Exodus 12:1-2 Moses and Aaron, who were Levites and priests, receive legal instructions here regarding the future observance of Passover. In these verses God changes the calendar of Israel here. Prior to this the New Year, known as Rosh Hashanah, was observed in the fall. It was the anniversary of the creation of the world. Just as kings celebrated the anniversary of their reign so Israel celebrated the anniversary of their king and His creation (Psalm 95:6). This new date for the new year in the Spring would celebrate redemption instead of fallen creation. The Passover would begin on the tenth day of the first month (called Abib before the Babylonian captivity, thereafter Nisan). God decreed that they would now have a calendar designed to remind them of how they first became a nation, by His mighty hand delivering them from their bondage. This was to be memorialized by the annual feast of Passover.
Exodus 12:3–4 The Passover is a meal, and a remembrance of God’s deliverance of His people. Families were called to gather in their homes to eat a communal meal sharing the meat of a single animal. When the Tabernacle and later the Temple stood the household would eat the lamb that was sacrificed. V 4 calls for sharing the meal with a family next door, so that the lamb would be fully consumed. Why no leftovers allowed? Most likely because it foreshadowed the greater redemption of the Messiah who would be fully given for Israel and the world’s redemption. The Messiah was to be one body, broken (beaten and dying) symbolically eaten by all, in order to help believers in the New Covenant keep aware of their unity as members of the one body.
Exodus 12:5 The Animal offered for Passover could be either from the goats or lambs, they had to be a year-old, male without defect. That the offering could be a lamb or a goat foreshadows the truth that Yeshua, was both the lamb of God and the scapegoat which was a key part on the day of atonement. That God required an unblemished lamb pointed to the perfect Lamb of God, Yeshua. Properly relating to God requires perfection: “Be holy for I am holy” means to be perfect. Only one person lived a perfect life and could be qualified to be an acceptable sacrifice. Our righteousness comes through the righteousness imputed to us through the perfect Lamb of God. The blood of an unblemished lamb was required for Israel’s redemption foreshadowing the ultimate Lamb of God (Is. 53, John 1:29). Did the animal provide perfection for those who ate it so that they could become acceptable to God? The answer is that it could not, except to the extent that the whole process of choosing, killing and eating the animal was an act of faith and obedience. It was through responding and receiving God’s provision for His people that allowed a sinful people to be made holy and to be delivered from Egypt.
Exodus 12:6 The animals were to be chosen on the 10th of the month. This corresponds with the day Yeshua entered Jerusalem on a donkey fulfilling Zech 9:9. The setting aside assured that all could see that the Lamb was perfect in every way. They were to be cared for until the fourteenth of the month at sundown. There would still be enough light to perform the sacrifice and sundown was the start of the next day. After the lamb’s blood was applied to the doorpost it was prepared for the household and neighbors who might join with the family. Together they would then eat the lamb after nightfall (v. 8), when the moon was full. The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, so the fourteenth day was the middle of the twenty-eight-day lunar cycle, the exact time of the full moon. So, there was maximal nighttime light for gathering together and eating. The timing would function to commemorate the full moon nighttime flight from Egypt that characterized the exodus (vv. 11-13). In New Testament times, of course, the Passover was celebrated at this same time of the month, during the night (John 13:30) as it has always been in Jewish tradition. The New Testament’s “last supper” with Jesus and his disciples was a Passover meal.
Exodus 12:7 This verse speaks of the blood on the doorframes of the houses and is described further in v. 13 and vv. 22-23. The omniscient God would not need a sign to know which people had been faithful. The sign was for the benefit of those who applied it, so that in addition to faith a work was required as well. It displayed their confidence in God’s power to kill as well as to save. Like the action required in the plague of hail: those who believed took measures so their livestock would survive; those who did not lost them (9:20–21). The doorway is the place of transition to the world outside. The blood was to be placed on the doorframe before the Passover meal was eaten; this would allow those who partook to enjoy the meal with joy and thanksgiving. They were to eat the Passover in haste demonstrating their readiness to leave Egypt. Future Passover meals would be eaten reclining reminding them of their freedom. The willingness to go at a moment’s notice never to return must have been difficult for they many. They had lived in Egypt for 430 years and were now being told to leave behind everything they had known: the place where their parents and grandparents had lived and died, and where they had prospered until the pharaoh who knew not Joseph came to the throne. The idea of change for many is very difficult and uprooting for many is harder than staying and trying to survive. That mentality likely was the root of much of the complaining in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.
Exodus 12:8–9 Roasting the lamb over a fire required less setup, no drawing of water and waiting for it to boil; it was the fastest, simplest way to cook meat. Also boiling a whole lamb, would require the bones to be broken and they were commanded not to do so (v. 46; John 19:31-37; Ps. 34:20). It was important to see the wholeness of the lamb, as it foreshadowed the complete sacrifice of Yeshua. Bitter herbs were to help them remember the bitterness of their bondage throughout their generations. Bread made without yeast, Matzah, would allow the bread to be carried in the wilderness. It also was a picture of the unleavened body of the Messiah which it pointed to. Leaven spoke of sin (Mat. 16:6; 1 Cor. 5:5-8) and during this week they would be reminded of God’s provision for their sin, to make them His holy people. When we place our faith in Yeshua the angel of death passes over us that we might be saved. We must also feed on Jesus in order to have strength for our daily journey. As we worship, meditate on the Word, pray, and believe, we appropriate the spiritual nourishment of God’s Lamb and grow in grace and knowledge.
Exodus 12:10–11 There might have been the temptation to save the leftovers for breakfast and take them along as they were leaving. But this lamb foreshadowed the Messiah, and it was holy to the Lord. Leaving the food behind would indicate if they would trust God to provide for them. Anything that remained had to be burned a foreshadowing a whole burnt offering. It was, in other words, a meal of religious observance than a meal to provide nutrition. They were called to be dressed and packed for travel which also demonstrated their faith that God indeed was going to deliver them. People tucked cloaks into their belts when they traveled otherwise they left them loose and full length at night for warmth and comfort. Sandals normally were taken off at home; with this meal they were worn in the house, because a trip was imminent. No one carried his staff around the house; it was a tool for protection and herding. A staff in the hand normally indicated readiness to be on the move, not a plan to stay at home. Thus the meal and how it was eaten was all done in a manner that indicated they were ready for quick exit from Egypt and God’s deliverance of His people.
Exodus 12:12–13 This description of the tenth plague reveals that it would take place in a matter of hours (“that same night”) and would affect the firstborn of all the Egyptian people and their livestock. If there was blood on the doors there would be life, no blood would mean death of the first born in the home. The blood on the doorposts showed acceptance of God’s plan for rescue and trust in his word. The blood placed on the top and sides of the doors was a testimony of the faith of those who lived there and that it would be effective. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you”—in other words, I will spare all those who show that they have placed their faith in me and my word.
Who were the gods of Egypt? In Ex 12:12 explains that one of purposes of the plagues was to demonstrate God’s might over all so-called gods. God showed his sovereignty over all the nations of the earth and their “gods.” This was evangelistic, showing the world that there is no one else to turn to for life. God desires all people to come to a saving knowledge of the truth, and a large part of that truth is that he is the only God and that faith in him is the only faith that accomplishes salvation and eternal life. The Egyptians were devoted to their gods and trusted in them fully. Israel during their 430-years in Egypt had embraced these gods as well (Lev. 17:7; Josh 24:14). These gods could not save. Trust in a variety of gods was at the heart of that belief system, exposing these gods as nothing, unable to save, unable to grant life, and unable to defend Egypt and the Egyptians against the God of the Hebrews. This was a convincing method of forcing people to look elsewhere than their discredited gods for salvation.
Exodus 12:14 The day they were to “commemorate” was the key day of the full seven-day festival. Each generation is to celebrate this day in perpetuity. This was “a festival to the LORD.” Each generation is to remember as if it were them who came out of Egypt. What is not carefully remembered is easily forgotten. The full seven-day festival was not celebrated at this time since they were fleeing Egypt. Why did God want his people to remember the exodus? Because it was his supreme demonstration of deliverance, and it pointed to the greater deliverance that was to come to all nations. It was no accident that Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, on the Mount of Transfiguration, “spoke about His departure (“exodus”), which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). New Covenant crucifixion and resurrection would provide the ultimate exodus because it delivered not merely from earthly bondage but from the bondage of sin itself, and so provide life not just in a promised earthly land but in an eternal promised land, the home of the Father.
Exodus 12:15 Yeast (leaven) referred to the substance that causes bread to rise. Because yeast spores can migrate easily, dough can become yeasted unintentionally, this is one reason why the house needed to be cleansed so that yeast would not cause the unleavened bread to accidentally be leavened. Leaven was a picture of sin for it also permeates a life and easily transmitted. Leavening bread takes time and they had no time to wait for the bread to rise. Eating Matzah in the future would recall their original departure in haste. Eating it for a solid week was a vivid reminder of the haste and exodus of their fathers out of Egypt. Why the “cutting off” of any who ate leaven? Because obedience demonstrated faith. What does “cut off from” mean? Here and in 12:19, Exod 30:33, 38, and 31:14 and other places in Scripture makes it the responsibility of the community of Israel to get rid of the offender either by exile or by capital punishment. But it could also be translated “will be cut off,” denoting that this would be the result of such action. Such behavior grieves God’s Spirit and the result will be a gradual falling away. The offender would be cut off from God’s blessings. The person who defies God’s regulations shows that he has no interest in keeping covenant with him and therefore will eventually suffer the consequences of not obeying God. We too are warned of the consequences for partaking communion with unconfessed sin in our lives (1 Cor. 11:27ff).
Exodus 12:16-17 The days at the start and end of the feast were a Sabbath, no matter what day they fell on. These days were to be a “sacred assembly,” devoted to worship. The same word is used to describe the Sabbath in Lev 23:3, Trumpets in Lev 23:24, and New Moon festivals. Worship was a call for the community to gather before the Lord. These two special days were not fast days but a celebration of remembrance and worship, so preparing and eating of food was necessary. V 17 gives an alternative name for the festival: “The Feast of Unleavened Bread”; Hosts is a reference to Israel being organized as an army, God’s army. This festival was to be “a lasting ordinance for the generations to come,” speaks to the fact that it was to be celebrated in perpetuity.
Exodus 12:18-20 Lest there be any confusion the actual calendar dates for the seven days of observance of Passover; from the evening of the 14th day until the evening of the 21st day.” This observance applies to “whoever” everyone “whether an alien or native-born” and “Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread” which likely foresaw the diaspora. God’s people were not to exclude anyone who wanted to demonstrate their covenant loyalty to the Lord whether in the land of Israel or the later diaspora.
Exodus 12:21-30 were given to Moses and now Moses shares these instructions with the elders of Israel who then pass them onto clan leaders and family heads. Moses clarifies the warnings and instructions for everyone’s benefit. Hyssop was a plant that often grew on walls and was believed to have cleansing qualities. It was later used in the cleansing ritual with lepers (Lev. 14:4-7) and the water of cleansing (Num. 19:1-22). Once again, they were told to observe the Passover after they arrived in the promised land as a perpetual reminder of the Lord’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage.
Israel obeyed the words of Moses and bowed down and worshiped. Then 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. Wailing and fear spread throughout land and death was everywhere.
Exodus 12:31-42 Pharaoh in the middle of the night sent for Moses and told him to take the sons of Israel and leave immediately with everything they had. He also asked Moses to bless him. The Egyptian people also were terrified and asked them to leave. Israel left with their unleavened dough, and then asked the Egyptians to give them silver, gold, and clothing which the Egyptians eagerly did. Israel traveled from Rameses to Succoth, with an enormous multitude (six hundred thousand men plus women and children, likely in excess of two million). A mixed multitude from the land of Egypt joined with them in their Exodus from the land (v. 38). Their time in Egypt lasted 430 years.
Exodus 12:43-50. Once again, they are told to observe this event and given further instructions in how to do so. These regulations supplement previous instructions concerning the Passover. Foreigners were not to partake of it, unless they were circumcised slaves purchased by the Israel. Workers hired by Israel were not to partake of it. Foreigners who sought to become one with Israel after being circumcised could join with them in eating the feast. The Passover was a community festival, to be celebrated by all in their own homes. They were not to break any of the bones of the sacrificed animals, because it carried prophetic significance (John 19:33-36).