The Jewish Passover Through Christian Eyes
by Jim Gerrish
Publication date, April, 2004
Scriptures, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the New International Version, copyright 1985, by The Zondervan Corporation.
Primary scripture references: Exodus 12:1-51; Leviticus 23:4-14; Numbers 28:16-28; and Deuteronomy 16:1-8.
I. The Passover and the feasts of Israel
The Passover is the first of the three great pilgrimage festivals of Israel. These three festivals were obligatory, and all males were expected to appear before the Lord in the place which he had chosen, in Jerusalem (Deut. 16:16). These festivals in order were Passover (Pesach), Pentecost (Shavuot), and Tabernacles (Sukkot). Coupled with these major feasts were other related festivals and convocations, totaling seven in all. With Passover, there was the festival of Unleavened Bread lasting for seven days, as well as the festival of Firstfruits. In the fall when the full harvest was celebrated at Tabernacles there were the related events of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement.
These festivals were mainly of an agricultural nature and when taken as a whole, as we can see in Leviticus 23:10-12, 17, & 39, the feasts of Israel clearly focus on one thing – fruit. We might say that these festivals correspond well to John 15:1-5, when he speaks of “fruit …more fruit …much fruit.” We certainly cannot help but connect the idea of fruit and fruitfulness to the fruit of the Spirit enumerated for us in Galatians 5:22-23. Also, James tells us: “…the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains” (Jas. 5:7)
This central theme is presented vividly in the Passover. Immediately after the celebration, on the first day of the week after the Sabbath, the wave offering of the very first ripe barley was presented to the Lord. This firstfruits offering was the sign and forerunner of a great harvest to come. It is such a clear and beautiful picture of Jesus who is called “the firstfruits” (1 Cor.15:20), and who himself was raised on the first day of the week
After the firstfruits offering was presented, the Counting of the Omer began. This custom is still observed in Israel. The omer was an ancient grain measure, and the counting of the omer seems to be some manner of anticipation of the coming harvest among mankind. On the fiftieth day of the counting of the omer, or at the end of seven full weeks after Passover, the second great pilgrimage festival took place. This, of course, was the festival of Pentecost. This late spring or early summer festival took place as the grain harvest was in full swing in ancient Israel. It is celebrated in Israel today by gathering and making huge piles of fruit and produce on the kibbutzim and even in Jerusalem. In these events young girls wear wreaths of flowers in their hair and carry baskets of fruit. On this festival the children often pour water on each other and upon anyone else they can.
The ideas of fruitfulness and the pouring out of the spirit obviously are still evident in its celebration. In the New Testament we know that the life of Jesus was supernaturally multiplied within his followers on this day thorough the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. In short, Jesus was the promise of firstfruits and Pentecost was the fulfillment.
But firstfruits cannot be regarded as a full harvest, it is only a beginning. In Israel, the grain harvest and some early fruits get ripe at the time of Pentecost. The main harvest of grapes, figs, pomegranates, dates, nuts, and olives must come later. Most of these are harvested by the fall festival of Tabernacles. According to the Jewish calendar, the seventh month (September – October) is the time for completion of the harvest, “… after you have gathered the crops of the land….” (Lev. 23:39). This seventh month begins with the sounding of the trumpet – reminding us of the last trumpet of the book of Revelation. The sounding of the trumpet is followed by the Ten Days of Awe, a time of deep repentance and contrition and a preparation to meet God. On the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. This is no doubt the most awesome day in the life of Israel. Once the Day of Atonement is past, the people of Israel immediately begin to build tabernacles (sukkot) in preparation for the final great pilgrimage festival. For the seven days of Sukkot they rejoice before the Lord in gratefulness and thanksgiving for the bounty of his completed harvest.
So we come to observe Passover with the idea of “fruit” clearly pictured in our minds. And not just any fruit, but the right kind of fruit, spiritual fruit, fruit that will last. We remember also that just as God brings forth bread from the earth, man through his sinfulness brings forth leavening into that bread. Beginning immediately after Passover, on the 15th day of the seventh month, is the seven day festival of Unleavened Bread. The combination of these festivals is meant to emphasize our deliverance from sin and its defilements. The Passover is truly a celebration of our own salvation and sanctification in Jesus the Messiah of Israel. It is thus a celebration of our freedom.
II. The Passover in History
When we come to the Passover, we come to celebrate what might well be the oldest continuous religious celebration on earth. Century after century it has been celebrated by the Jewish people. The Passover in its essence is almost 3500 years old, and it has changed very little in the last 2000 years. Some have suggested that the Passover may be built upon a more ancient celebration to which we may have a veiled reference in Exodus 5:3. Without question we are dealing with a ceremony of great antiquity, and therefore, we will make every effort to preserve the integrity of the ceremony as it has existed in Judaism. We will attempt to do this by later including an unaltered Jewish Passover with corresponding pages of Christian commentary and explanation directly following the Passover. We hope you will be able to put these into a single booklet.
III. The Passover and Christians
In recent years, Christians have had an increasing interest in this ancient celebration. This is a little surprising when we consider some of our Christian traditions. After the destruction of theTemplein AD 70, and the resulting end of the Jewish state, a deep rivalry and suspicion began to develop between Gentile church leaders and the Jewish people. Moves were made in the early church to disassociate itself with Judaism. This happened in spite of the fact that from the very beginning of Christianity, Judaism and Jewish believers had played a crucial role in the infant church. An example of this rivalry and suspicion can be seen in the controversy over the date of Easter. In the early years of the church, Easter had been celebrated in conjunction with the Passover. During the Council of Nicea in AD 325, the church chose an entirely new date for Easter.
Some of the early church fathers also made pronouncements against the Jews and against the celebration of Passover. For instance, Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, in the second century spoke of the Passover in this wise, “If anyone celebrates the Passover along with the Jews or receives emblems of their feast, he is a partaker with those who killed the Lord and his apostles.” It is this kind of teaching that still sticks in our collective memory as we come to learn of the Passover. Such vain traditions are difficult to overcome, but we
When we consider this festival in light of biblical traditions we discover something quite different from what the early church fathers taught. We see that Jesus and all his disciples kept the festivals. They apparently not only kept the major pilgrimage festivals, but Jesus himself even kept the lesser non-biblical festivals like Hanukkah, or the Feast of Dedication (Jn. 10:22). In the scripture we learn that Jesus “desired” to keep the Passover with his disciples (Lk. 22:15). At the close of that special Passover Jesus took the matzah and the cup and inaugurated the Lord’s Supper. Later on in Christian tradition we hear the apostle Paul charging Gentile Christians to “keep the feast” (I Cor. 5:8). Paul himself clearly acknowledged the Jewish festivals and on one occasion sought to arrive in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost (Acts 20:16).
Paul in Romans and Ephesians makes it quite clear that we Christians have a close connection with Israel. In Romans 11:17, he pictures Gentiles as wild olive branches grafted into the tree of Israel. If Paul had wished to picture a casual connection he could surely have done so. The picture of the engrafting is an extremely close connection, insomuch that the juices of Israel flow through our branches (v.17). The apostle goes on to say that the root of Israel actually bears us up (v. 18).
In Ephesians, the apostle makes it even clearer. He says that once we were ” … separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” (Eph. 2:12). Now, however, in Christ Jesus we are made near by the blood of the Lamb (v. 13). We are no longer “… foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household ….” (v. 19).
We now share in the covenants, the promises, the festivals, and yes, even the Passover. We now have the privilege of sharing all these things with the Jews. We are not suggesting that we celebrate the Passover in a legalistic sense, but we certainly feel that we can celebrate it in the Spirit, to gain those precious spiritual truths that we so need in this day. Some might object that the Passover has passed away entirely with the old covenant. This is clearly not the case as seen in Leviticus 23:21. The Passover and the other pilgrimage festivals are called “statutes forever.” We see a confirmation of this in Zechariah 14:16, where it is said that the nations will someday come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Tabernacles. Even Jesus said of the Passover cup that he would someday drink of it anew with his disciples in his Father’s kingdom (Mk.14:25).
IV. Preparations for the Passover
The Passover is often referred to as the “seder.” In Hebrew, the word “seder” means “order”. There is an order to the whole Passover program and that order has been established for centuries. There is also an order in the manner of preparation for the Passover. In Matthew 26:17-19, Jesus sent his disciples to make preparation for their last Passover meal together.
We might ask what kind of preparation was necessary? Actually, the preparation for Passover is quite involved and can go on for days preceding the holiday. It involves, first of all, a thorough cleaning of the house, especially the kitchen, and all areas related to food service. After all is finished, a symbolic search for that last remaining crumb of “chametz” (leaven) is conducted by the father on the night before Passover. He searches the house with a candle, scrapes up that last remaining bit of leaven with a feather, and then destroys it. Throughout Israel for the whole period of Passover and Unleavened Bread, grocery stores will not sell leavened items of any kind. All this is in response to the command in Exodus 12:19: “For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born.”
As Christians this preparation speaks to us many lessons. There is a spiritual preparation that is surely reflected here. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 challenges us to “Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.” Leaven is represented in the Bible as evil and wickedness. The clear point is that God wants evil out of our lives. The Gospel not only brings salvation but also sanctification. The latter is a process that goes on every day of our lives.
It is in this vein that Paul speaks to us in 1 Corinthians 11:28: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.”
There is another matter of spiritual preparation that we need to make for the Passover. In Leviticus 23:8, it is commanded that no servile work may be done on the Passover. In other words, no burdens may be borne on this or the other pilgrimage festivals. When we celebrate Passover in our home we like to pray at the beginning that God may lift heavy burdens from the hearts of the celebrants. After all, Passover is the festival of our freedom – freedom from the slavery and drudgery of sin. We should especially invite the Spirit to be present, because the Bible says: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor.3:17). Passover celebrants often assume a relaxed pose and even recline on pillows signifying that they are no longer slaves but free people.
V. All believers are participants
In Exodus 13:8, it is mentioned that we are to say to our children, “On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” The expression “when I came out” denotes a personal experience. Each one of us who has accepted Jesus has come out of Egypt, for in the scripture Egypt represents sin, slavery, darkness, flesh, death, etc. We have all been there, and Jesus has delivered us from Egypt through his own death and resurrection. Thus the festival of Passover is in fact a true festival and celebration of our salvation in Jesus. To those who are yet unsaved it is an invitation to join in that great salvation.
VI. Lighting of the Festival Candles
The Festival candles may now be lit and blessed by the woman of the house. This custom has probably been carried down in tradition as a reminder of the great menorah which once stood in the Temple. In that sense these candles may well represent the Holy Spirit, God’s presence both in the Temple and in the church. There is great beauty and symbolism in this ceremony for Christians. We know in Genesis 3:14-15, that it was through the woman that the fall came. In God’s good order of things it was also through the woman that redemption came. Isaiah speaks of this redemption long before it actually happened in these words: “…The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isa.7:14). The writer John speaks of that redemption in this wise, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men” (Jn. 1:4).
Note: The woman of the house now lights the candles and recites the blessing:
Ba-ruch a-tah Adonai Elo-he-nu melek ha-olam,
a-sher kid-sha-nu ba mits-vo-tav,
ve-tse-vanu le-had-lik ner shel Pe-sach.
(Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe,
who has sanctified us with your commandments,
and commanded us to light the Passover candles.)
VII. Explanation of the four cups of Passover.
The Passover celebration is built around the partaking of four cups of wine (grape juice may be substituted). Two are served prior to the meal and two afterward. These four cups are based on the four “I wills” of Exodus 6:6-7. God says “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God….”
God says: “I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians…I will free you from being slaves to them…I will redeem you with an outstretched arm…and I will take you as my own people.” These cups have been called in order, the cups of sanctification, judgment, redemption and praise, however, these designations, with the exception of the first one, are not always found in the Jewish service.
VIII. An explanation of the foods.
Since the Passover celebration is new to many Christians and they are unfamiliar with the special foods, it is advisable to point them out and give a very brief explanation of each.
Leader: slightly elevate the Passover plate, point out and briefly explain each of the special foods:
Shankbone of lamb – Represents the Passover Lamb. (Some Christians are uncomfortable with this since our Lamb is alive. In such a case it may be left off the plate, but the explanation should be given as to why.)
Matzah – The unleavened bread. As Christians, we see it as Christ’s unleavened life and his example for our lives.
Maror – The bitter herbs, reminding us of the bitter life in Egypt. For Christians it reminds us of the bitterness of sin.
Charoset – Reminds us of the clay with which we once made bricks in Egypt.
Karpas (Greens) – Parsley or celery reminds us of the springtime when the Passover is celebrated. It also serves as a symbol of the resurrection.
Egg – Some say it is reminiscent of the destruction of the Temple. There are other explanations. Let the Lord teach about it.
Note: Since the Passover is a rather lengthy service and it may well last an hour or more prior to dinner being served, in some cases it may be advisable to have a few snack items on the table. Fruits, nuts, or other items may now be passed around the table to each guest if you so desire. In our modern and postmodern culture we have found that many people get restless if the food is not forthcoming. In any case, please instruct people not to eat of the food symbols on the special plates until they are instructed to do so.
TRADITIONAL JEWISH PASSOVER
Israeli school children celebrate Passover
1. Kad-desh – The Cup of Sanctification
Note: This cup represents the first of the four “I wills” of Exodus chapter 6, verses 6-7. “…I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians….”
Leader: Holding the cup aloft recites the blessing:
Note: May also be said in unison.
Ba-ruch a-tah Adonai Elo-he-nu Melek ha-olam, bo-reh p’ree ha-ga-fen.
(Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.)
Leader continues with blessing:
Blessed are you, O Lord Our God, King of the Universe, who has chosen us from among all peoples and lifted us up over all nations and made us holy with his commandments. In love O Lord our God, you have given us happy festivals, holidays and times of joy, even this Feast of Unleavened Bread, this Passover, this holy convocation, a memorial to our departure from Egypt. You have chosen us and set us apart from all the peoples. You have made us sharers in the happiness and joy of your holy festivals.
Blessed are you O Lord our God, who sanctifies Israel and the festive season.
Note: All may recite together.
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has preserved us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
Note: Additional phrases are added to the kaddesh when the seder falls at the beginning or end of the Sabbath.
All drink the first cup, usually in a semi-reclining position.
2. Ur-chatz – The washing of hands.
Leader: Washes his hands but does not recite a blessing.
Note: The hands are washed by pouring water on each one.
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3. Kar-pas – Eating of the greens.
Note: Everyone present is given a portion of the greens, parsley or celery, which has been dipped in salt water. The greens are then blessed.
Leader: Baruch a-tah Adonai Elo-he-nu Melek ha-olam, bo-reh p’ree ha a-da-mah.
(Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the ground.)
Note: The blessing may also be said in unison.
Note: The greens are representative of the springtime when Passover arrives. The springtime is the season of rebirth and renewal when fruit of the earth makes its beginning. The greens are dipped in salt water representing the salty waters of the Red Sea which Israel crossed, as well as the tears shed in Egypt.
4. Ya-chats – Breaking the Afi-ko-man.
Leader: Takes the middle mat-zah from the covered plate before him and breaks in two. The smaller portion is returned to the plate, and the larger one is hidden away. This portion will be retrieved at the end of the meal.
Note: “Afikoman” is a Greek word which came to have a variety of meanings, including “dessert.” It has become a custom for the children to steal away the Afikoman and to later return it for a reward.
5. Mag-gid – Telling the story of the Exodus.
Leader: At this time the leader uncovers the matzot and lifts the seder plate while reciting:
This is the bread of affliction (or of the poor) which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and celebrate Passover
This year we are here, but next year we hope to be in the land of Israel. This year we are slaves, but next year we hope to be free men!
Note: The platter is put back on the table and the second cup is poured.
THE FOUR QUESTIONS
Note: The youngest child at the table now asks the four questions, beginning with:
Why is this night different from all other nights?
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On all other nights we eat leavened or unleavened bread. Why on this night do we eat only matzah, the unleavened bread?
On all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs. Why on this night do we eat only bitter herbs?
On all other nights we do not dip herbs even once. Why on this night do we dip twice?
On all other nights we may eat either sitting or reclining. Why on this night do we all recline?
Leader: Now replies to the child. This may also be recited in unison.
Because we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt but the Lord our God brought us out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. If the Holy One, blessed be he, had not brought our fathers out of Egypt, then we and our children and our children’s children would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt. Therefore, even if all of us were wise and clever and old and learned in the Torah, it would still be our duty to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The more one talks about the Exodus, the more praiseworthy it is.
It is related that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Joshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Tarpon once sat at a table in Bene-Barak and spoke of the departure from Egypt all that night, until their pupils arrived and said to them, “Our teachers, the time has arrived to read the morning Shema (morning prayer)”.
Note: Other stories from Jewish tradition are usually related here.
Leader: Blessed be the Omnipresent, blessed be he. Blessed be the One who gave the Torah (Law) to his people Israel.
FOUR KINDS OF CHILDREN
The Torah speaks of four kinds of children: the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who is too young to inquire.
What does the wise son ask? “What are these testimonies, statutes, and judgments which the Lord our God commanded you?” (Note: the wise son is quoting from the Bible,
Then you shall instruct him in the laws of the Passover, that he is not released to do his own thing at the end of the Passover service.
What does the wicked son ask? “What does this service mean to you?” “To you,” and not “to him,” he says. By this it is clear that he has withdrawn himself from the community.
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You may scold your son and say to him, “It is because of what God did for me when I came out of Egypt.”
“For me,” and not “for him,” implying that had he been there he would not have been redeemed.
What does the simple son ask? He asks, “What is this?” You shall tell him with a mighty hand did the Eternal bring us forth from Egypt, from the house of bondage.
But for the son who is unable to inquire you must open up yourself as it is said: “On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” (Ex. 13:8).
Note: In the Passover text an explanation is made as to why the narration is given at this point.
THE STORY OF THE OPPRESSION
Originally our ancestors worshipped idols, but now the Omnipresent One has drawn us to his service, as it is said, “Joshua said to all the people, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the River and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt.’” (Josh. 24:2-4).
Blessed is he who has kept his promise to Israel. Blessed be the Holy One who computed the end of the captivity in order that he might perform what he had spoken to our Father Abraham at the covenant of the pieces as it is said; “Then the LORD said to him, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions’” (Gen. 15:13-14).
Leader: Elevates the cup and says:
And this promise has sustained our fathers and us, for not one only has risen up against us, but in every generation there are those who seek to destroy us. But the Holy One, blessed be he, saves us from their hands.
Leader: Now returns the cup of wine to the table.
Note: At this point an ancient form of midrashic interpretation is employed.
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Go out and learn what Laban the Aramean sought to do to Jacob our father. Pharaoh decreed only the destruction of the males, but Laban intended to root out our whole people, as it was said, “An Aramean almost destroyed our father and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there with few in number and he became there a great nation, mighty and numerous” (Deut. 26:5).*
And he went down to Egypt compelled by the word and sojourned there. This teaches us that Jacob our father did not go down to settle in Egypt but to sojourn there, as it is said: “They also said to him, ‘We have come to live here awhile, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants’ flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen.’” (Gen. 47:4).
With but a few persons, as it is said: “Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.” (Deut.10:22).
And there they became a great nation. We are taught by this that Israel distinguished themselves there. Great and mighty as it is said: “but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.” (Ex. 1:7). And numerous as it is said, “I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare.” (Ezek. 16:7).
“But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor” (Deut. 26:6). The Egyptians said: “Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” (Ex.1:10)
And they afflicted us as it is said: “So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh” (Ex. 1:11). And they harshly enslaved us as it is said: “They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly.” (Ex. 1:14).
“Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.” (Deut 26:7). “…We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers…,” as it is said. “During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God” (Ex. 2:23). And the Eternal heard our voice, as it is said: “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.” (Ex.2:24).
The Eternal saw our affliction. This denotes the breakup of family life, as it is said: “So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.” (Ex. 2:25). ‘And our labor,’ meaning our children, as it is said, “Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: ‘Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.’” (Ex. 1:22). God saw our oppression, meaning our distress, as it is said, “And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” (Ex. 3:9).
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“So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders.” (Deut. 26:8).
The Eternal brought us forth from Egypt not by an angel, nor by a seraph, not by a messenger, but the Holy One, blessed be he, in his own glory and by himself as it is said: “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD.” (Ex..12:12). It is said: “… I will pass through Egypt.” The Holy One himself passed through and not his angel…. And “…I will strike down every firstborn….” The Holy One himself and not a seraph, “…and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt,” The Holy One himself and not a messenger. The Eternal, and no other. “… I will bring judgment…,” refers to the pestilence, as it is said, “the hand of the LORD will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field—on your horses and donkeys and camels and on your cattle and sheep and goats” (Ex. 9:3). “With a drawn sword,” this refers to the sword, as it is said, “… with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem….” (I Chron. 21:16).
The Divine Presence appeared, as it is said: “Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?” (Deut. 4:34). The Eternal brought forth signs. This refers to the staff, as it is said, “But take this staff in your hand so you can perform miraculous signs with it.” (Ex. 4:17). “Miraculous signs,” refers to the plague of blood, as it is said, “ I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.” (Joel 2:30).
There are the ten plagues which the Holy One, blessed be he, brought upon the Egyptians in Egypt, and they are:
BLOOD – FROGS – LICE – FLIES – CATTLE DISEASE – BOILS – HAIL – LOCUST –
DARKNESS – DEATH OF THE FIRST-BORN
Note: At the mention of each plague it is customary for the participants to spill a drop of wine or juice from the cup. This custom reminds us that even as we rejoice in our freedom, we recall the downfall of our enemies, that they, too, are creatures of God. Our rejoicing is thus incomplete.
At this point in the seder the interpretations of various ancient Rabbis are sometimes discussed.
Leader: How many wonderful things we have to thank God for!
If he had brought us forth from Egypt and not inflicted judgments upon the Egyptians – it would have been enough.
If he had inflicted judgment upon them and not upon their gods – it would have been enough.
If he had destroyed their gods and not slain their first-born – it would have been enough.
If he had slain their first-born and not given their wealth to us – it would have been enough.
If he had given their wealth to us and not divided the sea for us – it would have been enough.
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If he had divided the sea for us and had not made us pass through on dry land – it would have been enough.
If he had made us pass through on dry land and had not drowned our oppressors in it – it would have been enough.
If he had drowned our oppressors in it, and had not supplied our needs in the wilderness forty years – it would have been enough.
If he had supplied our needs in the wilderness forty years, and had not fed us with manna – it would have been enough.
If he had fed us with manna and had not given us the Sabbath – it would have been enough.
If he had given us the Sabbath and had not brought us to Mt. Sinai – it would have been enough.
If he had brought us near to Mt. Sinai and had not given us the Law – it would have been enough.
If he had given us the Law and had not led us into the land of Israel – it would have been enough.
If he had led us into the land of Israel and had not built the Temple – it would have been enough.
How greatly the goodness of the Omnipresent has been doubled and re-doubled towards us! He brought us forth from Egypt, and brought judgment upon the Egyptians and their gods, and slew their first-born, and gave us their wealth, divided the sea for us, and caused us to pass through it on dry land, drowned our oppressors in it, supplied our needs in the wilderness forty years, fed us with manna, gave us the Sabbath, led us to Mt. Sinai, gave us the Law, brought us to the land of Israel, and built for us his Chosen House to atone for our iniquities.
Rabbi Gamliel (Gam-li-el) used to say that whosoever does not mention these three things at the Passover Feast has not fulfilled his duty. These are: the Passover Lamb, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs.
Note: Leader points to the shank bone and says: Why did our fathers eat the Passover sacrifice during the time when the Temple existed? Because the Holy One, blessed be he, passed over the houses of our fathers in Egypt, as it is said: “then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’ Then the people bowed down and worshiped.” (Ex.12:27).
Note: Leader raises the matzot and says: This unleavened bread which we eat, what does it mean? It means that the dough of our fathers did not have opportunity to become leavened before the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be he, revealed himself to them and redeemed them, as it is said.
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“With the dough they had brought from Egypt, they baked cakes of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.” (Ex.12:39).
Note: Leader raises the bitter herbs and says: This bitter herb which we eat, what does it mean? Because the Egyptians embittered the lives of our fathers in Egypt, as it is said: “They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly.” (Ex.1:14).
In every generation it is each person’s duty to regard himself as if he had personally come forth from Egypt, as it is said: “On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt’” (Ex. 13:8). It was not our fathers alone, whom the Holy One, blessed be he, redeemed, but us as well did he redeem with them, as it is said: “But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers” (Deut.6:23).
Leader: Covers the matzah and raises the cup until the conclusion of the blessing.
Therefore we are bound to thank, praise, laud, glorify, extol, honor, bless, and acclaim him who did for our fathers and for us all these miracles. He brought us from slavery to freedom; from sorrow to joy; from mourning to festivity; from darkness to great light; from servitude to redemption. Let us therefore sing a new song in his presence. Hallelujah!
Leader: Now returns the cup to the table.
Note: At this point the Hallel Psalms of praise are recited in their entirety. They may also be read responsively.
Psalm 113:1-9 “Praise the LORD. Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name…..”
Psalm 114:1-8 “When Israel came out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people….”
Leader: Again raises the cup and says the following:
Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has redeemed us and redeemed our fathers from Egypt, and hath brought us to this night in which we eat matzah and bitter herbs. O Lord our God and God of our fathers, bring us in peace to other appointed times and festivals which approach us. Let us be joyful in the building of your city and happy in your service. There we shall partake of the sacrifices and the Paschal lambs, whose blood will reach the side of your altar for acceptance. Then we shall give thanks to thee with a new song for the deliverance and redemption of our souls. Blessed are you O Lord who has redeemed Israel.
Leader: Now blesses the second cup:
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Baruch a-tah Adonai Elo-he-nu Melek ha-olam, bo-reh p’ree ha-gafen.
(Blessed are you O lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.)
Note: All now drink the second cup.
6. Ra-het-sah – Washing of the hands.
Note: Leader may wash hands again or all may wash if desired while saying:
Blessed are you O Lord our God King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.
7. Mo-tzi Mat-zah – The eating of the matzah.
Baruch a-tah Adonai Elo-he-nu Melek ha-olam Ha mo-tzi le-hem min ha-aretz.
(Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.)
Leader continues the blessing:
Blessed are you O Lord our God, who has sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us to eat unleavened bread.
Note: All eat the matzah.
8. Ma-ror – Eating the bitter herbs.
Note: A slice of the horseradish is dipped into Charoset and distributed. The following blessing is said:
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us to eat the bitter herbs.
9. Kor-ekh – Marror and matzah sandwich (A reminder of the Temple.)
Note: Leader breaks the bottom matzah and places bitter herbs and charoset on each portion making it into a sandwich.
Leader: This is a commemoration of the Temple according to the custom of Hillel. Thus did Hillel during the existence of the Holy Temple. He combined unleavened bread, and bitter herbs and ate them together in fulfillment of the verse, “…They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs” (Num. 9:11).
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10. Shul-chan Or-ekh – Serve the Passover meal.
11. Tsa-foon – Eating the Aphikoman or hidden matzah.
Note: The children are now given the opportunity to find the hidden matzah and are rewarded with a gift. The leader then breaks the matzah into olive-sized pieces and distributes them to all the guests.
The Aphikoman or dessert is a specific reminder of the Paschal sacrifice, therefore everyone must eat of it. Afterward, no other food must be eaten during the evening. The Aphikoman must be eaten before midnight.
12. Ba-rek – The grace after meal.
Note: Psalm 126 can be recited or sung here. It is customary to recite a lengthy blessing, thanking God for his kindness and provision. Petitions are made for Jerusalem and the land of Israel, for deliverance from all captivity, and for the reign of God. Blessings are asked upon parents, wives, children and for all guests present, that all may behold the day of the Messiah and receive eternal life.
Various passages from the Psalms are then quoted, including Psalm 34:9-10; 145:16; 37:25; and 29:11, ending with the traditional blessing on the cup.
Leader: Baruch a-tah Adonai Elo-he-nu Melek ha-olam, bo-reh p’ree ha-gafen.
(Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.)
Note: All drink the third cup.
Elijah the Prophet:
The door is opened as the last cup of wine is being poured. A cup is also poured for Elijah.
Those present rise to greet this messenger of final redemption. The door is closed.
Leader: Pour out your wrath upon the heathen who will not acknowledge thee, and upon the kingdoms which do not call upon your name, for they have devoured Jacob, and have laid waste his dwelling. Pour out upon them your indignation and let your fierce anger overtake them.
Pursue them in wrath and destroy them from under the heavens of the Eternal (Psa. 79:6-7; Lam. 3:66).
13. Hallel – Psalms and prayers.
Note: Psalms 115 through 118 are now read. The following short prayer is said before the
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All your works shall praise you (hallel), O Eternal; and your pious servants who perform your will, with all your people, the house of Israel, with joyful song shall give thanks, bless, praise, glorify, extol, reverence, sanctify, and acknowledge your name, O our King, for unto thee it is good to give thanks, and pleasant to sing praise unto your name for you are God from everlasting to everlasting.
The Great Hallel, Psalm 136 is now recited responsively (as it was probably done in Temple times).
Note: Final prayers are said with emphasis moving from history to the God of history. Below are some examples from these lengthy prayers.
The breath of every living thing shall bless your name, O Lord, the spirit in all flesh is constant witness to your glory, O our King. From everlasting to everlasting, you are God…
Praised be your name for ever, O our King, the great and holy God and King of heaven and earth.
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The drinking of the fourth cup.
Note: Leader blesses the fourth cup:
Baruch a-tah Adonai Elo-he-nu Melek ha-olam, Bo-reh p’ree ha-gafen.
(Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.)
All drink the fourth cup.
Leader continues the blessing: Blessed are you O Lord our God King of the Universe, for the wine, and for the fruit of the vine, and for the produce of the field, and for that desirable, good and spacious land which you willed that our fathers inherit – to eat of its fruit and be satisfied with its goodness. Have compassion O Lord our God upon Israel your people, and upon Jerusalem your city, and upon Zion the dwelling place of your glory, and upon your altar and your temple. Rebuild Jerusalem the holy city speedily, in our days. Bring us there and cheer us with its restoration; may we eat of its fruit and enjoy of its goodness; may we bless you for it in holiness and purity. Grant us happiness on this feast of matzot; for you, O Lord, are good and beneficent to all, and we thank you for the land and the fruit of the vine. Blessed are you, O Lord for the land and the fruit of the vine.
14. Nir-tzah – The conclusion.
Leader: The Passover seder has now been accomplished according to its order, with all of its ordinances and customs. As we have been deemed worthy to prepare it, also grant that we may be worthy to fulfill it. You who dwells on high, raise up your congregation (Israel) innumerable. O hasten to conduct us the plants of your vineyard once more redeemed unto Zion with joyful song.
La sha-na ha-ba-ah be Ye-ru-sha-la-im!
(Next year in Jerusalem!)
Note: In Israel the words are, “Next year in Jerusalem rebuilt.”
* Note: This interpretation of scripture is uncommon today and peculiar to the ancient Jewish commentators.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons
CHRISTIAN COMMENTARY AND NOTES FOR THE JEWISH PASSOVER
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THE CUP OF SANCTIFICATION – God says, “…I will bring you out….” (Ex. 6:7). Sanctification involves not only a bringing out of Egypt (sin, flesh, death) but a calling out, or a separation from Egypt or the world. God also says that he “… brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers” (Deut. 6:23). God’s people are going somewhere, namely to Zion. The Cup of Sanctification marks this separation from the world and begins the celebration of God’s great salvation.
Often in the Bible we read that the people blessed God. The Psalmist says, “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psa. 34:1 KJV). Most likely in biblical times God’s people used phrases much like these used here in the Passover, “Ba-ruch a-tah Adonai Elo-he-nu Melek ha-olam…” Today we need to rediscover the simple and continuous manner in which these ancient saints praised the Lord.
Note: Psalm 111:4 is appropriate and can be added to the service: ” He has caused his wonders to be remembered….”
Note: Luke 22:14-20 may also be read to capture the Christian significance.
THE WASHING OF THE HANDS – Ritual washing is an old, old picture both in Judaism and in Christianity. In front of the ancient Tabernacle there stood the brazen laver made from the brass mirrors which were offered by the women (Ex. 38:8). In ancient times the priests and ministers of the Tabernacle washed their hands and feet prior to entering that place of worship (Ex. 30:18-19). Ceremonial washing has continued down to the present in Judaism’s mikveh ritual. There is mounting evidence that Christian baptism was taken to some degree from this custom in Judaism. Both the mikveh and baptism emphasize the same separation from the world as is pictured in the cup of Sanctification. The same picture is also seen later in Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea. This first washing of the Passover may well picture for us the washing of Christian Baptism (Heb.10:22). We will discuss this subject further when we come to the second ritual washing.
THE GREENS – The greens not only signify springtime, when the Passover is celebrated, but they can also be used to picture the hyssop which was used to splash the blood of the Passover Lamb over the doorposts and lintels of the houses on the night of Israel’s deliverance. The dipping of the greens in salt water gives us a taste of what it was like to cross the Red Sea with the people of Israel. The Bible says that “…our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea….” (1 Cor. 10:1-2). The dipping of the greens in salt water also gives us a taste of the tears we shed when we lived in Egypt or in sin.
Leader:Breaks off a small portion of the greens, dips it in salt water, and passes to each guest.
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BREAKING THE AFIKOMAN – For the Christian the Afikoman is a beautiful and strikingly clear picture of Jesus. First of all, the three matzot remind us of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the Jewish ceremony it is interesting that the middle matzah is the one removed and broken. The matzah represents Christ and his unleavened or sinless life. There was absolutely nothing in him to puff him up. On one occasion the Lord said, “…the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me….” (Jn. 14:30). Sin causes us to be “puffed up” (I Cor. 5:2). This is particularly obvious in such sins as pride, vanity, vainglory, and anger. There was none of this in Jesus.
The matzah may be taken and held between the light of the candle and the participants so that they can see how the matzah is pierced. The Scripture says that Jesus was also pierced (Ps. 22:16; Isa. 53:15). Let the participants also observe how the matzah is striped. The Bible says that “…with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5 KJV). The striped and pierced middle matzah is then broken in two and one portion is wrapped in a napkin and hidden away to later be brought forth as the bread of the Lord’s Supper. This reminds us of how our Lord was also wrapped and hidden away in the tomb for three days after his death. Unfortunately, the Lord Jesus remains hidden away for many in the house of Israel to this day.
In addition to the very clear pictures of our Lord, the matzah also clearly portrays the type of life the Lord desires in us. Many times we may feel like we are being pressed from every side. These times should be occasions for thanksgiving, since God is attempting to flatten us like the matzah so that there is nothing left in us to puff us up. At times we may also feel like we are pierced with the arrows of the enemy. God may be using such times to make us like the matzah, so that light can shine through us. Again hold the matzah between the candle and the people and let them observe the light shining through.
Certainly God does not want us to miss another message of the matzah, and that is the idea of brokenness. Jesus lived such a life and he desires the same quality in us. The matzah is easily broken as can be seen. The Bible says, ” …a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17); and that “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psa. 34:18).
TELLING THE STORY. The leader points out the matzah or bread of affliction, and should connect this picture with Jesus who was also afflicted (Col. 1:24). The Maggid is a lengthy program of telling the old redemption story.
Since Passover is a celebration of salvation, at this point an invitation is given to those on the outside so that they may come and partake of that salvation. Not only did God bring the Children of Israel out of bondage, but he will bring all who believe out of bondage. The invitation is simply “Come be free with us!” The Passover seder can be made into a beautiful evangelistic service for those present who do not know the Lord.
CHRISTIAN COMMENTARY AND NOTES
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THE FOUR QUESTIONS – In most Jewish festivals the children participate.
Here, one of the youngest children asks the questions which open up the father’s recitation of the salvation story. The father, of course, is delighted that the questions have been asked and proceeds with the answers which may take up much of the evening.
FOUR KINDS OF CHILDREN – The four kinds of children in reality represent four kinds of people. There is the wise who seeks to include himself, and to thoroughly know all the truths of Passover and of salvation. There is the wicked son who seeks to exclude himself from the service and from the salvation offered. There is the simple who plainly does not know, but who is interested in finding out. Last of all there is the person who is too spiritually immature to be interested in the service. Like a very small child that person may see the symbols but not comprehend their meaning.
The father is to explain the Passover to his son in this wise: “On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” (Ex. 13:8). In a very real sense we have all been in Egypt, for Egypt in the scripture represents death, sin, bondage, darkness, and flesh. Those who have accepted Jesus have been delivered out of Egypt, thus we can say to our sons, “this is what the Lord did for me.”
Prior to beginning the seder the leader should designate some child or young person, if there is one present, and have that one ask the four questions (all at one time). Actually the questions can be read, but the leader should make sure that the designated person is able to pronounce the words. In the Haggadah the four questions are not answered directly but are dealt with as the program progresses.
The leader may desire to compose his own version of this age-old story as we have done here. This is good so long as the leader sticks to the basic facts of scripture. The story may be shortened to a bare outline or lengthened to suit the interests of the audience. In the Jewish Passover there is no hurry, and guests may linger for many hours.
The telling of the story should be open to many innovations. Make it exciting and interesting, and even act some of it out. There are times to laugh and times to cry. Don’t miss these opportunities.
CHRISTIAN COMMENTARY AND NOTES
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STORY OF THE OPPRESSION – The Passover service is often called the Haggadah (Hag-ga-dah). This word in Hebrew simply means “telling.” Here much time is taken to patiently tell the salvation story. The story should be vividly related adding as many details as possible. We should remember that the telling of salvation history was a common practice in biblical times, and even with those who first preached the gospel. Sometimes these accounts were quite lengthy as in the case of Stephen’s proclamation in Acts 7:1-53.
The story begins in Mesopotamia where our father Abraham first lived and where he apparently worshipped idols before God spoke to him. We have little understanding today of what ancient idol worship entailed. When Abraham walked in his city he probably heard the screams of tiny children who were offered in the fire to pagan gods. He probably saw the cult prostitutes and cult homosexuals who were regularly employed at the pagan shrines. All this was a part of the accepted pagan religion of his day.
From the midst of this darkened pagan world God called out Abraham and his family. He called them from beyond the river (Euphrates), hence the very name “Hebrew” has to do with one who “crosses over.” God promised Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan (all of modern Israel, the West Bank, plus parts of adjoining modern Arab nations), as an inheritance forever (Gen. 13:15). After Abraham was old, and Sarah was passed the childbearing age, God gave them a son, Isaac, through their faith in him. God later gave to Isaac a son, Jacob, and to Jacob was given many children making up the twelve tribes of Israel. God blessed them and multiplied them as he had promised (Gen. 15:5).
One of the youngest sons, Joseph, was sold into slavery by his own brothers, and this seemingly unfortunate event opened up the way for the whole family of the Hebrews to go down into Egypt. The Passover points out that the Israelites did not go into Egypt to remain there, but only to sojourn there for a season. How true this is of sin and the sinful condition. No one actually desires to stay in that condition forever.
At first the Israelites were well treated in Egypt and were allowed to live in the choice land of Goshen. However, in time there arose a Pharaoh who knew nothing of Joseph. This Pharaoh did not care for the Jews, and he began to afflict the people and to make them serve as slaves. It appears that the Egyptians even became suspicious of the people and began to devise means to destroy the children of Israel.
In their distress they cried to the Lord for deliverance and the Lord heard their cry and remembered his promises to their fathers. God then sent Moses to deliver them. How the Lord even today is faithful to us, as the Bible says, “…Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom.10:13) Those who cry to the Lord from their sin and darkness will be instantly delivered.
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When Moses came before Pharaoh he demanded that that God’s people be let go. We can imagine how Pharaoh must have laughed at Moses. His whole court must have rung with laughter. You see, Pharaoh had no intention of letting the people go. Pharaoh is a symbol
of Satan who also has no intention of letting his captives go. It is God who brings them out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with signs, wonders and miracles.
So it was then, and so it is today, for all who believe. God has raised up a mighty deliverer like unto Moses (Deut. 18:15), and all those who trust in Jesus (Yeshua) will be delivered forever from Satan’s grasp (Heb. 7:25).
Only God can take a nation out of the midst of another nation. That is what he did for Israel and that is what he does for us. We were a part of Gentile nations – strangers and foreigners from Israel (Eph. 2:12). Yet God in his mercies has taken us out of these nations and grafted us into his covenant people (Rom. 11:17-18).
We can rejoice for our great deliverance, however, we are sad at those who are left behind. Although we do not understand completely, God says “…I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life” (Is. 43:4). In order that Israel could be saved hosts of Egyptians perished. We are thus happy for our salvation, but sad for the unsaved and for the disaster befalling them.
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In order for God to deliver Israel it was necessary for him to stretch out his arm with awesome signs, wonders, and plagues upon the land of Egypt. It is interesting that these plagues came only upon the Egyptians and not upon the Israelites. After each plague Moses appeared again before Pharaoh, no doubt with great confidence that now the powerful monarch would let the people go. Each time Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he would not let them go.
Notes: Ham it up a little! Imagine frogs in Pharaoh’s water pitcher, in the bathtub, and squishing under Mrs. Pharaoh’s feet when she went to the bathroom at night! Frogs croaking and screeching everywhere! Later, after the plague of lice, Pharaoh probably came out to Moses itching and scratching even while he was refusing Moses’ request. Again, during the plague of boils, Pharaoh must have walked gingerly and stiffly when he came out to Moses. Still he would not submit.
These are the plagues sent upon Pharaoh and the land of Egypt:
1. Blood 2. Frogs 3. Lice 4. Flies 5. Cattle disease 6. Boils 7. Hail 8.. Locusts
9. Darkness 10. Death of the firstborn
Before the death of the firstborn God commanded the Children of Israel to take a lamb for each family and to shut up the lamb and inspect it for from the 10th to the 14th day of the month of Nisan. This was done in order to insure that the lamb was perfect and spotless (Ex. 12:5). Centuries later Jesus, the Lamb of God, entered Jerusalem at the time of Passover and was inspected by the priests and leaders of the people for a similar time period (Lk. 22:1-2). They could find no fault in him.
On the eve of the Passover the people were to take the lamb for a house, slay it, and sprinkle the blood upon the doorpost and lintel of their houses (Ex. 12:7). As the blood dripped it must have formed a sort of “cross” over the door of each home. Then the people were to roast the lamb and eat it in the home, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. That first Passover the people were still slaves in Egypt, and they stood as they ate. They also prepared themselves for the long journey ahead.
That night the people of Israel waited in expectancy for their deliverance. Outside, there were screams and cries of agony throughout the land as the death angel struck down the firstborn of Egypt, including the firstborn of Pharaoh himself. But among the Israelites everyone was safe who had obeyed and sprinkled blood upon the door. It is the same tonight as we celebrate Passover. Some heart doors have the blood of the Lamb upon them and others do not. When the death angel passed over Egypt the did not stop to ask if one had been a good moral person, or one had read his daily Bible readings. The only thing that mattered was whether the blood of the lamb was over the door. Outside tonight there are the cries and wails of those who are lost and unprotected by the blood. Yet, those who are covered by the blood are safe forever.
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Note: It is easy to miss the significance of the Lamb in the Passover. As Christians we want to take special effort to insure that the Lamb is at the very heart of our celebration. In the traditional Jewish Passover as you can see there is not much emphasis upon the lamb. We might say that over the centuries the lamb has virtually disappeared from the Passover. All that is represented on the Jewish Passover plate is the dried shank bone of a lamb. Sometimes even a chicken bone is substituted, further depleting this important symbol.
Although this is not a part of the Passover seder we suggest that at this intense moment, the leader might like to again pass the greens and allow each person to take a sprig and dip it into the wine or juice. The sprig of greens represents the hyssop with which the blood was placed over the doors of the homes. Then let each one participate in splashing the “blood” upon a white paper napkin in their plate. They can make the figure of the cross if they like. If done prayerfully and reverently, this can be an awesome moment – even a time of salvation for some present. The leader might wish to give some sort of invitation for those who wish to receive the Lamb. Do not be in a hurry. We suggest that some hymns and choruses might be sung at this point.
The great Rabbi Gamliel once said that there are three important things in the Passover. If we miss any one of these, we have missed the significance of the celebration. They are: The Pesach – the Lamb; The Matzah – or unleavened bread; and The Maror – the bitter herb. We agree entirely with this great rabbi. All these symbols point directly to the Lamb, to his stripes, to his unleavened life, and to his sufferings. Truly, if we miss the Lamb we have missed the Passover!
CHRISTIAN COMMENTARY AND NOTES
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Note: After this period of invitation and reflection there is an abrupt mood change. Now the leader may have everyone stand (they have been sitting a long time), and sing some lively songs of deliverance and salvation. If the group knows it, try the Hebrew song “Dayenu” (It is enough!). A chorus which is especially good is “The horse and the rider thrown into the sea.” If there is music for them the Hallel Psalms 113 and 114 these too may be sung.
THE SECOND CUP – God says, “I will rid you of their bondage.” God not only intends to take us out of Egypt, but he plans to take Egypt out of us – to save us to the uttermost. This is a tremendous promise of total deliverance.
CHRISTIAN COMMENTARY AND NOTES
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THE SECOND RITUAL WASHING – In the first washing we mentioned the symbol of the laver before the Tabernacle where the priests washed themselves. We said that the first ritual washing may represent Christian baptism. This second washing may well represent the “washing of the word” spoken of in Ephesians 5:26. The laver, as may be remembered, was constructed of the brass mirrors of the women. It seems that the writer James may be alluding to this when he speaks of the hearers of the word who see themselves in the word, but who do not allow themselves to be changed or washed by the word (Jas. 1:22-25). God does not only desire to cleanse us from sin, but to cleanse us from sinning.
With this in mind it allows us to see more clearly the significance of the act of Jesus as he took a towel and washed the feet of the disciples at this point in the Passover. When Peter protested, Jesus warned him that if he did not allow this washing he would have no part with him (Jn. 13:8). True discipleship allows the washing of the Word of God on a daily basis. As James says in another place, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (Jas. 4:8).
EATING THE MATZAH – Now at last, the participants are actually given their first taste of the unleavened bread. A small olive-sized piece should be passed to each participant. At first the unleavened bread may not seem too attractive, but as the dinner progresses a taste can be acquired for it. This is the taste of the unleavened life. It is real and true, just as Jesus was the true bread.
EATING THE BITTER HERBS – Now the fun begins! This can be one of the most interesting and meaningful experiences of the Passover. Today, there are many in the church who seem to feel that it is OK to go back to Egypt (back into sin) occasionally. They feel that they can somehow sin, without reaping the bitterness. Here everyone has the opportunity to taste in a symbolic way what Egypt and sin are really like.
There are differing traditions in Judaism concerning how the bitter herbs should be served. We would like to simplify these traditions in order to preserve what we believe is the message intended. Care should be taken to purchase and serve extremely hot horseradish. If the horseradish is cream style it can be dipped out on a piece of matzah (about 1″x 3″) and served to each guest. Remind each one to wait on the others before eating, or
As soon as everyone is served, all may eat the maror together. Shortly there will be much commotion, with people coughing and reaching for the water glasses. It is wise before this time to insure that each person has some water left in his glass. It may be pointed out to the sputtering guests that Egypt at first doesn’t seem so bad, but soon the bitterness of that place gets to a person. Make a big point of asking the people if they would really like to go back to Egypt. They will have gotten the point in a dramatic way which they will never forget.
THE MAROR AND MATZAH SANDWICH – This is a custom that has been in practice since shortly before New Testament times. The leader may break the matzah into strips about an inch wide and a couple inches long, then begin to make a sandwich by using two of these strips.
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Then he again takes a portion of maror, but this time a very small portion and spreads it on the bottom matzah. He may relieve the concern of the guests by assuring them that this time they will actually enjoy their portion. To the sandwich is then added a goodly portion of the charoset. The charoset, we remember, is representative of the mortar we used in making bricks while we were in slavery. Now the participants will get their first taste of this food symbol. The korekh allows us to taste of the sweetness of hope – the hope of someday soon being totally free of sin and all its effects. We can endure bitter things if we have hope.
SERVING THE PASSOVER MEAL – Now a lovely and leisurely meal is served.
EATING THE AFIKOMAN – This portion is passed over rather quickly in the Jewish tradition, but for Christians it is undoubtedly the most important section of the Passover. From what we know at present, it was at this point that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. Please insure that everyone is settled and ready to participate in this service.
If a minister is present the leader may wish to offer him the opportunity to do this Lord’s Supper. If not, he should take the hidden matzah and slowly unwrap it. He should remind the people again how this bread is striped and pierced, and how Jesus was striped and pierced for us. Like the matzah, he too, was wrapped and hidden away in the tomb for three days, and then resurrected to become the living bread for his disciples. The leader should then break the Afikoman into olive- sized pieces and pass a portion to each guest.
We read in Matthew 26:26, that “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’”
All participants may now reverently eat the Afikoman together. Just as in the Jewish tradition the guests should be reminded that this is customarily the last food eaten on Passover evening. Jesus, after all, is the bread of life. Nothing can be added to him.
GRACE AFTER MEAL – In Jewish tradition, grace is often said after the meal, based on the passage of scripture in Deut. 6:11-12; & 8:10-12. After all, it does make sense that after we have eaten and are satisfied we should then bless the Lord. We suggest that for the sake of continuity, the third cup, the cup of the Lord’s Supper be taken first. The Barek can then be said immediately after the Lord’s Supper is complete. When Israel receives her Messiah there will undoubtedly be some changes in the order of the Passover, just as there were some changes instituted when Jesus celebrated the last Passover with
DRINKING THE THIRD CUP – The third cup of the Passover may be called the cup of redemption, for God says, “I will redeem you with outstretched arm” (Ex. 6:6). We can now understand how this promise came true when Jesus was crucified. His arms were outstretched on the cross for us.
CHRISTIAN COMMENTARY AND NOTES
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They were nailed to the cross. His precious blood was shed for all mankind, that through that blood we all might have forgiveness of sins and salvation.
We read in Matthew 26:27-28 that as Jesus was eating the Passover meal with his disciples “…he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'”
Note: The leader may wish to bless the cup just as Jesus probably blessed it long ago.
Baruch atah Adonai Elo-he-nu Melek ha-olam, Boreh p’ree ha-gafen.
(Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.)
All drink the third cup.
The Apostle Paul says of this bread and of this cup, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor.11:26).
ELIJAH THE PROPHET – Year after year, and century after century the Jewish people have poured a cup of wine for Elijah and have opened the door to welcome this messenger of the covenant, but alas, he never appears. We know as Christians that Elijah has already appeared announcing Jesus as the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (Mt. 17:11-13 & Jn. 1:29).
THE HALLEL – When we realize that the great work of salvation is finished in Jesus the Messiah, all that is left for us to do this night and throughout the rest of our lives is to praise him for his great salvation.
Try to spend some time with your group praising God and singing songs and hymns of praise. It is said that Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn as they closed their Passover service (Mt. 26:30). Hymns and songs based upon Psalms 115-118 are especially appropriate here. Old hymns like “Amazing Grace,” or modern choruses based on these psalms are very appropriate..
In Psalms 115-118, there are several interesting things which should be brought out before your service is concluded. In Psalm 115:1 we read, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” In 116:1 we read, “I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.” Psalm 116:8-9 says, “For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living.”
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In Psalm 117:1-2, we see that Passover is given for all nations and all people. In Psalm 118, we have what appears to be a Psalm of victory and celebration. We first have that oft repeated phrase which may be an echo of the praise in Temple times, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (v.1). Then we read: “The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies” (v.7); “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation” (v.14). “Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: ‘The LORD’S right hand has done mighty things!’” (v.15). “Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD” (v.19).
It is incredible to think that in Jewish Passovers the world over Psalm 118:22-23 is read: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
This beautiful time of praise from the scripture ends with verses 28-29: “You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
THE FOURTH CUP – It is in the spirit of praise that we come to the fourth and last cup of the Passover. God says with this, “I will take you to me for a people” (Ex. 6:7). All that is left is for us to take the cup and praise him, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps. 116:13).
THE CONCLUSION – For untold centuries the Jewish people have ended the Passover by longingly thinking of Jerusalem. Only in our lifetimes have their longing been fulfilled and they have been allowed to return to Israel and Jerusalem. May we return with them in heart and in spirit, and may we dwell in Zion forever.
Next year in Jerusalem!
The Passover is primarily a festival to be celebrated in the home. There is something blessed and warming about sitting down and dining with each other and with the Lord. Make every effort to seat the guests together.
The home should be prepared for the Passover. It should be clean and orderly. The table should be beautifully set as would be done for any guests. The exception being that a paper tablecloth and paper napkins should be used because of the likelihood of juice being spilled. For large groups we recommend paper plates and disposable items be used throughout. Fresh flowers are wonderful if they are available. Also, if at all possible, the meal should be eaten by candle light. If this is done, please be sure to place several candles on the table making sure that one is placed closely to the leader. Since this is the festival of freedom, pillows may be placed in some of the chairs to accentuate the leisurely atmosphere.
Water glasses should be placed at each setting and filled sometime before the celebration begins. A pitcher of water should be placed at each table. Also, wine glasses should be used for the wine or grape juice. We recommend the plastic disposable type. To minimize confusion they too should be filled about half full prior to the guests arriving. The plates, with special food symbols, should be placed appropriately, with one near the leader, and others near the designated “servants” who are assisting him if additional tables are involved. If snack foods are being served during the celebration these may also be placed on the table.
The mood for Passover is joyful, but serious. Prior to your guests arriving we suggest that there be prayers for the whole setting, asking God to honor the celebration with his presence. As the guests begin to arrive it may be appropriate play some quiet worshipful background music.
Whether the Passover is being done in a home or with a large church group, it is best that very small children not be included. They are unfamiliar with the seder and for them it may prove to be a long and torturous ordeal. Once the parents are acquainted with the Passover, it is then much better that they teach their children to appreciate the seder in their home setting.
Guests should be advised that they are coming to a leisurely, teaching meal. They should know beforehand that there will be an hour or so between the start of the seder and the actual meal. This is especially true if snack foods are not being served. Try to advise guests to set aside a block of time of approximately 2 1/2 to 3 hours for the seder. It is very disturbing to the whole spirit of the celebration if some of the guests arrive late, or are in a hurry and must leave before the seder is completed.
THE FOOD SYMBOLS
There are several special food symbols involved in the Passover. The number of special food plates will, of course, depend upon the number of guests and the number of tables. There should be a special plate prepared for each table, and some person at that table should be designated as the “servant” to pass the special foods. This person should follow all the actions of the leader of the seder.
On the special plate there should be the shank bone of the lamb (if you choose to include this symbol), a hard-boiled or roasted egg, a goodly portion of the charoset, the maror or horseradish, and the greens. Three slices of the matzot (unleavened bread) should be covered with a napkin and placed in a small dish beside the other food symbols. The unleavened bread or matzot can usually be purchased in the stores during the Passover season. Also, beside the main plate of food symbols there should be a small bowl of salt water. Be sure that the water is very salty so that the full meaning of this symbol can
For the maror, or bitter herbs, horseradish is normally used. We recommend the purchase of creamy, extra hot kind. Put enough on the plate that each person may have the equivalent of about one-half teaspoon.
The charoset cannot be purchased and will need to be prepared. There are many versions to this sweet “clay.” However, here is a good recipe to follow:
1/2 cup ground nuts
2 big apples
1 tsp. sugar or honey (or sweeten to taste)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Optional – 2 tbls. Grape juice or sweet wine
Grate the apples and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well. This provides a serving for about a dozen people.
For the greens, parsley seems to work well. Be sure to have at least one small portion for each guest. If the special program of applying the “blood” to the doorpost, (on a white paper napkin) it will be necessary to have two portions for each person.
THE PASSOVER MEAL
A wide variety of foods may be served. If the seder is for a large group it can be served “pot luck.” If so, please advise your participants to bring only unleavened foods. Otherwise, the symbolism of the meal may be destroyed. Generally it is better to have a planned meal. For the main course, “lamb stew” can be served. This does not actually have to be real lamb since it us quite expensive, but can be made of beef and prepared with many types of vegetables. In a pinch, canned stew works nicely. In addition to the main course, it is good to prepare many different types of raw vegetables, fruits, and salads.
A PASSOVER DEMONSTRATION
Due to the shortage of time and busy church schedules today it is not always possible to have a full Passover meal. In such cases, we recommend a simple Passover demonstration. The length of this demonstration will, of course, be determined by the time available. For such demonstrations it is important to have all the special food symbols available, in such quantities so that those present may come and taste them if they wish after the demonstration. Tell as much of the Passover story as time permits, following the guidelines we have laid down in this booklet. Take great care to make it interesting and dramatic. Next year there may be an opportunity to do a full dinner.