PASSOVER. It's a strange word. It sounds strange. It sounds archaic. And it sounds Jewish. It belongs in an unfamiliar class of words — words foreign to most of our ears: Chanukah — Rosh Hashanah — Yom Kippur — Bar Mitzvah — Unleavened Bread. To most of us, it's merely a strange custom held over from "B.C." A little-understood rite that has its roots in the escape of an ancient race of people from bondage in a land called Egypt. A custom perpetuated by bearded rabbis — curiously and secretly observed by the faithful of Judaism, whether yesteryear in the ghettos of medieval Europe or today in the Jewish suburbs of New York and Chicago. Yes, a curious custom. And certainly to the average professing Christian of today this ancient practice — the Passover — bears little more relevance to his religious life than does the Chinese New Year. No religious ceremony has ever been born of more bizarre and traumatic circumstances. The Passover was born in Egypt. And to the Israelites Egypt was the "New World." It was the patriarchal "land of opportunity." The tremendous success and wealth enjoyed by Joseph and his brothers — who had come to Egypt about 1700 B.C. — had prompted the majority of succeeding generations of Israelites to remain in Egypt — basking in the prosperity of their labor and enjoying the favor of the Egyptian government. They resided principally in the land of Goshen, which comprised the eastern half of the Nile Delta. In a short 200 years, following the death of Joseph, the population of the Israelites mushroomed to between two and three million. What had begun as merely a foreign labor force gradually evolved into an increasingly influential and powerful nation within a nation. Unfortunately, times change. And so do rulers. After 1500 a new Pharaoh came on the scene in Egypt. His name was Pepi II. And unlike his predecessors, he was not nearly so inclined to show favor to this industrious and ambitious group of "foreigners." The memory of Joseph and his brilliant policies, which had saved Egypt from economic and agricultural collapse, had all but faded. Slowly, a bizarre and terrifying metamorphosis began to take place. Fearing the possibility of a potentially subversive group of Israelites overthrowing the government through alliance with his enemies, Pepi II implemented gradual and subtle steps to reduce the status and influence of the Hebrews. Like European Jewry under Hitler, the Israelites saw the well-being, harmony and respect they had always enjoyed suddenly deteriorate.
Israel in Bondage
They became "second-class" citizens. Restrictions were imposed. Privileges were diminished or eliminated. As a final and crushing step, fearing the loss of this vast pool of labor upon which the economy of Egypt now heavily relied, the new Pharaoh organized the Israelites into a vast and tightly controlled labor force — a state barely above complete slavery and privation. Yet, surprisingly, even under this state of repression and semi-slavery, they continued to grow in numbers. As the growth of the Hebrew population continued unchecked, Pharaoh realized he had painted himself into a corner. Any uprising by the now greatly dissatisfied labor pool would be more than his forces could control. Fearing the worst — the specter of outright uncontrolled rebellion — Pharaoh instituted a drastic measure — a "final solution" to check Israelitish expansion. It was history's first recorded policy of genocide. All male babies were to be exterminated. From a state of freedom and prosperity, the Hebrews had come face to face with the eventual prospect of total annihilation. It was into this bleak and oppressed society that Moses was born. And it was in the midst of the subsequent events — the dramatic confrontation with the Pharaoh by Moses and Aaron, the plagues and the human calamities — that the Passover was born. For the sake of space, let's skip ahead in our story. Past Moses' flight to Midian. Past the horrible plagues. Past the miraculous, stupefying events before the actual Exodus. The complex weaving of circumstances has brought us to the night of the 14th of Abib, 1487 B.C. Pharaoh has been warned by Moses of one final death-dealing plague that will come upon his people unless the Israelites are released. Although broken and bitter, his nation in a state of devastation and economic ruin, Pharaoh stubbornly refuses. On this same night, Israel secretly prepares for its flight. It is the night of the first Passover.
What the Passover Pictures
So vital and cogent were the events of this night to God's overall plan that He instructs His true followers down through history — forever — to keep a memorial of its occurrence. Like the intricate plot of a fascinating novel, Almighty God uses the circumstances and symbolism of this night, and the ensuing Exodus, to guide not only ancient Israel, but true Christians. The Passover is more than a ceremony. It tells you how to become a Christian — God's first "installment" in the salvation story. Notice again the circumstances. The Israelites were enslaved in an alien land — Egypt. They were subject to its influence, its corruption, its pagan polytheistic religion. In fact, God calls Egypt a type of sin. If it was wrong or immoral, chances are you could find it in Cairo, Raamses, or Succoth. Now, what about you, a member of our modem, twentieth-century society? Where do you find yourself lately? Enslaved, right? You bet you are. We all are. To society, to our passions and desires, or to the "system." Our "cruel taskmasters" are indeed more subtle — and often appealing — than they were to the Israelites 3500 years ago, but every bit as real. Very few of us indeed can claim to be the masters of our own destiny. Looking back, usually we find our lot in life has been determined capriciously, whimsically. You, like the Israelites, were born into it. You, as they, had nothing to do with it and don't necessarily like it. But there's little any of us seem to be able to do — it's still the status quo. And chances are pretty good that you, too, are mighty dissatisfied with your little "Egypt." You know — the assembly line, the rat race, the monotony. The lack of challenge and purpose. The shaky marriage. The hundreds of unfulfilled hopes, plans, dreams and ambitions. If any generation has ever echoed the words of Thoreau that "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation," it is ours today. It's as if some unknown force has set up roadblocks at every avenue of your life. Yes, to one degree or another, you're trapped. You are, as respectable as your state may be, a virtual slave. You're in a twentieth-century Egypt. Some would do anything to get out respectably. For many in our beleaguered society, a convenient "exodus" would be refreshing. A soiree or escape into some "wilderness" to redirect and reestablish our misguided and unguided lives. A simple vacation from our lot in life to ponder and muse on our existence.
For Our Day
Why did God establish the Passover ceremony to be commemorated for all time by His followers? Notice Exodus 13:3, 9: "... Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Eternal brought you out.... And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the Eternal's law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the Eternal brought thee out of Egypt." God enjoins Christians to keep the Passover so we may remember that He is our Lawgiver and Creator and Deliverer. The New Testament contains almost as many references to the Passover as the Old. Luke 2:41 shows us that Christ, then still with His parents, kept the Passover. Several long chapters in the Gospels are devoted to the events surrounding the institution of the New Testament Passover. And there is much more to the story of the Passover. The parallels and lessons God intends us to draw are almost unending: The blood of a young lamb splattered on the doorpost — foreshadowing the sacrifice of Christ. The flight out of Egypt — showing we as Christians must take action, we must initiate our "exodus" from sin. The pursuit by Pharaoh and his armies — signifying that Christians are indeed pursued by a very real and active spiritual force, the devil and his legions. The crossing through the Red Sea — the baptism of the Israelites, foreshadowing the rite to be commanded for all Christians upon their flight from sin. If you would like more information on the Passover, please read our booklets entitled Pagan Holidays - or God's Holy Days - Which? and How Often Should We Partake Of The Lord's Supper? Or you may want to contact a minister directly (Contact Us). But most importantly, we challenge you to "break out." We challenge you to conform, not to a system that enslaves, but to that way (Acts 18:26; 19:9, 23) which will bring you purpose, refreshment and hope. You can begin a new life. You can come out of your "Egypt."