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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 12

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-14

Directions for the Passover 12:1-14

The Jews called their first month Abib (Exodus 12:2). After the Babylonian captivity they renamed it Nisan (Nehemiah 2:1; Esther 3:7). It corresponds to our March-April. Abib means "ear-month" referring to the month when the grain was in the ear.

"The reference to the Passover month as the ’lead month,’ ’the first of the year’s months’ is best understood as a double entendre. On the one hand, the statement may be connected with an annual calendar, but on the other hand, it is surely an affirmation of the theological importance of Yahweh’s Passover." [Note: Ibid., p. 153.]

The spring was an appropriate time for the Exodus because it symbolized new life and growth. Israel had two calendars: one religious (this one) and one civil (Exodus 23:16). The civil year began exactly six months later in the fall. The Israelites used both calendars until the Babylonian captivity. After that, they used only the civil calendar. [Note: See James F. Strange, "The Jewish Calendar," Biblical Illustrator 13:1 (Fall 1986):28-32. Also see the Appendix of these notes for a chart of the Hebrew calendar.]

". . . the sense of the verse is: you are now beginning to count a new year, now the new year will bring you a change of destiny." [Note: Cassuto, p. 137.]

The Passover was a communal celebration. The Israelites were to observe it with their redeemed brethren, not alone (Exodus 12:4). They celebrated the corporate redemption of the nation corporately (cf. Luke 22:17-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29).

Since the lamb was a substitute sacrifice its required characteristics are significant (Exodus 12:5; cf. John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:19).

"Freedom from blemish and injury not only befitted the sacredness of the purpose to which they were devoted, but was a symbol of the moral integrity of the person represented by the sacrifice. It was to be a male, as taking the place of the male first-born of Israel; and a year old, because it was not till then that it reached the full, fresh vigour of its life." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:10.]

Some of the ancient rabbis taught that God wanted the Jews to sacrifice the Passover lamb exactly at sunset because of the instructions in Exodus 12:6 and Deuteronomy 16:6. However "at twilight" literally means "between the two evenings." The more widely held Jewish view was that the first evening began right after noon and the second began when the sun set. [Note: Gispen, p. 117.] In Josephus’ day, which was also Jesus’ day, the Jews slew the Passover lamb in mid-afternoon. [Note: Josephus, 14:4:3.] The Lord Jesus Christ died during this time (i.e., about 3:00 p.m., Matthew 27:45-50; Mark 15:34-37; Luke 23:44-46; 1 Corinthians 5:7).

The sprinkling of the blood on the sides and top of the doorway into the house was a sign (Exodus 12:7; cf. Exodus 12:13). It had significance to the Jews. The door represented the house (cf. Exodus 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:14; Deuteronomy 12:17; et al.). The smearing of the blood on the door with hyssop was an act of expiation (cleansing; cf. Leviticus 14:49-53; Numbers 19:18-19). This act consecrated the houses of the Israelites as altars. They had no other altars in Egypt. They were not to apply the blood to the other member of the doorframe, the threshold, because someone might tread on it. The symbolic value of the blood made this action inappropriate. The whole ritual signified to the Jews that the blood (life poured out, Leviticus 17:11) of a sinless, divinely appointed substitute cleansed their sins and resulted in their setting apart (sanctification) to God. The application of the blood as directed was a demonstration of the Israelites’ faith in God’s promise that He would pass over them (Exodus 12:13; cf. Hebrews 11:28).

The method of preparing and eating the lamb was also significant (Exodus 12:8-11). God directed that they roast it in the manner common to nomads rather than eating it raw as many of their contemporary pagans ate their sacrificial meat (cf. 1 Samuel 2:14-15). They were not to boil the lamb either (Exodus 12:9). Roasting enabled the host to place the lamb on the table undivided and unchanged in its essential structure and appearance (Exodus 12:9). This would have strengthened the impression of the substitute nature of the lamb. It looked like an animal rather than just meat.

The unleavened bread was bread that had not risen (cf. Exodus 12:34). The bitter herbs-perhaps endive, chicory, and or other herbs native to Egypt-would later recall to the Israelites who ate them the bitter experiences of life in Egypt. However the sweetness of the lamb overpowered the bitterness of the herbs. The Israelites were not to eat the parts of the meal again as leftovers (Exodus 12:10). It was a special sacrificial meal, not just another dinner. Moreover they were to eat it in haste (Exodus 12:11) as a memorial of the events of the night when they first ate it, the night when God provided deliverance for His people. [Note: For an explanation of the history and modern observance of the Passover by Jews, the Seder, or "order of service," see Youngblood, pp. 61-64. For an account of a Seder observance held in Dallas on April 2, 1988, see Robert Andrew Barlow, "The Passover Seder," Exegesis and Exposition 3:1 (Fall 1988):63-68.]

"Those consuming the meat were not to be in the relaxed dress of home, but in traveling attire; not at ease around a table, but with walking-stick in hand; not in calm security, but in haste, with anxiety." [Note: Durham, p. 154.]

In slaying the king’s son and many of the first-born animals, God smote the gods of Egypt that these living beings represented (Exodus 12:12). This was the final proof of Yahweh’s sovereignty.

"The firstborn of Pharaoh was not only his successor to the throne, but by the act of the gods was a specially born son having divine property. Gods associated with the birth of children would certainly have been involved in a plague of this nature. These included Min, the god of procreation and reproduction, along with Isis who was the symbol of fecundity or the power to produce offspring. Since Hathor was not only a goddess of love but one of seven deities who attended the birth of children, she too would be implicated in the disaster of this plague. From excavations we already have learned of the tremendous importance of the Apis bull, a firstborn animal and other animals of like designation would have had a tremendous theological impact on temple attendants as well as commoners who were capable of witnessing this tragic event. The death cry which was heard throughout Egypt was not only a wail that bemoaned the loss of a son or precious animals, but also the incapability of the many gods of Egypt to respond and protect them from such tragedy." [Note: Davis, p. 141.]

Egyptian religion and culture valued sameness and continuity very highly. The Egyptians even minimized the individual differences between the Pharaohs.

"The death of a king was, in a manner characteristic of the Egyptians, glossed over in so far as it meant a change." [Note: Frankfort, p. 102.]

The Egyptians had to acknowledge the death of Pharaoh’s son, however, as an event that Yahweh had brought to pass.

Note that God said that when He saw the blood He would pass over the Jews (Exodus 12:13). He did not say when they saw it. The ground of their security was propitiation. The blood satisfied God. Therefore the Israelites could rest. The reason we can have peace with God is that Jesus Christ’s blood satisfied God. Many Christians have no peace because the blood of the Lamb of God does not satisfy them. They think something more has to supplement His work (i.e., human good works). However, God says the blood of the sacrifice He provided is enough (cf. 1 John 2:1-2).

One writer believed that the first Passover was the origin of the concept of "the day of the Lord," which is so prominent in the writing prophets. The day of the Lord that they referred to was an instance of divine intervention, similar to what God did at the first Passover, involving judgment and blessing. [Note: Benno Jacob, The Second Book of the Bible: Exodus, p. 315.]

Verses 1-16

C. God’s redemption of His people 12:1-13:16

Scholars differ in their opinions as to when Israel actually became a nation. Many have made a strong case for commencing national existence with the institution of the Passover, which this section records. The proper translation of the Hebrew word pasah is really "hover over" rather than "pass over." [Note: Meredith G. Kline, "The Feast of Cover-over," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:4 (December 1994):497-510.]

". . . properly understood, the Exodus also is precisely the event and the moment that coincides with the historical expression of God’s election of Israel. The choice of Israel as the special people of Yahweh occurred not at Sinai but in the land of Goshen. The Exodus was the elective event; Sinai was its covenant formalization." [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, "A Theology of the Pentateuch," in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 31. Cf. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 259.]

God gave the Israelites a national calendar that set them apart from other nations (Exodus 12:2). They also received instructions for two national feasts that they were to perpetuate forever thereafter (Exodus 12:14; Exodus 12:17; Exodus 12:24). Also Moses revealed and explained the event that resulted in their separation from Egypt here.

Verses 1-28

1. The consecration of Israel as the covenant nation 12:1-28

"The account of the final proof of Yahweh’s Presence in Egypt has been expanded by a series of instructions related to cultic [ritual worship] requirements designed to commemorate that proof and the freedom it purchased." [Note: Durham, p. 152.]

Verses 15-20

Directions for the Feast of Unleavened Bread 12:15-20

The Feast of Unleavened Bread began with the Passover meal and continued for seven more days (Exodus 12:15). The bread that the Jews used contained no leaven (yeast), which made it like a cracker rather than cake in its consistency. The Old Testament uses leaven as a symbol of sin often. Leaven gradually permeates dough, and it affects every part of the dough. Here it not only reminded the Israelites in later generations that their ancestors fled Egypt in haste, before their dough could rise. It also reminded them that their lives should resemble the unleavened bread as redeemed people. Bread is the staff of life and represents life. The life of the Israelites was to be separate from sin since they had received new life as a result of God’s provision of the Passover lamb. Eating unleavened bread for a week and removing all leaven from their houses would have impressed the necessity of a holy life upon the Israelites.

"For us the leaven must stand for the selfness which is characteristic of us all, through the exaggerated instinct of self-preservation and the heredity received through generations, which have been a law to themselves, serving the desires of the flesh and of the mind. We are by nature self-confident, self-indulgent, self-opinionated; we live with self as our goal, and around the pivot of I our whole being revolves." [Note: Meyer, pp. 138-39.]

Anyone who refused to abide by these rules repudiated the spiritual lesson contained in the symbols and was therefore "cut off from Israel." This phrase means to experience separation from the rights and privileges of the nation through excommunication or, more often, death. [Note: Cf. Keil and Delitzsch, 1:224; and Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, pp. 241-2.]

"Playing fast and loose with God’s prescribed practices is to show disrespect for God’s honor and dignity." [Note: Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, p. 466.]

The Israelites celebrated the Passover on the fourteenth of Abib, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread continued through the twenty-first (Exodus 12:18). God’s call to the Israelites to live holy lives arose from what God had done for them. Consecration follows redemption; it is not a prerequisite for redemption. Similarly God calls us to be holy in view of what He has done for us (cf. Romans 12:1-2). He does not say we can experience redemption if we become holy first.

Sunset ended one day and began the next for the Jews (cf. Genesis 1:5; et al.).

Verses 21-28

The communication and execution of the directions concerning the Passover 12:21-28

Hyssop grew commonly on rocks and walls in the Near East and Egypt (Exodus 12:22). If it was the same plant that we identify as hyssop today, masses of tiny white flowers and a fragrant aroma characterized it. The Jews used it for applying blood to the door in the Passover ritual because of its availability and suitability as a liquid applicator. They also used it in the purification rite for lepers (Leviticus 14:4; Leviticus 14:6), the purification rite for a plague (Leviticus 14:49-52), and for the red heifer sacrifice ritual (Numbers 19:2-6).

"The hairy surface of its leaves and branches holds liquids well and makes it suitable as a sprinkling device for purification rituals." [Note: Youngblood, p. 61.]

"The people were instructed that the only way they could avert the ’destroyer’ was to put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. Though the text does not explicitly state it, the overall argument of the Pentateuch . . . would suggest that their obedience to the word of the Lord in this instance was an evidence of their faith and trust in him [cf. Hebrews 11:28]." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 263.]

God through Moses stressed the significance and the importance of perpetuating the Passover (Exodus 12:26).

"The Israelitish child will not unthinkingly practice a dead worship; he will ask: What does it mean? and the Israelitish father must not suppress the questions of the growing mind, but answer them, and thus begin the spiritualizing [the explanation of the spiritual significance] of the paschal rite." [Note: J. P. Lange, "Exodus or the Second Book of Moses," in Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scripture, 1:2:39-40.]

Worship and obedience occur together again here (Exodus 12:27-28). These are the two proper responses to God’s provision of redemption. They express true faith. These are key words in Exodus.

"The section closes with one of those rare notices in Israel’s history: they did exactly what the Lord had commanded (Exodus 12:28)-and well they might after witnessing what had happened to the obstinate king and people of Egypt!" [Note: Kaiser, "Exodus," p. 376.]

"By this act of obedience and faith, the people of Israel made it manifest that they had put their trust in Jehovah; and thus the act became their redemption." [Note: Johnson, p. 62.]

Verses 29-36

2. The death of the first-born and the release of Israel 12:29-36

The angel struck the Egyptians at midnight, the symbolic hour of judgment (Exodus 12:29; cf. Matthew 25:5-6), when they were asleep ". . . to startle the king and his subjects out of their sleep of sin." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:23.] Pharaoh had originally met Moses’ demands with contemptuous insult (Exodus 5:4). Then he tried a series of compromises (Exodus 8:25; Exodus 8:28; Exodus 10:8-11; Exodus 10:24). All of these maneuvers were unacceptable to God.

There is evidence from Egyptology that the man who succeeded Amenhotep II, the pharaoh of the plagues, was not his first-born son. [Note: See Unger, Archaeology and . . ., pp. 142-44; Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 218; and Pritchard, p. 449.] His successor was Thutmose IV (1425-1417 B.C.), a son of Amenhotep II but evidently not his first-born. Thutmose IV went to some pains to legitimatize his right to the throne. This would not have been necessary if he had been the first-born. So far scholars have found no Egyptian records of the death of Amenhotep II’s first-born son.

"Thutmose IV claimed that when he was still a prince he had a dream in which the sun god promised him the throne; this implies that he was not the one who would be expected to succeed to the throne under normal circumstances." [Note: Gispen, p. 113.]

Remember Joseph’s dreams.

In contrast to the former plagues, this one was not just a heightened and supernaturally directed natural epidemic but a direct act of God Himself (cf. Exodus 12:12-13; Exodus 12:23; Exodus 12:27; Exodus 12:29).

We need to understand "no home" in its context (Exodus 12:30). There was no Egyptian home in which there was a first-born son, who was not a father himself, that escaped God’s judgment of physical death.

"This series of five imperative verbs [in Exodus 12:31], three meaning ’go’ (dlh is used twice) and one meaning ’take,’ coupled with five usages of the emphatic particle mg ’also’ . . ., marvelously depicts a Pharaoh whose reserve of pride is gone, who must do everything necessary to have done with Moses and Israel and the Yahweh who wants them for his own." [Note: Durham, p. 167.]

Pharaoh’s request that Moses would bless him is shocking since the Egyptians regarded Pharaoh as a god (Exodus 12:32; cf. Genesis 47:7).

The reader sees God in two roles in this section, representing the two parts of Israel’s redemption. He appears as Judge satisfied by the blood of the innocent sin-bearer, and He is the Deliverer of Israel who liberated the nation from its slavery.

Redemption involves the payment of a price. What was the price of Israel’s redemption? It was the lives of the lambs that God provided as the substitutes for Israel’s first-born sons who would have died otherwise (cf. Isaac in Genesis 22, and Jesus Christ, the only-begotten of the Father). The first-born sons remained God’s special portion (Numbers 8:17-18). The Egyptian first-born sons died as a punishment on the Egyptians. The Egyptians had enslaved God’s people and had not let them go, and they had executed male Israelite babies (Exodus 1:15-22) possibly for the last 80 years. [Note: Ramm, p. 79.] God owns all life. He just leases it to His creatures. God paid the price of Israel’s redemption to Himself. He purchased the nation to be a special treasure for Himself and for a special purpose (Exodus 19:5).

Verses 37-39

The record of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness really begins here.

"Rameses" is probably the same city as "Raamses," also called Avaris (Exodus 12:37; cf. Exodus 1:11). Many critical scholars date the Exodus in the thirteenth century because of this reference to Rameses. Rameses II ruled Egypt at that time. However, "Rameses" may very well be a later name for this site, similar to the reference to the city of Dan in Genesis 14:14. This may be another instance of later scribal updating.

Rameses was the city from which the Israelites left Egypt, and it lay somewhere east of the Nile delta in the land of Goshen. Archaeologists have not identified Succoth certainly either. However from the context it seems that Succoth was only a few miles from Rameses. It may have been a district rather than a town. [Note: Edward Naville, The Store-City of Pithom and the Route of the Exodus, p. 23; Kaiser, "Exodus," p. 379.] Perhaps Cassuto was right when he wrote the following.

"Succoth was a border town named in Egyptian Tkw. Here the name appears in a Hebrew or Hebraized form. Apparently it was situated at the tell called by the Egyptians today Tell el-Maskhuta." [Note: Cassuto, 147.]

Many commentators concluded that, since there were about 600,000 Israelite males, the total number of Israelites must have been about two million. Though the Hebrew word translated "thousand" (eleph) can also mean "family," "clan," "military unit," or something else, most translators have preferred "thousand" (cf. Exodus 38:26; Numbers 1:45-47). In view of the incongruities posed by such a large number (cf. Exodus 13:17; Exodus 14:21-31; Exodus 16:3-4; Exodus 17:8-13; Exodus 18:14-16; Exodus 23:29-30; Numbers 14; Deuteronomy 7:7; Deuteronomy 7:22; Joshua 7:5; et al.), eleph may have meant "hundred" or "unit of ten" or some other number smaller than "thousand," though the evidence to support this theory is presently weak, in my opinion.

Moses referred to the "mixed multitude" often in the account of the wilderness wanderings that follows. This group probably included Egyptian pagans and God-fearers (Exodus 12:38; cf. Exodus 9:20) and an assortment of other people including other enslaved Semites. For one reason or another these people took this opportunity to leave or escape from Egypt with the Israelites. This group proved to be a source of trouble in Israel and led the Israelites in complaining and opposing Moses (e.g., Numbers 11:4).

Verses 37-42

3. The exodus of Israel out of Egypt 12:37-42

Verses 40-42

The text is very clear that Israel was in Egypt 430 years "to the very day" (Exodus 12:41). This probably refers to the time between when Jacob entered Egypt with his family (1876 B.C.) to the day of the Exodus (1446 B.C.). Galatians 3:17 also refers to 430 years. This figure, however, probably represents the time from God’s last reconfirmation of the Abrahamic covenant to Jacob at Beer-sheba (1875 B.C.; Genesis 46:2-4) to the giving of the Mosaic Law at Sinai (1446 B.C.; Exodus 19). Genesis 15:13; Genesis 15:16 and Acts 7:6 give the time of the Israelites’ enslavement in Egypt as 400 years (1846-1446 B.C.). The "about 450 years" spoken of in Acts 13:19 includes the 400 year sojourn in Egypt, the 40 years of wilderness wanderings, and the seven year conquest of the land (1875-1395 B.C.). [Note: Harold W. Hoehner, "The Duration of the Egyptian Bondage," Bibliotheca Sacra 126:504 (October-December 1969):306-16, presented three other ways to reconcile these references.]

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Scholars have debated hotly and still argue about the date of the Exodus. Many conservatives hold a date very close to 1446 B.C. [Note: See, for example, Wolf, pp. 141-48.] Their preference for this date rests first on 1 Kings 6:1 that states that the Exodus took place 480 years before the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. That year was quite certainly 967 B.C. Second, this view harmonizes with Judges 11:26 that says 300 years elapsed between Israel’s entrance into Canaan and the commencement of Jephthah’s rule as a judge. [Note: See Ronald Youngblood, "A New Look at an Old Problem: The Date of the Exodus," Christianity Today 26:20 (Dec. 17, 1982):58, 60; Charles Dyer, "The Date of the Exodus Reexamined," Bibliotheca Sacra 140:559 (July-September 1983):225-43; Archer, "Old Testament History . . .," pp. 106-9; and Bruce K. Waltke, "Palestinian Artifactual Evidence Supporting the Early Date of the Exodus," Bibliotheca Sacra 129:513 (January-March 1973):33-47.] Most liberals and many evangelicals hold to a date for the Exodus about 1290 B.C. [Note: E.g., Kenneth Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament, pp. 73-75; Durham, p. xxvi; and James K. Hoffmeier, "What Is the Biblical Date for the Exodus? A Response to Bryant Wood," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50:2 (June 2007):225-47. For refutation of the late date theory, see Bryant G. Wood, "The Rise and Fall of the 13th-Century Exodus-Conquest Theory," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48:3 (September 2005):475-89; and idem, "The Biblical Date for the Exodus is 1446 BC: A Response to James Hoffmeier," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50:2 (June 2007):249-58.] This opinion rests on the belief that the existence of the city of Raamses (Exodus 1:11; et al.) presupposes the existence of Pharaoh Ramses II (ca. 1300-1234 B.C.). [Note: See my comments on 1:11 above.] Also followers of this view point to supposed similarities between the times of Pharaoh Ramses II and the Exodus period. Another reason for dating the Exodus to the thirteenth century is the archaeological remains in Palestine that have been attributed to the conquest. However, there is good reason to identify these ruins with destruction that took place during the Judges Period of Israel’s history. [Note: Longman and Dillard, pp. 65-66.] Another view has also been popularized that places the Exodus about 1470 B.C. [Note: See John J. Bimson, Redating the Exodus and the Conquest; and idem, "Redating the Exodus," Biblical Archaeology Review 13:5 (September-October 1986):40-53, 66-68.]

Verses 43-51

4. Regulations regarding the Passover 12:43-51

Before any male could eat the Passover he had to undergo circumcision. Moses stressed this requirement strongly in this section. The rationale behind this rule was that before anyone could observe the memorial of redemption he first had to exercise faith in the promises God had given to Abraham. Furthermore he had to demonstrate that faith by submitting to the rite of circumcision, the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. This requirement should have reminded the Israelites and all other believers who partook of the Passover that the Passover rite did not make a person acceptable to God. Faith in the promises of God did that. Foreigners who were non-Israelites could and did become members of the nation by faith in the Abrahamic Covenant promises and participation in the rite of circumcision. There were both circumcised and uncircumcised foreigners who lived among the Israelites during the wilderness march.

Here Moses revealed the requirement that the Passover host was not to break a bone of the paschal lamb (Exodus 12:46; cf. Exodus 12:3-9). Not a bone of the Lamb of God was broken either (John 19:36).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 12". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/exodus-12.html. 2012.
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