Saturday, January 29, 2011

Motets Smote Mostest

Music technology is brilliant, when it works properly. Having seen an offer for some free music downloads from emusic, I got the Handel oratorio 'Israel in Egypt' (because I'm so very rock and roll!). It recounts the story of the children of Israel's misery in the land of Egypt, and how God came to their aid by sending the ten plagues on Egypt including the Passover, and brought them out to take them to the Promised Land. This afternoon I was listening it as I drove into town, and spotted a slight mistake in the track information for one of the tracks.

As you're probably aware, the track listing and title appears, so you know what you're listening to. However, someone has put the wrong information in, so that what should be a quotation from Psalm 105 ('He smote all the first-born of Egypt') actually appears as:

He smote all the first-born of Israel

It simply isn't true! In the tenth plague, the Passover, the firstborn of every family and every herd died. From the son of Pharaoh to the son of the captive in the dungeon (Exodus 12:29), death touched every house. Every house mourned. The Lord certainly smote all the firstborn in Egypt, but here's the surprising thing: none of the firstborn of Israel were smitten!

The next morning, the firstborn son of every family of Israelites was still living, in contrast to the firstborn of every family of Egyptians. What was the difference? In the Israelite households, a substitute died in place of the firstborn. A substitute the Lord had provided in his instructions to Moses:

1The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 "This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. 3Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. 4And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. 5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
7"Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. 10And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover. 12For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13 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 no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.

21Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. 22Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. 23 For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. 24You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. 25And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26And when your children say to you, 'What do you mean by this service?' 27you shall say, 'It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.'" And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.
(Exodus 12:1-13, 21-27)

Imagine being the oldest son in the family, knowing that the sentence of death had been passed that evening. Every firstborn in Egypt would die. But there's a chance that the death of Larry the lamb will mean that you live. Would you be nervous as you lie down and go to sleep?

Then the next morning, you waken, you're still alive. You can truly say, the lamb died in my place. You live, because the lamb was slain. (It's the same for us - because Jesus died on the cross, in our place, the Lamb of God takes away our sin, and we can live). That's why our friend compiling the track information got it wrong - Israel wasn't smote, but Egypt was. Indeed, as the oratorio continues:

He smote all the first-born of Egypt, the chief of all their strength. But as for his people, he led them forth like sheep.

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