The Passover Feast, or Pesach, celebrates the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, as recorded in the Book of Exodus. During Passover, Jews also commemorate the birth of the Jewish nation after being freed by God from captivity. Today, the Jewish people not only remember a historical event on the first Passover but also celebrate in a larger sense, their freedom as Jews. The first Passover, according to the Biblical Timeline, occurred on May 4, 1451 B.C.
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The Hebrew word Pesach means, “to pass over.” During the Passover celebration each year, Jews take part in a meal known as the Seder, which features the retelling of the story of Exodus and God’s liberation from their slavery in Egypt. Each partaker of the Passover Seder experiences in an individual way, a national celebration of freedom through God’s divine intervention and deliverance. Hag HaMatzah or the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Yom HaBikkurim or Firstfruits are both mentioned in Leviticus 23 as separate feasts. However, today Jews observe all three feasts as part of the eight-day Passover celebration.
Today, Passover begins on day 15 of the Hebrew month of Nissan, which falls in March or April and continues for 8 days. In Biblical times, Passover began at twilight on the fourteenth day of Nissan, and then the next day, day 15, the Feast of Unleavened Bread would begin and continue for seven days.
The Passover Story
Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, after being sold into slavery in Egypt, was protected by God and greatly blessed. Ultimately he was put into a high position—second-in-command to Pharaoh. In time, Joseph moved his entire family to Egypt to be near him and help them. This happened in 1706 B.C. By the time of the Exodus, 215 years later, the Israelites had grown into a people numbering over 2 million. In fact, there were so many Jews in Egypt that the new Pharaoh, who had no memory of what the good Joseph had done for his land, was afraid of their power. To retain a feeling of control, he forced the Israelites into slavery, oppressing them with harsh labor and brutal treatment.
However, God had a plan to rescue his people, through a man named Moses. At the time Moses was born, Pharaoh had ordered the death of all Hebrew males, but God spared Moses when his mother hid him in a basket along the banks of the Nile River. Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby and decided to adopt him. Later Moses fled to Midian after killing an Egyptian he had witnessed brutally beating a Hebrew slave.
There God appeared to Moses from within the flames of a burning bush and said:
“And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;” Exodus 3:7-10 KJV
And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Now, therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt
After making some excuses, Moses finally obeyed God and confronted Pharaoh.
“Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness”
However, Pharaoh continued to refuse. Moses sternly warned him that God would smite Egypt. Pharaoh remained unyielding. God begins to send a series of horrific plagues upon the Egyptians. In the midst of each plague, Pharaoh promises to let the Children of Israel go, always with some conditions, but he retracts the offer once the affliction has ended.
- All the waters throughout Egypt turn to blood.
- Swarms of frogs overrun the land.
- Lice infest all the men and beasts.
- Hordes of wild animals invade the cities.
- An epidemic kills the domestic animals.
- Painful boils afflict the Egyptians.
- Fire and ice combine to descend from the skies to form a ravaging hailstorm.
- A devastating swarm of locusts demolishes all the crops and greenery.
- A thick, tangible darkness shrouds the land.
- All the firstborn of Egypt are killed at the stroke of midnight of the 15th of the month of Nissan.
With the final plague, God promised to strike dead every first-born son in Egypt at midnight on the 15th day of the month of Nissan. However, to Moses, the Lord provided instructions so his people would be spared. Each Hebrew family was to take a Passover lamb, slaughter it and place some of the blood on the doorframes of their homes. When the destroyer passed over Egypt, he would not enter the homes covered by the blood of the Passover lamb:
“Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.
In addition, they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side-posts and on the upper doorpost of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. In addition, they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs, they shall eat it. Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof. And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’s Passover.”
The first nine plagues only served to dishearten the Pharaoh briefly but were unable to make him completely submit to the will of God. Finally, God ordered the Hebrew slaves to make a sacrifice of a lamb and mark their doors with the blood of the lamb, as an indication to the God to ‘pass over’ their houses while slaying the first-born males of the Egyptians. The Hebrews followed the word of God and thus, their first-born males were saved from the tenth plague. ‘Pesach’ means ‘passing over’ or ‘protection’ in Hebrew. This final calamity was a final blow to the Pharaoh, and he ordered Israelites to be set free immediately and allow their passage put of Egypt.
In their hurry to finally be able to live free lives, Israelites did not even wait to let their dough rise and bake bread but took raw dough instead to bake in the hot desert sun as hard crackers called Matzos on their journey. Moses led them through the desert. The angry Pharaoh changed his mind and led his army to chase after and kill them all. However, through the divine grace of God, the Jews managed to reach the Red Sea, where they seemed trapped by the vast stretch of water. Moses called upon God for help, and all of a sudden, the Red Sea parted to give way to the Israelites, and thus, they safely passed over to the other side on dry land. They were protected forever as the waves closed over the shocked army of the Pharaoh and drowned the whole army at once.
Important World Leaders and Events During This Time
- Egypt is the undisputed world power during this time.
- Egyptian bondage and oppression increase, especially towards the Hebrew people.
- This period saw the beginning of the Hurrian conquests.
- Hittite King Mursilis I fought the Hurrians on the upper Euphrates River.
- The Cretan palaces at Knossos and other centers flourish despite disasters.
- The city of Mycenae, located in the northeast Peloponnesus, comes to dominate the rest of Achaea, giving its name to Mycenaean civilization.
- Cecrops I builds or rebuilds Athens following the great flood of Deucalion and the end of the Golden age. He becomes the first of several Kings of Athens whose life account is considered part of Greek mythology.
- Cecrops I, legendary King of Athens, dies after a reign of 50 years. Having survived his own son, he is succeeded by Cranaus.
- Egypt started to conquer Nubia and the Levant.
- The element Mercury had been discovered in Egyptian tombs dating from this period.
- Settlers from Crete, Greece move to Miletus, Turkey.
- There is evidence of the Mayan civilization developing in Belize.
- The Phoenicians develop an alphabet.
- King Cheng Tang of Shang of China, the first ruler of Shang Dynasty, ruled China for 29 years beginning in 1600 B.C.
- The Edomites lived south of the Dead Sea and blocked the passage of the Israelites to travel through their territory on their way north.
- The rise of Assyrian power begins to be established.
- The Kassites rose to political power in Babylon.
- The Hyksos kingdom was centered in the eastern Nile Delta and Middle Egypt.
- In Greece, there was a group of people known as “The Pelasgi,” who lived in the region of the Aegean Sea before the coming of the Greeks.
- The historical, recognizable beginnings of Persia took place in this era.
- The ancient Chinese art of astronomy is recorded.
- China is recognized as implementing the first old-age pension plans.
- Lyrical poetry begins among the ancient Greeks, usually accompanied by a lyre or other stringed instrument.
Main Bible Characters
- Moses, the son of Jochebed and Amram.
- Aaron, the older brother of Moses.
Numbers 9: 1-14; 28:16-25
Deuteronomy 6:20-23, 16:1-6
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