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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 12

 

 

Introduction

Yahweh’s Battle With Pharaoh - The Ten Plagues (Exodus 7:14 to Exodus 12:51)

In the first seven chapters we have seen how God raised up Moses to deliver His people, and how when he approached Pharaoh with a simple request that they might go into the wilderness and worship Him because He had revealed Himself in a theophany there, Pharaoh had reacted savagely and had increased Israel’s burdens.

Then Yahweh had promised to Moses that He would reveal His name in mighty action and deliver them, but had initially provided Pharaoh with a further opportunity to consider by three signs which Pharaoh had rejected. Now He would begin in earnest.

The first nine plagues that follow were the intensification of natural occurrences that struck Egypt from time to time. Yet they came in such a way and with such effect and were so intense that they could not be described as ‘natural’, for they came when called on, ceased when Yahweh commanded, and affected only what Yahweh wanted affecting. They were thus supernaturally controlled natural phenomenon.

Because these plagues were common to natural occurrences that took place in Egypt they were connected with the gods of Egypt, for the Egyptians had gods which were connected with every part of life. Thus the very plagues meant that Yahweh was, in Egyptian eyes, in conflict with the gods of Egypt. However, it is important to recognise that the writer only mentions the gods of Egypt once (Exodus 12:12), and there only in relation to the slaying of the firstborn because at least one of the firstborn who would die would be connected with a god (Pharaoh). Thus he is drawing attention to Yahweh’s dealings with Pharaoh and the Egyptians rather than with their gods. This indicates that while the gods may have had the Egyptians as their servants, they did not have any control of the land or of nature. The writer is clearly monotheistic. To him the gods of Egypt are an irrelevance.

The Overall Pattern of the Narrative.

The first nine plagues can be divided into three sets of three as follows;

· The first three - water turned to blood (Exodus 7:14-25), plague of frogs (Exodus 8:1-15), plague of ticks and similar insects (Exodus 8:16-19).

· The second three - plague of swarms of flying insects (Exodus 8:20-32), cattle disease (Exodus 9:1-7), boils (Exodus 9:8-12).

· The third three - great hail (Exodus 9:13-35), plague of locusts (Exodus 10:1-20), thick darkness (Exodus 10:21-27).

As we have seen in Part 1 the previous section of Exodus has been mainly based on a series of chiastic and similar patterns which demonstrate the unity of the narrative. Here the overall pattern changes to a more complicated one in view of the combined subject matter, but the underlying pattern is the same nevertheless.

For we should note that there is a definite pattern in these series of threes. The first and second of each of the judgments in each series is announced to the Pharaoh before it takes place, while in each case the third is unannounced. The first incident of each series of three is to take place early in the morning, and in the first and second of these ‘first incidents of three’ the place where Moses meets Pharaoh is by the Nile, in the third it is before Pharaoh. The second judgment in each series is announced in the king's palace. The third judgment in each series comes without the Pharaoh or the Egyptians being warned. As these judgments from God continue, their severity increases until the last three bring the Egyptian people to a place where life itself becomes almost impossible, and their economy is almost totally destroyed. The huge hailstones kept them in their homes and wrecked their environment, the locusts ate up what the hail had left and made life unbearable, and the thick darkness kept them in solitude even from each other. They must have wondered what was coming next.

Furthermore in the first two judgments the magicians pit themselves against Moses as they imitate the judgments of blood and frogs, but in the third judgment of the first series, that of ticks, they are forced to yield and acknowledge, "This is the finger of God" (Exodus 8:19) and from then on they withdraw from the contest. In the sixth they cannot even stand before Moses, presumably because of the effect of the boils which they could do nothing about.

It is noteworthy in this regard that while blood and frogs can easily be manipulated by conjurors, ticks are a different proposition, for they cannot be so easily controlled.

In the second series an important distinction is drawn between the Israelites and the Egyptians, for from then on only the Egyptians are affected, and not the whole land of Egypt as previously. Several times the specific protection of Israel is mentioned.

As the intensity of the plagues increases, so does the intensity of the Pharaoh's desire to secure the intervention of Moses and Aaron for deliverance from the plague (consider Exodus 8:8; Exodus 8:25; Exodus 8:28; Exodus 9:27-28; Exodus 10:16-17; Exodus 10:24), and Moses becomes more outspoken.

In the first series of three judgments the staff of Aaron is used, in the second series of three no staff is mentioned and in the third series either the hand or staff of Moses is prominent. Note also that in two cases in the second series neither Moses nor Aaron do anything. Thus an instrument is used seven times. These overall patterns clearly demonstrate the unity of the narrative.

Another division can be made in that the first four plagues are personal in effect producing annoyance and distress while the next four inflict serious damage on property and person, the ninth is the extreme of the first four and the tenth the extreme of the second four. This further confirms the impression of unity.

The same is true of the wording and ideas used throughout. We have noted above the three sets of three plagues, and that in the first plague of each set Moses goes to Pharaoh in the early morning, either to the river or ‘before Pharaoh’, while in the second in each set Moses goes to the palace, and in the third plague in each set the plague occurs without warning. Now we should note the intricate pattern of phrases and ideas which are regularly repeated.

We should, for example, note that God says ‘let my people go’ seven times, the divinely perfect number (although only six times before specific plagues - Exodus 5:1; Exodus 7:16; Exodus 8:1; Exodus 8:20; Exodus 9:1; Exodus 9:13; Exodus 10:3). This is significant in the light of what follows below.

We should also note that there is a central core around which each plague is described, although the details vary. This central core is:

· A description in detail of what will happen (Plague one - Exodus 7:17-18; plague two - Exodus 8:2-4; plague three - no separate description; plague four - Exodus 8:21; plague five - Exodus 9:3-4; plague six - Exodus 9:9; plague seven - Exodus 9:15; plague eight - Exodus 10:4-6; plague nine - no separate description).

· The call to Moses either to instruct Aaron (three times - Exodus 7:19; Exodus 8:5; Exodus 8:16) or to act himself (three times - Exodus 9:22; Exodus 10:12; Exodus 10:21) or for them both to act (once - Exodus 9:8).

· The action taken (Exodus 7:20; Exodus 8:6; Exodus 8:17; no action; no action; Exodus 9:10; Exodus 9:23; Exodus 10:13; Exodus 10:22).

· And an inevitable description of the consequences, which parallels the previous description where given (Exodus 7:21; Exodus 8:6; Exodus 8:17; Exodus 8:24; Exodus 9:6-7; Exodus 9:10-11; Exodus 9:23-26; Exodus 10:13-15; Exodus 10:22-23).

It may be argued that this core was largely inevitable, and to a certain extent that is true, but we should note that while there are nine plagues, there are only seven separate prior descriptions, and as previously noted seven calls to act followed by that action, but the sevens are not in each case for the same plagues. Thus the narrative is carefully built around sevens. This can be exemplified further.

For example, Pharaoh’s initial response to their approach is mentioned three times, in that Pharaoh reacts against the people (Exodus 5:5-6); calls for his magicians (Exodus 7:11); and makes a compromise offer and then drives Moses and Aaron from his presence (Exodus 10:11). It indicates his complete action but denies to him the number seven. That is retained for Yahweh and His actions as we shall see, or for Pharaoh’s negativity overall caused by Yahweh.

One significant feature is that Pharaoh’s final response grows in intensity.

1). Yahweh hardened his heart so that he did not listen to them as Yahweh had said (Exodus 7:13) (Yahweh hardening him, and that he would not let the people go had been forecast in Exodus 4:21). This was prior to the plagues.

2). His heart was hardened and he did not listen to them as Yahweh had said, and he turned and went into his house, ‘nor did he set his heart to this also’ (Exodus 7:22-23).

3). He entreated Yahweh to take away the plague and said that he would let the people go to worship Yahweh (Exodus 8:8), and later hardened his heart and did not listen to them as Yahweh had said (Exodus 8:15).

4). Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he did not listen to them as Yahweh had said (Exodus 8:19).

5). He told Moses and Aaron that they may sacrifice in the land (Exodus 8:25), and then, on Moses’ refusing his offer, said that they may sacrifice in the wilderness but not go far away (8:28) which Moses accepts, but later Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go (Exodus 8:32).

6). He sent to find out what had happened and then his heart was hardened and he would not let the people go (Exodus 9:7).

7). Yahweh hardened his heart and he did not listen to them as Yahweh had spoken to Moses (Exodus 9:12).

8). Pharaoh admitted that he had sinned, asked them to entreat for him, and said ‘I will let you go and you will stay no longer’ (Exodus 9:27-28). Then he sinned yet more and hardened his heart, he and his servants (Exodus 9:34), and his heart was hardened nor would he let the children of Israel go as Yahweh had spoken to Moses (Exodus 9:35).

9). Pharaoh admitted that he had sinned, and asked them to entreat Yahweh for him (Exodus 10:17), but later Yahweh hardened his heart so that he would not let the children of Israel go (Exodus 10:20).

10). Pharaoh said that they might go apart from their cattle (Exodus 10:24), and on Moses refusing ‘Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not let them go’ (Exodus 10:27), and he commanded that they leave his presence and not return on pain of death (Exodus 10:28).

11). In the summary ‘Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land’ (Exodus 11:10).

We note from the above that ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you’ occurs twice (Exodus 7:4; Exodus 11:9), ‘did not listen to them as Yahweh had said’ occurs four times (Exodus 7:13; Exodus 7:22; Exodus 8:15; Exodus 19); and ‘did not listen to them as Yahweh had spoken to Moses’ occurs once (Exodus 9:12), thus his not being willing to listen occurs seven times in all (the phrase ‘as Yahweh had spoken to Moses’ occurs twice (Exodus 9:12; Exodus 9:35), but not as connected with not listening).

In contrast he entreats that Yahweh will show mercy four times (Exodus 8:8; Exodus 8:28; Exodus 9:27; Exodus 10:17), and parleys with Moses three times (Exodus 8:8; Exodus 8:25; Exodus 10:24), making seven in all. Yahweh hardened his heart five times (Exodus 7:13; Exodus 9:12; Exodus 10:20; Exodus 10:27; Exodus 11:10), which with Exodus 4:21 and Exodus 10:1 makes seven times. (Yahweh also hardened his heart in Exodus 14:8, but that was over the matter of pursuing the fleeing people. See also Exodus 14:4; Exodus 14:17. He said that He would do it in Exodus 7:3).

His heart was hardened (by himself?) four times (Exodus 7:22; Exodus 8:19; Exodus 9:7; Exodus 9:35), and he hardened his own heart three times (Exodus 8:15; Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:34), again making seven times. It is said that he would not let the people go five times (Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:7; Exodus 9:35; Exodus 10:20; Exodus 11:10). With Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:14 that makes not letting the people go seven times. Yahweh told Pharaoh to let His people go seven times (Exodus 5:1; Exodus 7:16; Exodus 8:1; Exodus 8:20; Exodus 9:1; Exodus 9:13; Exodus 10:3). Thus the writer would clearly seem to have been deliberately aiming at sevenfold repetition, and this sevenfoldness is spread throughout the narrative in different ways, stressing the total unity of the passage. One or two sevens might be seen as accidental but not so many.

Taking with this the fact that each narrative forms a definite pattern any suggestion of fragmented sources of any size that can be identified is clearly not permissible. Thus apart from an occasional added comment, and in view of the way that covenants were always recorded in writing, there seems little reason to doubt that Exodus was written under the supervision of Moses or from material received from him as was constantly believed thereafter. Other Old Testament books certainly assert the essential Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (‘the Law’) demonstrating the strong tradition supporting the claim (see 1 Kings 2:3; 1 Kings 8:53; 2 Kings 14:6; 2 Kings 18:6; 2 Kings 18:12). More importantly Jesus Christ Himself saw the Pentateuch as the writings of Moses (John 5:46-47), and as without error (Matthew 5:17-18), and indicated Moses’ connection with Deuteronomy (Matthew 19:7-8; Mark 10:3-5). See also Peter (Acts 3:22), Stephen (Acts 7:37-38), Paul (Romans 10:19; 1 Corinthians 9:9), and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 10:28).

One fact that brings out Pharaoh’s total selfishness and disregard for his people is that he only asks Moses to entreat Yahweh to remove a plague four times, in the case of the frogs, the flying insects, the hail and the locusts. These were the ones that would personally affect him the most. The narrative is totally consistent.

The Plagues In The Light Of Natural Phenomena.

We will now try to see the plagues in the light of natural phenomena, recognising that God used natural phenomena, enhancing it where necessary, to accomplish His purpose. While the land waited totally unaware of the forces that were gathering He knew exactly what was coming and what He would do with it and directed Moses accordingly.

The first nine plagues form a logical and connected sequence if we work on the basis that in that year there was an abnormally high inundation of the Nile occurring in July and August. In Egypt too high an inundation of the Nile could be as bad as too low an inundation, and this was clearly beyond anything known. This would be caused by abnormal weather conditions in lands to the south of Egypt of a kind rarely experienced which may well have also caused the effects not produced directly by the inundation.

The higher the Nile-flood was, the more earth it carried within it, especially of the red earth from the basins of the Blue Nile and Atbara. And the more earth it carried the redder it became. The flood would further bring down with it flood microcosms known as flagellates and associated bacteria. These would heighten the blood-red colour of the water and create conditions in which the fish would die in large numbers (Exodus 7:21). Their decomposition would then foul the water further and cause a stench (Exodus 7:21). The water would be undrinkable and the only hope of obtaining fresh water would be to dig for it (Exodus 7:24). The whole of Egypt would of course be affected. This is the background to the first plague.

The result of these conditions would be that the decomposing fish would be washed along the banks and backwaters of the Nile polluting the haunts of the frogs, who would thus swarm out in huge numbers seeking refuge elsewhere (Exodus 8:3). Their sudden death would suggest internal anthrax which would explain their rapid putrefaction (Exodus 8:13-14). This is the background to the second plague.

The high level of the Nile-flood would provide especially favourable conditions for mosquitoes, which may partly explain either the ‘ken’ (ticks/lice/fleas) (Exodus 8:16) or the ‘arob (swarms) (Exodus 8:21), while the rotting carcasses of the fish and frogs would encourage other forms of insect life to develop, as would excessive deposits of the red earth which may have brought insect eggs with them. Insects would proliferate throughout the land (Exodus 8:16). These might include lice and also the tick, an eight-legged arthropod and blood-sucking parasite and carrier of disease, as well as fleas. This is the background to the third plague.

As well as mosquitoes from the Nile flood, flies would also develop among the rotting fish, the dead frogs and the decaying vegetation, including the carrier-fly, the stomoxys calcitrans (which might well be responsible for the later boils), and become carriers of disease from these sources. The ‘swarms’ may well have included both (Exodus 8:21). This is the background to the fourth plague.

The dying frogs might well have passed on anthrax, and the proliferating insects would pass on other diseases, to the cattle and flocks who were out in the open (Exodus 9:3) and therefore more vulnerable. This is the background to the fifth plague.

The dead cattle would add to the sources of disease carried by these insects, and the insect bites, combined with the bites of the other insects, may well have caused the boils (Exodus 9:9). This would occur around December/January. It may well be the background to the sixth plague.

Thus the first six plagues in a sense follow naturally from one another given the right conditions, but it is their timing, extremeness and Moses’ knowledge of them that prove the hand of God at work.

The excessively heavy hail (Exodus 9:22), with thunder, lightning and rain, may well have resulted from the previously mentioned extreme weather conditions, but it went beyond anything known and was exceptional, resulting in death and destruction, and the ruination of the barley and flax, but not the wheat and spelt which was not yet grown (Exodus 8:31-32). (This indicates a good knowledge of Egyptian agriculture). This would probably be in early February.

The excessively heavy rains in Ethiopia and the Sudan which led to the extraordinarily high Nile would cause the conditions favourable to an unusually large plague of locusts (Exodus 10:4; Exodus 10:13), which would eventually be blown down into Northern Egypt and then along the Nile valley by the east wind (Exodus 10:13).

The thick darkness (Exodus 10:21) that could be felt was probably an unusually heavy khamsin dust storm resulting from the large amounts of red earth which the Nile had deposited which would have dried out as a fine dust, together with the usual sand of the desert. The khamsin wind would stir all this up making the air unusually thick and dark, blotting out the light of the sun. Three days is the known length of a khamsin (Exodus 10:23). This, coming on top of all that had come before, and seeming to affect the sun god himself, would have a devastating effect.

These unusual and freak events demonstrate an extremely good knowledge of Egyptian weather conditions with their particular accompanying problems, which could only have been written in the right order by someone with a good knowledge of the peculiar conditions in Egypt which could produce such catastrophes, confirming the Egyptian provenance of the record and the unity of the account.

In all this the gods of Egypt would be prominent to the Egyptians as the people were made aware that the God of the Hebrews was doing this, and that their gods could seemingly do nothing about it. Prominent among these would be Ha‘pi, the Nile god of inundation, Heqit the goddess of fruitfulness, whose symbol was the frog, Hathor the goddess of love, often symbolised by the cow, along with Apis the bull god, Osiris for whom the Nile was his life-blood, now out of control, the goddess Hatmehyt whose symbol was a fish, and of whom models were worn as charms, Nut the sky goddess, Reshpu and Ketesh who were supposed to control all the elements of nature except light, and Re the sun god. All these would be seen to be unable to prevent Yahweh doing His work and thus to have been at least temporarily defeated.

But it should be noted that that is the Egyptian viewpoint. Moses only mentions the gods of Egypt once, and that is probably sarcastically (Exodus 12:12). As far as he is concerned they are nothing. They are irrelevant.

The Tenth Plague - The Slaying of the Firstborn (Exodus 11:1 to Exodus 12:36).

This whole section is constructed on an interesting chiastic pattern:

a Israel are to ask the Egyptians for gold and jewellery, etc (Exodus 11:1-3).

b All the firstborn in Egypt are to die - there will be a great cry throughout the land - Israel will be told to go (Exodus 11:4-10).

c The preparation of the lamb - the sacrifice - the blood on the doorpost it - will be a memorial for ever (Exodus 12:1-14).

d For seven days they are to eat unleavened bread - their houses to be emptied of leaven - the observation of the feast (Exodus 12:15-17).

d The observation of the feast of unleavened bread for seven days - their houses to be emptied of leaven (Exodus 12:18-20).

c The preparation of the lamb - the sacrifice - the blood on the doorpost - to be observed as an ordinance for ever (Exodus 12:21-28).

b The firstborn in Egypt die - there is a great cry in Egypt - the children of Israel are told to go (Exodus 12:29-34).

a Israel ask the Egyptians for gold and jewellery etc. (Exodus 12:35-36).

There can be no doubt that this skilful arrangement is deliberate.

Exodus 12 Instructions To Israel Concerning The Passover.

This chapter is partly historical, and partly explanatory. It splits into a number of sections. (1) Exodus 12:1-14 contain the explanations given by Yahweh to Moses and Aaron with regard to the conducting of the first Passover. (2) Exodus 12:15-20 connect the Passover with the Feast of Unleavened Bread to be observed at future times. (3) Exodus 12:21-23 present Moses’ explanations in abbreviated form to the elders for the conducting the first Passover. (4) Exodus 12:24-28 explain the future way in which their children are to be taught of the Passover. (5) Exodus 12:29-42 describe the actual occurrence of the Passover , the slaying of the firstborn, and the departure of the people. (6) Exodus 12:43-51 conclude with further instructions for the Israelites regarding the celebration of the Passover in the future, and especially focus on the participation of foreigners who will dwell among them. But only the section from 1-36 is part of the Passover narrative., which is from 11:1-12:36.

The First Stages of Their Journey (Exodus 12:37 to Exodus 13:22).

The journey from Egypt now commencing we are informed of the quantity of those leaving and the connection backwards with when they first entered Egypt. This is then followed by instructions concerning who in future will be able to participate in the Passover. This had become very important in view of the mixed multitude (peoples of many nations) who accompanied them. As a result of the Passover their firstborn sons and beasts had been spared so regulations concerning the firstborn are laid down, together with those concerning the accompanying feast which was even then in process. And following that we are given information about the initial stages of their journey.

It may be analysed as follows:

a The journey commences (Exodus 12:37-42).

b The observance of the Passover and who may take part in it (Exodus 12:43-51).

b Regulations concerning the firstborn and the feast of unleavened bread (Exodus 13:1-16).

a First details of the journey (Exodus 13:17-22).

It will be noted that in ‘a’ the initial commencement of the journey is paralleled with its first stage, while in ‘b’ the regulations concerning who may eat the Passover are paralleled with connected regulations concerning the firstborn who had been saved by Yahweh during the Passover, together with the accompanying regulations concerning unleavened bread which was all a part of the Passover celebrations.


Verses 1-4

Exodus 12 Instructions To Israel Concerning The Passover.

This chapter is partly historical, and partly explanatory. It splits into a number of sections. (1) Exodus 12:1-14 contain the explanations given by Yahweh to Moses and Aaron with regard to the conducting of the first Passover. (2) Exodus 12:15-20 connect the Passover with the Feast of Unleavened Bread to be observed at future times. (3) Exodus 12:21-23 present Moses’ explanations in abbreviated form to the elders for the conducting the first Passover. (4) Exodus 12:24-28 explain the future way in which their children are to be taught of the Passover. (5) Exodus 12:29-42 describe the actual occurrence of the Passover , the slaying of the firstborn, and the departure of the people. (6) Exodus 12:43-51 conclude with further instructions for the Israelites regarding the celebration of the Passover in the future, and especially focus on the participation of foreigners who will dwell among them. But only the section from 1-36 is part of the Passover narrative., which is from 11:1-12:36.

Yahweh’s Explanation to Moses and Aaron Concerning the First Passover (Exodus 12:1-14).

Note that it is a direct address by Yahweh to Moses and Aaron to be passed on to His people.

a The moon period of Abib is from now on to be the beginning of months to them, the first moon period of the festal year (Exodus 12:1-2).

b On the tenth day of this month the head of the family is to take for each family a lamb/kid, one lamb/kid per household. If a household is too small to be able to eat a whole lamb/kid then two households may join together. The lamb/kid must be without blemish, a year old male, and either a sheep or a goat (Exodus 12:3-5).

c It shall be kept by each household until the fourteenth day of the moon period (around the full moon) and the whole of the gathering of Israel will each kill their lamb/kid between the two evenings (Exodus 12:6).

d And they shall take the blood and put it on the side posts and on the overhead lintel, on the houses in which they eat of it (Exodus 12:7).

e And they shall eat its flesh, roasted with fire, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They must not eat it raw, or sodden with water, but roasted with fire (Exodus 12:8).

e Its head and its legs and innards. They must let nothing of it remain until the morning, and what remains of it in the morning must be burned with fire (Exodus 12:9-10).

d And they will eat it with their loins girded, their shoes on their feet, their staff in their hand, and with haste. For it is Yahweh’s Passover (Exodus 12:11).

c For Yahweh will go through the land of Egypt that night and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast, and will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt. For He is Yahweh (Exodus 12:12).

b And the blood will be a token on the houses where they are, and when Yahweh sees the blood He will pass over them, and no plague will come on them to destroy them, when He smites the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:13).

a And this day is to be a memorial and kept as a feast to Yahweh. Throughout their generations they will keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever (Exodus 12:14).

We note the parallels found in this solemn account. In ‘a’ the moon period of Abib is to be fixed for each year, and in the parallel the fourteenth day of that moon period is to be observed for ever. In ‘b’ the households gather and make ready a lamb/kid, and in the parallel those households are safe from Yahweh as He passes over and smites the land of Egypt. In ‘c’ the Passover lamb/kid is slain and in the parallel the firstborn of the land of Egypt are slain. In ‘d’ the blood is put as a token on the outside of the houses where they ‘will eat it’ and in the parallel the people ‘will eat it’ waiting to depart and fitted to leave on their journey in haste. In ‘e’ the provisions for eating it are described, and in the parallel the fact that all must be consumed.

Exodus 12:1

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt saying, “This month shall be to you the beginning of months, it shall be the first month of the year to you.”

This is a turning point in the book. It was a moment of huge historical importance, for in this month Israel’s deliverance was to be achieved. Thus there is the specific declaration of a new beginning. From this day on life was to be seen as having begun in this month because it was in it that their deliverance from Egypt, ready for their reception of their future inheritance, commenced. It was in fact the month of Abib (Exodus 13:4), the month in which the feast of unleavened bread was celebrated (Exodus 23:15). Later in Canaan they would celebrate the agricultural New Year in the Autumn because then the harvest was over and the new round of nature was to begin, but even so this probably continued to be the New Year religiously speaking, for it commenced the round of feasts that led finally up to Tabernacles. This was the official calendar. The other simply one observed because of the nature of things. It was only later that that would become official (they did not think in strict calendar terms as we do).

“In the land of Egypt.” It is specifically stressed that this passover feast with its unique emphasis was instituted in the land of Egypt. The connection with Egypt is stressed again in two passages which are specifically stated to have been written by Moses (Exodus 34:18 with Exodus 12:25 compare 23:15 with Exodus 12:18).

Exodus 12:2-3

“You, speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth day of this month they shall take for themselves every man a lamb (or kid) according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household be too small for a lamb, then shall he, and his neighbour next to his house, take one according to the number of people, according to what every man eats you will take your count for the lamb.’ ”

On the tenth day of the month of Abib every household was to take a lamb (or goat) and set it apart ready for the Passover.

This was not specifically said here to be for a sacrifice, although it is in Exodus 12:27. The purpose of the lamb was that it should be eaten. This is made abundantly clear. If the household could not fully eat it then two households could combine. But its ‘holiness’ is made clear in that it must all be eaten and any that is not eaten must be burned with fire (Exodus 12:10). None must be left. And the putting of the blood on the doorpost (Exodus 12:7) in the light of its purpose (to prevent the smiting judgment of Yahweh - Exodus 12:23) suggests that it signifies some kind of substitutionary appeasement. The firstborn would not die because the blood was on the doorpost. Thus it clearly has a sacrificial element (Exodus 12:27; compare Exodus 34:25). The people would be protected by the blood and would hardly see it otherwise than as a sacrifice.

At this stage there was no priestly caste, and it is therefore probable that leaders of households acted as family priest. Thus each slaying would be made by the family priest. Certainly by the time of Jesus it had obtained sacrificial status for it had to be slain by the priests in the Temple.

“The congregation of Israel.” This is re-emphasising the unity of the children of Israel. They are one people, one gathering. The plea to Pharaoh had been that as a group they should be able to gather as a congregation in the wilderness to serve Yahweh. This was a phrase that would later represent the gathering of the whole people at a central sanctuary but it is not quite as fixed as that yet. Here it is rather those who are seen as being attached to ‘the children of Israel’ and represented by their leaders. It represents those who will gather to them when the time for departure comes. Those who, if the call came to sacrifice to Yahweh in the wilderness, would respond to that call. The identity of the group has been maintained as worshippers of Yahweh, and as accepting their connection with the people who entered Egypt with Israel (Jacob).

“According to their father” houses.’ This indicates the lowest level of group. Each father has his household, and this is the group involved. Those who live in the one house are the members of that household. The father would be both patriarch and priest.

Exodus 12:5

“Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You shall take it from the sheep or from the goats.”

“Without blemish.” The lamb (or kid) was to be without blemish. This too emphasises the sacrificial element. It is separated to Yahweh and must therefore be ‘perfect’. It is a ritual without an official altar and without a sanctuary, but it is nevertheless holy to Yahweh.

“A male of the first year (literally ‘son of a year”).’ This may mean one year old and therefore a grown lamb, or it may mean up to one year old.

Exodus 12:6-7

“And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it between the two evenings. And they shall take of the blood and put it on the two side posts and on the lintel in the houses in which they shall eat it.”

No indication is given as to why the lamb had to be kept for four days. It was possibly so as to give time to discover any blemish. Perhaps even tribal inspections of the lambs took place. Or it may be that its period of separation was seen as allowing a certain time for it to become ‘holy’, a separated lamb, set apart to God. (Compare how later after washing with water men would not be clean until a certain period had passed, ‘shall not be clean until the evening’). But at this first Passover it was probably also to give opportunity of all who would respond to become aware of the situation.

The blood of the lamb was to be put on the lintel and on the two doorposts. A number of festivals are known where blood was so applied to ward off evil spirits but there is no question of that here. This is a ceremony required by a benevolent Yahweh from His people and attracts his protection. The blood is there for Him to see. And He does not need to be warded off. Rather He wants to be satisfied that they have fulfilled His requirements. They have slain and eaten and therefore they will be spared. Even if this ceremony is based on some similar ceremony held in the past or known among other peoples its nature is being fundamentally changed. The applying of the blood to the doorposts and lintel may well have a somewhat similar purpose to the presenting of the blood at the altar. It indicates to Yahweh that the sacrifice has been made and applies the blood of the offering of the lamb.

“The fourteenth day of Abib.” Passover was held at the time of the full moon, fourteen days after the new moon which would commence the month. This would aid them in their journey.

“The whole assembly of the congregation of Israel.” Each household was to slay the lamb. This would almost certainly be done by the head of the household. All would see him as acting as a priest. At this stage as far as we know there was no official priesthood among the children of Israel and the father, the patriarchal figure, of the group or of the family would act as priest. But it is emphasised that each household offers as a part of the whole congregation.

“Between the two evenings.” This has to signify a period which is prior to the commencement of the new day (which began in the evening), as the sun was going down - see verse 18 and compare Deuteronomy 16:6, ‘at the going down of the sun’. As working slaves they would be released just prior to sunset. Compare Jeremiah 6:4, ‘the day declines, the shadows of the evening are stretched out’.

The passover celebration was to be both communal, for all would do it together, and individual, for each family unit would perform it. It had most of the elements of a sacrifice. An unblemished lamb, set apart as holy, solemnly killed by the priestly head of the household, partaken of by the household and the remainder burned with fire, with its blood applied before Yahweh (Who will specifically see it - Exodus 12:13; Exodus 12:23). It is specifically called a sacrifice in Exodus 12:27. It was distinctive because of the nature of the circumstances which would ever be remembered.

Exodus 12:8-10

“And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire and unleavened bread. They will eat it with bitter herbs. Do not eat of it raw, or sodden with water, but roast with fire, its head with its legs and with the inwards thereof. And you shall let nothing remain of it until the morning, but that which remains of it until the morning you shall burn with fire.”

The lamb was to be eaten roasted with fire, not raw or boiled with water. The roasting may have been for purposes of speed, compared with boiling. Among other peoples sacrificial flesh was often eaten raw with a view to absorbing the blood of the animal, its life-force. But it was not to be so here. The eating of the blood would later be strictly forbidden to Israel (Leviticus 7:26; Leviticus 17:10) and clearly was so here. However, sacrificial flesh was certainly often boiled (Leviticus 6:28; Numbers 6:19). This is therefore a specific enactment. Deuteronomy 16:7 is sometimes cited as later allowing the boiling of the Passover lamb, but compare 2 Chronicles 35:13 where bashal is used for both roast and boil (it can also mean ‘bake’ - 2 Samuel 13:8). It is thus a general word for cooking.

“Unleavened cakes.” Quickly and easily cooked. There is continual emphasis in the passage on speed and readiness. Compare also 12:34 where it is stated that they did not have time to leaven their dough. In Deuteronomy 16:3 they are called ‘the bread of affliction’ because of their connection with the escape from Egypt.

“Bitter herbs.” The lives of the children of Israel had been made ‘bitter’ (Exodus 1:14) and this symbolised the bitterness of their lives in Egypt. (Later, according to the Mishnah, these would be composed of lettuce, chicory, pepperwort, snakeroot and dandelion).

Nothing was to be left of the meal. Whatever was uneaten was to be burned with fire. This would be because it was seen as a holy meal, set apart to God, and thus to be reserved only for use in the celebration. What remained was used as an offering to God. The whole of the sacrifice was thus seen as that night preparing them for their deliverance by sanctifying them (setting them apart as holy) in God’s eyes.

“Its head and its legs with the inwards thereof.” These were probably to be burned up and not eaten (compare Exodus 29:17; Leviticus 1:8-9; Leviticus 1:12-13; Leviticus 4:11; Leviticus 8:20-21; Leviticus 9:13-14).

Exodus 12:11-13

“And this is the way you shall eat it, with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is Yahweh’s passover, for I will go through the land of Egypt in that night and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments. I am Yahweh. And the blood will be for you a token on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood I will pass over you and there will be no plague on you to destroy you when I smite the land of Egypt.”

As they prepared the lamb and ate it they were to be dressed ready for a journey with staff in hand, and they were to eat in expectancy of soon leaving (‘in haste’). For during that night Yahweh was about to smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt.

The instructions about dress are not just as a symbol although they became that later on. The point is being made that the children of Israel must be ready for departure and that that departure will be hasty. They have only a few days to prepare for it and when the time comes they must be ready for it. It was a guarantee that their deliverance was coming.

“Loins girded.” Their robes tucked in so as not to impede the feet or get mud-ridden when walking. ‘Your shoes on your feet.’ Not left by the door as would be normal.

“It is Yahweh”s passover (pesach).’ The meaning of ‘pasach’ is not certain. However in Isaiah 31:5 it is used in comparison with birds flying over, and the thought is of protection by hovering or circling over. This fits admirably here. (It has also been connected with ‘pasach’ - ‘to limp’ (1 Kings 18:21; 1 Kings 18:26), and with Akkadian ‘pasahu’ - ‘to be soothed’). It was ‘a night of watching for Yahweh to bring them out of the land of Egypt’ (Exodus 12:42).

“Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments. I am Yahweh” The protection of the gods was constantly sought by the Egyptians, but those so-called gods will be unable to intervene, as they had been unable to intervene previously. Indeed they will be unable to save themselves and their proteges. The sacred animals that represent them will all face death in the family. Their priests will suffer the same fate. And a potential god will be smitten in the house of Pharaoh, for his heirs were destined to become gods. It was a night of judgment. So Yahweh, ‘He Who is there to act’, will act. He will make Himself known under His true name as the uniquely all-powerful.

It is noteworthy that Moses himself never mentions the gods of Egypt. He does not see himself as battling with them. Considering his background this is remarkable and demonstrates to what extent he sees Yahweh not only as the most powerful God but as the only God.

“A token.” A distinguishing mark, a sign which Yahweh will see to bring to mind a covenant obligation (Genesis 9:12), so that they will enjoy His protection and escape judgment. The blood signified that the necessary sacrifice had been made. It also meant that the firstborn within the house was looked on as Yahweh’s, doomed for slaughter, but because of the blood of the sacrifice ‘redeemed’ and was thus now Yahweh’s (Exodus 13:1; Exodus 13:13). The lamb meanwhile had taken the place of the firstborn and had been willingly offered as a sufficient representative and substitute. And all had partaken in it thus sharing in its efficacy. As a result they were protected under the covenant.

Exodus 12:14

‘And this day shall be to you for a memorial, and you will keep it as a feast to Yahweh, throughout your generations you will keep it as a feast by an ordinance for ever.’

From this time on ‘for ever’ the Passover must be celebrated yearly as a reminder of and participation in this first feast and the deliverance it portended. It is still kept when we meet to celebrate the greater Passover of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“This day.” The fifteenth of Abib when the Passover was eaten and the firstborn of Israel were spared, and the children of Israel began their departure from the land. The day began in the evening and the Passover was therefore eaten on the first ‘day’ of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

“A memorial.” Something to bring to remembrance. God was concerned that what was done this day would be remembered for ever.

“You shall keep it as a feast (chag).” This is the general term for the later pilgrimage feasts of Israel. It signified a feast of unity, and while Passover was observed in separate houses it was observed by the congregation of Israel all at the same time. And its connection with the feast of unleavened bread meant that in the future it would have to be observed in connection with the gathering together of the people of Israel. In this sense it too would be a pilgrimage feast.


Verses 15-20

Instructions Concerning the Later Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:15-20).

These instructions had the future in mind. They would not be in their houses in order to observe it in Egypt, although it may well have been a feast that they previously observed. But now it was to be directly connected with the Passover, and with the haste in which they left Egypt.

a They were to eat unleavened bread for seven days, and on the first day put all unleavened bread out of their houses, for whoever eats unleavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person will be cut off from Israel (Exodus 12:15).

b On the first day was to be a holy gathering and on the seventh day was to be a holy gathering, and no manner of work was to be done except what a man must eat (Exodus 12:16).

c The feast of unleavened bread was to be observed on the selfsame day as Yahweh brought their hosts out of Egypt (Exodus 12:17 a).

c Which is why they will observe this day throughout their generations by an ordinance for ever (Exodus 12:17 b).

b On the first month, on the fourteenth day in the evening they were to eat unleavened bread, until the twenty first day in the evening (Exodus 12:18).

a For seven days no leaven was to be found in their houses , for whoever ate what was leavened, that person was to be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether a resident alien or one born in the land. Nothing leavened was to be eaten. In all their dwellings they must eat unleavened bread (Exodus 12:19-20).

We note in ‘a’ the parallels. In both the feast was to be for seven days when there was to be no leaven, and any who ate of unleavened bread was to be cut off from among the people. In the former the leaven is to be put out of their houses, and in the latter they must eat unleavened bread in all their houses. In ‘b’ we have the mention in both, in different ways, of the first and the seventh day, described in the parallel as the fourteenth and twenty first day. In ‘c’ the day to be celebrated is stressed in both cases.

Exodus 12:15

“Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread. Even the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh that person shall be cut off from Israel.”

The earlier patriarchal family tribe under Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would certainly have observed a number of feasts (for example the sheep shearing - see on Genesis 31:19), and as they produced crops this would have included a celebration of the beginning of the barley harvest which, in Canaan, would have taken place at this time of the year. It is probable that these feasts had been continued in Egypt, as part of their tradition, to retain a connection with their roots. But it would be linked to something else, so that, apart from the connection with unleavened bread, a seven day feast may already have been observed at this time. Such customs are notoriously tenacious even over long periods of time.

But this time the deliverance would not give the children of Israel time to leaven their bread (Exodus 12:34; Exodus 12:37). Thus from this time on this feast, which had in Canaan been connected with the beginning of the barley harvest, (and would be again), but in Egypt was probably connected with some other reason for celebration, was to be observed with unleavened bread to remind them of their deliverance from Egypt. It would be a feast to which all the children of Israel gathered. This feast is now given a special meaning and connected with the Passover, although shown as a distinctive feast. (Notice how the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are dealt with separately in Exodus 12:43-49 and Exodus 13:3-9. Later they would be seen as one as a result of the passage of time, but that is not yet).

“Seven days.” A divinely perfect period. We do not know whether at this stage the children of Israel observed the ‘seven day week’ as we know it. Probably not for no mention is made of the institution of the weekly Sabbath until Exodus 16. But it would be wrong to assume that ‘seven days’ necessarily anywhere indicates a recognised week. ‘Seven days’ was commonly recognised as a sacred period not necessarily directly connected to the calendar, for the number seven had a sacred significance throughout the Near East. Thus the Babylonian flood story had a seven day flood. But they did not have a seven day week. The Philistines held a seven day wedding feast (Judges 14:17) but did not observe the Sabbath. And while this seven day period begins and ends with a sabbath, these sabbaths were not what came to be the regular Sabbath.

“You shall eat unleavened bread (cakes).” This is bread (plural) made from dough to which yeast had not been introduced, baked in the form of flat cakes. The initial significance of this in context was that they would go in haste without leaving time for the bread to be leavened (Exodus 12:34; Exodus 12:39). Thus the feast would be a continual reminder of that hasty departure. But it probably also gained a new significance from the fact that leaven had a ‘corrupting’ influence on the dough, unleavened bread thus signifying the necessity for purity. The escape from Egypt rescued them from the leaven of Egypt, the corrupting influence of Egypt, and their being united in the covenant was intended to deliver them from the leaven of sin. It thus continued to indicate deliverance from the world’s influence and from sin.

“The first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses.” All leaven had to be removed from each house so that only unleavened bread remained. We are probably justified in seeing in this a picture of the need for the removal of all corrupting tendencies from the lives of partakers.

“Whoever eats --- that person shall be cut off from Israel.” Unity with Jacob (Israel) in the covenant of Yahweh requires obedience to the demands of the covenant God. Thus to deliberately partake of leavened bread during the seven day period would be to signify an unwillingness to belong to the covenant community, and would result in removal from ‘the congregation of Israel’. Such a person might even, at this stage, be put to death (Numbers 15:27-36). To have become a member of the covenant was a serious matter. But being ‘cut off’ may simply indicate expulsion.

Exodus 12:16

“And on the first day there shall be for you a holy gathering, and on the seventh day a holy gathering, no manner of work shall be done in them except what every man must eat, that only may be done for you.”

The seven day period was to begin on day one and end on day seven with both days being observed as days of rest from labour, apart from that necessary for the feast. They were holy days. On these days they would gather for feasting and worship. They were days set apart for God later to become known as ‘sabbaths’. Thus such set apart days (both the first and the last of the seven) were to be seen as times when no work must be done. This was to be as a reminder of the bondage that had been theirs in Egypt. The idea of a seventh day sabbath would later develop into a regular Sabbath day every seven days (Exodus 16:5; Exodus 16:23; Exodus 16:25; Exodus 16:29-30; Exodus 20:8-11), a sign that they were continually His free people, provided for by Him. But they would not have been able to observe such a regular Sabbath in Egypt. Thus after the regular Sabbath was instituted there could in the feast of unleavened bread be three sabbaths, the day one sabbath, the day seven sabbath, and the regular Sabbath.

Exodus 12:17

“And you shall observe the Mazzoth (unleavened bread). For on this selfsame day have I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations by an ordinance for ever.”

From this day on the first day of this feast would be a reminder of their being freed from slavery. As they ceased from work they would remember how they had been freed from slavery in Egypt. So from this day on the fifteenth day of Abib was a day set apart, a day on which the Passover would be eaten (having been killed on the fourteenth between the two evenings) and as a day of cessation from labour.

12:18-20

“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month when evening comes, you will eat unleavened bread, until the twenty first day in the evening. Seven days there will be no leaven in your houses, for whoever eats what is leavened that person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a sojourner or one born in the land. You shall eat nothing leavened. In all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.”

The details are now repeated so that the listeners are reminded of them. (In the first place Moses and Aaron, but finally all who listen to this account read out at a feast). The ban on unleavened bread begins on the fourteenth day of the month as the next evening approaches and the Passover lamb is killed, and goes on until the end of the twenty first day, a period of just over seven days.

“Whether he be a sojourner or one born in the land.” This is looking forward to the ideal day when the land promised to their fathers, and to them in Exodus 3:8, finally belongs to them in its totality. All would know of the land that God had promised to give to the seed of Abraham (Genesis 13:15 etc.). This was confirmation that these promises were to be fulfilled in the not too distant future. Then every one in that land, whether born there, or living there having been born elsewhere, will be subject to these regulations. This is a message of hope for it guarantees that they are to receive the land promised to their fathers. God has promised that He is delivering them so as to give them the land (Exodus 3:8). This is spoken in anticipation of, and guarantee of, that day. Their inheritance is guaranteed to them on this their day of deliverance.

“In all your dwellings.” Every household among the people will be involved.


Verses 21-30

The Elders Are Instructed How To Observe the First Passover And Yahweh Passes Over Egypt and Slays The Firstborn (Exodus 12:21-30).

a Moses calls on the elders of Israel that all families shall take lambs/kids and kill the Passover and put blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses and not go out until the morning (Exodus 12:21-22).

b For Yahweh will pass through to smite the Egyptians and when He sees the blood He will pass over them and not allow the Destroyer to enter their houses to smite them (Exodus 12:23).

c And they will observe this for an ordinance for themselves and their sons for ever (Exodus 12:24).

d And when they come to the land which He has given them as He promised they will keep this service, and when their children ask ‘what does this service mean?’ (Exodus 12:25-26).

d Their children will be told that it is the sacrifice of Yahweh’s Passover Who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians and delivered Israel’s houses (Exodus 12:27).

c And the people bowed their heads and worshipped, and the children of Israel went and did all that Yahweh had commanded Moses and Aaron (Exodus 12:28).

b And at midnight Yahweh smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the lowest (Exodus 12:29).

a And Pharaoh rose in the night, and all his grandees, and all the people of Egypt, and there was a great cry in Egypt, and there was not a house where there was not one dead (Exodus 12:30).

This is a passage of contrasts. In ‘a’ the children of Israel are safe in their houses, for they are protected by the blood on doorpost and lintel and by staying within their houses until morning, in the parallel is the contrast with Pharaoh and his people where there is a great cry and there is no house where there is not one dead. In ‘b’ Yahweh passes through and smites the Egyptians while the houses of the Israelites are safe because of the blood so that the Destroyer does not enter their houses, while in the parallel Yahweh smites all the firstborn in the land of Egypt regardless of status, and none are delivered. In ‘c’ there is the requirement for the perpetual keeping of the ordinance, an act of obedience and solemn worship, while in the parallel the people bow their heads and worship and do all that Yahweh commanded Moses and Aaron. Here there is the parallel of future obedience and worship and present worship and obedience. In ‘d’ there is the contrast of the future blessing when they are safely settled in the land which Yahweh has given them with the present deliverance, and we have the question put by the son of the family about what this service means, paralleled by the explanation of what it does mean, that it is the sacrifice of Yahweh’s Passover when He passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt and smote the Egyptians, delivering the households of Israel.

The Call To Prepare for the Passover (Exodus 12:21-23).

Exodus 12:21

‘Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Draw out and take lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover.” ’

That these instructions result from Moses having already explained what is in the previous verses comes out in that he speaks of ‘the passover’ as though they will understand it. Now he tells them to carry them into effect. There is thus a period of four to five days between the ‘drawing’ and the ‘killing’ in which they can begin to prepare for their deliverance.

“The elders of Israel.” The lay rulers, heads of tribes and sub-tribes and their advisers.

Exodus 12:22

“And you shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin, and none of you will go out of his house until the morning. For Yahweh will pass through to smite the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two side posts, Yahweh will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to smite you.”

They are to put blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses using hyssop dipped in the blood from the slain lamb gathered in a basin, and striking the doorposts and lintel. They are then to remain in their houses, for Yahweh will go through the land of Egypt to smite the Egyptians (in the Hebrew ‘pass through’ has no stem connection with ‘pass over’). And when He sees the blood on the lintel and doorposts He will ‘pass over’ (the thought is of protection by hovering or circling over - see Exodus 12:11 and Isaiah 31:5) and prevent destruction because He will know them as those who are in the covenant community and under His protection, and as those who have made the offering of the lamb, with whom He is well pleased.

“A bunch of hyssop.” This plant is generally considered to be a species of marjoram, a common, fragrant grey-leaved, wiry stemmed perennial herb 20-30 centimetres (about 1 foot) high having white flowers in small heads and growing in dry, rocky places.

“The blood which is in the basin.” The lamb’s blood is to be collected in a basin, and the hyssop then dipped in, and the blood put on the lintels and doorposts of their houses. Comparison with Exodus 24:6-8 suggests that by this the house and those within it are seen as included in Yahweh’s covenant. (There it was sprinkled on pillars representing the people and on the people themselves, here it is put on the lintel and doorposts of the houses where they are, which symbolise the whole household). This application of the blood confirms the sacrificial significance of the slaying of the lamb. It had to be applied in accordance with ritual, and the blood must not be touched.

“None of you will go out of his house until the morning.” The house has been made holy to Yahweh by the application of the blood and those who are within it share that holiness and so must not go out into the mundane world. They are thus invulnerable and seen as under His protection. They are His. (To suggest that it meant that they must not go out because of some demon destroyer is to overlook the fact that only the firstborn were in danger from such a destroyer).

“For Yahweh will pass through to smite the Egyptians.” It is made quite clear that it is Yahweh Himself Who smites the Egyptians. The blood is not for protection to divert demons nor a marker to identify the houses, but as a token to Yahweh that those within the house are within the covenant.

“Will not allow the destroyer to come into your houses.” It is Yahweh Who is the Destroyer and it is Yahweh Who is the Protector. We can compare how sometimes He distinguished Himself as ‘the angel of Yahweh’, almost as another self (Genesis chapters 16 and 22 and often, see also Genesis 48:16; Isaiah 63:9). He is thus depicted as acting to prevent Himself from destroying.

Because blood applied to the entrance into dwellings, whether houses or tents, was elsewhere at other times used for the purpose of diverting demons and evil spirits, some have sought to apply that here (what are called ‘apotropaic’ rites to divert evil influences or bad luck). But this can only be done by totally ignoring the context. As with all ceremonies the meaning of actions changes depending on belief. We ourselves engage in traditions whose meaning has been transformed (such as the use of mistletoe). And this applies here. Here the blood is stated specifically to be to guarantee the protection of Yahweh Who is outside as Protector, not to prevent Yahweh or anything else entering. The children of Israel have been freed (at least theoretically) from the idea of other gods and demons affecting their lives for they are within Yahweh’s covenant.

This Feast Was To Become An Ordinance For The Future And Their Children Instructed In Its Significance (Exodus 12:24-28).

Exodus 12:24-27 a

“And each of you shall observe this thing for an ordinance to you and to your sons for ever. And it shall happen that, when your children will say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’, you will say, ‘It is the sacrifice of Yahweh’s passover who hovered over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when he smote the Egyptians and delivered our houses.”

It is constantly emphasised that what is to happen is so stupendous that it will act for ever as a reminder of the faithfulness of Yahweh to His covenant (compare Exodus 12:17). And this is spelt out in the form of someone asking, ‘Why do you serve God in this way?’ And the reply is, ‘This is the sacrifice to do with Yahweh’s protective watch over His people when He smote the Egyptians’. The change to a singular verb indicates ‘each and all of you’.

Here the killing of the Passover lamb is specifically described as ‘zebach’. This would later be the name for the ‘peace offering’ (Leviticus 3, 4) but here it more generally means sacrifices other than the whole burnt offering of which they could partake (see Exodus 10:25 compare Genesis 31:54; Genesis 46:1; Exodus 18:12; Exodus 24:5). Later the stipulation would be made that it should only be offered ‘in the place that Yahweh your God shall choose’ (Deuteronomy 16:5-6). Note again the emphasis on Yahweh’s protective watch, and that it is He Himself Who will smite the Egyptians.

Exodus 12:27-28

‘And the people bowed the head and worshipped. And the children of Israel went and did so. As Yahweh had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.’

The people respond in obedience and worship and do what they have been commanded through Moses and Aaron. Thus are they ready when Yahweh acts. Note that they no longer grumble or disagree with what Moses says. What has previously occurred has filled them with awe and they have recognised that Yahweh is acting for them.

The Judgment of The Passover (Exodus 12:29-30).

Exodus 12:29

‘And it came about at midnight that Yahweh smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle.’

In the middle of the night ‘all’ the firstborn in the land of Egypt were smitten from the highest to the lowest. The maidservant behind the mill of Exodus 11:5 has been replaced here by the captive in the dungeon. Both were seen as on a similar level.

It is difficult to comment on this awe-inspiring and dreadful statement. A terrible epidemic passes through a whole nation so that on one night the vast multiplicity of deaths strikes terror in the minds of the people, and yet not one household of the children of Israel is affected. And the firstborn seem particularly to have been affected in a widespread way. We put it this way because no one could have checked that every single firstborn died, and it is possible that others died too. But outstanding examples were certainly known such as the firstborn of the house of Pharaoh and the firstborn of prisoners in dungeons. All classes were affected.

And this was at the hand of Yahweh. Whatever the secondary cause, the primary directing was His, for He controls all things. The judgment may seem appalling, and it truly was. But we may also see in it an act of mercy. Only the firstborn died, whereas God could have smitten the whole of Egypt. However it was sufficient for its purpose. The whole of Egypt wanted to get rid of the Israelites.

(While not detracting in any way from the huge significance of the event, we must remember that such general statements are not always to be applied absolutely literally. The wording would be satisfied if the large majority of the firstborn died sufficient to give the impression of universality (indeed we know that no one in a protected house died). ‘All’ can often mean ‘most’ or ‘the vast majority’ compare Genesis 12:3; Genesis 14:11; Genesis 20:8; Genesis 24:1; Genesis 24:36 with Genesis 25:5-6; Genesis 29:22; Genesis 31:1; Genesis 31:6; Genesis 34:29; Genesis 41:56-57; Genesis 47:14-15; Exodus 1:14; Exodus 1:22; Exodus 9:25; Exodus 18:1; Exodus 18:8; Exodus 18:14; Exodus 33:19; Numbers 14:2; Deuteronomy 2:32 and often, including 2 Samuel 11:18; 1 Kings 4:29-30; 1 Kings 4:34).

“The firstborn of Pharaoh.” A potential god in the making but his father, or grandfather, Pharaoh, incarnation of the god Horus, could do nothing to prevent it. Clearly the ‘firstborn of Pharaoh’ means of those present in the land. Thus if Pharaoh’s actual firstborn was away on a military expedition then the next in line would presumably be affected, possibly his son if he had one.

But it would not be the first time in history that a detrimental fact was covered up. If Pharaoh’s first born son did die in this ignominious way, it could well have been ‘covered up’ and not written into the histories. He could have become a non-person. Histories were on the whole written to bring glory to those about whom the history was written, not in order to tell the truth. Israel were exceptional in recording all their bad points and failures, probably because their histories were written by prophets.

Exodus 12:30

‘And Pharaoh rose up in the night, and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt for there was not a house where there was not one dead.’

The greatness of the tragedy is stressed. It is significant that whatever killed the firstborn did so in such a way as to waken each household. This may suggest some dreadful illness which caused first suffering and misery, and finally death. It may have arisen from the effects of previous plagues leaving bacteria which were stirred up by the wind or simply had a delayed effect, but it occurred when needed and in the way required. We may theorise about what it was but it affected both man and cattle, and especially affected the firstborn, and all in one night. And in the end we are clearly told that it was the hand of God.

“Pharaoh --- all his servants --- all the Egyptians.” Again we have the depiction of the different classes in Egypt, Pharaoh, his high officials and bureaucrats, and the common people. And all were affected. From every house came the cry of mourning. But again the ‘all’ is not necessarily to be taken literally. It means the Egyptians on the whole. Some houses would not contain a firstborn son. Others would contain more than one firstborn. Although it may be that the deaths were more widespread than the firstborn.


Verses 31-36

The Final Farewell (Exodus 12:31-36).

Yahweh has delivered the final telling blow and Pharaoh tells Moses and Aaron that very night that they may go with all that they have and worship Yahweh, and seeks his right as their overlord to expect a blessing from their God. They thus depart loaded with riches as the Egyptians, eager to see them go, pour treasures on them, probably with the hope of placating Yahweh.

a Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron by night and tells them all to go and serve Yahweh and seeks a blessing for himself (Exodus 12:31-32).

b The Egyptians are urgent that they leave in haste because of the trail of death (Exodus 12:33).

b The children of Israel take their unleavened dough (thus leaving in haste) and all their domestic equipment (Exodus 12:34).

a They obtain jewels of silver and gold from the Egyptians (Exodus 12:35) in accordance with the word of Moses, for Yahweh gives them favour in the eyes of the Egyptians so that they give them all that they desire and they spoil the Egyptians. (While Pharaoh was seeking a blessing for himself, Yahweh was ensuring a blessing for His people).

The Command To Depart (Exodus 12:31-32)

Exodus 12:31-32

‘And he called for Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Rise up, get yourselves out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel, and go, serve Yahweh as you have said. Take both your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone. And bless me also.” ’

This last plague was too much even for Pharaoh. He now wanted nothing more than to get Moses and Aaron away from his people as soon as possible. Possibly in spite of his earlier statement he called them to him at his palace, or it may be that his words were passed on through a high official, for he would himself be in mourning. And he gave them the permission that they had been seeking, including all that Moses had previously demanded (Exodus 10:9; Exodus 10:26). They could go and serve Yahweh in the wilderness. And he goes so far as to ask Yahweh’s blessing on himself. He has come a long way from his sarcastic question, “Who is Yahweh?” (Exodus 5:2). Now he knows and seeks His benediction.

It was quite normal for kings to expect their tributaries to offer sacrifices on their behalf as a sign of loyalty, and to seek blessing from their God. This was still not permission to finally leave Egypt for good, but God knew what He was working towards.

The People’s Departure and the Reaction of the Egyptians (Exodus 12:33-36).

Exodus 12:33

‘And the Egyptians acted with great urgency towards the people to send them out of the land as soon as possible, for they said “We are all dead men.”

The ordinary Egyptians and the bureaucrats were also eager to see the back of the children of Israel. They had had enough. All their firstborn were dead. Soon they might be included as well.

“We are all dead men.” This may be a rueful look at their firstborn children lying dead in their beds, or may imply that they feared suffering the same fate themselves. What had happened to one could happen to all. As the plagues had gone by they had thought that things were so bad that they could not get worse. But they had got worse. And now this was the worst of all. And they recognised that if they did not get rid of the Israelites, it might get even worse still. Soon none might be left alive.

Exodus 12:34

‘And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneadingtroughs being bound up in their clothes on their shoulders.’

A homely description confirming that all leaven had been got rid of. All they now had was unleavened dough. The fact that they felt that they could not wait for it to leaven illustrates the speed at which they left. All this confirms that the getting rid of the leaven was a specific act carried out in fulfilment of Yahweh’s command as otherwise there must have been some leavened bread still available. This was in obedience to Exodus 12:15.

The description of the kneadingtroughs on the shoulder suggests an eyewitness account. The purpose of mentioning them was to show that they were not in use. The bearing of such things in the loose clothing around the shoulders is still practised among Arabs.

Exodus 12:35-36

‘And the children of Israel did as Moses had said, and they asked of the Egyptians jewels of silver and jewels of gold and clothing. And Yahweh gave the people favour in the eyes of the Egyptians so that they let them have what they asked. And they spoiled the Egyptians.’

Compare for this Exodus 4:21-22; Exodus 11:2-3. It was important that the people depart as victors to demonstrate the superiority of Yahweh. The children of Israel possibly knew that they were leaving for good for that was what Yahweh had promised right at the beginning (Exodus 3:8; Exodus 3:16), although it may be that at this stage they were still not sure and simply obeying Yahweh’s commands. What the Egyptians thought we are not told. They were probably so keen to get rid of them that they did not care. It was only Pharaoh with his insatiable demand for slave labourers who thought at this stage in terms of their returning.

The jewels of silver and gold and the splendid clothing would be given with a view to pleasing Yahweh at the feast in the wilderness, and placating Him. It was to be for His treasure house. Or it may be that a cowed people were just happy to pour the riches on them hoping that it might please Yahweh and thus save them from further plagues. Either way the children of Israel departed with the spoils of war.

Note the interesting irony that Pharaoh had sought a blessing on himself, which would include a wish for his prosperity, while Yahweh was ensuring the prosperity of His own people.

So all having been done as Yahweh had commanded, they were ready to go on their way. Their permission was to go into the wilderness to serve Yahweh. But Yahweh’s intention was that they leave Egypt permanently as He had promised and soon Pharaoh would panic and chase them with his army, breaking his treaty with Yahweh and releasing them from any obligation to return.


Verses 37-42

The First Stages of Their Journey (Exodus 12:37 to Exodus 13:22).

The journey from Egypt now commencing we are informed of the quantity of those leaving and the connection backwards with when they first entered Egypt. This is then followed by instructions concerning who in future will be able to participate in the Passover. This had become very important in view of the mixed multitude (peoples of many nations) who accompanied them. As a result of the Passover their firstborn sons and beasts had been spared so regulations concerning the firstborn are laid down, together with those concerning the accompanying feast which was even then in process. And following that we are given information about the initial stages of their journey.

It may be analysed as follows:

a The journey commences (Exodus 12:37-42).

b The observance of the Passover and who may take part in it (Exodus 12:43-51).

b Regulations concerning the firstborn and the feast of unleavened bread (Exodus 13:1-16).

a First details of the journey (Exodus 13:17-22).

It will be noted that in ‘a’ the initial commencement of the journey is paralleled with its first stage, while in ‘b’ the regulations concerning who may eat the Passover are paralleled with connected regulations concerning the firstborn who had been saved by Yahweh during the Passover, together with the accompanying regulations concerning unleavened bread which was all a part of the Passover celebrations.

The Children of Israel Begin Their Journey (Exodus 12:37-42).

As a result of the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh had commanded the children of Israel to go and serve Yahweh in the wilderness with all that they had. His words (Exodus 12:31-32) had been urgent and gave the impression that he would not mind if he never saw them again. He wanted rid of them at any cost because of what their presence had brought on himself and his people, and what their presence might continue to bring. Egypt was devastated, and now on top of the disasters every family in Egypt had lost its firstborn sons through some mysterious means. But underneath he was still the same obstinate and evil man. We can see therefore why he changed his mind a little later on, when he reconsidered his words once the worst seemed to be over. He had never ever been thwarted like this before. It was not just that Egypt were losing such a quantity of slaves, although that was bad enough, it was the fact that he had been totally humiliated.

a The children of Israel set out, six hundred military units of men as well as children, all go together. And a mixed multitude go with them with many flocks and herds (Exodus 12:37-38).

b They had to bake with unleavened dough because they had been thrust out in such haste (Exodus 12:39).

c They had resided as aliens in Egypt for 430 years (Exodus 12:40).

c For 430 years after they had entered Egypt they left it ‘on that selfsame day’ (Exodus 12:41).

b It was a night to be much observed to Yahweh because He had brought them out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:42 a).

a It was the night of Yahweh to be observed by all the children of Israel in their generations (Exodus 12:42 b).

Note the parallels. In ‘a’ all of the children of Israel and more had left Egypt, thus in the parallel it was a night to be observed by all the children of Israel. In ‘b’ they had been thrust out of the land in haste, and in the parallel it was a night to be observed to Yahweh for this reason. In ‘c’ they had resided as aliens in Egypt for 430 years, and in the parallel now after 430 years He had brought them out.

Exodus 12:37

‘And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred ’eleph on foot that were men, beside children.’

Meanwhile the people of Yahweh began their journey on foot into the wilderness via Succoth leading towards Etham on the edge of the wilderness (Exodus 13:20). The site of Succoth is not specifically identifiable but varying suggestions have been made. It may be the fortress town of Tjeku mentioned in Egyptian sources. In these we learn, for example, of a chief of the archers sent to Tjeku to prevent certain slaves from running away, but arriving too late. They had been seen crossing the north wall of the fortress town of Seti-Merenptah. Another mentions some Libyan mercenaries who had tried to flee but were brought back to Tjeku. Thus Tjeku was on the route regularly taken by fugitives.

“The children of Israel journeyed.” Not necessarily in an orderly march. They had been given the date and were ready. Then they streamed towards Succoth near the border to gather for the march, the main body coming from around Rameses (or they may have gathered outside Rameses). The necessity for rapid movement would prevent too much overall organisation. The heads of each clan would be expected to ensure that their clan joined in and kept up. Organisation would come later.

From Rameses to Succoth.’ The word succoth means ‘booths’ or ‘tents’ (compare Genesis 33:17). Possibly originally it had been a city of tents, and the name had clung to it. Or possibly it was simply a Hebrew rendering of an Egyptian word that mean something different. But there is an ironic twist in the fact that the first stage of their journey is represented as being from the city of the great king to ‘the place of tents’, for this indicated their future. It parallels the journey of Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees to Canaan. (Indeed all who would serve God must go ‘from Rameses to Succoth’, from living for man’s glory to becoming a stranger and pilgrim in the world (1 Peter 2:11), counting what this world offers as nothing, for man’s glory offers nothing but bondage, while submission to God leads to freedom)

“Six hundred ”eleph on foot who were men.’ Probably we should read ‘six hundred family or military units on foot who were men’. Much later ‘eleph’ became established as indicating ‘one thousand’ but at this stage it may well not have been quite so emphatically used and instead often have had a significance relating to its other meanings of ‘family group’ or ‘clan’, or even a ‘military unit’ (2 Samuel 18:1) of a certain size. In Judges 6:15 Gideon says ‘my ’eleph is the weakest in Manasseh’ and in 1 Samuel 10:19-21 we read ‘present yourselves by your tribes and by your families (’alpheycem from root ’eleph) where the parallel in Exodus 12:21 suggests it means family groups not thousands. Thus ’eleph could here have signified a considerably smaller number than a thousand.

To the Hebrew mind the ‘six hundred’ may also have indicated intensified completeness (three doubled times a hundred). We must not read back into them our numeracy, and streaming out from different parts of Goshen they would at the time have been in no position to be counted individually, whereas a note may well have been taken of the approximate number of groups that arrived as they all came together.

“Besides children.” Strictly the Hebrew indicates ‘as well as males under age’. The presence of the wives and daughters with them is assumed. The word for ‘children’, is in fact often distinguished from wives, but it is also sometimes used as indicating the whole family apart from the adult males (Genesis 43:8; Genesis 47:12).

Note On the Numbers Mentioned in the Pentateuch.

When considering numbers in the Pentateuch we should always be aware of the possibility that the number words used in this early literature may have been intended to give information other than numerical quantity. Numerical quantity would have meant little to most readers. They did not think numerically. Few could count. Nor did they use more than minimal numbers in daily life (say up to ten at the most and some only up to three as with many modern primitive tribespeople). What numbers conveyed to them was an impression of size and an indication of significance. Even in the time of Elijah ‘two’ could mean ‘a few’ (1 Kings 17:12).

But what really matters is that the significance of the events themselves is not affected by the numbers. Whether the number here literally means ‘six hundred thousand’ in our terms, or whether it indicates a large and complete number of family groupings, the miraculous deliverance was the same. We do not have to believe that the numbers should be taken with their modern significance if they do not, so as to prove our faith, nor do we need to reject them because they seem to produce difficulties. We should simply ask, what was the writer signifying? Sufficient evidence has been accumulated elsewhere in order to demonstrate that 2 million Israelites could have made the journey in view of God’s miraculous provisions. But the question is, given that fact, does the text say that they did?

Certainly when translating these large numbers we should note the following:

1). Later in Exodus we are told that the Canaanites would be driven out little by little because the Israelites were not numerous enough satisfactorily to occupy the whole land (Exodus 23:29-30) whereas a literal six hundred thousand men, suggesting over two million people, would surely have been well sufficient, even though a good number would not have been fit. Most Canaanite cities such as Jericho contained only a thousand or two people at the most, and many but a few hundred, even though a few such as Megiddo held considerably more. This very much speaks against there being such a large number of Israelites.

2). That the total number of firstborn males among the children of Israel in Numbers 3:42-43 was only 22,273 and that a number which included under age children from a month old and upwards. If we took the number of firstborn males who were over twenty to be about 15,000 that would ill compare with a total of number of men of 600,000.

However, in this regard a question does arise as to who were numbered as firstborn. For example does it include fathers and grandfathers who were firstborn, or only the firstborn in each current family, that is, those who were sons of the heads of each smaller family grouping when the Passover took place, or even just those who were born since the first Passover? Furthermore, is it only the firstborn of the first wife in each family which is in mind, as Reuben alone is called the ‘firstborn’ (bechor) of Jacob’s family, while there were twelve sons bearing children, or is it all firstborns of all their wives? The former would seem the most probable, so that if polygamy was common at that time because at times so many men died, both through religious purges as in Exodus 1:22 and through ill-treatment in their bondage in times of the worst persecution, it would help to explain why there was a relatively small number of ‘firstborn’ (bechor) to the first wives. Families with girl firstborns would also be excluded and may have well exceeded the number of male firstborns still alive. Many male firstborns (those who opened the womb) would have died at birth or infancy, and it may be that firstborns of families were especially targeted by the Egyptian authorities as being prospective heads of their families. And so we could go on. So this is by no means conclusive.

3). That in Deuteronomy 7:1 the seven nations in Canaan are said to be ‘greater and mightier’ than them. This also might suggest a number lower than six hundred thousand. The occupants of Canaan in the widest sense probably did not themselves come to more than two million men women and children.

These verses must therefore make us pause and consider any numbers that we are interpreting. On the other hand the fact that Pharaoh went after them in such force must be seen as demonstrating that their numbers were quite large, especially in view of the fact that they were not well-armed and were not trained fighting men. And the fact that the amount of the ransom of the males tallies with this number must also be seen as significant (Exodus 38:25-27), although there we cannot be sure what the weights indicated at this period, and in fact have to recognise that the total weight of the silver, of both poll tax and freewill gifts, might well have determined the numerical description, rather than vice versa (see on those verses).

What we must further keep in mind is that Hebrew was at this time in its early stages as a developing language and that the children of Israel would not as a whole be a numerate people. They would not think in mathematical terms and that would be reflected in their limited use of ‘number’ words (see article, "The Use of Numbers"). Numbers were in fact regularly intended to signify more than just specific quantity. We can compare the huge numbers of the reigns of earliest Sumerian kings, in the hundreds of thousands, which can hardly be taken literally. This especially comes out in the numbers used in the Pentateuch which follow a certain pattern. They tend to end in nought, five, or less often seven, with thirty as an ending being popular. They do not give the impression of exact numerical accuracy in our terms. (See ‘The Use of Numbers’ above and also the introduction to our commentary on the Book of Numbers).

The special problem of the initial meaning of ’eleph in early Hebrew is highlighted in 1 Samuel 6:19 where we read ‘he smote of the people seventy men, fifty ’eleph men’. There the latter number must in some way surely tie in with the former which itself may be a round number indicating divine completeness. It is possibly saying that He smote ‘seventy’ men from fifty families of men (or even seventy men and fifty oxen of men, for ’eleph can mean ox). Cities in Canaan were not in general physically large enough to contain anywhere remotely near fifty thousand residents (Megiddo was a rare exception), so fifty thousand men gathered at Bethshemesh (and those only the ones killed) is extremely unlikely. Consider also for example that at the battle of Kadesh, against the mighty Hittites, Rameses II had an army of only twenty thousand men and it was his main force.

So numbers in these early books must be considered guardedly, and we would be wise not to be dogmatic. It is not a question of whether they are accurate or not, it is a question of what they indicate, what the Hebrew means. It may be that new discoveries will at some time make the position clearer. Nevertheless what we must not do is argue from the grounds of ‘impossibility’, for with God nothing is impossible. And the fact that the people constantly fed on the manna whose supply never failed until they reached the land must always be taken into account. However, we must certainly argue on the facts.

End of note.

Exodus 12:38

‘And a mixed multitude went up also with them, and flocks and herds, even very much cattle.’

This ‘mixed multitude’ would consist of other ‘foreigners’ who had connected themselves with them, from many nations. They were clearly large enough numerically for a separate mention. (If Numbers 11:4 refers to them their numbers were sufficient to be noted as dissidents, but it must be counted as doubtful whether in fact the mixed multitude were in mind in that passage in Numbers. The ones mentioned there were probably the rogue element in Israel that every nation possesses. The LXX interpretation probably resulted from a later exclusivist attitude). The battle of Moses with Pharaoh would naturally be widely known and many slaves and sojourners would by it have been encouraged to join this group of people who had such a powerful God, especially if it offered them a chance themselves to escape from oppression in Egypt. And there might well have been some, including Egyptians, who had been impressed by Israel’s God and had themselves observed the Passover stipulations. There were clearly a good number in this mixed multitude and they would all probably later be required to submit to Yahweh’s covenant. They would by that identify themselves as ‘children of Israel’, especially in the making of the covenant at Sinai. That this could be so is shortly legitimised (12:48-49). That the children of Israel were not all directly descended from Jacob was already true in that the ‘households’ of Jacob and his sons, which would include slaves and retainers, were also included. Now that expands even further. God’s mercy extends to all who will submit to Him and to His covenant (see verse 48).

Together with the mixed multitude were many herds and flocks. The description is here intended to indicate the large quantity of persons and animals who were on the move.

Exodus 12:39

‘And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought out of Egypt for it was not leavened because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not linger, nor had they prepared for themselves any victual.’

The total unpreparedness of the children of Israel is stressed. Because of the speed with which they were sent out of Egypt there had not been time to leaven the dough. This is an explanation of why unleavened bread was eaten during the seven days of what became the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and why God made unleavened bread a symbol of the feast and of the departure from Egypt. In their flight they no doubt observed the feast as best they could.

Exodus 12:40-41

‘Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, which they sojourned in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years, and it happened at the end of four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it happened, that all the hosts of Yahweh went out from the land of Egypt.’

The ‘sojourning’ of the children of Israel in Egypt is stated to have been for four hundred and thirty years. However this figure may be based on the ‘four hundred years’ of Genesis 15:13 (i.e. four generations - Genesis 15:16) with a complete ‘thirty’ years added. It is highly questionable, and would be totally without precedent, if a year by year calendar was kept of the passage of time. The thirty years may reflect a complete period (three intensified) added to the four hundred years to indicate the perfection of God’s working and timing. Alternately the thirty years may connect with some specific event which we are unaware of which was seen as the commencement of the deliverance. That could explain the reference to ‘the selfsame day’. But this latter may also be just a way of stressing that God worked to an exact timetable.

If it is to be taken literally then it would suggest the date of the Exodus to be 13th century BC, the fifteenth century date taking us back too far in time.

The position is complicated by the fact that here the LXX has a different reading for it reads ‘in Egypt and in Canaan’. This may have been the original text but it looks more like an attempt to solve a difficulty caused by the fact that Exodus 6:16-20 does contain four generations from Levi to Moses (compare Leviticus 10:4 also Numbers 26:5-9 of Korah. 1 Chronicles 6:1-3 is taken from here). However, that is probably not intended to be a complete genealogy. Note for example that there were a greater number of generations from Ephraim to Joshua (1 Chronicles 7:20-27).

Indeed we now know that in these genealogies it was often considered necessary only to put in the important names so that generations were omitted with no difficulty and ‘begat’ simply indicated ‘was the ancestor of’ and ‘son of’ meant ‘the descendant of’. This is archaeologically evidenced again and again in many cultures. The four generations of Moses and Aaron were most probably intended to signify tribe, sub-tribe, clan and family, or may have been selected in order to bring out the fact that they were in a foreign land, for four is the number indicating the world outside the covenant (consider four rivers outside Eden (Genesis 2), four kings from foreign parts against Abraham (Genesis 14), four beasts representing world empires (Daniel 2, 7)). Thus Amram and Yochebed may have been only ‘descendants of’ Kohath or may even have been ancestors of Moses and not his direct father and mother. So we must be careful about attempting to apply our own criteria to figures and genealogies in the Old Testament. We must ask ourselves what they themselves meant, and remember that in the case of genealogies what mattered to them was the line from which they came.

“Even the self same day.” This probably refers back to Exodus 12:14, the self same day as the deliverance. This is confirmed by Exodus 12:42.

Exodus 12:42

‘It is a night of watching to Yahweh for bringing them out of the land of Egypt. This same night is a night of watching to Yahweh for all the children of Israel throughout their generations.’

The importance of the night is linked to Yahweh’s watch over the people on Passover night. To Him it was ‘a night of watching’ as He watched over them to protect them and then to deliver them. And when they in future celebrated the Passover they too would be aware of Him watching over them, in the same way as this, throughout their generations, for they too were His people. The result will be that they too would ‘watch’ as they considered His goodness and mercy, on the anniversary of that night, into future generations.

We have here a reminder to us too that as we go forward with God on the journey to which He calls us He will be watching over us to protect and lead us, and to enable us to deal with the Enemy, and that we must always be watching Him.


Verses 42-50

The Mixed Multitude, And Those Who Will, Can Enter God’s Covenant and Share the Passover (Exodus 12:42-50).

The extra instructions that follow were partly necessary because of the mixed multitude that had joined up with them, and they are thus introduced at this point. But they are also important as indicating the make up of ‘the children of Israel’. They are seen as including genuine descendants of Jacob and his sons, descendants of all family servants in their households who had been circumcised and their descendants, and all resident aliens who sought to enter the covenant through circumcision. It was in fact open to almost anyone to become one of the ‘children of Israel’ as long as they were willing to be committed to Yahweh.

a The ordinance of the Passover is now spoken of so that instructions can be given concerning it (Exodus 12:43 a)

b No resident alien is to eat of it, but a man’s servant bought with money may eat of it once he has been circumcised and thus brought within the covenant (Exodus 12:43-44)

c A foreign settler or foreign hired worker shall not eat of it (Exodus 12:45).

d It must be eaten within the one house. No part of the flesh may be take out of the house, and no bone of it may be broken (Exodus 12:46).

e All the congregation of Israel shall keep it (Exodus 12:47)

d A foreigner who resides with them permanently and wishes, with his family, to keep the Passover must first be circumcised with all the males of the family, and then they may then eat of it. He will then be as one born in the land (Exodus 12:48 a).

c No uncircumcised person may eat of it (Exodus 12:48 b).

b There will be one law for the homeborn and for the resident alien who dwells among them (Exodus 12:49).

a Thus did all the children of Israel as Yahweh commanded Moses, and so it came about that that selfsame day Yahweh brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts (Exodus 12:50).

With regard to ‘a’, the ordinance of the Passover was the ordinance of deliverance, thus in the parallel to keep it was to celebrate the bringing of the children of Israel out of Egypt by their hosts. In ‘b’ a resident alien who had not committed himself by being circumcised may not eat of it while a circumcised bought-in servant may, the parallel indicating that all will receive complete fairness of treatment, all will be treated the same according to these regulations, whether homeborn or foreign. The whole question of acceptability rests on whether they are willing to be circumcised into the covenant. In ‘c’ no foreigner may eat of it, nor in the parallel may any uncircumcised person. In ‘d’ it may not be taken outside the house nor may any bone of it be broken. It is a holy meal. It must be eaten entire within the household so that its holiness may be maintained. And in the parallel a household of foreigners may, as long as all the males are circumcised, partake of the holy meal, for then they will be as the homeborn and the holiness of the meal will be protected. Both ordinance are concerned to protect the holiness of the meal. And finally and centrally all the congregation of Israel must keep the Passover.

Exodus 12:42-45

‘And Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover. No alien shall eat of it. But every man’s servant who is bought for money, once you have circumcised him, then shall he eat of it. A foreign settler and a hired servant shall not eat of it.” ’

When the Passover was kept those who partook could only be those who had entered the covenant community of ‘the children of Israel’. Thus a purchased man, once he was circumcised, could enter the covenant, and then belonged and could partake, because he was permanently among them. But those who were just passing through, such as a hired man who would one day leave, or a sojourner who was temporary (compare Exodus 12:48), could not eat of the Passover because they were not members of the covenant. They were not committed to Yahweh. But in verse 48 provision is made for them to enter the covenant if they were willing to become permanently committed by being circumcised.

“No alien shall eat of it.” That is, one who is outside the covenant (see Exodus 12:48). He will be a worshipper of other gods and belongs to another community.

“A foreign settler.” Someone who settles among them on a temporary basis. (The one who wishes to become permanent and enter the covenant can do so (Exodus 12:48)).

Exodus 12:46-47

“It shall be eaten in one house. You shall not carry out any of the flesh outside from the house, nor shall you break a bone of it. All the congregation of Israel shall do it.”

Stress is laid on the fact that nothing of the Passover lamb may be taken out of the house in which it was killed. It must be burned inside (Exodus 12:10). Furthermore no bone of it must be broken. This was because the flesh and body were seen as holy and perfect, and as belonging to Yahweh, and must be kept perfect. These sacrificial animals were His gift to His people but they remained His. They may eat of them in the place commanded but they were not to be seen as just ordinary food. They were sacrificial food in a way that other sacrifices eaten by the people, which did not all have to be eaten on the same day, were not, demonstrating that the people who partook were set apart for Him and unified with Him. That this is stressed again (compare Exodus 12:10) with the new addition of the preservation of the bones demonstrates how important it was seen to be. There must be no blemish even after death. (Compare John 19:6 where John applies this same idea to the death of Jesus. He was offered up in His perfection as God’s Passover Lamb and not a bone of Him was broken). The purpose in mentioning this here is to indicate why only those within the covenant may eat of it. It is especially holy, and it belongs to God.

“All the congregation of Israel shall do it.” There were to be no exemptions for the children of Israel. All of them must partake wherever possible. Like circumcision into the covenant the Passover was the sign of those who were His. ‘The congregation’. That is, all those who gather to worship Him because they are circumcised into the covenant and have submitted to Yahweh.

Exodus 12:48-49

“And when a stranger sojourns with you and wants to keep the Passover to Yahweh, let all his males be circumcised and then let him come near and keep it. And he shall be as one born in the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. One law shall be to him that is homeborn and to him that sojourns among you.”

But anyone who wished to enter into the privileges of Yahweh’s covenant with the fathers and eat the Passover might do so by commitment and circumcision. By this they would be declaring their intent to become ‘children of Israel’, and must be welcomed on equal terms. They could now partake of the holy meal because they had been made a part of the holy people, and were thus themselves holy to Yahweh. This is why the ‘mixed multitude’ (verse 38) could join the covenant, become members of the children of Israel, and keep the Passover. But in order to do so they must be committed to being circumcised.

“As one born in the land.” God is looking forward to that time when they have reached the land He has promised them (Exodus 3:8 compare Exodus 13:5). It is then that strangers will regularly come among them and be faced with the choice described.

The importance of these words for our understanding of how the church fits in with Israel cannot be overemphasised. Jesus’ Apostles and the all Jewish church went out to call men to follow Jesus and join the community of the true Israel, ‘the true vine’ (John 15:1-6), and soon learned that Gentiles too could be welcomed into ‘the church of Christ’ (Matthew 16:18), which was built on the Apostles of Jerusalem not on the church of Rome. Indeed Rome could not have been in mind for the idea was to build a new ‘congregation (ekklesia) of Israel’, and this had to be founded on believing Jews. Believing Gentiles were thus grafted into the olive tree and became part of the Israel of God (Romans 11:17; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:12-22), while unbelieving Jews were ‘cut off’. The church was seen as the renewed Israel, the genuine continuation of the Israel of God confirmed at Sinai. When Paul argued that they did not need to be circumcised it was not on the grounds that they were not entering Israel, it was on the grounds that they were already circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11; Colossians 2:13).

Exodus 12:49

‘Thus did all the children of Israel. As Yahweh commanded Moses and Aaron so they did.’

Most probably this is a comment on the whole chapter stressing the obedience of Israel to God’s commandments through Moses, as verse 50 might be seen as confirming. Alternately, but less likely, it may connect only with the last section confirming that Israel later carried out Yahweh’s requirements concerning the Passover.

In the latter case it might be seen as confirming that the mixed multitude, who were now recognised as being potential children of Israel, did agree to fulfil God’s requirement and gave their commitment to be circumcised under the aegis of the ‘homeborn’. In the event it would have to await a suitable occasion when they could have time to recover, but the intention would be there and would be accepted. The impression given elsewhere is in fact that circumcision was not carried out in the wilderness, even for the children of the ‘homeborn’, something which had to be remedied when they arrived in the land (Joshua 5:2-9). But it would certainly seem that the mixed multitude were included at the covenant ceremony at Sinai. There is no suggestion anywhere that they were not.

Exodus 12:50

‘And it came about the selfsame day that Yahweh brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.’

This relates back to ‘the self same day’ in Exodus 12:41 confirming that the words of Yahweh to Moses and Aaron in Exodus 12:43-49 were given that day, and to Exodus 12:14 where it is the day of the Passover, and stressing that the deliverance began on the day that Yahweh had chosen. It is a triumphant declaration that Yahweh did what He had promised with none to thwart Him. This was what the celebration of the Passover was all about, the deliverance of their firstborn through the shedding of blood, and their own deliverance from Pharaoh through the power of Yahweh.

Note for Christians.

We can imagine the joy of the Israelites as they streamed from the places where they had lived for so long, and had found themselves in bondage, to a new life. They knew little of what lay before them. All they knew was that because of the power of Yahweh Pharaoh had had to let them go, and they were free. Every true Christian has experienced that deliverance, although in our case the Passover was of Christ the Passover lamb sacrificed for us (John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7), and the freedom was from the bondage of the guilt of sin. And we too have commenced our pilgrim journey (1 Peter 2:11). But the difference between us and them is that their trek leader was Moses, and while he was a great man of God, he was a man of like passions as they were, while our Trek Leader is the Lord Jesus Christ, made into a perfect Trek Leader through His own sufferings (Hebrews 2:10), and able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by Him because of His continual heavenly intercession for us. Do you sometimes begin to feel alone? Never forget that there is One Who always sees you, and continually makes intercession for you without ceasing (Hebrews 7:25).

End of note.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 12:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/exodus-12.html. 2013.


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Wednesday, September 20th, 2017
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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