by Rob Walker
Several years ago I was introduced to the fascinating symbolism of the Jewish Passover celebration. I knew the Exodus story, but I never thought about why God commanded the Israelites to celebrate the Passover “to all generations.” Why was this symbolic celebration so important to maintain?
Now that I’m a parent, I get it. Parents would get so busy with life, they would somehow neglect to tell their children about a miraculous act of redemption on such a massive scale that even Hollywood couldn’t resist telling the story. Hard to believe, but it happens. Enter this surefire biblical parenting principle: If you want to open a dialogue with your kids, put weird stuff on the dinner table. They will notice, and you will have some explaining to do. And that was the point.
And it shall come to pass when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? (Exodus 12:26)
And thou shalt shew thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the LORD did unto me … (Exodus 13:8)
It was to be a break from routine, an invitation for curiosity, a springboard to a purposeful conversation. It was to be a personal rehearsing of the story of one’s redemption. It was dinner with a purpose.
How can we build that same atmosphere without simply celebrating a contemporary Jewish Passover (and having to explain its shortcomings)? When you read Exodus 12-16, you can see there was a lot going on with food — bitter herbs, roast lamb, quail, unleavened bread, manna, and water to drink. So, what if you could weave the symbolism of your redemption through Jesus into the food items of the exodus, continue the symbolism with a few items from the contemporary Jewish Passover celebration, and create a unique meal with a built-in opportunity for sharing what God did for you? Whether you call it a dinner party with purpose or a new family tradition, Easter is a time to celebrate a redemption story too incredible not to be told — yours.
Jewish tradition teaches the life cycle of the bitter herbs called for in the Passover supper parallels Israel’s time in Egypt. Most leafy green plants have edible and appealing growth while young, just like the Israelites were welcomed in Egypt during Joseph’s time. However, those same plants develop a bitter flavor as they approach maturity and produce flowers or seed, just like Israel’s expanding population in Egypt resulted in increasing bitterness for Joseph’s descendants.
The grated horseradish commonly found on today’s seder plate certainly brings unpalatable bitterness to life as a symbol of Israel’s bondage. But, when it comes down to what the Israelites may have actually eaten on the night of that first Passover, Smith’s Bible Dictionary (1901) says: “These ‘bitter herbs’ consisted of such plants as chicory, bitter cresses, hawkweeds, sow-thistles and wild lettuces, which grow abundantly in the peninsula of Sinai, in Palestine and in Egypt.”
Pictures of Christ
- Jesus was welcomed and celebrated at the triumphal entry, only to see a city bitterly turned against him as his ministry approached its primary point of maturity just days later.
- It seems unlikely there would have been enough random edible weeds growing to feed a million people or more, so it is plausible the Israelites went into their gardens to gather up the “bitter herbs” in preparation for the sacrifice of the Passover lamb. Just like Jesus, on the night of his arrest, was found in a garden, accepting the bitter and unpleasant reality of his pending sacrifice (Matthew 26:39).
The unleavened bread of the Passover represents the haste of Israel’s departure from Egypt. In Deuteronomy 16:3 it is referred to as “the bread of affliction.” It was not the comfort food of a settled life, but a basic provision for a transient period and a taxing journey.
Lest an unseen crumb of “leavened bread” contaminate the preparation of the Passover bread, a thorough cleansing of the whole house was to take place. “… even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses; for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel” (Exodus 12:15)
Pictures of Christ
- Shortly after the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover (John 2;13-17). When he found the Temple filled with moneychangers, he overturned their tables and chased them out. After his final entrance to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, he again found the Temple being corrupted, and he expelled “all those that sold and bought” from his Father’s house (Matthew 21:9-13). He told his followers to “… take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” in Matthew 16:6, and his actions at the Temple perfectly illustrated the symbolic removal of corruption called for in Passover preparations.
- At his last supper, Jesus broke the unleavened bread of the Passover “… and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.” The blood of the original Passover lamb provided a sparing from death, and the unleavened bread was the sustenance of the newly redeemed. Jesus’ blood is the sacrifice that spares us from eternal death, but his sinless and uncorrupted body, risen from the grave, is what sustains us for new life. And just as those who did not remove the leaven were to be cut off from Israel, those who do not partake of the sinless body of Christ cannot be a part of his family.
*There is a great deal of symbolism and importance in the shed blood of the Passover lamb, but for the purpose of this article, we will limit the discussion to culinary aspects of the lamb.
Exodus 12 relates God’s specific instructions regarding the Passover lamb. They were to select a male lamb (from either the sheep or goats) without blemish, less than one year old (verse 5). The lamb was set apart from the flock four days (verses 4, 6). It was not to be “broken” or butchered, but to remain whole (verse 9, 46). It was not to be eaten raw or stewed, but roasted with fire (verse 9). And any of the meat not consumed that night was to be burned the next morning (verse 10).
Until the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., Jewish tradition maintained the ordinance of roasting and eating a whole lamb for Passover. Today, the lamb sacrifice of the Passover is represented on the seder plate with a roasted lamb shank bone. Some argue the original Passover lamb was not sacrificed to atone for sin, therefore it does not foreshadow Jesus as Messiah. While this is true in a literal sense, it is hard not to see some parallels.
Pictures of Christ
- Whereas the Passover lamb was set apart four days before the sacrifice, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem four days before his sacrifice on the cross.
- The Passover lamb had to be blemish free, just as Jesus was free from the blemish of sin.
- The Passover lamb was to remain whole with no unbroken bones. Late on the crucifixion afternoon, when soldiers approached the three crosses to hasten death for the condemned by breaking their legs, Jesus was already dead so his bones were not broken.
- The lamb was likely roasted on a spit where it was skewered on a stick and raised off the ground. Before our redemption was complete, Jesus was lifted on a cross for all to see.
- The sacrifice of the first Passover lamb did not require the services of priests or the Temple. At the time of Jesus’ death, the veil was torn in the Temple and individuals were once again given direct access to God.
After crossing the Red Sea and witnessing the destruction of Pharoah’s army, the Israelites entered the wilderness of Shur where Exodus 15:22 tells us they went for three days without finding any water. They arrived at Marah, only to find the water there was bitter (or salty). Suddenly Moses is faced with a frustrated and complaining mob. The Lord pointed Moses to a tree and instructed him to throw it into the water. When the tree was cast into the water, the water became refreshing and sweet. Moses then delivers a message from God:
If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.
Jehovah would be their healer, but they would have to hearken to His voice and follow His commandments.
Pictures of Christ
- In John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well is taken back by Jesus’ request for water, and even more so that he would offer anything to a Samaritan, let alone living water. By the end of their exchange, she acknowledged him as Messiah, confronted her past sins, and became a refreshing testimony to the miraculous change that occurred in her life when she encountered Jesus. Through Jesus, healing was available to all who believed, regardless of lineage or history.
- In John 5, the lame man at the pool of Bethesda was troubled because he didn’t have help to get into the pool when the healing waters were stirred. But Jesus told the man he didn’t need to get into the pool to be healed, he only needed to believe on the Son of God and hearken to his voice (“Rise, take up thy bed, and walk”). Through Jesus, healing did not require physical effort or works.
- The Israelites went three days without water and faced a growing sense of confusion and frustration. After the crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples spent three days scattered and disillusioned. But Luke’s account tells us how the disciples responded to Mary and the women who had seen the empty tomb: “… and their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not” — just like the Israelites at Marah, still lacking faith in spite of God’s promise of deliverance! Through Jesus, healing took place that fulfilled promises and conquered death.
QUAIL AND MANNA
In the second month after the exodus journey began, “… the children of Israel said unto them [Moses and Aaron], Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
W. A. Criswell, in his sermon on this passage, said: “There is a special meanness in their regret that they had ever followed the Lord — they would rather have died, satiated by the fleshpots in Egypt, than to have known Jehovah.” In spite of their lousy spirit, the Lord addresses their complaint. Each morning, as the dew burned off the ground, small granules appeared “… like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31). Each evening, thousands of quail scurried out of the wilderness into the camp, driven not by migratory instinct, but by the divine hand of Jehovah. The manna would not cease for 40 years until they had crossed into the Promised Land (Joshua 5:12).
Picture of Christ
- Whereas the Israelites (40 years) yearned for the physical satisfaction of the bread of Egypt, Jesus, when tempted (40 days) with the physical satisfaction of bread, banished the temptor with a reference to Deuteronomy 8:3: “… and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.” Jesus declared life is not sustained by a full belly, it is sustained by the hand of God.
- After his dialogue with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus told the disciples he had “meat to eat that ye know not of.” The disciples thought someone had given him food while they were away, but Jesus told them, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” In other words, his physical hunger would never take precedence over his ministry. He knew the Father would sustain him physically, but his focus was on the task at hand.
- While teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus asserted his Messianic claim in direct comparison to the manna so revered by Jewish tradition. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:47-51).
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