SynopsisYou may have heard of Passover before, but if you’re not Jewish, you might not know what it’s all about. This chapter gives Passover’s origin.
In the last chapter, Moses had warned Pharaoh that the plague on the Egyptians’ first born was coming. However, the plague doesn’t come right away, in this chapter—instead, the LORD has the Hebrews prepare for it. Every Israelite household is to sacrifice a lamb, take some of the lamb’s blood, and sprinkle it on the doors of their houses. When God is killing the firstborn of everyone in Egypt, He will “pass over” any household which has the blood on its doorframe. They are then to eat the lamb. God even gives them instructions on how they are to eat it:
This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover. (verse 11)
Not only does God instruct the Israelites to eat the Passover in this way, but He also makes it into a commemorative festival, that they are to celebrate every year, to remember the day that the LORD rescued them from Egypt:
“This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance. For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat—that is all you may do.
“Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.”
So Moses passes on these instructions to the Israelite elders, and they do as they are told. And that night, the LORD strikes down the firstborn of every family in Egypt, “from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well” (verse 29).
Finally, Pharaoh relents, and agrees to let the Israelites leave Egypt. He summons Moses and Aaron, and tells them that they may go. As they are leaving, the Hebrews ask the Egyptians for “articles of silver and gold and for clothing” (verse 35), which the Egyptians give them, because “[t]he LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people” (verse 36).
According to verse 37, there were about six hundred thousand men in the exodus, plus women and children. And, according to verse 41, they had been in Egypt 430 years—to the day—by the time they left.
The chapter ends with some additional rules for the Passover, which basically amount to the fact that the Passover celebration is only for Israelites, and not foreigners.
ThoughtsFunnily enough, the Passover celebration probably means more to Christians than it does to Jews, simply because we have more context—we can see, in Passover, not only a commemoration of what happened when God saved the Israelites from Egypt, but also a commemoration of what He did when He saved us from our sins.
The Israelites are instructed to eat the Passover meal in this way to emphasize the fact that it’s being done quickly, and that at any moment they’ll have to flee. This will be more important in susequent Passover celebrations, to remind the Israelites of what the original Exodus was like.
The blood which was smeared on the Israelites’ doorways was not magic; it was simply a symbol. Of course God knew who each of the Israelites were, and didn’t need a sign to remind him which household was which—He had, after all, already sent some of His plagues only to the Egyptians, and not to the Hebrews. So why all this business with the lamb?
Well, if you take into account the fact that Jesus is called the “Lamb of God” in the New Testament (John 1:29, 36), and called a “lamb” in various other places in the New Testament, you start to get the idea: The Passover lamb was a symbol of what Jesus was going to do for us, thousands of years later. He would be sacrificed, so that God would “pass over” us, when He is judging the world for its sin. This is made explicit in 1 Corinthians 5:7b: “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”