Unveiling the Mysteries of the Passover Lamb: Discover the Hidden Symbolism in Exodus 12:1-14 by
Updated: Feb 18
Modern Cultural and Class Struggles
In March of 2021, a twenty-year-old Rapper named, “Lil Nas X” is being sued by Nike for allegedly infringing on their trademark. What is the infringement? The rapper using one of Nike’s designs, is selling his “666 Satan Shoes” with 60cc of ink and one drop of blood with the inscription of Luke 10:18. No one knows if the blood is human! Maybe I am old school, but this shoe would have never made it to market when I was in my teens or twenties (Yes, that was a different century and millennium.).
Turn on the T.V., listen to the radio or your favorite Podcast and we are immediately cast into the tumultuous sea of culture wars and class struggles. Although the topics or issues being debated are different today, these types of struggles and wars have been with us for millennia.
Biblical Cultural and Class Struggles
3,500 years ago, the enslaved Hebrews experienced cultural wars and class struggles within the dominant culture of Egyptian society. Ten generations of fathers could only pass down misery and hardship to the next generation. The people of God had all but lost their native language, culture, ethnic foods, clothing, and their understanding of God. The Egyptian culture and religion influenced every aspect of life. All the people could do was hope for a better day.
All fathers, regardless of what time they live in, want to give their children a better life. But if you were a Hebrew slave in Egypt all you could pass down to the next generation was hard, back-breaking work and calloused hands. Disobey and you will feel the sting of the Egyptian whip! Rebel and you will be punished severely or put to death!
As a Hebrew you are a slave to Egypt, in bondage physically. You are not your own. You belong to the Pharaoh, the property of your master. Your children belong to the master. Your wife or husband belongs to the master. The food you eat belongs to the master. You have become the lowest rung on the ladder of society. There is nothing you can do to change your situation. That is, until Moses comes along and tells you to seek out a special lamb!
Cultural Clash of the First Passover
To appreciate the significance of “Pass Over” and why God required the Hebrews to slay a lamb, we must examine the story as it unfolds in the Book of Exodus 12:1-14 (JPS 1917).
1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.
The Hebrews have been on Pharaoh’s time (“chronos”)and calendar for 400 years. Now the Hebrews will be marking time differently. No longer will God’s people be adhering to Pharaoh’s mandate. This will be a new month, a new timetable, a new calendar, and time. It will be God’s timetable (“Kairos”). Moving forward the Hebrews would celebrate the seasons and appointed times (“moedim.”) of the Lord.
3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family (blood line), a lamb for each household (those living under your care).
Partaking in the feast of the Paschal lamb was an expression of belonging to the family, of one's connection to the home. This appointed time connects you to God. You belong. You are part of a family. You are not forgotten. You are not abandoned. He knows your name and he set aside an appointment just for his children.
Pharaoh Not Just a King
In Egyptian culture the Pharaoh was NOT just a KING. Pharaoh was the incarnation and the supreme deity (Ra who was the son of God and creator of everything) of the people on earth. Notice that Pharaoh is not his name but who he is - Ra - is within his title. Pharaoh’s decree was not questioned because he embodied the supreme god of the Egyptian pantheon. There is an interesting teaching by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev on the Hebrew word play regarding Passover.
“Pesach” literally means peh-sach, “the mouth (פה peh) talks (שח sach).” On Pesach, the mouth talks about the wonders and miracles of God. Pesach represents the antithesis of Pharaoh, who, as the Megaleh Amukos explains, signifies פה רע peh-ra, a “bad mouth.” Pharaoh was someone who denied God’s providence in every act of nature. Our mouths were not given to us to slander or denigrate others, but to speak of God’s greatness and wonders.”
(Source: This quote is taken from a great Jewish source found on Midrash on Passover Source Sheet by Rabbi Josh Franklinhttps://www.sefaria.org/sheets /57379?lang=bi)
But for everyday daily life the Egyptian people looked to the stars for daily direction. Egyptians consulted the 12 Mazels or constellations in the heavens. This may sound strange to the modern ear, but this is the origin of the modern Zodiac signs that people turn to in their daily paper or internet site.
On the eve of the first Passover the constellation most prominent in the sky was Aires the Ram! The first Passover would have been during the springtime of the year when all is budding and full of new life! Turning to Aires for direction would ensure spring rains and a bountiful crop and therefore a prosperous nation. Therefore, Egyptian culture and religion worshiped or deified Aries. Since Aires represented by the male sheep or ram anyone caught killing sheep could face severe punishment.
Although the Egyptians may have deified the Ram, a male sheep, they were not fond of the shepherds who tended the little gods. Egyptians despised shepherds who tended the flocks. Genesis reveals this cultural norm about shepherds tending sheep. We are not told if the disdain for shepherds is because of the occupation or because of who the shepherds are - Hebrews.
And Joseph said unto his brethren, and unto his father’s house: ‘I will go up, and tell Pharaoh, and will say unto him: My brethren, and my father’s house, who were in the land of Canaan, are come unto me; and the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of cattle; and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have. And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and shall say: What is your occupation? that ye shall say: Thy servants have been keepers of cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and our fathers; that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.’(Genesis 46:31- 34 JPS 1917)
Moses’ request was actually God’s request to “Let my people go.” The “my” of my people is the Lord demand. Moses and Aaron are simply the servants delivering the message. Moses’ original request to leave the area was to observe an appointed time with the God of the Hebrews. At this point Moses is not trying to leave Egypt for another land. He simply is obeying a command from his God to worship outside the sight of those who will find offense with the Hebrew rituals offered to the "desert god" Pharaoh denied the request. But did Pharaoh refuse the Hebrew worship because he might be considered weak or because he was concerned with loosing his cheap labor.
But Moses said, "It would not be right to do so; for the sacrifices that we offer to the Lord our God are offense to the Egyptians. If we offer in the sight of the Egyptians sacrifices that are offensive to them, will they not stone us?" (Exodus 8:26 JPS 1917)
The Reason for the Cultural Offense?
Simply put the reason for the cultural offense was because this request came during the springtime when all Egyptians turned to Aires in the sky for the blessing of the new year. To allow anyone, especially Hebrew slaves, and shepherds to sacrifice lambs, would offend Aires and the feared result would be poor crops, commerce, and a suffering economy. Pharaoh being a direct descendant of Ra could not permit the Hebrews to travel out of his sight for such rituals. This left Moses no choice but to chose whom he would serve - God or Pharaoh the incarnation of Ra. As the Exodus story unfolds it becomes a story of the God of the Hebrews rendering powerless the gods of Egypt including PhaRAoh.
4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb (= young age) shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.
We tend to think of Passover as associated with sheep and not goats. The Passover selection of a goat or a sheep may have been an option for the Hebrews who had been influenced by another "god" of the region who was associated with goats! Although most Egyptians worshiped Aries the Ram there were some religious sects among the Sabeans who worshiped demons, which assumed the form of goats. Those sects abstained from eating goats' flesh.
6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight.
Why wait 4 days?
It is possible to add insult to injury when the Egyptians learned their “gods” were tied shamefully and disgracefully to the bed posts in the neighborhoods of the Israelites. Can you imagine what it was like in the homes of the Hebrews with all the noise of the sheep bleating loudly with no one to rescue them. Once again, the Egyptians would know in advance what was being done to their gods!
Why at twilight?
Twilight is the end of the Egyptian day and the time when everyone is gathering from their laborers. The Hebrews are returning home from work. It is the Hebrew Rush Hour” and the everyone in the community is in full view of public’s eye. No one could evade responsibility! No one could avoid making a choice of whom they would serve that day forward.
Louis Ginzberg, in his book, The Legends of the Jews, proposes, that after the first nine plagues the Egyptians feared yet another reprisal if they attacked the Hebrews for selecting lambs to slay.
“With a heavy heart the Egyptians watched the preparations of the Israelites for sacrificing the animals they worshipped. Yet they did not dare interpose an objection, and when the time came for the offering to be made, the children of Israel could perform the ceremonies without a tremor, seeing that they knew, through many days' experience, that the Egyptians feared to approach them with hostile intent. There was another practice connected with the slaughter of the paschal lamb that was to show the Egyptians how little the Israelites feared them. They took of the blood of the animal, and openly put it on the two side posts and on the lintel of the doors of their houses.”
(Source: The Legends of the Jews, Louis Ginzberg, Volume II (1909 From Joseph to the Exodus – Chapter IV – Moses in Egypt. can be downloaded freely at: https://archive.org/details/legendsofjews02ginz)
7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.
Slaying the gods in their own life?
Placing blood on the door frame of their home meant they were consecrating their homes and all the inhabitants to the Lord and acknowledging a new Lord, a new culture of a new people which eventually will become a new nation. This is about physical deliverance from a culture but also a spiritual deliverance from the religious system that influenced their daily lives. “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord!”
The lintel and the two doorposts of their doorway symbolized THIS HOME is the Temple of the Lord. If you cross this threshold, you have entered a newly redeemed realm under the auspices of the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings. In another way, the blood on the door posts was a “sign” saying out loud in a visual voice - “I’m in. Count me in.”
Louis Ginzberg in the Legends of the Jews submits that the slaying of a male sheep was not just a sign of defiance but a sign of a new allegiance – a changing of the gods.
“He commanded them to sacrifice the paschal lamb. Thus, they were to show that they had given up the idolatry of the Egyptians, consisting in the worship of the ram. The early law was different from the practice of later times, for they were bidden to select their sacrificial animal four days before the day appointed for the offering, and to designate it publicly as such, to show that they did not stand in awe of the Egyptians.”
8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs.
The three items required from the Exodus story observance are lamb or goat, unleavened bread (matzah) and bitter herbs. In fact, in an upcoming blog we will learn there is a second Passover called,"Pesach Sheni." You can read about it in Numbers 9:1-14.
It is not the purpose of this blog to debate the Jewish laws regarding the observance of Passover. The Passover Seder today is not the same Seder first celebrated in Egypt nor the same Seder Jesus may have observed with his disciples (Matthew 26:17-30). The word Seder means ""order" in Hebrew. I have a friend who has collected over one hundred different Passover Haggadahs (Hebrew "telling"). Regardless of which modern Passover Haggadah is recited, each one guides the reader through fifteen detailed steps to observing of the ritualized meal using biblical verses, ancient writings as well as the Talmudic era. The purpose? To retell and teach the story of the Exodus in a way that is meaning to the Jewish family observing the appointed times to meet with God.
The book called the Haggadah (from the Hebrew root “to tell”) that serves as the liturgy and guidebook for the seder is an amazing pedagogic instrument that developed over time. The first documented evidence of parts of the Haggadah is found in the Mishnah (edited ca. 200 CE). The arrangement of the table, the psalms, benedictions, and other recited matter of today coincide substantially with the program laid down in the Mishnah. Midrashim (commentaries) were added and most of the version we now have was completed by the end of the Talmudic period (500-600 CE). Evidence of the wide acceptance of the Haggadah was its inclusion in Rav Amram’s siddur (prayerbook) in the eighth century CE.
Not only would the Egyptians see the blood on the doorposts they would also smell the evidence of their god being roasted! A slap in the face of the dominant secular and religious culture of the day. The appearance of this new time, new day, new nation will come quickly.
10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the Passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord.
Sign of Offense: blood of the lamb
13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
A “sign” for who? For YOU not God who already knows what will transpire. The Hebrews were required to publicly renounce Egyptian idolatry. But it would also be a visual sign for the Egyptians who would be horrified if they came looking for the smell of roasting sheep god! Sadly, as we will see in Exodus chapter 32, once delivered from Egypt the people grew weary waiting on Moses to return from the mount Sinai. Even though they were in the desert and physically out of Egypt, the old Egyptian influences pulled the people back in to idolatry – Aaron and the people constructed a gold calf, the sign of Taurus the Apis Bull, next in the zodiac!
14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
Imagine that 1st Passover! This rag-tag bunch of slaves who are so low on the rung of society, that Egyptians find this class of people so insulting to their culture and therefore refuse to eat with them or associate with them. This act of religious defiance slaying a lamb signifies they are no longer going to sit quietly and be subservient to their masters and the culture, government, or religious dictates of their day. They are risking all to make a bold statement about who they will now serve. By sacrificing the Lamb, the Hebrews disturbed the idol worship of the Egyptians – their task masters! Hebrew cancelled or killed the very god the Egyptians during the springtime as Egyptians were celebrating Aires’ power. They offered the lamb to the Ultimate Power of this universe who was and is not bound to the gods of this earth.
During COVID each of us have re-evaluated our priorities. During periods of quarantine, mandatory lock downs and sheltering we were left isolated with our electronic devices, TVs, and social media. Some of us burned through several mini-series on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Peacock and Hulu. We viewed these programs until we were numb and bored to death. Others found a renewed interest in studying the Bible, listening to religious music, and even finished reading that book that has been on the shelf forever.
We turned to Facebook Live, Live streaming and other forms of worship to stay connected to our spiritual communities. Too many of us have grown accustomed to not physically worshiping with our community. We need fellowship and the sense of “belonging” to a community. All of us have become more aware of the importance of family, faith, and friends. We know we need to make some changes coming out of COVID. We know we need to prioritize and cut ties with some of “gods of this world.” I personally chose to “cut the cable.”
Passover reminds us we need to experience freedom from oppression. Passover shows us no matter how bad it is and no matter how long it has lasted that physical deliverance from bondage is possible. Passover is about realigning our allegiance with the Lord. We may no longer slay a lamb and smear blood on our doorposts. Yet there are times when we need to metaphorically “slay the gods of this world” and reconnect with our God. We should ponder and re-evaluate the both the negative and positive influences that popular moralities, ethics, business practices, social trends and religious expediencies are having in our daily life.
Are we at the place and time when the people of Judaeo-Christian faiths need to start speaking truth to power regarding our pressing social justice issues? Has the time come for people of faith move out of the safety of the dugout and to step up to the plate and become actively involved in healing our broken world? For too long the faith communities relegated these activities to governmental agencies.
We complain because we do not like the way the government solves these social ills. We need not complain. The faith communities too often gave up our original mandate to be the ones to heal this broken world. Our job description was to serve the poor, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, provide shelter for the homeless and for Jews in particular, to remember we were once strangers!
What will be the “signs” that mark our homes and lives and reveal to whom we serve this day? Where are we willing to draw a line in the sand? How long will we let the culture that engulfs us influence and dictate how we worship the God and serve humanity? How long will we remain silent as our religious liberties are attacked. How long will be subservient to the culture of our day out of fear of being canceled for our religious convictions? Will this world press us into its mold? When will you and I decide it is time for a community cookout?
Dr. Ken Hendrick, my Old Testament professor once said, “Lord help us not just to bear scorch people with the heart of our light but shine in a dark and broken world.” Let our works match our faith. Let us not be a people of only beliefs, rather a people who also do and act according to the biblical principles we say we believe trust in. Amen. Amen.
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