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The Passover Story

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The Passover Lamb
by Ruth Nessim

by Vi Berger

Passover is the first of the major festivals mentioned in the Bible, and no celebration has a deeper significance for the Jewish people. With its roots deeply imbedded in Jewish history and religion, Passover is observed and celebrated by more Jewish people than any other holiday. Its attraction is not difficult to understand. The central theme of Passover is deliverance, and it represents a season of liberation and joy. The Passover rites were divinely ordained as a permanent reminder of God’s deliverance of His chosen people, whom He called “Israel my firstborn” and rescued from the Egyptian “house of bondage.”

So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance (Ex. 12:14).

Morris Joseph, in his book Judaism as Creed and Life summed it up as follows: “Passover has a message for the conscience and heart of all mankind. . . . It is Israel’s, nay God’s, protest against unrighteousness. Wrong, it declares, may triumph for a time, but even though it be perpetrated by the strong on the weak, it will meet its inevitable retribution at last.”

But the Passover celebration is also a clear prophecy of a greater story: the account of redemption through the Messiah, the Lamb of God, who lived, died, and rose again on the third day for the redemption of all who will believe. God set apart the Jewish nation and chose to reveal His plan of redemption through the children of Israel.

Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3).

God’s plan of redemption is dramatically seen in the beautiful pageantry and meaningful symbols of the Passover ceremony. To believers in Messiah Jesus, it also demonstrates the Jewish roots of Christianity. To understand the uniqueness of Passover among the Jewish holidays, it is important to consider the events that brought about the Feast of Passover 3,500 years ago.

Passover is a spring festival that begins on the fifteenth day of the month of Nisan, equivalent to the month of March or April, and lasts eight days. The biblical name for the festival is Hag HaPesach, and its name refers to God passing over, or protecting, the houses of the Children of Israel (Ex. 12:23). God had prepared Moses, the central figure in the book of Exodus, as a leader for His people, the Israelites, and for the epic historical event that followed—their exodus from Egypt after 430 years of slavery. God first saved the infant Moses from drowning, then provided him with the best education in the ancient world—Pharaoh’s court (Ex. 2:1-10). There, and later in the Midianite wilderness, God shaped Moses into an instrument for saving the Israelites from Egyptian bondage (Ex. 3:1-4:17). Their years of living in slavery were quite bitter and cruel, and the Jewish people cried out to God (Ex. 2:23-25). At the appointed time, God sent Moses and his brother, Aaron, to confront Pharaoh—Ramses II, the Israelites’ oppressor—and demanded that he “let my people go.” But nine times Pharaoh refused to let the Jewish people go. He cursed them by keeping them in slavery and bondage. After each refusal, God sent plagues (blood [Ex. 7:14-25], frogs [Ex. 8:1-15], vermin [Ex. 8:16-19], beasts [Ex. 8:20-32], pestilence [Ex. 9:1-7], boils [Ex. 9:8-12], hail [Ex. 9:13-35], locusts [Ex. 10:1-20], and darkness [Ex. 10:21-29]) upon Pharaoh and his household. Still Pharaoh refused to release the Jewish people.

During these dramatic encounters, as the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, the miraculous signs, wonders, and plagues demonstrated God’s power over the supposed gods of Egypt—especially Pharaoh, who, we know from historical writings, was considered by his people an incarnate deity. After the ninth refusal by Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go, God commanded that every Jewish family bring into their house, on the tenth day of the month of Nisan, a lamb.

“Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it” (Ex. 12:5-7).

“And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt” (Ex. 12:11-13).

So the Israelites obeyed God and followed His instructions for sacrificing the lamb, applying its blood to the doorposts of their homes, and making unleavened (without yeast) bread for their Passover meal. And the Lord passed over the firstborn sons of the Israelites because they had obeyed His instructions concerning the Passover feast.

Egypt had struck at God’s firstborn, Israel; now God struck back at Egypt’s firstborn sons. “And it came to pass at midnight that the LORD struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock” (Ex. 12:29). At this final, fatal sign of God’s wrath, Pharaoh finally let the Jewish people go. This began one of the most heroic and dramatic journeys in recorded history—the exodus of God’s chosen people from Egypt to the Promised Land.

But God hardened Pharaoh’s heart again, and he sent his army into the Sinai desert to pursue his former slaves. When the Israelites reached the Red Sea, the Egyptian army was fast approaching. God commanded Moses to raise his staff and stretch out his hand over the waters. When he did, God caused a strong wind to blow through the night, creating a rift of dry land in the middle of the sea, which allowed the Israelites to cross to safety on the other side. When the Egyptian army tried to follow the Israelites through the parted sea, God caused the wheels to fall off their chariots. Then God told Moses to once again stretch his hand over the sea to bring the waters back over the dry area. When he obeyed God, the waters came together again, drowning the entire Egyptian army (Ex. 14:15-31).