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9. God’s Means of Salvation (Exodus 11:1-12:36)

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Life of Moses (9)

April 15, 2018

I think that sometimes we toss around biblical terms without thinking carefully about what they mean. Take the word, “salvation.” It’s a good biblical word, but we say it so often that maybe we’re glossing over what it really means.

For example, let me ask: Does God’s killing all of the firstborn in the land of Egypt strike you as overly harsh, extreme, or unfair of God? Killing Pharaoh’s firstborn might have been appropriate, since he had oppressed Israel and refused to let them go. But if you think that to kill all the firstborn seems harsh, then maybe you need to think more deeply about salvation.

To understand salvation, we need to back up and understand who God is and who we are. God is the infinitely holy sovereign of the universe. He spoke the universe into existence for His glory. He made man as male and female in His image to reflect His glory. But that first couple listened to Satan and disobeyed God’s direct command. Because of their disobedience, God imposed His threatened penalty (Gen. 2:17): “In the day that you eat from [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you will surely die.”

While God graciously didn’t strike Adam and Eve dead on the spot, the instant they ate they experienced spiritual death (separation from God) and the process of physical death set in. As a result of their sin, everyone since then is born separated from God and under His just curse of death. And in addition to being born in sin, we’ve all piled up plenty of our own sins against the Holy One.

God is not obligated to save any sinner from His just penalty of eternal separation from Him. We all deserve His judgment. But because of His sovereign love and mercy, He has graciously provided a way of salvation. He sent His own eternal Son, the second member of the trinity, to bear the penalty we all deserve. Because the sinless Son of God paid that price, God now can (Rom. 3:26), “be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” That’s the meaning of salvation.

God’s final plague on Egypt and His providing a way for Israel to be saved from that plague and delivered from slavery in Egypt is a picture of how He saves sinners spiritually. Just as Moses warned Pharaoh that the penalty if he refused to let Israel go would be the death of his firstborn, so God has warned all (Rom. 6:23), “the wages of sin is death.” Just as God gave Pharaoh nine plagues to warn him of His power and that He would do just as He had warned, so God has warned sinners of the impending consequences if they refuse to obey Him. We see that all people die. We see how frail we are. Even when we’re young and healthy, death is a daily possibility. We need a Savior from eternal death! Just as God provided the Passover Lamb, so He sent His Son to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of everyone who believes in Him (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7). Thus …

God’s means of saving His people is the blood of an acceptable sacrifice, applied by obedient faith.

We see in this inspired story the people who need salvation, the penalty for ignoring God’s means of salvation, the provision for God’s salvation, and the application of God’s salvation.

1. The people who need salvation are slaves.

The Israelites were literal slaves under a cruel tyrant. Their parents and grandparents had been slaves for as far back as anyone knew. During the time of Moses’ birth, Pharaoh had given orders to kill all Israelite baby boys. Years later, when Moses went to Pharaoh to demand that he let Israel go, Israel’s misery as slaves got worse. Pharaoh commanded that they had to gather their own straw to make bricks, while keeping their quotas the same. So the Israelites knew their miserable condition as slaves. They knew that they needed deliverance from their bondage.

Israel’s literal condition as slaves was a picture of the universal human condition: We all are born in slavery to sin, captives in Satan’s domain of darkness (Col. 1:13; 2 Tim. 2:26). Jesus said (John 8:34), “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” Paul also describes our condition outside of Christ as being “slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:17).

But the problem is, many who are captives of Satan, enslaved to sin, don’t realize their true condition. They’re not walking around in chains, listening to a brutal slave-driver yell at them to get their quotas of bricks made. They don’t feel his lash on their backs. Rather, they’re doing rather well. Life is good. They have comfortable homes, two or more cars, plenty to eat, paid vacations, and good retirement plans. They don’t look like slaves or feel like slaves.

And so they don’t see their need for salvation. Salvation may be nice for religious types, but they want the freedom to run their own lives. They like to have their weekends free, rather than feeling obligated to go to church. They like to keep their money for personal pleasure, not feel like they need to give to the church. In their minds, if anyone is enslaved, it’s the religious crowd. Who needs that?

So, how do we tell people the good news about salvation when they think that they’re doing just fine as they are, thank you? That’s like trying to sell an ice-maker to an Eskimo! What is needed is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, concerning whom Jesus said (John 16:8-11), “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.”

“Convict” means “to convince,” as in a court of law. The Holy Spirit has to convince those in slavery to sin about their true condition. He has to convince them of their sin of unbelief. He must convince them that they fall short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness, as seen in Jesus Christ. He has to convince them about the coming judgment. So we need to pray that the Holy Spirit would open the eyes of those we know who are slaves of sin to their true condition. But be careful! He might use you to be the one to tell them!

One effective way to help people see that they are slaves to sin who need the Savior is Ray Comfort’s method (“The Way of the Master”) of going over the law before you tell people about God’s love and grace. He walks people through the Ten Commandments to show that they’ve broken every single one. They’re guilty before the Holy God! If you can’t remember all ten, you can say, “Jesus summed up God’s commandments by saying that we are to love God with our entire being and to love others as much as we love ourselves. Have you done that?” Or, you can go to Matthew 5, where Jesus says that if you’ve ever been angry with someone, you’ve committed murder in God’s sight. If you’ve ever lusted, you’ve committed adultery. It’s only when the Holy Spirit opens their eyes to see their condition as slaves of sin that they might be open to their need for salvation.

2. The penalty for rejecting God’s means of salvation is death.

Exodus 11:1 should probably be translated, “Now the Lord had said to Moses ….” (Walter Kaiser, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], ed. by Frank Gaebelein, 2:369). So verse 4 continues Moses’ remarks that he began in Exodus 10:29. He warns Pharaoh of God’s threat of the death of all Egypt’s firstborn, both of people and of cattle. But because of Pharaoh’s hard heart and the awful consequences that Moses could see coming, Moses “went out from Pharaoh in hot anger” (Exod. 11:8).

You may think, however, that it was unfair of God to harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exod. 11:10) or to take the firstborn of “the slave girl … behind the millstones” (Exod. 11:5), who probably hadn’t even heard about the encounters between Moses and Pharaoh and who wouldn’t have known about the requirement to put the blood of a sacrificial lamb on her doorposts.

Regarding Pharaoh, there is a mystery that we cannot fully fathom, but we must accept if we believe in the Bible as God’s Word (Rom. 9:18): “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” At the same time, people are responsible for their sins. And, we aren’t free to challenge God on this. When Paul raises this issue, he anticipates our objection (Rom. 9:19), “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” Paul’s answer is (Rom. 9:20): “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” In other words, “Sit down and shut up! God is God and you’re not God!”

Regarding the slave girl who had no knowledge of God’s impending judgment and yet suffered the loss of her firstborn, I admit that this is difficult to understand. I realize that like all of us, she was a sinner who deserved God’s judgment. But she didn’t seem to have a chance to hear about and apply God’s remedy. True, she had the witness of creation, as all people have (Rom. 1:18-21). But that’s only enough to condemn, not enough to save. The only verse I know of that addresses this is when Paul tells the people of Lystra (Acts 14:16), “In the generations gone by He [God] permitted all the nations to go their own ways.” God has permitted many to live and die without hearing the gospel. I know that God is perfectly just and fair. He knows every thought and deed of every person. No one will be judged unfairly. So I have to leave that difficult question there.

But we need to see clearly that the issue in salvation is life or death. In the exodus, God made a distinction between Egypt and Israel (Exod. 11:5-7). His salvation of Israel meant life for them. His judgment on Egypt meant death for them. C. H. Mackintosh observed (Notes on the Pentateuch [Loizeaux Brothers], p. 185), “How little do men think of this! They imagine that ‘real life’ ends when a man becomes a Christian … whereas God’s Word teaches us that it is only then we can see life and taste true happiness.” He cites 1 John 5:12, “He who has the Son has the life.” Also, John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Thus, the people who need salvation are slaves. The penalty for rejecting God’s means of salvation is death.

3. The provision for God’s means of salvation is the blood of an acceptable sacrifice.

In Exodus 12, God gives Moses specific directions for Israel regarding the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which immediately followed. There is far more than I can cover thoroughly here, but note the following:

First, the lamb (or goat) needed to be sufficient for each person in each family (Exod. 12:4). This pictures that salvation must be applied by each individual. Being a member of a Christian family or a Christian church is not enough. You must personally apply God’s means of salvation.

Also, the lamb was to be “an unblemished male a year old” (Exod. 12:5). This pictures Christ, our Passover Lamb (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7), who was without sin (John 8:46; 1 Pet. 2:22). If Jesus had been a sinner, He would have had to offer sacrifices for Himself, as the Jewish priests had to do. But as Hebrews 7:26-27 explains, “For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.”

Further, the lamb was to be selected on the tenth of the month, but not sacrificed until the fourteenth (Exod. 12:2, 6). This pictures that Christ was marked out for death before He was actually slain. As 1 Peter 1:19-21 states, we were redeemed “with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

John Sailhamer (The Pentateuch as Narrative [Zondervan], p. 260) makes the interesting suggestion that in Peter’s reckoning, a day with the Lord is as a thousand years (2 Pet. 3:8). He adds, “If Peter worked within the traditional chronology of the Bible, which reckons the coming of Christ at four thousand years after Creation, then his concept of Christ, the Passover lamb ‘chosen before the creation of the world,’ would fit the requirement of the lamb chosen four days before the Passover.”

Scholars debate the exact time that the lamb was to be slain, (Exod. 12:6) but some believe that Jesus died on the cross at the same time that the Passover lambs were being killed at the temple. Then the Israelites were to put some of the blood on the two doorposts and the lintel of their houses. They were to roast the lamb with fire and eat it that night along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exod. 12:8). The fire may represent the fact that God’s true Passover Lamb had to endure the fire of God’s wrath on the cross (Mackintosh, p. 192). The bitter herbs were a reminder of the bitterness of Israel’s centuries of slavery in Egypt. The unleavened bread reminded them of the purity required of those whom God delivered from slavery. And eating bread in the Bible also points to fellowship. Thus we partake of the communion bread as a symbol of fellowship with the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ.

The Passover was to mark the beginning of the New Year for Israel (Exod. 12:2). This is a reminder that God’s salvation by the application of Christ’s blood marks the beginning of new life for the believer. God promised that when He saw the blood on the doorposts and lintels of the Israelite homes, He would pass over them and not strike down their firstborn. All who were under the blood would be safe. This leads to the truth that …

4. The application of God’s means of salvation is obedient faith.

Paul uses the phrase, “the obedience of faith,” in Romans 1:5 & 16:26. Obedient faith is opposed to the dead faith that James 2:17 warns against. Note five things:

A. Obedient faith takes God at His word and acts on it.

To kill the lamb, eat it in the prescribed manner, and put the blood on the doorposts and lintel, required taking God at His word. Their obedience was evidence of their underlying faith. As Hebrews 11:28 says, “By faith [Moses] kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them.” Exodus 12:28 underscores the point: “Then the sons of Israel went and did so; just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.”

If an Israelite questioned or doubted God’s word to Moses by saying, “This doesn’t make sense,” or, “Why do I need blood? That’s gross!” his firstborn would have died. If he said, “I’m vegan and believe in animal rights; I’m not going to kill and eat a lamb!” his firstborn would have died. Obedient faith takes God at His word and acts on it.

B. Obedient faith is the only genuine faith.

To say, “I really respect Moses and Aaron and I believe what they say,” but not to have applied the blood would have meant that your firstborn died. James and Paul were not at odds. Both believed that genuine saving faith obeys God’s word. Paul wrote the familiar Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” But don’t forget verse 10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Genuine saving faith necessarily results in the obedience of good works. This is what James meant when he wrote that faith without works cannot save, because it is dead (James 2:14-17). Obedient faith is the only genuine faith.

C. Obedient faith is seen in the ongoing holiness of God’s people.

This is pictured in the unleavened bread. C. H. Mackintosh (p. 192) observed, “The Israelite did not put away leaven in order to be saved, but because he was saved.” He then points out that the penalty for eating leavened bread was to be cut off from the congregation of Israel (Exod. 12:19), which answers to the church putting out of their fellowship those who persist in known sin. The Passover with its application of the blood of the lamb pictured our salvation, when by faith we apply Christ’s shed blood to our hearts. But the Passover was followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, picturing the fact that those who are saved must clean out the leaven of sin and be set apart unto God, who is holy (1 Cor. 5:7-8).

D. Obedient faith passes the faith down to your children.

The Lord instructs Israel (Exod. 12:24-27) that in later generations when they lived in the land which the Lord would give them and their children asked the meaning of the Passover, the fathers were to say, “Go ask your mother!” No! They were to explain the meaning of God’s salvation to their children. In the same way, Christian parents should explain to their children the message of salvation as pictured in water baptism and communion. To be baptized and partake of the Lord’s Supper, children should be old enough to understand the gospel clearly and give some evidence that they have personally believed in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. They should be able to grasp the basic meaning of both ordinances, which picture the reality of saving faith.

E. Obedient faith results in God’s people possessing the wealth of the nations.

It is mentioned and repeated (Exod. 11:2-3; 12:35-36) that the Israelites asked the Egyptians for articles of silver, gold, and clothing, and that God granted them favor so that the Egyptians complied. I don’t know whether the Egyptians were thinking, “Take this and get out of here before another disaster strikes!” or that they gave because they highly esteemed Moses (Exod. 11:3). But it was God’s way of providing Israel with necessary provisions for their time in the wilderness, and also the materials that they later needed to build the tabernacle.

The application for the church today is that when we obey the Great Commission, God blesses us with the wealth of the nations—not material wealth, but rather people from every tongue, tribe, and nation worshiping around God’s throne.


A prominent soap manufacturer and a Christian were once walking along a city street as the Christian was explaining the gospel to the businessman. But the businessman objected: “If what you say is true, why is there so much evil in the world?” The Christian was struggling with how to answer when he saw a little boy sitting on the curb. His face, hands, and clothes were filthy. The Christian asked, “I thought that you manufactured soap.” “I do,” said the man. “If that is so, why is this boy so dirty?” The businessman replied, “The soap must be applied.” “Exactly,” said the Christian. “The work of Christ on the cross must be applied.”

The crucial question is, “Have you applied the sacrificial blood of Jesus to your heart?” Believing in general that Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins is not enough. You must recognize your desperate condition as a slave to sin, under God’s just condemnation. But then you must exercise obedient faith by putting your trust in Christ as your substitutionary Lamb. And if your faith is genuine, you will then seek to grow in holiness.

Application Questions

  1. Must a person be convicted of sin before he comes to faith in Christ? If so, are we wrong to encourage those who are not convicted to receive Christ?
  2. How would you answer the skeptic who said, “God is unfair to condemn those who have never heard the gospel”?
  3. Why is trying to follow Jesus’ teachings and example not enough to get a person into heaven? Why do we need to trust in His shed blood?
  4. Is praying to receive Jesus into your heart the same as the obedient faith of salvation? Why/why not?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2018, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Sacrifice, Soteriology (Salvation)

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