Exodus and God’s Love of the Tangible

the-israelites-are-eating-the-passover-lamb-1931-artist-Marc-Chagall

“The Israelites Are Eating the Passover Lamb,” by Marc Chagall (1931).

Exodus is pretty gritty. There are murders, plagues, and other controversial things (who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?). It’s a compelling story of freedom and faithfulness. And it’s a story we’ve all heard before. So rather than ramble on about how we are no longer slaves, or predestination (who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?), or something interesting like that, I’d like to use this post to talk about one of my favorite things:

How to properly cook meat.

God, the Infinite, who made everything and occupies all of space and time, takes great care to liberate His people from slavery. And while doing so, He also gives them a pretty precise recipe to follow for their new year’s dinner:

They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts.

 – Exodus 12:8-9

When I read these verses this time around, I kind of smirked and thought “Well, obviously. No one in their right mind would boil a perfect cut of meat.” After I got over my snobbery, it occurred to me that there might actually be something to this. God requires a lot of His people, and His laws are very precise. But God is not arbitrary, and all of His laws point to the Good.

So what is so ultimately Good about roasted lamb?

I did a little bit of Googling around to try to answer this question. Namely, I was interested in learning more about how roasting is distinct from other cooking techniques. The most basic distinction here is that when you roast a cut of meat, you typically don’t add any liquid. You also don’t need to prep it very much – you basically just stick it in a pan. God instructed His people to cook the entire lamb, which means that they had hardly any prep work. Even seasoning the meat is somewhat optional, since by cooking it in its own fat, the meat is naturally flavorful. I imagine that a lamb with all of its innards and all of its excess fat would have been pretty juicy. Finally, roasting often takes a bit longer than other cooking techniques. Roasting an entire lamb over a wood-burning fire is pretty much a day-long process, since a fire takes longer to pre-heat than an oven. It would have taken the Israelites even longer, since their lamb had to be well-done.

In short, the process of roasting a lamb is simple and slow.

Now I’m picturing a nation of slaves, who have recently survived a bunch of really bizarre natural disasters, eagerly awaiting the freedom that has been promised to them, pausing from the chaos to spend a day preparing this feast, hoping desperately that after that meal they will be free people. Their anticipation must have been overwhelming. Their faith here is astounding. And I bet their dinner was delicious.

But here’s the other, probably more spiritual and significant thing about that meal and the preparation thereof: it was carnal, it was bloody, and it points directly to the crucified Christ.

The Israelites didn’t go to their neighborhood butcher to pick up a leg of lamb, they went to their herd and found the most pristine year-old lamb or goat that they could find. On the morning of that first Passover, all of those lambs were alive, and they were perfect. They were slaughtered in their prime, and it was smelly and bloody and it probably wasn’t too fun for the critter.

The God who ordered this sacrificial dinner, and then, through Jesus, suffered it Himself, is not distant. He is deeply concerned with all that is tangible and worldly. He cares about people, and creation, and things.

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