Passover is viewed differently by different people. If you are Jewish, it is one of the main holy feasts that is observed whether you are particularly observant or not. It is part of your cultural identity. If you are a Christian, it may be several things. You may know it from the Exodus story from Sunday School, or you may be familiar with it from how often it is a part of the account of Jesus’s ministry in the New Testament. If you are into Biblical prophecy, both those fulfilled and those yet to come, you see it as one of God’s appointed times and Passover and the surrounding feasts were all fulfilled through Jesus’s death (at the same time as the slaughtering of the sacrificial lamb,) resurrection (on First Fruits,) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (Shavout/Pentecost.)
I’ve seen it as all those things, but through a convergence of events, this year I realized . . . really realized . . . that it is also about deliverance.
What is Passover?
We all respond to a good story. While screenwriters use actors events from imagination to tell a story, God uses his creation, both the world around us and individuals in specific times and specific places with supernatural precision, to speak to us. He made us, so he knows how to reach us. Dry facts and information just won’t cut it. So he creates works through the people he made in his image, even with all our messes and screw ups, to show us he loves us, he has a plan for us, he is working to deliver us, and to stand firm and believe in the promises he has given us.
And then he tells us to remember it, to recount it, to mark and remember the days so we don’t forget his goodness.
So where does this story start?
In Genesis 17, God made a promise to Abraham that he would give him the land of Caanan, but not yet, because the sins of the Caananites were not yet great enough for judgment.
His covenant was reaffirmed with Isaac, and then his son Jacob. When a devastating famine hit the land of Caanan and Jacob and the eleven sons who were with him were wondering what to do, God had already moved Joseph, the son Jacob had thought was lost, into a position of authority in the land of Egypt where provisions were already in place waiting for them. (Gen 41:37-53)
They were able to go and walk right into the blessing, even though by the account (after all, the brothers sold Joseph into slavery, Gen 37:18-36) they didn’t deserve it.
And then they stayed there for 430 years.
They didn’t go back to the land God had given them after the famine was over. I wonder if there were opportunities, promptings by God, to do so that were ignored because they were comfortable at the time where they were at.
Over time, there were regime changes in Egypt and rulers came to power that either didn’t know or had no respect for who Joseph had been in the kingdom of Egypt and began to oppress the Israelites. (Exodus 1:1-22)
It came to a point where they were slaves and oppressed. They cried out to God . . . and he answered.
Even in their oppression, God blessed them. They were strong and had many children that thrived (infant mortality was a big thing.) The Pharaoh became afraid of them and the possibility that they might rise up against him, so he commanded the midwives to kill all the male infants. They refused.
Just as God had preserved Joseph from death and gave him a place of prominence in the Pharaoh’s court 400 years before, he preserved Moses and raised him up in the Pharaoh’s own household.
It reminds me of Psalm 23:5 that says, “You prepare a presence before me in the presence of my enemies.”
That is literally what happened.
Moses was a prince of Egypt for the first 40 years of his life. He tried to work things out within the system.
Then he was off in the wilderness for the next 40 years. God took him totally out of the system while he was preparing him and, I think, teaching Moses to hear his voice.
When he was 80 years old, God told him to go to the Pharaoh and tell him to let His people go.
Eighty years old, and God told him, “Now you’re ready.”
Can you imagine? I think I would have said, “Don’t you think you should send someone else?”
Actually, Moses did. He said, “I’m not a good speaker, I stutter.” So God told him to take Aaron with him. (Exodus 4:10)
When they finally went and presented God’s command to the king, it was only after the travail of ten plagues that Pharaoh would allow them to go.
Passover and the Exodus from Egypt
That final plague was the death of the firstborn. Every first born male in the land of Egypt would be killed. (Exodus 11:1-10 NASB) Only those households that had put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts would be spared when the angel of death passed through the land. (Exodus 12:12-13.)
God told Moses, “This will be a new beginning” for you. They were to begin their calendar from that month forward (Exodus 12:2.)
Even though God had repeatedly show his might and given warning after warning, Pharaoh refused to listen.
But after the angel of death passed through, the grief was so great that Pharaoh practically forced them to leave (at first, he had a change of heart later.)
Origins of Passover
In Exodus 12:3-11, God gave instructions to Moses for each household to select a lamb on the 10th of the month, the 10th of Nisan. In later times during the Temple period, this was when the priests inspected the lambs for the Passover sacrifice. It was also on the 10th of Nisan that Jesus was interrogated (inspected) by the religious leaders. (Mark 11:27-28)
Then on the 14th of Nisan, the lamb was slaughtered. It was eaten the same day, roasted by fire, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
And he even told “how” to eat it:
Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste—it is the Lord’s Passover. Exodus 12:11 NASB.
They were to be ready to leave in a moment.
Doesn’t that verse remind you of how God tells us to prepare for each day in Ephesians 6:10-17? And also in Matthew 25:1-13 where Jesus uses the parable of the virgins and the lamps and the importance of always being ready, to always be prepared?
That is how the first observance of Passover was done.
In Exodus 12:23-50, God gave instructions to Moses and Aaron that it was to be observed every year. The celebration was only to be observed by Israelites, not foreigners (a foreshadowing of the command that communion is only for believers.)
Each household was to have its own lamb, it wasn’t to be carried between houses (we have to have our own faith) and none of its bones were to be broken (Exodus 12:46.) This was another foreshadowing of Jesus on the cross as the Lamb of God as well as the prophecy that none of his bones would be broken.
Later after Moses had received the law on Mount Sinai, God gave more specific instructions for not only Passover, but the other feasts of the Lord as well.
In Leviticus 23:5-8:
“The Lord’s Passover begins at sundown on the fourteenth day of the first month.[a] 6 On the next day, the fifteenth day of the month, you must begin celebrating the Festival of Unleavened Bread. This festival to the Lord continues for seven days, and during that time the bread you eat must be made without yeast. 7 On the first day of the festival, all the people must stop their ordinary work and observe an official day for holy assembly. 8 For seven days you must present special gifts to the Lord. On the seventh day the people must again stop all their ordinary work to observe an official day for holy assembly.”
Also in Deuteronomy 16:1-8:
“In honor of the Lord your God, celebrate the Passover each year in the early spring, in the month of Abib,[a] for that was the month in which the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night. 2 Your Passover sacrifice may be from either the flock or the herd, and it must be sacrificed to the Lord your God at the designated place of worship—the place he chooses for his name to be honored. 3 Eat it with bread made without yeast. For seven days the bread you eat must be made without yeast, as when you escaped from Egypt in such a hurry. Eat this bread—the bread of suffering—so that as long as you live you will remember the day you departed from Egypt. 4 Let no yeast be found in any house throughout your land for those seven days. And when you sacrifice the Passover lamb on the evening of the first day, do not let any of the meat remain until the next morning.
5 “You may not sacrifice the Passover in just any of the towns that the Lord your God is giving you. 6 You must offer it only at the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored. Sacrifice it there in the evening as the sun goes down on the anniversary of your exodus from Egypt. 7 Roast the lamb and eat it in the place the Lord your God chooses. Then you may go back to your tents the next morning. 8 For the next six days you may not eat any bread made with yeast. On the seventh day proclaim another holy day in honor of the Lord your God, and no work may be done on that day.
Passover Observances Today
Those are the instructions God gave:
- Get your own lamb and roast it, no broken bones and no left overs.
- Have bitter herbs and unleavened bread with the lamb
- Make sure the leaven is out of your household entirely for the seven days.
The Jewish observance today is much different. After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. when the pesach sacrifice could no longer be offered and the Diaspora in 140 A.D., elements were added to incorporate the memory of that.
The current seder (which means order) was actually established by Kabbalistic rabbis drawing from the Mishnah and various commentaries.
Both the Passover Haggadah literary works and Passover Seder rituals follow the practices of the Pumbedita and Sura rabbinic academies in Babylonia. The Babylonian practices concerning the Passover Haggadah literary components and Passover Seder rituals were adopted by all Jewish communities outside of Israel. This meant that the practices of the Israeli academies regarding the Passover Seder rituals and Passover Haggadah literary components were superceded by the Babylonian academies. The Israeli academies differed from the Babylonian academies by omitting Passover Haggadah components #4 through #7 as outlined above. from Passover Haggadah for Pesach.
The Haggadah is the Passover service. It covers the story of the Exodus and goes through the elements of the seder plate and explains each. In addition to the items listed in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, the service is expanded to include:
- Maror – bitter herbs which symbolize the harshness of the slavery
- Charoset – a sweet mixture, commonly made of apples and cinnamon. This is to represent the mortar the Israelites used in the bricks.
- Karpas – a vegetable to dip into salt water to represent tears.
- Lamb bone – representing the Pesach sacrifice
- Hard boiled egg – representing the festival sacrifice.
- Four cups of wine representing “the four expressions of deliverance promised by God Exodus 6:6-7: “I will bring out,” “I will deliver,” “I will redeem,” and “I will take.” ((Yossef Marcus. “What is the significance of the four cups of wine?”. Chabad. Retrieved 2014-4-14.))
- Three pieces of matzah (unleavened bread.)
As you can see, the only two elements of the seder plate that are used today in their original form are the bitter herbs and the matzah. Even the lamb is just represented by a bone as there is no longer a Temple to make the sacrifices.
Even though the version of the seder that was adopted by the Jewish community as a whole was established by a rabbinic school steeped in mysticism that was completely opposed to Christianity, if you have ever been to a Passover seder, you know that it just screams . . . SCREAMS OUT . . . Jesus.
Particularly in the use of the matzah. There are three pieces of bread, the middle one is broken and part of it is hidden. After the meal and before the third cup of wine, the children at the seder go to find it and the one successful gets a prize.
Three matzos = Trinity. The one broken, hidden, and the finder gets a reward = Jesus.
It’s like as much one tries to ignore and avoid it, you can’t get away from it. Jesus is the Lamb of God, the one who was slain from the foundation of the world.
8 You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 9 The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.
10 This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. 11 They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.
12 They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.
13 So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. 14 So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”[c]
17 And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time as “foreigners in the land.” 18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 20 God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days.
21 Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory.
22 You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters.[d] Love each other deeply with all your heart
1 Peter 1:8-22 NLT
 “Exodus in the Bible and the Egyptian Plagues.” Bible Archaeology Society. http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/exodus/exodus-in-the-bible-and-the-egyptian-plagues/ 2011-7-17. Retrieved 2014-4-14.
- Gilula, “The Smiting of the First-Born—An Egyptian Myth?” Tel Aviv 4 (1977), p. 94. Technical references and additional discussion are available in this brief study. M. Lichtheim renders the line from the ‘Cannibal Hymn’: “Unas will judge with Him-whose-name-is-hidden on the day of slaying the eldest,” noting that the line is difficult (Ancient Egyptian Literature. A Book of Readings. Vol 1: The Old and Middle Kingdoms [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973], pp. 36–38). The Coffin Text cited is CT VI:178.
- A. Cragg. The Pharaoh of Exodus. Biblewitness.org. Retrieved 2014-4-14. http://www.biblewitness.org/pharaoh.htm. A timeline with sources for the chronological placement of the death of the firstborn within the Egyptian dynasties.
 “Passover: The Haggadah.” Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2014-4-4. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/haggadah1.html
 Elimelech David Ha-Levi Web. “Passover Haggadah for Pesach – Q & A and Detailed Explanations.” Retrieved 2014-4-14. http://www.angelfire.com/pa2/passover/passoverhaggadah.html.
 “Afikoman.” Wikipedia. Retrieved 2014-4-14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afikoman