Book: The Christian Passover

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Abraham was eighty-five years old when God appeared to him in the land of Canaan and established the unilateral covenant that is recorded in Genesis 15. After fourteen years had passed, God again appeared to Abraham to assure him that He would not forget His covenant. Because many more years would pass before God would begin to fulfill His promises, He instituted the sign of circumcision for each generation to come. Circumcision was a fleshly token—a sign of the covenant that God had made with Abraham, which would be fulfilled in its time.

The institution of circumcision did not in any way alter the promises that God had given to Abraham, which were ratified by the covenant more than a decade earlier. The Scriptural account shows that ratification required a blood sacrifice (Gen. 15:8-10). God Himself walked between the parts of this sacrifice, signifying that He had ratified His covenant with Abraham (verses 17-18). As we have seen, this act was a maledictory oath representing the symbolic death of the ratifier.

When a covenant has been ratified by a maledictory oath, it is placed in effect and remains binding until the death of the ratifier or ratifiers. A covenant that has been placed in effect cannot be added to or diminished from, nor can it be annulled. The apostle Paul confirms this basic principle of covenantal law: “Brethren, (I am speaking from a human perspective), even when a man’s covenant has been ratified, no one nullifies it, or adds a codicil to it. Now to Abraham and to his Seed were the promises spoken...” (Gal. 3:15-16).

Because the covenant that God made with Abraham was ratified by a maledictory oath, it could not be changed in any way. The circumcision of the flesh, which was later instituted for Abraham’s physical descendants, could not be added to the covenant and made obligatory for Abraham’s spiritual children, who would receive the promises through faith in Jesus Christ—the true Seed of Abraham. God had guaranteed the fulfillment of the promises through His unilateral covenant with Abraham.

God Institutes Circumcision as a Sign of His Covenant

The institution of circumcision as a requirement for the physical descendants of Abraham is recorded in Genesis 17. In beginning the account of this physical requirement, the Scriptures reveal a most important spiritual principle. This truth is found in the first words that God spoke when He appeared to Abraham: “And when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am the Almighty God! Walk before Me and be perfect’ ” (Gen. 17:1).

When God commanded Abraham to be perfect [wholehearted], He was referring to an attitude of perfect obedience. God was requiring Abraham to obey His voice and to keep His commandments and His laws with a loving, devoted, wholehearted attitude toward Him. The Scriptures clearly reveal that the commandments, laws and statutes of God were in full force and effect in the days of Abraham. In fact, Abraham’s obedience to the laws of God was the very reason that the promises of the covenant were passed on to his descendants. God’s words to Isaac after Abraham’s death confirm this truth: “And the LORD appeared to him [Isaac] and said: ‘Do not go down into Egypt. Live in the land which I shall tell you of. Stay in this land, and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your seed, I will give all these lands; and I will establish the oath which I swore to Abraham your father;

“ ‘And I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and will give to your seed all these lands. And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, BECAUSE ABRAHAM OBEYED MY VOICE AND KEPT MY CHARGE, MY COMMANDMENTS, MY STATUTES, AND MY LAWS’ ” (Gen. 26:2-5).

Contrary to the teachings of most theologians, the laws of God have been in effect from the time of creation. God has always required obedience to His laws and commandments. Adam and Eve understood that there were laws and commandments which God required them to obey. The Scriptures record that Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying the laws of God (Rom. 5:14, I Tim. 2:14). Through sin, they came under the death penalty, as did all their descendants (Rom. 5:12). The fact that “death reigned from Adam to Moses” shows that God’s laws were in force during this entire period of man’s history (verse 14). The commandments, statutes and judgments that God delivered to Moses at Mount Sinai were the same laws that God commanded Abraham to obey.

When God gave this command to Abraham, He promised that He would fulfill the covenant that He had established with him. One of the promises of the covenant was that He would multiply the descendants of Abraham. Long before this promise was given, God told Abraham that he would become a great nation (Gen. 12:2). In the account in Genesis 17, God expanded that promise. Notice what God said to Abraham: “ ‘I am the Almighty God! Walk before Me and be perfect. And I will make [accomplish] My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.’ And Abram fell on his face. And God talked with him, saying, ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations’ ” (Gen. 17:1-4).

The Scriptures state that God “calls the things that are not as though they are” (Rom. 4:17). In modern terminology, God’s word was “as good as done.” Because the promises would surely come to pass, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “the father of nations.” Notice: “Neither shall your name any more be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will ESTABLISH MY COVENANT between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your seed after you” (Gen. 17:5-7).

At this time, God confirmed that the covenant He had made with Abraham would be extended to his descendants of all generations throughout the ages. The land of Canaan, where Abraham had sojourned as a stranger, would become their possession forever: “ ‘And I will give the land to you in which you are a sojourner, and to your seed after you, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession. And I will be their God.’ And God said to Abraham, ‘And you shall keep My covenant, you and your seed after you in their generations’ ” (verses 8-9).

When God established His covenant with Abraham, He did not require any active participation by Abraham. Abraham did not participate in the ratification of the covenant by walking between the parts. Abraham’s only participation was his active, believing faith in God, which “was counted to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). God had determined in advance that the promises He made to Abraham would be fulfilled through the righteousness of faith—not through physical requirements or rituals. The circumcision of the flesh, which followed the covenant, did not replace faith as a condition for receiving the promises. To the contrary, this physical requirement was instituted by God as an outward demonstration of the faith that would bring the fulfillment of the covenant. It was “a seal of the righteousness of the faith” through which the promises would be received (Rom. 4:11).

The circumcision of the flesh foreshadowed the future circumcision of the heart, which would be granted to all nations through faith in Jesus Christ, the promised Seed. Because the covenant would ultimately be extended to all nations through faith, the sign of circumcision was not limited exclusively to the physical lineage of Abraham. Every male in his household, whether a descendant of Abraham or of foreign blood, was required to bear the token of the covenant. Here are God’s instructions:

“This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your seed after you. Every male child among you shall be circumcised. And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin. And it shall be a sign of a covenant between Me and you. And a son of eight days shall be circumcised among you, every male child in your generations; he that is born in the house, or bought with silver of any foreigner who is not of your seed. He that is born in your house, and he that is bought with your silver, must be circumcised. And My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people—for he has broken My covenant” (Gen. 17:10-14).

Notice that every male who was not circumcised was “cut off from his people.” Being cut off from the covenant people meant that he was also cut off from the blessings of God. Because he did not bear the sign of the covenant in his flesh, he could not partake of the blessings that the covenant would bring.

The sign of circumcision later became an ordinance of the Passover. From the time of Israel’s first Passover, all male participants were required to be circumcised. This command of God is recorded in Exodus 12: “And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘This is the ordinance of the Passover. No stranger shall eat of it. But every man’s servant that is bought for silver, when you have circumcised him, then he shall eat of it....All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. And when a stranger shall dwell with you, and desires to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it. And he shall be as one that is born in the land. And no uncircumcised person shall eat of it’ ” (verses 43-44, 47- 48).

The Covenant Is Confirmed to Isaac

When God established the covenant, He promised to give Abraham a son. At that time, God did not reveal to Abraham how this son would be born. Abraham’s wife Sarai, who had never conceived a child, was well past the childbearing age. At her suggestion, Abraham took her maidservant Hagar to be his wife. Hagar gave birth to a son, whom Abraham named Ishmael.

Ishmael was thirteen years old when God appeared to Abraham and gave him the command for circumcision. Although Ishmael received the sign of circumcision, he was not the son that God had promised. Since Abraham considered Ishmael to be his legitimate heir, God revealed that the son He had promised to give Abraham would be conceived by Sarai: “And God said to Abraham: ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but her name shall be Sarah. And I will bless her, and give you a son also of her. Yes, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations—kings of people shall be from her.’ And Abraham fell upon his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Shall a child be born to him that is a hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear?’ And Abraham said to

God, ‘Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!’ And God said: ‘Sarah your wife shall bear you a son indeed. And you shall call his name Isaac. And I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him’ ” (Gen. 17:15-19). God chose Isaac to be the heir of the covenant, through which blessings would come to all nations. It was through the descendants of Isaac that Jesus Christ, the promised Seed, was born. He was of the tribe of Judah, one of the twelve sons of Isaac’s son Jacob. The descendants of Jacob multiplied into a great nation known as the twelve tribes of Israel. Two of these tribes were descended from the sons of Joseph, who were named Ephraim and Manasseh. In later years, the twelve tribes were divided into two kingdoms—the kingdom of Israel, which was composed of ten tribes, and the smaller kingdom of Judah, composed of only two tribes. Both kingdoms were conquered by foreign armies, and the people were carried into captivity. In the following centuries, they were dispersed into many different parts of the world.

The comparatively small nation of Jews known today as Israel represents only a fraction of the total number of modern Israelites. The kingdom of Judah, from which the ancestors of the Jews came, was composed of only two of the tribes of Israel. The Jewish people are not the fulfillment of God’s promise that the descendants of Isaac would become a multitude of nations and would produce kings of many peoples. Notice again the words of God to Abraham and Sarah: “...your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you....her name shall be Sarah...and she shall be a mother of nations—kings of people shall be from her” (verses 5-7, 15-16).

The descendants of Abraham and Sarah are numbered among the most powerful nations in the world. They grew to become a greater and more powerful people than Ishmael’s descendants. But, unlike the descendants of Ishmael, who have retained the knowledge of their ancestry, most modern Israelites do not recognize themselves as the descendants of Isaac. Those who have studied the history of the “lost ten tribes of Israel” recognize that the nations of northwestern Europe, the British Commonwealth, the United States of America, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are populated by the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. These great nations are the fulfillment of the covenant promise!

God Blesses Ishmael

God did not establish His covenant with Ishmael but with Isaac. However, because Abraham besought God on Ishmael’s behalf, God gave Ishmael and his descendants a blessing and the promise of becoming a great nation: “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But I will establish My covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time in the next year.’ And He left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham” (verses 20-22).

God fulfilled His promise to bless Ishmael and multiply his descendants. All the Arabic peoples of the Middle East are a fulfillment of that blessing. These hundreds of millions of modern Ishmaelites are a testimony of the veracity of the Word of God.

Isaac—the Promised Son

When the promise of Isaac’s birth was given, Abraham was ninetynine years old. On the same day, Abraham received the command to be circumcised. According to God’s instructions, Abraham and all the males in his household were circumcised that very day (verses 23-27). From that time forward, his descendants of all generations were required to circumcise their males.

Abraham’s son Isaac, who was born the following year, was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth: “And the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as He had spoken. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born to him (whom Sarah bore to him) Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac, when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. And Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him” (Gen. 21:1-5).

When Isaac was five years old, Ishmael and his mother Hagar were sent away. From that time, Isaac was recognized as Abraham’s only son and heir (Gen. 21:8-12). But before Isaac reached manhood, God gave Abraham a command that appeared to contradict the promise He had made. Although God had told Abraham that He would establish His covenant with Isaac, He commanded Abraham to take Isaac and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. God had determined to prove Abraham by putting his faith to the ultimate test: “And it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you’ ” (Gen. 22:1-2).

In the King James Version, the account begins with these words: “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham...” (Gen. 22:1, KJV). This translation has misled some to believe that God was tempting Abraham to sin. But the words of the apostle James show the absolute impossibility of such an act by God: “Do not let anyone who is tempted say, ‘I am being tempted by God’ because God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself tempts no one with evil” (Jas. 1:13). God cannot be accused of tempting Abraham to commit evil, nor was there anything wrongful or unjust about the manner in which God chose to test Abraham. The apostle Paul wrote concerning those who accuse God: “What then shall we say? Is there unrighteousness with God? MAY IT NEVER BE!” (Rom. 9:14).

It is not for man to criticize or question the way that God chooses to work out His purpose. The apostle Paul makes this point very clear: “Yes, indeed, O man, who are you to answer against God? Shall the thing that is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me this way?’ Or doesn’t the potter have authority over the clay to make from the same lump of clay one vessel unto honor, and another vessel unto dishonor? And who dares to question His purpose if God, willing to show His wrath and to make known His power, chose in much long-suffering to put up with the vessels of wrath which were created for destruction; in order that He might make known the riches of His glory unto the vessels of mercy, which He prepared before for glory, those of us whom He also called...” (Rom. 9:20-24).

God, Who is both Creator and Lawgiver, has the power to impart life and the authority to take life (Jas. 4:12). It was wholly within His authority to ask Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. However, as the account in the book of Genesis shows, it was not God’s purpose to take Isaac’s life. The purpose of His command was to test Abraham’s faith by his willingness to obey.

Unlike some who read the account today, Abraham did not question the command of God. With complete faith in the power and the wisdom of God, he humbly obeyed: “And Abraham rose up early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son. And he split the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, ‘You stay here with the donkey, and I and the boy will go yonder and worship, and come back again to you’ ” (Gen. 22:3-5).

Although the account does not give the exact age of Isaac, he is referred to as a “lad,” or a boy. From the chronology of Abraham’s life and the birth of Isaac it is clear that he was 15 years old. By this time in his life, Isaac had seen his father offer many sacrifices to God. He knew that Abraham had made preparations for this sacrifice, but no animal had been chosen from the flock or the herd. Not knowing that God Himself had appointed the sacrifice, Isaac wondered where his father expected to find an animal for the offering: “And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it upon Isaac his son. And he took the fire pot in his hand, and a knife. And they both went together. And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said: ‘My father.’ And he said: ‘Here I am, my son.’ And he said, ‘Behold the fire and the wood. But where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ And Abraham said, ‘My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.’ So they both went on together” (verses 6-8).

From a human perspective, testing Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his son seems unreasonable—even unthinkable. But in giving this command, God was not asking more than He Himself was willing to do. The command that Abraham received was issued by the God Who would become the Father, and it was delivered by the God Who would become the Son. From the foundation of the world, it was ordained that the life of the Son would be sacrificed (Rev. 13:8). He would become “the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Abraham’s words as he prepared to offer his son Isaac were a prophecy of this very event: “My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8).

As the future Lamb of God would be resurrected from death, so Abraham believed that God would restore his son Isaac after he had been sacrificed. The apostle Paul reveals the thoughts of Abraham as he carried out God’s command: “By faith Abraham, when he was being tried, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac shall your Seed be called’; because he reckoned that God was able to raise him even from among the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative way” (Heb. 11:17-19). Abraham’s faith in God’s power to resurrect Isaac is clearly expressed in the words that he spoke to his two young menservants: “...I and the boy will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” (Gen. 22:5).

When Isaac learned that God had appointed him to be the sacrifice, he humbly submitted to the instructions of Abraham his father. Without any resistance, Isaac allowed himself to be bound and laid on the altar that Abraham had built for the offering: “And they came to the place which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. And he bound his son Isaac and laid him on the wood, upon the altar. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son” (Gen. 22:9- 10).

By his humble obedience and complete submission to God’s will, Abraham had demonstrated his faith. God’s command had served its purpose. At this point, God intervened to prevent Abraham from harming his son: “And the angel of the LORD called to him from the heavens and said, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand upon the lad, nor do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me’ ” (verses 11-12).

Abraham had told Isaac that God would provide the lamb for the burnt offering, and God did provide. God miraculously provided the lamb! Since Abraham and Isaac had not seen the ram caught in the thicket until this time, it is evident that this ram was sent directly by God as a substitute sacrifice for Isaac, Abraham’s firstborn son by Sarah. Notice: “And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked. And, behold, behind him a ram was entangled in a thicket by its horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide: [Adonai-jireh]; so that it is said until this day, ‘In the mount of the LORD it will be provided’ ” (verses 13-14).

The works that Abraham did when he was commanded to offer Isaac were an outward manifestation of his faith and belief in God. The apostle James shows how this combination of faith and works put Abraham in right standing with God: “But are you willing to understand, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac, his own son, upon the altar? Do you not see that faith was working together with his works, and by works his faith was perfected? And the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Now Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness’; and he was called a friend of God. You see, then, that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only....For as the body without the spirit is dead, in the same way also, faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:20-26).

Abraham’s works, which were accomplished through faith, showed that he loved God more than his own son. In manifesting his love toward God by his willingness to offer up Isaac, Abraham fulfilled one of the requirements for receiving eternal life: “The one who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and the one who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37).

God had put Abraham to the test, and Abraham had remained steadfast in his faith and love toward God. Because he endured the test, Abraham will receive the gift of eternal life: “Blessed is the man who endures trials because, after he has been proved, he shall receive a crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (Jas. 1:12).

The faith that Abraham exercised is the kind of faith that is required for salvation. All who desire to receive salvation must demonstrate this same faith by willingly obeying God, as Abraham did. As God’s covenant with Abraham was established on this kind of faith, so also is the New Covenant. That is why those who enter the New Covenant are called “the children of Abraham.”

A Foretype of the Substitute Sacrifice for the Firstborn

As God had provided a substitute sacrifice for Isaac, Abraham’s firstborn from Sarah, so the Passover was instituted as a substitute sacrifice for the firstborn of Israel. When it was God’s time to deliver the children of Israel from Egypt, He commanded them to sacrifice the Passover. The Passover lamb became the substitute sacrifice for the firstborn of the children of Israel. At midnight on the Passover night, God passed over the houses of the children of Israel, sparing their firstborn and killing all the firstborn of Egypt, man and beast, in His final judgment against the Egyptians and their gods.

From that time, offering a substitute sacrifice for the firstborn became a lasting ordinance for Israel: “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Sanctify all the firstborn to Me, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, of man and of shall set apart to the LORD all that opens the womb, every firstborn that comes of any animal which you have; the males shall be the LORD’S. And every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb. And if you will not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. And all the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem [with a substitute sacrifice]. And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What does this mean? you shall say to him, ‘The LORD brought us out of Egypt by the strength of His hand, from the house of bondage. And it came to pass when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, the LORD killed all the firstborn of the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all that opens the womb, that are males. But all the firstborn of my sons I redeem’ ” (Ex. 13:1, 12-15).

The substitute sacrifice for the firstborn, like the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, was fulfilled by the death of Jesus Christ. As the Lamb of God, He offered His own body and blood to redeem not only the firstborn but all Israel and all mankind. Through faith in Jesus Christ, the promised Seed, all nations may become the children of Abraham and receive the blessings of the covenant.

God Confirms the Promises by an Unconditional Oath

Abraham had demonstrated that he would obey God unconditionally, no matter how great the test. Because he did not falter in his obedience, God made the promises He had given to Abraham unconditional and irrevocable. Notice the oath that God swore to Abraham: “And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, ‘By Myself have I sworn,’ says the LORD, ‘because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son; that in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the seashore. And your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies. And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice’ ” (Gen. 22:15-18).

There can be no greater oath than that which God gave to Abraham. The eternal God swore by His very existence and all that He is! There are two distinct aspects to this oath of God: the guarantee of spiritual sons as the stars of heaven, and of physical descendants as the sand of the seashore. Two additional promises are included: “your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies” and “in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Through this unconditional oath, all the promises were now eternally assured. God’s plan of deliverance for the physical descendants of Abraham and His plan of salvation for the spiritual seed of Abraham would be fulfilled as He had promised.

In this chapter, we have seen that the covenant between God and Abraham was confirmed to Isaac and his descendants through the sign of circumcision. We have also seen that God’s promises to Abraham were confirmed to both his physical descendants and his spiritual seed by an irrevocable oath. In Chapter Twenty-Three, we will learn how God’s covenant with Abraham and His irrevocable oath are being fulfilled through the New Covenant.