We were in Israel last year with Pesach and just before the first day of Unleavened bread, the discussion of whether or not to keep a vigil on this night came up. Most of the believers in the Jerusalem hostel at the time were of the opinion that we are to stay awake all night, and that it was commanded to do so. This was new to us; we have read the verse they quoted to prove this many times, but we have never really seen it that way. We did a quick study, and their interpretation to stay up seemed to be right, so we decided to err on the side of caution and just do it. It turned out to be quite a blessing. We did some Bible study and talked and when the sun started to rise, we went to sleep for a while.
So, it is almost Pesach again, and we want to do a proper study of the subject to make sure our interpretation is correct, and we do stay up if we are indeed commanded to do so. This interpretation to “keep watch” is based on Exodus 12:42.
We shall first look at how this verse was translated in a few different Bibles.
The first translation is the New American standard Version. When you read this verse in the New American standard translation, you don’t really notice anything exceptional about it. It seems to refer to the observance of the beginning of the feast of unleavened bread, the special meal and telling of the story.
42 It is a night to be observed for YHVH for having brought them out from the land of Egypt; this night is for YHVH, to be observed by all the sons of Israel throughout their generations.
However, if you dig a little deeper, you find more. If you do look at the footnotes of this verse, it would literally read as follows:
“It is a night of vigils to YHVH for having brought them out from the land of Egypt; this night is for YHVH, of vigils to the sons of Israel throughout their generations.”
Here is the Young’s Literal translation:
42 night of watchings it is to Jehovah, to bring them out from the land of Egypt; it is this night to Jehovah of watchings to all the sons of Israel to their generations.
A night of special protection?
The Complete Jewish Bible renders it like this:
42 This was a night when ADONAI kept vigil to bring them out of the land of Egypt, and this same night continues to be a night when ADONAI keeps vigil for all the people of Isra’el through all their generations.
The Complete Jewish Bible renders it as a vigil or a night of watching to be kept by YHVH. This translation is in line with the belief in Judaism that YHVH protects Israel on this specific night.
Is this an accurate translation? Does YHVH not always protect Israel? To answer this, we will look at a Jewish commentary and some history. We are digressing a bit here, but it is important for our understanding.
Here is some commentary from the Jewish Study Bible to shed some light on this.
42: Vigil, Heb “shimurim.” Although derivatives of the root “shm-r,” “watch, guard, observe” are common (they occur five other times in this ch, vv. 6, 17 twice, 24, 25), this form is unparalleled in the Bible. In rabbinic Heb it means “guarding, care.” If that is the meaning here, this v. may represent an interpretation of the term “pesaḥ” (see vv. 11, 13 n.). The sense would be that God guarded the Israelites from the Destroyer on the night of the exodus and will guard them against malevolent forces on the anniversaries of this night …Possibly, the term has different nuances and different subjects in each clause; e.g., it was a night of God’s protection of Israel at the exodus, so in the future it will be a night of Israel’s observance of the pesaḥ sacrifice. The translation “vigil” implies that it was a night of God’s vigilance, protecting Israel (or of Israel’s vigilance waiting for God to deliver them [taking “for the LORD a night of vigil” as “a night of waiting for the LORD”]), and in the future it will be a night of wakefulness for Israel to offer the pesaḥ sacrifice (“a night of vigil in honor of the LORD”).2
From this commentary, we see that this vigil was kept by both YHVH and Israel, not only by YHVH. YHVH does protect His people, but they watched in anticipation of their deliverance. Here is a quote from the Jewish Publication Society to show what has transpired in history on this night…
From all this, we learn that the “vigil” does refer to YHVH’s vigilance in protecting Israel, but also Israel’s vigilance in waiting on YHVH’s deliverance. To say that it is a night of special vigilance by YHVH only, would, in our opinion, not be entirely correct as that would imply times of less vigilance by YHVH. It limits YHVH if we say that.
The other translations convey the message that the “vigil” is to be kept to YHVH by Israel.
Here is the ESV:
42 It was a night of watching by YHVH, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to YHVH by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.
And the Lexham English Bible:
42 It is a night of vigils belonging to Yahweh for bringing them out from the land of Egypt; it is this night belonging to Yahweh with vigils for all of the ⌊Israelites⌋ throughout their generations.
The new Revised Standard version:
42 That was for YHVH a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. That same night is a vigil to be kept for YHVH by all the Israelites throughout their generations.
Now that we have looked at some translations, lets look at the meaning of the word.
What does the word “simmurim” mean?
The Hebrew word “simmurim” was translated as observe, watching, vigil,
9081 שִׁמֻּרִים (šim·mǔ·rîm): n.[masc.]; ≡ Str 8107; TWOT 2414c—LN 37.119–37.126 vigil, night-watch, i.e., the act. of keeping alert guard over a person or event for protection or warning, implying that a religious act. of salvation or worship will occur during the time of this act. (Ex 12:42+), note: some translate as “time of vigil”4
Here is the commentary from the Jewish study Bible on the meaning of the word “simmurim.” Remember also that the word in this form is used nowhere else in the Bible.
The translation “vigil” implies that it was a night of God’s vigilance, protecting Israel (or of Israel’s vigilance waiting for God to deliver them [taking “for the LORD a night of vigil” as “a night of waiting for the LORD”]), and in the future, it will be a night of wakefulness for Israel to offer the pesaḥ sacrifice (“a night of vigil in honor of the LORD”).2
Here is the Bible Knowledge Commentary’s interpretation:
If we were to look up the word as it was translated in the Septuagint, we would get an idea how this word was understood at this time. We have seen from our previous studies of the Dead Sea Scrolls, that the Septuagint translation is in many cases more accurate than the Masoretic text.
Here is an excerpt from the Septuagint of Ex 12:42. The Greek word “ προφυλακή” is used:
This Greek word is pronounced “prophylake;” we get our English word prophylactic from it. The meaning of this Greek word is:
προφυλακή,-ῆς N1F 3-0-3-3-3=12
Ex 12,42 (bis); Nm 32,17; Ez 26,8; 38,7
advance guard, sentinel, outpost Nm 32,17; vigil, watch Ex 12,42; guarding, serving as sentries Neh 4,166
Here is a quote from the Greek-English Lexicon to explain the meaning of this word:
προφυλᾰκή, ἡ, guard in front; in pl., outposts, vedettes, piquets, X.Cyr.3.3.25, Eq.Mag.7.13, Plu.Caes.39: sg., ἡ π. αὐτοῦ his advanced guard, X.HG4.1.24, cf. Plb.5.3.5; ἀριστοποιεῖσθαι διὰ προφυλακῆς with an advanced guard, with outposts, Th.4.30.
II. guarding, guard, τῶν πόλεων Plb.5.95.5, cf. D.S.11.2 (pl.).
III. watch, vigil LXXEx.12.42, al.
IV. caution, προφυλακῇ χρῆσθαι περί τι Ph.1.283.
2. precaution, c. gen., against .., Id.2.368, al., cf. Epicur.Oxy.215 iii 14: Medic., προφυλακῆς χάριν as a precaution, Sor.1.118, cf. Dsc.2.47.7
This word denotes a special watch or guarding, like a sentry would guard. It also expresses preparedness or caution. This is quite interesting, especially if you consider was had taken place in history on this night.
Here is the English translation of the Septuagint, the Lexham English Septuagint:
42 It is a watch to YHVH, so as to bring them out from the land of Egypt. That night watch, it is a keeping watch unto YHVH, so that it is for all the children of Israel throughout their generations. 8
As we said before, this word is also used in the Septuagint to translate the notion of being prepared. Here it is in the book of Ezekiel…
7 “Be prepared, and prepare yourself, you and all your companies that are assembled about you, and be a guard for them.
There are two other Scriptures that confirm a staying awake on this night.
Do not leave any till morning
The first is the commandment not to leave any meat till morning, but to burn what is left over before morning.
10 ‘And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire.
If you think about it logically, would you leave food after the evening meal, go to sleep and after that burn whatever is left over in the morning? Or would you leave the food because you may still eat of it during the night because you are awake, and then burn what is left over in the morning?
Then after that…
In the morning you are to return to your tents…
7 “You shall cook and eat it in the place which YHVH your Elohim chooses. In the morning you are to return to your tents.
These verses could be a clue for us…
This night on which the Passover was eaten was celebrated at the Temple and could have been an all-night feast. The people would eat, recount the story of the Exodus and praise YHVH for their deliverance. This was a national celebration as we have seen in the article “The first Passover and the commemoration of it.” They are also to burn whatever meat is left over, and we read in Deuteronomy that they are to return to their tents in the morning. This confirms that the festivities could have continued all through the night.
Ok, so we have quite a few interpretations and commentaries here. Let us put it all together. It seems that this night, at the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened bread, is to be observed as a vigil or a watch to YHVH. However, it is rather difficult to make a correct interpretation when a specific form of a word is used only once in Scripture. Nevertheless, based on what we have learned here, it seems to be a night to be on guard; to be prepared.
Let’s go back in time. Consider the night of the Exodus. Israel was told to slaughter a lamb and put blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses. They were commanded not to leave their homes. They were probably awake in anticipation of what will happen next. They were waiting and watching… It took faith to be delivered that night. The Egyptians probably thought it foolishness. However, those who believed the word, were delivered.
Is it different for us? The world thinks it’s foolishness to keep YHVH’s commandments, but we do it in faith of a future redemption. The first Passover was a day of deliverance for Israel. Years later, on a Passover YHVH sent Y’shua to deliver us from eternal death. The phrase “throughout their generations” tells us that we are still to observe this. All other times this phrase is used in Scripture, it refers to an eternal commandment.
Prophecy can be fulfilled more than once, even more than twice.
Who is to say that a future Passover would not again be deliverance for us, a physical deliverance? We are therefor to be vigilant and wait on YHVH’s deliverance. He gives us instructions for our own good. His instructions are life to us. We are to choose life!
19 “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants,
We would like you to consider this and please share your understanding with us. Do your own study to see if this is indeed so and then be obedient… In our next article, we shall look into the “watch” that was to be kept by Y’shua’s disciples in relation to the Passover meal. Please subscribe, to make sure you don’t miss this.
- All quoted passages are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. We have substituted YHVH for LORD and Y’shua for Jesus.
- Berlin, A., Brettler, M. Z., & Fishbane, M. (Eds.). (2004). The Jewish Study Bible (pp. 129–130). New York: Oxford University Press.
- Sarna, N. M. (1991). Exodus (p. 63). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
- Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- Hannah, J. D. (1985). Exodus. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, pp. 129–130). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
- Lust, J., Eynikel, E., & Hauspie, K. (2003). A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint : Revised Edition. Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft: Stuttgart.
- Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Brannan, R., Penner, K. M., Loken, I., Aubrey, M., & Hoogendyk, I. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Septuagint (Ex 12:42). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
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