It is almost time for Passover or Pesach, the first festival of the new biblical year. We find it necessary to re-read all the instructions before every feast. This ensures that we celebrate the festival according to the commandments given by YHVH. We tend to sometimes forget some of the detail…
There are many different ideas on how we are to celebrate this feast. Some teach that we are to slaughter a lamb and put the blood on the doorposts and lintel. We believe that we must differentiate between the first Passover and the commemoration thereof. We will supply you with scriptural proof to show you why we are not to slaughter a lamb, in our dwellings, as part of our celebration of the Passover. This will be the focus of this article. If you would like to know how to observe this feast, you can read the article “How to celebrate Pesach and the Feast of Unleavened bread. Included in this article, you will also find a haggadah, that is basically a program you can follow for your seder meal at the beginning of the feast of Unleavened bread (15th of Aviv at evening)
There are significant differences between the first Passover and the commemoration thereof. We cannot do every instruction given to Moses for this specific event. Think about it, we can’t go to our neighbors and ask them for their wealth… In the same way, we can’t take the instructions YHVH gave to commemorate this day and apply it to the event of the first Passover. For example, when we commemorate this day, we are to observe a Sabbath on the 15th of Aviv. Yet, we cannot apply this instruction to the first Passover and say the day the Israelites left Egypt was a Sabbath. Let us now look at the differences in more detail.
The differences between the first Passover and the commemoration of it
When you read the text, you will notice that the instructions for the first Passover are different to those of the memorial of this day. Furthermore, note that the Passover (14th of Aviv)seems to have become one with the Feast of Unleavened bread (15- 21 Aviv). The term Passover is sometimes used when referring to these feasts together. Keep that in mind as we study this.
Here is a table to show the differences.
|The lamb was to be chosen and taken into the home for inspection on the tenth of Aviv (Ex 12:3-5)||You were not allowed to slaughter the Passover in any of your towns (Deut 16:5)|
|The lamb was kept until the fourteenth of Aviv, and killed at twilight (Ex 12:6)Take note that the lamb to be slain was not specifically called a sacrifice||You shall sacrifice the Passover from the flock and from the herd. (Deut 16:2) Here the Passover is called a sacrifice You shall present an offering by fire: two bulls and one ram and seven male lambs one year old, having them without defect as well as a grain offering.(Num 28:19)|
|Some of the blood was put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the house where they were to eat it (Ex 12:7)||These offers were to be brought at the place where YHVH chose to establish His name (Deut 16:1)|
|The flesh was eaten that night, roasted with fire (Ex12:8)||The Passover is to be slaughtered on the fourteenth day of Aviv at twilight(Lev 23:5; Num 9:11; Num 28:16-17)You shall cook and eat the Passover in the place which YHVH your Elohim chooses (Deut 16:7)|
|Not a bone of it shall be broken (Ex12:46)||Not a bone of it shall be broken (Num 9:12)|
|The lamb was eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Ex12:8)||They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Num 9:11)|
|None of the meat was to be left till morning, that which was left over was to be burned (Ex 12:10)||None of the flesh which you sacrifice on the evening of the first day shall remain overnight until morning (Ex 23:18; Ex 34:25; Num 9:12; Deut 16:4)|
|They were to eat it with lions girded, sandals on their feet and staff in hand (Ex 12:11)|
|They ate it in haste (Ex 12:11)|
|YHVH went through the land and smote the firstborn of those without the blood on their doorposts and lintels (Ex 12:12)|
|It is to be celebrated as a feast (Ex 13:14, Lev 23:14)|
|Eat unleavened bread for 7 days, from the fourteenth day, at the evening (this is already the beginning of the first day of unleavened bread -15 Aviv) to the twenty first day, at evening (Ex 12: 15; Ex 13:6-7; Lev 23:6; Deut 16:3,8)|
|No leaven is to be found in the home during this time (Ex 12: 15; Ex 13:7; Deut 16:4)|
|It is a permanent ordinance (Ex 12:17, 24; Ex 13:10, 14; Lev 23:14)|
|The first and seventh days are to be observed as sabbaths, no work shall be done except for what must be eaten by each person (Ex13:16; lev 23:7; Num 28:18)|
|None were to go out of his house until morning (Ex 12:22)||In the morning you are to return to your tents (Deut 16:7)|
|The Israelites requested from the Egyptians articles of silver, gold and clothing (Ex12:35-36)|
|It is a night/vigil to be observed for YHVH (Ex 12:42)|
|No foreigner is to eat of it, he was to be circumsized first (Ex12:43-45, 48-49)|
|Israel was brought out of Egypt on that same day|
|You shall tell your son on that day why you observe this rite (Ex12:26-27; Ex13:8, 14-15)|
There seems to be a clear distinction between the first Passover and the commemoration of it. The instructions are different. If you look carefully at these instructions, we learn that at the first Passover, a lamb was slaughtered at home, and some of the blood was applied to the doorposts and lintel. The memorial is a feast; sacrifices are made; it is to be a permanent ordinance; a corporate event celebrated at the place where YHVH chose to put His name.
We don’t find the instruction to slaughter a lamb at home and everything that goes with that instruction. On the contrary, the instructions in Deuteronomy are very clear that we are not to slaughter a lamb at home. The Passover is now referred to as a sacrifice, a “zabah” in Hebrew.
5 “You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which YHVH your Elohim is giving you; 6 but at the place where YHVH your Elohim chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset, at the time that you came out of Egypt.
This sacrifice is to take place “At the place where YHVH chooses to establish His name.” we are clearly instructed in Deuteronomy 12:6-7 that sacrifices are to be brought at a specific place.
6 “There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. 7 “There also you and your households shall eat before YHVH your Elohim, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which YHVH your Elohim has blessed you.
The instructions about what was to be sacrificed is quite interesting…
2 “You shall sacrifice the Passover to YHVH your Elohim from the flock and the herd, in the place where YHVH chooses to establish His name.
It refers to the Passover, that will be sacrificed, to be from the flock and from the herd.
Flocks are small mammels:
7366 צֹאן (ṣō(ʾ)n): n.fem.; ≡ Str 6629; TWOT 1864a—1. LN 4.1–4.37 (coll.) flock of small mammals, i.e., a collection of goats and/or sheep (1Sa 17:20), note: in some contexts the reference is to groups of human persons; 2. LN 4.1–4.37 small mammal, i.e., a ceremonially clean, individual four-footed mammal smaller than cattle, donkeys, or camels, i.e., a sheep2
And herds are cattle
1330 בָּקָר (bā·qār): n.masc.; ≡ Str 1241; TWOT 274a—1. LN 4.1–4.37 large mammal herds, i.e., esp. cattle but possibly in some contexts other large mammals such as camels, horses, donkeys et. al., often in contrast to the smaller mammals of sheep/goats (Ge 12:16; 13:5), note: for MT text in 1Sa 8:16, see 1033; 2. LN 4.1–4.37 cattle, i.e., large mammals of the bovine species, the female cow giving milk as human food (2Sa 17:29), or the valued male for sacrifice (1Ch 29:22)2
So, from all this, we learn that the Passover to YHVH, to be sacrificed as part of the commemoration of the first Passover, can be from the flock and/or from the herd. Is this reference to the burnt offerings that were commanded in Numbers 28? Two bulls, one ram and seven male lambs were sacrificed as a burnt offering (Num 28:19). It could be, but we shall do some more investigating before we conclude anything.
Here is a quote from the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary about the difference in instructions.
Deuteronomy is even clearer in making the holiday and the sacrifice, now called a zebaḥ, similar to communal sacrifices that were to be offered up at the central sanctuary. In the first place, by not playing up the apotropaic aspects of rituals, the text deletes the smearing of blood on the doorposts and the ban on breaking the bone, thereby placing emphasis on the commemorative nature of the rite. Secondly, the text recasts Exodus’s regulations of the types of animals and manner of offering (boiling instead of roasting; sheep or cattle instead of lambs and goats, i.e., no cattle), and does not specify that it be one-year-old males (von Rad Deuteronomy OTL, 110–13; Weinfeld 1972: 216–17; Ginsberg 1982: 42–48, 55–58, 61, 78; Fishbane 1985: 135–38)….
…Deuteronomy would, in particular, highlight the national character of the holiday, a holiday when individuals on pilgrimage would have their identity as part of a national group reinforced (Bokser 1984: 81–83).3
Let us see if we can find detail in Scripture and historical literature in order to understand how the Passover was celebrated later.
Historical accounts of the celebration of Passover
We find detailed accounts of two Passover celebrations. One in the time of King Hezekiah and one in the time of King Josiah.
King Hezekiah’s celebration of the Passover
2 Chronicles 30:1–5
1 Now Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of YHVH at Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to YHVH Elohim of Israel. 2 For the king and his princes and all the assembly in Jerusalem had decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month, 3 since they could not celebrate it at that time, because the priests had not consecrated themselves in sufficient numbers, nor had the people been gathered to Jerusalem. 4 Thus the thing was right in the sight of the king and all the assembly. 5 So they established a decree to circulate a proclamation throughout all Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to celebrate the Passover to YHVH Elohim of Israel at Jerusalem. For they had not celebrated it in great numbers as it was prescribed.
2 Chronicles 30:15
15 Then they slaughtered the Passover lambs on the fourteenth of the second month. And the priests and Levites were ashamed of themselves, and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the house of YHVH.
Take note that the word “lamb” was inserted by the translators. Something else that stands out is the great joy experienced during the celebration.
2 Chronicles 30:21–22
21 The sons of Israel present in Jerusalem celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days with great joy, and the Levites and the priests praised YHVH day after day with loud instruments to YHVH. 22 Then Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites who showed good insight in the things of YHVH. So they ate for the appointed seven days, sacrificing peace offerings and giving thanks to YHVH Elohim of their fathers.
Did you know they enjoyed this celebration so much that they celebrated for another 7 days?
King Josiah’s celebration of the Passover
We find, another, quite detailed account of the Passover that was celebrated in the time of King Josiah.
2 Chronicles 35:1–19
1 Then Josiah celebrated the Passover to YHVH in Jerusalem, and they slaughtered the Passover animals on the fourteenth day of the first month. 2 He set the priests in their offices and encouraged them in the service of the house of YHVH. 3 He also said to the Levites who taught all Israel and who were holy to YHVH, “Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David king of Israel built; it will be a burden on your shoulders no longer. Now serve YHVH your Elohim and His people Israel. 4 “Prepare yourselves by your fathers’ households in your divisions, according to the writing of David king of Israel and according to the writing of his son Solomon. 5 “Moreover, stand in the holy place according to the sections of the fathers’ households of your brethren the lay people, and according to the Levites, by division of a father’s household. 6 “Now slaughter the Passover animals, sanctify yourselves and prepare for your brethren to do according to the word of YHVH by Moses.” 7 Josiah contributed to the lay people, to all who were present, flocks of lambs and young goats, all for the Passover offerings, numbering 30,000 plus 3,000 bulls; these were from the king’s possessions. 8 His officers also contributed a freewill offering to the people, the priests and the Levites. Hilkiah and Zechariah and Jehiel, the officials of the house of Elohim, gave to the priests for the Passover offerings 2,600 from the flocks and 300 bulls. 9 Conaniah also, and Shemaiah and Nethanel, his brothers, and Hashabiah and Jeiel and Jozabad, the officers of the Levites, contributed to the Levites for the Passover offerings 5,000 from the flocks and 500 bulls. 10 So the service was prepared, and the priests stood at their stations and the Levites by their divisions according to the king’s command. 11 They slaughtered the Passover animals, and while the priests sprinkled the blood received from their hand, the Levites skinned them. 12 Then they removed the burnt offerings that they might give them to the sections of the fathers’ households of the lay people to present to YHVH, as it is written in the book of Moses. They did this also with the bulls. 13 So they roasted the Passover animals on the fire according to the ordinance, and they boiled the holy things in pots, in kettles, in pans, and carried them speedily to all the lay people. 14 Afterwards they prepared for themselves and for the priests, because the priests, the sons of Aaron, were offering the burnt offerings and the fat until night; therefore the Levites prepared for themselves and for the priests, the sons of Aaron. 15 The singers, the sons of Asaph, were also at their stations according to the command of David, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun the king’s seer; and the gatekeepers at each gate did not have to depart from their service, because the Levites their brethren prepared for them. 16 So all the service of YHVH was prepared on that day to celebrate the Passover, and to offer burnt offerings on the altar of YHVH according to the command of King Josiah. 17 Thus the sons of Israel who were present celebrated the Passover at that time, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days. 18 There had not been celebrated a Passover like it in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet; nor had any of the kings of Israel celebrated such a Passover as Josiah did with the priests, the Levites, all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 19 In the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign this Passover was celebrated.
Especially notable are the accounts of 2 Chr 30:1–27 (Hezekiah’s one-month delayed Passover) and 35:1–19 (Josiah’s Passover) which portray a celebration centralized in Jerusalem. They further blend and preserve diverse earlier pentateuchal traditions, though chapter 30 presents the several innovations as actions necessitated by “lay impurity” while chapter 35 normalizes the changes (Fishbane 1985: 135–38, 154–59). The texts emphasize great rejoicing and the role of Levites and other experts in singing praises to God, and specify that the eating of the Passover sacrifice took place in kinship groups. Chap. 30 alternates in referring to the Festival of the Passover Sacrifice (vv 1–12, 15–20) and to the Festival of Unleavened Bread (vv 13, 21–27), perhaps to indicate that each holiday retained its distinct nature. On the other hand, chap. 35 focuses chiefly on the great Festival of the Passover Offering; only half a verse mentions that the people also observed the seven-day Festival of Unleavened Bread (v 17). The importance of these chapters lies primarily in the festival’s later biblical history. Passover, as it took on the dimension of a national holiday celebrated in Jerusalem, became associated with joyous festivity and praises to Elohim. Despite the depiction of the Levites performing the sacrifice in chap. 35, they distributed the dead animals to local clan heads who apportioned them to the family groupings. Moreover, whatever such accounts may reflect historically, be it only the practices of the community or the thinking of the postexilic writer, they do attest a national pilgrimage festival of pesaḥ and maṣṣōt (cf. Haran 1978: 289–90). Hence, although cultic functionaries took a greater role, lay involvement remained and continued to reinforce the significance of the offering for every Israelite as a reminder of the Exodus experience.3
When you read through these two accounts, you get a picture of how these feasts were celebrated.
It sure sounds like a very merry occasion…The instruction to return to your tents in the morning also becomes clear. The people were eating and celebrating at the Temple and were to return to their homes in the morning.
Other historical sources
We find some more historical information about the commemoration of Passover in the book of Jubilees. The book of Jubilees is dated to 160-150 BC4. So, this book gives us an idea of how the Passover was celebrated at that time. Although the book of Jubilees cannot speak for all from that period, it gives us an account of the celebration of Passover.
And they shall offer its blood on the threshold of the altar, and shall place its fat on the fire which is upon the altar, and they shall eat its flesh roasted with fire in the court of the house which has been sanctified in the name of YHVH. 21 And they may not celebrate the Passover in their cities, nor in any place save before the tabernacle of YHVH, or before His house where His name hath dwelt; and they shall not go astray from YHVH.5
It is interesting to note that the sacrifice was eaten either in the courts or before the Tabernacle or Temple.
From these historical accounts, we get a good idea as to how Passover was celebrated in ancient times. When we look at history, be it from Scripture or from other historical literature, we learn a lot about how the Scripture was interpreted in ancient times. This is valuable because less time has elapsed from the time the instructions were given to the time they observed it.
How was the Passover celebrated in the time of Y’shua?
Philo was a Jewish philosopher living at the time Y’shua was on earth. In The Works of Philo there is a section about special laws, here he describes the feast of Passover and how it was celebrated at that time.
From this passage, we get an idea of what was done in the time of Y’shua. The Passover was sacrificed on the fourteenth of Aviv, between the evenings, and everybody celebrated the feast together.
Celebration in the Talmudic period
For a detailed description of how the Passover was celebrated in the Talmudic period, you can read this document: http://www.templeinstitute.org/passover.htm
How are we to celebrate this feast?
We have looked at the instructions for the first Passover and the instructions for the commemoration of this day. We have looked at Scripture to determine how this feast was celebrated, and we have consulted other extra-biblical literature to find out how it was later celebrated.
We have also learned from this study that the sacrifice for Passover can only be done at the place where YHVH chose to put His name. This place is Jerusalem, and YHVH chose a place for Himself as a house of sacrifice.
2 Chronicles 7:12
12 Then YHVH appeared to Solomon at night and said to him, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice.
On this place the Temple was built. You probably know the history of how the Temple was destroyed and rebuilt a few times. However, YHVH did not change His instructions.
The Temple was finally destroyed in 70AD, and now we don’t have a Temple where we can make sacrifices. So, where does this leave us with the Passover sacrifice? We can’t do it. We can observe most of the other instructions, but not the Passover sacrifices. We are not denying that YHVH’s instructions still stand; however, one of these instructions is to sacrifice only at the Temple.
Taking all this into account, would it be right to offer a lamb in our own back yard? What do you think?
- 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.
- Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- Bokser, B. M. (1992). Unleavened Bread and Passover, Feasts of. In (D. N. Freedman, Ed.)The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday.
- Charles, R. H. (Ed.). (2004). Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Vol. 2, p. 81). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
- Yonge, C. D. with Philo of Alexandria. (1995). The works of Philo: complete and unabridged (p. 582). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
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