Passover lessons for a modern-day plague

“When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” (Exodus 12:13)

It has been surreal to experience the current lockdown in Israel due to the Coronavirus while the Passover feast approaches. As each family sits here confined to our homes to slow the spread of this modern-day plague, it is hard to escape the parallel with that fateful night long ago when the ancient Israelites huddled in their homes, with lamb’s blood sprinkled on the doorposts, nervously hoping and waiting for the death angel to pass over them.

For the Jewish people, Passover is the seminal event in their national history and a time of great celebration. Throughout their long exile, Pessach also had become a season of caution and even dread for Jews facing blood libels and pogroms around this time of year. But ever since Israel was reborn as a nation, the Jewish people have been free and safe to carry out all their traditions associated with this biblical festival. It is a time for thorough house cleaning, burning chametz (leaven), song-filled seder meals, matza and wine, and joyous family gatherings.

But not this year! Israel is going through the most difficult Passover season since its modern rebirth in 1948. No one is allowed to leave their homes. Extended families cannot come together. Many time-honored Passover traditions will have to be scrapped. Instead of counting the omer, we will be counting the victims of Corona.

These grim circumstances also make it easier to imagine oneself shuttered inside the home of an Israelite family back in Egypt some 3,500 years ago, anxiously awaiting the morning light. Will this present plague of death also pass us by? When will we see the light of day? And what message is God trying to tell us through this pandemic?

NO DOUBT, the Israelites of old were themselves frightened by God’s awesome judgments on their Egyptian taskmasters. Every horrible plague against Egypt was right next door. One-by-one they struck, and each one was like a birth pang for everyone in the land. Yet over and over, the land of Goshen was spared (Exodus 8:22, 9:26). When there was pitch darkness on Egypt, thankfully “all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.” (Exodus 10:23)

After the ninth plague of darkness, God gave Israel and the Egyptians a breather. They had a few days to rest and recover. But the Lord was not finished. There was one final plague – the death of the first-born sons – and He gave Moses specific instructions on how the Hebrew children could escape it.

Each Israelite family was told to take an unblemished lamb into their house for four days, then to slaughter the lamb and put its blood on the doorposts of their home, and finally to roast and consume the whole lamb (Exodus 12:1-14). Note how the commands given to Moses in Exodus 12 followed a specific progression: “take a lamb” (v. 3); “the lamb” (v. 4); “your lamb” (v. 5). It goes from any lamb to “your” very own lamb. Pessach is all about deliverance and freedom for our individual lives and families. The salvation of Passover is personal!

The plagues and parting of the Red Sea in the Exodus story were perhaps the most open, sustained demonstration of God’s mighty power in human history. And yet there was one thing which proved more powerful – a blood sacrifice stayed the hand of God! We must take this message to heart today.

There are other important lessons we can learn from the Exodus story as we face our own modern-day plague.

Sin Has Consequences
It is one thing to buy a lamb at the market and take it straight into the Temple to sacrifice. It was quite another thing for these families to take the lamb into their homes for four days. By day three, their children had grown fond of the wooly little creature and given it a name. But on day four, the whole family had to watch the lamb die to save someone else’s life. This was meant to leave a deep impression on the entire household. God is holy and there are consequences for sin. And only a blood sacrifice could keep the death angel at bay.

Today, the Corona plague is so lethal, so impacting all across the globe, it is hard to deny that God in His sovereignty has allowed it because of some grave human sin. The Book of Proverbs says, “the curse causeless shall not come.” (Proverbs 26:2 – KJV) Adam was disobedient and it opened a spiritual door for death to enter the world and spread like a virus to all men (Romans 5:12). Surely, we must seek out and expose the spiritual source of this plague. And every one of us must use this time to search out our own lives and repent of our sins.

It Pays to Have ‘Saving Knowledge’
The judgment of God was about to strike the first-born sons throughout the land of Egypt because of their idol worship. According to the prophet Ezekiel, the Israelites also deserved the same fate because they too had begun worshipping the idols of the Egyptians (Ezekiel 20:7-10; see also Joshua 24:14). But the Lord provided a way of escape for His chosen people! He told Moses how the Israelites could escape the death plague, by placing the blood of a spotless lamb on their door lintels. The blood stains carried a message that a death had already occurred here, so the death angel had no need to enter that home. This knowledge of how to escape harm saved each obedient household from death and despair.

In the New Covenant, we are told that Jesus came “to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins…” (Luke 1:77). We also can have “boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh…” (Hebrews 10:19-20). It makes all the difference in the world if you have knowledge of the way to escape God’s eternal wrath. If you do, there is no need to fear death – from Coronavirus or any other peril. And you can trust Jesus to deliver you from evil and harm. In his High Priestly Prayer, Jesus said to his heavenly Father: “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)

Each Plague had a Purpose
The Lord had a purpose behind every one of the ten plagues brought upon Egypt. Usually, it was to mock or destroy the gods of the Egyptians. For instance, the Egyptians reverenced Hapi, the god of the Nile River; the Lord turned the Nile to blood. They worshipped Heket, a fertility goddess with the head of a frog; God sent masses of frogs among them. They worshipped the Sun god Ra; He cast them into three days of utter darkness. And when it came to the plague of the first-born, Pharaoh himself was worshipped as a god. He also brought this upon himself by defiantly telling Moses: “Get away from me! Take heed to yourself and see my face no more! For in the day you see my face you shall die!” (Exodus 10:28) Finally, it also was holy vengeance for Egypt’s slaughter of all the Israelite’s newborn babies.

Today, we are facing a Coronavirus plague that is testing a modern-day god to its limits. Many have discarded with the Creator God and instead revere Science – meaning human intellect – as being capable of providing answers to every problem. Rather than repenting and calling on God, they are trusting medical researchers to find a treatment or vaccine for the virus before they lose their jobs or possessions or even their lives. Sadly, many are already going broke, getting sick and dying as scientists desperately search for an answer. They may find one before long, and hopefully this plague will lift soon, returning life to normal. Yet this truth remains: Science and medicine are good, but holding them above God is idolatry. And Science will not save humanity from the righteous judgments of God still to come.

The Book of Revelation describes an entire series of global plagues and disasters which will one day impact the whole earth, far exceeding Coronavirus and even the scope and intensity of the plagues in the Book of Exodus. Hopefully some will repent, just as I pray they do now in the days of the Coronavirus. This current health crisis has already begun shaking everything on earth – so that the unshakable Kingdom of God might stand (Haggai 2:6-7; Hebrews 12:26-28).

This Passover, let us come to appreciate even more that God has given us a way of escape from the fear of death today, and the wrath to come – through Jesus, the Lamb of God. “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” (1 Corinthians 5:7)

This article originally appeared on ICEJ, April 7, 2020, and reposted with permission.