Exodus 12:1-14

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                                                                                 Exodus 121:1-14

Background to the Book of Exodus:
Historical Situation: (History within the text)

The Book of Exodus tells how God took pity on the Israelites, the means chosen to liberate them from the Egyptians, and their consequent journeys in the wilderness. The story begins after the Israelites have been in Egypt for several generations and a new Pharaoh comes to the throne who is threatened by the number of foreigners (Israelites) in the land and takes hard measures to subdue them and stop them multiplying. We read of the call of Moses by God, the confrontations with the Pharaoh and his wise men, the subsequent release and flight of the Israelites. The pivotal event was revelation of God to Moses and God giving the Law to the people via Moses. (Put picture in here with link). The covenant set up here is conditional on the people keeping their promises (Exodus 19:5-8) - note the word "if" they do ... "then" you shall be my people.

After the initial laws in Exodus 20-23 we read the story of the wooden ark in which the tablets of stone (which have the Law written on them) are to be housed and carried. Great detail is given about this Ark in Exodus 25-27 before going into further detail about the priests who will serve and the manner of the sacrifices. We read of the people's rebellion and Aaron's role in building a golden calf to worship. Moses returns once more from one of his mountain trips and castigates the people for their unfaithfulness. The Book of Exodus finishes with a further account of the building of the ark which sounds rather repetitious of the first one. Within the Book we are given the origins of such Festivals as Passover and Unleavened Bread.

Some people have tried to find evidence within the Egyptian chronicles that the Israelites were present in Egypt in this period but the lack of written material from that era limits any discoveries. What has been found in general terms is that foreigners did serve in Egyptian households, there were building programmes using 'apiru' and foreigners did attain high service in important households (Johnstone:17-27). Rather than trying to prove historical fact as in the old Western idea of 'facts', it is better to understand the Book of Exodus as 'historiography', that is, the remembered history of the Israelite people which is crucial to their identity as the people of God.

Literary Comments

The Book of Exodus is a mixture of very early oral material which has come from different traditions and been joined together in the one book. The events are pivotal to their faith and as we have four gospels telling us about Jesus Christ so the Jews have different memories of the same events. We have four different gospels, but in Exodus the traditions are all mixed in the same book which makes it difficult reading sometimes. For example, in Exodus 19 Moses goes up and down the mountain several times and one isn't sure if he is up or down.

Some people have tried to identify some of the traditions within the Book: a tradition that uses the name of Yahweh called 'J', another called 'E', the tradition written by the Priests called 'P' and the very easily identified "D' tradition mainly found in the Book of Deuteronomy. It makes sense that different communities as in the NT had different memories and emphases which had become important to them and so when the Scriptures are committed to writing there is a desire to incorporate the diverse memories of people and their experience of God within their lives.

PURPOSE of the Book of Exodus:

To tell the story of how God raised up a leader, Moses, to release the Israelites from Egypt who lead them through the wilderness where they received the Law from God via Moses. This Law showed them how to stay in relationship with God and with each other. It gives detailed instructions for building the Ark in which the Tablets will be housed. In the Book of Exodus we have demonstrated the unfaithful behaviours of the people and God's willingness to renew the covenant. The actions of the people's apostasy and God's willingness to renew the covenant is repeated many times in the history of the people.

Context of Exodus 12:1-14

The Book of Exodus begins with the persecution of the Israelites in Egypt, the call of Moses who will be the one to lead them out of bondage and the subsequent confrontations with Pharaoh. In all there are ten acts of God which are intended to show the power of Yahweh and convince the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. The tenth and final act is foreshadowed in Exodus 11. Our lectionary reading gives the instructions to the Israelites as they prepared to flee from the Pharaoh and Egypt.

Exodus 12:14 is followed by another ritual which the Israelites are commanded to keep, that is, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. There is a second account of the Passover and the act of Yahweh which sound horrendous to us (Exodus 12:29) and has to be understood in the world view of that time. It is not the way we believe God acts. The story continues with the flight from Egypt chased by the Pharaoh who had changed his mind once more (Exodus 14:5ff).

Insights/Message of Exodus 12:1-14
Literary Insights:

Exodus 12:1-28 interrupts the flow of the narrative about the plagues. The repeated ritual of Passover and Unleavened Bread which will commemorate the saving events of the exodus have been inserted her. We have the commands about the ritual before the event has taken place (Exodus 12:29-40).

The Israelites are commanded to keep the ritual of Passover and at the end of the instructions about the rituals v.28 confirms that the Israelites were obedient as decreed. Our section is divided up into concrete prescriptions for the festival (1-10), and an interpretation of the event in vv.11-13 (Brueggemann:776). The instructions are very precise about the lamb, how it will be cooked and eaten, and of particular importance is the command to use the blood to mark the lintel of the door.

Vv.11-13 connect the blood with the festival itself, that is the Festival of Passover is the time when the Lord will pass over - just to note the similarity is only in the English translation and there is no similarity in the Hebrew terms. The blood becomes the sign of and means of salvation for the Israelites. Note the gods of Egypt will all be smitten. This means that other gods are recognised as part of the Israelite culture and this final defeat will include them. This is referred to as Monolotry - One God worshipped with other gods acknowledged.

Message / Theology

This festival is of vital importance to the Jews. It is celebrated as the time when they remember the saving acts of God who brought them out of slavery. The symbolic acts of eating the lamb, cooked as directed, unleavened bread and the bitter herbs all serve to remind of that event which God initiated even though they didn't deserve it. The instructions are to a people who will be ready to leave on a journey at a moment's notice.

As Christians we reinterpret the event in light of God's saving acts in Christ. Christ has become the Lamb sacrificed on our behalf and his blood on the cross brings redemption because God raised him from the dead. This act of God brings salvation in that we know death is not the the end. So we also celebrate the festival on Maundy Thursday before the events of Easter. The Passover testifies to God's redemptive acts for Israel and the eucharistic meal witnesses to the redemptive acts of God for Christians. It is a time of remembering the past and looking forward in hope to God's continuing presence in the world and in our lives.

Resources/Worship for Exodus 12:1-14

A re-enactment of the Passover can be used the following resources are helpful:

  • Lincoln, Francis. The illuminated Haggadah. London: Frances Lincoln Ltd, 1997.
  • Zimerman, Martha. Celebrate the Feasts. Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1981.

The Internet would provide extensive resources for any Passover celebration



The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Exodus (Johnstone).

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

*Brueggemann, Walter. "The Book of Exodus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections". In The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 1. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994.
Childs, Brevard S. The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary. OTL. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, [1974].
Coats, George W. The Moses Tradition. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993.
Durham, John I. Exodus. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
*Fretheim, Terrence E. Exodus. Int. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press, 1991.
Gowan, Donald E. Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994.
*Johnstone, W. Exodus. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990.
Moberly, R. W. L. At the Mountain of God: Story and Theology in Exodus 32-34. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1982.
Sarna, Nahum M. Exploring Exodus: The Heritage of Biblical Israel. New York: Schocken Books, 1986.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: These links were updated 30/12/11