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PASSOVER AND THE EXODUS

 

       In the essay entitled "Passover and the Crucifixion," we looked at the apparent discrepancy between the synoptic gospels and the gospel of John relative to when the Passover was prepared and eaten the year Jesus died.  We saw that while the meal Jesus shared with His disciples the evening before His crucifixion is called a Passover by the synoptic writers, it was not the statutory Passover ordained at the time of the exodus from Egypt.  The statutory Passover was observed after the crucifixion at the end of the 14th.  The meal Jesus shared with His disciples at the beginning of the 14th was a common supper at which time He introduced the bread and wine to symbolize His sacrificial death.  His death occurred in the afternoon of the daylight part of the 14th at the time the Jews were killing their lambs in preparation for the eating of the statutory Passover. 

       The whole period of Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread came to be called the Passover as unleavened bread had to be eaten with the Passover and during the following seven days.  Scripture reveals Jesus died around 3 P.M. on the afternoon of the 14th which was the Preparation Day for the eating of the Passover.  We saw that the lambs were killed beginning around the 9th hour on the 14th which would be around 3 P.M. The eating of the Passover would have had to occur sometime after the lambs were killed and prepared.  This would take us to the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th which was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Remember, a new Hebrew day began after sundown as it became dark.  

       The observance of the Passover is based on the historical event of the Israelites killing lambs and spreading blood from these lambs on the doorposts of their homes to protect them from the death angel who at midnight killed the firstborn of Egypt. 

       Exodus 11:1, 4-5: Now the LORD had said to Moses, "I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely.

       Verse 4-5: So Moses said, "This is what the LORD says: `About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.

       The death angel passing over homes with blood on their doorposts was called the Passover.  The lambs that were killed for this purpose were called Passover lambs.  Over the years, questions have been raised as to exactly when it was that the various events associated with that first Passover actually took place.  Did the Israelites kill the Passover lambs at the beginning of the 14th of the first month of the Hebrew calendar or did they kill the lambs at the end of the 14th?  When was it that they ate the Passover lambs?  Was it on the 14th or on the 15th?  When did they leave Egypt relative to when they ate the Passover lambs?   In this essay we will address these issues.  Let’s begin by looking at the instructions Moses gave the Israelites as to how to prepare the lambs used for Passover.

       Exodus 12:1-3, 5-6:   The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.

       Verse 5-6: The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight (NIV), “evening” (KJV), “around sundown” (NET).

       What is meant by “twilight,” “evening” or “around sundown” as seen in the various renderings quoted above?  When does one Hebrew day actually end and a new Hebrew day begin?  The Hebrew word translated “Twilight,” “evening” or “around sundown” in Exodus 12:6 is ereb (eh-reb).  It means “the two evenings” or “between the two evenings.” 

        In a footnote to Exodus 12:6, in the NET Bible, it is explained that the Hebrew word ereb has had broad interpretation.  Its general meaning is “between the two evenings” or “between the two settings”   The Talmud defines it as the time between the sunset and the time the stars become visible.  Other Hebrew writers define the first evening as when the sun begins to decline in the west and cast its shadows, and the second evening is the beginning of night. The Pharisees defined this first evening as when the heat of the sun begins to decrease, and the second evening begins at sunset, or, roughly from 3-5 p.m. The Mishnah indicates the lambs were killed about 2:30 P.M. thus indicating a broader period of time than that between sunset and darkness which is often referred to as twilight.

       As we saw from our discussion of the Passover on which Jesus was crucified, all indications are that the lambs for Passover were killed in the late afternoon of the 14th and eaten at the end of the 14th or at the beginning of the 15th.  While some have argued to the contrary, it is generally felt the Jews of Jesus day were following the protocol established at the time of the Exodus. Therefore, we should expect to find the Israelites of the Exodus killing the lambs in the afternoon of the 14th as well and eating the Passover near the end of the 14th or at the beginning of the 15th. Can we determine if this is the case?  Let's begin by looking at when the Hebrew day begins and ends.

       Exodus 12:18: In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day.

       Leviticus 23:6: On the fifteenth day of that month (the first Hebrew month) the LORD's Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast.

       It should be apparent the Feast of Unleavened Bread ran for seven days. It began on the 15th day of the month at the evening of the 14th and ended at evening on the 21st day of the month.  Therefore the evening (Hebrew ereb) of the 14th marked the end of the 14th at which time the 15th began the Feast of Unleavened Bread where the Israelites were required to eat unleavened bread until the evening of the 21st which was the end of the 21st just before the beginning of the 22nd.   

         It is apparent from these passages that evening (Hebrew ereb) refers to the end of one day at which time a new day begins.  Whatever the period called “between the two evenings” entails, it appears to define the end of one day and the beginning of another day.  We see this clearly indicated in a passage of Scripture in Judges and Luke.

       Judges 19:9: "Now look, it's almost evening (Hebrew ereb). Spend the night here; the day is nearly over. Stay and enjoy yourself. Early tomorrow morning you can get up and be on your way home."      

       Luke 24:28-29: As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them.

       While it is apparent that evening is associated with the end of a day, it is also associated with the dark of night which is the starting point for the next day and is sometimes seen as dragging on through the night.  There are several places in the Hebrew Scriptures were ereb indicates night.  Here is one of those places.

       Job 7:4: When I lie down I think, `How long before I get up?' The night (Hebrew ereb) drags on, and I toss till dawn.

       Here ereb is used to designate night as Job speaks of tossing during the ereb until dawn or what is generally understood as the rising of the sun.

       The Genesis creation account shows a day begins at evening as it is written that the “evening (Hebrew ereb) and the morning” were the first day."  It appears ereb means night as we see God separating the light from the darkness and using ereb to refer to the darkness in contrasting the darkness of the evening from the morning lightness of the day.

       Genesis 1:4-5: God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening (ereb), and there was morning--the first day.

       When looking at the various Scriptures that speak of evening, it is apparent that evening signals the end of a day when darkness is approaching but is also applied to the beginning of a new day with night being the first part of the day followed by morning which ushers in the daylight part of the day.  We will see, however, that morning is also seen as starting while it is yet night.

       As we saw in our discussion of the Passover on which Jesus died, the first century historian Josephus wrote that the lambs were killed between 3 and 5 P.M. on the 14th and this appears to be when the Jews killed the Passover lambs on the day Jesus died.  John clearly shows the eating of the Passover occurred after the crucifixion of Jesus.  Jesus apparently died at the very time the Passover lambs were being killed and became the lamb slain for the sins of the world. Jesus died shortly before the beginning of the First day of Unleavened Bread which was the 15th of the month.

       Since it is evident the Passover lambs were killed in the late afternoon of the 14th at the time of the crucifixion, it should be apparent that at the time of the Exodus the lambs were killed in the late afternoon of the 14th as well. The Israelites would have spread the blood from the slaughtered lambs on the door posts of their homes and then proceed to eat the meat from the slaughtered lambs.  The Scriptures show the death angel passed through around midnight which would have been way past the end of the 14th and hours into what was now the First Day of Unleavened Bread which was the 15th of the month.  As we will see, the Israelites began to leave Egypt shortly after midnight of the 15th.. 

       We have already seen that the lambs were to be chosen on the 10th of the month and kept until the 14th when they were to be killed between the two evenings. As already seen, the two evenings would have to occur at the end of a day and not its beginning. While the Hebrew ereb can signal the beginning of a new day, it only does so by designating the close of the current day as darkness falls to signal the beginning of a new day.  Therefore it is reasonable to conclude it was at the end of the 14th when the lambs were killed.

       As we saw in our discussion of the Passover on which Jesus was crucified, it was called the Preparation Day.  All indications are that for the Israelites about to leave Egypt, they killed the lambs and prepared the Passover meal during the late afternoon of the 14th which was the Preparation Day for them no different than it was for the Jews the day Christ died.  Having killed the lambs and having spread the blood on the door posts of their homes, when did the Israelites actually eat the Passover and when did they leave Egypt?

       Exodus 12:8-13: That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast.  Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire--head, legs and inner parts. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD's Passover. "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn--both men and animals--and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. 

       Because the Israelites are instructed to not leave any of the meat till morning and, as we shall see, not leave their homes until morning, it is believed by some that the Israelites killed the lambs at the start of the 14th at evening and not near the end of the 14th just before the beginning of the 15th.  Under this perspective the Israelites are seen as eating the Passover as night fell and then staying in their homes until morning as instructed.  This would necessitate the death angel passing over at midnight of the 14th and the Israelites not leaving Egypt until around 16 or so hours later at the start of the 15th since it is recorded they left Egypt by night.  It is believed that during the daylight part of the 14th they readied themselves to leave Egypt and began to leave Egypt at the start of the 15th (the night part of the 15th) and proceeded to do so throughout the night of the 15th and into the daylight part of the 15th. The following Scriptures are provided as support for this position.

       Exodus 12:22-23: Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.

       Numbers 33:3-5: The Israelites set out from Rameses on the fifteenth day of the first month, the day after the Passover. They marched out boldly in full view of all the Egyptians, who were burying all their firstborn, whom the LORD had struck down among them; for the LORD had brought judgment on their gods. The Israelites left Rameses and camped at Succoth.

       Does the instruction to not leave any of the meat until morning and to not leave their homes until morning prove that the Passover must have been eaten at the beginning of the 14th and the Israelites didn’t leave Egypt until nearly 24 hours later at the start of the 15th?

       All indications are that a new day did not begin until the sun had completely gone down.  According to various Hebrew writers, the Hebrew word ereb appears to include a period of time when the sun is beginning to lower into the western sky but has not yet disappeared. It is a period of time identifying the coming to the end of a day, not its beginning.  As already shown, some Hebrew interpreters see ereb to mean a period beginning sometime in the afternoon and ending at sunset or darkness.

       The lambs were to be kept until the 14th and killed between the two evenings (ereb) on the 14th.  As we have seen, the so-called two evenings occur at the end of the day, not at its beginning. A new day begins at the end of the two evenings. Therefore, it could not have been at the beginning of the 14th that the lambs were killed.  If it is to be concluded that the lambs were killed at the beginning of the 14th, it in essence would still be the 13th when the lambs were killed as the 14th would not have begun unto the sun had gone down. This of course is untenable as we know it was the 14th when the lambs were killed.

       So it should be evident it was at the end of the 14th the lambs were slain and it was at the end of the 14th and very likely at the beginning of the 15th that the Passover was eaten followed by the Israelites departing Egypt after the death angel killed the Egyptian firstborn.  The instruction Moses gave as to how the Passover is to be eaten sheds light on when the Passover was eaten and when the Israelites began to leave Egypt.

       Exodus 12:11:  This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD's Passover.

       Why the urgency if they were going to stay in their homes until morning?  Why were they required to have their coats tucked in their belts, their shoes on their feet and their staff in their hand?  They are told to eat the Passover meal in haste.  Why the rush and readiness if they couldn’t leave their homes until morning and wouldn’t be leaving Egypt until the next evening?  Scripture tells us why the urgency. 

       Exodus 12:28-33: The Israelites did just what the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron. At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, "Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me." The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. "For otherwise," they said, "we will all die!"

       Can you image the scene?  Nine plagues had already devastated Egypt. The Egyptian people were very much on edge.  It is very likely the Egyptian people were well aware of Moses’ threat to have the firstborn be killed.  After all that had already happened, it is likely many Egyptians suspected what Moses promised would happen as he said.  When it did happen as Moses said, there was sheer panic in the Egyptian community.  They wanted the Israelites out and they wanted them out immediately. 

       It’s apparent the Israelites were already well organized and prepared for their departure. One thing they did not have time to do was bake bread.  In those days you didn’t bake bread with preservatives so it would last for months like you see today.  Back then you baked bread and you ate it.  If they weren’t able to leave their homes until the morning and then first leave Egypt the following evening at the start of the 15th, why didn’t they have time to bake bread?  The very fact they didn’t have time to bake bread shows how quickly they had to leave.  The Scriptures make this very clear that they left the same night that the death angel killed the Egyptian firstborn and passed over the homes of the Israelites.

       Exodus 12:34:  So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing.

       Exodus 12:39: With the dough they had brought from Egypt, they baked cakes of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.

       Deuteronomy 16:1: Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover of the LORD your God, because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt by night.

       So what does instruction to remain in their homes until morning mean?  When was morning?  For us today morning begins at 12:01 A.M. while it is still dark. We commonly refer to it being two o’clock or three o’clock in the morning.  Yet it is still night.  While morning most often is used to designate a period associated with the rising of the sun and daylight, it can also be used to designate a period of time after midnight while it is still dark.  Just as we today can refer to it being morning even though it is still night, we see this same method of reckoning time in several Scriptural passages.

       Mark 1:35: Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

       John 20: 1:  Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.

       Scripture records it was during the night that Pharaoh and the Egyptians got up and ordered the people to leave immediately. This would have been after midnight because it was at midnight the death angel killed the firstborn.  It was after midnight that Pharaoh summoned Moses and ordered the Israelites to leave.  It was still dark in that it was yet night.  But it was also early morning as it was past midnight. 

       It can still be dark (night time) and also be morning.  Since morning can also be night, it isn’t difficult to view Moses instruction to not leave their homes until morning as meaning not to leave their homes until after midnight, after the death angel had passed.  The Israelites were instructed to eat the Passover that night. 

       Exodus 12:8: And they shall eat the flesh in that night (Hebrew layil), roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.

       “That night” would have been after the 14th had come to an end. The Hebrew word rendered in Exodus 12:8 as "night" means "away from the light" and can be seen by context to mean night as opposed to day throughout the OT. The lambs were to be killed between the two evenings of the 14th and this period of time would be at the end of the day and not at the beginning. Since they were instructed to eat the Passover "in that night," it is very likely they ate the Passover at the beginning of the 15th which was the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread which was a High Day Sabbath. 

       This harmonizes perfectly with what took place the day Christ died.  Christ is seen as dying on the afternoon of the 14th which was the time of preparation for the Passover.  He died at the 9th hour or around three in the afternoon which is when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered by the Priests.  The Jewish leadership had been careful not to have Jesus crucified on the First Day of Unleavened Bread as the Scriptures reveal.  They were equally careful to remove His body from the cross before the beginning of the Feast.  It was at the beginning of the 15th, the night part of the beginning of the First Day of Unleavened Bread, they apparently ate the Passover just as Israel had done thousands of years earlier.   

        It was at the beginning of the 15th, the night part of the 15th, when the Israelites ate the Passover, stayed in their homes until after midnight, were set free by Pharaoh and virtually driven from Egypt during this same night.  Remember, they were to eat the Passover in haste, ready to leave because they would be driven out of Egypt after the death angel killed Egypt’s firstborn. 

       Exodus 12:11: This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD's Passover.

       Exodus 12:39b: they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry (KJV).                   

        It is evident the Israelites began to leave Egypt during the night of the 15th after eating the Passover lambs and experiencing the death angel passing over them, all of which took place at the beginning of the 15th and not the beginning of the 14th as some believe.  The Exodus was a huge event.  Exodus 12:37 records there were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children and many other people went up with them, as well as large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds. This exodus obviously continued into the daylight part of the 15th after the Passover event of the night before which would have been the beginning of the 15th.       

       The protocol established for the Passover in Egypt served as the template for the Passover throughout Israel’s history.  The lambs were killed at the end of the 14th and eaten at the beginning of the 15th.  This is exactly what we see happening at the time of the death of Jesus.  The lambs were killed in the afternoon of the 14th at the time Jesus died and were eaten at the beginning of the 15th after Jesus had been removed from the cross and placed in the tomb.

       In dying at the exact time the lambs were being sacrificed, Jesus fulfilled the typology presented by the Passover and became the human sacrifice for the sins of the world. Just as Israel's firstborn were protected from death by the blood of the lambs and released from Egyptian slavery, so we are protected from eternal death by the blood of Christ and released from slavery to sin.

       Readers of this essay may also be interested in reading associated essays on this website entitled Passover and the Crucifixion and Three Days and Three nights

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