How Passover started
Pick a lamb to butcher1 While Moses and Aaron were still in Egypt, the LORD told them, 2 “This is going to become the first month of the year on the Israelite calendar. 3 Tell all the people of Israel, ‘On the tenth day of this month, every family or household should select a lamb to eat. 4 If one lamb is too much for one small household to eat, you may share a lamb with a nearby neighbor. Share the food. Give everyone an equal portion. 5 You can pick from sheep or goats. But the animal must be a one-year-old male. And there can’t be anything wrong with him.
6 You should take good care of the animal for four days. Then on the fourteenth of the month, in the twilight of sundown, all Israelites should kill the animals they chose. 7 Take some of the animal’s blood and brush it onto the door posts outside the house where you are going to eat. Brush it on both sides of the door posts and on the lintel across the top. 8 Roast the animal the same night you slaughter it. Eat it with flat bread made without yeast, and with a salad of bitter plants.
9 Don’t eat any of the meat raw. And don’t cook it in water. Roast it whole, in a barbecue from head to tail, with all the organs still inside. 10 Eat it all before morning. If there are leftovers you can’t eat, burn it before sunrise. 11 When you eat this meal, I want you to eat it in a hurry, while fully dressed and ready to go—sandals on, and your walking staff within reach. This will be the day of the LORD’s Passover.
12 That’s because on the night you eat this meal, I will travel throughout Egypt. I will kill every mother’s first child, whether the mother is human or animal. This is how I’ll condemn all the gods these people worship. I am the LORD. 13 The blood will save you, when I see it on the doorframes as I travel through Egypt. When I see the blood, I’ll pass over you. Death won’t pay you a visit, when I come to hammer Egypt.
Festival of the yeast-free bread14 This is going to be a day to remember. I want you to celebrate the day every year, for all the years to come. Observe it as a religious festival honoring the LORD. That’s a permanent rule.
15 When you celebrate it in the future, the only bread you can eat during the seven days of the festival is bread made without yeast. On the first day of that week, remove from your home anything with yeast in it. If you eat anything with yeast in it during that stretch, you’re no longer an Israelite. 16 You should meet in worship on the first day and the seventh day of this week. You’re not to work on either day, except the work it takes to feed yourselves.
17 Observe this festival of the yeast-free bread as a way of remembering that I freed you from slavery in Egypt and led you out of the land. Celebrate this day as a religious holiday every year for all the years to come. 18 Begin celebrating this religious holiday on the fourteenth day of the first month. The only bread you can eat is bread made without yeast. Continue that menu until the evening of the twenty-first day.
19 There should be nothing in your home made with yeast. For seven days, no yeast allowed. If anyone eats anything with yeast in it, they are no longer an Israelite. This applies to native Israelites as well as newcomers in the land. 20 You’re not allowed to eat anything with yeast in it. No matter where you live, the bread you eat must be yeast-free.” 21 Moses called a meeting of all the leading elders of Israel. He told them, “Go select lambs for your families. You’ll slaughter them and eat as a Passover offering. 22 Collect some of the animal’s blood into a bowl. Then take a handful of hyssop branches and dip it in the blood. Use that to paint the frame of the doorway into your house—both sides of the doorframe and the lintel across the top. After you do that, go inside and stay there until morning.
God will pass over Israelite homes23 When the LORD comes to punish the Egyptians that night, he’ll see the blood on the doorframe of your homes, and he’ll pass over the door. He won’t allow his executioner to cut you down. 24 You and your descendants should observe this religious holiday for the rest of time. 25 You should continue to observe this festival when you settle in the land the LORD has promised to give you.
26 When your children ask, ‘Why are we doing this?’ 27 you should answer, ‘This is Passover, a sacrifice to honor the LORD. We call it Passover because the LORD passed over the Israelite house when he punished the Egyptians. He didn’t hurt anyone in Israelite homes.’” 28 So the Israelites did what Moses and Aaron told them to do, as the LORD ordered.
Death at midnight29 It was about midnight when the LORD struck. Every Egyptian mother’s first child died—from Pharaoh’s first child, to the first child of a prisoner in the dungeon, to the first calf of a cow in the field. 30 Pharaoh got up that night. So did his officials and Egyptians everywhere. Loud and bitter wailing rang throughout the country because someone had died in every Egyptian home. 31 Pharaoh sent a message to Moses and Aaron that night. He said, “Get all your people up and get them out of here, away from my people! Go and worship the LORD like you said you wanted to! 32 Take all your livestock, the flocks and the herds. Just call down a blessing for me—some word of kindness—and then get out!”
Israel’s exodus begins33 Egyptians told the Israelite people to get out now, “Before you kill us all.” 34 So the Israelites scooped up their bread dough without yeast. They stashed it in their kneading bowls, which they wrapped in cloaks they carried on their shoulders.
35 Earlier, the people had asked their Egyptian neighbors for expensive clothing and objects of silver and gold, as Moses had instructed. And the neighbors gave it to them. 36 The LORD had tweaked the attitude of the Egyptians, making them inclined to give the Israelites what they wanted. In doing that, the Israelites plundered the Egyptians. 37 The people of Israel left the city of Rameses and traveled to Succoth. There were about 600,000 men on foot, not counting children.  38 This was a mixed crowd of Israelites and others who joined them. Herds and flocks into one massive livestock drive. 39 For food, they stopped and baked the yeast-free bread dough they carried with them. They made flat cakes of yeast-free bread because they didn’t have yeast. When Pharaoh ordered them to leave, they didn’t have time to do much of anything but close the door on their way out.
40 The people of Israel had lived in Egypt 430 years. 41 On the last day of that 430th year, the people of Israel began their exodus out of Egypt. 42 The LORD spent the night as Israel’s security guard. He protected them on their way out of Egypt. So, on this night every year from now on, people will honor the LORD for leading the Israelites to freedom.
43 The LORD told Moses and Aaron, “These are the Passover laws. First, the food is for Israelites only. No others allowed, with a few exceptions. 44 Your circumcised slaves can eat the food. 45 Visitors and hired help can’t eat it. Not allowed. 46 You need to eat the food at one sitting. You can’t take any out of the house. And you can’t break any bones of the sacrificed animal. 47 Every Israelite needs to celebrate this day.
48 If someone visits you and wants to honor the LORD by eating the Passover meal with you, that’s fine. But he and all the males of his household need to be circumcised first. No uncircumcised males could eat the Passover meal. 49 The Passover laws that apply to Israelites also apply to anyone else living among you as neighbors.” 50 So, the people of Israel did what Moses and Aaron told them to do. 51 That’s the day the LORD led all the tribes of Israel on their exodus to freedom out of Egypt.
The Israelites would follow a lunar calendar, with every month starting at the first tiny crescent after the new moon. A new moon is when the moon is hidden behind earth’s shadow for one day. The sun, moon, and earth are aligned, with earth in the middle. Nisan is the name of the first Jewish month of the year. It’s when Jews celebrate one of their most revered holidays: Passover. The month falls around Eastertime, in March or April. Jesus went to Jerusalem to observe Passover when he was arrested and crucified.
This was the first Passover meal, the prototype for what became known, after Bible times, as the seder meal that Jews still eat every spring during the Passover festival.
This will become the first Passover meal, a tradition Jews continue today.
Perhaps forbidding to use the meat in a soup or a stew.
The Hebrew word is pesach (PAY sock). It refers to the annual Passover meal today called a seder (SAY dur), which means “order.” That’s a reference to the fact that the Passover meal is eaten as a meticulously detailed ritual of reading, remembering, and prayer. The word “Passover” comes from the story of God or one of his angels killing the Egyptian firstborn, but “passing over” Hebrew homes with animal blood on the doorframes.
The month of Nisan, which is based on the cycles of the moon and falls on March-April. Jewish holidays begin at sundown. So this week of Passover begins at sundown on day 14 and ends at sundown on day 21.
Hyssopus officinalis is a wild shrub that grows throughout the Middle East. Leaves on the branches are about half an inch to an inch long (2-2.5 cm). Some planted hyssop as a crop to harvest twice a year, at the end of spring and the beginning of autumn. People dried and crushed the leaves to use as medicine to treat coughing, sore throat, and digestive problems.
The Hebrew word is mashit, which can mean: destroyer, killer. There’s a tradition based on Bible passages that says God used an angel to serve as his executioner (see Exodus 14:19), an angel of death.
Pithom and Rameses were cities strategically placed and fortified to guard popular routes into the Nile River Valley. Egyptian soldiers would greet people arriving from what are now Middle Eastern nations such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The city known as Pi-Rameses, meaning “House of Rameses,” was built in roughly 1300 BC by Rameses I, but was expanded into a huge capital during 1200s BC under Pharaoh Rameses II. He became famous for his building projects and was known as Rameses the Great. He also liked to put his face and name on statues built to honor others.
Succoth was both a city and a region, much like Samaria would be in Israel. The city of Succoth was a one-day trip from what was likely the Rameses palace. That’s according to an Egyptian letter from about 1200 BC, in the time of Pharaoh Seti II.
If there were 600,000 men, it’s a fair guess there were about 600,000 women. Put them together, and there may have been at least two children per couple. That’s about 2.4 million souls marching into the Sinai badlands, with their livestock. Those numbers seem unrealistic to many readers. If they walked in rows 100 yards (91 meters) long as they crossed the parted sea (Exodus 14:22), the column of one line after another would have stretched about 20 miles (32 kilometers). Commentators have suggested a variety of solutions. Here are three: TRUST GOD. This theory embraces the biblical story as accurate history. 600 CLANS. Another suggests the Hebrew word for “thousand” elep, can refer simply to a group of people, such as an extended family known as a clan, or a group of clans, called a tribe. So if there were 600 clans, there could have been fewer than 20,000 people—which is still a lot in a desert. SYMBOLIC NUMBERS. Another theory sees a hidden message in names. Hebrew letters had number equivalents, as did letters in other languages. A census of the Israelites said there were 603,551, which included Moses (Exodus 38:26). When we tally up the numbers for the phrase commonly used to refer to the Israelites, “sons of Israel,” the letters add up to 603,551. So the theory here is that all the Israelites came out of Egypt, however many there were.
And not bothering to mention the women.
It didn’t matter because they wouldn’t have had time for the dough to rise.
God told Abraham that his descendants “will immigrate to a foreign country where they will end up oppressed and eventually enslaved. They will live there as immigrants and slaves 400 years” (Genesis 15:13). Exodus doesn’t confirm that. At the end of the book of Genesis, they’re living as privileged people because of their relationship to Joseph, a top advisor of the Egyptian king. Exodus starts with them in slavery, 430 years later. Some scholars speculate that the 30-year difference hints that after Joseph died, the Hebrews fell out of favor with the next king, who enslaved them. Genesis 15:16 predicts that the Hebrews would leave the foreign country after “four generations.” Four generations in 400 years is hard to explain. Typically, a generation stretches from the birth of a boy to the birth of his son. Some, however, say a generation is about 40 years. But at time when Bible writers were reporting that people like Abraham lived 175 years (Genesis 25:7), they seemed to consider a century as a generation.
In the Gospel of John, soldiers break the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus to help them die quicker. Apparently, in some positions in which people hung on the cross, they needed to push up to catch a breath or to exhale. So, breaking their legs kept them from breathing, and they suffocated, ending their misery sooner. But when the soldiers went to break Jesus’ legs they saw that Jesus was already dead. So they did not break any of his bones. This was important to the author of John’s Gospel because he saw Jesus as the Passover lamb, whose bones must not be broken, as stated here in Exodus 12:46.
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
Chapter 12 of Exodus interrupts the flow of the story of the plagues and the Passover just before the big climax. It does so to introduce the establishment of a new holy day, or festival, that would help Jews in future generations to remember how the LORD freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and started them on their journey to the new land of their own that he had promised them. In the New Testament, at the time of Passover, Jesus would establish a different rite to help people remember a different act of salvation. Some Christians call it “communion,” or “the Lord’s Supper,” or the “Eucharist.” One freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the other freed people from sin and death. Do you see any other connections between the two?
The Israelites are instructed to choose a perfect, healthy male lamb for the Passover meal. As the animal was an offering to God, offering a sick or lame animal would constitute a sacrilege. The Israelites should also choose a single lamb for each family, though, if the family is small, one lamb may be used for two families—as long as everyone gets an equal share of the meat. All that makes sense. But why should the animal be roasted and not boiled and why eaten with yeast-free bread and bitter herbs? Finally, why should there be no leftovers? Consider the following explanations given by Bible scholars. Which one makes most sense to you?
- Each family was to slaughter their own lamb and eat all the meat themselves in the course of the night. This emphasized the family aspect of the occasion. The Israelites were the descendants of Israel, or Jacob. If a family was too small to consume an entire lamb in one night, they were to share it with another family, establishing community, another important aspect of Judaism. It was to emphasize community and solidarity that everyone at the meal was to be given equal portions.
- For the Passover meal only, the lamb should be roasted. In the future, Jewish law would forbid the eating of raw meat, as it contained blood, which represented life. Boiled meat involved the interpenetration of meat with broth, which like other liquids, was thought likely to bear impurities. In Ezekiel 24:3–13 a pot of boiling meat symbolizes Jerusalem’s impurities, and the pot must later be purified by fire. On the other hand, in the future, ordinary sacrificial meals would be boiled in a pot, as noted in Leviticus 6:21 and elsewhere. Roasted meat was a more ancient way to cook sacrificial meat, and it was burnt (roasted) sacrifices that were offered to God. So, the special Passover lamb was roasted to conform to more ancient rites, to keep it pure, and to allow the people the annual privilege of eating the type of food that was ordinarily set aside for God himself, making the meal special and reserved only for Passover.
- Because the people were in a hurry to leave their lives of bondage behind them and travel out of Egypt in the morning, they would have no time to let dough mixed with yeast to rise, so they were mandated to eat bread that contained no yeast whatsoever. In addition, yeast caused fermentation, a kind of decay, which was highly inappropriate for such a sacred meal.
- Bitter herbs were thought to ward off evil, just as later folklore held that garlic warded off evil—and even vampires. The bitter herbs, then, may have been included in the meal to ward off the evils occurring around them on that first Passover night (the killing of first-born children). Later Jewish tradition speaks of the bitter herbs as a symbol of the bitterness of Egyptian slavery.
- Since all this food was so special and meant as a reminder of how God had freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, it should not be eaten at any other time. Consequently, any leftovers were to be burned before sunrise.
The Israelites are told to kill the lamb at sundown and to brush its blood on their doorways. Why? The LORD surely didn’t need to see blood on the door to know where the Israelites lived. Did the blood serve as some kind of symbol for later Jews when they recalled the story of the exodus each Passover? And why paint the blood on the doorways? Scholars have to guess at the answers. We’re allowed to guess, too.
God tells Moses that the Israelites should eat the Passover meal in a hurry. They should be dressed and ready to go, sandals on feet and staff in hand. At future Passover celebrations, this image would evoke memories of the original event, recalling that leaving Egypt was dangerous and warranted no delay. But God also tells Moses that anyone who eats bread baked with yeast while celebrating the Passover should be cut off (excommunicated). Why do you think God wanted this?
After instructing Moses and Aaron about the new Passover Festival, God reminds them that he will kill all of Egypt’s first born, adding: “This is how I’ll condemn all the gods these people worship” (Exodus 12:12). If the LORD intends to condemn these Egyptian gods, does this mean that those gods actually existed? Or might it mean something else? Consider the following possibilities and explain which, if any, you favor:
- The Israelites believed in the Egyptian gods and goddesses in addition to the LORD.
- The so-called gods are lifeless stone idols, which the LORD means to smash.
- The LORD will humiliate the Egyptians by having his way with Egypt and the Egyptians with no opposition from any of their imagined gods and goddesses.
- This text does not really mean to predict that God will actually judge and condemn the Egyptian deities. It is intended to point out where true power lies—in the LORD, not in the Egyptian gods and goddesses, who cannot stop a single one of his plagues.
Although God had said that he personally would go throughout Egypt, taking the lives of the first-born, some readers prefer to think that he had sent an ‘angel of death’ to do the job. Exodus 12:13 tells us that God says: “I will travel throughout Egypt. I will kill every mother’s first child.” On the other hand, God says that when he sees a house with blood on the doorframe, he will pass over that house and mashit will not enter it. The Hebrew word mashit, could refer to death, a sickness, or a personified being, like the angel of death. Do you think that God was personally killing the Egyptians and sparing the Israelites? Or was he directing some sort of angel of death?
After telling the Israelites that he will spare them on that dreadful night when the first-born of all the Egyptians will die while they eat a meal of roasted lamb and yeast-free bread, he mandates that in the future they celebrate that day as a festival and eat yeast-free bread for seven days. Some Bible scholars say they believe that two feasts are being discussed here, Passover, which commemorates the eating of the lamb and so was considered a celebration for herders, and the Feast of Yeast-free Bread, a seven-day festival that concentrates on the bread and so was an agricultural celebration. Others say that only a single festival is being discussed, starting with the Passover meal and continuing for a week, during which no yeast is to be eaten. Do you think it makes any difference which theory is right?
LIFE APPLICATION. Like the Israelites, we often celebrate the anniversaries of gigantic moments that have touched our lives with some sort of celebration or memorial. Birthday parties are the obvious examples. Memorials for people we loved who were killed in an air crash might be another. Then there are the memorial services in which we remember the people killed in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. What’s your calendar like? Are there any events in a year’s time that are especially important to you, when it comes to remembering someone who made a difference in your life?