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Commentary on Exodus 12:1-4, [5-10], 11-14

Roger Nam
On Maundy Thursday, we come to the Exodus account of the Passover.
An initial reading of the instructions for Passover in Exodus 12 displays several terms
familiar to Christian communities of faith: lamb, blood, Passover, firstborn, judgments, etc.
Because of the gift of our New Testament, all of these words are wonderfully replete with
theological meaning. But I ask you, Working Preacher, as you study this text, to set aside
the lens of Pauline Christology. Instead, I invite you to examine the text from the
perspective of a typical household in ancient Israel.
Long after the exodus event, these Passover instructions continued to circulate to many
generations in ancient Israel. The Passover quickly became a sacred text to the Israelites. A
public reading of Torah compels both Josiah (2 Kings 22:8) and Ezra (Nehemiah 8:2-3)
to lead their communities in new and bold ways.
Undoubtedly, the specific instructions for Passover were a crucial component of Israelite
life. Just like our Christmas and Easter traditions, every Israelite would have a collection of
memories of their experienced Passover traditions, occurring on the tenth day of the first
month of the Hebrew year.
God commanded the Israelites to take a one year-old lamb without blemish. I suspect the
lamb without blemish would have been identifiable as Passover-suitable from its birth. If
this was the case, then the remembrance of the Passover festival was not restricted to the
tenth of the first month, but rather hints that the Passover infiltrated the seemingly mundane
life of raising the lamb.
For the entire year leading to the Passover, every feeding and every aspect of care allowed
the family member the opportunity to remember that this lamb may be preserved for the
Passover. In many ways, the Passover was to be remembered throughout the year, merely
culminating in the Passover celebration.
The condition in verse four is powerful, If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it
shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one. This simple accommodation widens the
worshipping community to those who have economic hardship. The act of sharing the lamb
with smaller families (such as a family of one?) enacts the cycle receiving and dispensing
of grace to share in their remembrance. I wonder on the implicit morality demonstrated to
the young children of Israel, as they saw households joined in this celebration.

The meal is unique. In partaking of the lamb, no leftovers are allowed. The instructions
give an urgency to the meal, eating while ready to go. Of course, most parents know that
children often cannot be convinced of any necessary urgency in meals. I wonder how the
children would respond to such commands, as well as the accompanying explanation of the
patriarchs or matriarchs of the household recounting the frenetic activity of the families
during the Exodus narrative.
Verse twelve declares that the punishment of God on the nation of Egypt, an incredibly
rich, powerful, and long lasting dynasty, would be swift thereby revealing the judgment of
God. But verse thirteen states that the blood of the lamb will save the household. According
to Torah, blood is life and consequently blood is redemptive of life (Leviticus 17:11-14).
The agrarian-minded Israelites readily understood blood as the very core component of the
living.
Interestingly, Exodus 12:13 gives us the theological detail, The blood is a sign for you,
referring to the people of Israel. The blood is not for God to identify the houses, for God
already knows the divine promise for protection and its application. But by using the blood
as a sign, the people can know and see this reminder that God will deliver his promise.
Now, look at the passage again, this time with the understanding of the theology of the
New Testament. Remember, the earliest Christian community was a Jewish community.
They were a people steeped in tradition and ritual, and they understood the gravity of the
Passover, as presented here as well as in Leviticus 23. By the providence of the genetics,
the lamb was likely identified from birth as a Passover lamb, nourished and raised for the
special day of remembrance for a community. The lamb was to be shared across normal
economic lines, thus bringing the nourishment of the meal and the protective powers of the
blood to identify and protect a unified community.
And this activity was to be carried out every year, from the tenth day of the first month in
order that all generations may share in the joy of the Lord, the forgiveness of sins, and
miraculous deliverance from the blood of the lamb. In this sense, the Passover was not a
singular event in the course of a year, but the culmination of a years worth of continual
activity in raising this lamb and remembering the deliverance of God during a peoples time
of need. For the New Testament community, this Jewish Passover provides the theological
foundation for understanding the Lords Supper; for by the blood of the lamb, we are
delivered from Egypt.
Soli Deo gloria.