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This chapter was written some time after the Exodus, probably when Moses put together the portions of the book toward the end of his life. The statements that these instructions were given in the land of Egypt, and that they were given to Moses and Aaron, are important: the one marks the special dignity of this ordinance, which was established before the Sinaitic code; the other marks the distinction between Moses and Aaron and all other prophets. They alone were prophets of the law, i. e. no law was promulgated by any other prophets.
This month - Abib Exodus 13:4. It was called “Nisan” by the later Hebrews, and nearly corresponds to our April. The Israelites are directed to take Abib henceforth as the beginning of the year; the year previously began with the month Tisri, when the harvest was gathered in; see Exodus 23:16. The injunction touching Abib or Nisan referred only to religious rites; in other affairs they retained the old arrangement, even in the beginning of the Sabbatic year; see Leviticus 25:9.
A lamb - The Hebrew word is general, meaning either a sheep or a goat - male or female - and of any age; the age and sex are therefore epecially defined in the following verse. The direction to select the lamb on the tenth day, the fourth day before it was offered, was intended to secure due care in the preparation for the great national festival. The custom certainly fell into desuetude at a later period, but probably not before the destruction of the temple.
Tradition specifies ten as the least number; but the matter was probably left altogether to the discretion of the heads of families.
The last clause should be rendered: “each man, according to his eating, ye shall count for the lamb.”
Without blemish - This is in accordance with the general rule (margin reference): although in this case there is a special reason, since the lamb was in place of the firstborn male in each household. The restriction to the first year is unique, and refers apparently to the condition of perfect innocence in the antitype, the Lamb of God.
Until the fourteenth day - It should be observed that the offering of our Lord on the self-same day is an important point in determining the typical character of the transaction. A remarkable passage in the Talmud says: “It was a famous and old opinion among the ancient Jews that the day of the new year which was the beginning of the Israelites’ deliverance out of Egypt should in future time be the beginning of the redemption by the Messiah.”
In the evening - The Hebrew has between the two evenings. The meaning of the expression is disputed. The most probable explanation is that it includes the time from afternoon, or early eventide, until sunset. This accords with the ancient custom of the Hebrews, who killed the paschal lamb immediately after the offering of the daily sacrifice, which on the day of the Passover took place a little earlier than usual, between two and three p.m. This would allow about two hours and a half for slaying and preparing all the lambs. It is clear that they would not wait until sunset, at which time the evening meal would take place. The slaying of the lamb thus coincides exactly with the death of our Saviour, at the ninth hour of the day Matthew 27:46.
The upper door post - Or lintel, Exodus 12:23. This direction was understood by the Hebrews to apply only to the first Passover: it was certainly not adopted in Palestine. The meaning of the sprinkling of blood is hardly open to question. It was a representation of the offering of the life, substituted for that of the firstborn in each house, as an expiatory and vicarious sacrifice.
In that night - The night is thus clearly distinguished from the evening when the lamb was slain. It was slain before sunset, on the 14th, and eaten after sunset, the beginning of the 15th.
With fire - Among various reasons given for this injunction the most probable and satisfactory seems to be the special sanctity attached to fire from the first institution of sacrifice (compare Genesis 4:4).
And unleavened bread - On account of the hasty departure, allowing no time for the process of leavening: but the meaning discerned by Paul, 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, and recognized by the Church in all ages, was assuredly implied, though not expressly declared in the original institution. Compare our Lord’s words, Matthew 16:6, Matthew 16:12, as to the symbolism of leaven.
Bitter herbs - The word occurs only here and in Numbers 9:11, in reference to herbs. The symbolic reference to the previous sufferings of the Israelites is generally admitted.
Raw - i. e. “half-cooked.”
Sodden ... with water - It was probably more common to seethe meat than to roast meat; hence, the regrets expressed by the Israelites for the seething pots of Egypt.
The purtenance thereof - or its intestines. This verse directs that the lamb should be roasted and placed on the table whole. No bone was to be broken (see Exodus 12:46, and margin reference). The bowels were taken out, washed and then replaced. The Talmud prescribes the form of the oven of earthenware, in which the lamb was roasted, open above and below with a grating for the fire. Lambs and sheep are roasted whole in Persia, nearly in the same manner.
This entire consumption of the lamb constitutes one marked difference between the Passover and all other sacrifices, in which either a part or the whole was burned, and thus offered directly to God. The whole substance of the sacrificed lamb was to enter into the substance of the people, the blood only excepted, which was sprinkled as a propitiatory and sacrificial offering. Another point of subordinate importance is noticed. The lamb was slain and the blood sprinkled by the head of each family: no separate priesthood as yet existed in Israel; its functions belonged from the beginning to the father of the family: when the priesthood was instituted the slaying of the lamb still devolved on the heads of families, though the blood was sprinkled on the altar by the priests; an act which essentially belonged to their office. The typical character of this part of the transaction is clear. Our Lord was offered and His blood shed as an expiatory and propitiatory sacrifice, but His whole Humanity is transfused spiritually and effectually into His Church, an effect which is at once symbolized and assured in holy communion, the Christian Passover.
This was afterward a general law of sacrifices; at once preventing all possibility of profanity, and of superstitious abuse. The injunction is on both accounts justly applied by our Church to the eucharist.
Burn with fire - Not being consumed by man, it was thus offered, like other sacrifices Exodus 12:8, to God.
These instructions are understood by the Jews to apply only to the first Passover, when they belonged to the occasion. There is no trace of their observance at any later time. Each of the directions marks preparation for a journey; the long flowing robes are girded round the loins; shoes or sandals, not worn in the house or at meals, were fastened on the feet; and the traveler’s staff was taken in hand.
The Lord’s passover - The great and most significant name for the whole ordinance. The word Passover renders as nearly as possible the true meaning of the original, of which the primary sense is generally held to be “pass rapidly,” like a bird with outstretched wings, but it undoubtedly includes the idea of sparing Exodus 12:13. See Isaiah 31:5, which combines the two great ideas involved in the word.
I will pass through - A word wholly distinct from that which means “pass over.” The “passing through” was in judgment, the “passing over” in mercy.
Against all the gods of Egypt - Compare the margin reference. In smiting the firstborn of all living beings, man and beast, God struck down the objects of Egyptian worship (compare Exodus 12:5).
A memorial - A commemorative and sacramental ordinance of perpetual obligation. As such, it has ever been observed by the Hebrews. By the Christian it is spiritually observed; its full significance is recognized, and all that it foreshadowed is realized, in the sacrament of holy communion.
Cut off - The penalty inflicted on those who transgressed the command may be accounted for on the ground that it was an act of rebellion; but additional light is thrown upon it by the typical meaning assigned to leaven by our Lord, Matthew 16:6.
An holy convocation - An assembly called by proclamation for a religious solemnity. See Leviticus 23:2; Numbers 10:2-3. In the East the proclamation is made by the Muezzins from the minarets of the mosques.
Save that ... - In this the observance of the festival differed from the Sabbath, when the preparation of food was prohibited. The same word for “work” is used here and in the fourth commandment: it is very general, and includes all laborious occupation.
Born in the land - A stranger or foreigner might be born in the land, but the word here used means “a native of the land,” belonging to the country by virtue of descent, that descent being reckoned from Abraham, to whom Canaan was promised as a perpetual inheritance.
Draw out - i. e. draw the lamb from the fold and then take it to the house.
The passover - The word is here applied to the lamb; an important fact, marking the lamb as the sign and pledge of the exemption of the Israelites.
A bunch of hyssop - The species here designated does not appear to be the plant now bearing the name. It would seem to have been an aromatic plant, common in Palestine and near Mount Sinai, with a long straight stalk and leaves well adapted for the purpose of sprinkling.
Bason - The rendering rests on good authority and gives a good sense: but the word means “threshold” in some other passages and in Egyptian, and is taken here in that sense by some versions. If that rendering be correct it would imply that the lamb was slain on the threshold.
None ... shall go out ... - There would be no safety outside the precincts protected by the blood of the lamb; a symbolism explained by the margin reference.
It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover - or This is the sacrifice of the Passover to Yahweh. The most formal and exact designation of the festival is thus given: but “the Passover” may mean either the act of God’s mercy in sparing the Israelites, or the lamb which is offered in sacrifice: more probably the latter, as in Exodus 12:21. This gives a clear sense to the expression “to Yahweh;” the Passover lamb was a sacrifice offered to Yahweh by His ordinance.
This plague is distinctly attributed here and in Exodus 12:23 to the personal intervention of the Lord; but it is to be observed that although the Lord Himself passed through to smite the Egyptians, He employed the agency of “the destroyer” Exodus 12:23, in whom, in accordance with Hebrews 11:28, all the ancient versions, and most critics, recognize an Angel (compare 2 Kings 19:35; 2 Samuel 24:16).
Bless me also - No words could show more strikingly the complete, though temporary, submission of Pharaoh.
Kneadingtroughs - (Compare the margin and Deuteronomy 28:5). The troughs were probably small wooden bowls in which the cakes when baked were preserved for use. The Hebrews used their outer garment, or mantle, in the same way as the Bedouins at present, who make a bag of the voluminous folds of their burnous. See Ruth 3:15; 2 Kings 4:39.
Borrowed - “Asked of.” See Exodus 3:22 note.
Lent - Or gave. The word in the Hebrew means simply “granted their request.” Whether the grant is made as a loan, or as a gift, depends in every instance upon the context. Here the word “spoiled” ought to be regarded as conclusive that the grant was a gift, a moderate remuneration for long service, and a compensation for cruel wrongs.
Rameses - See Exodus 1:11 note. Rameses was evidently the place of general rendezvous, well adapted for that purpose as the principal city of Goshen. The Israelites were probably settled in considerable numbers in and about it. Pharaoh with his army and court were at that time near the frontier, and Rameses, where a large garrison was kept, was probably the place where the last interview with Moses occurred. The first part of the journey appears to have followed the course of the ancient canal. The site of Succoth cannot be exactly determined, but it lay about halfway between Rameses and Etham Exodus 13:20. The name Succoth (i. e. “tents” or “booths” in Hebrew), may have been given by the Israelites, but the same, or a similar word, occurs in Egyptian in connection with the district.
600,000 - This includes all the males who could march. The total number of the Israelites should therefore be calculated from the males above twelve or fourteen, and would therefore amount to somewhat more than two millions. This is not an excessive population for Goshen, nor does it exceed a reasonable estimate of the increase of the Israelites, including their numerous dependants.
A mixed multitude - Probably remains of the old Semitic population, whether first brought into the district by the Hyksos or not is uncertain. As natural objects of suspicion and dislike to the Egyptians who had lately become masters of the country, they would be anxious to escape, the more especially after the calamities which preceded the Exodus.
Very much cattle - This is an important fact, both as showing that the oppression of the Israelites had not extended to confiscation of their property, and as bearing upon the question of their maintenance in the Wilderness.
Who dwelt - Read, which they sojourned. The obvious intention of Moses is to state the duration of the sojourn in Egypt.
And the Lord said - From this verse to Exodus 13:16 are instructions regarding the Passover. Such instructions were needed when the Israelites were joined by the “mixed multitude:” of strangers; and they were probably given at Succoth, on the morning following the departure from Rameses.
No stranger - Literally, “son of a stranger.” The term is general; it includes all who were aliens from Israel, until they were incorporated into the nation by circumcision.
Servant - The circumcision of the slave, thus enjoined formally on the first day that Israel became a nation, in accordance with the law given to Abraham, (see the margin reference) made him a true member of the family, equally entitled to all religious privileges. In the household of a priest the slave was even permitted to eat the consecrated food: Leviticus 22:11.
A foreigner - or sojourner: one who resides in a country, not having a permanent home, nor being attached to an Israelitish household.
In one house - i. e. “in one company.” Each lamb was to be entirely consumed by the members of one company, whether they belonged to the same household or not.
Break a bone - The typical significance of this injunction is recognized by John, (see the margin reference.) It is not easy to assign any other satisfactory reason for it. This victim alone was exempt from the general law by which the limbs were ordered to be separated from the body.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Exodus 12". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany