By Sarah Welch, Editorial Assistant
In honor of Meredith G. Kline’s birthday, I’m excited to share a passage from Essential Writings of Meredith G. Kline. I’ve chosen an excerpt that strikes me not only because it uses linguistic evidence to interpret a passage of the Bible, but because the way Kline demonstrates God’s involvement in human history in both the Old and New Testaments seems especially appropriate for the Christmas season.
In the pages leading up to the excerpt below, Kline examines the verb pasah, used in the Exodus account of the first Passover in Egypt, to argue that the passage is about God’s coming to protect and dwell with his people rather than the angel of death “passing over” them. But instead of stopping with the first Passover, Kline connects it to God’s dwelling with Israel after they leave Egypt—and, finally, to God dwelling with humanity by becoming one of us.
In light of our findings concerning the verb pasah, the picture in Exod 12 is not one of God’s passing over his people but of his coming to them and abiding with them through the dark night of judgment on Egypt. Like a hovering bird spreading its protective wings over its young, the Lord covered the Israelite houses, keeping watch over them. He was their gatekeeper, their guardian against the entrance of death.
This interpretation of the pasah-action is reinforced by certain contextual considerations. One has to do with the relationship between the act of deliverance from the destroyer and the prior act of expiation. The narrative spotlights the specific place where the sacrificial blood was to be smeared: doorframe, sideposts, and lintel (Exod 12:7, 22–23). On the traditional view, no particular connection obtains between the pasah-action and the application of the expiatory blood to this specific location. But the selection of the doorframe as the locus of expiation finds its ready explanation when it is recognized that the pasah-act involved a divine protective presence at that very spot and consisted in a guardianship over the door (12:23). It speaks strongly in favor of the present interpretation that it provides for this mutually illuminating relationship between the saving pasah-action and the specific orientation of the sacrificial act that constituted its forensic basis.
There is another contextual factor that corroborates the shielding nature of the paschal action and its avian portrayal as well. It has to do with the Glory-cloud and specifically with the particular juncture in redemptive history where this form of Spirit-theophany emerged. The Glory-Spirit was present as a feature of the original theocratic order in Eden but withdrew from the fallen world. Then in the days of Moses this form of theophany reappeared, marking the coming of God’s theocratic kingdom on earth after its long abeyance during the patriarchal ages. It is at the exodus episode that the biblical narrative introduces the pillars of cloud and fire, the supernatural means by which God led Israel by the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea (Exod 13:21–22; cf. vv. 17–20). Coming immediately before this departure of Israel and serving as a prelude and preparation for it, the paschal event of Exod 12 will most naturally have involved this same divine Presence.
Now if the Glory-Spirit, so congenial to avian metaphor, is the divine Presence in the paschal event, this will be what prompted the narrator’s use of pasah, “hover over.” Also, in view of the fact that overshadowing is a characteristic function of the Glory-cloud, the interpretation of the paschal action as such a protective covering is strengthened by the identification of the Glory-Spirit as the subject of that action.
Moreover, if the Glory-Spirit is the divine actor as early in the exodus history as Exod 12, further credence is lent to our understanding of the pasah-action as a divine guardianship against the destroyer by the strikingly similar role played by the Glory-Spirit in the sequel recorded in Exod 14. It is another night scene, and again the Israelites are under threat of destruction, this time by the pharaoh’s pursuing forces. But the pillar of cloud takes up a position behind them, coming between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel so that the one does not come near the other all night (vv. 19–20). In this episode, as in the paschal event, the Lord takes his place with his people, stationing himself in such a way as to block the approach of the destroying power. If the Glory-Spirit we see guarding Israel in Exod 14 is the divine actor in Exod 12, it is quite natural that we should find him performing the same function there, as is the case on our interpretation of the paschal event.
Or, turning the matter around, to the extent that it can be shown independently of the evidence for the presence of the Glory-Spirit that the paschal event was a divine guarding of Israel, the resultant twin character of the Exod 12 and 14 events argues compellingly that the Glory-Spirit is indeed the divine actor in Exod 12 as he is explicitly in Exod 14.
There is an important difference between these two formally matching events, which, however, brings out a deeper connection between them. Exod 12 records a deliverance from the wrath of God; Exod 14, from the enmity of the pharaoh, the dragon figure representative of Satan’s curse. From the efficacy of the divine shielding against the death angel, agent of the divine wrath, the Israelites were to draw assurance that this same divine guardianship would keep them safe in the hour of the pharaoh’s terrible assault.
Jesus, a the paschal lamb who interposes himself between the wrath of God and those who are his own, who while on earth was their Paraclete guardian from the evil one (John 17:12, 15), promised during his last paschal commemoration with them that he would send them another Paraclete defender to be present with them forever (John 14:16), even the Spirit, the one who was the Paraclete presence and covering the guardian of God’s people in the original paschal event. And if God be thus for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:31). (pp. 156–158)
Sarah Welch is an Editorial Assistant at Hendrickson Publishers. She graduated with honors from Gordon College, where she researched intersections between religion, nationality, and medieval English literature. These days, she’s catching up on all the reading she didn’t have time for in college and is constantly on the lookout for new teas to try.
For more information about The Essential Writings of Meredith G Kline, visit our website! We also have these related posts that you might be interested in: