The Doorway to Freedom
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”
“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”
Found in Exodus Chapters 5 to 12
Countless days, countless years, countless tears mingling with sweat and blood. They were slaves. They were the children of slaves. Freedom was a foreign thing. For generations power had bent them down, ground them down, down to dust.
But they were not just slaves. They were not just dust. A wisp-thin flicker of hope lingered in their memory. They knew that God had made their forefathers a promise…something… a faint whisper of a blessing and a purpose, a presence and a promise. A lingering understanding that God intended good for them. Somehow.
Somehow. Their story wasn’t done yet.
But they were in chains and with every clank and grind their chains spoke loudly of hopelessness. Of abandonment. Who am I? I am who my scars say I am. Is there another way to be?
True freedom is found only when all chains are broken. There can be no treaty with enslavement, no peace pact with bondage. No amnesty, no negotiation. Only abolition.
God is in the business of breaking chains, every bond that binds us, every scar that numbs us, every barrier between us and Him.
‘Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’” Exodus 5:1
‘Let My people go, so that…’ God wasn’t just fighting for their freedom from oppression. He was fighting for their freedom for connection. With Him. Because that is where true freedom is found.
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”
We are not just emancipated from darkness, we are emancipated for connection with God and life with Him in ‘the kingdom of the Son he loves’.
But slavery doesn’t relinquish it’s prey easily. It was always going to be a fight…
‘Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.” Exodus 5:2
Let’s get one thing clear from the start. God, in the long tread of time, always wins. There is never really an argument between the light and the dark. Only a defeat. The dark may be tangible, but the light is unquenchable.
“I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant. Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’” Exodus 6:5b-8
This is not a past time for God, not just a whim or an idle game or a toss of the dice. It’s personal. In just eight verses (Exodus 6:1-8) God speaks with active personal pronouns twenty four times. God had given His word to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And He will, one way or another fulfil it. Not because their descendants earned it or deserved to receive it, but because His heart is always faithful to His word.
A swell is rising out of the silence. The waiting years of sweat and blood and tears are over. God’s intentions, His good plans for His people are about to crash on Egypt’s shores like a tsunami.
Pharaoh is about to know this God.
God begins as He did in the beginning. With His word.
Genesis chapter one describes God creating this whole flourishing world simply with His word “Let there be…”. Exodus now describes God commissioning all the natural world, creatures and climate alike, in a call to arms, to join His conspiracy of re-humanising these people, restoring them from enslavement, simply with His word “Let… my people go”
There were seven days of creation in Genesis chapter one. Here in the Exodus story there are seven times that God says ‘Let my people Go so they may worship me’. This is not a creation project, but a re-creation project, a restoration project. A redemption. In Biblical thought seven is symbolic of completion and wholeness, and that is exactly what God is working to re-create.
God partners with His creation to bring Pharaoh to his knees but God’s battle here in Exodus is not just a wrestle with Egypt, but also a great tussle between the will of darkness and the will of God.
Staffs become snakes; the Nile flows with blood (7:17-18); frogs rise out of the Nile swamping Egypt (8:1); dust becomes gnats, filling the air (8:16); flies fill the spaces left by the gnats (8:21); a plague destroys all of Egypt’s live stock (9:1-3) and an outbreak of boils plague the Egyptian people and their animals (9:9). A thundering hailstorm hurls ice like bricks pounding, crashing, crushing life (9:22-26) followed by surging locusts devouring what remained (10:3-5). Finally a tangible skin-flinching darkness envelopes the light all over Egypt for three days (10:23) like a great reversal of God’s first creative word ‘Let there be light’ and a thick rushing of dark and pitch into the space where that light once dwelt.
But even after all this turmoil, still Pharaoh holds his clenched-fist grip on Israel’s freedom. Seven times God says to Pharaoh through Moses ‘Let my people go so they may worship me’ and nine plagues later Pharaoh is still immoveable. Every time Pharaoh repented, God removed the plague, and every time He did, Pharaoh stubbornly refused Israel their freedom.
But God, in the long tread of time, always wins. There is never really an argument between the light and the dark. Only a defeat. The dark may be tangible, but the light is unquenchable.
Humanity may have reached for the knowledge of good and evil, but we were created for the knowledge of the glory of God. We were created to glorify God, along with everything else in all creation.
‘For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.’
Yes, Pharaoh had stated he had no knowledge of God, but he has discovered this knowledge now, like blazing light against his squinting gaze, acutely uncomfortable as it is. And he will bring God glory, though not under pleasant circumstances for him.
After nine opportunities for Pharaoh to repent, God finally prepares to measure out for Egypt the infliction they had dealt out on the Hebrews. The loss of their first born sons.
“So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, 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
And then as Israel stands here in the eye of this storm, in the silent prelude to God’s final redeeming stroke, God whispers to Moses His way of seeing all of this…
‘The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.’ Exodus 12:1-2
This redemption story of Israel is to become the beginning of their new calendar, their new year. A new beginning knit into the budding, flourishing weeks of spring, declaring God’s heart… the past is gone, the new is here. New life begins now. Live here with Me now in the present, in My presence, in the hope for your future that life in Me unfolds.
This battle has been a birthing process, the violent throws of a new life being born, a fledgling nation leaving a darkened womb out into a brand new day. A new beginning. Another renewed creation story.
Passover (the feast God now institutes to commemorate this moment) declares this new beginning, this birth-day of a people through labouring pain, into new life. But it will be a new life purchased with a new life. A lamb.
“Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household….
… Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast…
…This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.’ Exodus 12:3, 6-8, 11
“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.’ Exodus 12:12-13
Passover, this moment in time, wasn’t just an act, it was a declaration, it was a revelation, it was the God of all the universe drawing a line in the sand, a line in time saying…Who are you? You are mine. You are who I know you to be, though you don’t believe this yet. You are not who your scars say you are. I’m showing you another way. Another way to be: Free.
It’s not what happened to us, but the story we tell ourselves about what happened to us that decides whether our life will be bound in trauma riddled memory or freed to fly. God knew He didn’t just need to free this people from the chains of an old story, He needed to free them into the life of a new story. The story of Himself with them.
This story of the first Passover was to be retold, relived, remembered through Israel’s whole wrestling history. So that it becomes part of them. Free. In YHWH. Redeemed. By God Himself.
‘“This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance…’ Exodus 12:14
…“Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.” Exodus 12:17
“And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians” Exodus 12:26-27a
Just as a newborn passes through pain and sweat and blood and water, Israel’s new life began through a doorway of blood and (soon to follow, water). As all new life does.
And they were to remember this; this doorway, this moment, this blood covering their way to freedom, becoming their way to freedom. They were to remember this, re-enact this, re-live this, every year. At Passover. This story was to form them and reform them, reshaping their identities as beloved, redeemed, restored, renewed, re-created children of God; His plan to bless this whole spinning world.
But why remember this moment, this blood? Why this in particular? Why not remember the crossing of the red sea, the turning of the Nile to blood, the mighty plagues of hail and darkness and creation moved to render their freedom? Why does God choose to focus in on this one act?
‘The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.’ Exodus 12:12-13 (emphasis added)
‘The blood will be a sign for you…’ Every year from then onwards spiralling through every springtime in Hebrew history, the passover will be reenacted, remembered and re-celebrated. A sign pointing backwards to this moment when God redeemed Israel. But that night God didn’t need a sign at all to differentiate between Israel and Egypt in sending the last plague (death). He had already done so as Israel had dwelt untouched by all the previous plagues. And He didn’t need to use the death of a lamb as that sign, He could have used anything, a herb hung up, a word painted or a symbol engraved over the doorway. But God chose a lamb. Slain. He chose the blood. Over the doorway. And He chose to say ‘The blood will be a sign for you’.
This sign was for Israel. Not for the angel of death. The blood was on the doorway so they would forever remember that their freedom was bought by God. At a cost. The cost of a life.
Their doorway to freedom was a doorway marked by blood.
‘The blood will be a sign for you’…
A sign pointing backwards, to Abraham, when God provided a sheep to sacrifice in place of their ancestor Isaac.…
“God himself will provide the lamb…” Genesis 22:8
A sign pointing to this moment when Israel is redeemed from Egypt…
‘The blood will be a sign for you.’ Exodus 12:12
And a sign pointing forwards, to another moment in time when Israel will be redeemed once more, along with all humanity. A lamb slain to redeem the world…
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29b
‘…the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.’ Revelation 13:8
A first lamb slain for one child, the second lambs slain for Israel’s children, and the third lamb slain for all children everywhere, before the creation of the world.
Because every story of Scripture is the larger story of God. This God who comes into Israels’ story, into our human story. This God who chose to weave Himself into this one storyline thread, a thread that began before time and will end after it. He entwined Himself into Israel’s history, He ‘in-narrated’ into Israel’s story, so that one day He would also incarnate into their family line.
God in leather sandals.
As God redeemed Israel from slavery He was working for emancipation on many levels at once, past present and future, redeeming and renewing a people while also setting the stage for the story of His great redemption plan for all people everywhere. The sign of His great love…
‘The blood will be a sign for you..’ Exodus 12:12
‘This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Luke 2:8-14
Just as God has rehearsed and revealed His plans in Abraham’s life with the sheep sacrificed in place of Isaac, He here too is revealing a larger plan to all Israel, though no-one could comprehend it but Himself. He was writing into history His plan to redeem the world. The course He had set. The journey He would take. The long walk He had been on since the creation of the world.
And so this new day, this first day of Israel’s brand new month, brand new year begins. In the darkest watch of the night God ends the slavery of His people, by taking back the breath of Egypts first born sons.
‘At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well.’ Exodus 12:29
‘During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested.’ Exodus 12:31
Even before the spreading rays of dawn touch the people of Israel’s skin they are awoken by their call to freedom. And Israel walks through the doorway marked by the blood of a lamb into their first day of freedom and the first day of their brand new year.
Who are you? You are mine. You are who I know you to be, though you don’t believe this yet. You are not who your scars say you are. There is another way to be.
‘For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves’.
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”.
What does living in the Freedom Jesus purchased for you look like?
References, Notes and Credits
1 John H. Walton, Genesis, NIV Application Commentary Old Testament, Zondervan, 2001
2 ’in-narrates’ is a term I’ve coined to describe Jesus coming not just into human flesh (incarnation) but also coming into our human story (in-narration): specifically the story of Israel.
Goldingay, John ‘Exodus and Leviticus For Everyone’, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010
All Biblical quotations are from the NIV Bible UK version (NIVUK) unless otherwise stated. Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
All photos are taken by myself (Liz Campbell) unless otherwise specified below.
All photographs of baby lambs and the bumblebee by Simeon Evenhuis
All photos of stars and galaxies are used with grateful thanks to the NASA, STSCI, Hubble Heritage, ESA and AURA Team. Use of these images is in the public domain. Hubblesite.org