DIG: Why was the blood a good symbol of death in this passage? God surely could have accomplished the exodus without the death of all the firstborn of Egypt. So why do you think He chose to do it that way? In what sense was this a judgment on all the gods of Egypt? What influence was the Passover to have on Pharaoh? On the Hebrews? On the Egyptians? On future Israelites? On us today? Do you think it succeeded?
REFLECT: What are the gods of your culture? Do you believe that the God of Israel is more powerful than they are? How does He show you His amazing power today? How does this passage help you to see the purpose for Christ’s shed blood and death?
Previously, ADONAI told Moses and Aaron that every firstborn son in Egypt would die (11:5a). Notice He did not say every firstborn of Egypt, but every firstborn in Egypt. The Divine sentence of judgment would fall upon both Egyptians and Israelites because both were sinners in nature and practice. Justice had to be satisfied. Yet we are told several verses later that God made a distinction between Egypt and Israel (11:7). And that distinction was His grace. All the firstborn in Egypt died, and yet the firstborn of Israel were delivered from the destroyer by means of a substitute. The sentence of death was satisfied, but it fell upon an innocent lamb.
Thus, the distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites was not a moral one, but was made solely by the blood of the lamb. It was in the blood that love and faithfulness meet together, and righteousness and peace kiss each other (Psalm 85:10). The whole value of the blood of the Passover lamb lay in its being a type of Christ, because Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed for us (First Corinthians 5:6).194
God spoke to Moses and Aaron in Egypt (12:1). Not every commandment governing the religious activities of the Israelites would be given at Mount Sinai. They were not a lawless people before then because the instructions concerning the Passover were given in Egypt. It is interesting that the commandments given at Mount Sinai rarely deal with any of the details of the Passover (except for Deuteronomy 16) because those instructions had already been established beforehand in Egypt.
Since the exodus from Egypt would trigger the start of a whole new way of life for the people of Israel, God gave them a brand new monthly calendar to symbolize their new beginning. He commanded: This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year (12:2), and would be in the spring, roughly equivalent to the thirty days from mid-March to mid-April. Before the Babylonian captivity this month was called Abib (Exodus 13:4, 23:15, 34:18; Deuteronomy 16:1), which means young head of grain, and reflects the fresh, life-giving nature of springtime. But after Israel was taken into captivity, four of the twelve Hebrew months were given Babylonian names, and Abib was changed to Nisan (Nehemiah 2:1; Esther 3:7). Nevertheless, the start of Israel’s religious calendar with the institution of the Passover did not eliminate her civil or agricultural calendar that began in the fall at the end of the harvest season (23:16). Both calendars existed side by side until after the Babylonian captivity (or 586 BC), but today Judaism only uses the civil calendar because, for the most part, it is not a religious nation anymore.
God, however, chose the spring for the time of the exodus because it symbolized new life and budding growth. It therefore became the time for Israel’s national redemption from Egyptian slavery. The spring, or the month of Nisan, was an equally suitable time for the resurrection of the Christ. His birth also started a new religious calendar (this time a weekly calendar) by moving the Sabbath from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; First Corinthians 16:2), also called the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10).195
This is the first reference in the Scriptures to the whole community, or congregation of Israel. The word ‘dh, or congregation, means a gathering and suggests a new beginning. God commanded: Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household (12:3). It is estimated that there were about 275,000 lambs sacrificed for the Passover just before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. From historical records we learn that there was to be one lamb for no less than ten people and no more than twenty people. So that meant that there were about two and a half million Jews celebrating the Passover at that time. The tenth day of the first month would become an important day. Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is celebrated on that day (Leviticus 23:27), and the nation of Israel crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land on the tenth day of the first month (Joshua 4:19). Christ rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey on Monday, the tenth of Nissan. For four days, from Monday through Thursday, He was tested by the Pharisees and Sadducees and found to be without defect or blemish. Thus qualifying Him to be the Passover Lamb.
If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. This verse does not say anything about the lamb being too little for the household. That would never happen because the lamb was sufficient. It was possible, however, for the household to be too little for the lamb. You are to determine that amount of lamb needed accordance with what each person will eat (12:4). I believe what we see here is God revealing His method of salvation. It was personal. Take, for example, the account of the Philippian jailer and the salvation of his household as told in the Book of Acts. His family was not saved because the jailer believed, but because each member of his family made a personal decision to partake of the Lamb. That was true on the Egyptian Passover (see Bv - The Egyptian Passover). Each member had to exhibit faith in that way . . . Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved – you and your household (Acts 16:31). Now that didn’t mean that if he believed, his whole family would be saved. No! Each person had to participate, partake and obey in order to come in under the protection and redemption of the blood of the lamb that was out on the doorframe.196
The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect (also see Leviticus 22:18-25), and you may take them from the sheep or the goats (12:5). Nothing but a perfect sacrifice could satisfy the requirements of God, who Himself is perfect. One who was sinful could not make atonement for sinners. And where was such a sacrifice to be found? Certainly not among the sons of men. None but the Son of God would do.197 Isaiah used the imagery of the sacrificial lamb to picture the work of the coming Messiah. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth (Isaiah 53:7). Later, the Apostle Peter would also remind us that Christ, the lamb without spot or blemish, was sacrificed for us (First Peter 1:19).
The Passover lamb was to be slaughtered at twilight. Death would be executed upon the guilty sinner or upon the innocent substitute. Each family was to carefully test the lamb by searching for any defect during the four days before the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them simultaneously at twilight (12:6). The sacrifice was, and continues to be, a unified act of worship. The Jewish day does not start at midnight, but at twilight or sundown. We must remember that the Jewish way of reckoning time is different than ours. The Jewish day starts at sunset. In other words, the evening precedes the day. The Hebrew word twilight literally means, between the two evenings. Messiah died at twilight between the fourteenth and fifteenth of Nissan, which was the Sabbath.
Then ADONAI described how to observe the Passover. Then, after slaughtering the lamb at their doorways, they were to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and top of the doorframes of their houses (12:7). Literally, there was blood everywhere outside the door. How marvelously this pictured Messiah on the cross; blood above, where the thorns pierced His brow, blood on the sides, from His nail-pierced hands, and blood below, from His nail-pierced feet.198 God would then pass over the houses marked with the blood, and those of faith would be saved. They kept the Passover by the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel (Hebrews 11:28). Redemption, including the forgiveness of sin, takes place only when the blood of an innocent offering is shed (Hebrews 9:22; First John 1:7).
That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, because fire spoke of judgment. Sin must be judged. They were to eat the meat along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast (12:8). Although the main course in the Passover meal was lamb (roasted according to the method used by wandering shepherds), other items were to be included also. Unleavened bread, or matsah, was also to be eaten at the Passover meal. It signified the Hebrews’ quick exodus from Egypt. They did not have time to allow the bread to rise, so they carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing (12:34).199 Bitter herbs (Numbers 9:11) such as endive, chicory and other plants with a bitter taste are native to Egypt, and eating them would remind the Israelites of their bitter experience there (Exodus 1:14).200 They were not to eat the meat raw because the fire spoke of the judgment of sin. When a person comes to Christ, the Messiah, he or she comes as a sinner. They were not to eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roasted over the fire, head, legs and inner parts. No parts were to be withheld from the fire. ADONAI said: Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left in the morning you must burn it (12:9-10). The total consumption of the lamb points to the completeness and effectiveness of Messiah’s sacrifice.
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 in readiness for driving their beasts of burden out of Egypt. Eat it in haste. In Hebrew, the word in haste, does not only mean quickly, but it also conveys a great sense of alarm, fear or danger. In subsequent Passovers they would eat it reclining on pillows and eating on low Passover tables. But the Egyptian Passover was to be eaten in haste because they would have to suddenly leave the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 16:3). The Hebrew word for the Passover is pesah, and this is the first time it is used in the Bible. The Passover was not primarily about the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, nor was it mainly about the humiliation of Pharaoh and Egypt. Rather, its essential purpose was the glorification and exaltation of the LORD. It is ADONAI’s Passover (12:11), because as He Himself had told Abraham: God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering (Genesis 22:8).
The term Passover is used in three different ways throughout the Scriptures. First, it describes the entire festival because the tenth plague passed over the Jewish homes (12:13 and 27). A second usage describes the Passover lamb itself (12:21, 27; Second Chronicles 35:1, 6 and 13; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7). Thirdly, the term Passover describes a meal (Matthew 26:17, 19; Mark 14:12, 14-16; Luke 22:8 and 13).
The rabbis teach that almost every major event in Israel’s history happened on the Passover. God is considered to have revealed His future plans to Abraham on the Passover. Abraham is regarded as having entertained his heavenly guests near the great trees of Mamre on the Passover. Sodom is believed to have been destroyed following the Passover. Jericho is thought to have fallen on the Passover. And the handwriting on the wall of King Belshazzar, in the time of Daniel, is believed to have been written on the Passover.
For Israel, the decision was clear, it was kill or be killed. God continued: On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn – both men and animals – and I will bring judgment on all the false gods of Egypt (Numbers 33:4), many of whom had already been judged individually by the previous nine plagues. I am ADONAI (12:12). After hearing what God had done to the Egyptians, Moses’ father-in-law, Reuel, would confess his belief that God was supreme over all other gods (18:11). The spiritual contest was about to reach its climax.
Since the death of the firstborn involved both men and animals, it is quite apparent that it had far reaching religious and theological implications. The firstborn of Pharaoh was not only his successor to the throne, but by the act of the gods of Egypt was a specially born son having divine property. Egyptian gods associated with the birth of children would certainly have been involved in a plague of this nature. These included Min, the god of procreation and reproduction, along with Isis who symbolized the power of reproduction. Since Hathor was not only a goddess of love but also one of the seven deities who attended the birth of children, she, too, would be implicated in the disaster of this plague. From excavations we already have learned of the tremendous importance of the Apis bull, a firstborn animal and one revered in a very special way. The death of this animal would have tremendous theological impact on the temple priests as well as the common people who witnessed this tragic event. The death cry which was heard throughout Egypt was not only a wail that bemoaned the loss of a son or precious animal, but also the incapability of the many gods of Egypt to respond and protect them from such tragedy.201
The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. Thus, the name Passover. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt (12:13). When the executioner of God’s judgment saw the blood upon the houses of the Israelites, he did not enter. Why? Because death had already done its work there! The innocent had died in the place of the guilty, and thus justice was satisfied. So God’s eye was not upon the house, but upon the blood.202 The blood was merely an outward symbol of an inward faith. They kept the Passover by the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel (Hebrews 11:28). We all must remember that redemption, including the forgiveness of sin, takes place only when the blood of an innocent offering is shed (Hebrews 9:22; First John 1:7). Just as the lamb was substituted for the first-born, thus protecting him from death, so the Lamb of God would some day die in place of all sinners, thus providing escape from the judgment of God.203
The Israelites were not saved because they were descendants of Abraham. If the Egyptians had obeyed God’s command, they, too, would have been saved. ADONAI said: When I see the blood, I will pass over you. No one was saved at that time because they were doing the best they could, or because they were honest, or because they were a good person. God said: When I see the blood, I will pass over you. The Death Angel was not making a survey of the neighborhood. The Hebrews were not supposed to open the window to their house and tell the Death Angel how good they were and how much charity work they had done. Anyone sticking his or her neck out of a window that night would have died. ADONAI said: When I see the blood, I will pass over you. Nothing needed to be added. Who was saved that night? Those who believed in, trusted in, or had faith in the blood. Although I do not completely understand it, I believe what God says, and He tells me that the shed blood of Christ, or the Messiah, will save me. Nothing else will.204
During the many years of Jewish history since the Egyptian Passover, the rabbis have added many other things to it, which unknowingly point to the Messiah. In later generations the Maggid, or the telling of the exodus story, would be added to the Passover ceremony. On this night, every adult will drink four cups of red fermented wine and every cup has its own name. The first cup is the cup of blessing, with which the ceremony begins. Then they drink the second cup, which is called the cup of plagues. As each of the ten plagues are read, a drop of wine is poured out from the cup. Then they eat their Passover meal.
When the Temple at Jerusalem was built, the Passover meal centered on a lamb that was no longer slaughtered at home, but in the Temple Court. However, when the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 AD, the rabbis taught that it was no longer possible to offer the lamb as a sacrifice, so they replaced sacrifice with prayer. Thus, sacrificing a lamb is forbidden today, and, as a form of mourning over the destruction of the Temple, most Jews substitute chicken or some other kind of kosher meat. After the Passover meal they drink the cup of redemption, symbolizing the physical redemption of Israel from Egypt achieved by the means of the shedding of the blood of the Passover lamb. Lastly, they drink the cup of praise and sing Psalm 113-118.205
This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to ADONAI – a lasting ordinance (12:14). The feast of the Passover would last one day, and that was followed immediately by the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Since festivals were back to back, there was actually eight days of celebration. Nothing that contained yeast could be eaten during that period.
While the Passover itself was fulfilled by the death of the Messiah, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was fulfilled by the sinlessness of His blood-offering (Hebrews 9:11-10:18). In the Hebrews passage, His offering of sinless blood was for three things: first, it was for the cleansing of the heavenly Tabernacle, secondly, for the removal of the sins of the righteous of the Old Covenant and thirdly, for the application of the blood to the New Covenant believers.206
Whenever the word yeast is used symbolically in the Bible, it is always a symbol of sin (Matthew 16:5-6, 11-12; Mark 8:14-15; Luke 12:1; First Corinthians 5:6-8). That is why the LORD would not even allow this symbol of sin to be eaten by the Jewish people during this period or to have it in their houses or to have it anywhere in the land of Israel. For seven days, from the fifteenth to the twenty-first, 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 the people of Israel (12:15). Being cut off from the people meant no longer being a member of the covenant community of Israel or receiving any of the blessings associated with its membership. The person was simply denied fellowship or access to the Tabernacle or Temple in later times. This was a deadly consequence. Jesus, however, was without sin. For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). And when John the Baptist first saw Jesus he announced: Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29, 35).
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 (12:16). So the first and seventh days were especially sacred. Today, Jews do not work the first day, or the seventh day of this Feast of Unleavened Bread, but they do work the five days in between. But even though they work during the five days, they do not eat anything with yeast in it during that period of time.
Celebrate, literally guard, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. When the Israelites were led out of bondage in Egypt, ADONAI did not allow them to take any leavened bread (with yeast in it) with them, symbolically representing His intention that the people were not to take any influence of pagan Egypt with them into the Promised Land. Israel was to start life anew, with no contaminating influence from the wicked, ungodly land of her oppression.207
Although the Passover itself was observed in Egypt, the exodus occurred on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Therefore, God said: Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. The verb I brought is in the perfect tense and signifies completed or imminent action. Because God spoke these words, they would surely come to pass.208 Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come (12:17). These words are also seen in 12:14, and highlight the importance of the Passover for future generations.
During that entire week they were to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day (12:18). The eating of unleavened bread began on the evening of the fourteenth day with the Passover. Days that are sacred and set apart for the LORD always began and ended at sundown in the evening. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your Sabbath (Leviticus 23:32). This probably came from the creation week where the days started in the evening: And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day (Genesis 1:5).
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 (12:19). An alien was someone who had taken up permanent residence in Israel, but was not a Jew. In Israel, the alien could participate in religious activities if he was circumcised. Without this physical sign, he could not participate in the festival. Then a final reminder: Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread (12:20).
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2015