Exodus 12:11, “In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand.”
Belts, sandals, and a staff. Sounds like YHWH is prepping Israel for a journey. This night, and the subsequent season of preparation for Pesach, needs to be seen as a fresh opportunity to reset the vision for your family and then to step boldly into it. I’ve mentioned in other posts about my personal dislike for long and drawn out Pesach dinners. All of the language leading to the original Pesach has a “hurry up and lets get going” vibe to it. I don’t know why YHWH would honor a spirit of complacency, or want us simply doing a ritual for ritual’s sake.
For me and my house, we follow these exact instructions. Rather than dressing up in finer clothes, we literally dress for Pesach like we are dressing for a journey. The chairs are removed from the table, so the entire meal is eaten standing up, like we’re late and have somewhere to be. Somewhere like The Promised Land, for example.
This year we are going to do the staff part a little differently. The word for staff is usually matay (Strongs 4294). This is the kind of staff that Moses uses in just about every other staff-related event, and there are more than a few. This same word is often translated as “tribe”, so you can see the connection to leading a family implicit in matay. It’s no wonder that Moses always seems to have one in his hand.
It also makes sense that the word translated as “God” in Hebrew is El. The first letter in “El” is a picture of a bull–and implies strongest. The second letter, the “l” in the original ancient Hebrew is a picture of a staff. So, “God” means the “strongest leader” when looking at the spelling. The staff represents that authority to lead.
However, the staff for the Pesach table is a unique staff. It’s a makkel (Strongs 4731), a word used SEVEN times before this Pesach instruction. Those seven times are in the story of Jacob, and his plan to leave Laban with his rapidly multiplying family.
Genesis 30:37-41. “Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. He set the sticks that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted. And Jacob separated the lambs and set the faces of the flocks toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban. He put his own droves apart and did not put them with Laban’s flock. Whenever the stronger of the flock were breeding, Jacob would lay the sticks in the troughs before the eyes of the flock, that they might breed among the sticks, but for the feebler of the flock he would not lay them there. So the feebler would be Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys.”
If you’re counting sticks, that’s six. The seventh he saves for the prayer that proceeds His wrestling event with YHWH that very night.
Genesis 32:10, “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps.”
Without the full context, it would seem as if Jacob is using some really funky veterinary medicine. But when you see how the author chose this word intentionally, and then linked it eternally with the Pesach and the Exodus, it’s easier to see the meaning behind the makkel. It represents NEW authority. Whatever strategies Jacob had been using when trying to get free of Laban were clearly not working. This story shows him taking fresh authority over his family and their collective future. In the Jacob narrative, the author connects this staff with “fresh”, “multiplication”, “separation of the strongest”, “great increase”, even “justice” (since Laban tried to cheat in this husbandry arrangement.) Every year, Pesach is rooted in these same principles. We should be looking forward not just to freedom, but to freedom as a means to those specific ends.
So this year I’m proposing that the leaders of each household standing around the table (and anyone else so led) not just bring any staff to the table–but a fresh staff. We’ll each cut our own straight stick and peel white stripes into it as a tribute to Jacob. On Pesach we’ll have one hand on that staff, and with the other we’ll stuff our faces with the lamb, matzah, and bitter herb. We’ll lean on the staves in the same way we lean on His promises of a fresh start, great increase, and a supernatural deliverance.