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Passover is one of the seven biblical feasts mandated by God to be observed by the nation of Israel. On the Hebrew calendar, it is held at the beginning of the fourteenth day on the first month in the evening for the biblical day begins at sunset.[1] It is immediately followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Passover gets its name from the fact that the households of believers were "passed over" by an angel of death that brought the last of many plagues on the nation of Egypt, whose Pharaoh had refused to release the enslaved Hebrew people. God commanded Israel to celebrate the event by observing a solemn ceremony re-enactment of the preparations made that night.

The Passover

The preparations for Passover began as instructions to the people of God to avoid the effects of the last of the ten plagues, the death of the firstborn. Warned that one last plague would bring the death of the firstborn children, precautions were taken to mark the homes of each family within the covenant family of God's people, the tribes of Israel. Once the blood of a sacrificed lamb was put on the doorposts, and the families were safely inside, the tenth and last plague would begin.

Passover Angel of Death

In the darkness of the night on the fourteenth of the month of Abib (newly declared the first month), death came to every unmarked household—from the Pharaoh on down to the slaves. Not only humans died, but the livestock also suffered the same fate. In the midst of the disaster, grief-stricken Egyptians did nothing to stop the exodus of millions of Israelites and a mixed multitude of those who had believed the words of Moses considering yet another plague upon a hardened populace.

As the angel of death swept over the land, the protected believers were sharing roast lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The meal was eaten standing up, dressed ready for a hasty retreat in the morning. The sacrificial lamb, and the meal eaten with it, were to continued on the anniversary of the event every year after that.


Regulations

God commanded that the head of each Israelite household pick out a year-old lamb, be it sheep or goat,[2] on the tenth day of the first month[3] (Abib, or Nissan).[4] As a sacrifice to God, the lamb would have to be one years old and have no health issues or birth defects.[2]

God specified that if a household was too small to eat a whole lamb they would need to share with their neighbor so that the whole animal would be consumed.[5] After arrangements had been made, the Israelites would care for the lamb and then kill it after sundown on the fourteenth.[6]

At sunset, each lamb was to be slaughtered and its blood applied to the doorposts.[7] After everyone was inside, the animal would be roasted whole and consumed along with unleavened bread dipped in bitter-tasting herbs.[8] The animal would have to be roasted over fire, no meat raw nor cooked in water was permitted.[9] The entire animal was to be consumed and if there were any leftovers in the morning, they were to be burned completely in the fire.[10]

Conduct for eating the food required that cloaks were tucked into belts, sandals worn, and staffs being held in the hands; food was to be eaten quickly.[11] The food had to be eaten inside the house, and none of the meat was allowed to leave the house and no bones of the animal could be broken.[12] The entire community would have to partake.[13] The feast of Passover was to be observed only by those willing to identify physically with the Hebrew people. Any slave wishing to partake must have become circumcised,[14] but any temporary residents or hired hands could not partake.[15] If a non-Israelite wanted to participate all the males would have to be circumcised;[16] even an uncircumcised Israelite could not participate.[17]

Because of this requirement, anyone who was ceremonially unclean, or who could not make it to the Tabernacle or Temple on time, could prepare themselves to observe the feast a month later.[18] If they still could not celebrate the Passover because of uncleanliness or travels, the would have to be punished[19]

The Passover was to be commemorated even after entering the land of Canaan as the promised land.[2] Asides from the original Passover, the sacrifices could not be performed in any city that Israel would acquire,[20] except in the place that would serve as God's dwelling place, either the in Tabernacle or later on in the Temple. If an Israelite was asked by their child why they celebrated the Passover, they would have to explain the reason.[21]

As a part of the Passover "feast", the Feast of Unleavened Bread would also have to be commemorated along with its respective regulations.[22]

Legacy

Celebrations

In the Wilderness

Once Israel had been delivered from Egypt, the people had migrated across the Sinai peninsula to Mt. Sinai where the Law was given. They stayed there as the tabernacle was made and a system of sacrifices had been established. On the anniversary of the exodus, Moses and the priesthood made sure the people observed the new holiday. With the story fresh on their minds, the parents told their children the reason for the celebration.

In the Torah, the Passover is mentioned as one of three appointed feasts, being a part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In place of the blood sprinkled upon the doorposts, a sacrifice was to be presented at the appointed place of national worship. Aside from that which was to be consumed the observation remained the same. After waking up, the family would spend the day resting, eating only unleavened bread with their meals. For the rest of the week, they were to also eat only unleavened bread, remembering their deliverance from Egypt. Finally, another day of rest came at the end of the week. Apart from the first observance, there is no mention of the Passover observances in the wilderness. However, Moses does not scold the people for not keeping the Law during that period. He just repeated the law, expanding on the obligations to faithfully observe the appointed feasts.

During the Conquest

The next recorded observation of Passover comes when Joshua brings a new generation across the Jordan into Canaan. Within a short distance from Jericho, he both circumcised the soldiers and declared that Passover would be observed. It is stated that circumcision had not been observed during the wilderness wanderings, but in is not clear if Passover had also been neglected.

The promise to Joshua had been that if he was faithful to the Word of God, he would have success. Though it obviously would weaken his thousands of soldiers, he called for them all to be circumcised, and while they were healing, they would be eligible to observe the holiday season that began with Passover and finished with the Feast of Firstfruits from the fruit of the trees in Canaan. Manna had stopped and now they had the land from which to live.

Though it may be assumed that under Joshua's leadership Passover may have continued being observed, the regular observance of Passover seems to have never become part of the lives of the people of Israel. By the time of David, the tabernacle had become so old that David had to build a new tent to house the ark when he brought it to Jerusalem. Despite the beautiful psalms concerning worship and the Law, Passover had apparently been forgotten.

The Kingdom Years

King Josiah of Judah, the righteous son of the assassinated wicked king Amon, set out to reform the religion of Judah when workmen found a copy of the "Book of the Law" in the rundown temple that had been neglected for 70 years. Having it read to him, he began a program of reform to rival that of his great-grandfather Hezekiah. Hezekiah reigned for a long time before trying to reinstate Passover only to miss the date by a month, settling for the backup plan for the second month of the liturgical year. Just like with Hezekiah, Josiah's son proved to be apostate, and all his reforms were lost. Just 11 years after his death, his son Eliakim (renamed Jehoiakim) became a vassal king before his grandson Jehoiachin was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar.

Passover Restored

With the destruction of the temple, Passover as the Law had established it became impossible. The exilic prophets—and book of Esther—do not mention any innovative changes like those that came after the destruction of the temple made (or enlarged) by Herod the Great. However, in the diaspora the prophets proclaimed a restored nation, with even a glorified temple in a vision given to Ezekiel. Then a vision given to Daniel promised that the temple would be built.

After kings Darius and Ahasuerus made their decrees, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the new royal governor Zerubbabel and the priest Jeshua as they directed the rebuilding of a functional temple in Jerusalem. At this temple, the Passover was finally restored for the duration of the temple—a period lasting for over five hundred years.

The Passover was celebrated yearly at the Temple and was the festival to which Mary and Joseph traveled, only to have Jesus stay behind in the Temple.[23] This was also the festival that Jesus and his disciples were celebrating during the Last Supper.[24]

Foreshadowing to Jesus

The Passover and in particular the Passover lamb are prophetic to Jesus Christ. This is confirmed specifically by Paul when writes that "Jesus Christ is our Passover lamb".[25] Further, John the Baptist recognizes Jesus as the "lamb" of God,[26] and Simon Peter associates Jesus as a lamb without defect.[2][27]

Even Jesus foreshadowed to Himself in the Passover. When eating the Last Supper with his disciples he told his disciples that it would be last He would celebrate until it was fulfilled in God's Kingdom.[28]

Verses

  1. Gen. 1:5-31 (Link)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Exo 12:5
  3. Exo 12:2,12;24 Deut 16:1; Num 9:2-3 (Link)
  4. Exo 12:3 (Link)
  5. Exo 12:4 (Link)
  6. Exo 12:6 (Link)
  7. Exo 12:7 (Link)
  8. Exo 12:8 (Link)
  9. Exo 12:9 (Link)
  10. Exod. 12:7-10 (Link)
  11. Exo 12:11 (Link)
  12. Exo 12:46 (Link)
  13. Exo 12:47 (Link)
  14. Exo 12:44 (Link)
  15. Exo 12:45 (Link)
  16. Exo 12:48 (Link)
  17. Exo 12:49 (Link)
  18. Num 9:10-12 (Link)
  19. Num 9:13 (Link)
  20. Deut 16:5 (Link)
  21. Exo 12:26-27 (Link)
  22. Exo 12:15-20 (Link)
  23. Luke 2:41-52 (Link)
  24. Mark 14:12; Matt 26:17-19; Luke 22:7-13 (Link)
  25. 1 Cor 5:7 (Link)
  26. John 1:29 (Link)
  27. 1 Peter 1:19 (Link)
  28. Luke 22:16,18 (Link)

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