the anti-Messiah will attempt to force all people to put his mark, rather than the Word of God, on their hand or foreheads, thereby usurping the mark of the rightful place of God in our lives.  (Revelation 13:16–17)

Nevertheless, those who love God will resist evil and glorify His name till the end.

It is because of God’s enduring mercy that He brought each one of us out of the darkness that held us captive.  Baruch HaShem (Praise the Lord)!

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