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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 12

 

 

Verses 1-13

Exodus 12:1-13 P. Rules for the Passover (first set).—On the history of the Passover, see pp. 102f. Most ceremonial rules are dated from Sinai or the land of Moab: so these that follow are noted in Exodus 12:1 as given in Egypt. The first month (Exodus 12:2) is in J, E, and D Abib, and later (Nehemiah 2:1) Nisan. As the Quakers dropped the names of the days of the week on account of their pagan origin, so P avoids the Canaanitish or Phœnician names, using numbers only, as in the later Biblical books. The critical months in autumn and spring, which closed or began the harvest, were natural starting points for the year among an agricultural people. Before the Exile the autumn epoch controlled the reckoning (cf. Exodus 23:16 E, Exodus 34:22 J), and even in P a New Year's Day is to be kept on the first day of the seventh month (Leviticus 23:24); but the text, ascribing the beginning of the spring reckoning to the Exodus, reflects the later custom, perhaps under Babylonian influence. P's record, in this as in other details, is not a historical datum, but a witness to the fact that points of convenience, like the construction of the Calendar, require the co-operation of the Divine Wisdom if they are to be wisely settled. It is only the antedating of a custom by legal theorists which gives the appearance of contradiction. In fact, both reckonings were in vogue, but their relative importance changed. The animal (Exodus 12:3) might be a lamb or a kid (mg.), but must be an unblemished male yearling. It might serve for one or two households, according to the size and eating capacity of the family groups. Ten was the traditional minimum. The command is addressed to "all the congregation of Israel" (Exodus 12:3), the term, constantly used in P, reflecting the transformation of a nation into a Church which took place in and after the Exile. The time was to be "between the two evenings" (Exodus 12:6, mg.). This has been traditionally taken as practically equivalent to afternoon, but originally meant "during the interval of dusk between sunset and darkness (cf. Deuteronomy 16:6, where the hour of sunset is specified). The ritual had two essential features—the application of the blood to the top and sides of the door, and the hurried feast upon the roasted flesh, with unleavened biscuit and bitter herbs, no vestige being left for later eating. This use of the blood, in view of numerous parallels, ancient and modern, is thought to be a survival of an earlier rite, intended to consecrate the house or tent and protect the indwellers. From its being a night-feast (Exodus 12:8) some have conjectured that the influence of the spring full moon was dreaded. The feast bound the household to their God and to one another. The unleavened cakes (Heb. pl.) were a kind of flat biscuit quickly baked, and still commonly eaten by the Bedawin. Modern Jews make them a foot across and half an inch thick. The bitter herbs (perhaps wild lettuce or endive) served as a salad, their sharp flavour suggesting the bitterness of bondage (so Gamaliel). The flesh must not be eaten raw, as in some archaic Arabian rites, because blood, as the life-current, was too sacred to be eaten (cf. Genesis 9:4*, Leviticus 7:26 f.*); nor must it be boiled, as the ordinary custom anciently was with sacrifices (Judges 6:19 f., 1 Samuel 2:13), and as Deuteronomy 16:7 prescribed, but roasted, as in primitive days, perhaps to provide that the internal fat might drip down into the fire and be consumed, for the fat also might not be eaten (Leviticus 7:23-25). Moreover, it was easier to roast whole (Exodus 12:9 b, "its head with its legs") than to boil anything so large. Those who shared in the meal were (Exodus 12:11) to "eat it in haste" or (better) "trepidation," girt and clad for travel, their sandals on, instead of laid aside at the door. Later Jews regarded the "haste," as well as the choice of the victim on the tenth day, and the domestic sprinkling of the blood, as obsolete features, and not meant to be repeated; but the Samaritans regard all as binding. The whole was "a pesah unto Yahweh" (Exodus 12:11), and the term is explained in Exodus 12:12 (cf. Exodus 12:23; Exodus 12:27, Isa. 31:15) as signifying His promise to "pass over," i.e. to spare Israel; but the actual etymology is uncertain, though the general idea is clear (see p. 102, and Driver's full Appendix in CB, p. 405).


Verses 1-36

Exodus 11:1 to Exodus 12:36. 10°. Death of Egyptian Firstborn; Passover and Mazzoth (Exodus 11:1-3 E, Exodus 11:4-8 J, Exodus 11:9 f. R, Exodus 12:1-20 P, Exodus 12:21-23 J, Exodus 12:24 P, Exodus 12:25-27 a "houses" Rd, Exodus 12:27 b J, Exodus 12:28 P, Exodus 12:29-34 J, Exodus 12:35 f. E).—The narrative now reaches its climax in the last plague, which finally breaks the resolution of the Pharaoh, and results in the Exodus of Israel. But the last editor, whose interest was in the institutions he loved, has weakened the dramatic force of the sequence of events by inserting at length the ceremonial details of Passover and Mazzoth. The account begins with the announcement from E in Exodus 11:1-3 of "one plague (or stroke) more," and the direction (anticipated Exodus 3:21 f., and executed Exodus 12:35 f.) to beg jewels from neighbours. Add in Exodus 11:2 (with LXX, Sam.) "and raiment." The prestige of "the man Moses" (cf. Numbers 12:3) is noted as ground for the request. Then in Exodus 11:4-8 comes the conclusion from Exodus 10:29 J of Moses's last address to Pharaoh, specifying the death of the firstborn of Egyptian men and cattle. The maid crouching behind the household hand-mill (Exodus 11:5) represents the lowest grade of sufferers. The desire to get rid of Israel in Exodus 11:8 J is in agreement with the giving of jewels described in E. In Exodus 11:9 f. the editor has given a summary from P, perhaps belonging to an earlier place.


Verses 14-20

Exodus 12:14-20. P's Rules for Mazzoth.—Immediately following the one feast of the Passover came the seven-day pilgrimage feast (cf. Exodus 5:1) of Unleavened Cakes, probably originally an agricultural festival to mark the beginning of barley harvest (pp. 102f.) Falling at the time of year when the Exodus took place, it received a commemorative interpretation, which the plain and quickly prepared mazzoth fitted. The ritual prejudice against leaven (Exodus 12:15) extended to all altar-gifts (Exodus 23:18), and may be due to the persistence in religious ceremonial of primitive usage before leaven was known (Exodus 4:25*), though the thought that fermentation involved corruption may also have had effect. Later Jews became most scrupulous in searching for the forbidden leaven, and, since unleavened cakes were eaten at the Passover, expelled all leaven before that feast. Paul (1 Corinthians 5:6-8, Galatians 5:9), as well as our Lord (Mark 8:15, but contrast the Parable of the Leaven), makes leaven symbolic of evil. The penalty for disobedience was (Exodus 12:15) excommunication: "that soul shall be cut off from Israel" (cf. Genesis 17:14, Ezra 10:8). The first and seventh days (Exodus 12:16) were to be "an holy convocation" (Leviticus 23:2 ff.*), kept with almost the rigour of the Sabbath. The reference to the Exodus as past (Exodus 12:17) shows that Exodus 12:14-17 did not originally follow Exodus 12:1-13, but rather Exodus 12:41, and probably came from another hand. And Exodus 12:18-20 may also be an independent piece, inserted here by R. The reference to the "sojourner" (Exodus 12:48*) is the only new feature: he might eat the mazzoth, for that was an act of temperance, not a partaking of holy food. The phraseology in Exodus 12:1-20 is uniformly of the P school.

Exodus 12:14. this day: is not the 14th (Passover) but the 15th (1st of Mazzoth).


Verses 21-28

Exodus 12:21-27 J, Exodus 12:28 P. Rules for the Passover (second set) (for analysis see Exodus 11:1).—These verses, though they come second, embody in the main J's account of the institution, which P has elaborated in Exodus 12:1-13, adding many details, but not mentioning the hyssop, or the basin, or the confinement to the house. Hyssop was a wall or rock plant (1 Kings 4:33), with pliant twigs, probably marjoram, a branch of which made a simple sprinkler for rites of purification. The Israelite elders were to "draw out" enough "lambs" (Exodus 12:21, cf. Exodus 12:3*) from the flock, as the shepherd would catch the leg of a sheep with his crook to separate it from the rest. They are told to "kill the Passover," as though it were a familiar rite employed for a special purpose. They were (Exodus 12:22) to "apply (cf. Exodus 4:25) some of the blood to the lintel," and to remain all night within the guarded precincts. In Exodus 12:32 a it is Yahweh who is to smite the Egyptians, but in Exodus 12:23 b "the destroyer" (cf. 2 Samuel 24:16) is a distinct agent: Holzinger infers that J and E are both drawn upon here, and notes that "the people" in Exodus 12:27 b replace "the elders" of Exodus 12:21. Baentsch also doubts if this section, implying a risk of Israel sharing the most terrible plague upon Egypt, can have come from the author of Exodus 11:6, etc. But this may be an early supplement of J, of which there were not a few. The order for perpetual observance (Exodus 12:24) is probably P's sequel of Exodus 12:20, though the phrase "an ordinance for ever" (hoq ‘ad ‘ôlâm) is not in P's usual form (huqqath ‘ôlâm). The duplicate order for repetition is one of the few Deuteronomic additions (Exodus 12:25-27 a) that can certainly be traced in Ex. (cf. Exodus 13:3, etc.). The shrewd insistence on systematic instruction in Exodus 12:26 (see RV references) is characteristic of D, and is observed to this day (p. 109, Proverbs 4:3 f.*). The graphic touch, "bowed the head and worshipped," connects Exodus 12:27 b with Exodus 4:31, cf. Exodus 12:35 f.* In Exodus 12:28 we have P's conclusion of Exodus 12:1-13. For the Christian application of the Passover, cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7 f.*

Exodus 12:22. bason: see 2 Samuel 17:28, etc.; elsewhere "threshold," as in Judges 19:27, etc., and Gr. here. Trumbull (Threshold Covenant) ingeniously builds on this meaning a theory that the Passover was a threshold sacrifice, and that Yahweh crossed the threshold as a protective guest, and even as the Bridegroom of His people. Other theories being also conjectural, this merits attention. Driver ignores it, but M'Neile calls it "attractive." The belief in the sanctity of the threshold is widespread. The household deities were probably resident there. To step over it into the house brought whoever entered it into covenant with the inmates. This would prevent him from doing them harm. Thus, in the ceremony of manumission the slave is brought to the Elohim, to the door or doorpost (Exodus 21:6*, Deuteronomy 15:17), and his ear is bored "unto the door." Robbers dig through the clay walls of houses (Job 24:16, Matthew 6:19 f.) because their "reverence," i.e. their superstitious dread of the consequences which might follow on a violation of the sanctity of the threshold, forbids them to enter by the door. The priests and worshippers of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of his temple (1 Samuel 5:5, cf. Zephaniah 1:9, "all those that leap over the threshold"). To step on the threshold, all the more when this was sanctified by blood, would be to reject the offered covenant with insult: a thought which gives a fuller meaning to Hebrews 10:29, "who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing." The Roman bride was carried over the threshold of her husband's house, presumably to make it impossible for her to step on it by accident. It is customary even to-day to welcome an honoured guest with blood on the threshold.


Verses 29-36

Exodus 12:29-36. Egyptian Firstborn Die: the Israelites Prepare to Depart.—In Exodus 11:1-3* E and Exodus 11:4-8* J the spoiling of the Egyptians and the death of their firstborn sons were announced, and the events are now given by the editor in reverse order, Exodus 12:29-34 J preceding Exodus 12:35 f. E. The last plague was a sudden outbreak of pestilence, cf. 2 Kings 19:35, which was believed to have stricken every firstborn son. The fact that the eldest son of the king and other notable Egyptians fell victims, along with the practice of dedicating first-born sons (Exodus 13:1-16*, Numbers 3:11-13*), and possibly the connexion of the spring festival with the sacrifice of firstlings, may have led to the tradition assuming the sharply defined form of the text. The number of eldest sons appearing in The Times obituaries of officers in 1914-15 was such as to suggest to some minds the idea of an evil fate. Behind the tradition is a faith that, whether God inflicts calamity on themselves or their enemies, His people gain some good and the victims do not suffer in vain. And the plagues of Egypt were among the events which nourished this faith. The climax of decision with which Pharaoh at last grants the request recorded in Exodus 5:3 and defined in Exodus 10:26 is put clearly in Exodus 12:31 f. The "haste" with which the alarmed Egyptians thrust the Hebrews forth (Exodus 12:33 f. J) is mentioned to account for their starting without waiting for a supply of leavened bread, the historical link with the Feast of Mazzoth or Unleavened Cakes being thus indicated. But in Exodus 12:35 f. E the situation is rather differently conceived, there being time to organise a levy upon the stores of gold and silver ornaments and festal garments which the Egyptians had, which the Hebrews needed for due religious service (cf. Exodus 33:4-6*). The threefold relation (Exodus 3:22, Exodus 11:3, and here) shows with what relish the story was told. From Exodus 11:3 we should suppose the levy was made before the stroke fell. If that be the meaning, this will be an editorial repetition, and the verbs in Exodus 12:35 f. should be pluperfects, "had done . . . had asked . . . had given." The night was an impossible time for such a collection. The RV rendering, "they let them have," suggests that the things were given outright. But the word "gave" is avoided, and the phrase may well mean "lent" (as in Syr.). In that case the transaction would be justified because Pharaoh's later pursuit made return after the wilderness festival impossible; or else because by Hebrew standards all was fair in dealing with tyrants. Keble (Christian Year, 3rd Sunday in Lent) has adopted from Augustine an allegorical application of the spoiling of the Egyptians.

Exodus 12:34 b. Render: "their kneading-bowls (Exodus 8:3*) being bound up in their mantles" (Judges 8:25, Ruth 3:15).


Verses 37-49

Exodus 12:37 - Exodus 18. From Egypt to Sinai.

Exodus 12:37-49 J. The Exodus.—From Rameses (Exodus 1:11 b*) the first stage of the journey took the people 10 miles W. to Succoth (Eg. Thikke), the district round Pithom (Exodus 1:11 b). The number 600,000 (cf. Numbers 11:21), not including "children" (rather "little ones," i.e. women and children, as Exodus 10:10, Exodus 12:24, and often in J), implies a total of about two millions, which not only involves a complex and long-continued miracle, for "not more than 5000 could be taken out of Goshen or into Sinai" (Petrie), but is wholly at variance with the general impression made either by J or E. It had probably been inserted by Rp to suit P's late and artificial reckoning (Numbers 1:1-46*). With the party (Exodus 12:38) "a great mixed mass" (cf. Numbers 11:4, different Heb.) of non-Israelites went also: connexions by marriage (cf. Leviticus 24:10), Bedawin, and fellow-workpeople glad to escape the corvée. The food for the journey (Exodus 12:39, cf. Exodus 12:34) consisted of subcinerarii panes (Vulg.), cakes "baked on the hot stones" (1 Kings 19:6, mg.) under the ashes of the fire that had heated the stones.


Verses 40-51

Exodus 12:40-42 Rp. Time spent in Egypt.—The Biblical writers are not in agreement about the length of Israel's stay in Egypt. Here it is given (probably by Rp) as 430 years (cf. 400 years in Genesis 15:13 Rje, Acts 7:6, and Josephus). But in Exodus 6:14-27 (also Rp, cf. Genesis 15:16 E) Moses and his contemporaries are the fourth generation. To reconcile the two estimates, the words "and in the land of Canaan," i.e. before the entry into Egypt, are interpolated in Exodus 12:41 by LXX, Sam., reducing the time to twenty-five years. The fact is that neither the Bible nor the monuments enable us to solve the problem. Gressmann, however, argues that "the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt cannot well have lasted longer than one or two generations, because they still kept a clear memory of their homeland, and because their connexion with their brothers who remained in S. Palestine was not yet destroyed." But if some clans stayed in Canaan, or went back after the famine, their kinsfolk might keep in touch with them, since the inscriptions prove there was much coming and going across the desert.

Exodus 12:42. Render as mg. Further, the suggestion of Budde, based on Heb. idiom and Gr., and followed by Bacon, Nowack, Baentsch, and Driver, is attractive: "A night of watching was it for Yahweh to bring them out," i.e. a night when He kept vigil to protect and deliver Israel. Then Exodus 12:42 b, implying a vigil kept year by year to Yahweh, must be by a later hand, and Exodus 12:42 a may be an early fragment of J following on Exodus 12:21-27.

Exodus 12:43-50 P. Supplementary Passover Rules.—From the days of "the mixed multitude" and onwards difficulties arose about the status of non-Israelites, and the line was drawn differently and kept more or less strictly according to circumstances. In JE and D (cf. Exodus 22:21, Exodus 23:9, Deuteronomy 10:18 f., etc.) the "stranger" (gêr)—better "sojourner" (Leviticus 17:8 f.*, Deuteronomy 1:16*, p. 110)—is inevitably in an inferior and dependent position. In P he has practical equality within his reach. So LXX already renders gêr by "proselyte." But (Exodus 12:43) "no alien" (better "foreigner") as such might even "eat the Passover," i.e. share in the feast as a guest. If, however (Exodus 12:44), he were bought as a slave and circumcised, he was admissible. (A slave's son, as home-born, was admitted as a matter of course.) Yet (Exodus 12:45) a sojourner (rather "settler," tôshâb) "and a hired servant" were to be excluded. Perhaps this means that not only foreigners passing through, but even those settling and taking temporary service in, the land were excluded, it being presumed that they did not wish to be naturalised and to submit to circumcision. If, however (Exodus 12:48), "a sojourner should sojourn with thee, and will do the passover to Yahweh," i.e. in his own right "offer the Passover sacrifice" (M'Neile), or better "celebrate the Passover feast" (Baentsch, Driver), circumcision was the sole condition of admission. The Kikuyu controversy arose about the admission of members of other churches to communion while sojourning outside the borders of their own church. The Hebrew rule required virtual identification before admission to communion. Archbishop Davidson advised Anglicans to admit "sojourners" without confirmation. It seems precarious, with Driver, on etymological grounds to regard the "settler" as "more permanently settled than an ordinary gêr." That the irrelevant section Exodus 12:46 f. separates the two passages about aliens suggests that they may have had an independent origin, which would account for the seeming conflict between Exodus 12:45 and Exodus 12:48. In the intervening verses four points are dealt with. Though small households might combine, the mystic unity of the group must be maintained: the lamb must be eaten in one house, and no part taken to a neighbour's across the road. So, too, no bone might be broken, or one part severed from another. And the observance was binding on all Israelites. (Cf. the Anglican rubric, "Every parishioner shall communicate three times in the year, of which Easter shall be one.")

Exodus 12:51 is repeated by the Redactor of P from Exodus 12:41 to round off the section.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Exodus 12:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/exodus-12.html. 1919.


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