Even you’ve never heard the Passover story, here’s an overview (in 3 parts) starting…in the beginning.
In the beginning, all things were perfect, and humans were placed within that perfect creation. Mankind, at the time only Adam and Eve, were given the choice to remain in that perfect garden and remained blessed, but instead we chose a selfish route. This decision to disobey resulted in humanity being booted from paradise, and into the very world we live in now. Just before our exile, God took the life of an innocent animal to cover mankind’s nakedness and shame. This becomes the first of several prototypes for the themes and symbols of Passover. Our creator also promised a way back to the garden and in the meantime has given us scripture as a road map. The bible details several covenants which explain God’s long-term plan and introduces us to example after example of humans struggling to keep our end of the bargain.
We always struggle and always fail–God does neither.
The story of Noah then continues these themes, this time introducing a new element. A door that saves the family that is inside, while those that are outside perish through divine judgement. There was a worldwide invitation to enter, but in the end, it was an individual choice to be in or out. The evil that was in mankind’s hearts continually was both the reason for the righteous judgment, as well as what prevented people from seeing the way to life. Again, these are all building blocks to the nature of what becomes known as Passover, and we need to keep them in mind as we go forward.
More hints of Passover continue to pour in during the life of Abram. Abram and his family were essentially strangers to who God was, yet when Abram heard his call, he left his past behind him and crossed over into a lifestyle of faith. This major choice identifies Abram as the first “Hebrew” which means “one who crosses over”. This choice, one of the earliest examples of faith in the bible, resulted in God making Abram an offer he didn’t refuse. He would be essentially the first seed in a “family” who would become the chief examples of what humanity could be if they would just master the key element Adam and Eve botched. Faithfulness to this promise will result in a huge blessing both to Abram to his seed, and the Hebrew people, forever. This blessing overflows to all of humanity, even to those outside of that family. To ensure that overflowing blessing, the world simply has to partner with Abram’s family to bring about God’s will on earth. That’s all.
This open promise for Abram and his family to become “the people of God” is eventually upgraded to “Covenant” status, making it unbreakable. Even if Abram and his decedents (defined by those who choose to have faith, rather than simply a DNA inheritance) fail in their mission, God will follow through with his side of the bargain. God regularly tested Abram’s faith, just like he tested Adam and Eve originally. An early test of Abram’s faith involves a lack of a single heir to pass on this very promise. After trial and error, Abram finally re-engages his faith, and Isaac is born via a miracle. God renames the proud parents Abraham and Sarah. Their names signify that they were indeed faithful to God, and as importantly, trusted that God would be faithful right back.
He also marks Abraham physically, a cut on his foreskin as a reminder of the Holy nature and the extreme value of his seed. This is also a mark signifying permanent commitment to his own personal faith and his future faithfulness in raising children of faith. Internal faith without the external evidence of a commitment is not biblical faith. Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” As we will eventually see. Passover is a celebration and a reminder of our personal commitment to those same principles.
After Isaac is grown, God again tests Abraham (and Isaac), this time asking Abraham to offer up his only begotten first born son as a sacrifice. Seemingly this would mean the end of the line of promise, yet Abraham faithfully complies. This was less of a test of Abraham’s faith as it was proof of God’s faithfulness. At the last possible moment, God substitutes a ram. Isaac is spared and the Covenant proves yet again to be unbreakable. We also see yet another example of the biblical cornerstone concept that the blood of the innocent can be substituted for the life of a faithful but flawed human to spare their life.
Repeatedly, in both bible-history-making conditions, and quiet and anonymous personal struggles, those who are Abraham’s seed are faced with tests of faith all the time. Struggling with tests of faithfulness and being blessed by passing these tests is the hallmark of the lifestyle of Abraham’s family, then and now. Since God will be faithful no matter what, all we must do is be His faithful allies. By identifying with that faith, people all over the world become adopted into that same family of Hebrew Israelites. It’s rare that believers identify with that term, but that’s what scripture calls us. A “gentile” is simply what most were considered before entering into the Covenant. (Ephesians 2:11-12). Passover celebrates and commemorates that change in status.
There’s another crucial and prophetic element to God’s promise to Abraham which also sets the stage for the night of the first Passover. We’ll cover that in part 2.