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Shemot/Exodus 12:24 And you shall observe this matter as a statute for you and your sons for ever.
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Our text presents us with three problems to solve. The first is a matter of definition: what is "this matter"; of the several preceding options, to which one does it refer? The second is the switch from the plural 'you' in the first word of the verse, to the singular 'you' in the second half of the verse - why is it written that way and what does it mean? The third is more esoteric but the most important: just why is 'this' to be observed and what does it do? Is it simply a matter of social memory and so part of the Jewish identity, or does it actually have an effect? The answers to these questions will help us to understand better who we are as Jewish and Gentile believers in Messiah and guide or shape our observance of ritual in a complicated and sometimes confusing present.
Starting with the question of definition, our text has the two word phrase as the direct object of the opening verb, "you shall observe". In order to observe - that is: keep, obey, perform - anything, we need to know what it is. With something as important as this, we need to be sure that we are doing the right thing. "This matter" has two immediate precedents. The closest and, logically, the most likely, is the dual command, "Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and to the two doorposts. None of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning" (Shemot 12:22, NJPS) just two verses earlier. Moshe adds that the blood is daubed on the lintel and the doorposts so that "when the L-RD goes through to smite the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and the L-RD will pass over the door and not let the Destroyer enter and smite your home" (v. 23, NJPS). RabbiHirsch explains that "G-d will see the blood on the houses and, as a result, will grant salvation. Thereby G-d establishes this first mitzvah to a most striking symbol, and the performance of the mitzvah to a definite speech in symbolic language between us and G-d, bringing about a positive act of salvation."
On the other hand and more simply, theRamban says that "'this' refers to the passover offering mentioned one more verse earlier - "Go, pick out lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover offering" (v. 21, NJPS) - even though it is somewhat remote, and not to the verses that follow it about putting blood on the doorposts, which was commanded only for the original passover in Egypt." That is very different - how do we move forward? Ibn Ezra offers a solution: "If the commandments were as they appear to us from the text, this would be saying that the application of the blood with a bunch of hyssop was 'an institution for all time', especially since the reason for it that we are to tell our children is that 'e Israelites in Egypt' (v. 27, NJPS). Logically, this would be correct. Our predecessors, however, transmit the utterly true tradition that this expression refers to the passover offering." History records that while there was a temple, the lambs were sacrificed each year, but no blood was ever daubed. The modern commentator Nahum Sarna somewhat more concisely agrees: "the reference is to the slaughtering of the Passover offering, not to the daubing of the blood."
The second question concerns the apparent change in number that occurs. The verse opens with the verb , the Qal 2mp affix form of the root , to guard, keep, observe, with a vav-reversive to make the command future: you plural shall observe this matter. Later in the verse, however, the text uses the phrase , "as a statute for you" and now the 'you' is singular. The obvious answer is that this phrase is followed by "and for you sons" - you and your sons are definitely plural - which would seem to solve the problem. But is that all there is to it? Biblical Hebrew usually reserves singular addressing either to each separate individual or to the whole nation as a unit; the Sh'ma in D'varim 6:4 is a prime example: although spoken to all, Moshe uses a singular imperative - the whole people as one are to hear and love the L-rd our G-d. Is this an individual command that everyone is to perform, or a national command that every individual is to keep? Rabbi Hirsch pronounces that "the Torah is satisfied neither by being simply acknowledged and kept in private individual lives, nor by simply being acknowledged and kept nationally, such as by the appointment of public representatives to carry it out. The Torah wants to find its acknowledgement and realisation nationally in the nation as a whole and in every individual Jewish home, in every individual Jewish breast." We perform the command as a nation by everyone performing it as individuals.
Now we move on to the third question: why is the Pesach sacrifice, including the meal to be observed each year and what does it do? In these days, where there is no temple and no sacrifice, when lamb is not even eaten at the seder, what is happening? Thomas Dozeman comments that "verse 24 indicates that the instruction of the Passover is a permanent statute, thus changing the perspective from the present to the future, from the night of death in Egypt to the subsequent observance of the Passover in the promised land."1 That gets us as far as celebrating Pesach in the Land of Israel. Peter Enns is more inclusive: "This celebration is to be a lasting, eternal ordinance. Passover is not just an event and it is not just for one night. The Israelites from now on are to remember this night, impress it on their collective consciousness and pass it on to their children."2 If 'lasting' and 'eternal' then the obligation remains upon the Children of Israel - in modern parlance, the Jewish people - to celebrate Pesach in some way, today; indeed, for ever. And since there is no temple, some things must change to accommodate that fact, while the majority remains unchanged. Essentially, the meal, the liturgy and the remembrance remain.
However, that still doesn't really answer the question. It tells us to remember and it informs our identity and praxis - we do this because of who we are, we are because of what we do. It is an act of obedience and so, presumably, we please G-d by remembering how He redeemed the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. We see Pesach as a type of Yeshua - who Rav Sha'ul describes as "our Passover lamb" (1 Corinthians 5:7, ESV) - and remember that He redeemed us from slavery to sin and death. But we still don't have an answer for what happens. What difference does it make? Terence Fretheim explains:
When Israel reenacts the passover, it is not a fiction, as if nothing really happens in the ritual, or all that happens is a recollection of the happenedness of an original event. The reenactment is as much salvific event as the original enactment. The memory language is not a 'soft' matter, recalling to mind some story of the past. It is an entering into the reality of that event in such a way as to be reconstituted as the people of G-d thereby ... It is the question of how the salvific effect of a past event can be appropriated or realised in every new present. The saving power of the original event is made available ever anew to the community by God's redeeming activity within the context of worship.3
Rehearsal of Pesach is not just telling a story; it is not just remembering that Aunt Shira always chokes on the horseradish, that Grandfather usually takes a short snooze during the recounting of the plagues, that Mum and Dad have run out of decent places to hide the afikomen. It is about participating in the ritual so as to participate in the salvation of the original event now. It isn't future - we shall be saved at some point because we did Pesach this year - it is present: by taking part in the remembrance, the commemoration, the celebration of Pesach tonight, we are participants in their salvation: we are redeemed from Egypt. That's why the rabbis tell us that every person at the seder should consider themselves to have been redeemed from Egypt. Because we not only remember but re-enact, we participate all over again in G-d's redemption. Dozeman again: "[This is] an anamnesis, an activation of memory to participate in a past event of salvation. With such a view of memory, tradition itself is released from the constraints of the past, becoming ... a living force that animates and informs the present."4
It should be obvious where this is going. At the Pesach meal that Yeshua shared with His disciples, He invested the matzah - the last part of the meal, which we now call the afikomen - with new meaning, He said, "this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19, ESV). Then, taking the third cup - the cup after the meal, the cup of salvation - He told them, "this cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood" (Luke 22:20, Bibie(ESV)). Rav Sha'ul explains, "for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26, ESV). When we bring Yeshua into our Pesach celebration, when we speak and hear His words, we not only re-enact the Exodus from Egypt, but also the New Covenant that He made by His death on the cross. We participate in the historical salvation that He won for us and we realise afresh our atonement in the present; we re-activate our relationship with Him and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit for today.
1. - Thomas B. Dozeman, Exodus, Eerdmans Critical Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 2009), pages 276-277.
2. - Peter Enns, Exodus, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), page 249.
3. - Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), page 139.
4. - Dozeman, page 277.
Further Study: Isaiah 62:6-7; Acts 2:46-47
Application: How can you move from being a spectator to being a participant in the crucial remembering of our salvation so that it becomes a present reality for you today? Speak to the Master of Ceremonies and ask Him to catch your eye next time around so that you hear His voice and accept His invitation.
Comment - 11:29 02Jan22 Joshua VanTine: Thank you for this Drash, it really whets the appetite for Pesach and Mashiach Yeshua. Really appreciated this insight from Thomas Dozeman you quoted,"[This is] an anamnesis, an activation of memory to participate in a past event of salvation. With such a view of memory, tradition itself is released from the constraints of the past, becoming ... a living force that animates and informs the present." May we become infused with the living force of the Tzaddik, Yeshua HaNotzri, that will animate and inform the now!
Comment - 21:03 07Jan22 Ted Simon: Tied together nicely. I read it aloud to my not yet saved 98 yr old mother. Words of life!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2022
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