PASSOVER

Most people who study the bible are familiar with the Hebrew’s history of Passover. If you are not familiar with this story it is the account of how the Hebrews were saved from the bonds of slavery in Egypt as described in the Bible in the Old Testament book of Exodus.  However, long before the Exodus account, Passover was celebrated way before Moses led the chosen people to the land of milk and honey.

Passover” was originally a protection rite for nomadic shepherds as they moved along the routes in search of pasture. The blood of a sacrificed lamb, symbolizing and containing the life-giving power of God, gave them protection against any evil forces and the meal then sealed the link between God and His people”.[1]  As you continued to read this, keep the part about the “meal then sealed the link between God and His people” in the back of your memory for it will come to play an important role again in the Book of Exodus and in the Gospel’s accounts of the Last Supper in the New Testament.

 For 430 years the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites. But on the night of the 10th plague, Pharaoh would give into the Hebrew’s God and release them. Well that is not entirely accurate. Since Pharaoh does not simply release them. No, “he will drive you away”![2]  After the people of Egypt suffered through nine plagues, what was it that finally made the Pharaoh give up his prize processions- the Hebrew slaves? Well that night, his step-brother, Moses, gave his fellow Hebrews a message from God. “At midnight, I will go forth through Egypt. Every first born in this land shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh on the throne to the first born of the slave-girl at the hand mill, as well as the first born of the animals. Then there shall be loud wailing throughout the land of Egypt, such as never been, nor will ever be again”.[3]

  For the Israelites, God provided them with a lifeboat. “But among the Israelites and their animals not even a dog shall grow, so that you may know how the Lord distinguishes between the Egyptians and the Israelites”.[4]  In order to be “passed over” by the angel of death and live, the enslaved Hebrews had to follow these strict instructions:  “The Lord said to Moses: every one of your families must procure a lamb. The lamb must be a year old male and without blemish. It shall be slaughtered during evening twilight and take some of its blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb. That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh; all shall be eaten and none of it must be kept beyond the next morning. You shall eat it with your loin girt sandals on your feet and staff in hand like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the Lord. For on this same night I will go throughout Egypt striking down every first born of the land: both man and beast. But the blood will mark the house where you are. Seeing the blood, I will pass over you thus when I strike the land of Egypt, no destructive blow will come upon you.[5]  

“At mid-night, the Lord slew every first born in the Land of Egypt, from the first born of Pharaoh on the throne to the first born of the prisoner in the dungeon, as well as the first born of the animals. There was not a house without dead. During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “leave my people at once. Go and worship your God as you demanded and be gone; and you will be doing me a favor!”[6]

“The Israelites left Rameses for Succoth. About six hundred thousand men on foot, not counting children”[7] left that dayIn the pursuing days, God provided Moses with new Passover regulations. The main principle: “No foreigner may partake of it and all the Israelites did just as the Lord had commanded Moses”.[8] 

So, let us have a recap. In order to be saved from the angel of death, the Jews had to follow the precise instructions given to Moses by God- step by step! Performing just a part of the ritual would not be enough to keep the angel of death at bay and from smiting the first born of the house. They had to perform the entire ceremony.

Step 1: Slaughter an unblemished lamb (meaning no defects or broken bones). The unblemished lamb or goat is widely known as the Paschal Lamb or the Korban Pesach.

Step 2: Sprinkle the sacrificial spilled blood on the doorpost.

Step 3: Roast the meat of the lamb without removing its internal organs and “eat it”  that night along with Mats( unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs). Any remains of the sacrificial lamb still not consumed by sun rises may not be eaten but burned.

Step 4: They must be dressed with “your loins girded, your shoes on your feet and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste”.[9]

When the angel of death appeared at the front door and recognized all four steps were completed, only then, would the angel of death “pass over” to the next house.  Now, did you get that part about “eating the lamb”? This is an especially important part of all four steps to being saved!  This will become a recurring theme when I write and post about the Last Supper and the Eucharist.

Now that the Israelites were wondering in the wilderness of the desert, God wanted a place where his tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, could rest. He wanted a place where the Passover lambs could be sacrificed not in the homes of the Jews but rather at the door of God’s tabernacle and at a place that God would choose- Jerusalem. Called the “festival [of] the “matzot” (Hebrew: חג המצות ḥag ha-matzôth) in the Hebrew Bible, the commandment to keep Passover is recorded in the Book of Leviticus [10]. “The Passover of the Lord falls on the fourteenth day of the first month, at the evening of twilight. The fifteenth day of this month is the Lord’s feast of the Unleavened Bread”.[11]

Many Chapters later in Deuteronomy 15:19-23, God dictates these instructions. “You shall consecrate to the Lord, your God, all the male firstlings of your heard and of your flock. You shall not work the firstlings of your flock, nor your cattle. Years after year, you and your family shall eat them before the Lord your God, in the place he chooses. If however, a firstling is lame, or blind or has any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord, your God but in your own communities you may eat it, the unclean and the clean, eating it alike, as you would a gazelle or a dear. Only, you shall not partake of its blood, which must be poured out on the ground like water”.  I have a question for all of you regarding this last sentence. Does this sound like the dripping of the blood from the body and cross of Jesus? It does to me!

When I visited Jerusalem in 2019 I asked a lot of questions. I was told that in the Jewish rite, blood is considered holy and only belong to God. That is the reason, the High priests sprinkled the blood of the sacrificial animals on the hot embers. “Priests stood by as the animals throat were cut, to catch the  warm blood in silver vessels. The silver vessels were passed from the stakes to the altar, where priests used special whisks of silver to sprinkle the blood against the base of the altar. High above the pilgrims, a billowing cloud of smoke rose from the altar to fill the skies over Jerusalem and, in, the words of Leviticus, “provide a pleasing odor to the Lord” (Leviticus 1:13).[12]

 Continuing Deuteronomy, chapters 16, 17, and 18, God instructs the Israelites with procedures to commemorate the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt by following the exact rituals performed at the original Passover. This was in part to thank God for sparing their lives and to relive and experience the true freedom that their ancestors gained.  “Three times a year, every male among you shall appear before the Lord, in the place He has chosen, at the feast of the Unleavened Bread, at the feast of the Weeks and at the feast of the Booths. No one shall appear before the Lord empty handed but each of you as much as he can give, in proportion to the blessings which the Lord, your God, has bestowed on you”.[13] 

God is setting up His temple and the way he wants to be worship. No longer does God want the smearing of blood on the door post but now wants the sacrifice of the firstling on an altar. When Moses ascended Mt. Sanai, he was given constructions plan to build the Holy Temple. These scrolls (“blueprints”) were passed down to Joshua and then all the way down, many generations later until it was placed in the hands of King Solomon. King Solomon’s temple stood for about 410 years until it was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezar of Babylonia. “With the destruction of the temple, the Jews were exiled from their homeland-some to Babylon, some to Egypt, Persia and Media. Fifty-two years later, the first of the Babylonian’s Jews returned to Jerusalem and started to rebuild the temple. They first rebuilt the altar amidst the ruins, and within eighteen years, seventy years after the destruction, the entire Temple stood once again”.[14] In my 2019 visit to Jerusalem, I learned that the second temple was constructed in a year and a half by King Herod. It was grandiose and on a magnificent scale; but work continue for about another 80 years.

Just to give you an idea of how big the Passover Festival in Jerusalem was, we have to turn to the writings of Josephus. Here we have an eyewitness account and detailed description of the number of sacrifices offered each year at the temple during Jesus time: “so these high priests, upon coming of their feast which is called Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour (about 3pm) to the eleventh (about 5pm) found the number of sacrifices was 256,500; which upon the allowance of no more than ten that feast together, amount to 2,700,200 persons (Josephus war 6:423-27).  Ancient Jewish celebrants did not just remember the exodus the actively participated in it. From their perspective, no matter how much time had passed since the days of Moses, the salvation won in the exodus was not just for our fathers but for us also. And the chief way both of remembering and of participating in the original acts of redemption was, of course, by keeping the Passover itself”. [15]

Today, in the absence of the Temple, when no sacrifices are offered or eaten, the mitzvah or the Korban Pesach is memorialized in the Seder Korban Pesach, a set of scriptural and Rabbinic passages dealing with the Passover sacrifice, customarily recited after the Mincha (afternoon prayer) service on the 14th of Nisan, and in the form of the zeroa, a symbolic food placed on the Passover Seder Plate (but not eaten), which is usually a roasted shank bone (or a chicken wing or neck). The eating of the afikoman substitutes for the eating of the Korban Pesach at the end of the Seder meal (Mishnah Pesachim 119a). Many Sephardi Jews have the custom of eating lamb or goat meat during the Seder in memory of the Korban Pesach.[16]

Present day,  usually after a business deal is completed, the two parties involved usually shake hands (a sign of a covenant-a bond and/or a commitment between the parties

 At Passover, the shaking hands with God part, is substituted with eating the lamb. Centuries later, Jesus will replace the Mosaic Covenant as predicted by the prophet Jeremiah:

The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt. I will place my law with them and write it upon their hearts”.[17]

As a Jew, Jesus would have celebrated Passover in the same ceremonial manners as his ancestors. However, on the very night that His Passion begins, Jesus established a new covenant with man by substituting his life for the life of the Passover lamb; to be slaughter and to spill His blood for the redemption of man. In doing so, Jesus established Himself as the “New lamb”- the New Passover.  The Old Testament supports the New Testament with prophecies and the New Testament will verify and fulfill the Old Testament’s foretelling.  With that said, here are a few  of very many Old Testament prophecies corroborating Jesus as the “New Lamb”:

  • Isaiah 53:7He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth.  He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth[18]
  • Exodus 12:46You shall not break any of its bones and be silent as a lamb before his accusers”[19]
  • Numbers 9:12 signify “pronounced dead with no broken bones”.[20]

The difference between the Jew’s and the Christian’s understanding of Passover is this: while the Jews continue to celebrate a remembrance just for them, Jesus establish a new covenant that is open to all men.  


[1] Dr. Ian Barnes, the Historical Atlas of the Bible (Chartwell Books. Inc. New York, NY. 2006). Pp. 68

[2] New American Bible. Catholic Translation. Exodus chapter 11:1 (Catholic Bible Press. Nashville, Tn. 1987)p.12

[3] Ibid. Exodus 11:6. P62

[4] Ibid. 11:7 pp.62

[5] Ibid 12:43-50.pp64

[6] Ibid. 11:29-32.pp63

[7] Ibid 12:37. Pp.63

[8] Ibid 12: 43. Pp64

[9] Ibid. 12:11.p63

[10] Wikipedia. 2021. Online story. PASSOVER

[11] New American Bible. Catholic Translation. Leviticus 23:5 (Catholic Bible Press. Nashville, Tn. 1987)p.112

[12] Jean-Pierre Isbouts. In the Footsteps of Jesus. National Geographic. Washington DC.pp233

[13] Ibid. Deuteronomy 16: 16-17pp 175

[14] Rabbi Yisrael Ariel. The Holy Temple In Jerusalem. Maggid Books. New Milford, Ct. 2018. Pp53

[15] Dr. Brant Pitre. The Jewish Roots of the Eucharist

[16] Wikipedia. 2021. Online story. PASSOVER

[17]New American Bible. Catholic Translation. Jeremiah 31:31 (Catholic Bible Press. Nashville, Tn.1983) pp. 835

[18] Isaiah 53:7 Ibid. pp. 792

[19] Exodus 12:46 Ibid. pp. 69

[20] Numbers 9:12 Ibid. pp. 132

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: