Passover 101: Part 2

Here’s that other part of the original promise to Abraham I left out in part 1:

Genesis 15:13-14, “Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be slaves there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.”

In addition to this prophecy, God elaborates that once freed, He would bring Abraham’s entire family to a land of their own, a land that bares a striking similarity to the garden at the beginning of creation. This location becomes appropriately known as The Promised Land. 

Eventually, Isaac gives birth to Jacob, who goes through and passes his own tests of faith. Like Abraham before him, his name gets changed to Israel, which reflects his identity as one who struggles with God and prevails.  Israel himself has a huge family—and as you would expect, they too struggle with their faith, and eventually prevail—as the pattern has shown, Israel’s victories have far less to do with their perfect choices, as they remain due to God’s faithfulness to his Covenant. Those formerly known only as Hebrews, are also called Israelites from this point forward.

Israel’s quickly multiplying offspring shortly thereafter find themselves smack dab in the midst of the aforementioned prophecy. God himself leads them into Egypt, and over the next 400 years (which biblically is a number always connected to testing) they eventually become enslaved, and that slavery becomes more and more harsh. This is further fulfillment of the prophecy given to Abraham, and by extension to Israel, but it’s also the prologue to the full story of Passover.

We are now introduced to Moses, who gets the honor of fulfilling the second half of the prophecy, 400 years later. He is called out alone into the wilderness and given his mission by God face to face. He is also told God’s name, translated as “the LORD” in most bibles, but the original Hebrew consonant sounds are closer to the letters YHWH.  I’ll often refer to the LORD using those letters (also known in bible-nerd-land as “the tetragrammaton”).
Moses is told that Abraham only knew God by various attributes such as “Almighty”, but that YHWH is going to show Moses, Israel, and the world the fullness of his Name. 

Revealing the power of the name of YHWH is the ultimate goal, and Moses is told to go to the Pharaoh of Egypt and demand freedom for Israel. Like every Hebrew before him, Moses must overcome one obstacle of faith after another, but he does his part. God, obviously, is also faithful to his promise, and in the biggest of ways. Egypt is destroyed in a series of 10 judgments—each judgement increasing in miraculous wonder.

The 10th judgment harkens back to the test Abraham faced with Isaac. The firstborn of everyone living in Egypt, both Egyptian and Israelite alike, would be suddenly struck dead unless each family takes part in a specific ritual of faith. Just as Isaac was swapped out for a ram, on this night the blood of a male lamb would substitute for the blood of each firstborn male at risk. The blood was put on the doorposts of each home, and when the judgement occurred, those whose homes were sealed by that blood were spared—both Israel and Egyptian alike. Inside the house, every last bit of the lamb itself was hastily eaten, because when the sun rose, the next aspect of God’s promise would be enacted. He wanted a full commitment from Israel, so eating this lamb was viewed as “becoming one” with the saving lamb of YHWH. Just as sin entered humanity by the eating of the forbidden fruit, we are redeemed through the ritual meal of faithful obedience.

Amongst the death and destruction, the faithful would prevail. They marched out of Egypt, no longer slaves, and with all of the treasure of Egypt as well.  Scripture specifically defines this group NOT as “Jews” or even “Israel”—it says a “mixed multitude” were saved. Anyone with faith in YHWH who was covered by the blood of the lamb was saved. This is a cornerstone to understanding who YHWH is.

This night is known as Passover, the English word referring to the protection God offered as He himself passed over Egypt. It celebrates and remembers these aspects of the promise to Abraham and to all of his descendants. Israel collectively was referred to as God’s “firstborn son”, and we who have been saved are called to identify ourselves with that same title.

Passover reflects the invitation to leave a life of chaos, death, and faithlessness. In trade (it’s always a trade) God offers comfort, rest, and a solid cornerstone to build the life of your family upon. 

Just as James says 2000 years later, “Faith without works is dead”, so God has given very detailed instructions to Israel to remember this night every single year.   For those already redeemed from the world, Passover is a reminder of who we are, and whose we are. If (if?) we have fallen short or need encouragement, Passover is a time to recommit ourselves to God. For many, this meal is the first rite of passage from the culture of the world into the Culture of God’s Kingdom. Like the original blood on the outside of each house, participating in the Passover is an external sign of the hidden faithfulness within our hearts. 

Another key element is added to the story at this point, Unleavened bread. In a foreshadowing of the Passover in Egypt, Abraham’s nephew Lot was saved from the destruction of Sodom, after eating a meal with unleavened bread. To connect the two events, unleavened bread is the only bread eaten at Passover—and for the seven following days. Unleavened bread is a biblical symbol of a pure and fresh start, as well as sanctification. It also represents the speed at which Israel left Egypt behind as they marched forward in their freedom. 

It should be obvious by now that Messiah is the ultimate expert on every last bit of this narrative.  We’ll cover the New Testament view on Passover in part 3.

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