Book: The Christian Passover

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When God delivered the ordinances of the Passover to Moses, the children of Israel were a people in bondage. By fulfilling God’s commands for the Passover, they demonstrated their faith in His proclamation that He would deliver them from their slavery in Egypt and would lead them to the Promised Land, as He had sworn to their forefather Abraham. The Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt was a direct fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. The Scriptures record that these covenant promises were confirmed to Isaac and Jacob because Abraham obeyed God’s voice and kept all the laws and commandments and statutes of God (Gen. 26:5). When the children of Israel entered into their covenant with God at Mount Sinai, they also pledged to obey all the commandments, statutes and ordinances of God, and their pledge was sealed with the blood of sacrificial animals (Ex. 24:7-8).

The covenant that God made with Abraham was the foundation of the covenant that He established with the children of Israel at Mount Sinai. Under the terms of this covenant, known today as the Old Covenant, the people of Israel were offered many physical and material blessings for obedience— including good health, abundant harvests, and peace throughout the land. But the Old Covenant imposed grievous curses for disobedience— famine and disease, war and siege, and ultimately exile from the land that God had given them.

Deuteronomy 28 records all the blessings and curses of the covenant that God established with Israel. The blessings for obedience are set forth in Verses 1-14; and the curses are listed in vivid detail in Verses 15-68. Among the severe penalties for disobedience, God warned of invasion and captivity: “You shall beget sons and daughters, but you shall not enjoy them, for they shall go into captivity....The stranger dwelling among you shall get up above you very high, you shall come down very low. He shall loan to you, and you shall not loan to him. He shall be the head, and you shall be the tail. And all these curses shall come on you, and shall pursue you and overtake you, until you are destroyed because you did not obey the voice of the LORD your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you.

“And they shall be on you for a sign and for a wonder, and on your seed forever. Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and with gladness of heart for the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies which the LORD shall send against you in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in the want of all things. And he shall put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. The LORD shall bring a nation against you from far, from the end of the earth as the eagle flies...” (Deut. 28:41-49).

This dreadful curse of war and captivity was clearly laid out before the children of Israel when they covenanted with God at Mount Sinai. They were well aware of the punishment that would befall them if they did not obey all that God had commanded. When the new generation entered the Promised Land, the men of the twelve tribes were required to stand on the tops of Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim while the Levites read all the blessings and the curses that were written in the covenant. As the men of Israel repeated each blessing and each curse, all the people said “Amen,” binding themselves to the covenant with full knowledge of the penalties for disobedience (Deut. 27:9-26).

Moses Prophesies the Captivity of Israel

Although the children of Israel had pledged to obey the commandments of God and keep His covenant, Moses knew that they were a stiffnecked people. He had witnessed their hardheartedness and disobedience time and time again during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Now, as they prepared to enter the Promised Land, he foresaw a time when the sins of Israel would become so great that the people would be removed from the land and be sentenced to live in captivity among their enemies.

Moses’ prophecy concerning the future sins and the resulting captivity of Israel is recorded in the book of Deuteronomy. Moses warned the children of Israel that the time would come when their descendants would sin grievously against God, breaking the covenant that He had made with them. Their wickedness would so anger God that He would punish them severely and would bring upon them all the curses that were pronounced in the book of the covenant. If they stubbornly persisted in their disobedience and refused to repent, He would send oppressors who would besiege their cities and carry them out of the land to exile. Here are Moses’ words of warning to Israel:

“When you shall beget children and grandchildren, and when you shall have remained long in the land and have dealt corruptly by making a graven image, the likeness of anything, and shall do evil in the sight of the LORD your God to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day that you shall soon utterly perish from off the land which you are crossing over Jordan to possess. You shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed. And the LORD shall scatter you among the nations...” (Deut. 4:25-27).

After prophesying that Israel would be carried out of the land into captivity, Moses also prophesied a time of repentance and restoration for the remnant of Israel: “...and you shall be left few in number among the nations where the LORD shall drive you. And there you shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But if you shall seek the LORD your God from there, you shall find Him, if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in trouble and when all these things have come upon you in the latter days, then you shall return to the LORD your God and shall be obedient to His voice, for the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not forsake you, nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers [Abraham, Isaac and Jacob] which He swore to them” (Deut. 4:27-31).

These words of Moses were a powerful reminder to the children of Israel that God always keeps His word. As He had covenanted with their forefathers to bring them to the Promised Land, so He had done. As He had covenanted with them at Mount Sinai, so He would do. If they obeyed His commandments, He would bless them in the land that He had given them. If they disobeyed, He would curse them and cast them out of the land.

After delivering this warning to the children of Israel, Moses pleaded with them to remember the words that God had spoken and be diligent to keep His commandments, that they might dwell and prosper in the Promised Land. In his final charge to the children of Israel, he made it clear that obedience to God was the only way to receive His blessings and enjoy a long and good life: “Behold, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil, in that I command you this day to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments so that you may live and multiply. And the LORD your God shall bless you in the land where you go to possess it.

“But if your heart turn away so that you will not hear, but shall be drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I denounce to you this day that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days on the land where you pass over Jordan to go to possess it. I call heaven and earth to record this day against you that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore, choose life, so that both you and your seed may live, that you may love the LORD your God, and may obey His voice, and may cleave to Him; for He is your life and the length of your days, so that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers—to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob—to give it to them” (Deut. 30:15-20).

After delivering this charge to the children of Israel, Moses called Joshua and commissioned him to bring the people into the land and oversee its division among the tribes. God was with the armies of Israel as they battled the inhabitants of the land and drove them out. Although the inhabitants were not wholly removed, Joshua saw that every tribe of Israel was allotted an inheritance in the land (Judg. 2:6)

Sin and Idolatry Lead to Captivity and Exile

The children of Israel remained faithful to God all the days of Joshua and the elders that outlived him, but the following generation fell into grievous idolatry. They forsook God and broke His covenant by turning to the abominable worship of Baal and Ashteroth, or Asherah, which they had learned from the heathen inhabitants whom they had failed to drive out of the land. As punishment for their sins, God sent enemy nations against them to oppress them. When the people repented of their sins, God raised up judges to deliver them. This cycle of sin, oppression, repentance and deliverance was repeated many times during Israel’s early years in the Promised Land (Judg. 2:7-19).

The kings who reigned after the time of the judges added to the sins of Israel by filling the land with idols, groves and pillars for the worship of Baal and Asherah and a host of other false gods. The books of the Kings and the Chronicles record the gross corruption and abominable practices of the kings and people of Israel and Judah, which provoked God’s wrath until He brought upon them the curse that was pronounced in the covenant—captivity and exile from the land that He had given them. Because they had forsaken God and had turned to the abominable practices of the heathen, God sent them to live among the heathen.

While the people of Israel and Judah were living in exile, they did not have a covenant relationship with God. They had broken His covenant, and He had removed them from the land. They were far from the temple of God in Jerusalem and could offer none of the sacrifices that were commanded under the covenant. Because they had polluted His altar with sacrifices to the gods of the heathen, God had caused the temple to be destroyed. Even if the people had repented, they could not reestablish the temple service and renew their covenant with God as long as they remained in exile.

The Curse of Exile

The people of Israel and Judah were not the first sinners to be exiled for breaking a covenant relationship with God. From the time of creation, God has used the curse of exile to punish the sinful and disobedient. As the book of Genesis records, this curse was pronounced upon Adam and Eve when they sinned in the Garden of Eden.

When God spoke His commands to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He entered into a covenant with them. In a covenant relationship, there are specific commandments and laws that must be obeyed. Every covenant offers blessings for obedience and pronounces curses for disobedience. Accordingly, when God covenanted with Adam and Eve, He set before them the choice of whether to obey and receive blessings or to disobey and receive curses: “And out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life also was in the middle of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil....And the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may freely eat of every tree in the garden, but you shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day that you eat of it in dying you shall surely die’ ” (Gen. 2:9, 15-17).

If Adam and Eve had obeyed God’s command and had not eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would have remained in covenant with God, and they would have been able to eat of the tree of life. However, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. Because they disobeyed, Adam and Eve were cut off from the blessings of God, and instead received curses. The judgment that was imposed for their sin brought suffering and sorrow to them and to all their descendants. Here is the punishment that God pronounced upon them:

“To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly increase your sorrow and your conception—in sorrow shall you bring forth children. Your desire shall be toward your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ And to Adam He said, ‘Because you have hearkened to the voice of your wife [instead of hearkening to the voice of God], and have eaten of the tree—of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it!’—the ground is cursed for your sake. In sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life. It shall also bring forth thorns and thistles to you, and thus you shall eat the herbs of the field; in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return’ ” (Gen. 3:16-19).

The Exile of Adam and Eve

Because they had sinned and had not kept the covenant that God made with them, Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden. They were removed from the covenant land: “Therefore, the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he had been taken. And He drove out the man, and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:23-24).

The covenant that God had established with Adam and Eve required that they die for their sin. God could have executed the death penalty upon them immediately, but He chose not to. Instead, He sentenced them to live out their lives in toil and sorrow, exiled from the Garden of Eden and from the blessings He had offered under the covenant.

Although they could no longer enter the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were not totally cut off from God. They could approach God by coming to the east gate of the Garden of Eden, and they undoubtedly had contact with God on a periodic basis. It was probably there at the east entrance, where the two cherubim stood guard, that God established an altar for sacrifices to Him.

The judgment that God had pronounced upon Eve soon came to pass, and she experienced the travail of childbirth: “Then Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have gotten a man from the LORD.’ And she bore again, his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground” (Gen. 4:1-2).

Cain Kills Abel and Is Exiled

Eve’s joy in seeing her two sons grow to manhood was turned to deep bitterness when her firstborn became the murderer of his own brother: “It came to pass [Josephus states that Cain and Abel, who were twins, were 130 years old (Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. 1, Ch. 2, Sec. 3)] that Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground. And Abel also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat of it. And the LORD had regard unto Abel and his offering, but He did not have regard unto Cain and his offering. And Cain was extremely angry and his countenance fell. And the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you so angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, shall you not be accepted? But if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it!’ And Cain talked with his brother Abel. And it came to pass that when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.

“And the LORD said unto Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ And he said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ And He said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to Me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the earth, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you, and you shall be a wanderer and a fugitive upon the earth.’ And Cain said to the LORD, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, You have driven me out from the face of the earth today, and I shall be hidden from Your face. And I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth, and it shall be that anyone who finds me shall kill me.’ And the LORD said to him: ‘Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the LORD set a sign upon Cain so that anyone who found him should not kill him. And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and lived in the land of Nod, to the east of Eden” (Gen. 4:3-16).

Again, God executed the curse of exile as punishment for sin. But unlike Adam and Eve, Cain apparently was completely cut off from any access to God. As these Scriptural examples show, the more grievously a person sins, the farther removed from God he or she becomes.

Noah’s Generation Removed From the Earth

During the days of Noah, the human race so corrupted itself that God removed the entire population from the face of the earth. But because Noah served God and kept His commandments, he and his family were spared: “And the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD repented that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. And the LORD said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, and the crawling thing, and the fowl of the air; for I repent that I have made them.’ But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Gen. 6:5-8).

All mankind became so degenerate and so evil that God decided to destroy all human flesh except Noah, his wife, and his three sons and their wives. Since the earth was filled with violence and corruption, there was no place to exile the wicked from the righteous, and there was no place for the righteous to live in peace. The entire civilization had to be destroyed:

“Now the earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and behold, it was corrupt— for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them. And, behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (verses 11-12).

Before unleashing this worldwide destruction, God established a covenant with Noah and gave him instructions for building the ark: “Make an ark of cyprus timbers. You shall make rooms in the ark, and you shall pitch it inside and outside with pitch....I will establish My covenant with you.; And you shall come into the ark—you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives...” (verses 14, 18).

Because God covenanted with Noah, the human race was preserved through the Flood. After the Flood, the earth was repopulated by the children of Noah’s three sons—Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Abraham, who lived ten generations after the Flood, was descended from Noah’s oldest son Shem. Because Abraham served God and obeyed His voice and kept His commandments, God established His covenant with him, as He had with his righteous forefather Noah. This covenant was the foundation of the covenant that God established with the children of Israel, who were Abraham’s descendants.

When God covenanted with Abraham, He revealed that his descendants would suffer grievous bondage, but that He would deliver them at the set time (Gen. 15:13-16). That promise was fulfilled in the days of Moses, as the book of Exodus records. The Scriptural account tells us that “God remembered His covenant with Abraham...” (Ex. 2:24).

God Always Fulfills His Covenants

God is faithful. When God promises to bless those who obey Him, He always fulfills His word. When He pronounces a curse on those who disobey, he always fulfills His word. GOD ALWAYS KEEPS HIS WORD.

The children of Israel ignored this lesson of Scripture. They forgot the examples of Adam and Eve, Cain, the generation of Noah’s day, and other sinners of the past who had reaped the curses of God for their disobedience. As the book of Judges records, the children of Israel forsook God and fell into grievous idolatry soon after entering the Promised Land (Judg. 2:8-13). During the reigns of the kings, God sent many prophets to warn them of the judgment that would befall them if they did not turn from their idolatry and cease to practice their abominations.

The books of the prophets, which record these warnings to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, teach us another powerful lesson about the faithfulness and mercy of God. GOD ALWAYS ALLOWS TIME FOR REPENTANCE. That is why God did not execute the curse of exile upon the first generation of Israelites who broke His covenant by worshiping the false gods of the heathen. God withheld His judgment many times when the people repented. When they sinned, He sent drought and famine and enemy armies to plague them, in the hope that they would turn again to Him for deliverance. But after many generations, the land was filled with such corruption and abominable idolatry that God could no longer forbear.

The Ten Tribes of Israel Exiled to Assyria

The people of the northern kingdom of Israel were the first to go into captivity: “And they [the ten tribes of Israel] left all the commandments of the LORD their God and made molten images, two calves for themselves. And they made a grove, and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire. And they used divination and sorceries, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger. So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of His sight; not one was left, only the tribe of Judah by itself” (II Kings 17:16-18).

The abominable practices that provoked God’s judgment against Israel can be traced to Jeroboam, who was made king when the northern ten tribes rebelled against Solomon’s son Rehoboam: “For He tore Israel from the house of David and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. And Jeroboam drove Israel away from following the LORD, and made them sin a great sin. For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did. They did not depart from them until the LORD removed Israel out of His sight as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away out of their own land to Assyria as it is to this day” (II Kings 17:21-23).

God Warns the Kingdom of Judah

The southern kingdom of Judah was spared from God’s judgment for a time. Under the direction of righteous King Josiah, the land had been purged from countless idols and high places that the people had used in their idolatrous worship. But the repentance of the people was short-lived. After Josiah’s death, Judah again fell into total corruption. The people of Judah, including the priests and Levites, did worse than the people of Israel and sinned greatly against God. Although God sent many prophets to warn them, the people of Judah refused to listen or repent. God sent Jeremiah to give them one last warning:

“The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah. It was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; the word which Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah and to all the people of Jerusalem, saying, ‘From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon the king of Judah, even to this day, that is the twenty-third year, the Word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken to you, speaking again and again. But you have not hearkened. And the LORD has sent to you all His servants the prophets, again and again and sending them again and again; but you have not hearkened nor bowed down your ear to hear. They all said, ‘Turn again now, each one from his evil way, and from the evil of your doings, and dwell in the land that the LORD has given to you and to your fathers forever and ever. And do not go after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, and do not provoke Me to anger with the work of your hands; and I will do you no harm. Yet you have not hearkened to Me,’ says the LORD, ‘so that you might provoke Me with the works of your hands, to your own hurt.

“Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Because you have not heard My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ says the LORD, ‘and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant; and will bring them against this land, and against its people, and against all these nations all around you. And I will completely destroy them, and make them a waste, and a hissing, and everlasting ruins....And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment. And these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it shall be, when seventy years are fulfilled I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, and the land of the Chaldeans,’ says the LORD, ‘for their iniquity, and I will make it an everlasting desolation. And I will bring on that land all My words which I have spoken against it, all that is written in this book which Jeremiah has prophesied against all the nations” (Jer. 25:1-13).

Judah Goes into Babylonian Captivity

After announcing His judgment through Jeremiah, God did exactly as He had said. He raised up Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and made Babylon the greatest kingdom of the Gentiles. With his armies, Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and destroyed the land, leaving none of the inhabitants to dwell there: “The cities of the south have been shut up, and none shall open them; Judah has been exiled, all of it has been wholly exiled” (Jer. 13:19).

As Jeremiah had prophesied, the southern kingdom of Judah suffered the same judgment as the northern kingdom of Israel: “Also Judah did not keep the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the statutes which Israel made. And the LORD rejected all the seed of Israel [including the tribe of Judah], and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers until He had cast them out of His sight” (II Kings 17:19-20).

The Captives Understood That They Were Under the Curse of the Covenant

The people of Israel and Judah knew that God had sent them into captivity as punishment for their sins. They understood that because they had not kept the laws that God delivered to Moses, but had rejected them and rebelled against Him, all the curses that were written had come upon them. The prayer of Daniel, one of the captives of Judah, clearly points out why the final curse of the covenant—exile from the land—was executed against Israel and Judah:

“In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans, in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood by books the number of the years, which came according to the Word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. And I set my face toward the LORD God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes.

“And I prayed to the LORD my God and made my confession, and said, ‘O LORD, the great and awesome God, keeping the covenant and mercy to those who love Him, and to those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, and have turned aside from Your commandments and from Your ordinances. Neither have we hearkened unto Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our rulers, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.

“O LORD, righteousness belongs to You, but to us confusion of face, as at this day to the men of Judah and to the people of Jerusalem, and to all Israel who are near and who are afar off, through all the countries where You have driven them because they dealt treacherously with You. O LORD, confusion of face belongs to us, to our kings, to our rulers, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against You.

“To the LORD our God belong mercies and forgivenesses even though we have rebelled against Him. Neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God to walk in His laws which He set before us by His servants the prophets. Yea, all Israel has transgressed Your law, and have turned aside, so that they might not obey Your voice. Therefore the curse has been poured out upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against Him. And He has confirmed His words which He spoke against us and against our judges who judged us by bringing upon us a great evil, for under the whole heaven it has not been done as it has been done upon Jerusalem.

“As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil has come upon us. Yet we did not make our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities and understand Your truth. Therefore, the LORD did not hesitate concerning the evil that He brought upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in all His works which He does, but we did not obey His voice. And now, O LORD our God, Who has brought Your people out from the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and has made a name for Yourself, as it is this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly!

“O LORD, I pray You, according to all Your righteousness, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain. Because of our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become a reproach to all those who are around us. And now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications, and cause Your face to shine upon Your sanctuary that is desolate for the LORD’S sake. O my God, incline Your ear and hear. Open Your eyes and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name. For we do not present our supplications before You on account of our righteousnesses, but because of Your great mercies. O LORD, hear; O LORD, forgive; O LORD, hearken and do. Do not delay, for Your own sake, O my God; for Your city and Your people are called by Your name’ ” (Dan. 9:1-19).

What a heartfelt prayer to God! What a powerful admission of the sins and transgressions that Judah and all Israel had committed against God! As a result of their wickedness, they had become a reproach to all the nations around, exactly as Moses had prophesied: “...even all the nations shall say, ‘Why has the LORD done this to this land? For what is the meaning of the heat of this great anger?’ Then men shall say, ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD God of their fathers which He made with them when He brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, for they went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they did not know and that He had not allotted to them. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land to bring on it all the curses that are written in this book. And the LORD rooted them out of their land in anger and wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is today’ ” (Deut. 29:24-28).

Even the heathen peoples of the world understood that the captivity of Israel and Judah was decreed by God. They knew that He had executed this great curse because His people had broken His covenant with them. Their exile from the land of the covenant was a sign to them and to all the world that God had rejected them. While in exile, the people were not in covenant with God.

The Exiles Could Not Keep the Passover

As Jeremiah had prophesied, the Babylonian captivity lasted seventy years. During this seventy-year captivity, the land was desolate, and Jerusalem and the temple were in ruins. Because the temple was destroyed, no sacrifices could be offered. Since the people were no longer in the land of Judea, they could not restore the temple and renew the covenant.

Moreover, during the entire seventy-year captivity, the Passover could not be kept. The word of God makes it absolutely clear that when the people were not in the land of Israel, they could not keep the Passover on the 14th day of the first month. Notice the instructions that God gave to Moses when the children of Israel were in the wilderness: “And they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month between the two evenings [ben ha arbayim] in the wilderness of Sinai. According to all that the LORD commanded Moses, the children of Israel did. And there were certain men who were defiled by the dead body of a man, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day. And they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day.

“And those men said to him, ‘We are defiled by the dead body of a man. Why are we kept back that we may not offer an offering of the LORD in its appointed time among the children of Israel?’ And Moses said to them, ‘You wait here, and I will hear what the LORD will command about you.’

“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying, “If any man of you or of your generations shall be unclean because of a dead body, or in a journey afar off, he shall still keep the Passover to the LORD. They shall keep it the fourteenth day of the second month between the two evenings [ben ha arbayim], eating it [having returned to the land of Israel] with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it until the morning, nor break any bone of it. According to all the ordinances of the Passover they shall keep it” (Num. 9:5-12).

God’s instructions to Moses show that the people were not allowed to keep the Passover when they were away from the land of Israel. This prohibition applied to all those who were carried out of the land to captivity and exile. That the Jews in exile could not observe the Passover is acknowledged by the Karaite Jews and recorded by Samuel Al-Magribi in 1484: “Today, however, by reason of our many sins, we are scattered over the four corners of the earth, we are dispersed in the lands of the Gentiles, we are soiled with their ritual uncleanness and unable to reach the House of the Lord, and our status is equivalent to that of persons ritually unclean or traveling far away. That is why this ordinance of the Passover sacrifice no longer applies to us, and the reason for this is our fathers’ exceeding disobedience to God and our own following in their sinful footsteps” (Nemoy, Karaite Anthology, p. 206)

When the Jews were in exile during the Babylonian captivity, they could not keep the Passover. This prohibition led to the replacement of the Passover with the Seder meal on the 15th day of the first month, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. To make their false substitute appear Scriptural, the Jews changed the name of the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread to “Passover.” By changing the name of this feast, the Seder meal on the night of the 15th became the “Passover” for those who were living in exile.

The Jews have always claimed Scriptural support for their humanly devised traditions. But as Jesus warned, these traditions of men are empty and vain, and have no value whatsoever in God’s eyes. In fact, they are dangerous counterfeits that attempt to deceive and draw people away from the true commandments of God. The counterfeit Jewish 15th “Passover” has lured many Christians away from the commanded time for observing the Passover, which is the night of the 14th, the night that Jesus was betrayed.

A Remnant Returns to Renew the Covenant and Keep the Passover

At the end of the seventy years, God fulfilled His word through Jeremiah by bringing the Medes and Persians against Babylon. The exile of the Jews ended with the Medes and Persians in control of the empire. In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, God gave the Jews grace and favor in the eyes of the king, who issued a decree that the temple in Jerusalem be rebuilt in order that sacrifices might again be offered to God. For this purpose, the king restored much of the temple treasure that Nebuchadnezzar had plundered from the house of God.

After Cyrus’ decree was proclaimed throughout the empire, a contingent of 42,360 Jews, with 7,337 men and women servants and 200 singers, left their land of exile to return to Judea. They were led by Zerubbabel, who was appointed governor of Judea, and Jeshua, who was high priest at that time (Ezra 1-3). This small remnant of Jews came back to the land of Judea and resettled the cities. By the beginning of the seventh month, they had built an altar and had reinstituted the sacrifices (Ezra 3:1-2, 6). They kept all of the feast days that God had appointed for the seventh month, including the Feast of Tabernacles (verses 4-5). At this time, they also made preparations for rebuilding the temple (verses 6-7). The foundation of the temple was laid in the second month of the following year (verses 8-13).

The Jews who had returned from the Babylonian captivity were back in the land of Israel and could again be in covenant with God. They were able to keep the Passover, unlike the Jews who were still living in exile. Those who remained in exile were prohibited from keeping the Passover, even after the sacrifices had been reinstituted in Jerusalem. Only by leaving their place of exile and returning to the land of Israel could they participate in the sacrifice of the Passover on the 14th day of the first month.

Although the exiles who had returned to Jerusalem and Judea undoubtedly observed the Passover each year, the book of Ezra records only the Passover that was kept in the year that the temple was completed. That Passover was especially significant because it marked the official renewal of the covenant by the returned exiles. Ezra relates the great joy of the former exiles at this Passover observance following the dedication of the house of God: “And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity kept the dedication of this house of God with joy....And the children of the captivity kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. The priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them pure. And they killed the Passover lamb for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves. And the children of Israel ate the Passover lamb, all who had come again out of exile, and all such as had separated themselves to them from the uncleanness of the nations of the land in order to seek the LORD God of Israel. And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had made them joyful...” (Ezra 6:15-16, 19-22).

Ezra’s Passover Law

As the account in the book of Ezra shows, the Levites themselves killed the Passover lambs at this observance. This was not a purely domestic observance, as was the Passover that the children of Israel observed in Egypt, and in the wilderness, and in their early years in the Promised Land. This Passover—the first recorded observance by the returned exiles—was centered at the newly dedicated temple and was kept according to the new Passover law that Ezra had instituted. Ezra’s new law was enacted primarily because of the apostate Jewish temples in Samaria and Elephantine, where unauthorized sacrifices were being made. The new Passover law enforced the Scriptural teaching that Jerusalem was the only city where God had placed His name and that the altar at the temple in Jerusalem was the only authorized place to offer sacrifices to God. Since the Jews of Ezra’s day were accustomed to observing a temple-centered Passover, those who lived near the apostate temples in Samaria and Elephantine would naturally have been tempted to observe the Passover at these sites. The majority of the Jews still lived in exile, and less than 60,000 lived in Judea. By restricting all Passover observance to the area of Jerusalem, Ezra hoped to prevent the exiles from falling prey to the counterfeit religions that were competing with the true worship of God at the temple in Jerusalem.

Ezra was not without Scriptural authority when he issued his new Passover law. God’s command to Moses in Numbers 9 prohibited the observance of the Passover in foreign lands. Likewise, Ezra’s edict forbade the observance of the Passover by all Jews who had not returned from their land of exile. Only those Jews who returned to Judea could observe the Passover because they were no longer cut off from the covenant.

The new Passover law made it mandatory for those who were still living in exile to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to observe the Passover. Those exiles who were unwilling or unable to make the pilgrimage had a convenient substitute for the Passover—the Seder meal on the night of the 15th. This tradition grew to become the predominant practice among the Jews.

The observance of the Passover in Jerusalem and Judea ceased with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. From that time forward, the Jews were unable to observe the temple sacrifice of the Passover lambs. Although the domestic sacrifice was practiced by many Jews in succeeding generations, the token shank bone of the Seder meal eventually replaced the Passover lamb among most Jews in Judea, as well as those who lived in foreign lands.

The Jews today observe the 15th Seder as their Passover, and insist that the Passover has always been on the 15th. But our study of the Passover ordinances that God delivered to Moses shows that there is no truth in their claim. The Scriptural account in Exodus 12 bears record that the Passover in Egypt was kept on the night of the 14th, as were all domestic observances of the Passover by the children of Israel in Old Testament times.

In the next chapter, we will examine the records of Jewish historians concerning the Passover in New Testament times, which will show that the domestic Passover on the night of the 14th was still being observed.