The Passover meal. 12:1-30
In the Exodus' story we now come to the tenth plague, the plague on the firstborn. In chapter 11, Moses and Aaron try to persuade Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go, but again his heart is hardened. In chapter 12 we have the instructions given to Israel for their protection against the angel of death, v1-14, the ongoing celebration of the passover, v14-20, Moses' passover instructions to the elders, v21-28, and the account of the passover night, v29-30.
v1-2. The date for the passover is set. Preparations are to begin on 10 Nissan (Nissan is the first month of Spring in the Babylonian calendar, and is called Abib by the Canaanites), the passover meal eaten on 14 Nissan, and the escape from Egypt on 15 Nissan. Israel is to make this month the first for the year. It is to become their new year month. Agricultural societies often set the beginning of the year in Spring. Israel now aligns herself with this practice, although they are to remember deliverance (liberty) rather than new life. For some reason the civil calendar, which began in Autumn, was the one that was later followed throughout Israel, rather than the religious calendar beginning in Spring.
v3-4. No reason is given why the lamb is selected four days before the passover event. It is to be a family event, one that the whole community of Israel must participate in, and one where there should be enough food for all.
v5-11. The selection of the sacrifice is detailed. It is to be a perfect specimen, male, one year old, and either a sheep or a goat. The sacrifice is to be made at sunset and the blood splattered on the doorposts and lintels of the house. The animal is to be roasted whole and eaten in an attitude of haste and fear. Haste senses the immediacy of the situation, and fear expresses the repentant attitude Israel should have in the face of this act of God's mercy. Nothing is to be left. What is left must be burnt, indicating that the animal is wholly consecrated to a sacred purpose.
v12-13. The writer now relates God's word of judgement upon the gods of the nations, which event is described in v29-30. The significance of the blood is that it serves as a sign to Israel that no harm will befall the family on the night of the destruction of the first-born. In a sense it is a "substitutionary atoning token to God for the Hebrew families", H. Jones.
v14-20. The writer intertwines the actual story of the passover with the annual cultic celebration that was to follow. "The feast of the Unleavened bread marked the decisive suddenness of the deliverance, while the dedication and redemption of the firstborn proclaimed the fact that all Israel was God's ransomed firstborn, lest they forget", H. Jones. What happened on this day is to be remembered in Israel throughout all generations, although it is unlikely that the festival was celebrated during the wilderness wanderings.
v21-28. The writer again draws aside from the narrative and records Moses' instructions to Israel so that parents may properly instruct their children in the significance of the passover. The child's question is answered in terms of "the ongoing participation of Israel in the decisive act of redemption from Egypt", Brevard Childs.
v29-30. The actual passover night is now narrated from the Egyptian perspective. The stress is on the judgement and the complete capitulation of Pharaoh.
On the move
The passover of the angel of death secured for Israel salvation/liberty. The wrath of God was stayed from Israel by the shedding of innocent blood, thus providing deliverance and leading to struggle (pilgrimage) in the wilderness. The crucial significance of the event is preserved in the Feast of the Unleavened Bread.
These momentous events have served as types for the atoning death of our Lord Jesus (the innocent lamb of God), salvation in Christ, and our walk of faith. As with Israel, so with the followers of Christ today, the significance of the event is perpetuated in festival. For us it is the festival of the Lord's Supper.
So, in this event we are witnesses of a divine liberation enacted under the stern hand of our God. In Christ we share in this liberation, freed from the slavery of our sin.
The Exodus occurred thousands of years ago, yet it called a people into being and showed us once and for all what lengths God will go to in order to save a people to himself. God's people have not always responded with faithfulness, harmony, or loving kindness. We are a mixed lot, and have been so from the beginning. Yet, we are loved by a God who willingly challenges the strongest powers on earth to free his helpless slaves. The challenge is not whether we can ever be good enough to be included. Inclusion is a gift of God's grace, appropriated through faith.
So then, how shall we live in the shadow of what God has done for us? Yes, we will live under the grace of God and it is that which leads us on our desert pilgrimage.
1. The Exodus story serves as a type for Christian salvation. Identify some of the "types" in the story and explain how we share in the adventure.
2. Note the Holy Communion symbolism in this passage (Particularly relevant when the reading is used for Maundy Thursday).
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