A Better Understaning of Passover
by: Jim Rector
We note in Exodus 11 that a 10th plague upon the Egyptians is planned, and that Israel will indeed be liberated from bondage.This knowledge was given to them through Moses well prior to the 14th day of the first month.God tells Moses:
“Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall let you, he shall surely THRUST YOU HENCE ALTOGETHER” (Ex. 11:1).
It is clear that God was very careful in preparing both Moses and the people regarding their exodus from Egypt. In chapter 12, the instructions for beginning the year are given. It is almost a certainty that the first several verses of this passage were given at the start of the month. We know for a fact that they had to precede the 10th day, since specific commands are issued with respect to that day in verse 3.So, while we are not told precisely how many days ahead of time the Israelites knew of their departure from Egypt, we can rest assured that it was prior to the 10th day of the first month, and that Exodus 12:1-2 was earlier than that, and Exodus 11:2-3 was earlier still. It is, therefore, very likely that the Israelites had a minimum of 14 days or two weeks notice, with ample time for all necessary preparations.
Josephus sheds some light on just what those preparations were. In his Antiquities of the Jews, we read the following:
“But when God had signified, that with one more plague He would compel the Egyptians to let the Hebrews go, He commanded Moses to tell the people that they should have a sacrifice ready, and that they should prepare themselves on the 10th day of the month Nisan, against the 14th, and that he should carry away the Hebrews with all they had. Accordingly, he having got the Hebrews ready for their departure, and having sorted the people into tribes, he kept them TOGETHER IN ONE PLACE ; but when the 14th day was come, and all were READY TO DEPART , they offered the sacrifice, and purified their houses with blood, using bunches of hyssop for that purpose; and when they had supped, they burnt the remainder of the flesh, as JUST READY TO DEPART. Whence it is that we do still offer this sacrifice in like manner to this day, and call this festival Pascha, which signifies the Feast of the Passover; because on that day God passed over us, and sent the plague upon the Egyptians; for the destruction of the firstborn came upon the Egyptians that night, so that many of the Egyptians who lived near the king’s palace, persuaded Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go. Accordingly, he called for Moses, and bid them begone; as supposing, if that once the Hebrews were gone out of the country, Egypt should be freed from its miseries . . . So the Hebrews went out of Egypt, while the Egyptians wept, and repented that they had treated them so hardly . . . They left Egypt in the month of Nisan, on the 15th day of the month; four hundred and thirty years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan” (Antiquities, 2:14:6, 15:1-2).
What Josephus is simply relating here is that Moses, being well trained as a general in the Egyptian army (See Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, 2:10;1-2), was eminently well equipped for the task of assembling the Israelites for their departure from Egypt. This was obviously not left to the last minute or to mere chance. Moses and his assistants carefully organized the people, moved them to Rameses in advance, where, by the way, they occupied the very houses that their slave ancestors had lived in when they were building the treasure city of the Pharaoh in the previous generation, and had them ready to march out of Egypt on a moment’s notice.
The fact that God purposely informed the Israelites well ahead of time is very important when one seeks to understand the proper sequence of events that transpired in the Exodus. It was His will that the people be thoroughly prepared. They knew what was about to happen. They knew it for a number of days before it occurred. They anticipated what was coming. Moses made certain that every detail was covered. He knew that their leaving Egypt would be in the greatest of haste and under extreme circumstances. This is not insignificant, as the unfolding of this extraordinary story continues.