The First Passover: An Exposition of Exodus 12:1-14
The Passover is a special day for the Jewish people. Even secular Jews celebrate it. It serves a purpose similar to Independence Day in the US or Cinco de Mayo in Latin and South America. The Children of Israel had served as slaves in Egypt for a long time. They had been subject to cruel hardships by Pharaoh. God heard their cries, and prepared Moses to be His agent in freeing Israel from Egypt. It took a total of 80 years to prepare Moses. During this time, Israel groaned. 80 years is a long time to wait, on top of the years they had already slaved. Why didn’t God at least intervene 40 years earlier when Moses slew the Egyptian? We must understand that God is God. As God, He chooses the time, place and means of executing His will. What is important is that God’s timing is always right. There was a purpose for the suffering of Israel.
After Yahweh called Moses at the burning bush to be His means of liberating Israel, they still had to wait. He and the elders were ordered to appear before Pharaoh and demand in the LORD’s name to let the Children of Israel go. The LORD knew that Pharaoh would rejects such a request. There would be a series of plagues sent upon Egypt to prepare the way for Israel’s liberation. The LORD could have intervened at any time during this process and delivered Israel at that point. The God who can turn the Nile into blood could have destroyed Egypt in a moment of time and liberated His people. But the LORD did not at this was not the hour he had appointed. Israel had to suffer along with the Egyptians for the first plagues before God made a distinction between the Egyptians and His people.
The hour of liberation had arrived for Israel. The tenth plague was about to happen. God was going to slay all the firstborn of Egypt. This was an act of extreme judgment as the firstborn son was held in much higher regard than all the other children. None of the firstborn were to be spared, from the house of Pharaoh down to the lowest peasant. Any Israelite who did not obey the instructions given to Moses and take hyssop dipped in the blood of the Passover lamb and apply it to the lintel and doorposts would die along with the Egyptians. In other words, by the Israelites obeying, they demonstrated their faith in Yahweh the Savior. This might be speculation, but what if some of the Egyptians did likewise. Yahweh would make an Israelite out of Rahab. Could he do so from believing Egyptians?
Yahweh called Israel to be distinct from the nations. Part of this distinction shows up in the first verse of this text. The time of Passover was to serve as New Year’s to Israel, The Babylonian New Year was six months later. This first of months was as remote as the world’s first month. It is odd that the Jews now celebrate Rosh Hashana (Head of the Year) around October. This seems conflicted with this verse. But we too are just as conflicted. We try to be Christians and serve mammon at the same time. Yahweh seems to have accommodated somewhat to this as Yom Kippur, the day of atonement is in the fall. But for Christians, the Day of Atonement is Passover where the blood of Jesus was poured out on the cross.
Each household was to take a yearling lamb or goat. It is interesting that goats are mentioned here. Lambs are symbolic of innocence, whereas goats are symbolic of mischief. These serve as a sorting of saint and sinner. It is interesting that either would serve for Passover. Perhaps this is symbolic of us Christians. As Luther puts it: “Simultaneously saint and sinner.” Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God dies as the scapegoat. The one who knew no sin became sin for us.
The lamb or goat was to be selected on the 10th day of the month and kept. It was to be spotless. If one follows the chronology of Holy Week, one sees that this day would be Palm Sunday. There are a lot of similarities between the first Passover and the Christian Passover.
Passover was a family celebration. If the family unit was too small, then two families could go together on the lamb or goat. Jesus would have celebrated Passover every year with His earthly family. He had many brothers and sisters, so they together made a family unit large enough to eat the entire lamb. When Joseph his father died, Jesus as the firstborn would have assumed the office as head of the family and thus, the Passover feast. What we find interesting is at the table of the Lord’s Supper, which was the Passover feast, Jesus appears as the head of a new family, His disciples. It is possible that some of his earthly family might have been there, but if they were, they are not mentioned. The Gospels tell us that his earthly family were not believers until after the resurrection. The exception to this is his mother.
Another interesting aspect of the first Passover is that the lamb was to be roasted and eaten whole. This would include parts of the animal which were forbidden by Jewish dietary law. Organ meat was to be roasted and eaten too. All of it was to be eaten. If anything was left, it was to be burnt. It could be said that the haste in which the Passover was to be eaten precluded the leavening of bread and proper preparation of the lamb. But this haste is symbolic. The lamb was penned up for four days. One could have prepared it earlier in the day and not at evening. But God knew that Jesus, His Son, would die on Passover at the time of the evening sacrifice some 1500 years late. The haste is also shown in that they stood for the first Passover with staff in hand. They were to leave in haste.
The LORD told Moses and Israel that He would that night slay the firstborn of Egypt. Even their beasts would suffer. Their gods would be humiliated. Then He lets them know when He came to a house with the blood applied, He would pass over. This verse has been included into a Christian song “When I See the Blood.” We realize as Christians that this first Passover points to an even greater Passover. I speculated that Egyptians who believed what Yahweh said, slew a lamb and applied the blood to the doors might have been saved. The fact such a large number passed over might include believing Egyptians. We must be careful about speculation. But the Second Passover explicitly includes all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile. The new Passover table includes all who will come in faith.
Besides all of the Christological typology in which the first Passover serves as a type of a greater Passover, we need to also look again at the idea of identity. Our conduct and worldview needs to be 180 degrees out of the world’s. We are members of God’s family. When we take the cup and the bread, we acknowledge this relationship. We need to be able to relate the story. At the Jewish Passover feast, the host would ask the youngest: “Why is this day the most important of the year?” When we celebrate the LORD’s Supper, we are told to remember. We remember what Jesus did for us. We also remember that He promised to drink the Passover with them again at the marriage feast.
The Church awaits its final redemption when the Lord comes and leads us into the expression of the Kingdom of God in glory, when we shall be forever free from slavery to this world. This day will come suddenly but not necessarily soon. We groan in our bondage, and the Spirit groans with us in prayer. We shall leave in haste, but we do not know when. We want to substitute our timing for God’s. We want liberation now. All to often, we try to hurry things up, thinking it is up to us. We are tempted to slay the Egyptians who afflict us or our brethren. But this is not God’s way of doing things. All we do when we take matters in our own hands it to make our bondage worse. Moses tried that, and the bondage continued for 40 more years. There is a purpose for our suffering.
Just because we have not yet arrived in the Kingdom of God in glory, we who believe have a reservation. But we are still in the Kingdom of God, even now, if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Kingdom right now is in the realm of the Cross. The theology of glory will come in god’s time. But for now it is the kingdom of the cross. Some have waited far longer for this day than we have. The First Passover did not fulfill the liberation of Israel in the fuller sense. Rather in pointed centuries ahead to the Passover of Christ. People in the Old Testament days waited for that day in faith. We by faith rejoice that that day came as well as anticipating the return of Jesus Christ. The days are hastening on. Our final deliverance is nearer than when we first believed. So let us not grow faint under our burdens. Instead of asking the Egyptians for their gold and silver, let us offer the world a far greater treasure than what the world can offer. The riches of Egypt will disappoint. It will become a snare. Riches of Egypt became a snare which causes strife between Abraham and Lot. The Israelites would stumble and make a golden calf. We are pilgrims and strangers in this life. The Lord does provide us our daily bread. He provides periods of rest for our weary bodies. But we look for a better Canaan, a better Sabbath and rejoice in the better Passover. Thanks be to God!
For those who would like further information of the typology of Passover, you might want to look at the work of Ray Vanderlaan in his “That the world might Know” series available from Focus on the Family or Zondervan.