Blood on the door posts - Why the Hebrews?

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Stope

Puritan Board Sophomore
My wife brought up an interesting question, thought I'd share and ask anybody here who might have any thoughts;

All the plagues upon Egypt came to Egyptians only and Hebrews didn't have to do anything to be spared, why then were Hebrews required to put blood on the door posts for the final plague (that is, why weren't they just exempt as they were from the previous plagues?)?




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Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
If you read the relevant chs in Exodus carefully, you will note that the LORD began to spare Israel the effects of the plagues only after the first three were past; see 8:22. It's a bit cavalier to say that God just exempted Israel. He made a point to differentiate his people as part of his saving message, as part of his escalating demands.

Secondly, God is in the habit of ordaining signs, and it is a mark of devotion to hew to the LORD's commands. The Israelite's actions were a witness to themselves, and to the Egyptians. Why should an Israelite expect deliverance, if he ignores or spurns the means appointed?

We can say the same thing today, respecting the means of grace. Why should anyone who claims to be one of God's saved adoptees, yet ignores the will of Christ and the ordinances of the apostles entrusted to the church, why should he rest content in his profession? Many will say to Christ in that day, "Lord, Lord," and he will reply, "Depart from me... I never knew you."

Lk.6:46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
Jn.14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

Ordinarily faith is wrought in individuals by the Spirit acting through the preaching of the gospel. Modest means to accomplish a great work, 1Cor.1:21. "Go bathe in the Jordan seven times..." If Naaman had not listened to his helpful servants, 2Ki.5:13, he had left Israel a leper still.

Thirdly, this final plague was a last warning to the land of Egypt. Already, many of them had their faith in their gods shaken. If these Egyptians and other dwellers in the land desired redemption, if they would spare their own firstborn--this was the ten-day period to identify with God's people, to choose life, and abandon any previous allegiance. The stubborn unbelievers along with their Pharaoh, even if they were in terror, paid the Israelites and their public acts no mind; and so paid a terrible price.

But we can be sure that many did attend to what God said to Israel. A "mixed multitude" came up out of Egypt, many aliens attached to a core of ethnic Israelites, forsaking the Land of Death.
 

KeithW

Puritan Board Freshman
Keep in mind that the last plague was God sending a destroyer, a spiritual being to kill all the firstborn.

One time while I was reading the Old Testament I noticed an explanation about that sacrifice and the blood on the doorposts that I had never noticed before. Maybe this gets too esoteric.

esoteric - intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest

The Passover is described in Exod. 12.

KJV said:
Exod. 12:13 And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.

Exod. 12:29,30 And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.

Afterwards, in the next chapter God adds,

KJV said:
Exod. 13:1,2 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.

Exod. 13:11-15 And it shall be when the LORD shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, as he sware unto thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it thee, That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD'S. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem. And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage: And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the LORD slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem.

Sounds like that is all there is to it, right? The destroyer sees the blood and passes over. Then the Lord God declares a new thing that the firstborn males are His. The two things are not described as being connected to each other. Lets go later in time to the book of Numbers.

KJV said:
Num. 3:11-13 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine; Because all the firstborn are mine; for on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be: I am the LORD.

Num. 8:17 For all the firstborn of the children of Israel are mine, both man and beast: on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for myself.

In the book of Exodus God does not connect the Passover sacrifice to God making the firstborn males His. He connects the two together in Numbers. I have not found any place which describes why this should be so. But clearly God told them to perform the Passover sacrifice which in His sight caused something to take place which He only explains later.

A question to ponder: How much did God pass over the firstborn because He saw the blood, and how much was based on God passing over the firstborn males because they belonged to Him? Maybe the two are inseparable?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
It's plain from simple proximity--how the command concerning the Israelite firstborn is given within 25vv of the slaying of Egypt's firstborn--that the two facts are deliberately correlated. Ex.13:2 is bracketed by Passover memorial feast instructions, both from the prior pericope, ch.12; as well as the subsequent, ch.13. In 13:8, the reference to "son" is most logically the firstborn son, so the Passover is being tied quite firmly to this further requirement of consecration.

v15 makes the explicit connection: "And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the LORD slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem." These are claimed by the Lord, and shall be sacrificed; except the child (and high-value beasts, if desired, v13) shall be redeemed, bought back: i.e. a substitute offered in his place.

This is a ransom arrangement. Blood was paid to set Israel free, firstborn Egyptian blood of highest value; ergo, Israel's lives are all under the ownership of their new (old) Master. If one argues that this was not blood from the LORD's treasury, that he spent nothing; one does not understand the COST of reaving a life. Israel's soldiers were required to pay a token to the Levites when they went to war, a price to God (who is Lord over all) for the blood they would shed. Ex.30:12, "When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them."

When David took a census, his sin was presumptuous--whether he sought the ransom money through greed (by a pious pretext, since it was ordained to the Tabernacle); or he neglected to take it up, thinking he should avoid a plague since his count was merely on account of his vanity and prestige. But the LORD sent the plague; the "man of war" and blood (1Chr.28:3) had thought too much like a heathen despot, and had not been submissive to the High King. God witnesses that he himself does not take men's lives in a thoughtless manner.

All Israel was ransomed from Egypt, but as the firstborn is "my might, the firstfruits of my strength," Gen.49:3, so they stood for the whole nation. So too, the even-further-claimed Levites were treated as another sign of the ransomed people. The Lord took them, took away their freedom (in a sense) to do as they pleased, and made them his ministers of worship; which service allowed for the recognition of other liberties secured to the rest of the people.

The upshot of all this is: Israel was ransomed out of Egypt, out of slavery and death, out of idolatry, etc. Now they were the LORD God's slaves. But he would have them free and happy, yet reminded of the fact: "you are not your own, you were bought with a price." So, to purchase a measure of their own liberty, they paid a ransom to God through their firstborns. The Levites as a tribe were taken specially for the sake of the rest, i.e. they were made a ransom for the other tribes. All this was to teach Israel that they were the LORD's redeemed property.

Yes, there is connection between the blood of the sacrifice, and the divine ownership of Israel in general as represented by the firstborn. Ex.4:22-23, "Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, "Let my son go that he may serve me." If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.'" Indeed, God looked upon Israel in affliction as heirs of his promises to Abraham, then Isaac and Jacob.

And all this was further to anticipate "her firstborn son," Lk.2:7, he "who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;" Col.1:15, the Lamb of God whose blood covers his people from the righteous wrath of God.
 

KeithW

Puritan Board Freshman
A small detail.

The Levites as a tribe were taken specially for the sake of the rest, i.e. they were made a ransom for the other tribes.
I do not understand the part about the Levites were for the sake of the other tribes and not Israel. The passages I remember are specifically about the Levites were in exchange for the firstborn of Israel.

Numbers 3:11-13 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of all the firstborn that openeth the matrix among the children of Israel: therefore the Levites shall be mine; Because all the firstborn are mine; for on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be: I am the LORD.

Numbers 3:44,45 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle; and the Levites shall be mine: I am the LORD.
There was a one-to-one exchange. The Levites were to occupy the role that the firstborn Israelites were doing, such as "the service of the tabernacle of the congregation" in Numbers 18:21,22. But since there was not an equal count between the firstborn of the Israelites and the Levites there was also redemption money to make up the difference, Numbers 3:44-51.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The passover and the saving of Israel's firstborn was to form a memorial event. That in itself would provide a rationale for the requirement.

There is also the typological relation to Christ and believers, brought out in detail by Matthew Henry (Concise Commentary):

The sprinkling of the blood was typical. The blood of the lamb must be sprinkled, denoting the applying of the merits of Christ's death to our souls; we must receive the atonement, Rom. 5:11. Faith is the bunch of hyssop, by which we apply the promises, and the benefits of the blood of Christ laid up in them, to ourselves. It was to be sprinkled on the door-posts, denoting the open profession we are to make of faith in Christ. It was not to be sprinkled upon the threshold; which cautions us to take heed of trampling under foot the blood of the covenant. It is precious blood, and must be precious to us. The blood, thus sprinkled, was a means of preserving the Israelites from the destroying angel, who had nothing to do where the blood was. The blood of Christ is the believer's protection from the wrath of God, the curse of the law, and the damnation of hell, Rom. 8:1.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I do not understand the part about the Levites were for the sake of the other tribes and not Israel. The passages I remember are specifically about the Levites were in exchange for the firstborn of Israel.

Don't think of the firstborns as mere individuals. The firstborn are here treated as federal representatives of the whole; they stand for all, being the principal family estate inheritors (the double portion). The Levites are consecrated a "Tribe of Firstborns," for they are correlated by a count with the primaries among all the rest of the tribes.

Num.2:33 But the Levites were not numbered among the children of Israel; as the LORD commanded Moses.
Num.3:9 And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him on the behalf of the children of Israel.
Num.8:16 For they are wholly given to me from among the people of Israel. Instead of all who open the womb, the firstborn of all the people of Israel, I have taken them for myself.
Num.18:20 And the LORD said to Aaron, "You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.

Aaron appears as the priestly head. With reference to their ministerial functions, they are presented to the high-priest, and are devoted to him as his servants. With reference to the tribes, however, they have this advantage, that they represent the first-born of all the tribes; they are an eminent tribe wholly made up of native first-born; and the complete infatuation of the company of Korah is shown by the fact that they were not content with that eminence.
Lange's Commentary, loc.cit.

Desecration of the Levites, and beyond them all of the priesthood itself, was the failure not only of the nation (which was an ensign of all the peoples of the whole earth, a "kingdom of priests" Ex.19:6); but of the most urgent mediators required by the people. So, the Lord promises that as part of his New Covenant, he will "purify the sons of Levi," Mal.3:3. Who are the reconstituted Israel, and Levi, and priesthood of Christ? His church.
 
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