The story of the Passover will of course be well known to everyone, but it is interesting to see how the story is actually told in Exodus. It is strikingly different from the other plagues. As with other plagues, there is announcement of what God will do in chapter 11, and the description of it happening is given in 12:29-42, but around that description we get detailed instruction about they were to prepare for it then and how they were to remember this event in the future. All these regulations about the Passover are not a digression, but rather they help interpret what happened and point up its lasting significance.
Because it is a long passage, I think I wouldn’t read ch.11, you might simply say God there announces what he will do, so start reading from chapter 12.
Instructions are first given by God to Moses for how the Passover is to be celebrated then (12:1-13) and in the future (12:14-20), which Moses then passes on to the people (12:21-28). The regulations for future generations make it clear that what was about to happen was of lasting significance. This was a new beginning, so from now on this would mark the beginning of a new year (v.2).
The details are interesting. The lamb is to be chosen four days before it is killed: there’s to be no last minute decisions, but careful preparation. And those four days of caring for the lamb (v.6) would have fostered a bond between the family and the lamb. The fact that the lamb was to be of an appropriate size for the household to consume suggests a degree of identification; it would be their substitute. A striking difference between this plague and earlier plagues is that the threat hangs over Israelite and Egyptian alike. God had shown he was perfectly able to make a distinction and leave his people unharmed by the earlier plagues, but for this most terrible plague all faced the threat of judgment, for the Israelites were no less guilty than their oppressors, for there would be a death in every house (v.30). The blood daubed on the door-frames was a sign to the people (v.13), intended to assure them, for the lamb’s death indicated their safety because it served as their substitute. When God saw the blood he would know there had already been a death and would pass over.
All of the lamb was to be eaten (none kept for sandwiches for the journey) suggesting complete appropriation. It was to be eaten with “bitter herbs”, perhaps suggestive of their “bitter” experience of slavery (see 1:14 where the same word was used), and unleavened bread, which in part seems to be an indicator of their hasty departure (see v.39, no time to let dough prove), hence too they don’t eat wearing slippers, but booted up and ready to leave (v.11).
The Passover recalls what they were saved from (God’s judgment, v.12) and the means of rescue (the death of a substitute). Verses 14-20 go on to speak of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which followed on from Passover, not something celebrated then but in subsequent years. The significance of yeast is not explained here, but the New Testament helps us understand. Jesus spoke of “the yeast of the Pharisees” suggesting a harmful, corrupting influence, and Paul in 1 Cor.5:7-8 explains it in terms of the old ways of sin we are to rid ourselves of. Given that this feast follows on from the Passover, it seems therefore in a sense to remind the people what they are saved for: this new beginning is to lead to a new life.
This final, terrible plague happens just as God had announced (vv.29-30, cf.11:4-6). Pharaoh’s response now is very different from before – no attempt to impose his own terms and insist on his own authority. He even asks Moses to bless him (v.32) The Israelites don’t have to sneak shamefully over the back fence, as it were, but leave with heads held high through the front door, carrying the gifts of the Egyptians.
The regulations are here to help us grasp the significance of what happened, for how it is to be remembered points to what they are meant to learn from it. The regulations deal first with the Passover, then the Feast of Unleavened Bread, then the Consecration of the Firstborn: three different ways this event was to be remembered. There may not be time to look at these verses but there are interesting details to notice if you do have time (eg the importance of circumcision, and thus being in the covenant community, for Passover; the purpose of this rescue, bringing them into the promised land, for Unleavened Bread; and the significance of being the LORD’s Firstborn (cf.4:22) who rightly belong to him, for the Consecration of the Firstborn.