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Shemot/Exodus 12:11 And thus you shall eat it: your loins girded, your shoes on your feet and your staff in your hand;
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This week's text comes from the centre of the original mandate for celebrating the first Pesach by the Israelites as they were about to leave Egypt.HaShem is speaking to Moshe and Aharon and giving them the detailed instructions that the people will need in a few weeks' time to observe the ritual of Pesach on the night when HaShem will "go through the land of Egypt and strike down every first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast" (Shemot 12:12, NJPS). This is the last of the series of ten plagues by which HaShem has demonstrated to the Egyptians - "with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment" (6:6, ESV) - that He alone is G-d and the L-rd of all creation. As a result, the Israelites will be allowed - even compelled - to leave Egypt and are released from their slavery to the Egyptians, a life of "harsh labour at mortar and bricks and with all sorts of tasks in the field" (1:14, NJPS).
The Pesach lambs are to be sacrificed "between the twilights" (12:6), in that brief interval between the setting of the sun and the darkness that comes when light finally leaves the sky, and their blood is to daubed on the lintel and doorposts of the Israelite houses. Then the lambs are to be roasted whole over the fire and eaten that night; the Israelites are forbidden to "eat any of it raw, or cooked in any way with water, but roasted ... over the fire" (v. 9, NJPS). Thomas Dozeman comments that, "the act of cooking marks the transition from wild nature, where meat is consumed raw, to the domesticated life in society, where meat is cooked. The accompanying food (verse 8) and the manner in which the Israelites are to eat the Passover (verse 11) reinforce the transitional function of the Passover meal."1 As we will see, the word 'transition' is important to both the first enactment and all the subsequent rehearsals of Pesach: then, now and for all the times in between. Pesach is a time of transition, of change; and participation in the ritual and the accompanying change that it brings is a key part of our walk of faith as believers in Yeshua.
On the one hand, theRalbag tells us that the phrase "your loins girded" teaches us that "it was customary to ungird one's loins and take off one's shoes before eating." This echoes the Sages who report that the Babylonian scholars undo their girdles to eat, so deducing that "a meal begins with the loosening of one's belt, as is still customary in some places" (b. Shabbat 9b). Nahum Sarna explains that in those days, "the standard dress consisted of a flowing shirt-like garment that was tightened by a sash wrapped around the waist when greater manoeuverability was called for."
On the other hand,Rashi tells us that the phrase "your loins girded" means that the Israelites were to be "ready for the road." Ibn Ezra joins this to the third phrase in the text: "loins girded - so you can be ready to leave; staff in hand - to drive the donkeys." Echoing "prepared to travel," the Sforno points to Elijah who, after slaughtering all the priests of Ba'al at Mt. Carmel and praying while King Ahab waited until the rains came, "girded up his loins and ran ahead of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel" (1 Kings 18:46, NKJV). This was, the Sforno comments, for the Israelites "to demonstrate implicit trust in G-d, the Blessed One, preparing themselves for the road while they were still in prison." Rabbi Hirsch agrees, suggesting that this is "an expression of ... confidence that the moment for the exodus has now arrived." Levine again: "Since the climactic moment of liberation is imminent, the Israelites must be ready for immediate departure." This is a transition point; there can be no holding back. It is time to go, with all that requires and implies.
Walter Brueggemann picks up and amplifies what he calls the "dramatic intention of the eating." This is no casual meal, just like any other end-of-day routine. On the contrary, he insists, "Those who share in this festival meal must be ready to go, ready to travel, ready to depart from the empire. Being ready to go requires that travelling clothes be worn, that shoes be on, and that staff be in hand. The entire drama must be done in a hurry in order to reenact the memory that leaving Egypt is a dangerous, anxiety-ridden business."2 Not only does the ritual have profound physical consequences - the slaughter of the lamb and the daubing of the blood around the doorways of the houses - it is also an act of obedience and resistance in the face of slavery: obeying G-d in making a statement of resistance against the forces of slavery who would expect the Israelites to be at work the next day. Even more, however, for the Israelites themselves, the communal ritual is an act of solidarity - they are all participating together, perhaps for the first time in generations, in something other than making bricks, the symbols of their slavery and oppression - and a sign that a change has happened. G-d has not only spoken, but it about to act and the people are about to experience a transition beyond anything that they can imagine.
Pesach didn't just happen; it wasn't an accident. It the large, was the culmination of the series of plagues with which HaShem smote Egypt to obtain the release of our people. Pesach became the door through which our people passed into freedom. It the small, it was the final step in a series of preparations that the Israelites were instructed to make for leaving:
During that night, Israel made a transition to seven days of eating unleavened bread, from being a people enslaved to being a people free to serve G-d, and from living in a place of bondage to a nomadic life in the desert on the way to the land they been promised. None of these preparations or changes occurred naturally; they all had to be prepared, chosen and planned. HaShem planned the large and gave instructions for the small; HaShem and the people both participated in making the transition happen. If people did not choose a lamb, slaughter it and put the blood on the doorposts, then their first-born would be taken in the same way as the Egyptians. If the people were not ready and didn't want to leave, they would be left behind (as the rabbinic writings claim that many were). Our people had to be intentional - you have to be very intentional to keep a year-old male lamb in your house for four days! - and they had to deliberately choose to follow the instructions and carry them out. To have that level of intentionality and purpose, they had to know where they were going and when; they had to know what they were getting ready for.
So it is with us observing the festival of Pesach today. While we don't have to keep a year-old male lamb in our houses, we are still commanded to celebrate the festival at the right time each year, as Moshe told the Exodus generation in Egypt: "You shall observe this as an institution for all time, for you and for your descendants" (Shemot 12:24, NJPS). Why? So that when they ask why we do these things, we are to reply, "It is the passover sacrifice to the L-RD, because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses" (v. 27, NJPS). It becomes a ritualised commemorative event, part of the master narrative of our people, shrunk from the personal memory of those who actually took part in that generation (each family of which no doubt had their own stories of family members, what the lamb did in their house and so on) into the narrative social memory of the people, summarising the event for all to agree and all to narrate, reminding us of what G-d did for us at that time.
In the same way as the Exodus generation, we have to prepare for Pesach; we have to clean our houses of chametz, we have to prepare the meal for the seder - the four cups, the matzah, the bitter herbs - and we have to be ready on the right night to join with our people around the world to celebrate the events that symbolise our freedom today. We too need to think about where we are going and when; we need to know what we are getting ready for. This is not just a meal, not just a family gathering; it is a unique annual celebration commanded by of us and our people by our G-d. We must be intentional to make sure that it happens on the right day in the right way. What transition will you undertake this year? What changes should you expect in your life as a result of obeying G-d and observing the feast? How can you plan for Pesach this year so that it isn't simply routine and you miss the importance and deliberate nature of the feast.
We know too that Pesach is more than just us; we do the small stuff as a symbol and reminder of the large: G-d has set us free from bondage to slavery and sin by sending Yeshua to be our Pesach lamb. Just as the plagues in Egypt were deliberate and intentional, so too - as Peter reminds us - "Yeshua of Nazareth, a man attested to you by G-d with mighty works and wonders and signs that G-d did through him in your midst ... this Yeshua [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of G-d" (Acts 2:22-23, ESV). Golgotha didn't happen by accident. G-d carefully chose, orchestrated and planned the whole event so that in Yeshua He might condemn sin and rescue us from the consequences of the Law of Sin and Death. G-d was completely intentional and although human agency - the Romans, the chief priests, Judas - all played their parts and carry the responsibility for their own actions, the crucifixion was part of the deliberate plan of G-d so that Yeshua might be the "Lamb slaughtered before the world was founded" (Revelation 13:8, CJB).
How are you getting on with your Pesach preparations this year? Are you being intentional to make sure that you are not left behind and fail to experience the transition to freedom that G-d has promised in Yeshua?
Chag Pesach Sameach!
1. - Thomas B. Dozeman, Exodus, Eerdmans Critical Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 2009), pages 268-269.
2. - Walter Brueggemann, "Exodus," in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), pages 356-357.
Further Study: Matthew 26:17-19; Luke 12:35-38; 1 Peter 1:13-16
Application: Is there part of the Pesach preparation that you have let slip over the years that you could pick up and rediscover? Could you find a new hagaddah text that tells the story in slightly less familiar words so that it renews the ceremony?
Comment - 01:19 14Apr19 Diana Brown: Chag Pesach Sameach!
Comment - 09:23 14Apr19 Judith Chesney: Being made aware of not being in slavery anymore. Being awakened by God to embark on a new vision of life. These are areas in need of a miracle indeed. Thanks again for marvellous insight. I had no idea people stayed behind. How horrible to be left out.
Comment - 05:38 15Apr19 Brian and Anne Nelson: May we all remain in Him, The Holy One. He is our strength. Let us continue to abide in Him, Messiah Yeshua Hamashiach The Salvation of His People; Yisrael, and all who call upon Him in sincerity and truth, shall be saved.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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