Lesson 19 – Passover
Yahweh is my strength and my might, and has become my salvation.
1These two chapters of Exodus are very important to
the story of
2Woven together with this story of the last plague are instructions on how to observe two distinct spring festivals. The first described is the shepherd festival that commemorates the birth of the new lambs and kids. Some very ancient way of giving thanks to God for the new lambs and kids must lie behind the requirement that the lamb be roasted, eaten entirely during the Passover evening, and all the remaining parts that are inedible be burned the next day. The purpose of the blood sprinkled on the lintels and the doorposts must have been to ward off demons that would try to destroy the lives of the rest of the flock. The second spring festival is a farmer's festival, intended to celebrate the coming of the first spring crop of grain, the barley. It too must preserve very ancient customs. The leavened bread of the prior year must not touch the newly harvested barley. Unleavened bread, then, must be eaten in order to keep the new grain free of contamination by the old.
3The dedication of the firstborn males, both human and animals, must have arisen in a similar way: to give thanks for this gift of life, but also to ward off any danger to the mother of the male child or the bearer of the male animal, seeking to safe-guard the fertility of the mother and the female animal.
4The storytellers have done their job well. See how
powerfully these two spring festivals have been woven into a single ceremony?
And both have been connected for all time with the last of the plagues in
5The third element woven into Passover and Unleavened
Bread ceremonies is the offering of the firstborn male children and firstborn
male live-stock. The offering of male children may have behind it, as many
scholars suggest, the practice of human sacrifice of a
firstborn child-a practice that may lie behind the story of Abraham's readiness
to offer Isaac as a human sacrifice. But by the time of Abraham and Moses,
human sacrifice was rare indeed, among
6The Passover ceremony is a family celebration performed in the home. One child is appointed to ask the question given in Exodus 12:26, "What do you mean by this observance?" The answer given is that Passover refers to God's having "passed over" the Israelite houses, but having brought punishment on the Egyptian households. To this6day, Jewish families try to arrange for non-Jews to celebrate the festival with them, as a reminder that God intends freedom for all the families of earth.
7We should note that Passover is listed as taking place in the first month of the lunar year, the month of Abib. The more common name for this month is Nisan. We know, hpwever, that the Jewish New Year's Day celebration comes in the fall of the year, in the month of Tishri. The explanation is that two calendars were in use in the Jewish community, one beginning the year in the spring (the so-called secular calendar) and the other beginning the year in the fall, the religious calendar. The first calendar was retained, but New Year's Day as a fall festivity was also retained, though it comes in the seventh month, not the first.
81t was a remarkable achievement of the early Israelites that they were able to take these nature festivals, common among farmers and shepherds, and tie them to central events in their history. The festivals thus become a part of the theme of God's promise on the way to fulfillment. They remain nature festivals; they come once a year, at the right season of the year. But they also are acts of commemoration, of holy remembrance.
1 YHWH (Yahweh) said to Moses and Aaron
2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.
3 Tell the whole congregation of
4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.
5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.
6 You shall keep it until the
fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of
7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.
8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs.
10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.
11 This 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 YHWH.
12 For 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 judgments: I am YHWH.
13 The 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
14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to YHWH; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened
bread; on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever
eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day shall be cut off
16 On the first day you shall hold a solemn assembly, and on the seventh day a solemn assembly; no work shall be done on those days; only what everyone must eat, that alone may be prepared by you.
17 You shall observe the festival of
unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your companies out of the
18 In the first month, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day, you shall eat unleavened bread.
19 For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether an alien or a native of the land.
20 You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your settlements you shall eat unleavened bread.
21 Then Moses called all the elders of
22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning.
23 For YHWH will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, YHWH will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down.
24 You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children.
25 When you come to the land that YHWH will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance.
26 And when your children ask you, 'What do you mean by this observance?'
27 you shall say, 'It is the passover sacrifice to YHWH, for he passed over the houses
of the Israelites in
28 The Israelites went and did just as YHWH had commanded Moses and Aaron.
29 At midnight YHWH struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock.
30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and
all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in
31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, "Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship YHWH, as you said.
32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!"
33 The Egyptians urged the people to hasten their departure from the land, for they said, "We shall all be dead."
34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls wrapped up in their cloaks on their shoulders.
35 The Israelites had done as Moses told them; they had asked the Egyptians for jewelry of silver and gold, and for clothing,
36 and YHWH had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. And so they plundered the Egyptians.
37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children.
38 A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds.
39 They baked unleavened cakes of the
dough that they had brought out of
40 The time that the Israelites had
41 At the end
of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of YHWH went
out from the
42 That was for YHWH a night of vigil,
to bring them out of the
43 YHWH said to Moses and Aaron: This is the ordinance for the passover: no foreigner shall eat of it,
44 but any slave who has been purchased may eat of it after he has been circumcised;
45 no bound or hired servant may eat of it.
46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the animal outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones.
47 The whole congregation of
48 If an alien who resides with you wants to celebrate the passover to YHWH, all his males shall be circumcised; then he may draw near to celebrate it; he shall be regarded as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it;
49 there shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.
50 All the Israelites did just as YHWH had commanded Moses and Aaron.
51 That very day YHWH brought the
Israelites out of the
1 YHWH said to Moses:
2 Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine.
3 Moses said to the people,
"Remember this day on which you came out of
4 Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out.
5 When YHWH brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this observance in this month.
6 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a festival to YHWH.
7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen in your possession, and no leaven shall be seen among you in all your territory.
8 You shall tell your child on that
day, 'It is because of what YHWH did for me when I came out of
9 It shall serve for you as a sign on
your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, so that the teaching of YHWH may
be on your lips; for
with a strong hand YHWH brought you out of
10 You shall keep this ordinance at its proper time from year to year.
decision to go to
probably went to
The way the Gospels present the facts of the case, Jesus was actually condemned to death by the supreme Jewish tribunal (Mark 14:55ff.). Pilate, on the other hand, was convinced of Jesus' innocence and made vain attempts to release him but finally yielded to the Jews' pressure against his better judgment (Mark 15:22ff.). The historical reliability of this account has rightly been questioned. First, the Synoptic reports differ among themselves. According to Mark and Matthew, the Jewish supreme court had already gathered in the home of the High Priest after Jesus' arrest in the night of Holy Thursday to Friday and condemned him to death as a blasphemer at that point (Mark 14:64). Thereafter, they resolved to hand Jesus over to Pilate in a new session in the early morning (Mark 15:1). Luke knows of only one session and has the interrogation take place in the morning (Luke 22:66), but he says nothing about Jesus' condemnation (Luke 22:71). John deviates even more; here, only the high priests Annas and Caiaphas are involved in the interrogation of Jesus (John 18:13ff.). Secondly, with regard to all the Gospel accounts, the question arises, what earwitness can be supposed later to have given the disciples an exact report? Thirdly, the jurisdictional competency of the Jewish Sanhedrin is disputed. In the opinion of some scholars, the Jewish authorities were permitted to pronounce sentence of death and to carry it out by stoning in the case of serious religious offenses (blasphemy). In the opinion of others, though, this required the confirmation of the Roman procurator. Also, trials of this kind were not to be conducted during the period of the festival.
The strongest argument against the Synoptic presentation is, however, that it is styled throughout in a Christian, and not in a Jewish, way; i.e., on the basis of scriptural proof and the Christian confession to the messiahship and divine Sonship of Jesus. The High Priest's question, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" (Mark 14:61), is unthinkable from the viewpoint of Jewish premises, because Son of God was not a Jewish title for the Messiah. Thus, the account reflects the controversies of the later church with the Judaism of its day.
is in the Gospels a tendency to exonerate Pilate at the Jews' expense. His behaviour, however, does not match the picture that nonbiblical sources have handed down about him. But
everything speaks for Jesus' having been arrested as a troublemaker, informally
interrogated, and handed over to Pilate as the leader of a political revolt by
the pro-Roman priestly and Sadducean members of the
Sanhedrin, who were dominant in Jerusalem society in those days. The cleansing
The other scenes in the Passion story do not need to be listed here separately. They relate more to the theological meaning of Jesus' Passion and are, to a large measure, formed in an edifying cultic manner, even though they refer to events that are certainly historical; e.g., Judas' betrayal, Jesus' last meal with his disciples, and Peter's denial of Jesus. The traces of an eyewitness account are perhaps still recognizable at certain points (Mark ; ).
The accounts differ in their presentation of Jesus' death, especially in their rendering of his last words. It is only in Mark and Matthew that Jesus dies crying out the prayer from Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The distinction between the repentant and the defiant thief is only found in Luke. Jesus' last words are given differently in Luke ("Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!") and John ("It is finished"). Each of these accounts, as also the testimony of the Roman centurion ("Truly this man was the Son of God!"; Mark ), gives expression to the significance of Jesus and his story.
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