The Passover Ritual of the Sacrificed Lamb:
Yahweh prescribes the ritual for the Passover: on the tenth of the month of “Abib,” later known by the Babylonian name of “Nisan,” (this day, in the March-April timeframe, would now mark the beginning of the Jewish liturgical calendar) each family should procure a lamb, which “must be a year old male and without blemish.” (Ex. 12:5) Yahweh is again instructing the Israelites to slaughter a god of the Egyptians, such as the ram-headed god Khnum. This may have played a role in the Israelites overcoming a psychological barrier to their liberation. By sacrificing one of the Egyptian gods (ie, a lamb), they psychologically prepared themselves to stand up against a collective 400 history of slave mentality. Each family should “take some of its blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb. That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.” (Ex. 12:7-8) The exodus covenant is sealed in blood.
Eat the Flesh of the Lamb:
“Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste—it is the Lord’s Passover. For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Ex. 12:11-13) The blood on the door is “a sign” for us, not God, to assure us that He will spare the Israelites despite the death happening all around them. The Bible states five times that they must “eat” the flesh of the lamb. The Passover ritual would not be complete until they ate the flesh of the lamb. So, it was not enough just to sacrifice the lamb, they also had to eat it entirely. This is a foreshadowing of Christians eating the flesh of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
Prefiguring Christ, the Lamb of God:
The year-old male lamb without blemish to be sacrificed has obvious typological significance: It prefigures the Christ as the unblemished Lamb of God sacrificed for our redemption, and the lamb eaten at the Passover meal anticipates our eating the flesh of Christ in the Eucharist. Jesus celebrates and transforms the Passover ritual at the Last Supper, where the memorial meal becomes the new exodus from sin. Just as the Passover had led to the freeing of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and from the bondage of Pharaoh, so too would Christ’s sacrifice free us from the bondage of the world and the devil’s slavery to sin. The blood of the lamb was put on the doorpost as protection against the destroyer and death. So too, it is Jesus’ blood that covers us and protects us from evil and death. Just as they ate the lamb, so too, do we eat the flesh of Christ in the sacrament of Communion. Through Christ’s sacrifice of the Cross and the Eucharist, we passover from death into life in the new exodus to the eternal promised land. St. Paul uses this same paschal imagery too: “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor. 5:7)
Remembrance and Civilization Progress:
Yahweh tells them “This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate..” (Ex. 12:14) The idea of remembrance is a very important one in the Torah. Thomas Cahill writes in his book The Gift of the Jewsthat the Jews were the first to break out of the cyclical worldview that dominated history, that is, nothing progresses scientifically, culturally, or morally. The Jews were the first to break out of this cycle. He writes, “The Jews were the first people to break out of this circle . . . It may be said with some justice that theirs is the only new idea that human beings had ever had.”
Feast of Unleavened Bread:
“Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. . ” (Ex. 12:15) The unleavened bread (“matzah”) is a reminder of their hurried departure from Egypt. The bitter herbs are meant to remind them of the bitter bondage of slavery they endured, and from which, Yahweh freed them. Leaven is also symbolic of sins and evil influences that Israel must now remove from themselves. This is why Jesus warns the Jews with the same paschal imagery, “Beware of the leavenof the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Lk. 12:1) Leavening is a process of fermentation of dough, which chemically breaks down and degrades the substance. It is a form of decay and decomposition. Symbolically, it represents sin and death. The number seven echoes the seven days of creation, as the Israelites pass over in the exodus into a new world. Yahweh is deadly serious that the Jews must observe the seven days of unleavened bread or they “shall be cut off from Israel.” The Feast of Unleavened Bread was intertwined with the Passover meal, just as the sacrifice of Christ became one with the bread of the Eucharist. The unleavened bread clearly denotes the Blessed Sacrament, which Christ transformed into His very own Body and Blood.
Death of the First-Borns:
“Now it came about at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle.” (Ex. 12:29) “There was not a house without its dead.” (v.30) This could also serve as a means of despoiling the Egyptians (who adhered to the firstborn primogeniture laws) of their priestly class and proper sacrifices. At last, Pharaoh and the Egyptians have finally had enough. Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron, and demands them “Leave my people at once, you and the Israelites with you!” (Ex. 12:31) The Lord also made the Egyptians well disposed to give the Israelites “whatever they asked for.” (v.36)
The Departure from Egypt:
The Israelites had been in Egypt for 430 years. “Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children.” (Ex. 12:37) This was a crowd of mixed ancestry, so not just Jewish Israelites. There may well have been up to 1-2 million+ men, women and children total departing from Egypt. The dough they brought out of Egypt was not leavened, so “they baked it into unleavened loaves.” (Ex. 12:39)
The Passover Regulations:
The Lord then lays down His regulations for partaking in it. “No foreigner may partake of it.” “No transient alien or hired servant may partake of it.” Anyone who wishes to join in the observance of it “must first be circumcised, and then they may join in its observance just like the natives.” (Ex. 12:48) This is no ordinary meal. This is a covenantal ritual. Only those circumcised into the covenantal relationship with Yahweh may partake of it and eat of the flesh of the lamb. This is the same in our Catholic Church. You must be baptized and initiated into the Catholic faith in order to partake of the Mass and holy Eucharist. You must be brought into the sacramental Catholic fold in order to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lamb of God. It is not surprising then that Yahweh instructs them “you may not take any of its flesh outside the house.” (Ex. 12:46) So too, we are not to offer the Eucharist outside the house of God or the Catholic community of believers.
Not Break Any Bones:
Next, Yahweh tells them, “You shall not break any of its bones.” (v.47) This, of course, is directly applicable to Christ on the Cross showing Him to be a prophetic type of paschal lamb. St. John tells us: “but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.. . For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, “Not a bone of Him shall be broken.” (Jn.19:36) Contrary to typical Roman crucifixion practices of breaking the bones of the condemned (in order that they may die more quickly), the Roman soldiers do not break Jesus’ bones.
Paschal Lambs “Crucified”:
Later, sacrificial Paschal lambs were in a manner of speaking “crucified.” According to the Mishnah, at the time of the Temple, after killing the lamb, the Jews would pierce it with “thin smooth staves” of wood through the shoulders in order to hand and skin it. In addition, a second skewer of wood was thrust “from its mouth to it buttocks.” The two beams of wood then would form a cross shape, upon which the lamb was hung. A second century Christian, St. Justin Martyr, describes the same thing. He wrote: “For the lamb, which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of a cross. For one spit is transfixed right through from the lower parts up to the head, and one across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb.” (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 40) One can imagine the crucifixion of thousands of lambs across Jerusalem each year at the time of the Passover feast; thus, preparing the Jewish mind to accept the reality of the crucified Christ as the ultimate and final sacrifice.
Consecration of the Firstborns:
The Lord then instructs Moses to consecrate to Him “every first-born” of “both man and beast, for it belongs to me.” (Ex. 13:1) This means to set apart for the service of divine worship. The eldest sons and animals of Israel belong to Yahweh because He spared them in the tenth plague of His passing over Egypt. The firstborn sons likely would be brought into sacred and priestly ministry, while the firstborn animals are kept for religious sacrifice. Note: Later, in Num. 3:12 and 8:14-18, the Levites are chosen as substitutes for every firstborn son consecrated to God. The change occurs after the golden calf rebellion at Mt. Sinai. The tribe of Levi ordained itself “for the service of the Lord” after the apostasy and idolatry of worshipping the golden calf. Firstborn sons, thereafter, have to be redeemed or brought back into the liturgical ministry at the price of five shekels. (Num. 18:15-16)
The Lord tells Moses: “It shall be a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead.” (Ex. 13:9) This is what inspired the Jewish practice of wearing the small leather boxes containing Scripture verses, phylacteries or tefillin, to their left arm and forehead during prayer. This is also described in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. This was probably meant figuratively, although later generations took it literally as well. The phylactery contains the Shema prayer (Deut. 6:4): “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The prayer, quoted by Jesus (Mk. 12:30), continues: “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” “Jesus later criticized the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, who “do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.” (Mt. 23:5)
The Mark of the Beast:
It is interesting to note that in this monotheistic declaration in worship of Yahweh bound to their foreheads and hand, is later mocked and mimicked by the Antichrist with the mark of the beast. The Book of Revelation reveals that anyone who “worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand . .” (Rev. 14:9) The Holy Spirit seals us on our heads, and Satan, in his demonic counterfeit seals, and condemns, his followers with a mark on either their forehead or right hand.
Diversion into the Wilderness of the Sinai:
God could have led the Israelites directly into Canaan and the land where the Philistines dwelt. However, “God did not lead them by way of the Philistines’ land, though this was the nearest; for He thought, should the people see that they would have to fight, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” (Ex. 13:17) The Egyptians patrolled this area in north Sinai with a series of military forts. So instead, God led them south from Ramses and Pithom to Succoth towards the desert along the way of the Red Sea. Again, the Israelites are leaving not as slaves but as a conquering army. “In battle array the Israelites marched out of Egypt.” (v.18) They also brought Joseph’s bones along with them to bring back to Israel.
A Column of Cloud by Day and a Pillar of Fire by Night:
“The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.” (Ex. 13:21) The column of cloud and the pillar of fire never left its place in front of the people. Yahweh marches at the head of the Israelites. It is God’s preternatural power and manifestation of His holy presence. Isaiah wrote of it as “He who put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them.” (Is. 63:11) St. Ambrose wrote the fire designated Jesus Christ and the cloud the Holy Spirit. The cloud foreshadows Baptism and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, who cools our passions. St. Paul in writing to the Corinthians said, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea;and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea;” (1 Cor. 10:1-2)
Yahweh the Warrior:
Pharaoh remained obstinate and changed his mind exclaiming, “What have we done!” With that, “Pharaoh’s whole army, his horses, chariots and charioteers, caught up with them as they lay encamped by the sea, at Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.” (Ex. 14:9) Pharaoh came back for revenge and vengeance upon Moses and Israel. Just then the Israelites look up and see the Egyptians, and become terrified. They complain bitterly to Moses, “Far better for us to be the slaves of the Egyptians than to die in the desert.” (Ex. 14:12) Moses answered them: “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.” (v.13-14) Yahweh is the divine warrior ready to fight for Israel. Then, Yahweh does some defensive battle maneuvers to guard the rear. The angel of God, who had been leading the Israelites, now moved behind them. This angel is the one who mediates and manifests God’s presence to the world. The column of cloud also left the front and went behind them. Thus, they stood in between the Egyptian camp and the Israelites; blocking the Egyptians and protecting the Israelites.
The Miraculous Crossing of the Red Sea:
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided.The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.” (Ex. 14:21-22) This is undoubtedly a miraculous event, and not simply a freak natural phenomenon. It is perhaps the greatest miraculous event recorded in the Exodus and the Old Testament. Yahweh is manifesting His divine power and delivering His people Israel with powerful miracles and wondrous signs. The Israelites march through as with a “wall of water” to the left and to the right. The Israelites passed through the water as on dry land. Soon, the Pharaoh and the Egyptian army were in hot pursuit through the midst of the water. The Lord cast “a glance” through the fiery cloud that threw the Egyptians into a “panic” and they “sounded the retreat.” (v.24) “For the Lord was fighting for them against the Egyptians.” Yahweh then tells Moses to stretch out his hand again over the sea, and “at dawn the sea flowed back to its normal depth.” (v.27) Pharaoh and the charioteers were caught in it and drowned. “Not a single one of them escaped.” (v.28) “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. When Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses.” (Ex. 14:30-31) This is Yahweh’s mightiest act of deliverance for Israel and is frequently called as such in the Old Testament (Ps. 66:6; 106:9; Is. 51:10; 63:11-13)
Allegorical Baptism of the Red Sea:
The crossing of the waters of the Red Sea is a type of Baptism. The people of God are brought out of bondage and slavery by being baptized in the waters of the Red Sea to free them from the oppressive Egyptians. Similarly, Christians are Baptized in the sacramental water and made free of the stains of original sin. We cross over into a new life in Christ. St. Paul made the same allusions too: “and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” (1 Cor. 10:2) The Egyptians were the stain of sin that the waters removed from the chosen people, Israel. The waters of Baptism end the control of the devil in our lives and put to death our enmity with God. We reemerge on the other side with a new faith and a new life.
Moses’ Hymn to the Lord as a Warrior:
Moses sings a song to Yahweh, a victory hymn honoring the Mighty Lord. In verse 2, he says the Lord is my “savior;” in verse 3, “The Lord is a warrior.” (Ex. 15:3) In verse 13, “redeemer.” Moses mocks the gods of Egypt again saying “Who is like to you among the gods, O Lord?” (v.11) Pharaoh and his charioteers “sank into the depths like a stone.” (v. 5) There are similar visions of the wicked sinking like stones in the sea (Jer. 51:63-64; Lk. 17:2). This also is a foreshadowing of the future destruction of the antichrist’s kingdom of “Babylon.” “A mighty angel picked up a stone like a huge millstone and threw it into the sea.” (Rev. 18:21) The second half of the hymn is directed at future conquests over Canaan, the Philistines, Edom, and Moab. Nations will tremble before the warpath of Yahweh. The prophetess Miriam, Aaron’s sister, takes a tambourine and leads the women in dancing and praising God. She represents a type of the Church, leading the faithful in songs of divine praise.
Bitter Water at Marah:
Moses then leads them from the Red Sea for three days through the desert without finding any water. They arrive at Marah, where the people grumbled again (already) that the water was “bitter.” (Ex. 15:23) The Exodus generation is infamous for their “murmuring” and “grumbling” against God and Moses. Years later, Moses will look back at them as “a perverse and crooked generation.” (Deut. 32:5) This, however, is the first of their crises, a lack of drinking water. Each crisis highlights their precarious situation in the desert and their reliance on Yahweh’s providential care. The Lord then pointed out to Moses a “certain piece of wood. When he threw this into the water, the water became fresh.” (Ex. 15:25) The waters of Marah are made fresh by the wood. Tertullian pointed out that this is a prefigurement of the wood of the Cross of Christ making holy and life-giving the waters of Baptism. (Tertullian, On Baptism, 9)
Oasis at Elim:
At long last, the Israelites come to Elim, “where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.” (Ex. 15:27) This oasis had plenty of shade and water for the weary Israelites. This location is still a dramatic oasis in the desert today with water and palm trees.