Study Exodus Like a Pro
We recycle everything these days, including stories. Take Sherlock Holmes, for example. More than 100 years after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the famous detective, his classic tales are still being refashioned into popular movies and TV shows.
Biblical authors recycled stories, too, picking up on earlier biblical narratives and using them to express God’s truth. One central event that shows up multiple times in the Bible is the Passover and the Israelites’ subsequent exodus from Egypt. Let’s look at the Passover event in Exodus 12, and then trace this idea throughout scripture.
Step One: Understand the Narrative Context of the Passover
Exodus 12 is devoted entirely to the Passover, from the depiction of the actual event to legislation about its future observance. The passage culminates with a powerful statement: “And it was on exactly this day Yahweh brought the Israelites out from the land of Egypt by their divisions” (Exod 12:51 leb). The UBS A Handbook on Exodus explains that the narrative of the initial Passover event is fused with later observance and interpretation of it, which creates an “interlocking effect.” Exploring the Old Testament: The Pentateuch identifies this combination as “Torah, that is, religious instruction.” The narrative of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt becomes memorialized by its observance. In this way, the exodus story functions as a master story of redemption in which God sets apart a people for himself.
Step Two: Understand the Specific Context of the Passover
It helps to understand the context of the Passover—specifically the 10th plague, or the death of the firstborn. God confronts Pharaoh, Egypt’s “divine” leader, with a series of 10 escalating plagues that force him to release Israel from slavery. In the final plague, God sends his emissary to bring death to every firstborn that has not been protected by ritual marking—people and animals alike. The lamb’s blood on the doorposts of a house prompts the angel of death to pass over that house and leave the firstborn unharmed. This is the first Passover.
The blood ritual in the first Passover likely connects to later sacrificial rituals that culminate in Christ’s death on the cross. According to the New American Commentary: Exodus, the Israelites swabbed “Passover blood on their doors as a sign of faithful obedience to God” that “showed acceptance of God’s plan for rescue and trust in his word.” The Lexham Bible Dictionary, on the other hand, mentions that the use of hyssop (Exod 12:22) might suggest ritual purification, but that “nothing about the doorframe of a house is sacred or symbolic.” Exodus portrays the Passover as an event that displays God’s power, ability, and desire to save his people. It’s about him more than symbols.
Step Three: Understand the Connection of the Passover to the New Testament
How does the Passover fit into the larger biblical narrative? Annual observance of Passover makes it a hallmark of Jewish identity. The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery describes the regulations regarding Passover as a command for Israelites “to reenact much of what originally took place in Egypt … the single most important event in their early history.” The Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words observes that “it was impossible for Israel to identify herself without this ritual depicting her salvation and deliverance from Egypt.”
The New Testament connects the Passover celebration to Christ’s death, and both Jesus and Paul use the event as an interpretive framework. For instance, Jesus shares a Passover meal with his disciples just before his crucifixion, referring to himself through the elements of the ritual meal. For Jesus, bread from the meal becomes “my body” (Mark 14:22), and wine becomes “my blood of the covenant” (Mark 14:24). Paul is even more explicit when he affirms that “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7; compare Isa 53:6–7, 10). The original Passover event contained all the elements to point forward to Christ.
Step Four: Explore Some of the Theological Issues
The Exodus 12 account does not present a fully developed concept of atonement nor does it allow us to draw easy parallels to Christ’s sacrifice. Although the substitution of the first Passover event—lamb for firstborn—invites a comparison with Jesus’ death on the cross, the connection between the Israelites and sin is less obvious. What’s clear is that God’s people are trapped in slavery by a power that refuses to recognize his sovereignty, and they are set free only through God’s saving action.
The night before his crucifixion, Jesus reworked the centuries-old story of Passover. The Exodus account became his template of redemption, which helped him prepare his disciples for what was about to happen. In much the same way, our objective in studying Exodus 12 is not to read Christ back into every detail of the original Passover, but to appreciate how scripture presents a foundational story that becomes a backdrop for God’s redemptive purposes in Christ.
One of the best reasons to read the Bible is to see how it reworks foundational narratives into new stories. The events of scripture become keys for interpreting the events of our lives—and blueprints for building them into new stories of redemption for us to share with others. This fusion is a profound way for us to carry on a biblical tradition stemming from the Lord Jesus himself.
E. Tod Twist
Originally published in Bible Study Magazine Nov–Dec ‘124
Biblical references from ESV
leb Lexham English Bible
ESV English Standard Version
Twist, E. T., “Retelling Redemption”, Study Like a Pro: Explore Difficult Passages from Every Book of the Bible (ed. J. D. Barry – R. Van Noord) (Bellingham, WA 2014).