You may or may not know this, but this week for our Jewish brothers and sisters, is also an incredibly special week, known as Passover.
This is going to be a very “lite” version of the passover story, so bear with me all you high falutin theologians out there.
Exodus 11-14 tells the story of the first Passover, the final plague, and the Israelite’s escape from Egypt. Basically, Pharaoh is really hard on the Israelites slaves and God decides its high time they get delivered from slavery. So God tells Moses via burning bush to lead the charge and set them free. Moses argues but eventually gives in and asks Pharaoh (via his brother Aaron) to let the Israelites go. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, Pharaoh says no, and God delivers a plague. This happens a total of 10 times. When we pick up in Exodus 11 we are just about to see the final plague, the plague to end all plagues. the death of the firstborn of every single household, including the livestock. In chapter 11 we see God’s warning to Moses and Aaron about the final plague and just how devastating God intends it to be for the Egyptians.
Exodus 12 gives us an in depth look at what God commands the Israelites to do in order to commemorate the event that is about to happen. The ritual of Passover is very detailed throughout the books of Moses, but they are first seen here. This is also the chapter where we find out the meaning behind the name “Passover.”
In Exodus 12:21-28, Moses tells the Israelite elders to go slaughter lambs and paint the door frames of all of the Israelite houses with the blood. This way when the spirit of the LORD comes through, it will know which houses not to go into and take the lives of the firstborn in the family.
When I was a kid, I saw a movie called “The Ten Commandments” starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. In the passover scene, some dry ice creeps in and out of doors and screaming can be heard from inside the homes, while the doors painted in blood are merely passed by. This image has been forever burned in my mind as what it must have looked like.
The celebration is called Passover because the Spirit of the LORD literally passes over their homes, sparing them the death of their children and livestock. Because of this plague, Pharaoh demands that the Israelites leave. Then God hardens Pharaoh’s heart again so that Pharaoh decides that he doesn’t want his entire free workforce leaving all at once and so he chases the Israelites down to try and get them back into slavery. That’s when Moses “raised his rod and cleared his throat and all of Pharaoh’s army did the dead man’s float” in the Reed Sea.
Following that story, we see the Israelites do some stupid stuff, get two stone tablets from God (but then Moses gets really mad and smashes them and then has to go back for two more) with the rules written on them, and then they wander around aimlessly for a while. I’m paraphrasing, so you should just go read it if you haven’t.
The next three books of the Bible are basically the story of the Israelites wandering around and figuring out who they are as a community of people instead of a group of slaves. Needless to say it doesn’t always go very well, but God has chosen the Israelites to be His people and so they work through it together. There a bunch of rules about food and how to make sacrifices and what the movable temple should look like. It all seems kinda silly to us reading the stories in the 20th century, but we haven’t lived the last 400+ years of our lives being completely dictated and enslaved by someone who wasn’t part of our culture. Well, not really anyway… So the Israelites really had no foundation for how to govern themselves appropriately and given the opportunity, they just went wild like a college freshman who’s parents never allowed them to go out during high school.
The next three books basically outline the covenant laws that were made between God and Moses. This covenant is what Jews follow to this day and it all started with the first Passover.
Tomorrow we will talk about what the Passover story has to do with Holy Week! Until then!