Passover begins tomorrow night so I thought it would be interesting to see how lambs are written about in the Bible.
Sheep are often mentioned in the records of the ancient Near East. They were valued for a great many things such as being a source of milk, meat, and wool for clothing. Lambs were particularly valuable for their future – what they would produce. In addition sheep were used to tread grain into the soil and as sacrificial animals.
The first place that sheep are mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis when we read the Abel “brought the firstborn of his flocks” to the Lord. The Hebrew word for “flock” is “tzon” which is often translated “sheep.” So the first offering that we read about in the Bible is a lamb.
The next famous place we read about a lamb is when Abraham tells Isaac that God would “provide for himself a lamb” rather than making Isaac be the burnt offering. But when God does indeed provide a substitute for Isaac, it is a ram and not a lamb. What does this mean? I will come back to this, but the point is that the second famous lamb gives us the picture of a the offering as a substitute for a person.
The most famous lamb in the Hebrew Scriptures is the Passover lamb which died so the first born could live and the Jewish people could be redeemed out of Egypt. We see in the first three well know uses of the lamb in the Bible is as an offering; a substitutionary offering and an offering for deliverance. In the Torah lambs are also used in the levitical offerings. Isaiah builds on these themes when he refers to the suffering servant who takes out sins upon himself as a lamb led to slaughter in Isaiah 53:7.
In the New Covenant, John builds on the lamb themes of offering, substitution and deliverance when we read of Yeshua, “behold the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world!” He is using the concept of the Passover lamb, and the sacrificial lambs as well as Isaiah’s lamb – offering, substitution and deliverance – to describe Yeshua. But Yeshua is not just described as a lamb – but rather the “lamb of God” the greatest lamb of all. Yeshua identified himself as the “Passover lamb” when he told his disciples at a Passover seder that the matzo and the third cup symbolize his body and blood. Throughout the New Covenant, Yeshua is identified as the Passover/sacrifice lamb. See Acts 8:32; 1 Cor. 5:7 and 1 Peter 1:18-19.
The pinnacle of New Covenant references to Yeshua being the lamb is in the book of Revelation. In this book, he is identified as a lamb more than any other name or title! In fact the whole book of Revelation can be framed as a “second exodus.” There are plagues, there is an evil regime, and there is deliverance by the blood of a lamb – there is even a seder!!. When you read this apocalyptic book carefully you see that the lamb is the hero. the lamb is the only one who can bring forth the historical developments that will result in the final redemption. The lamb is the judge of the earth; the lamb defeats the enemy, the lamb redeems the righteous remnant. The lamb has the identity of God – not another god but the God of Israel. In revelation 5, we read about the lion from the tribe of Judah becomes a lamb. The powerful lion is victorious but not by military means but rather by being a lamb, a valuable, vulnerable, precious lamb who was slain. This lamb is described as having horns. I have a friend who is a farmer who told me that when a lamb grows horns, it becomes a ram. So the lamb in Revelation 5 is a lamb/ram. If you go all the way back to the first book of the Bible we read that Abraham told Isaac that God would provide a lamb but what did he provide? A ram!! The lamb was a ram! In the last book of the bible, the lamb who was slain is a ram. In his humiliation and suffering, Yeshua brought deliverance and victory. What looked like his most humiliating moment was in reality his finest hour.
There is much more to say about the lamb of the apocalypse of John. But for now, let us rejoice that when we celebrate Passover, we can point back to our redemption out of Egypt.
But through the blood of the passover lamb of God, Yeshua, we can look to the present where we can experience the forgiveness of sins and deliverance from the bondage of sin we can look forward to our final redemption – the redemption of our bodies and of the world – through Yeshua the blood of the lamb.
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” (Rev 5:12 NAU)