2. Pesach – Passover
When the Israelites were in Egypt, their new year began in the fall. This was logical, because it is the time of the final harvest. Just before the Exodus, however, the Lord changed the year around, and through His prophet Moses, deigned that the year would begin in the spring in the month of Nisan, also called Aviv. This is important to the symbolism of the coming Messiah. He is Alpha and Omega; everything begins and ends with Him.
The Lord desired to make of Israel a nation of priests; Israel would be considered the First-born of all Heavenly Father’s children. In their current situation in Egypt, they were rough stones rolling, enslaved and unpolished, accustomed to the crumbs of Egypt, called “vermin” by the Egyptians (Apirou), a desert people accustomed to adversity. We know of no prophet who led them after the death of Joseph. It could be that they clung to their traditions, but had not progressed much spiritually in the hundred or so years before the Exodus. Oppression at the hands of the Egyptians had increased as the population of Israelites had increased, because Pharaoh feared that they would unite with his enemies and revolt.
The Israelites followed ancient, symbolic rites and rituals reestablished by Moses, so certain things were already familiar to them. One is circumcision, a sign of the Abrahamic covenant. It was permanent and easily identifiable. From time to time throughout history, it had been dangerous, and it became dangerous in Egypt, especially since male Hebrew babies were to be killed. Circumcision rites were performed when a baby was eight days old, so from that age, Hebrew babies could be identified. The second and third were animal and grain offerings, common since the time of Adam. In the Mormon scripture, the Pearl of Great Price, it is explained how the Lord directed Adam to perform animal sacrifice in the similitude of God’s Only Begotten Son, who would give His life for the sins of the world. (See Moses 5.) So in many ways, the ordination of the Passover festival was a renewal of some older customs, just as Moses was in many ways a restorer, not an innovator.
A Message for the Israelites… and the Egyptians
The Lord established the basic patterns of the Passover ritual just before the Exodus from Egypt. (See Exodus 8 – 13.) The Passover would occur at the time of the first barley harvest in Canaan, the Promised Land, and just at the end of the rainy season, when the land was blooming. This is the beginning of a slew of important symbols, some of which were meant to testify to the Egyptians that the Israelites’ god, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is the Creator of the Universe, the One True God. The Passover ritual includes a recitation of the 10 plagues that brought Egypt to its knees. The plagues decimated the country. One of the most important festivals of the year was approaching for the Egyptians, the Beautiful Feast of the Valley, in honor of Pharaoh’s god Amun. The Egyptians would have little to celebrate that year, and little to celebrate with.
The plagues, it has been speculated, were caused by volcanic activity and earthquakes in the Mediterranean. This is perhaps true, but they afflicted the Egyptians and not the Israelites. When darkness engulfed the Egyptians, the Israelites had light to see. Many of the plagues were aimed at superstitious beliefs of the Egyptians. The Lord sent them frogs and cattle disease, and the Egyptians worshiped the frog and the bull. The Nile “turned to blood,” and the Egyptians worshiped the Nile.
Jewish tradition says these destructive miracles also had an effect on the Israelites who were weak in faith, many of whom chose not to follow Moses into the wilderness, who ignored the directive to paint the blood of the lamb on the lintels of their homes.
An Eternal Observance
The Israelites were commanded to observe the Passover as “a feast to the Lord throughout your generations;… a feast by an ordinance forever” (Exodus 12:14). With each of the high holy days, the Lord commanded that they be observed forever. Perhaps they will be observed by all peoples throughout the millennium, since they symbolize all of God’s acts throughout the earth’s religious history. “…And that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son’s son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the Lord.”
The Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, said around 600 B.C., “Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ, for, for this end hath the Law of Moses been given, and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, are the typifying of him” (2 Nephi 11:4).
The Lamb of God
Although the “passover” is celebrated for one week (or eight days) in modern times, the week contains three festivals, and the passover is just the sacrifice of the paschal lamb, a one-day high-holy-day observance.
Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house…
Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats:
And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month (Nisan, the first full moon after the spring equinox): and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening (Exodus 12: 3, 5-6).
Notice that the lamb was kept for four days before it was sacrificed. The purpose was two-fold: first, to examine it for purity, and second, so the family could become attached to it. Then it could be sacrificed in sorrow. The lamb is the consummate symbol of Christ — first-born, male, perfect, submissive. There were to be no bones broken, as when Christ would be crucified, the Romans would be too late to break His legs. The original paschal lamb was to be sacrificed between three and five p.m. on the fourteenth of Nisan, the exact day and time of Christ’s future crucifixion.
And they shall take of the blood and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it (Exodus 12:7).
With the blood of the lamb as protection (a symbol of the blood atonement of Jesus Christ), the observant Israelite families huddled inside their homes as the destroying angel passed over. (Mormonism teaches that we can be saved in families, in eternal family units.)
And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not His power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot (Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:33).
The Israelites followed the commandment to use a branch of hyssop to apply the blood of the lamb to the door posts. A hyssop branch was used to offer vinegar to the dying Christ, and it was an herb used to treat leprosy, a disease the Savior often healed during His ministry.
The message of the short holiday of Passover is deliverance… deliverance from slavery, deliverance from the bondage of sin, deliverance from ignorance. Deliverance was performed by God through redemption. God redeemed Israel from slavery, bondage, sin through the redeeming sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son, the only perfect man who ever lived, the Lamb of God.
Christ completed the imagery by His birth. As a lamb, He was born in a stable. Not on December 25th, but on the Passover.