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Passover Speculations

by Tim O'Hearn

Over the years, and especially recently, I have come to realize that many things we have been told about the Bible simply are not in the Bible. We have many traditions of action that cannot clearly be taught by scripture. Then there are also questions of interpretation that come up because of newer trends that would not have been asked years ago. In this season of Passover (April 15-24, 2014) there are some particular things that have been taught that fall into these categories.

The Passover story can be found in Exodus 11-13. The essentials are this: it was the last of the plagues on Egypt, the Passover lamb was to be killed and its blood put on the doorposts and lintels, God killed the firstborn of man and beast that were not in a house with the blood on it, and Pharaoh drove the Israelites out of Egypt. Those are facts found in the Bible. There are other details as well, but those are the basic essentials.

The people of Israel were told to ask their slave masters for jewelry of valuable metals before they left. Why? Obviously to have them later on, but also to impoverish Egypt. But why would a Egyptian give their gold jewelry, some of it very valuable, to a slave? This may be one of the many miracles recorded in Exodus. “And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the sight of the people.” (Ex 11:3) Many Egyptians remembered Moses as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter forty years before, perhaps. In any case, they gave up the gold out of respect for Moses’ stature. If, as some rabbis state, the ten plagues occurred over a two to three year period, many Egyptians who had not previously known Moses had gained a favorable reputation because of his ability to bring on the plagues. (See Ex 9:20 and 10:7) Fact: Israel plundered the Egyptians of their valuables. Speculation: It was a miracle.

Moses told Pharaoh that all the firstborn of Egypt would die, but those of Israel would not. (Ex 11:4-7) He told the Israelites to kill the lambs and put their blood on the doorposts and lintels, and that they were not to leave their houses that night. (Ex 12) The implication is that if they left their houses they would be subject to the plague. But that would negate what Moses had said to Pharaoh about putting a separation between Egypt and Israel. It has long been taught, also, that if any of the Egyptians had done the same thing with the blood, they would be exempt from the plague. But this would also negate the separation. It is probable that a Jew who went out of his house that night would die. It is possible that some of the Egyptians could have saved their firstborn by following the Israelite example with the blood. It is possible that neither is true. Fact: the destroyer passed over the Israelite houses that had the blood on the doorposts. Speculation: he also passed over any Egyptian houses that had blood on the doorposts, and killed any Israelite found outside his house.

Now an interesting legal question. The Israelites were told, “no uncircumcised person shall eat” of the Passover meal. (Ex 12:48) For many years in the United States, circumcision was a commonly accepted medical practice, for Jews and Gentiles alike. Granted, the circumcisions done in a hospital were generally not done by a properly trained mohel; nevertheless, the question arises: if a circumcised non-Jewish person chooses to eat of the Passover meal, is that acceptable? On the face of it, it would be. Modern rabbis require that a circumcised gentile male who wishes to become religiously Jewish undergo a ceremonial cutting. This would probably also be the Jewish response to a non-Jew who chose to participate in the Passover. In the Christian tradition, however, Paul speaks of Christians as being “circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands.” (Col 2:11) While a Jew would not accept this, many gentile Christians believe they can participate in at least a form of the Passover meal regardless of their physical state. Fact: God said not to let an uncircumcised male eat of the Passover. Speculation: the circumcision of removal of sin qualifies. Fact: Jesus took the Passover meal and made it a memorial of his death, burial, and resurrection. In that sense, any Christian who partakes of the Lord’s Supper participates in the Passover.

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