Missing the Feast for Choking on the Numbers (Exodus 12:29–51)

Why the additional Passover instructions trailing the report of the Exodus (12:43–51)? To understand one reason, dial these digits: 600000 (12:37). Add in estimates for women and children and we’ve got a nation of approximately 2 million leaving Egypt.

Attempts are made to shrink this number, even by conservative evangelicals who own up to all that’s proceeded. The best efforts demonstrate how the word for thousand here is translated a variety of ways including cattle, clans, divisions, families, and tribes. Indeed. Then they pontificate what we really have is six hundred divisions of fighting men; thus bringing the estimated total down to a manageable thirty five thousand. It’s funny to see a scholar deal so deftly with this text, but then so dumbly with Exodus 38:26 where we get the more exact figure of 603,550. Their prime retort being to quietly mumble “I dunno?” They have an even harder time with the census figures in Numbers 1, 2 and 26 where Moses shows his work and teases this out in greater detail.

Israel left big and they left big just as their big God had promised. God had promised Abraham descendants as the sand and stars (Genesis 13:16; 15:5). God told Jacob that it was in Egypt that He would make him a great nation (Genesis 46:3). Exodus begins by telling us “the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them (Exodus 1:7).” Pharaoh tries to stomp the vine of Yahweh to death, but he only plants more seeds. “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel (Exodus 1:12). It’s laughable to see one own up to a river turning to blood, frogs covering the land, dust turning to gnats, flies filling houses, livestock dropping dead, boils tormenting flesh, hail devastating crops, locusts finishing off what was left, darkness terrifying for three days, and the firstborn being stricken dead, but then choke on the number 600,000. The point of the big number is to show us again God’s big faithfulness and big sovereignty by making Israel a big nation.

But how does this relate to the Passover? This big group leaving Israel wasn’t solely comprised of ethnic Israelites. “A mixed multitude also went up with them (Exodus 12:38).” The new Passover material concerns who may partake of the Passover. While no foreigner may (vv. 43, 45) a slave, stranger, or sojourner who wishes to, may, if he is circumcised identifying with the people of Israel. This isn’t racial bias, it’s religious bias. This is a feast for Israel (cf. Romans 2:29), the people of God, and thus, it is a feast for the nations.

Centuries later a centurion would express faith in Jesus. Jesus responded, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:10–12).” When foreigners were excluded from the Passover it wasn’t ethnic prejudice. When Israelites are barred from the feast of the kingdom, it’s not ethnic prejudice. A great host from every tribe, language, people, and nation is being redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. This isn’t biased prejudice, it is gracious election, and it is big because our God is big.

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