THE PENTATEUCH PART II: EXODUS
Lesson 7:
Exodus chapters 12:21-13:22
The Death of the Firstborn and the Israelites' Flight out of Egypt

Yahweh: God of Justice,
Through nine mighty plague judgments and nine merciful acts of redemption You revealed Yourself to the Egyptians and the Israelites. But the Pharaoh's refusal to see Moses again brought an end to the cycle of Plague Judgments and the call to repentance in the warning of the final plague. At midnight during the first full moon after the spring equinox, final judgment came upon the proud Egyptians and their false gods when You struck down the first-born sons of Egypt, from the heir of the Pharaoh to the first-born son of the lowly slave and prisoner together with the death of the first-born of the cattle. You told Moses that these mighty acts were to be a warning for future generations (Ex 10:2). Open the ears of this generation, Lord, that we may hear the warning. You are just and You are merciful, but Your justice cannot permit the unrepentant guilty to go unpunished for their sins. While there is still time, Lord, make us messengers of Your call to repentance and salvation before the midnight of judgment calls all men and women to account before Your holy throne. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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He turned their rivers to blood, and killed all the fish in them. Their country was overrun with frogs, even in the royal apartments; at his word came flies, and mosquitoes throughout the country. He gave them hail as their rain, flames of fire in their land; he blasted their vine and their fig tree, and shattered the trees of the country. At his word came locusts, hoppers beyond all counting; they devoured every green thing in the land, devoured all the produce of the soil. He struck all the first-born in their land, the flower of all their manhood; he led Israel out with silver and gold; in their tribes there was none who stumbled. Psalm 105:29-37

After Moses warned Pharaoh of the impending disaster of the final plague, Yahweh instructed Moses on the plan of salvation for the Israelites. On the tenth day of the month they were to selected an unblemished yearling lamb or kid from the flock, they were to keep the animal for five days, and they were to slaughter the innocent victim on the 14th day of the lunar month of Abib. That night, under a full moon and safe within houses whose doors were sealed with the sign of the saving blood of the Passover victim, they were to eat the sacred meal of the roasted meat of the animal with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. For seven consecutive days, from the 15th to the 21st of Abib, the children of Israel were commended to eat unleavened bread as part of the observance of a feast to be commemorated in all generations. The future generations of the descendants of the Israelites who experienced the plague judgments and the Exodus experience were commanded to relive the same events as though they personally experienced the terrible night of the death of Egypt's first-born, the redemption of Israel's first-born and the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage the next day (Ex 12:24-27; 13:8-10).

The continued commemoration of the Passover sacrifice and the sacred meal of the Passover victim in a feast designated the Feast of Unleavened Bread was so important that Yahweh gave Moses additional instructions for future generations as the Israelites prepared to depart Egypt (Ex 12:43-51; 13:3-10). The ten commands and ten prohibitions for the observance of the Passover sacrifice and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are listed in the Appendix.

Some of the commands for the first Passover event were not observed after Israel occupied the Promised Land of Canaan:

  1. At some time the selection of the lamb or kid five days before the sacrifice was not universally observed. The excuse was that this command became difficult when the covenant people were living in different parts of the world and were able to return to Jerusalem just prior to the feast day.
  2. Sacrificing the victim in front of the homes and applying its blood on the doorway. With the building of the desert Tabernacle and later the Jerusalem Temple, all sacrifices were to take place at Yahweh's altar.
  3. Eating the meal in haste and being ready to make a journey was no longer necessary after the exodus from Egypt.

In the first Passover the people gathered together to perform the sacrifices of the lambs and kids for each household, performing the sacrifice in front of the doorway of each home. But after the covenant formation at Sinai it was forbidden to offer any sacrifice apart from the direction of the priests at the Tabernacle (Lev 17:1-6; Dt 12:11; 16:5-6) and later the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Chr 35:1-11). To sacrifice the Passover victims at the Temple and then to take the body of the animal to the place where the meal was to be eaten became the accepted practice which was also observed in Jesus' time (Lk 22:1-38).(1) It should be noted that although many of the covenant people no longer kept the command to select the Passover victim on the 10th of Abib/Nisan, Jesus kept this observance when He rode into Jerusalem on the 10th of Nisan in the spring of 30 AD to offer Himself as the unblemished Lamb of God (Jn 12:1-2, 12).

In addition to the first Passover in Egypt eight other Passovers are mentioned in Sacred Scripture:

List of other Passovers Mentioned in the Bible Scriptures Passages
1. The observance of the Passover at Sinai before beginning the journey to Canaan. Numbers 9:1- 5
2. The observance of Passover and Unleavened Bread after crossing the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land. Joshua 5:10-12
3. The Passover and Unleavened Bread feasts after King Hezekiah of Judah instituted religious reforms. 2 Chronicles 30:1-27
4. The Passover and Unleavened Bread feasts after the religious reforms of King Josiah of Judah. 2 Kings 23:21-23;
2 Chronicles 35:1, 18-19
5. The celebration of the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread after Israel's return from the Babylonian exile. Ezra 6:19-22
6. The Passover when Jesus began His ministry and cleansed the Jerusalem Temple. John 2:13-22
7. The second year of Jesus' ministry when He fed the 5 thousand men on their way to Jerusalem for Passover. John 6:1-15
8. The Passover in the third year of Jesus' ministry when Jesus instituted the Eucharist during the sacred feast of the Passover victim on the first night of Unleavened Bread. Matthew 26:17-29
Mark 14:12-25
Luke 22:7-20
M. Hunt copyright 2009 www.AgapeBibleStudy.com

Each of these Passovers marked an important turning point in the progress of God's plan of salvation for His covenant people.

From Exodus 12:1 through 13:10 ten commands and ten prohibitions are given concerning observance of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For a list of the commands and prohibitions please see the appendix to this lesson.

Please read Exodus 12:21-28: Moses' Instructions to the People 12:21Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, Go and choose a lamb or kid for your families, and kill the Passover victim. 22Then take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin [saph = also threshold], and with the blood from the basin touch the lintel and both door-posts; then let none of you venture out of the house till morning. 23Then, when Yahweh goes through [passes over] Egypt to strike it, and sees the blood on the lintel and on both door-posts, he will pass over the door and not allow the Destroyer to enter your homes and strike. 24You will observe this as a decree binding you and your children for all time, 25and when you have entered the country which Yahweh will give you, as he has promised, you will observe this ritual. 26And when your children ask you, What does this ritual mean? 27you will tell them, It is the Passover sacrifice in honor of Yahweh who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, and struck Egypt but spared our houses. 28And the people bowed in worship. The Israelites then went away and did as Yahweh had ordered Moses and Aaron.
[..] = literal translation (Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, page 172).

In Exodus 12:22 the word saph/caph [pronounced saf ] can be a basin holding blood or a threshold/doorsill, as the word is translated in the Septuagint and as the same word is used in Judg 19:27; Is 6:4; Ez 41:16; 43:8; 2 Chr 3:7; 1 Kng 14:17; Amos 9:1; etc.. (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon, page 706). In the context of the passage it makes sense that the animal was to be sacrificed in front of the door, at the threshold.

The word translated Passover is the Hebrew word pesah (p-s-h). It has produced the English adjective paschal as a designation for both the Passover lamb and celebration of Easter (JPS Commentary, page 56; Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon, page 820). The etymology of the Hebrew word pesah, from the verb pasah, and translated is unknown. The word is from the Hebrew stem p-s-h and is repeated five times in this part of the narrative (Ex 12:11, 21, 27, 43 and 48). It is a word that is applied both to the slain Passover victim and the day of the sacrifice. An explanation is given three times in the text that God jumped over or passed-over or protected the Israelites (Ex 12:13, 23 and 27), but the meaning remains unclear. Used as a verb in those passages the word pasah has a deeper meaning than the concept of jumping over or passing over to avoid contact. It is not the common Hebrew verb that would be used to express such an idea (a-bhar or ga-bhar would normally be the word of choice), but used in these passages the word expresses a watchful and protective nature of God's passing over.

In the 1st century AD Flavius Josephus explained the Hebrew words pesah/pasah as God's merciful passing over the homes protected by the sign of the blood: Whence it is that we do still offer this sacrifice in like manner to this day, and call this festival Pascha (pesah), which signifies the feast of the Passover; because on that day God passed us over, and sent the plague upon the Egyptians... (Antiquities 2.14.6 [313]). But authors Ceil and Moshe Rosen suggest that the origin of the verb pasah and the noun pesah is not Hebrew, but Egyptian. They suggest that both the verb and the noun originate from the Egyptian word pesh which means to spread wings over to give protection (Christ in the Passover, page 22). This same sense of God's expression of protection over Israel under the sheltering wings of Almighty God is found in other Bible passages:

Notice that in Isaiah 31:5 the inspired writer uses the Hebrew verb p-s-h (pasch) in his imagery of God's protective wings over Jerusalem. The Jewish scholars who wrote The Jewish Study Bible include in their footnotes the belief that the etymology of the Hebrew word p-s-h (pasah) means protect and they point out this is supported by the context of Exodus 12:23 (page 126, note 13). Actually this interpretation compliments the theory that the origin of the word is the Egyptian word pesh, protective wings. The theory of the Egyptian origin of the Hebrew noun pesah is shared by scholar Arthur Pink in his book Gleanings in Exodus and by other biblical scholars.

Exodus 12:22-23: 22Then take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin [saph = also threshold], and with the blood from the basin touch the lintel and both door-posts; then let none of you venture out of the house till morning. 23Then, when Yahweh goes through [passes over] Egypt to strike it, and sees the blood on the lintel and on both door-posts, he will pass over the door and not allow the Destroyer to enter your homes and strike.

Question: After the animal was sacrificed in front of the doorway of their homes what did Moses command the people to do with the blood of the victim?

Answer: They were instructed to dip a hyssop branch in the blood at the threshold of the door and to apply the blood to the two door posts and the lintel above the doorway.

Three woody branches of hyssop made an ideal applicator for the blood. This plant is a relative of the marjoram plant. Hyssop is a multi stem plant with fuzzy gray leaves that can absorb liquids and is found growing among rocks. Later in the Law of the Sinai Covenant hyssop will be used:

The hyssop branches used the night of the first Passover was the Egyptian variety of this plant, Origanum aegyptiacum. When the Israelites practiced the liturgy of worship in the Promised Land the variety of hyssop they used was probably Syrian hyssop, Origanum syriacum (Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2, Flora, page 812; Davis, Studies in Exodus, page 151).

Question: Where was hyssop important in St. John's narrative of Christ's crucifixion? See John 19:9.

Answer: Hyssop was applied in the blood sacrifice of the Christ when the Roman gave Jesus a drink of wine using a hyssop branch just before Jesus gave up His life on the Cross.

Question: In the Egyptian Passover why was the application of the blood of the victim on the doors of the Israelite houses necessary? How was the doorway transformed? See Exodus 12:23 and Hebrews 11:28.

Answer: It was the only way to avoid destruction. Placing the blood around the doorway was an act of faith that provided a portal to salvation for those eating the sacred meal inside the house.

In Exodus 12:13 God told Moses that the blood surrounding the door way to the homes was to be a sign and when He saw the blood he would pass over and those inside would escape destruction. Moses repeated that promise to the people in Exodus 12:23.

Question: What was the sign the blood made that became a sign of salvation ? Hint: draw a doorway and using a red marker put a pool of blood in the threshold and then smears of blood on the two side posts on either side of the door and the lintel above the door. Now connect the blood and you will have the sign that protected the firstborn of Israel.

Answer: The firstborn were protected under the bloody sign of a cruciform or a cross from the lintel above the door to the threshold and from one side of the door to the other side.

Question: What did this sign prefigure?

Answer: The Cross of Jesus Christ whose precious blood was the sign of the portal to salvation for mankind. He was the Passover sacrifice that all other Passover sacrifices only prefigured.

Question: Why was this story to be repeated to every generation? Give two reasons.

Answer: The Passover redemption and the exodus out of Egypt was a defining moment in the history of the Israelites, but it also prefigured the coming redemption of the Messiah. If succeeding generations didn't know the story they would not be able to recognize the full significance of Jesus' acts of redemption during these very same feast days.

Please read Exodus 12:29-34: Death Strikes at Midnight: The Tenth Plague Judgment
12:29And at midnight Yahweh struck down all the first-born in Egypt from the first-born of Pharaoh, heir to his throne, to the first-born of the prisoner in the dungeon, and the first-born of all the livestock [behemoth = cattle]. 30Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up in the night, and there was great wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without its dead. 31It was still dark when Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, Up, leave my subjects, you and the Israelites! Go and worship Yahweh as you have asked! 32And take your flocks and herds as you have asked, and go! And bless me too!' 33The Egyptians urged the people on and hurried them out of the country because, they said, Otherwise we shall all be dead.' 34So the people carried off their dough still unleavened, their bowls wrapped in their cloaks, on their shoulders.

Question: When did the tenth plague strike the Egyptians? What prophecy was fulfilled? See Exodus 4:23.

Answer: At midnight. The fulfilled prophecy was what Yahweh told Moses in Exodus 4:23 when God said if Pharaoh did not let His firstborn son (Israel) go that He would put Pharaoh's firstborn son to death.

The vigil of the Passover reached its climax at midnight in the death of all firstborn sons and the firstborn of the cattle not protected under the sign of the blood of the Passover victim. According to Numbers 3:43, two years after the death of the firstborn of the Egyptians on the night of the 15th of Abib, the number of Israelite firstborn sons from the age of one month and older numbered 22, 273. This number is obviously slightly higher than the number of firstborn who were redeemed two years earlier the night of the tenth plague since there were probably more births than death in that two year period. One can only imagine the number of the Egyptian dead.

Exodus 12:31-32: 31It was still dark when Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, Up, leave my subjects, you and the Israelites! Go and worship Yahweh as you have asked! 32And take your flocks and herds as you have asked, and go! And bless me too!'

Question: How did the Pharaoh refer to Moses' people? How did Pharaoh refer to Moses' people previously? Why is the Pharaoh's reference to Moses' people in 12:31 noteworthy? See the use of Israel/Israelites in Exodus 1:1, 7; 6:14 and Hebrew/Hebrews in Exodus 1:15, 16, 19; 2:7, 11, 13; 3:18; 5:3; 7:16; 9:1, 13; 10:3.

Answer: Previously the Pharaoh only referred to Moses' people as Hebrews and in the narrative when referring to the people in their enslavement the term was also Hebrew/Hebrews, but now for the first time the Pharaoh calls them Israelites. The Pharaoh referring to the people as Israelites instead of Hebrews gives them status and recognition as a unified people and not just as Egyptian Hebrew slaves. The story of the subjugation of the descendants of Abraham that began in Exodus 1:1 by referring to them as Israelites now closes with the same designation.

Question: The Pharaoh no longer had the strength of will to try to compromise with Moses. What three statements did the Pharaoh make to Moses concerning the Israelites? What was the Pharaoh's odd final request?

Answer:

  1. Take all your people and go.
  2. Go to worship Yahweh as you have asked.
  3. Take your livestock.

He asked Moses to bless him.

The Pharaoh's final request is that of a broken man "to ask his enemy to bless him was an act of unconditional surrender. The Egyptian Pharaoh was a man whose proud and self-sufficient spirit died with his son and heir. This should have been the moment when he turned to Yahweh and renounced his false gods. It was for this moment of personal surrender that God had hardened his heart.

Exodus 12:33-34: 33The Egyptians urged the people on and hurried them out of the country because, they said, Otherwise we shall all be dead.' 34So the people carried off their dough still unleavened, their bowls wrapped in their cloaks, on their shoulders. Moses' mission to liberate the people was successful. The 15th of Abib was Independence Day for Israel, and it was also the beginning of the journey to holy nationhood that would be ratified at Sinai.

The sacrifice of the Passover victims and the story of the redemption of the descendants of Abraham foreshadowed a greater redemption story in salvation history. Biblical typology is The study of persons, places, events, and institutions in the Bible that foreshadow later and greater realities made known by God in history (Catholic Bible Dictionary, Scott Hahn editor, page 929).

Question: How is the Passover and feast of Unleavened Bread a type of Jesus Christ and His work of redemption in saving mankind from bondage to sin and death? List the typological links between the first Passover, Jesus' last week in Jerusalem, and His sacrificial death.

Answer:

Typology of the Passover in the Redeeming Work of Jesus Christ

Passover and Unleavened Bread

Jesus of Nazareth

The Passover victim was selected for sacrifice on the 10th of Abib/Nisan (Ex 12:3). Jesus rode into Jerusalem to keep the Passover on the 10th of Nisan; He was the Lamb selected for sacrifice (Jn 1:29; 12:1-2, 12-14).
The Passover victims were to be kept in the community for five days (Ex 12:3, 6).* For five days Jesus taught the community of Israel in the Temple (Mt 21-26:2).*
The blood of the Passover victim that was spread from the threshold of the doorways to the doorposts and lintel was a cross-shaped sign of the Israelites' firstborn redemption from death (Ex 12:13, 21-23). Jesus' blood on the Cross was the sign of man's redemption from sin and death (Acts 3:17-26).
Hyssop was used to put the blood on the door posts and lintels (Ex 12:22). Hyssop was used to give Jesus His last drink on the Cross (Jn 19:29).
No bones of the victim were to be broken (Ex 12:46). Jesus' bones were not broken like the men crucified with Him (Jn 19:32-36).
The Israelites were redeemed from slavery when they fled out of Egypt on the 15th of Abib/Nisan (Ex 12:29-42). Jesus gave up His life on the Cross, redeeming mankind from sin and death on the 15th of Nisan (Jn 18:28, 17-18).
Each Passover victim died so that the Israelites might live temporally. Jesus was the Passover victim who died so that mankind might live eternally.
The Passover victims were the food of the sacred feast which the Israelites ate so that they might live (Ex 12:8, 13). St. Paul identified Jesus as our Passover Lamb that we might celebrate the feast of the Eucharist (1 Cor 5:7-8) and eat Jesus' flesh that we might live (Jn 6:50-58).
As part of the covenant obligations the first Passover and sacred meal of the Passover victim was to be remembered and relived by every generation (Ex 12:14, 42). Jesus told the disciples to eat His Body and Blood and to "do this in remembrance of me," a command every generation of New Covenant believers must obey (Lk 22:19-20).
The sacrifice of the Passover victim was God's plan for the salvation of Israel (Ex 12:13). The sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah was God's plan for the salvation of mankind (Jn 3:1-16; 1 Jn 4:9).
M. Hunt copyright 2009

* as the ancients counted. Five is the number of grace in the significance of numbers in Scripture. In addition, according to St. John's Gospel, Jesus' three year ministry was defined by three Passovers (Jn 2:13; 6:4; 12:1).

Please read Exodus 12:35-42: The Beginning the Departure out of Egypt and the Plundering of the Egyptians
12:35The Israelites did as Moses had told them and asked the Egyptians for silver and golden jewelry, and clothing. 36Yahweh made the Egyptians so much impressed with the people that they gave them what they asked. So they despoiled the Egyptians. 37The Israelites left Ramese for Succoth, about six hundred thousand on the march "men, that is, not counting their families. 38A mixed crowd of people went with them, and flocks and herd, quantities of livestock. 39And with the dough which they had brought from Egypt they baked unleavened cakes, because the dough had not risen, since they had been driven out of Egypt without time to linger or to prepare food for themselves. 40he time that the Israelites spent in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. 41And on the very day the four hundred and thirty years ended, all Yahweh's armies left Egypt. 42The night when Yahweh kept vigil [simmur, from the root samar] to bring them out of Egypt must be kept as a vigil [simmur, from the root samar]in honor of Yahweh by all Israelites, for all generations.
[..] =
literal (Interlineal Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 174).

The Israelites despoiled the Egyptians, a prophecy given to Abraham in Genesis 15:14 and to Moses in Exodus 3:21-22.

Exodus 12:37 - 38: 37The Israelites left Ramese for Succoth, about six hundred thousand on the march "men, that is, not counting their families. 38A mixed crowd of people went with them, and flocks and herd, quantities of livestock. The name in the Hebrew text is slightly different from the region and place-name "Rameses" in Genesis 47:11 and in Exodus 1:11, but most scholars believe it is the same place since there is another reference to the departure point as Rameses in Numbers 33:3-4. Egyptians and possibly other Semitic slaves joined the Israelite as they left Ramese for Succoth in the exodus out of Egypt.(2) Later, these mixed people became a serious problem.

Question: How many Israelite men made the march out of Egypt? How would you estimate the total Israelite population that left Egypt?

Answer: The narrative records that six hundred thousand men left Egypt. When one figures in women and children the Israelites probably numbered at least 2 million people " maybe more.

Many scholars dispute these figures as being exaggerated; however, according to the details in the narrative concerning the battles the Israelites fought and a later census, other scholars have determined that the numbers are reasonable.(3)

Exodus 12:39: And with the dough which they had brought from Egypt they baked unleavened cakes, because the dough had not risen, since they had been driven out of Egypt without time to linger or to prepare food for themselves. This verse coupled with the instructions in earlier parts of the narrative (Ex 12:8, 15), the observation in Exodus 12:34 that the Israelites carried their dough unleavened in their bowls, and the instructions in Deuteronomy 16:3 became the reason for eating matzoth/matsot in observance of Passover and Unleavened Bread. The JPS Commentary on Exodus notes: That statement is intelligible only in light of the two verses in the present chapter. Since the eating of the matsot was ordained and presumably carried out before the tenth plague struck (v. 8), the present rationale is a reinterpretation, transformation, and historicization of the preexisting practice (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 61). (4)

Exodus 12:40-41: 40he time that the Israelites spent in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. 41And on the very day the four hundred and thirty years ended, all Yahweh's armies left Egypt.

This is a very exact number, whereas a rounded number was given Abraham in Genesis 15:13. The rounded number of 400 years was repeated by St. Stephen when referring to the prophecy given Abraham in Acts 7:6-7. However, in Galatians 3:17 St. Paul cites the gift of the Law as coming 430 years after the Patriarchs. The number 430 years is significant in Jewish tradition. Jewish rabbis believed there was a span of 430 years between Israel's enslavement and journey to Mt. Sinai where the Israelites received the Law and the Ark of the Covenant (or from the time of the Abrahamic Covenant to the giving of the Law and the Ark, opinions vary), that the time from the Ark of the Covenant to the Temple in Jerusalem was 430 years, and the time between the building of the first Temple and the building of the second Temple was 430 years (see Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, page 265).

Total years = 1, 290 years

The total number of years from the enslavement to the Ark to the Second Temple is then three times 430 years, which is 1,290 years. This calculated total number of 1,290 years will reappear in Daniel 12:11 as a mysterious prophecy concerning days: From the moment that the perpetual sacrifice (daily sacrifice of the Tamid lambs) is abolished and the appalling abomination set up: a thousand two hundred and ninety days.

Exodus 12:42: The night when Yahweh kept vigil to bring them out of Egypt must be kept as a vigil in honor of Yahweh by all Israelites, for all generations.

The Hebrew word simmur, used twice in Exodus 12:42, means an observance and is from the Hebrew root s-m-r (samar). The root samar and associated words are found seven times in the commands and observances of the Passover and Unleavened Bread. It is a word that expresses the covenant obligations associated with these feasts in the same way that the word samar was used in Genesis 2:15 in God's covenant command to Adam to watch/keep/guard the garden Sanctuary.

Question: What are the implications of this command?

Answer: Just as Yahweh kept watch and guarded the blood-protected doorways of the houses of the Israelites on the first Passover, so must every generation of Israelites keep watch on each annual remembrance of the event. Every Israelite of future generations was to considering him/herself redeemed from bondage on the night of the first Passover.

Please read Exodus 12:43-51: Prohibitions Concerning the Celebration of Future Passovers and the Rite of Circumcision
12:43Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron, This is the ritual for the Passover: no alien may eat it, 44but any slave bought for money may eat it, once you have circumcised him. 45No stranger and no hired servant may eat it. 46It must be eaten in one house alone; you will not take any of the meat out of the house; nor may you break any of its bones. 47The whole community of Israel must keep it. 48Should a stranger residing with you wish to keep the Passover in honor of Yahweh, all the males of his household must be circumcised: he will then be allowed to keep it and will count as a citizen of the country. But no uncircumcised person may eat it. 49The same law will apply to the citizen and the stranger resident among you.' 50The Israelites all did as Yahweh had ordered Moses and Aaron, and that same day Yahweh brought the Israelites out of Egypt in their armies.

The JPS (Jewish Publication Society) commentary notes that this final section bears the title The Law of the Passover in most Jewish Tanach translations of Exodus (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 63). This passage defines prohibitions concerning the celebration of Passover and Unleavened Bread and how the festivals were to be observed when the Israelites were settled in Canaan.

Question: The prohibitions concerning eligibility to take part in the festivals are divided by what four commands concerning the eating of the sacred meal?

Answer:

  1. The sacred meal must be eaten in their individual houses.
  2. All of the sacrifice must be eaten in the house and none of it taken out of the house.
  3. The bones of the animal must not be broken.
  4. The whole community of Israel must keep the festivals.

Exodus 12:46:It must be eaten in one house alone; you will not take any of the meat out of the house; nor may you break any of its bones.

Question: Why did St. John make a reference to this Passover prohibition concerning not breaking any bones in John 19:36 as being fulfilled? See John 19:31-37; Psalm 34:20 and Zechariah 12:9-12.

Answer: This command points to Jesus of Nazareth as the true Passover victim which all other Passover victims prefigured. St. John recorded that the bones of the other men crucified with Jesus were broken to hasten their deaths, but when the Romans soldier approached Jesus and saw that He was already dead he did not break Jesus' legs but instead pierced His side with his spear and immediately there came out blood and water (Jn 19:34). St. John saw the action of the Roman soldier in refraining from breaking Jesus' legs as a fulfillment of the words of Scripture which prophesied the sacrifice of Jesus the Lamb of God in the command not to break any bones of the Passover victim in Exodus 12:46 and in God's protection of the righteous in Psalm 34:20. St. John also quoted the prophecy: They will look to the one whom they have pierced (Jn 19:37) as pointing to the future conversion of the faithful remnant of Israel and the conversion of the Gentiles: But over the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem I shall pour out a spirit of grace and prayer, and they will look to me. They will mourn for the one whom they have pierce as though for an only child, and weep for him as people weep for a first-born child (Zec 12:10).

In Exodus 12:43-51 the eligibility to partake in the sacred feast of the Passover victim focuses on observance of the rite of circumcision, the physical sign of God's covenant with Abraham. The Abrahamic covenant was the foundation of the Sinai Covenant and the rite of circumcision was retained as a covenant obligation (Gen 17:10-14).

Question: What were the prohibitions concerning the uncircumcised?

Answer: No uncircumcised person was permitted to take part, meaning no one not in covenant with Yahweh could take part in the sacred meal.

It is similar to the covenant restriction New Covenant Catholic Christians also observe in the eating of the sacred meal of the Eucharist. The limiting of participation in the Eucharist to those in covenant union with the Catholic Church, like the prohibition of the uncircumcised not partaking of the sacred meal of the Passover, is not meant to exclude but to protect the sacred nature of the feast which only those who understand the supernatural character of holy communion in fellowship with God and the duties and obligations of covenant membership should experience least their ignorance leads them into sin (1 Cor 11:26-27; CCC 1395).

Question: List the uncircumcised persons who could not take part in the sacred meal.

Answer: Uncircumcised non-Israelites (resident aliens and strangers), uncircumcised Israelites, and non-Israelite hired servants could not take part.

Question: Why was circumcision the determining factor?

Answer: Circumcision was a sacrament that was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. A male who submitted to the Israelite rite of circumcision became a member of the Abrahamic covenant.

Question: Was participation in the celebration of the Passover limited to ethnic Israelites?

Answer: No it was not. These regulations allowed for converts to be welcomed into the covenant community so long as the submitted their males to circumcision.

Question: List the non-Israelites who could take part if they submitted to the rite of circumcision. See Genesis 17:12-13.

Answer:

Please read Exodus 13:1-10: Ordinances Concerning Future Celebrations of the Feast of Unleavened Bread
13:1Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, 2 Consecrate all the first-born to me, the first birth from every womb, among the Israelites. Whether man or beast, it is mine. 3Moses said to the people, Remember this day, on which you came out of Egypt, from the place of slave-labor, for by the strength of his hand Yahweh brought you out of it; no leavened bread may be eaten. 4On this day, in the month of Abib, you are leaving, 5and when Yahweh has brought you into the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, flowing with milk and honey, which he swore to your ancestors that he would give you, then you must observe this rite in the same month. 6For seven days you will eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there must be a feast in Yahweh's honor. 7During these seven days unleavened bread may be eaten; no leavened bread may be seen among you, no leaven among you throughout your territory. 8And on that day you will explain to your son, This is because of what Yahweh did for me when I came out of Egypt. 9This will serve as a sign on your hand would serve, or a reminder on your forehead [between your eyes] and in that way the law of Yahweh will be ever on your lips: for with a mighty hand Yahweh brought you out of Egypt. 10You shall observe this law at its appointed time, year by year.
[..] = literal translation (Interlineal Bible:Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 175).

In this passage (similar in its divisions to the previous passage) the commands to consecrate the first-born to Yahweh is divided by ordinances and prohibitions concerning the celebration of the feast of Unleavened Bread when the Israelites possess the land of Canaan.

Exodus 13:1: 13:1Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, 2 Consecrate all the first-born to me, the first birth from every womb, among the Israelites. Whether man or beast, it is mine.

Question: Why are the "firstborn" to be consecrated to God?

Answer: God redeemed the firstborn of Israel on the night of the tenth plague and therefore, Israel will remember the miraculous redemption of the firstborn by dedicating all future generations of firstborn, man and beast to God.

For the first time the month is identified as Abib, our March/April season of the year.

Exodus 13:4-5: On this day, in the month of Abib, you are leaving, 5 and when Yahweh has brought you into the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, flowing with milk and honey, which he swore to your ancestors that he would give you,then you must observe this rite in the same month.

Question: Verse 5 is a statement that is the repeat of what promises and to whom? Name the Scripture passages.

Answer: The promise of the possession of the land of Canaan made to Abraham in Genesis 15:18-21, to Isaac in Genesis 24:7, to Jacob in Genesis 28:13 and 35:12, and to Moses in Exodus 3:8 and 17.

Exodus 13:6-7: 6For seven days you will eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there must be a feast in Yahweh's honor. 7During these seven days unleavened bread may be eaten; no leavened bread may be seen among you, no leaven among you throughout your territory.

Question: What was the penalty if an Israelite ate leavened bread during this seven day period? Why was this penalty imposed? See Exodus 12:15 and 19.

Answer: That person was to be excommunicated from the community of Israel. God's commands are not arbitrary nor are they to be reinterpreted. Failure to keep covenant commands brings judgment with the purpose of bringing that individual to repentance and back into covenant unity with God and with the faith community.

According to Jewish tradition the feast of Unleavened Bread was to be observed for a seven day period from the 15th to the 21st because the Israelites crossed the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds) on the seventh day (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 66; also see Lev 23:6; Num 28:17-25; Dt 16:8). The seventh day crossing of the Red Sea will be commemorated in the Feast of Firstfruits (Lev 23:11-14), a feast that always to fall within the seven-day holy week of Unleavened Bread, on the day after the Sabbath on the first day of the week, Sunday. After Jesus' Resurrection the date was altered to the 16th of Nisan/Abib that altered the day of celebration of Weeks/Pentecost which also was meant to always fall on a Sunday (Antiquities 13.8.4 [252]).

Exodus 13:9-10: This will serve as a sign on your hand would serve, or a reminder on your forehead [between your eyes] and in that way the law of Yahweh will be ever on your lips: for with a mighty hand Yahweh brought you out of Egypt. You shall observe this law at its appointed time, year by year. This commandment and the repeated command in Exodus 13:16 and Deuteronomy 6:8-9 was the origin of wearing small boxes called tefillin or philactories (phylacteries).   The tefillin (literally prayers ) are small boxes filled with papers on which the Shema, the old covenant profession of faith from Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:12-21 and Numbers 15:37-41, is written and which are strapped on one's forehead and to the right arm during pray time. Orthodox Jews still observe this religious practice.

These instructions are directed toward future generations of Israelites who will observe the Passover as part of their covenant obligations, and the passage clearly defines how future generations must remember and celebrate the events of the first Passover.

Question: How must future generations reenact the Egyptian Passover event? See CCC 1363

Answer: Future generations must reenact the Passover as though they experienced a personal redemption and liberation. Every father of every generation must tell his children: This is because of what Yahweh did for me when I came out of Egypt, and for with a mighty hand Yahweh brought you out of Egypt.

Please read Exodus 13:11-16: Ordinances Concerning the Dedication of the First-born: Man and Beast
13:11When Yahweh has brought you into the Canaanites' country, as he swore to you and your ancestors that he would, and given it to you, 12to Yahweh you must make over whatever first issues from the womb, and every first-born cast by animals belonging to you: these males belong to Yahweh. 13But every first-born donkey you will redeem with a lamb or kid; if you do not redeem it, you must break its neck. All the human first-born, however, those of your own race, you will redeem. 14And when your son asks you in days to come, What does this means? you will tell him By the strength of his hand Yahweh brought us out of Egypt, out of the place of slave-labor. 15When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, Yahweh killed all the first-born in Egypt, of man and beast alike. This is why I sacrifice every male first issuing from the womb to Yahweh and redeem every first-born of my sons. 16This will serve as a sign on your hand, or a headband on your forehead [between your eyes], for by the strength of his hand Yahweh brought us out of Egypt.
[..] = literal translation (Interlineal Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 176).

Once again the text returns to the consecration of the first-born. All first-born males from man and beast must be consecrated to Yahweh as acknowledgement of God's redemption of the first-born the night of the tenth plague. In obedience to this command Jesus, as Mary's first-born son, was consecrated to Yahweh at the Jerusalem Temple in Luke 2:22-39. Also see CCC 529.

Question: Why were male donkeys to be redeemed by a lamb or kid, or if the owner chose not to redeem the donkey why must he kill it? See Genesis 8:20 and Numbers 18:15-19.

Answer: The first-born male animals of the sheep, goats, and cattle were ritually "clean" animals that could be offered in sacrifice to Yahweh, but the donkey was a ritually unclean animal and could not be offered in sacrifice. Because it was valuable as a beast of burden it could be redeemed by the substitution sacrifice of a lamb or a goat. However, if the owner denied God the sacrifice of a lamb or kid in substitution the owner had to kill the donkey and could not profit from his lack of generosity to God.

The designation clean animals that were holy and worthy of sacrifice and unclean animals that were profane and not permitted for sacrifice animals had existed since the time of Noah (Gen 7:2; 8:20). The donkey was the only ritually unclean animal that could be redeemed.

Being consecrated to Yahweh was also preparation for the firstborn sons of Israel to assume the duties of serving God's priestly ministers (Aaron and his sons) when the desert Tabernacle was completed and liturgical worship was established at Sinai. When the first-born sons are dispossessed of their special status as consecrated to Yahweh after the sin of the Golden Calf, the Israelites will have to redeem their first-born sons by the price of five silver shekels (Numbers 18:16).(5) However, at this point in the narrative the first-born sons are to be consecrated in service to Yahweh. Up to this time in salvation history the father of a extended family (himself a firstborn son ) functioned as God's priestly representative, offering sacrifices to Yahweh on behalf of his family and every firstborn son was the heir who carried the authority of his father over his siblings. At Sinai this loosely defined mode of worship will be transformed into a divine liturgy when heavenly and earthy worship are joined at God's holy earthly Sanctuary, the desert Tabernacle "it will be the first time God's one earthly Sanctuary has been established since the garden Sanctuary in Eden.(6)

Exodus 13:16: This will serve as a sign on your hand, or a headband on your forehead [between your eyes], for by the strength of his hand Yahweh brought us out of Egypt. This is the second reference to the wearing of tefillin and putting mezuzot on the doorposts of houses (see Ex 13:9).

Please read Exodus 13:17-22: The Departure from Egypt
13:17When Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not let them take the road to the Philistine's territory, although that was the shortest, in case', God thought the prospect of fighting makes the people change their minds and turn back to Egypt.' 18Instead, God led the people a roundabout way through the desert of the Sea of Reeds [Yam Suph]. The Israelites left Egypt fully armed. 19Moses took with him the bones of Joseph, since Joseph had put the Israelites on solemn oath with the words, It is sure that God will visit you.' he had said, and when that day comes you must take my bones away from here with you.' 20They set out from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the desert. 21Yahweh preceded them, by day in a pillar of cloud to show them the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could march by day and by night. 22The pillar of cloud never left its place ahead of the people during the day, and the pillar of fire during the night.

The road that led northeast into Philistine territory along the Mediterranean coast was the great trade-route highway known as The Way of the Sea. The Egyptians controlled the trade route and there were Egyptian military forts all along the route. The Israelites would have had to constantly be fighting experienced Egyptian troops if they took that route.

Exodus 13:18: Instead, God led the people a roundabout way through the desert of the Sea of Reeds [Yam Suph]. The Israelites left Egypt fully armed. Instead they turned southeast and journeyed toward the Sinai Peninsula, also controlled by Egypt but less heavily patrolled by Egyptian forces. What is often translated as Red Sea is literally the Yam Suph or Reed Sea. This is the same name of the body of water where King Solomon kept his fleet of ships, which according to 1 Kings 9:26 and 10:22 must have been the Gulf of Aqaba. It is possible that both arms of the Red Sea were known as the Yam Suph.

The Israelites left Egypt fully armed. Earlier in Exodus chapter twelve God described the Israelites as His armies (12:17, 41, and 51), and now Yahweh's Israelites marched out of Egypt armed for battle!

Question: What precious relic did Moses take with them and why?

Answer: The bones of Joseph son of Jacob; he was honoring Joseph's dying request in Genesis 50:25.(7)

Exodus 13:20: They set out from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the desert. These place names are also mentioned in Numbers 33:6-8 but the actual sites have not been identified.

Exodus 13:21-22:21Yahweh preceded them, by day in a pillar of cloud to show them the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could march by day and by night. 22The pillar of cloud never left its place ahead of the people during the day, and the pillar of fire during the night.

Question: How did Yahweh guide the Israelites on their journey out of Egypt?

Answer: He guided them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

The physical phenomena of the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire are manifestations of God's glory and His active and dynamic presence throughout the Exodus journey. The phenomena served as a visible image to give the Israelites the assurance that their God was with them. The visible presence of God is called the Shekinah in Hebrew, and is often referred to in English as the Glory Cloud. God's presence in the Glory Cloud is not limited to the Old Testament. The Glory Cloud was present at the Incarnation (Lk 1:35) when God the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin Mary, at Jesus' Transfiguration event (Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:34), and enveloped Jesus in His ascent to the Father 40 days after His Resurrection (Acts 1:9; also see CCC 659).

Question: In what other ways was the cloud and fire pillar important to the children of Israel on their journey out of Egypt? See Exodus 13:22 and 14:19-20.

Answer: The pillar of cloud and fire will guide the Israelites through a hostile wilderness to the rendezvous with God at Mt. Sinai. The cloud and fire pillars served as a signal for encamping when the pillar stopped and the as the sign for departure at the beginning of the next day's journey when it moved forward again. It also provided a protective screen for Israel when threatened.

The ten plague judgments and the redemption of the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt was more than a battle and a test of wills between the God of the Israelites and the god-king of Egypt. It was for the Israelites, the Egyptians, and it is for us a demonstration of how Yahweh chooses to be actively involved in the daily lives of ordinary people, how He exercises His sovereignty over the nations of the earth, and how He is active in changing the course of history to fulfill His plan for man's salvation.

Questions for group discussion:

Question: Under the old Law of the Sinai Covenant members could be excommunicated for failing to keep the commands and prohibitions of the observance of Passover and Unleavened Bread. Are such penalties still imposed on the community under the New Covenant? What are the conditions of such a penalty and why could such a penalty imposed? See CCC 1463.

Answer: Yes. Excommunication is the most sever ecclesiastical penalty. It is imposed in certain matters of grave sin especially where the perpetrator of the offense may lead members of the faithful into sin and/or heresy and away from God. A person under such a penalty cannot receive the sacraments. As in all judgments, the penalty is meant to be redemptive and to bring the sinner to confession, repentance and back into full communion with God and His Church.

Question: Give some examples of what sins are so serious as to constitute excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church?

Question: In the future celebrations of the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread every generation was to celebrate the feasts as though they were personally redeemed the night of the tenth plague. How do we celebrate the new Passover of the Lord's Supper in the Eucharist? Is the Eucharist a true sacrifice? Why must be celebrate our feast in a Sacred Assembly of believers? See CCC 1364-69.

Appendix:

Commands and Prohibitions of the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread

Commands Prohibitions
1. The Passover lambs and kids are to be selected on the 10th of Abib (Ex 12:3). 1. The Passover victim is not to be eaten raw or boiled (Ex 12:9).
2. The animals must be yearling males (lambs or kids) without blemish (Ex 4-5). 2. None of the bones of the Passover victim are to be broken (Ex 12:46).
3. The congregation of Israel must slaughter the animals on the 14th of Abib (Ex 12:6). 3. During the festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread one must not eat anything containing yeast and nothing with yeast is to be in the houses (Ex 12:20; 13:3, 7).*
4. The animals must be roasted whole and eaten by households in a sacred meal at sundown which became the 15th of Abib (Ex 12:7-8). 4. No yeast must be found in houses during the feast (Ex 12:19).
5. In addition to the roasted animal they must eat bitter herbs and unleavened bread (Ex 12:7). 5. The meat cannot be eaten outside the house; it can only be eaten inside (12:46).
6. On the 14th all leaven must be removed from homes and homes must remain free of leaven from the 14th to the 21st (Ex 13:7).* 6. Any leftover meat cannot be saved; it must be burned before morning (Ex 12:10).
7. From the afternoon of the 14th until the afternoon of the 21st unleavened bread is to be eaten (Ex 12:18-19; 13:6). 7. No one is to leave until the meal is completed and in the first Passover no one was to leave until morning (Ex 12:22).
8. There must be a Sacred Assembly of Israel on the 15th and the 21st which are to be days of rest (Ex 12:16).* 8. No work is to be done on the days of the assemblies (Ex 12:16).*
9. An alien living among the covenant people who wants to celebrate the Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised in order to take part (Ex 12:48). 9. No uncircumcised man, resident alien, temporary alien, hired laborer or uncircumcised Israelite is allowed to eat the sacred meal (Ex 12:43, 45).
10. Israel must keep these feast days for all generations (Ex 12:14, 42; 13:10). No one is to eat leavened bread from the afternoon of the 14th to the afternoon of the 21st; anyone who neglects this prohibition is to be excommunicated from the community (Ex12:15, 19).*
M. Hunt copyright 2009

* Commands and prohibitions not put into effect until the Israelites were living in the Promised Land.

Endnotes:

1. When the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD the instructions for the Passover sacrifice could no longer be observed; therefore, the observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread from Nisan 15th -21st became the primary means for keeping the commandment to remember the Exodus experience in succeeding generations.

2. The stages of the Exodus journey to Mt. Sinai are listed in detail in Numbers 33:1-49.

3. According to the census taken at the end of Israel's two years at Mt. Sinai, just before beginning the journey to Canaan, the number of fighting men of eleven of the tribes (not counting Levi) between 20 and 50 numbered 603, 550 (Num 2:32) and the Levite males older than one month numbered 22,000 (Num 3:39). These are census numbers that were taken after the loss of fighting men in the battle with the Amalekites (Ex 17:8-16) and the 3,000 men who died in the Golden Calf revolt (Ex 32:28).

4. The flour for matsot/matzoth must be made only from grains that are susceptible to fermentation. According to Mishnah Pesahim 2:5 these are wheat, spelt (a form of wheat), barley, emmer (species of wheat), rye, and oats; although in practice it is spelt that is usually preferred. The flour must be milled from grain that has been scrupulously supervised from the time of harvesting. Water is to be mixed with the flour and the mixture is left standing overnight. From kneading to completion of the unbaked unleavened rounds of dough must take no more than eighteen minutes and the dough must be manipulated in order to retard fermentation. Prior to being put into the oven, perforations are applied to the rounds of bread to allow any bubbles to air to escape (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 57-58).

5. The redemption ceremony of the first-born son of a mother, in Hebrew pidyon ha-ben ( redemption of the son ), continues today. The ceremony is performed thirty-one days after the birth of the first-born son, unless that day is a Sabbath or holy day. If the day is a Sabbath or holy day the ceremony is postponed for a day. The son of a Kohen (priest) or a Levite is exempt because he was born to serve God, and a first-born son born by cesarean section is exempt because the requirement is that the child be naturally born from the womb, as prescribed in Ex 13:1 (The Jewish Book of Why, vol. I, pages 13, 20-21.

6. According to Jewish tradition: Before the creation of the Tabernacle, shrines (Heb. Bamot) were permitted, and the worship was performed by the first-born; once the Tabernacle was erected, the shrines were prohibited, and the worship was performed by the priests [of the tribe of Levi] (Mishnah Zevahim 14:4).

7. Josh 24:32 records the reburial of Joseph in Shechem in Canaan.

M. Hunt copyright 2009

 

Catechism References for this lesson: * = Scripture paraphrased or quoted in the citation.

13:9-10

1363*

13:12-13

529*

13:22

659*

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2009 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.