Book: The Christian Passover

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The first Passover that the children of Israel observed was purely a domestic observance, as recorded in Exodus 12. The second Passover, which took place in the wilderness, was observed in exactly the same manner, as were all the Passovers that were kept during the forty years of wandering (Num. 9). From the time that the children of Israel entered the Promised Land until the time they were carried away to captivity in Babylon, we find only two occurrences in Scripture of a Passover that was not a domestic observance. In the previous chapter, we studied the first Passover observance that was centered at the temple, which took place during Hezekiah’s reign. The second such observance took place in the days of King Josiah. This second temple-centered Passover was preceded by the longest period of idolatry and paganism in the entire history of Judah, when the people were led to the depths of depravity by wicked King Manasseh. The Scriptural account of Manasseh’s reign clearly depicts the historical setting that led to the temple-centered Passover observance during the reign of Josiah.

The Debaucheries of Manasseh

Manasseh was the son of King Hezekiah. As the Bible has repeatedly recorded, the son of a righteous king often turned from his father’s ways and became terribly evil. Such was the case with Manasseh. He was undoubtedly the worst and most evil king in all the history of Israel and Judah. His reign is significant because it set the stage for the reforms of Josiah. The Scriptures give the following account of Manasseh’s wicked practices:

“Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign. And he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD after the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel for he built up again the high places which his father Hezekiah had destroyed. And he erected altars for Baal and made a grove as Ahab king of Israel did. And he worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the LORD of which the LORD said, ‘In Jerusalem I will put My name.’

“Then he built altars for all the host of the heavens in the two courts of the house of the LORD. And he made his son pass through the fire [in the valley of the son of Hinnom] and observed times and used witchcraft. And dealt with familiar spirits and wizards. He worked much wickedness in the sight of the LORD to provoke Him to anger. And he set a graven image of the grove which he had made in the house of...the LORD....And Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than the nations ever did whom the LORD destroyed before the children of Israel.

“And the LORD spoke by His servants the prophets, saying, ‘Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations, doing more wickedly than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, therefore, thus says the LORD God of Israel, “Behold, I am bringing evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, so that whoever hears of it both his ears shall tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria and the measuring line of the house of Ahab. And I will wipe Jerusalem as a dish is wiped, wiping and turning it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of My inheritance and deliver them into the hand of their enemies. And they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies; because they have done what is evil in My sight, and have provoked Me to anger since the day their fathers came forth out of Egypt even until this day.’

“Furthermore, Manasseh also shed very much innocent blood until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; besides his sin with which he made Judah to sin in doing the evil in the sight of the LORD” (II Kings 21:1-16).

In the entire history of Israel and Judah, never was there a more depraved society than that created by Manasseh. The Scriptures have preserved the record of the gross evils and idolatries personally committed by Manasseh in defiling the temple with his idols and passing his children through the fire to Molech—an abominable practice which he seduced the people into following. Such vile behavior causes our minds to recoil when we picture those horrible scenes. But the sins of Manasseh and his people were not the first to provoke God’s wrath. A key point made in this narration of Manasseh’s reign is the fact that the children of Israel and Judah had been provoking God to anger from the day they left Egypt. This factor must be borne in mind as we begin to study the revival instituted by Josiah and the account of his temple-centered Passover.

Josiah’s Revival

After Manasseh died, his 22-year-old son Amon reigned for two years. Amon was as wicked and evil as his father. His evil reign ended when “...his servants conspired against him and killed him in his own house. But the people of the land killed all those who conspired against King Amon. And the people of the land made his son Josiah to reign in his stead” (II Chron. 33:24-25).

Early in his reign, Josiah forsook the idolatrous practices of his wicked father Amon and began to worship the Lord, following the righteous example of his ancestor David: “Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father, and did not turn aside to the right hand nor to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek after the God of David his father. And in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images. And they broke down the altars of Baalim in his presence. And he cut down the images, which were on high above them, and the groves. And the carved images and the molten images he also broke in pieces, and made dust from them, and scattered it upon the graves of the ones who had sacrificed to them. And he burned the bones of the priests upon their altars and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem” (II Chron. 34:1-5).

This account shows the extensive work that Josiah had to perform to rid the city of Jerusalem and the land of Judah of all the false gods, images and idols. Additional details of Josiah’s cleansing of the land are recorded in II Kings 23.

When the cleansing of the land was completed, Josiah undertook to repair the house of God. As the work was beginning, Hilkiah the high priest found the Book of the Law, which had been lost for many years. Shaphan the scribe reported the finding of the book to King Josiah. When Shaphan read the commands of God, and the curses that would befall those who disobeyed, Josiah rent his clothes in anguish and repentance. He commanded Hilkiah and Shaphan to go to Huldah the prophetess, who was also the keeper of the wardrobe in Jerusalem, to ask the word of the LORD concerning all the curses pronounced against the people and the land because of their sins. Here is the message which the Lord sent back to Josiah:

“ ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel concerning the words you have heard, “Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before your God when you heard His words against this place and against its people, and humbled yourself before Me, and tore your clothes and wept before Me, I have even heard you also,” says the LORD. “Behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, nor shall your eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place and upon its people.” ’ And they brought the king word again” (II Chron. 34:26-28).

After receiving this message, Josiah in his zeal made a covenant with God, and he compelled all the leaders and the people of Judah to enter into this covenant. Just as Hezekiah had done, Josiah used the authority and power of his kingship to ensure that the people would serve the Lord their God. In view of the impending judgment of God, the kingdom of Judah was in a state of national emergency, and Josiah acted accordingly. Because he sought God with all his heart and turned the people from their grievous idolatry, God’s judgment upon the nation was postponed. The Scriptural account shows the wholehearted manner in which Josiah sought the Lord:

“And the king sent and gathered together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. And the king went up into the house of the LORD, and all the men of Judah, and the people of Jerusalem, and the priests, and the Levites, and all the people from the great to the small. And he read in their ears all the words of the Book of the Covenant that was found in the house of the LORD. And the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the LORD to walk after the LORD and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which are written in this book.

“And he caused all who were found in Jerusalem and in Benjamin, and the people of Jerusalem, to stand to it according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers. And Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the territories that belonged to the children of Israel. And he made [he personally saw to the enforcement of this covenant] all that were present in Israel to serve, even to serve the LORD their God. All his days they did not depart from following the LORD, the God of their fathers” (verses 29-33).

After establishing this covenant with God, Josiah began a tremendous reform, purging the land of all pagan images and idols. The cleansing of the land began with the temple in Jerusalem. The account of this cleansing, as recorded in II Kings 23, shows how terribly the people of Judah had polluted the very house of God. The account is given here to show the depths of spiritual wretchedness and moral degradation to which the people had descended during Manasseh’s and Amon’s wicked reigns:

“And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the doorkeepers, to bring forth out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels which were made for Baal, and for the grove, and for all the host of heaven. And he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron and carried the ashes of them to Bethel. And he removed the idolworshiping priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places around Jerusalem. He also removed those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of the heavens.

“And he brought out the Asherah image from the house of the LORD outside Jerusalem to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and stamped it to powder, and threw the powder of it upon the graves of the children of the people. And he broke down the houses of the sodomites [homosexuals, male and female], which were by the house of the LORD, where the women wove coverings for the grove. And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beer-sheba. And he broke down the high places of the gates....And he defiled Topheth, in the valley of the children of Hinnom, so that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech” (II Kings 23:4-10).

Josiah thoroughly purged the temple grounds and the entire area of Jerusalem of all idolatrous altars and pagan images: “And the altars which were on the top of the upper room of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the LORD, the king ripped them down from there, and smashed them. And he threw the dust of them into the brook Kidron. And the high places which were before Jerusalem on the right hand of the Mount of Corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the sons of Ammon, the king defiled. And he broke the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and filled their places with the bones of men” (verses 12-14).

Then Josiah fulfilled the prophecy given in I Kings 13 of the destruction of the altar at Bethel, which Jeroboam had built and dedicated: “Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he broke down, and burned the high place; he stamped it to powder, and burned the groves. Then as Josiah turned, he observed the tombs which were there in the mountain. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs, and burned them upon the altar and defiled it, according to the word of the LORD which the man of God had proclaimed, who had foretold these things....And also all the houses of the high places in the cities of Samaria, which the kings of Israel had made to provoke the LORD to anger, Josiah took away, and did to them according to all the works that he had done in Bethel. And upon the altars he killed all the priests of the high places which were there, and burned men’s bones upon them, and returned to Jerusalem” (II Kings 23:15-20).

Josiah’s Passover

The account of Josiah’s reign in II Chronicles 34 shows that the cleansing of the entire land of Judah was completed in six years (verses 3, 8). As great as this task had been, Josiah knew that it would be an even greater task to purge the hearts of the people of their deep-seated idolatrous mindset.

As in the time of Hezekiah, Josiah called for a mandatory Passover to be kept at Jerusalem. This was an emergency measure to avert the curses God had pronounced because of the people’s sins. It was a call for national repentance and a return to God! This Passover was to be supervised by the priests and the Levites in Jerusalem to ensure that the people did not return to their habitual paganism. Let us examine the Scriptural account of this centralized Passover: “And Josiah kept a Passover to the LORD in Jerusalem. And they killed the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month” (II Chron. 35:1).

As in the account of Hezekiah’s Passover, we again find that “they killed the Passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the first month.” And, as in the first account of a centralized Passover, the phrase ben ha arbayim, or “between the two evenings,” is not included. The following verses indicate that the account is describing an observance on the daytime portion of the 14th. The description of the sacrificing does not fit the ordinances that God established for the domestic observance of the Passover. There is no mention of the lambs being killed by “the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel,” as in Exodus 12. Rather, the account gives a detailed description of the slaying of the lambs at the temple by the Levites, and the sprinkling of the lamb’s blood against the altar by the priests. The missing phrase ben ha arbayim, and the fact that the entire narration is centered at the temple, shows that the sacrificing was conducted on the day portion of the 14th, in preparation for an observance on the night of the 15th.

A later statement in the Scriptural account shows that the sacrifices were not eaten until the night of the 15th. The account tells us that the priests had so many sacrifices to prepare that they “were busy offering up the burnt offerings and the fat until nightfall” (verse 14). The fact that the sacrifices were not completed “until night” shows that the people did not eat them on the day portion of the 14th, but on the night of the 15th.

As we read the account in II Chronicles 35, we find that the entire ceremony was conducted by the priests and Levites, who stood in their places to serve at the altar, offering sacrifices and carrying out all the duties that were assigned to their courses (verses 2-5). Notice Josiah’s exhortation to the Levites: “ ‘And kill the Passover, and sanctify yourselves, and prepare your brethren so that they may do according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses.’ And Josiah gave to the people from the flock, lambs and kids, all for the Passover offerings, for all who were present, to the number of thirty thousand, and three thousand oxen. These were from what the king owned” (verses 6-7).

This verse is significant because bullocks and oxen were never to be used for the Passover sacrifice. God had commanded that the animals for the Passover sacrifice be selected from the sheep or the goats (Ex. 12:5). The bullocks that Josiah gave to the people were not for the Passover sacrifice itself. These “Passover offerings,” were to be sacrificed by the priests and Levites as burnt offerings, peace offerings and thank offerings. The priests received “...for the Passover offerings two thousand six hundred sheep, and three hundred oxen.” And the Levites received “...for Passover offerings five thousand sheep, and five hundred oxen” (II Chron. 35:8-9).

These animals from both the flock and the herd were offered as burnt offerings, peace offerings and thank offerings. They were offered on the night of the 15th and each day during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The fact that they are called “Passover offerings” indicates that during this time in history, the entire Feast of Unleavened Bread began to be called “Passover.”

As the account shows, the lambs were brought to the temple to be sacrificed by the priests and the Levites, and the blood of the lambs was sprinkled against the altar in the manner that was practiced for peace offerings and thank offerings. This was done by Josiah’s command: “So the service was prepared, and the priests stood in their place, and the Levites in their courses, according to the king’s commandment. And they killed the Passover offerings, and the priests sprinkled the blood from their hands, and the Levites flayed them [cut them open and removed the guts]. And they removed the burnt offerings [the interior fat and genital organs] so that they might give, according to the divisions of the families of the people, to offer to the LORD as it is written in the book of Moses; and so they did to the oxen” (verses 10-12).

The sacrificing that was performed by the priests and Levites in this account was not conducted according to the ordinances that God gave to Moses for the observance of the Passover. The Passover ordinances that God delivered to Moses are recorded in the book of Exodus, which is the second book in the Pentateuch, or the “Book of the Law.” These ordinances of God do not instruct the priests and Levites to sacrifice the Passover lambs and sprinke the blood on the altar, nor to burn the fat and other parts. The phrase “as it is written in the book of Moses” is not referring to the ordinances for the Passover, but to the ordinances that God established for peace offerings, which required that the blood of the sacrificial animal be sprinkled against the altar, and the fat and certain organs be burnt on the altar (Lev. 3). The manner in which the lambs at Josiah’s Passover were killed conforms to God’s requirements for peace offerings and thank offerings, which were always sacrificed by the Levites and priests. The oxen were sacrificed in the same manner as the lambs, with the exception that these larger animals were cut into portions.

After relating the sacrifice of the lambs and the oxen, the account describes the manner in which they were cooked: “And they roasted [Hebrew bashal] the passover with fire according to the ordinance; and the holy offerings they sod [boiled] in pots [Hebrew bashal], and in caldrons, and in pans, and carried them quickly to all the children of the people” (verse 13, JPSA).

Notice that the Hebrew word bashal is used twice in this verse, and is translated both “roasted” and sod.” While it is wholly correct to translate bashal as “sod,” meaning “boiled,” it is not at all correct to translate bashal as “roasted.” Bashal is used in Scripture to denote the action of cooking, and, specifically, cooking by boiling in water (Brown, Driver, Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament).

Bashal is never used to signify the act of roasting. The use of the word “roasted” in II Chronicles 35:13 is a blatant mistranslation of the Hebrew text. Bashal is first used in this verse to indicate that the sacrifices were cooked over fire, and then to specify that the cooking was done by boiling the flesh of the animals in pots and pans. None of these sacrifices were roasted, as God had commanded for the sacrifice of the Passover lambs (Ex. 12:9).

The correct translation reads: “And they boiled the Passover offerings over fire according to the law. And the holy offerings they boiled in pots, and in kettles, and in pans, and divided them speedily among all the people” (II Chron. 35:13).

This description of the sacrifices at Josiah’s Passover does not include the roasting of the Passover lambs, as falsely indicated by the mistranslation of bashal in Verse 13. Those who misinterpret this account as applying exclusively to the sacrifice of the Passover lambs are completely ignoring the references to offerings from both the flock and the herd. As the account shows, the number of animals was so great that the sacrificing was not completed until the night of the 15th (verse 14). The details that are given in the account make it clear that this observance was not limited to the Passover day but extended into the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Josiah’s Passover was no ordinary Passover. It was a call to national repentance! The Scriptural record of Josiah’s Passover shows that this second temple- centered observance was even greater and more spectacular than Hezekiah’s: “And the children of Israel who were present kept the Passover at that time and the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days. And there was no Passover like that kept in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet. Yea, none of the kings of Israel kept such a Passover as Josiah kept, and the priests and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel who were present, and the people of Jerusalem” (verses 17-18).

At the time of Josiah’s Passover, the spiritual condition of the people of Judah was as degenerate as in the days of Hezekiah. The people had become so corrupted by paganism and so habituated to worshiping other gods, especially Baal and Asherah, that Josiah could not trust them to observe the Passover according to the commands of God in Exodus 12. Faced with these circumstances, Josiah chose the same solution that Hezekiah had chosen—a temple-centered Passover with the priests and Levites officiating in the sacrificing. The Scriptures clearly show that, in both cases, these Passovers were “according to the command of the king,” and NOT ACCORDING TO THE COMMAND OF GOD.

In writing the book of II Chronicles, Ezra has given us a detailed account of the temple-centered Passovers of Hezekiah and Josiah. As previously stated, in the parallel account of Hezekiah’s life in II Kings 18-20, there is no record of his epochal Passover. Were it not for Ezra’s writings, probably taken from other histories of the kings, we would not have known about Hezekiah’s Passover. Because Ezra preserved the record, we know that it was a temple-centered Passover and that it was observed by the commandment of the king. Similarly, Ezra has preserved for us the complete story of Josiah’s Passover. The account of Josiah’s temple-centered Passover as recorded by Ezra in II Chronicles 35 is only briefly mentioned in the book of II Kings, which reads:

“And the king commanded all the people saying, ‘Prepare the Passover to the LORD your God as it is written in the book of the covenant.’ Surely there was not held such a Passover from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was held to the LORD in Jerusalem” (II Kings 23:21-23).

Although Hezekiah and Josiah had the most urgent and compelling reasons to centralize the Passover at the temple in Jerusalem, it is important to remember that these temple observances did not conform to the commands of God in Exodus 12. These Passovers were observed at the temple “according to the commandment of the king.” The fact that God accepted these Passovers does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that He rescinded His ordinances for the Passover, which required the killing of the lambs by the head of each household “between the two evenings,” or ben ha arbayim. God’s command for a domestic sacrifice of the Passover lambs at the beginning of the 14th was not nullified by the command of the king! Although the temple-centered observance of the Passover was a vast improvement over the pagan worship of Baal and Asherah, and was instrumental in turning the people back to the worship of God, these temple-centered observances fell short of the ordinances that God had commanded.

Were it not for Ezra’s detailed accounts in the book of II Chronicles, we would not know the actual historical events that led to the centralizing of the Passover at the temple. But the evidence is there for all to see. Preserved in the pages of the Holy Scriptures is the record that this change in the observance of the Passover was NOT INSTITUTED BY GOD but by the kings of Judah.

Failing to understand the historical circumstances that led to the temple sacrifice of the Passover, Judaism today claims that this tradition was instituted by God Himself. However, the Scriptures expose this claim as absolutely false. The accounts in II Chronicles 30 and 35 clearly show that the decision to centralize the Passover at the temple was made by the kings of Judah and was NOT A COMMANDMENT OF GOD. These temple observances represented a dramatic change from the commands that God had delivered to Moses, as recorded in the Book of the Law. The kings of Judah apparently chose to make this change because of the idolatrous history of the people and their pattern of rebellion against God. Left to themselves, the people could not be trusted to follow God with willing hearts. They needed the strong hand of the king to enforce obedience. As God had said, “They were provoking Me from the day they left Egypt.” Moses testified of the continual rebellion of the people in the years that followed the Exodus: “And when the LORD sent you from Kadesh Barnea, saying, ‘Go up and possess the land which I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the LORD your God, and you did not believe Him, nor hearkened to His voice. You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day that I knew you” (Deut. 9:23-24).

It was the people’s long history of idolatry and rebellion against God that led to the changes in the Old Testament Passover ceremony during the days of Hezekiah and Josiah. These two kings of Judah made a templecentered Passover mandatory because the people had forsaken God and gone whoring after other gods. Because they could not be trusted to sacrifice the Passover at their own houses, they were commanded to come to the temple, where the ceremony was supervised by the priests and Levites. Although these centralized observances were contrary to God’s ordinances for the Passover, He acknowledged these temple-centered Passovers because the people were repenting and worshiping Him instead of the pagan gods of the nations around them. His acceptance of these Passovers does not mean that the temple observance of the Passover had replaced the ordinances that are recorded in Exodus 12.

The temple-centered Passovers that were commanded by Hezekiah and Josiah did not abolish the command of God for a domestic observance of the Passover at the beginning of the 14th day. This ordinance of God was still in effect. However, from this point in Jewish history, two Passover observances began to be practiced side by side: 1) the domestic Passover on the 14th, according to the commands of God, and 2) the temple-centered Passover on the 14th/15th, according to the commands of the kings of Judah. This dual practice continued until the second destruction of the temple in AD 70. The Jews eventually forsook the 14th Passover observance altogether, and have for centuries observed only a 15th Passover.

Now that we understand the historical reasons for the changing of the Passover, and how the tradition of a 15th Passover originated, we must choose whether to base our beliefs on the practices of men or on the ordinances of God. If we are truly converted Christians, we will obey the commands of God the Father and Jesus Christ by observing the Passover with the new symbols at the time that God has commanded in His Word. We will not follow the traditions of the Jews, regardless of the authority that may be ascribed to them.

In Chapter Fourteen, we will thoroughly examine the commands of God in Deuteronomy 16. Although on the surface these commands appear to be instructions for a temple sacrifice of the Passover, we will see that in reality they are commands for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and particularly for the night of the 15th, which is called “the night to be much observed.”