Read the Passage: Exodus 12
During the enactment of the ninth plague, which entailed three days of darkness, (cf. Exod. 10:21–29) Pharaoh had offered to let Israel depart to worship, if they left their flocks and herds behind. Yet, Moses rejected this offer. This, in turn, led to the announcement, by God, of the tenth and final plague; which was to include the death of the firstborn in all of Egypt (cf. Exod. 11:4–8). Practically speaking, it was the tenth plague that prompted the institution of the Passover. This feast, which God specified was to mark the beginning of the Jewish year, involved the selection of a lamb “without blemish, a male of the first year” (Exod. 12:5) to be sacrificed. The selection was to be made on the tenth of the month of Abib, which was during springtime, sometime between late March and early April. The lamb was then slain on the fourteenth of the month and its blood put on the doorposts of every Jewish home.
For later readers of Bible the parallels between the Passover and Jesus’ death on the cross are evident, including: the lamb’s purity, its gender, the emphasis on its blood, the consuming of the lamb (which parallels the Lord’s Supper), the deliverance provided, and even the timing of the sacrifice, among other parallels. Consider the following New Testament verses, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29), “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7), and “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet. 1:18–19).
After revealing what animal to select for the Passover, when to slay it, and what to do with the animal’s blood, in Exod. 12:9–11 the Lord gave further instructions that related to the observance of the Passover meal. Several observations about this passage are in order. First, the reference to roasting the animal pointed toward observing the Passover with speed, as roasting was the quickest method of preparing the lamb. Further, roasting distinguished God’s people from non-Jews, who sometimes ate meat raw. Second, as with the later precepts about avoiding yeast (cf. Exod. 12:15), the instruction about eating the entire animal speaks to avoiding decay and corruption. It also pointed towards God’s provision of future meals. Third, the directives concerning one’s clothing address observing the Passover with expectation, readiness, and haste.
In Exod. 12:12–14 God identifies three separate purposes for the Passover event. First, as was the case with all of the plagues God inflicted upon Egypt, the tenth plague that preceded the Passover was directed towards “all the gods of Egypt” (Exod. 12:12; cf. Num. 33:4). In short, each of the ten plagues was an attack upon specific Egyptian deities and the plagues collectively demonstrated the impotence of Egyptian religion. Second, at Exod. 12:13 God is clear that the blood He had previously specified be put on the Israelites’ door posts (cf. Exod. 12:7) was symbolic and would result in God passing over their homes when He struck the land of Egypt with death. This is an important teaching, for it shows the figurative nature of the Passover. Third, God Himself teaches that the Passover meal was “a memorial . . . throughout all your generations” (Exod. 12:14).
In Exod. 12:15–20 the Lord explains that the Passover is to be immediately followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This feast became one of the major Jewish holidays, and one of the three main feasts—the other two being Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles—on which Jewish males were required to travel to Jerusalem (cf. Exod. 23:14–19). The Feast of Unleavened Bread pictured the Israelites’ hasty flight from Egypt after the Passover event. Like the Passover, then, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was symbolic in nature. Note that twice in this passage God specified that anyone who transgressed the regulations related to this holiday “shall be cut off from Israel . . . shall be cut off from the congregation” (Exod. 12:15, 19). It is also significant that God required all foreigners to participate in this feast (cf. Exod. 12:19), which anticipates the breadth of the His plan of deliverance.
- What is the Passover feast? Is the Passover merely a commemorative Jewish holiday or something about which Christians should be concerned?
- What symbolism can you draw between the Passover event and the death of Christ in order to provide salvation (cf. John 5:46; Heb. 7:26)?
- What parallels, if any, are there between the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper (cf. Matt. 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25; John 6:51–57)?
- How important is attitude in relation to worship? Do most Christians worship with care, purpose, and expectation?
- Do you think the Israelites understood the prophetic significance of the Passover meal? How important was faith in celebrating the Passover?