Exodus 12

The Word Made Fresh

1The LORD spoke again to Moses and Aaron in Egypt and said, 2“From now on this will be the first month of the year for you. 3Tell all the Israelites that on the tenth day of this month each household shall select a lamb. 4If the family is too small to eat a whole lamb, it should partner with their closest neighbor. The lamb is to be separated into the number of servings needed for the number of people who will eat of it. 5The lamb must be a year-old male without any flaws. You can select it from the sheep or the goats. 6Keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, then all of you will slaughter your lambs at twilight. 7Take some of the blood and smear it on the doorposts and lintels of the entrance to the house in which it will be eaten. 8Eat the lamb that same night, roasted over fire. Eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9Don’t eat it raw or boiled, but roast the entire lamb – head, legs and inner organs included – over a fire 10Don’t leave any of it until morning. Burn up anything that is left. 11Eat it with your clothes and shoes on and your staff in your hand. Eat it quickly! This is the Passover of the LORD! 12I will pass over the entire land of Egypt that night and put to death every first born human and animal. That is how I will levy justice against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the LORD. 13The blood on your doorways will be a flag for you. When I see the blood, I will pass over you and no harm will come to you when I strike the Egyptians.

14“This day will be an annual remembrance for you to observe before me. This is a festival to me for you to observe throughout your generations. 15Eat the unleavened bread for seven days. On the first day remove all the yeast from your houses. Anyone who eats bread baked with yeast through the seven days will be cast out from Israel. 16On the first day and the seventh day gather in a solemn assembly. Do no work on the first and seventh days except to prepare what you must eat.

17“From now on keep the holy day of unleavened bread because it will be on this day that I brought your families out of Egypt. Celebrate this day from now on, permanently. 18In the first month of the year, from the evening of the fourteenth day of the month through the evening of the twenty-first day, you may eat only bread without yeast. 19For seven days there must be no yeast in your homes. Whoever eats leavened bread will be removed from the people of Israel, whether that person is a foreigner or a native. 20Eat nothing leavened with yeast. Wherever you settle, you may have only unleavened bread.”

21So, Moses summoned all the elders of Israel. He said, “Go out and choose a lamb for your family and slaughter the lamb for the Passover. 22Use a hyssop branch to dip in the lamb’s blood and mark your doorposts and lintel with the blood. Then you must remain indoors until morning, 23because the LORD will go through the land to strike the Egyptians, but when the LORD sees the blood at your door, the destroyer will not be allowed to enter that house to kill anyone. 24This is a ritual you will observe from now on. Hand it down to your children. 25When you arrive in the land the LORD has promised to give you, you will continue to observe this holiday. 26When your children ask, ‘Why are we doing this?’ 27tell them, ‘This is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD because the LORD passed over the Israelite homes in Egypt and when the Egyptians were struck down, our homes were spared.’”

When Moses finished these instructions, the elders bowed down and worshiped God. 28Then the Israelites did everything just as the LORD had ordered Moses and Aaron.

29At midnight the LORD took the lives of all the firstborn offspring in Egypt, from Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the prisoners in the dungeon, and even including all the animals. 30Pharaoh, and his government officials, and all the Egyptian people were awakened during the night and there was bitter mourning in Egypt because there was not a single family that did not suffer a loss.

31Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron in the middle of the night. “Get out!” he ordered. “Get away from my people, you and all the Israelites! Go and worship the LORD; that’s what you wanted. 32Take your flocks and herds as well and get out! But also, say a good word for me.”

33The Egyptian people begged the Israelites to hurry and leave the land, “Or we will all die!” they said. 34So the people gathered their dough without yeast and wrapped their bowls in their clothing or carried them on their shoulders. 35They had done what Moses told them to do and had asked the Egyptians for gifts of silver and gold and for clothing as well. 36The LORD had made the Egyptians willing to give them whatever they asked, and that is how they looted the Egyptians.

37There were about 600,000 Israelites on foot, not counting the children. They went on foot from Rameses to Succoth. 38A mixture of other people went with them as well, and also a large number of animals including flocks and herds. 39They baked unleavened bread with the dough they had brought with them. It was not leavened with yeast because they were forced to leave Egypt and had no time, nor had they brought any provisions.

40The Israelites had lived in Egypt 430 years. 41On the day the 430th year ended they left the country of Egypt. 42The LORD kept vigil over them to bring them safely out of Egypt, and the anniversary of that night the Israelites have kept as a vigil for the LORD by the people from generation to generation.

43The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the rules for the Passover meal: no foreigner may take part in it, 44but any slave you may have purchased may take part if he has been circumcised, but a temporary member of your house, 45or a hired hand, may not take part in it. 46The meat must be eaten in one family; it cannot be taken outside. And you may not break any of the animal’s bones. 47All of the Israelites must take part. 48If a foreigner living with you wishes to celebrate the Passover of the LORD, all his men with him must be circumcised and then he may take part in the celebration and he can be treated as a native among you. But no uncircumcised person can eat the Passover meal. 49There will be one set of rules for the native and for the foreigner who lives with you.

50The Israelites did everything the way the LORD ordered Moses and Aaron to do it. 51And that very day the LORD brought the Israelites, group by group, out of Egypt.

Commentary

1-13: The month in which the angel of death visited the homes of the Egyptians is reckoned as the first month of the year. The Jewish calendar is extremely complex, based on weekly, lunar, and solar cycles, and revised through the centuries as Egyptian, Babylonian and other influences took hold. In addition, there are two calendars in use, an ecclesiastical calendar in which Abib (now called Nisan) is the first month of the year, and a civil calendar according to which Tishri is the first month (it is the 7th month in the ecclesiastical calendar). Rosh Hashanah, “head of the year,” is in the month of Tishri, corresponding roughly to September. Passover is celebrated the week of the first full moon following the spring equinox, and thus falls on a different day every year in the Gregorian calendar which we use today. The Christian holy day of Easter also falls on a different day each year because the record of the Gospels clearly ties the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus to the Jewish Passover.

So here is where all the confusion begins, with God giving Moses and Aaron instructions to prepare the people for leaving Egypt. On the tenth day of Abib each Israelite household is to set aside a lamb. Families too small to consume a whole lamb are to join with a neighbor. They are to stare at it longingly, I suppose, for four days. Then, on the fourteenth of Abib they are to slaughter the lamb at sundown. Some of the blood is to be sprinkled on the doorposts and lintels of the house in which they eat it. The whole lamb, including the head, legs and internal organs, is to be roasted over fire. The whole animal is to be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs before the morning; any part of it that is left is to be burned. When they eat it, they are to be fully dressed, with shoes on and staff in hand, ready to leave.

The LORD tells them that on that night all the firstborn animal and human in every Egyptian household will be struck down by a plague, but that he will pass over the houses marked with the lamb’s blood. In verse 12 it is clearly said that this is a judgment on “all the gods of Egypt,” indicating that this is a cosmic battle being waged above the awareness of mere mortals.

14-20: The Passover must be observed every year from then on, God says. The next morning, they are to hold a “solemn assembly.” For seven days they must not eat bread that has been leavened. If they do, the punishment is being banished from the congregation (excommunicated, we might say). Another solemn assembly is to be held on the seventh day.

21-28: Moses calls the elders together and gives them the instructions with a few minor additions he apparently thinks of himself. Go select the lambs, he says, slaughter them, and use a hyssop branch and a basin (two little added details) to mark your doorways. Do not go outside your door until morning (another little added detail) because the LORD is going to pass through and strike down the Egyptians (all of them, it sounds like here). From his tone it is going to happen that very night. Maybe it is the 14th of Abib when he tells them all this, for there is certainly some urgency about him, but they are supposed to select the lamb on the 10th. By the way, he says, you have to do this every year from now on, and when your children ask why, tell them about the Passover of the LORD when the Egyptians were struck down, but the Israelites were spared. Everybody runs out to find a lamb.

29-32: At midnight, the plague strikes and in every Egyptian house the firstborn of animals and humans dies. A great cry goes up from the land. Pharaoh is himself included, for his firstborn is found dead. He immediately summons Moses and Aaron in the night (but they aren’t supposed to go outside, are they?) and tells them to pack up and go right this very minute and worship the LORD. And please, he adds, get me a blessing, too. Pharaoh is becoming a believer in the God of Israel, though not a worshiper.

33-36: The Egyptians are eager to see them go and give them whatever they ask.

37-39: They leave in haste, more than half a million of them, and head eastward toward the border. A “mixed multitude” is with them, meaning that it was not just the Israelites who were escaping.

40-42: They have been in Egypt now for 430 years.

43-49: Some more rules are given for observing the Passover. Foreigners cannot eat the lamb (perhaps in view of the “mixed multitude” that accompanied them), nor anyone who is not circumcised. If resident aliens (referring, of course, to a time many years hence when they will actually reside in the land of Canaan) want to join the observance, well, that’s okay if all their men are circumcised.

50-51: “All the Israelites did just as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron.” That won’t happen very often.

Takeaway

God has finally decided that, after over four hundred years, it is time for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be rescued. We should never ask, “Why has God not answered my prayers.” Instead, we should ask God to give us patience and strength to cling to hope however long it may take for us to be rescued from our trials.