A shared, common story and symbol or sign are vital to helping a group of people united together in community. For the Israelites, the shared story is slavery in Egypt and Passover, and the sign is circumcision. These two events - perhaps more than any other - give Jews their sense of identity.
Passover is a strange thing; as part of his plan to rescue the Israelites out of slavery, God promises to kill the first-born male in every house unless a very specific set of instructions are followed and the door frame is painted with sheep blood. Somehow, for some reason, that's supposed to protect the people inside.
Likewise, circumcision was mandated as the "sign" that a person was a member of the Israelite community.
There's a few things that jump out at me:
- Circumcision was nothing new, or unique to Israel. God had commanded Abraham to be circumcised and to have all the men in his household circumcised as part of the covenant between the two of them. This is a return to how things always were, but had likely become forgotten during Israel's time in Egypt. Also connected to circumcision is that this could easily be seen as a form of forgiveness: God is giving Israel a second chance to get back on track.
- For Christians, Passover must be seen as a precursor to Jesus' own death.
The exodus story as always fascinated me because of it's connections to Jesus' own story. I know it can often be difficult to "see/find" Jesus in the OT, but there are few places where this is easier or more obvious than in the Exodus. The Exodus was massive living example of what God was planning, and the entire experience was used to create an identity.
There's an arc to the story of the Bible. God created everything and declared it perfect. He established a special kind of relationship with humans. Humans enjoyed an existence devoid of pain and death. But humans messed it up by disobeying God in the Garden, and were then condemned to death. Although cursed, God promised to fix the problem of death/sin.
In the exodus story, Israel - God's chosen people, the descendants of Abraham - finds itself in slavery to the biggest, baddest, strongest nation in the world. They are oppressed under Egypt's power. All of this represents the burden of death and sin. After a very long time - long enough for Israel to give up hope - God delivers them from their captors. In the process, he gives them a new identity through "blood of the lamb" and circumcision.
Fast-forward to the NT, and God sends his Son who is repeatedly identified as the "passover lamb" who sheds his blood for humans and, once and for all, crushes the "serpents" head!
The God of grace! Showing himself dramatically in the story of Exodus!