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The Original Passover

This is the first of four articles in this Tough Topics Explained series about Passover.

The Passover points to Jesus as the Messiah.

This first article is called: “The Original Passover and the Holy Days of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits.”

It considers the Biblical account of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt and His commands for how Israel was to observe and memorialize this event and their entrance into the Promised Land.

The second article is “Jesus and the Messianic Fulfillments of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits.”

It reflects upon various ways the symbols of the original Passover foreshadow the work of Jesus as the Passover Lamb and the Unleavened Bread. It also considers how the Jewish celebrations of these Holy Days are emblematic of specific moments and actions from Jesus’s final week celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem and His resurrection.

The third article is “The Passover Seder.”

It explains the elements and order of a Jewish Seder which commemorates the Passover through a meal.

The fourth article is “Jesus’s Last Supper as a Passover Seder.”

It considers how Jesus’s final Passover meal with His disciples incorporated many elements of a Passover Seder. It will focus on several ways that Jesus used this Passover meal to further reveal things not only about Passover, but about Himself as the Messiah.

 

THE ORIGINAL PASSOVER

Passover is a Jewish holy day that commemorates God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

Broadly speaking, Passover evokes the entire story of Israel’s relocation to Egypt under the protection of Joseph, the flourishing of the Israelite people, the murderous decrees of Pharaoh, the birth Moses, his raising in Pharaoh’s palace, the burning bush, the ten plagues, Israel’s plundering of Egypt at their departure, and the miraculous parting of the Red Sea.

The Biblical account of this deliverance is told from Genesis 46 – Exodus 15:21 ending with Miriam’s song of praise.

But even though the Passover originally took place in the time of Moses, this nation-forging event was itself foretold by God to Abraham centuries earlier.

“God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.’”
(Genesis 15:13-14)

More specifically, however, the original Passover event entails God’s final plague upon Egypt that caused Pharaoh to release Israel from slavery and Israel’s unusual preparation for this night.

The Biblical account of this specific moment is described in Exodus 11-12.

The Lord told Moses that He would send one more plague upon Egypt, and after this Pharaoh would let Israel go (Exodus 11:1). The Lord would strike down the firstborn of every household of Egypt from Pharaoh’s palace to the Egyptian slaves (Exodus 11:4-5). But the Lord would “pass over” and spare Israel of this calamity (Exodus 12:12-13). The Lord explained His reason for this when He commanded Moses, “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn”’” (Exodus 4:22-23).

In preparation for this event, the Lord commanded each household in Israel to take an unblemished lamb on the 10th of the month of Nisan and keep it until the 14th. And in the twilight of that day, they were to kill it and eat it for dinner. They also were to sprinkle its blood on the door posts of the house that night (Exodus 12:3-7).

Israel obeyed the Lord (Exodus 12:28). The Lord did as He said He would do and struck down the firstborns of Egypt (Exodus 12:29). And Pharaoh let the Israelites go (Exodus 12:30-32).

Additionally, the Israelites were commanded to eat unleavened bread for seven days (Exodus 12:15). Unleavened bread is flour cooked without yeast. The Israelites would be leaving Egypt in haste. They had no time to prepare bread in the usual way, by adding leaven (yeast) and waiting for it to rise. Also, though unleavened bread can spoil, it stays edible much longer than leavened bread. This would be of benefit to the Israelites as they were traveling through the wilderness.

THE FEAST OF PASSOVER AND THE FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD

Before the first Passover had even happened, God declared that “this day (Passover) would be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance” (Exodus 12:14).

The Lord also declared before the night of the first Passover that the Feast of Unleavened Bread would also be a permanent ordinance (Exodus 12:17).

The word translated as “memorial” is the Hebrew word “Zikārôn.” It stressed to the Israelites that they were to not only recall this day in their minds—they are to reenact it every year so as to engage all of their senses in the celebration of the LORD’s deliverance from slavery. The Passover Seder meal is one of the ways this command came to be observed.

The word translated as “permanent” is the Hebrew word, “Ôlām.” It can mean “everlasting.” Its root word describes the vanishing point or that which is beyond sight. God was telling them that this will be a feast that will be kept forever (including in the New Jerusalem).

In Leviticus 23, the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of First Fruits are among the Lord’s days that are holy convocations to be kept (Leviticus 23:4-14).

The word translated as “convocation” is the Hebrew word, מִקְרָא (“Miqrā”) which can mean “rehearsal.” God gave His appointed times as holy rehearsals for a messianic event in the future. Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are annual rehearsals that the children of Israel were to practice so that they would be ready to do the real event when the Messiah appeared.

The Passover holy day is distinct, but closely associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Both feasts commemorate God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The Feast of Unleavened Bread is a seven-day period that begins on Nisan 15, the day after the Passover meal, Nisan 14. In other words, the Feast of Unleavened Bread began with the Passover meal and extended seven more days. The Festival of First Fruits occurs during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Hebrew Calendar

THE FESTIVAL OF FIRST FRUITS

The Festival of First Fruits was another holy day that was distinct from Passover and Unleavened Bread, but closely associated with both. It is described in Leviticus 23:9-14 and again in Numbers 28:26-30.

The reason this festival was called “First Fruits” was because it was an offering of the first fruits of the new year. First Fruits was the first of three festivals that celebrated a harvest.

  • First fruits was a thanksgiving for the barley harvest which took place in the early spring.
  • The festival of Weeks celebrated the wheat harvest of late spring. This took place a full seven weeks or fifty days after First Fruits—hence the name “Pentecost”: pente = fifty; cost = count (Leviticus 23:15-22).
  • The third harvest festival, “Tabernacles” occurred in the fall (Leviticus 23:33-44).

First Fruits was given commanded while the children of Israel were in the wilderness and was to be celebrated “when you enter the land which I am going to give to you” (Leviticus 23:10). The holy day was a “grain offering” to the Lord (Leviticus 23:13). The reason this festival was called “First Fruits” was because it was an offering of the first fruits of the new year.

It was commanded that the priest “shall wave the sheaf before the LORD for you to be accepted” (Leviticus 23:11). This is called a “wave offering.” The priest would elevate the sheaf of grain up and down in a vertical motion, then side-to-side in a horizontal motion. It has been noted that this motion creates a shape of a cross. A sheaf (“Omer” in Hebrew) is a bundle of barley or wheat that was usually bound with a rope in the middle.

In addition to the wave offering, was the first fruits offering. The first fruits was the first part of the bounty of the harvest. Each Israelite was to also bring a male lamb one year old without defect, a grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, and also a drink offering, a fourth of a hin of wine (about 1.4 liters). An ephah, a dry measurement, was a little over a bushel and weighed approximately 40 pounds. So, two-tenths of an ephah would have been about eight pounds of fine flour. All these were to be given as offerings of the First Fruits of the harvest.

Until God received the wave offering of the first fruits on the Feast of First Fruits, Israelites could not eat bread nor roasted grain nor new growth that had emerged since winter (Leviticus 23:14). This meant that the very first part of each harvest was to be dedicated to God. This stipulation was to teach Israel to put their trust in God and foster gratitude for His generosity.

Even though the festival of First Fruits was not initially given when the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread were first instituted, it was closely associated with both holidays. The three holidays were linked together for two reasons.

The first reason for their association was because First Fruits was a holiday representing the fulfillment of the Exodus, while Passover and Unleavened Bread represented the initiation of the Exodus. Specifically, Passover and Unleavened Bread represented leaving Egypt. First Fruits represented entering the Promised Land.

The second reason the three holidays were associated together is because of when they are celebrated. Passover is celebrated on the 14th of the month of Nisan (Leviticus 23:4). The seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread began on the 15th of the month of Nisan (Leviticus 23:5). The festival of First Fruits began “on the day after the [first] sabbath” following the start of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:11). This meant that there was no fixed date for the holiday. But First Fruits always occurred during the Feast of Unleavened Bread and no later than six days after the night of Passover.

Because of their proximity and remembrances of the beginning and end of the Exodus, Jews often lumped Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits together. And this was especially true for Jews during the era when the Tabernacle and Temple were in operation.

 

The entire Passover + Feast of Unleavened Bread + First Fruits Celebration called upon each household to:

  1. Select an Unblemished Lamb

At the center of the festivities was the Passover Lamb.

On the tenth of Nisan (five days before the night of Passover) each household was to take a lamb for themselves (Exodus 12:3). If the household was too small for a lamb, it was allowed to partner with the nearby neighbor and they would celebrate the Passover together (Exodus 12:4).

According to Exodus 12:5, Passover lambs had to meet three qualifications:

  • “unblemished” (healthy and without defect)
  • male
  • one year old (young and vigorous)

“Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats”
(Exodus 12:5).

After a household had selected their Passover lamb, it was to be kept five days (until the 14th of Nisan).

 

  1. Cleanse the House of all Leaven

With Passover, the Lord also commanded Israel to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, “for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:17).

The Israelites were not to eat anything with leaven for seven days. The only bread they could eat had to be unleavened (Exodus 12:15; 13:7). The Hebrew word for Unleavened Bread is “Matzah.”

Leaven is a substance, such as yeast, that causes flour to rise and become soft bread. Unleavened bread is flour that is cooked without yeast (or similar substance). It therefore remains flat and hard. The rising process takes considerable time. And the Festival of Unleavened Bread recalls the haste in which the Israelites had to pack up and leave Egypt (Exodus 12:11). There was no time for their bread to rise—so they had to cook it without leaven.

But before the Feast of Unleavened Bread could properly begin, Israel was to “remove the leaven from your houses” (Exodus 12:15; 13:7).

The Israelites were commanded to search their homes prior to the feast of Unleavened Bread for any traces of leaven and remove it. This is a picture of removing sin out of our life. Today when Jews purge the leaven from their homes, even after making their best effort they realize that there are still many crumbs hidden behind the refrigerator or on shelves. They call on God to count the remaining unseen leaven as purged seeing it’s impossible for them to remove all the leaven on their own.

The Jews’ prayer is similar to how when we confess the sins we are aware of that Christ is faithful and just to cleanse us of all unrighteousness, including the sins we are conscious of as well as the unconscious sins lurking in the corners of our heart (1 John 1:7-9).

 

  1. Offer the Passover Lamb as a Sacrifice

Passover Lambs were substitutionary sacrifices offered to make peace with God. When the Lord passed through Egypt, He struck down and killed the firstborn in Egypt (Exodus 12:29), but when He saw the blood of the Passover lamb on any door, He passed over that house. Instead of killing Israel’s firstborn, God accepted their Passover lambs as a substitute.

This was a reminder that even though the Israelites were God’s people, they were not without guilt. They too would have had their sons killed by God without this necessary sacrifice.

“And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
(Hebrews 9:22)

The sacrifice of the Passover lamb was to occur on the fourteenth day of Nisan “at twilight” (Exodus 12:6). This date and expression of time are repeated when the holy days are listed and described in Leviticus (Leviticus 23:5).

The wording “at twilight” can be a little confusing. The Hebrew literally says, “between the evenings. For centuries, Jewish tradition has understood the phrase “between the evenings” to mean only lambs offered from the sixth hour (12pm) to the eleventh hour (5pm) were accepted on Passover.

  1. Eat Passover Meal (Seder)

After the house had been cleansed of all leaven, and the lamb had been sacrificed it was time to serve the Passover meal.

There is much more to be said about the Passover meal and how the Jews celebrate it in what it has come to be known as a “Passover Seder.”

To learn more, refer to The Bible Says’ article “The Passover Seder.”

The Israelites were commanded to eat their sacrificed lamb that same night—the night of Nisan 14 (Exodus 12:7-8). This principle of having a window of time that was acceptable to eat the Passover sacrifice was common to all peace offerings (Leviticus 19:5-8).

They were to roast it with fire and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8). Fire is representative of God’s judgment. It may have symbolized that the wrath of His judgment against Israel was imputed to the roasted lamb. The unleavened bread symbolized the haste in which Israel was departing Egypt. And the bitter herbs were a reminder of the bitter experience of slavery Israel suffered while in Egypt.

They were not to eat any of it raw or boiled (Exodus 12:9). Roasting meat was not the customary way to prepare meat for consumption in those days. God may have been further setting Israel apart from the Pagan Egyptians by having His people roast their sacrifice.

And finally, when the children of Israel ate this meal they were to do so with their “loins girded,” “sandals on [their] feet,” and a “staff in [their] hand” (Exodus 12:11). This again was likely to reinforce that they must be ready to depart Egypt quickly because the Lord would soon be coming. And they must be prepared for the suddenness of Pharaoh’s liberating decree.

 

  1. Eat Unleavened Bread for Seven More Days

The Feast of Unleavened Bread began Passover Night (the 14th of Nisan). Beginning that evening, Israel was not to eat anything with leaven for the next week, until Nisan 21 (Exodus 12:18).

For the next seven days after Passover, Israel was forbidden to have anything with leaven in their houses (Exodus 12:19; 13:3-7). And they were not to eat anything leavened during this period (Exodus 12:20). This was a serious commandment. Twice during the Exodus explanation of this important feast, the Israelites are warned that anyone who eats what is leavened will be “cut off” from the congregation of Israel (Exodus 12:15, 19). Also when the Feast of Unleavened Bread is described in Leviticus, the Israelites were commanded to “present an offering by Fire to the Lord” for these seven days (Leviticus 23:8).

  1. Make the First Fruits Offerings.

As mentioned above, First Fruits was celebrated on the first Sabbath after Passover and during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:11).

On that day a priest would wave a sheaf of barley on behalf of the one making a sacrifice (Leviticus 23:11). The person offering the sacrifice would also offer an unblemished lamb (Leviticus 23:12), two tenths of an ephah of flour mixed with oil as a burnt offering (Leviticus 23:13), and a drink offering of wine (Leviticus 23:13). Until they made this offering, Jews were not to eat any bread or grain that was new growth from that harvest (Leviticus 23:14).

After the burnt offering was cooked, the family who offered it enjoyed it for a meal and shared it with others. They could eat it the day it was sacrificed and the next day. Anything remaining on the third day had to be incinerated (Leviticus 19:5-8).

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