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The Old Passover

                         CHRIST IN THE PASSOVER #1

by Ceil and Moishe Rosen (a book puiblished in 1978)


     When Abraham, the first Hebrew, left Ur of the Chaldees to
follow the call of the living God, he sacrificed a life of
comfort and ease. Ur was no village. It was one of the oldest,
most important cities of Mesopotamia, covering an area of about
four square miles by the Euphrates River, which empties into the
Persian Gulf. The citizens of Ur, numbering well over half a
million, lived in walled safety. They enjoyed the advantages of
the highest culture and civilization of their time. They took
particular pride in the outstanding architecture of their
temples, which they built in honor of their numerous deities, and
in the fact that their city was the center of worship for: the   
popular moon-godreligion.

     From the comfort, advantages, and sophistication of Ur,
Jehovah called Abraham and his family to a seminomadic way of
life. They were not nomads in spirit, for they had God's promise
of the land; but, in fact, they did not possess it. They wandered
with the seasons, seeking pasture for their flocks, but they also
tilled the ground. Tents were their only shelter from the
scorching sun and cruel desert wind, but they buried their dead
in permanent caves, an act of faith that showed they believed
that one day the land really would be theirs. They trusted God
for future stability and a permanent home, but they knew it was
not yet time.

     Then a great drought and famine drove Jacob, a grandson of
Abraham, to leave Canaan for the promise of food in Egypt. Once
again the seed of Abraham dismantled their tents. Packing all
that they had acquired and their scant remaining food and water
supply, they headed south with their wives, their little ones,
and their flocks. For Joseph's sake, Pharaoh welcomed Jacob and
his sons as honored guests, laying Egypt's resources at their
feet and giving them the land of Goshen for their dwelling place
(Genesis 47:6). Goshen was a fertile area along the delta of the
Nile River, lying in the northeast portion of an area between
what is now Cairo to the southeast and Alexandria to the
northwest. Here the Hebrews felt respected and secure.


     Because of the devastating drought that drove Jacob to seek
refuge in Egypt, most of the Egyptians were starving also. Many
sold their cattle, their land, and finally themselves to Pharaoh
in exchange for food. But Jacob's sons flourished and prospered.
Because the pharaohs of that time were of Semitic descent, they
favored the seed of Abraham, who also were Semites. For the first
time since Abraham left Ur, the Hebrews enjoyed a feeling of
permanence. They lived a quiet, secure, pastoral life in Goshen.
The Nile overflowed its banks once a year, bringing life-giving
water to the earth. There was lush, abundant pasture for the
flocks, and rich soil to grow their food.
     Here the Hebrews watched their children grow tall and brown
in the sun. At night they slept in safety, with no desert wind
howling through the solid walls of their adobe homes. No longer
did they awake to the distressed bleating of hungry flocks, a
signal that once again they must move on. Their Egyptian
neighbors were people of high morals and advanced culture. Not
only did they produce literature and music, but they also knew
mathematics and a degree of the healing arts, and many were
skilled architects. They accepted the Hebrews as equals and even
bestowed high honors on some of them. Life was pleasant indeed.
     In this situation the descendants of Abraham prospered for
hundreds of years. Exodus 1:9 indicates that they multiplied so
fast that a later pharaoh grew concerned that there were more
Hebrews than Egyptians in the land. The children of Israel were
so comfortable and secure that it was easy to forget that Egypt
was not the land God had promised to their fathers. Maybe some of
them even forgot God Himself.


     For the seed of Abraham, Egypt had been a volcano
threatening to erupt. For more than four hundred years they lived
at the edge of that volcano without knowing it. Now the volcano
erupted and its flames threatened to consume them, for there
arose a new pharaoh who "knew not Joseph" (Exodus 1:9). Fearing
the strength and power of the vast multitude of Hebrew
foreigners, he turned against them and made them his serfs. The
children of Israel continued to live in Goshen, but the land no
longer belonged to them. Now they belonged to the land, to Egypt,
and to the pharaoh, who was Egypt. They had to serve him with
backbreaking labor, sweating in the fields, building his treasure
cities, without recompense or even dignity. There were no
problems with labor relations, no labor-management arbitrations.
Pharoah owned everything and everyone. He appointed taskmasters,
foremen to make sure that the proper amount of work was done.
When Pharaoh decided to oppress the Hebrews, he simply ordered
the taskmasters to give them more work than they could do. Life
was cheap in Egypt. If a man dropped from exhaustion, the
taskmasters left him to die and quickly whipped another into line
to take his place.
     Under the cruel pharaoh, the children of Israel toiled and
suffered, but still they grew in numbers. Enraged, Pharaoh
ordered the Hebrews' male babies murdered so that the entire
nation would eventually die. Then the Israelites remembered the
God of their fathers. At last they recognized their need to be
rescued. They needed to be delivered, not only from Pharaoh, but
from Egypt itself. They cried out to God in their bondage and
distress, and He heard their anguished pleas. Now that they were
ready for His help, He remembered His covenant with Abraham, with
Isaac, and with Jacob. Deliverance was near.
     Egypt to the Hebrews had become comfort and complacency
outside God's providence. The covenant Jehovah made with Abraham
was two-sided. On God's part, He promised the land (Genesis
15:18): on Abraham's part, he and his seed were to bear the
physical marks of the covenant-circumcision (Genesis 17: 10). The
Hebrews did remember to circumcise while they were in Egypt
(Joshua 5:5), but they prevented God from fulfilling the covenant
by not seeking the land He had promised. They broke the spirit of
the covenant. They needed to be redeemed, to be "deemed again"
the people of the covenant, the people of God.
     Jehovah could have slain the wicked pharaoh in an instant to
alleviate the sufferings of His people. He could have brought
about a new, more favorable order in Egypt. But that would not
have been enough. The sons of Jacob had to forsake Egypt in order
to serve the living God. Old things, old attitudes, old
affections had to pass away - all things had to become new. The
Bible teaches that a person cannot see the Kingdom of God until
he is spiritually born again (John 3:3). So the nation of Israel
also needed a new beginning, a new birth. Thus the redemption at
Passover prepared the sons of Jacob for another covenant to be
made at Sinai, which would reestablish and reaffirm them as the
nation of God.

     The Passover redemption from Egypt changed Israel's
reckoning of time. 1  God commanded the Hebrews to count the
month of the deliverance from Egypt as the first month of the
year. He was saying, in effect, "This event is so historic that
you are to rearrange your calendar because of it." They were to
count their existence as a people from the month of Nisan. (Even
so, we of modern time mark our history B.C. and A.D., basing our
calendar on Calvary, the pivot point of God's dealings with
humanity through the Messiah.) And thus, with this new beginning
to occur shortly, Israel, the great nation that God had promised
to its father, Abraham, was about to become reality.

1 By tradition, the Jewish people celebrate the fiscal New Year
in the fall, in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar; but the
religious calendar begins in Nisan, the first month.

     In order to carry out His plan to redeem His people from
Egypt, Jehovah chose a man who was, in many ways, as much an
Egyptian as he was a Hebrew. Moses was born an Israelite. The
blood of Abraham flowed in his veins, but he grew to manhood in
the palace of Pharaoh's daughter. As an infant he was raised by
his Hebrew mother, but he learned worldly wisdom from Egyptian
schoolmasters. God chose him to deliver Israel, to show to all
that "the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and
Israel" (Exodus 11:7b).
     As a young man, Moses fled Egypt in disgrace under penalty
of death. When God called him to lead Israel out of bondage, he
had been away from Egypt's culture and sophistication for forty
years. Long ago he had given up his princely robes for the rough
garb of a shepherd. Now he stood before the successor to the
pharaoh who had sought his life. His eyes blazed from his
weather-beaten face with the fire of the living God, whom he had
encountered in the wilderness. His hand, calloused by the
shepherd's crook, wielded a miraculous staff. His lips formed the
syllables of the holy NAME as he confronted Pharaoh with the
words of the Lord: "Let my people go'"
     When Pharaoh refused, the Lord demonstrated His might by
bringing down judgment on Egypt's false gods. Through Moses, He
turned the waters into blood, showing His power over the Nile,
which the Egyptians worshiped as the sustainer of life. He
darkened the sky, proclaiming His superiority over the sun-god,
Ra. He made pests of the frogs, which the Egyptians respected as
controllers of the undesirable insects that followed the annual
overflow of the great river.
     The Lord poured out plague after plague; still Pharaoh
hardened his heart. God ruined the Egyptians' crops with hail and
locusts, killed their cattle with disease, and afflicted the
people with painful boils, loathsome vermin, and thick darkness.
Calamities threatened Egypt's prosperity on every side, but the
Israelites were spared. Pharaoh hardened his heart even further,
however, and now the cup of iniquity was full. God had said to
Pharaoh through Moses: "Israel is my son.... Let my son go, that
he may serve me; and if thou refuse.... I will slay thy son, even
thy firstborn" (Exodus 4:22-23). Now He determined to break the
iron will of Egypt with one last plague. The specter of death was
to fly by night over the land, breaking the cycle of life,
interrupting the line of inheritance, bringing tragedy to every
home where Jehovah was not feared and obeyed.
     Although their redemption was at the door, the Israelites
were not automatically exempt from this last plague. God tempered
His final judgment on Egypt with mercy and perfect provision -
the substitution of a life for a life.

     "In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them
every man a lamb.... a lamb for an house.... and ye shall keep it
up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and.... kill
it.... And ... take of the blood, and strike it on the two side
posts and on the upper door post of the houses. For I will pass
through the land of Egypt and will smite all the firstborn....
And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses.... and
when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall
not be upon you (Exodus 12:3-7,12-13).


     The verb "pass over" has a deeper meaning here than the idea
of stepping or leaping over something to avoid contact. It is not
the common Hebrew verb, "a-bhar," or "gabhar," which is
frequently used in that sense. The word used here is "pesah,"
from which comes the noun "pesah," which is translated Passover.
These words have no connection with any other Hebrew word, but
they do resemble the Egyptian word "pesh," which means "to spread
wings over" in order to protect. Arthur W. Pink, in his book
"Gleanings in Exodus," sheds further light on this. Quoting from
Urquhart, he states:

     The word is used ... in this sense in Isa.31:5: 'As birds
     flying, so will the Lord of Hosts defend Jerusalem;
     defending also He will deliver it; and passing over
     ('pasoach,' participle of 'pesach') He will preserve it. The
     word has, consequently, the very meaning of the Egyptian
     term for 'spreading the wings over', and 'protecting'; and
     pesach, the Lord's Passover, means such sheltering and
     protection as is found under the outstretched wings of the
     Almighty. Does this not give a new fulness to those words
     ... 'O Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have gathered
     thy children together, as a hen does gather her brood under
     her wings' (Luke 13:34) ? ... this term 'pesach' is applied
     (1) to the ceremony ... and (2) to the lamb.... The slain
     lamb, the sheltering behind its blood and the eating of its
     flesh, constituted the 'pesach,' the protection of God's
     chosen people beneath the sheltering wings of the Almighty
     ... It was not merely that the Lord passed by the houses of
     the Israelites, but that He stood on guard, 'protecting'
     each blood-sprinkled door! [The LORD ... will not suffer the
     destroyer to come in (Exodus 12:23b).] 1

     God includes everyone in the death sentence in Exodus 11:5:
"All the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die." God must do
the right thing because He is God, but He balances His
righteousness with His loving mercy. He decrees judgment for all
sin and all sinners; then He provides a way of escape, a
'kiporah' or covering. When the rain falls from above, it falls
on everyone. But those who have an umbrella do not become wet.
For those who seek His way to satisfy the demands of His Law, God
provides an umbrella of safety. In His judgment of Egypt, He 
provided the umbrella of the blood of the Passover lamb.

     Israe's redemption began that night behind the sanctuary of
those blood-sprinkled doors. It was a night of horror and grief
for anyone who had foolishly disregarded God's command; it was a
long, dark night of awesome vigil mixed with hope for the
obedient. Perhaps they heard wails of anguish from outside as the
grim reaper went from house to house; perhaps there was only
thick, ominous silence. They knew that terror and death lay
outside that door, which they dared not open until morning. But
within was safety.

     It was a night of judgment, but the substitutionary death of
the Passover lamb brought forgiveness to God's people, Israel. It
washed away 430 years of Egypt's contamination. The blood of the
lamb protected them from the wrath of the Almighty. Its roasted
flesh nourished their bodies with strength for the long, perilous
journey ahead. They ate in haste, loins girded, staff in hand,
shoes on their 

1 Arthur W. Pink, "Gleanings in Exodus," p.93.

feet, prepared to leave at any moment at God's command. In that
awe-filled night of waiting, they experienced Jehovah's loving
protection, even in the midst of the unleashing of His fierce
judgment. They learned new trust, a trust that was deep enough to
see them through another black night soon to come. They would
stand at the edge of the churning waves of the Red Sea with the
entire host of angry Egyptians at their backs, and they would
trust the words of Moses: "Stand still, and see the salvation of
the LORD" (Exodus 14:13).

     The Lord often works on behalf of His people when things
look darkest. In the words of the psalmist, "Weeping may endure
for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalm 30:5). And so
the morning came, and with it abounding joy and freedom.
     Thus, out of His mercy, and because He would keep His
covenant with the fathers, the Lord rescued Israel. It was a new
birth, a new beginning. This time the seed of Abraham must not
forget their commitment to the Holy One of Israel; they must not
forget His promises. They must remember that He brought them out
of Egypt with a strong hand and with His outstretched arm. 


To be continued     

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