EXODUS 12: PASSOVER
Exodus 12 is very important in the story, theology, and life of Israel.
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. (Exodus 12:1-8, IEB)
Passover is the Jewish feast marking and celebrating the most important event in Israel’s history: the exodus from slavery in Egypt. This would not be the only time Jews were enslaved or oppressed, but no other time were they so dramatically rescued by God and called into the wilderness to worship their Rescuer.
Jews today still celebrate Passover with food described in this chapter. The celebration dramatizes the passover of death and the symbolic meal of lamb, whose blood was smeared on the doorframes to show a replacement sacrifice had already taken place at this household, bitter herbs symbolizing bitter slavery, unleaven bread symbolizing the corruption of yeast being left behind of foreign gods.
12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. (Exodus 12:12-14, IEB)
The Passover from the perspective of the Egyptians was death instead of life. The firstborn of families and even livestock were stricken with death.
The long standing tradition of Jewish and Christian teaching on the Passover acknowledges this beginning fact: If God is God, we are not, then His actions are not to be judged on the basis of human wisdom. We can ask questions, wonder, but cynical judgment and assuming we could run the world better are exchanged for rehearsals of the story so that faith seeks deeper understanding over time.
21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down. 24 You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children. 25 When you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed down and worshiped. 28 The Israelites went and did just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron. (Exodus 12:21-28, IEB)
God instructed Israelite families to smear blood of the passover lambs on the doorframes of their houses so God’s death angel would pass over their houses.
Obedience was vital to life. Failure to comply to this command resulted in death. “You must be obedient in this matter.” The ceremony continues today an annual ceremonial meal and questions recounted in this chapter: “When your sons ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then you will answer: ‘It is the passover sacrifice of the Always Present One. He passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He struck down the Egyptians, but He spared our homes.’” (Exodus 12:26-27, IEB)
29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. 31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!”
33 The Egyptians urged the people to hasten their departure from the land, for they said, “We shall all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls wrapped up in their cloaks on their shoulders. 35 The Israelites had done as Moses told them; they had asked the Egyptians for jewelry of silver and gold, and for clothing, 36 and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. And so they plundered the Egyptians.
37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. 38 A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds. 39 They baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt; it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.
40 The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. 41 At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. 42 That was for the Lord a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. That same night is a vigil to be kept for the Lord by all the Israelites throughout their generations. (Exodus 12:29-42, IEB)
This was the biggest night in Israel’s collective history--the night Israel was released from slavery in Egypt.
God kept vigil as about one million former slaves walked to freedom, the greatest slave liberation in history.
It as also a very sad night for Egypt. I have a friend who is Egyptian Coptic Christian, and I’ve often wondered what this story sounds like in his ears, to hear the suffering of Egyptians.
It’s hard being viewed as the bad guys. Finally, in the United States, have we really come to terms with our national sins of genocide of native peoples? Have we come to terms with the ever-with-us effects of slavery? Have we come to terms with racial oppression and profiling and sexual identity discrimination? Are we as Christians in a country that seems always to be at war to “protect our interests,” complicit with this war-mongering, occupation in nations not our own, economic slavery, and mistreatment of innocent people?
Lord, we don’t understand why we see such violence in the story of the Bible. We don’t know if we are supposed to defend your actions to unbelievers or accept them and allow people to come to accept them because you are God. Help us.
But at the same time we are struck by how we humans now continuously enslave others and ourselves. We may not get how we enslave others, but show us how we hold people’s emotions hostage with manipulation, how we racially profile others and consider some people lower than ourselves, how we mistreat and look down on people unlike ourselves when no judgment whatsoever is called for.
Lord, what an incredible night this was, the Passover! We know you love all your creation, so help us understand this story and our own story of oppression to bondage of our own sin and mistreatment of others and the need for freedom for ourselves and others.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.