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Shemot/Exodus 12:3 On the tenth [day] of this month, and they shall take for themselves - each - a lamb
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The Torah cycle is suspended when a major feast day falls on a Shabbat, so our text - out of the normal reading cycle sequence - comes from one of the traditional festival readings for Pesach. Moshe and Aharon are here being commanded byHaShem to explain how the unique first Pesach is to be celebrated while our people were still in Egypt, immediately prior to our departure from Pharaoh's captivity. The Mekhilta explains that this command was actually spoken to the Israelites on the first day of the month of Aviv - now Nisan - because it immediately follows HaShem's command to designate this month as "the first of the months of the year for you" (Shemot 12:2, JPS). So the command was given on the first day, for the purchase or selection of the lamb on the tenth and the slaughtering on the fourteenth. The Mekhilta adds that the word , literally "the this", excludes subsequent generations from 'taking' their lamb on exactly the tenth day of the month, provided it is done before the slaughter on the fourteenth; they may do it at any time - only the Egypt Pesach had to be taken on the tenth day of the month.
Ibn Ezra points out that the tenth of Nisan is "an astrologically favoured day ... because the sun and moon are 120 degrees apart." Nahum Sarna describes it as "the completion of the first decade of the lunar month." Umberto Cassuto adds that it was "a distinguished day according to the ancient division of the month into three parts comprising ten days each."1 The Ramban explains why this is significant: "The reason for this commandment is that the constellation of Aries (the Ram) is at the height of its power in Nisan, it being the sign of the Zodiac which ascends the heavens. Therefore [HaShem] commanded us to slaughter the sheep and eat it in order to inform us that it was not by the power of that constellation that we went out from Egypt, but by the decree of the Supreme One. And according to the opinion of our Rabbis that the Egyptians worshipped it as a deity, He has all the more informed us through this that He subdued their gods and their powers at the height of their ascendancy. And thus the Rabbis have said: 'Take you lambs and slaughter the gods of Egypt' (Shemot Rabbah 16:2)". Pesikta Rabbati adds to the religious significance telling us that "from the tenth day on the lambs were tied to the legs of the bedsteads in Israel's households, and when the Egyptians came in and saw them so tied, their souls fled in shock at the sight"; what the Egyptians worshipped and venerated at that very time of year, was humbled and cast down in Israelite eyes.
Lending further support to the significance of the tenth day, Ibn Ezra also points out that what is perhaps the most sacred day in the religious calendar, Yom Kippur, also falls on a tenth day - in its case, of the seventh month - and that Sukkot, which starts halfway through the month of Tishrei parallels Pesach, which starts halfway through the month of Nisan. Nahum Sarna adds that this was also the day that ushered in the year of Jubilee, like Pesach, another powerful proclamation of freedom.Chizkuni, who claims that the tenth of Aviv that year was also Shabbat, explains another piece of Jewish tradition: "since the Israelites performed on it the first commandment they were given, the Shabbat before Pesach was henceforth called Shabbat HaGadol (the Great Sabbath)", as will be seen on our Jewish calendar today.
Another parallel is also picked up by Pesikta Rabbati: "Rabbi Khelbo, citing Rabbi Johanan, called attention to the fact that here Scripture says 'in the tenth day of this month' and in reference to the crossing of the Jordan says, 'The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month' (Joshua 4:19, JPS). The point of the parallel, as Rabbi Khiyya taught in the name of Rabbi Johanan, is that Israel's daring in taking the lambs also stood by them at the Jordan." (15.25)2 The comparison is made that just as Israel had to be very bold and daring in their open treatment of the lambs for four whole days in the face of Egyptian hostility, so Joshua and the Children of Israel had to be very bold and daring, forty years later, to cross the Jordan and enter Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. Not only was this a very public move, since Israel numbered in the region of 2.5 million people so could not exactly be covert about crossing the Jordan, and in addition HaShem had stopped the water in the river, in those days and at that time a not insignificant spring flood, but it too was in the face of distinct Canaanite hostility.
The tenth of Nisan makes an interesting re-appearance in the biblical narrative in Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19 and John 12 - in all four gospels. The narrative block is known as the Triumphal Entry and is celebrated by the church each year3 on the day called Palm Sunday. What is most significant about this, although not usually taught by the church, is the parallel between what Yeshua was doing and the annual routine of Pesach in Jerusalem. At the very time that Yeshua entered the city from the east, riding down the Mount of Olives on a donkey, a crowd of shepherds were bringing large flocks of sheep into Jerusalem through the Sheep Gate, as they did every year. The Temple authorities owned large tracts of land in the hills around Bethlehem where they bred all the sheep needed for the sacrifices and ritual of the Temple; one could say that pretty much every lamb born in Bethlehem would end up in the Temple! And that's exactly where Yeshua and the Bethlehem lambs went that Sunday: to the Temple. The lambs were sold to the Jewish pilgrims from all over the Roman empire who had obeyed the command to come up to Jerusalem for the feast, but had travelled far too far (anything much over a couple of days walking, in practice, but in some cases hundreds of miles) to bring their own Pesach offering. The pilgrims would choose or select their lamb, pay for it and it would be kept safe in the Temple - where it could be inspected each day and checked to make sure that it was ritually clean and without blemish - as the Temple was known in Judaism as the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy House or simply 'The House'. Then the lambs would be slaughtered by their owners at the time of the afternoon sacrifice - around three o'clock in the afternoon - four days later on Thursday, the fourteenth of Nisan, before being eaten that night.
Well now, what was Yeshua doing all this time? Having entered the city, He too made His way to the Temple and taught there for four days. He came into the Temple each day and was subjected to perhaps the most intense time of questioning and inspection in His whole ministry. While interrogated about His teaching, the source of His authority and His doctrinal correctness by all the major Jewish groupings of His time - the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Scribes - He was warmly embraced and endorsed by the people, who hung on His every word. All four gospels record that He was without fault and loved by the people, save the Jewish leaders. On the Wednesday night4, He celebrated a Pesach meal with His disciples, before being arrested in the Garden of the Olive Press, rushed through a forced trial and crucified on Thursday the fourteenth of Nisan. The gospels record that He died at "about the ninth hour" (Matthew 27:46, ESV)5 - three o'clock in the afternoon - when all the other Pesach lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple. Yeshua was then buried for three days and three nights, exactly as He said, showing "the sign of the prophet Jonah" (Matthew 12:39, ESV)), before rising on the third day. Yeshua fulfilled not only the Scriptures written about Him, but even the words of Caiaphas (who was High Priest that year) "Don't you see that it's better that one man should die on behalf of the people, than that the whole nation should be destroyed" (John 11:50). Yeshua died not only for the people of Israel, but for all those from the nations who would believe in Him and confess Him as Lord.
This was no accident, no absent-minded coincidence of calendar. G-d's plan to bring about the redemption of His ancient people and open a way for the Gentiles, was quite deliberate, as Peter was a few months later to tell the people: it all happened "according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of G-d" (Acts 2:23, ESV). The precision of the match between the events of the religious calendar that year, the days of the week and the gospel records of Yeshua's last week in Jerusalem helps us to see just how carefully G-d had it all worked out and brought it to pass exactly on the button. As Isaiah spoke for G-d: "Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them" (Isaiah 42:9, ESV)). Look around you and see what G-d is doing in the world today!
Chag Pesach Sameach!
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983, 965-223-456-7
2. - William Braude (tr.), Pesikta Rabbati, Volume XVIII of the Yale Judaica Series, 1968
3. - Even if the actual date is wrong, church tradition has correctly preserved the right day of the week.
4. - In the spring, cloud often obscures the sighting of the moon in Jerusalem delaying the start of the month by a day or so compared to the clearer weather in the Jordan valley down which Yeshua and the disciples came from the Galil, allowing both to be correct on their timing for the feast.
5. - Romans days were counted in hours from a nominal dawn, now about six o'clock in the morning.
Further Study: Matthew 27:45-50; John 12:12-19
Application: Have you ever really considered how perfectly Yeshua lines up as the Jewish Messiah and the Saviour of the World? Perhaps it's time to take your cultural blinkers off and check out the evidence for yourself. You might be surprised and discover the truth for yourself!
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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