Taste and See | Passover: A History
The first three biblical feasts of the spring are Passover, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits. They all occur in the same week, but Passover occurs first, on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nisan. Growing up, all I knew about Passover was that my Jewish friends got to miss a day of school. If anyone felt passed over, it was my nine-year-old self in Social Studies class staring at three empty seats and wondering what holiday I could convince my parents we needed to observe. Deep thoughts.
In middle school, I attended a traditional Jewish Passover meal with at a friend's grandparents’ house. I didn’t have any idea what we were celebrating (all I knew of Moses was that he’d been found as a baby in the bulrushes), but I could tell by her grandfather’s reverence that I was participating in something sacred—something that meant more to him than anything had ever meant to me.
Passover commemorates the Lord’s faithful deliverance of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt. Keeping the feast is an act of grateful worship of a faithful God.
In Exodus 6:6-7, God promised deliverance as He spoke to His people through Moses:
“Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will (1)bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will (2)deliver you from slavery to them, and I will (3)redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will (4)take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.’”
I have highlighted four specific promises of the Lord. These promises are emphasized in the Passover meal with the four cups of wine. As we will see, special foods and symbols are employed throughout the feast to look back on and remember the Lord’s deliverance. We will get the most out of the feasts if we come to them with an understanding of the history.
If you'll bear with me through a history lesson today, I hope the payoff will be great when we get to the feast itself!
The History of Israel
From the nations of the world, God called Abraham and established His covenant with him. Through Abraham’s line, God established a nation for Himself through whom all the other nations of the world would be blessed (Genesis 12-20; Genesis 12:3). Abraham had a son named Isaac (Genesis 21) who had twins named Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25). God continued to build His nation through the line of Jacob, who had twelve sons (Genesis 35:23-26). Jacob was renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28), and from his twelve sons came the twelve tribes of Israel.
Through a series of events including a famine in their land, Jacob/Israel and his twelve sons moved to Egypt (Genesis 37-50). Over time, the the descendants of Jacob grew into a great multitude of people and became enslaved by the Egyptians (Exodus 1).
But God remembered His covenant with Abraham. After about four hundred years, when the future of God’s people looked bleak and they bore the burden of bondage, God called another man, Moses, and showed Himself faithful:
“Then the Lord said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.’” (Exodus 3:7-8)
The Lord saw. He heard. He knew. And He came down to deliver. Passover reminds us that He still does that for His people. It is certainly reason for celebration!
The Lord told Moses to go the Pharaoh of Egypt and demand the release of the Hebrew people. Moses was a Hebrew by birth but had been raised in Pharaoh’s home (Exodus 1-2), so he was uniquely suited for this mission. But Pharaoh would not listen. When he refused to free the Israelites, the Lord sent a series of plagues upon the Egyptians. Still Pharaoh refused to let God's people go. (Exodus 7-10)
The tenth and final plague was the death of the firstborn (Exodus 11). On that first Passover, the Lord offered safety and protection from that plague through the blood of a lamb (Exodus 12).
The First Passover: Exodus 12
Take some time now to read through the story of the Passover in Exodus 12. I’m going to note some of the points that will be especially important to us (but still read it for yourself!).
- Verses 2-5: On the 10th day of the first month, each household was to bring a perfect lamb into their home.
- 6-7: On the 14th day, they were to kill the lamb at sundown and spread the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their house.
- 12-13: The blood was a sign that the plague of death was to pass over that house.
- 24: The feast of Passover was to be celebrated annually by the Hebrew people and their children forever.
- 26-27: These verses summarize the significance of the Passover and explain why the Israelites were to celebrate it annually.
- 28-32: The Lord did just as He had promised. He delivered the people from the hand of the Egyptians.
- 43-50: The Lord gave instructions about who may celebrate the Passover feast: “No foreigner may share in eating it,” the Lord said. He then explained how a foreigner might join Israel and participate in celebrating the feast.
The Lord is a faithful God who looks upon His people and remembers His promises. He does all that He says He will do. Annually at the feast of Passover, His people remember the freedom that He brings.
But are we His people? That is the question weighing on every heart.
And the answer is found in the blood of the Lamb. “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Have we accepted the provision of His blood?
Spend some time considering Ephesians 2:11-13: those who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
The Lamb of God has set a place for us at the table of the Lord.
Filling in the Chart
If you’re following along with the study by filling in the chart about the feasts, here are your first two points for the Passover:
- Agricultural Significance: None.
- Historical Significance: Write out Exodus 12:27 and 12:51. The feast commemorates the Lord’s deliverance of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt.
- Redemptive Significance: Coming next week!