by Keith Macnaughtan

Between thirty and thirty-five centuries ago the full moon filled with its soft light the ancient country of Egypt. It shone on the pyramids and temples and cities which, even then, were centuries old.

But it also illuminated a scene which for some was to be one of blackest tragedy; for others an occasion of tremendous triumph and delightful deliverance. For, on that night, the angel of death passed through the land of the pharaohs, striking down the first born of the Egyptians, both man and beast.

And, in doing this, he unlocked the cruel grip with which the Oppressor held down in slavery the people of Israel. The blow which felled the pride of Egypt's race also shattered the locks and chains of Israel's bondage and threw open to them the door of freedom. And, thus delivered, Israel began its march to its Land of Promise.

That occasion was to be commemorated by a special festival through all succeeding centuries. It marked the beginning of the history of Israel as an independent sovereign Nation. Centuries before, Jacob and his people had taken up their abode in Egypt as a chosen family. Now their descendants left Egypt as a fully constituted Nation.

Pharaoh and his Egyptians, they and their gods, humbled under the chastening rod of the God of Israel and their power soon to be shattered in a still more awful disaster at the Red Sea crossing, watched their former bondmen marching out to freedom and to their national home in Canaan.

Is it surprising that so mighty a deliverance, so great an event, was to be marked and remembered through all the history of the Covenant Nation by an especial commemoration?

It is called Pesach, or, in Greek, Pascha. We have it generally in Scripture as THE PASSOVER.

"It is a night to be much observed unto the Lord for bringing them out from the land of Egypt: this is the night of the Lord to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations." (Exodus 12:42)

Thus the Lord told Moses and Aaron: "This is the ordinance of the passover." And thus Moses told the people: "Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place." (13:3)

Calls Back to Observance

In the ensuing years, whenever the Nation went a-whoring after false deities of the surrounding heathen peoples, reforming rulers rose from time to time to call them back to obedience to the Lord. The God-fearing Hezekiah, in inaugurating his reformation, "sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel.

"For the king had taken counsel, and his princes, and all the congregation in Jerusalem, to keep the passover ... so they established a decree to make proclamation, throughout all Israel, from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem: FOR THEY HAD NOT DONE IT OF A LONG TIME IN SUCH SORT AS IT WAS WRITTEN." Or, as Jewish Publication Society translates it: " ... for they had not kept it in great numbers according as it is written." (II Chronicles 30:1-5)

The observance of the Passover features also in the reformation instituted by the godly young king Josiah following the apostasies of the reigns of his father and grandfather. "Moreover Josiah kept a passover unto the Lord in Jerusalem, and they killed the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month ... And there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept ..." (II Chronicles 35:1,18).

So, apart from the periods of declension recorded in Scripture, and whatever other intermissions which may have occurred during Israel's long history of nearly three and a half millennia, we may say that the observance of Pesach has been maintained throughout the generations of the Covenant Nation from the night before the exodus to the current year.

Ancient Rite and Modern Ritual

Of course there have been alterations and additions in some features. Central to the ordinance, as the Scripture commands it, was the slaying of the Passover lamb and the eating of its flesh.

With the destruction of the Temple by Titus in 70 C.E. this ceased, a roasted shankbone being its present-day substitute. Nor of course does the Law of Moses know anything of the roasted egg, the Seder plate, the salt water and the cup of Elijah.

Then there is the Hallel. We hear the Jewish father, as a priest in his own family circle, call his household to thanksgiving: "Therefore it is our duty to thank, praise, laud, glorify, exalt, honour, bless, extol, and adore Him who performed for our fathers and for us all these wonders. He brought us forth from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to a great light, from subjection to redemption. Therefore let us recite a new song before Him: Hallelujah!"

And we hear the family, gathered round the Passover table, recite Psalms 113 and 114.

Psalm 113

Psalm 113 begins the Hallel, its opening words being literally: "Hallelujah, praise the Lord!" Egypt's false deities were worshipped by Egyptians, but of the true God, the God of Israel, -- "From the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof" -- through all the world and through all the day -- "The LORD's name is to be praised."

Egypt 's false deities sat in their temples made by men's hands, but of Jehovah the psalm tells us: "The LORD is high above all nations, His glory is above the heavens."

"Who is like unto the LORD our God,

That is enthroned on high,

That looketh down low

Upon heaven and upon the earth?

Think of needy Israel's bondage in Egypt and see the significance in the words:

"Who raiseth up the poor out of the dust,

And lifeth up the needy out of the dunghill;

That He may set him with princes,

Even with the princes of His people …


Psalm 114

So Psalm 114 sustains these sentiments:

"When Israel came forth out of Egypt,

The house of Jacob from a people of strange language;

Judah became His sanctuary,

Israel His dominion.

The sea saw it and fled;

The Jordan turned backward …

Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord,

At the presence of the God of Jacob;

Who turned the rock into a pool of water,

The flint into a fountain of waters."

Jehovah Far Above All

The Lord is reverently and adoringly contrasted with even His own people, not to mention the gods of the heathen! "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy and for Thy truth's sake."

Helpless Israel could not redeem itself from Egyptian bondage; the glory must all be to their redeemer. True, their taskmasters may have scoffingly asked: "Where is now their God?" But now Israel can triumphantly reply: "Our God is in the heavens; whatsoever pleased Him He hath done." (Psalm 115)

And what a contrast between that true and only God "in the heavens" and the idols of the heathen!

"Their idols are silver and gold,

The work of men's hands.

They have mouths, but they speak not;

Eyes have they, but they see not;

They have ears, but they hear not;

Noses have they, but they smell not;

They have hands, but they handle not;

Feet they have, but they walk not;

Neither speak they with their throat.

They that make them are like unto them;

Yes, every one that trusteth in them."

So in the following two psalms we read:

"How can I repay unto the LORD

All His bountiful dealing toward me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation,

And call upon the name of the Lord."


"O praise the Lord, all you nations;

Laud Him, all you peoples,

For His mercy is great toward us;

And the truth of the Lord endureth for ever."


Surely we must indeed "give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever." (Psalm 136)

The New Covenant

And there was the occasion when the full moon bathed Jerusalem in its soft light and the Passover was being observed in an upper room. Being observant Jews they had followed the same procedure from their earliest years.

But this seder took on new meaning when Yeshua took the matza and handed it to His disciples saying, "Take eat, this is My body which is given for you: do this in remembrance of Me." Then after supper He took the cup of redemption and passed it to His friends saying, "This cup is the New Covenant in My blood which is given for you."

Then we read they sang a hymn which in all probability was psalm 118: "O give thanks unto the Lord for His mercy endures for ever."

Many readers will identify with Yeshua's application of the bread and wine to Himself, and remembering Him in this way gain a new and precious realization of the truth of the Passover psalm that "His goodness and mercy endure for ever" -- HALLELUJAH! PRAISE THE LORD.