Remember the Bitter; Enjoy the Sweet

When God called upon Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt, the Scripture says that it was because Israel was groaning under the oppression of their Egyptian taskmasters. “Many years later the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery and cried out. Their cries for relief from their hard labor ascended to God: God listened to their groanings. God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw what was going on with Israel. God understood” (Ex. 2:23-25, MSG).

The importance of pain and affliction cannot be overstated. Without pain, few of us would see our doctors; without hard times, few of us would develop the endurance (physical or in any other form) to persevere; and without the pain that accompanies our sinful conditions, none of us would come to the Savior for His mercy and grace.

When the Hebrew people groaned under the Egyptian bondage, God saw their affliction from the very beginning. But, as with most of us, their condition had to become unbearable for them before they would consent to the hardships that would come by leaving. Even then, it only took them three days before they started complaining that God had not provided them any water (Ex. 15:22f).

A Jewish family at Passover remembers the whole experience of their ancestors. But the sweetness of freedom cannot be fully appreciated without remembering the bitterness of slavery, so the Passover table includes a few items to remind them of this bitterness. One item is a bowl of salt water in which the family will dip some of their ceremonial foods to remind them of the tears that were shed in their bondage. Various bitter herbs also bring back the memory of those tears, particularly the horseradish.

Horseradish is a strong bitter herb, too strong for some. But the sweetness of freedom becomes something that we take for granted unless we have something to compare it with. Likewise, none of us can enjoy the sweetness of the grace of God if we fail to remember the bitterness of sin.

 Our culture doesn’t help — it applauds sin as being fun, sweet, and satisfying. How quickly we forget the financial or familial destruction that usually accompanies alcoholism. How many children are horribly impacted by the pedophile that became addicted to sex through pornography? How many lives are in financial bondage through the debts incurred by the lottery or another form of gambling? These are just some of the more obvious bondage-producing sins that our world tells us are sweet, but all of us have experienced (or are experiencing) a slavery to sin. Just as there are no “victimless crimes,” there is no sin that does not lead to some form of bondage.

Deliverance from any kind of bondage is sweet, and that is what the Passover commemorates. It is also the purpose of the cross of Christ. Jesus said, “If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). This was also the Apostle Paul’s point in Galatians 4 and 5 — having been enslaved by sin, we can experience true freedom through the redemptive work of Christ.

But there are two dangers that are described in these two New Testament passages. Like the Jews in John 8, we can proudly declare that we have never been enslaved to anything (see v. 33) and therefore do not need to be redeemed. Or, like the Galatians to whom Paul was writing, we can turn back to our old ways and trust that somehow our good works will merit eternal life for us. This too, is a form of pride. The truth is that redemption is all from Jesus. In other places Paul wrote that eternal life is wholly and completely a gift — something given, not earned (Rom 6:23; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:4-6).

All who celebrate Passover rehearse the events that led from the bitterness of slavery to the sweet freedom of redemption. Until we come to the same point of the bitterness of bondage and the impossibility of deliverance that Moses and the Hebrews experienced, we can never fully appreciate the sweet redemption that is available to us in Y’Sua ha-Mashiach (Jesus, the Messiah).

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