Meditations in Exodus: 39. An Ongoing Memorial
Ex 12:14 This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD–a lasting ordinance.
In the previous meditation we noted that the focus of every new year was to be the Passover, the reminder of how the Lord redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt and took them and made them a people of His own. That is at the heart of all this, and thus the Lord now reiterates that very clearly to Moses: “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD–a lasting ordinance.” (v.14) but it isn’t just a one-day thing, it is in fact to be a week-long thing. The trouble with a one-day event is that it is gone so quickly that it can almost be forgotten or lose its significance.
So we find instructions for this one-week memorial: “For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel” (v.15) Note, first of all, how serious this is: if anyone fails to follow these instructions that is tantamount to outright disobedience which will take away the meaning or significance of what they are doing. We noted before the absence of yeast in their bread is to be a strong reminder of the haste with which they eventually left Egypt. This is an important thing. For months (or years?) these plagues had been building and building and there was no sign of any movement in Pharaoh and then all of a sudden, after this last plague, there is going to be almost a violent spewing out of Israel from Egypt and they are going to have to be ready to leave at an instant and then go very hastily. This was all because of the work of God and that essential piece of information was to be incorporated in this ‘meal’ lasting a week, every year.
Now what follows is not what will happen now before this plague comes, but what they are to do every year thereafter as a memorial. On the first and the seventh day of this ‘feast’ everything else, except the food preparation, is to come to an end: “On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat–that is all you may do.” (v.16) i.e. there is to be no work done on either of those two days. Those two days were for a special gathering together to remember before the Lord, the wonder of what He had done for them.
This becomes the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because unleavened means to be without yeast (normally when yeast is used in making bread it takes time for it to rise in the bread. Such was their haste they would not have time to wait for the yeast to rise so they had to make bread without yeast, i.e. unleavened). “Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.” (v.17)
Now we have to re-emphasise the importance of the absence of yeast: “In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.” (v.18-20) We emphasise it because the emphasis is there in the Lord’s instructions. Some, wanting to typify this, say that yeast is a picture of sin and therefore everything here is about obedience to the Lord and therefore the absence of sin. Nevertheless the main emphasis, we believe, is what we have already picked up on, that it was all about recognising the amazing work of God that brought about the exit of haste from the land of slavery, deliverance to a new life in a new land.
Now there may be some confusion between the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in terms of timing. Note again the timing in the verses we have already considered: “In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day.” (v.18)
In the Law we read, “The LORD’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the LORD’s Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast.” (Lev 23:5,6)
What actually happened was that the lamb was slain at sunset on the 14th. Now in Hebrew reckoning the next day began after sunset of the previous day and ended at sunset of the next day. So technically the Passover was celebrated on the 14th and because the 15th started straight after sunset there would be no gap of time between the death of the lamb, the sprinkling of the blood and the keeping of the feast. In what happened in Egypt, the lamb was slain in the evening of the 14th, the judgment fell at midnight and the redeemed people of God started out of Egypt in the morning of the 15th.
The seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread that would be celebrated in subsequent years was able to be celebrated because of the Passover and the two are often spoken of as one. In the days of Unleavened Bread there was opportunity to reflect upon the wonder of what the Lord had done, not only in the event of the Passover but also in the days of escape that followed in which the power of the Lord was seen yet further, which we will yet see in future meditations. It was also a time of communion with God and thankfulness for their very existence that was due entirely to Him. It was a time of presenting burnt offerings to the Lord (Lev 23:8) as a gift to the Lord (Deut 16:16,17) – and it was all possible because a lamb had been slain. Hallelujah!
But that unique night in Egypt they were feasting on their particular lamb, as someone has said, ‘not in cool indifference, nor unconscious slumber, but in anticipation’, dressed to travel, wondering about the hours ahead, how it will all work out. For years they have been slaves under the domination of the ruling Pharaoh, in the midst of this occult-heavy, superstitious people. Now the word has come to them – be ready, you are about to witness one of the most horrendous judgments of history and yet be untouched, and then you will be free to follow the Lord as He will lead you out of this place of slavery to a new future.
So much of this study has been about ‘remembering’ in the future the events that were about to take place. When we participate in ‘Communion’ or ‘the Lord’s Supper’ we are remembering Jesus’ death on our behalf. That is something built into our corporate life, but I wonder how often we reflect back on our own lives and remember the things that the Lord has done for us over the years. Some times those things will be very obvious, other times less obvious and we say by faith, ‘it had to be the Lord.’ It is important that we remember and keep on remembering.