God as our Protector - Rethinking Passover

Pretty much every Christian has heard of the Passover. It's one of the religious stories that's ingrained into every fiber of our being.

Jesus on Hill

I know this is a bit early, but I couldn't wait.

During some of my recent studying of the Passover I've found myself in even more awe of God. I continue to learn about the sheer wealth of knowledge that the ancient biblical writers held -context- that we don't have today when we approach the text and it's almost overwhelming. I wanted to pen down just a couple points starting with the event of Passover.

Pretty much every Christian has heard of the Passover. It's one of the religious stories that's ingrained into every fiber of our being. We're told Passover is a Jewish holiday -lasting 7 days- celebrated as a way to remember God's hand in leading Israel out of captivity. More specifically, it points back to the angel of death event during the 10th plague where God killed the Egyptian's firstborn, passing over God's people.

12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. - Exodus 12:12 (ESV)

The people of Israel were instructed to slaughter a sheep or goat and paint their doorposts with its blood so the death angel would pass over their homes.

13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. 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. -  Exodus 12:13 (ESV)

Contrary to popular belief the term Passover doesn't come from God "passing over" Israel. We see this verb used in Exodus 12:

23 For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. 24 You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. 25 And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’ ” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped. - Exodus 12:23–27 (ESV)

However, the verb used to describe the passover act in Exodus 12:23 is the Hebrew word pesah in noun form with the verb usage being pesach. Pesach isn't the normative verb used to describe the act of passing over or passing by. The correct Hebrew verb would actually be abar, which means to pass over or to cross.

The origin of the word

So how did we get the word Passover? It came from the Latin Vulgate (latin translation of the Bible) translation of the verb in "the Lord passed over" to the name of the sacrifice to Passover. This occurred around the 5th century AD. Why is this important?

Scholar Jeffrey H. Tigay says this in his Deuteronomy commentary from Jewish Publication Society:

"However, the Hebrew verb does not mean “pass over.” Most of the ancient translations and commentaries render the verb as “(the Lord) spared,” “had compassion,” or “protected,” and the name of the sacrifice as “protective sacrifice,” referring to the protection of Israel during the final plague. This rendering is supported by the way the verb is used in Isaiah 31:5."

A more accurate way of thinking about the Passover event, is God protecting His people. The 10th plague of Egypt was less about the passing over of Israel and more about the protection of God's people. Passover, was a protective sacrifice.

Passover in relation to Jesus

But the goodness doesn't stop there. Remember when Jesus had His last meal with the disciples? This meal was known as a Passover meal. What's incredibly interesting about this event is that scripture -Paul- calls Jesus the Passover lamb.

7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. - 1 Corinthians 5:7 (ESV)

And John refers to Jesus as the Passover lamb as well by echoing the liturgical rules for the rite in Exodus.

46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. - Exodus 12:46 (ESV)
36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” - John 19:36 (ESV)

What I believe often gets missed concerning Jesus's last meal as our Passover lamb, is that it was a substitutionary ritual that points back to Exodus where God protected His people.

God's display of supremacy in Egypt was about telegraphing to the Egyptians that He was in control and not their gods (elohim). In short, what is often missed is that God was battling the gods of Egypt, not magicians or imaginations of deities. Remember, in Exodus 12:12  God says specifically that He is going to cast judgement not just on the man but on all of the gods of Egypt. Kind of hard to cast judgement on things that don't exist.

The Exodus plagues concerned a great cosmic battle with God warring against supernatural beings that were in opposition to Him. And God protected Israel through the sacrifice of a lamb during this great battle.

When Jesus came to give His life, He in a way, reconstituted this same event but with a twist as He was the substitutionary lamb. Jesus died to protect us from the very same supernatural foes that seek to keep humanity in darkness. Christ's death was Him -God- in a cosmic battle over humanity once again.

Christ is our protector. Our God protects His people. Passover can be viewed as God protecting His people in the midst of supernatural darkness.