When we first come to this text, we might ask ourselves why God would put this in the Bible. If I may put it this way, Exodus 12 is the first real lull in the narrative of the Bible. Things have been pretty action-heavy since Genesis 1:1. With this chapter, we begin to see official institutions take shape that gives rise to the idea of this part of the Bible being the Law. Here, there are prescriptive commands that establish rites to be observed by the people of God. Of course, New Testament Christians will understand that these rites are fulfilled in Christ. Even so, we simultaneously declare that though we do not keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread, we say that this Scripture is instructive for us still (2 Timothy 3:16).
Why throw out the leaven? How is that teaching us anything other than what the people of God were supposed to do? That’s the key here—what does tossing leaven into the garbage tell us?
What it does is tell us about is God, specifically how he saved his people. Hence the repetitive nature of Exodus 12—the people know they will be saved, but how? Certainly not by default; they do not possess a salvation they can take for granted. God saved the children of Israel in a way that necessitated hasty action on their part. As they took part in the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they were remembering that God saved them on his own terms, not theirs. If they wanted the freedom from bondage they had cried out to receive, they would need to receive it from the one who could provide it. They did not stipulate the terms, God did.
So it is with the cross of Christ. One may object to the cross in its violence and blood. One may reject the notion of a payment for our sins. One may feel justified in himself with no reason to repent. However, these objections and rejections will not find themselves congruent with Jesus in any way, shape, form, or fashion. God sets the terms of salvation; his creation does not.
God sets the terms, and he decreed that his people must smear lamb’s blood on their door frames. He also revealed that he desired the children of Israel to dispose of all leaven during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Why let the destroyer in the house of anyone who did not smear the blood? Why would someone who did not remove the leaven from their home be cut off?
The smearing of blood and removal of leaven comprised acts of faith on the part of God’s people. If they believed him, that he would save them, then they would follow his directives. Both commands actually prove quite simple. The slaughtering of lambs, while somewhat repugnant to modern people (though not to the point of universal vegetarianism!) would not have been so to the Israelites in Goshen. They never saw prepackaged meat in a grocery store. If they ate meat, they probably did the slaughtering themselves. This would not be an arduous task for them any more than changing the oil in a car is to modern people. Throwing leaven out also would not be terribly difficult, being able to reach accomplishment in a few short seconds.
Therefore, anyone who became cut off (12:15, 19) became so by their own inaction.
Notice what is not instituted here. God does not appoint a Leaven Inspection Squad to go around house-to-house with black lights and leaven detectors ensuring that all the leaven is gone. Being cut off is not a matter of grabbing a man and his family by the scruff of their neck and throwing them into the wilderness because a speck of leaven was found in the corner or a mouse tracked leaven in the house.
The one who becomes cut off does so to himself. He has refused, for whatever reason, to remember how God delivered his people. He has chosen to ignore God. If one ignores God, what else can happen but that he be cut off from God’s people. When God settles all accounts, he will be found wanting and not enter in to the eternal rest of fellowship with God along with God’s people. He has cut off himself. He has revealed himself unwilling to demonstrate faith in God, and so his faith is reckoned as no faith at all.
Exodus 12 gives us the wonderful reminder that God is a God who saves, and he saves in the way he chooses. This is nothing new or obscure to the Christian, for the Christian has trusted in the action of God in the cross of Jesus to save him. He has not been saved any old way; instead, he is saved through the work of the Savior in his death. He’s not saved because he’s more favorably disposed toward Jesus than other religions or because he “believes in God and Jesus and all that.”
We find then to neglect God’s specific action to save as he has decreed and revealed leads only to one place: separation from God’s people. The one who refuses to give God glory by recounting what God has done to save is the one who refuses that salvation completely. He has no faith at all. The one who humbly recognizes, remembers, and recalls that God broke into the place of bondage to set his people free, that is the one who finds himself with God’s people, saved eternally and forever for his glory.