Commentary on Exodus 12 (The Passover)

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In chapter 12 of the Book of Exodus, we come to the final plague that God will visit upon Egypt. Unlike the other plagues, this one requires preparation by the Israelites, and that preparation will be memorialized by the Israelites forever. Chapter 12 combines the instructions to the Israelites on how to memorialize the events surrounding their salvation from the final plague and God’s rescuing them from Egypt, along with the narrative explaining what actually occurred.

In verses 1-11, God tells Moses and Aaron how the nation of Israel is to commemorate the Passover in the future. We have a break in the narrative and won’t pick it back up again until verses 12-13, and then again at verse 21. The instructions are simple:

  1. On the tenth day of the first month of the religious calendar (Nisan or March/April) each man is to select a lamb or goat for his family. The animal must be a year-old male without defect.
  2. Four days later, all the people of Israel must slaughter the animals at twilight.
  3. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat.
  4. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Anything left over must be burned by morning.
  5. They are to eat with traveling clothes on.

In verses 12-13, God explains what will happen the night of Passover. “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. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”

Notice that the blood of the lambs who were sacrificed and placed on the doorframes will save the Israelites from God’s judgment. In like manner, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice saves those who believe in him from God’s judgment. This is why the New Testament writers refer to Jesus as the Passover Lamb (see 1 Cor 5:7-8; 1 Pet 1:19-20; Rev 5:12).

Additionally, the biblical authors remind us several times that key events occur during subsequent Passover celebrations. In Num 9, the Israelites celebrate the Passover in the wilderness. Joshua celebrates Passover after bringing the Israelites into the Promised Land (Josh 5). Passover celebrations are recorded during the reigns of reformers King Hezekiah and King Josiah in 2 Chron 30 and 35. When Israel returns from Babylonian captivity, the Passover is celebrated in Ezra 6. And finally, Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples before being arrested and crucified.

In verses 14-20, God commands the Israelites to also celebrate the week after the Passover. This is known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. “For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast.” On the first day and seventh of this Feast there is to be an assembly of all Israel. The penalty for eating anything with yeast during this seven days is death or banishment. God explains the importance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread: “It was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt.”

To recap, two new ordinances are commanded by God in chapter 12: the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Passover is to commemorate God’s passing over the Israelites for judgment, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread is to commemorate God’s rescuing the Israelites from Egypt. God saves and God redeems his people.

In verses 21-23, the narrative picks up again with explicit instructions to the Israelites for the night of the final plague – the killing of the firstborns of Egypt. The elders of Israel are told to select and slaughter the animals for Passover sacrifice and then use hyssop (a plant) to spread blood around the doorframes of their homes. If the Israelites obey God, “he will not permit the destroyer to enter [their] houses and strike [them] down.”

In verses 24-28, God reminds the Israelites of the significance of the Passover and the author notes that on the occasion of the first Passover night, the “Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron.”

The narrative continues through verse 40 and describes the events of the evening, next morning, and days following. First, God does indeed strike the firstborn of Egypt, including Pharaoh’s own son. The Egyptians are so devastated that Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron to him during the night and commands them to leave Egypt, no strings attached. In verses 33-36, the Egyptians are so eager to get rid of the Israelites that they willingly turn over gold, silver, and clothing to them. Everything happens just as God had foretold.

The Israelites leave the area of Goshen where they had lived for generations, and they journey to the southeast to a city named Succoth. We note that the Israelites number many thousands, and that foreigners also left Egypt with them, possibly due to seeing the power of the Hebrew God.

Finally, in verses 40-42, the author reminds us that the Israelites had lived in Egypt for 430 years, but that God brought them out of Egypt, just as he had promised.