The time is approaching when Jewish people everywhere celebrate Passover (Pesach in Hebrew). The holiday, beginning on the 15th day of Nisan and lasting a week, commemorates the redemption of the Jewish nation from Egyptian slavery. From its inception in the days of Moses until the present time, the Passover has been kept by Jews wherever they have found themselves. And in keeping the Passover, the universal bond among Jewish people throughout all the ages is strengthened.
The first Passover was ordained by God to protect the Jewish people from the angel of death who was sent to strike the firstborn of every household in Egypt. In Exodus 12 God commanded each Hebrew household to sacrifice a lamb and apply its blood to the doorposts of their houses. The lamb was then to be roasted with fire and eaten together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The Scriptures declare, For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not permit the destroyer to come into your houses to smite you” (Exodus 12:23). Thus, each Jewish household enjoyed complete protection from death, the lamb’s blood serving as a warning to the destroyer that God’s people resided in that house. As we know from reading Scripture, it happened just as God said. The angel of death did not enter among the Jews, and the first Passover was followed immediately by the Exodus from Egypt.
When God ordained the first Passover, he commanded, “And ye shall observe this thing for an ordinance to thee and to thy sons forever” (Exodus 12:24). What is the importance of Pesach, and why did God intend it to be observed every year?
First of all, Passover is part of the cycle of festivals that form one of the foundations of Jewish life. It reminds us of the faithfulness of God and draws us back to our roots in him. It illustrates the redemptive nature of God: “And it (the telling of the first Passover) shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes…for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:9). And the awareness of God’s redemptive nature provides us an impetus to treat others with generosity (Deuteronomy 15:1-15).
The Passover shows that as God made a distinction between Egypt and Israel (Exodus 11:7), he makes a distinction between the righteous and the unrighteous in judging the world. And the Passover is applied in the New Testament to the great redemption wrought for us by Jesus (I Corinthians 5:7).
Beyond all this is the fact that the Passover was only one of several dramatic rescues that God provided for the Jewish nation to demonstrate his faithfulness. Jeremiah 31:36 (NASB) declares: “If this fixed order departs from before me…then the offspring of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever.”
This preservation is not only for the benefit of the Jews! The earliest prophecy of the coming Messiah is found in Genesis 3:15, where it is declared that a descendant of Eve (in this passage called her “seed”) will ultimately vanquish Satan. With the calling of Abraham, a man whose progeny was chosen to “keep the way of the Lord” (Genesis 18:19), God revealed that through him, he would bring blessing not only to the Jewish people, but to all the nations of the world: “And in you all families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Humanity’s hope for release from the darkness infesting the world, then, is centered on the Messiah who is to spring forth from Abraham. Jesus himself confirmed this to the woman at the well, saying, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).
Consider then the numerous threats to the survival of the Jewish people in light of God’s intention to bring forth the Messiah through them. These included the barrenness of the patriarchs’ wives, Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel; Abraham’s old age before Isaac was born; the risk that Abraham and Isaac might lose their wives to local monarchs; Esau’s hostility toward Jacob; local famine; and most pointedly, Pharaoh’s campaign to slaughter all the Jewish boys born in Egypt. The success of any of these threats might have imperiled the thread of salvation God was weaving for all people.
In this context, we see Passover as one of many divine interventions that secured the survival of the Jewish nation—a survival for which all the redeemed people of God, both Jewish and Gentile, should be exceedingly grateful. It is altogether appropriate for Gentile Christians to join with the Jewish people in their celebration of God’s loving deliverance of his people and his intention to bring us safely into his kingdom once again!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ed Berman is a Jewish believer residing in the Washington, D.C., area. He is a physician and the director of an emergency room at a major hospital.