A New Beginning
God now gives specific instructions to the Israelites in preparation for the final plague to come upon Egypt. It was necessary to record God's Word, as His instructions were to be repeated each year. This was to be a reminder of God's powerful and miraculous intervention among His people. And it was to foreshadow the supreme sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who would eventually come to offer His unblemished life as the sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.
On the 10th day of what God declared to be the first month of the year (Exodus 12:2, the Hebrew month Abib, see Exodus 13:4, which occurred in the spring), the Israelites were to select an unblemished yearling of the sheep or goats. They were to keep it up until the 14th of the month. In the "twilight" portion of the evening that began the 14th day (literally "between the two evenings," which, though disputed, is commonly understood to mean between sundown and darkness), they were to kill the lamb or kid and prepare it according to the specific instructions God gave them. The Passover consisted of the events that took place during the course of the night and into the following morning. What exactly took place?
- The lamb was killed.
- Its blood was put on the entrances of the houses.
- The lamb was roasted.
- The Israelites ate it with solemnity and in a state of preparedness, knowing that the events of the next day would entail much organization and travel.
- The children were to be specifically taught the meaning of these events.
- None were to go out of their houses until the morning.
- At midnight, the Lord would "pass over" the homes and, with the evidence of the blood on the entrances, He would spare the firstborn males of man and animals within from death (males implied from the command in Exodus 13:12-15).
- What remained of the sacrifice was to be burned.
When morning came on the 14th, the Israelites, scattered all over the land of Goshen, faced the daunting challenge of gathering themselves and all their belongings and driving their livestock to the departure point of Rameses. For many this required a journey of more than 20 miles, which would have taken all day. We read that there were approximately 600,000 men, besides children, a mixed multitude (those who were not Israelite), and a great number of livestock. So we have possibly more than three million people besides animals that collectively organized and left from Rameses by night, under a full moon (being the beginning of the 15th day). It was certainly a night to be observed. And it began the Days of Unleavened Bread.
Incidentally, the Days of Unleavened Bread beginning "the fourteenth day of the month at evening" in Exodus 12:18 is shown by other verses such as Leviticus 23:6 to mean the end of 14th and thus the beginning of the 15th—as "evening" or sundown can apply to the beginning or end of a day, depending on the context (see Leviticus 23:32, where the "ninth day of the month at evening" clearly means the beginning of the 10th, verse 27). For the Feast of Unleavened Bread the Israelites were to dispose of any leavened bread or leavening agent (for them this meant yeast) and eat unleavened bread instead. The sobering events of the previous evening were embedded in their minds as so many people and animals died throughout the land. Of course, it was also a joyous time. For, finally, after their hopes had risen and fallen so many times, the promise that God had spoken to the Israelites through Moses was actually happening! Families that had only known oppression and slavery were now free!
In chapter 13, the details of the Days of Unleavened Bread are again recorded. The Bible reveals that not only was unleavened bread eaten for seven days, as a reminder of coming out of Egypt in haste, but leavening represents those things that are contrary to the way of God. Paul told the Corinthians to "keep the feast [of Unleavened Bread], not...with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). During these days, which Paul's instructions show that God's people are still to observe, all leavened bread and leavening agents that can be used to leaven bread—which now includes yeast, baking powder and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)—are to be removed from the home. ("Bread" is here used to refer to anything made primarily from one or more grains and cooked, including loaf bread, crackers, pancakes, cake, pie crust, cookies, muffins, pasta, etc.) This is a reminder for us to purge our lives of spiritual leavening, the sin that so easily spreads and "puffs up" (1 Corinthians 4:6, 18-19; 5:2, 6; 8:1; 13:4).
The Firstborn Are Sanctified
God instructed the Israelites to sanctify ("set apart"—for a specific religious or spiritual purpose) the male firstborn of both man and animals. Why? Exodus 13:15 explains that it was because the firstborn of both man and beast were slain in Egypt—and the ones God spared, those of Israel, then belonged to Him. The firstborn males of clean animals were to be sacrificed to God while the firstborn males of men and unclean animals were to be redeemed (i.e., "bought back" from God). An unclean animal was to be redeemed with the sacrifice of a lamb. For man, an offering was to be given in place of a literal sacrifice. Numbers 18:16 reveals the redemption value. Through this offering the Israelites would always be reminded of the miraculous way God delivered Israel from Egypt.
Supplementary Reading: “The Passover: Why Did Jesus Christ Have to Die?,” God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind, pp. 10-19; and “The Feast of Unleavened Bread: The Lesson of Leaving Sin,” pp. 20-23. “Archaeology and the Book of Exodus—Exit From Egypt - Part 2”, Good News Magazine, May-June 1997, pp. 22-24.