Exodus 12:1-14 Institution of the Passover
1The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbour in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Lord. 13The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.
Let’s first set aside the misinterpretation of Scripture that claims it to be a historical record as we might expect in the 21st century. The Torah, the first five books of our Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament, are theological documents attempting to explain how things came to be the way they were when they were finally written down, many centuries after the contents came into existence. The Jewish calendar, unlike the common one we use today, starts close to the northern hemisphere’s spring equinox. Since this is held as the beginning of the year there needed to be some explanation for why it was so.
A lamb, after dressing, will yield about 15kg of meat, or enough for 30 to 40 people. That’s an awfully big family! No wonder the instruction is to share it with neighbours if there’s too much meat. Hold your horses – sorry, lambs. This animal is to be free from blemishes – according to whom? and it can come from sheep or goats. Did I miss something? A small goat is a kid, not a lamb – but here again comes the 21st century understanding, instead of that from many centuries before, and from a different culture. Let us beware of falling into the trap of thinking our way is the only way and it has always been so.
This food for the beginning of a journey into the unknown, has to be slaughtered at twilight and eaten that same evening. How long does it take from slaughter to serving as a meal? Even if you took the newly slaughtered animal and roasted it immediately it wouldn’t be ready to consume for several hours. Given that the instructions include cooking the meat with head and organs included, it would take even longer.
Having destroyed the instructions as unreasonable in the circumstances let’s remember that this isn’t a recipe extract, but a theological statement about preparedness for what is to come. This is an overnight feast, since the people are told to burn anything which is still left by morning. Taking into account that the Jewish ‘day’ starts and finishes at sunset, this meal occurs during the first day of the Exodus; and while they are eating in preparation for their departure God’s Spirit passes over the land of Egypt and kills the firstborn, human or animal, in every house except those marked with blood on the doorposts and lintels.
Just think what this means for Egyptian Jews or Christians today? It’s not Good News.
The original Passover was a one-night event, after which the Hebrew people, who were already prepared for travel and to leave behind their slave lives in Egypt, started a long journey to the Promised Land. Each year, the Jews celebrate Passover as a seven, rather than one, day event. For Christians, the Passover was the time when Jesus instituted the Last Supper. We commemorate the event with special services, and possibly a Seder meal, on the Thursday before Easter. Note the different word. For Jews, Passover is something they live through every time the celebration is held; for Christians it’s a one day event to remember something in the past. If we Christians took the same approach as the Jews, would our commemoration of the events surrounding the last hours of Christ’s life on earth become a celebration of what He achieved for us? Would that empower us to go forth and make disciples of all nations? When we prepare ourselves for Easter next year are we going to be ready for a journey into the unknown, guided by a God whom we trust explicitly, or are we going to sit back and mark the event as we would another birthday? This story tells us of a people of faith saved from the hands of people who worshipped other gods. Are those who worship money, sport, personal ambition, power, drugs, or any of the multitude of other ‘gods’ keeping us from celebrating what Jesus bought for us with His life? If so, what are we doing to be prepared for our passover?