Set Apart to Be Set Free

43 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, 44 but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. 45 No foreigner or hired worker may eat of it. 46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. 47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 48 If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. 49 There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”

50 All the people of Israel did just as the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron. 51 And on that very day the Lord brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts. – Exodus 12:43-51 ESV

Verses 1-13 of this chapter contain God’s instructions concerning the establishment of the Feast of Passover, one of the first of seven annual feasts that God would institute for the people of Israel. Verses 14-20 contain His instructions for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. These two annual feasts are closely linked in terms of their place on the Hebrew calendar but also in their association with God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt.

God commanded that Passover be celebrated on the tenth day of the first month of Abib, which would put the exodus as taking place somewhere around March or April. The Passover meal was followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which lasted seven days. Together, these two God-ordained rites were to form a single memorial commemorating the day that God delivered His people from their captivity and oppression in Egypt. Sometime after Moses led the people out of Egypt, he reiterated God’s command concerning these two national feasts.

“Observe the month of Abib and keep the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Abib the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night. And you shall offer the Passover sacrifice to the Lord your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place that the Lord will choose, to make his name dwell there. You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 16:1-3 ESV

On the very day that God had ordained for Israel’s deliverance from captivity, every Israelite household was to sacrifice the unblemished one-year-old male lamb that they had set aside four days earlier. These young lambs would have served as fitting symbols of Israel’s fruitfulness in the land. Not only had the Israelites multiplied greatly during their four-century sojourn in the land of Egypt, but also their flocks and herds flourished and expanded in number. These young lambs would have been prime breeding stock and, therefore, their use as sacrifices would have been costly to those who made their living from tending sheep.

“Freedom from blemish and injury not only befitted the sacredness of the purpose to which they were devoted, but was a symbol of the moral integrity of the person represented by the sacrifice. It was to be a male, as taking the place of the male first-born of Israel; and a year old, because it was not till then that it reached the full, fresh vigour of its life.” – C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch

On the 14th day of the month Abib, the Israelites sacrificed their lambs and spread the blood on the doorpost and lintels of their homes. God told them that the blood was to be a sign for them so that, when the death angel passed through the land of Egypt, he would pass over every home marked with the blood of an innocent lamb.

This event held powerful prophetic meaning, standing as a “sign” for a greater sacrifice to come. The New Testament contains numerous insights into the foreshadowing contained in both the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In John’s gospel, he records the words spoken by John the Baptist concerning Jesus.

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! – John 1:29 ESV

In his first letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul wrote:

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. – 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 ESV

The apostle Peter gave the recipients of his first letter the following instructions:

…conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. – 1 Peter 1:17-19 ESV

The sacrifice of the innocent lambs was to serve as a preview of coming events. And each year after their miraculous exit from Egypt, the Israelites were to reenact the ordinances given to them that fateful night in the month of Abib. More lambs would be sacrificed and more unleavened bread would be eaten as a way of commemorating and celebrating what God had done. But the author of Hebrews reminds us that the greater sacrifice of Jesus was a one-time event that was never to be repeated.

…he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 10:26-28 ESV

The Israelites would go on to celebrate countless Passovers after they arrived in Canaan. But they would also go on to sin against God’s commands and enslave themselves to the worship of false gods, which would end up with their subsequent captivity in foreign lands yet again. The northern kingdom of Israel would end up defeated and enslaved by the Assyrians. Years later, the southern kingdom of Judah would be destroyed and exiled by the Babylonians. All ten tribes of Israel would one day find themselves returned to their former roles as virtual slaves in a land far away from Canaan.

Before the Israelites could be delivered from their captivity in Egypt, they had to obey God’s command to remove all leaven from their homes. Leaven was used in baking bread and it caused the dough to rise. In the Old Testament, it is often used as a symbol for sin, which can permeate and influence every area of an individual’s life. God demanded that all leaven (sin) be removed. This meant that the bread they made to take with them on their journey into the wilderness was free from leaven. God’s deliverance was going to happen so quickly that they would have no time to wait for their dough to rise. Baking this leavenless dough produced a cracker-like bread that was less likely to spoil and perfect for sustaining life on the journey that lie ahead.

Once again, this unleavened bread was a foreshadowing of the better bread to some. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger” (John 6:35 ESV). He went on to explain the superior, life-sustaining nature of this “bread.”

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – John 1:48-51 ESV

The Israelites would take their unleavened dough with them when they left, and it would sustain them along the way. But, in time, it ran out and God provided them with manna from heaven. He continued to miraculously meet their needs all along the way.

This brings us to the closing verses of chapter 12, where God provides some final, detailed instructions regarding the Passover. It was to be restricted to Israelites. No foreigner was to take part in the Passover meal. We know that when the Israelites left Egypt they were accompanied by a large contingent of non-Hebrews. Verse 38 states that a “mixed multitude also went up with them.” This could have represented a mixture of Egyptians and people from other nations who wanted to escape the ravages of the plagues that had devastated the land of Egypt.

But God had not delivered them. His miraculous intervention in Egypt had been on behalf of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So, God made it clear that the Passover was off-limits to all non-Hebrews.

“…no foreigner shall eat of it.” – Exodus 12:43 ESV

But God also provided a gracious exemption to this restriction.

“…but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him.” – Exodus 12:44 ESV

God made provisions for any foreign-born individuals who shared Israel’s fate as slaves. If those individuals wanted to take part in Israel’s celebration of their deliverance and join in the worship of Israel’s God, they would have to undergo the rite of circumcision. All non-Hebrew males who would willingly succumb to this requirement, demonstrating their faith in Israel’s God, would be allowed to take part in the Passover meal. But they would be expected to follow every requirement God had stipulated concerning the meal.

From that day forward, circumcision became the key determiner for any “stranger” or foreigner who wished to become a part of the covenant community known as the people of Israel. Their association with the nation required a sacrifice that would serve as a sign of their commitment.

“If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it.” – Exodus 12:48 ESV

God’s deliverance had been for the descendants of Abraham, and circumcision was the covenant sign of His relationship with them.

“This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.” – Genesis 17:10-11 ESV

God had promised to produce from Abraham a great nation. He had also promised to provide for that future great nation a land of their own – the land of Canaan. But God had also told Abraham that his descendants would spend more than four hundred years as captives in a foreign land before any of those promises could be fulfilled.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

And now, the time had come for God to fulfill that promise to His covenant people.

And on that very day the Lord brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts. – Exodus 12:51 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

You Shall Be Holy

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 1:14-19 ESV

Peter is writing to those whom he considers to be “elect exiles.” They were predominantly Gentile believers living in Asia Minor who, while having been chosen by God, were undergoing unexpected suffering for their faith. Peter has acknowledged that they have been “grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6 ESV), but he has also reminded them that they have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3 ESV). And, as a result, they are the heirs of “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV).

Peter’s emphasis on this future reality was meant to encourage and motivate the recipients of his letter. He wanted them to understand that their salvation was far from over. While their current experience was marked by suffering and persecution, it would also include their ongoing sanctification and, ultimately, their future glorification. That is why he challenged them to live with the end in mind.

Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.” – 1 Peter 1:13 NLT

Peter knew that by fixing their hope on the final phase of God’s redemptive plan, they would find the strength to endure the trials of this life. God had set them apart as His own and had something truly remarkable in store for them. In a sense, they were no longer citizens of this world. In fact, later in this same letter, Peter refers to them as “temporary residents and foreigners” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). They were to consider themselves to be strangers living in a strange land. Like the Israelites living in exile in Babylon, these Gentile believers were to consider their living arrangements in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia as temporary. They were not to get comfortable or to compromise their convictions.

Peter wanted them to understand that they were “a chosen people…royal priests…a holy nation…God’s very own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 NLT). Their unique status as God’s holy or set-apart people was to impact the way they lived in this life. And Peter made sure they understood the implications of their foreordained inclusion into God’s family.

So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. – 1 Peter 1:14 NLT

Chosen and set apart by God, these people were faced with a choice of their own. Each day they had to decide whether they would live out their new identity in Christ or revert back to their old ways of living. God had called them out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9), and their behavior was to illustrate that reality. Peter’s words of admonition mirror those of the apostle Paul, written to the believers in Corinth.

Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? – 2 Corinthians 6:14 NLT

And using the Hebrew scriptures, Paul quotes the words of God Himself in order to emphasize the distinctiveness of the Father-Child relationship the Corinthians believers enjoyed.

For we are the temple of the living God. As God said:

“I will live in them
    and walk among them.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
Therefore, come out from among unbelievers,
    and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.
Don’t touch their filthy things,
    and I will welcome you.
And I will be your Father,
    and you will be my sons and daughters,
    says the Lord Almighty.” – 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 NLT

Peter uses one word to describe this idea of separation and set-apartness: Holy.

But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. – 1 Peter 1:15 NLT

The Greek word Peter used is hagios, and it carries the idea of sacredness or consecration. It was used to refer to anything that had been set apart for God and deemed to be His exclusive possession. What made something holy was not its inherent value, but its status as God’s possession. The temple was just a building, but because it had been set apart for God, it was considered holy and sacred. Everything in it was dedicated to God and was to be used for His glory alone. There was nothing special about the bowls and utensils that were used as part of the sacrificial system. What made them holy was their designation as God’s possessions. Once they had been set apart for the service of God, they were considered sacred and off-limits for any other use. The same was true of the priests whom God had consecrated to serve in His house. Yes, they were mere men, but they had been set apart as God’s servants, charged with caring for the temple and serving as mediators on behalf of the people.

Peter’s charge to “be holy” was meant to remind his readers of their set-apart status as God’s children. Whether they realized it or not, their identity was no longer the same. While much about their lives remained unchanged, they had undergone a radical transformation. God had set them apart as His own and they were now considered holy in His eyes. What Peter wanted them to realize was that their new status was going to require a new way of living. That is why he wrote, “you must be holy in everything you do” (1 Peter 1:15 NLT). As God’s chosen people, they could no longer live as they liked. There could be no sacred-secular split in their lives. They now belonged to God and, as His children, they were to reflect His character.

“You must be holy because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:16 NLT

Holiness is not something we become. It is who we already are as God’s chosen people. He has set us apart as His own. And as His possession, we are expected to reflect His character and be dedicated to His service – in all that we do.

The thought of God as our Father should bring us comfort and peace. But we should never lose sight of the fact that God is also the righteous Judge “who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds” (1 Peter 1:17 ESV). Peter did not intend this statement as a threat but as a reminder of God’s expectations concerning His children. The Greek word krinō, which is translated as “judges,” carries the idea of approval or esteem. In a sense, Peter is suggesting that God is looking for holy behavior among His children. He is “judging“ them in order to find something good. He is not looking for behavior that might make us holy, but He is looking for behavior that reflects our holiness.

What God sets apart as His own, He fully expects to remain set apart as His sole possession. That is why Peter states, “you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as ‘temporary residents’” (1 Peter 1:17 NLT). As long as they lived on this planet, they were to remember that they belonged to God. They were His children, His royal priesthood, His holy nation, and His very own possession. The apostle Paul gave the believers in Corinth a similar pep talk.

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

God’s possession of His people did not come without a cost. As Paul states, God paid a high price, and Peter describes the exorbitant nature of the payment He made: “the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:19 NLT). The apostle John put it this way: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16 ESV).

God sacrificed His own Son so that He might ransom sinful men and women out of their captivity to sin and death. Jesus had even said of Himself, “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT). And Paul would pick up on this theme in his first letter to Timothy.

He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. – 1 Timothy 2:6 NLT

Peter desperately wanted his readers to understand that their lives were no longer their own. They belonged to God. They had been purchased at a high price and set apart for His glory. They now belonged to Him and were to consider their lives as dedicated to Him alone. But God did not view them as property. He considered them His progeny – His beloved children and the heirs of “a priceless inheritance—an inheritance…pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter 1:4 NLT). And as God’s heirs, they were to emulate their Father’s character through their conduct.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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