In this chapter, God shares his lamb recipe with the Hebrews, and throws in a few home decorating tips.

The first step is for every household to get a lamb. The lambs are then to be slaughtered, and their blood collected in a basin.  The bloodless lamb should be roasted, and served with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. But make sure you don’t eat any of it raw (do they really need to be told that?) or boiled with water. It must be roasted, along with its head, legs, and “inner parts” (Exod. 12:8-9).

The Israelites should try to eat everything, and burn up anything leftover in the morning.

They should then dip a bunch of hyssop into the blood that had been collected during the slaughter and paint their door posts and lintel with it. Then make sure to stay inside all night.

It’s interesting to note the necessity of the blood. Why does God require a sign to know which houses to pass over? He didn’t need any such sign during the darkness plague, when “all the people of Israel had light where they dwelt” (Exod. 10:23).

Party Planning

"Now you're going to want to make sure that you smear the lambs blood all over your door frame for maximum Passover effect."

“Now you’re going to want to make sure that you smear the lambs blood all over your door frame for maximum Passover effect.”

God next turns his attention to planning his party.  He decrees that it should last a full seven days. The first and last days are extra holy, and no work should be done and people should eat only what they’ve prepared. GodMartha doesn’t tolerate take-out.

Leaven is forbidden for the whole festival. Anyone who eats leavened food during this time “shall be cut off from Israel” (Exod. 12:15), which seems rather harsh even for GodMartha. It’s so terrible that it shouldn’t even be kept in the home.

Incidentally, my study bible says that the feast of the unleavened bread was originally an agricultural festival “held at the time of barley harvest,” but that it was later turned into a historical commemoration. And leavening, which ferments, was seen as a kind of corruption, hence eating only unleavened bread.

Keep this day forever

God tells Moses and Aaron that passover “shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever” (Exod. 12:14).

The commandment to celebrate the feast of the unleavened bread forever is repeated multiple times (Exod. 12:17, 12:24). To any Christians who might be reading this, why do you not celebrate the Passover?

Onward the slaughter

Pharaoh and his dead son by James Tissot, 1896-1900

Pharaoh and his dead son by James Tissot, 1896-1900

“At midnight the Lord smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle” (Exod. 12:29).

Take a moment at let that sink in.

This is what corporate guilt looks like. A pauper’s baby had nothing to do with Pharaoh’s decision not to let the Hebrews go, nor has he had the chance to participate in the culture that has kept them enslaved (if, in fact, they are slaves). But that doesn’t matter. He’s an Egyptian and his blood has damned him in this genocide.

“There was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where one was not dead” (Exod. 12:30).

And since the Ancient Egyptian monarchy was passed by primogeniture, shouldn’t the pharaoh himself have been killed? Besides which, it’s hard to imagine how the first-born of the cattle could be killed now when they were all killed in Exodus 9. One might be forgiven for assuming that the Bible, rather than a historical account, is a story with much hyperbole.

Leaving Egypt

Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron and tells them to go serve God, “as you have said” (Exod. 12:31). Remember that what they asked for was three days to worship and then they would return. Pharaoh gives them permission to take their entire households and all their cattle.

The Herbews “took their dough before it was leavened” (Exod. 12:34), which is rather interesting. Growing up, I was always told that the unleavened bread thing was in memory of the Hebrews having to flee Egypt in such a hurry that they didn’t have time to properly prepare their bread, yet this is a new detail being introduced long after God gave instructions to keep bread unleavened.

And, of course, “the people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked of the Egyptians jewelry of silver and of gold, and clothing […] Thus they despoiled the Egyptians” (Exod. 12:36). After killing all their first-borns, stealing their jewels and clothes seems like it’s really just adding insult onto injury…

There were 600,000 men, plus women and children, leaving Egypt, where they had lived for 430 years (Exod. 12:37, 40).

A few more Passover rules

No foreigner is allowed to eat the Passover meal with a Hebrew family, but any slave bought with money can partake “after you have circumcised him” (Exod. 12:44). No hired servant may have any, and you are forbidden from giving any of your leftovers to your guests to take home.

You should take care not to break any of the bones cooked with your meat.

If a traveller is staying with you during Passover, he may have some if he agrees to be circumcised.

Final note

According to John Collins’ A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.55:

The Exodus is not attested in any ancient non-biblical source. The Egyptians kept tight control over their eastern border and kept careful records. If a large group of Israelites had departed, we should expect some mention of it.