On its primary level, the yearly observance of the Passover and seven days of eating unleavened bread is meant to recall the Israelite Exodus out of Egypt.1
The history is as follows:
MOSES AND AARON
After the Israelites spent 400 years in servitude to the Egyptians,2 Yahweh sent his prophets Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh with the request to release the Israelites from bondage in order that they could go and serve Yahweh in the wilderness.
To facilitate this endeavor, Moses revealed signs and plagues to Pharaoh in a series of attempts to persuade him to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt. Finally, after suffering from each plague, Pharaoh would recant of his stubbornness and give permission.
Moses would then pray to Yahweh to release Egypt from the plague. Just as quickly as the plague was relieved, Pharaoh would harden his inner self and would once more refuse to allow the Israelites to leave the country.3
The 10th and last of these plagues occurred on the night of the Passover supper. Yahweh had ordered each household of the Israelites to bring in a perfect one-year-old male flock animal from among either their sheep or goats and separate it out on the 10th day of the moon of Abib (later called Nisan).
Then at byn ha-arabim (within the periods of twilight), on the 14th day of Abib (Nisan), the animal was sacrificed and its blood placed on the door frames of each respective Israelite house. The animal was then roasted and eaten that night.4
The Israelites were commanded to be dressed for hasty travel, to remain inside their homes until morning, to eat their Passover with unleavened bread, and then ordered that at morning they must burn what remained of the sacrificed animal.5
Meanwhile, in the middle of the night, “the destroyer” or angel of death passed through Egypt, killing all of the firstborn in the land, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh to the firstborn of all the livestock.
Nevertheless, this angel did not enter into the houses where the lamb’s blood was found upon the doorpost. The firstborn of Israel had been saved by the blood of the Passover victim.6
The devastation to the Egyptian population, on the other hand, was so great that Pharaoh allowed the Israelites to leave the country, taking with them a great plunder.7
ISRAELITES BEGIN TRAVEL
The night of Passover did not end the trauma. On the 15th of Abib, the Israelites left Rameses and gathered themselves at a place called Succuth.8
From Succuth, they marched through the eastern wilderness of Egypt toward the Suph (Termination)9 Sea, called by the Greeks the Red Sea,10 located on the edge of the Egyptian frontier.11
As they were leaving the populated regions of Egypt, the Egyptians were seen burying their dead.12
ARRIVAL AT SUPH SEA
The Israelites continued marching day and night until they arrived at the Suph Sea, all the while continuing to bake and consume their supply of unleavened bread.13
During the Israelite march, Pharaoh once again hardened his inner self and repented of having let the Israelites go. In response, he mustered his chariots and warriors and pursued them.14
As the seventh day of Unleavened Bread arrived (beginning of Abib 20), while the Israelites were in the process of eating their festival meal and celebrating the high Sabbath of the last day of the Festival, Pharaoh caught up with his prey.15
Using his well-trained and massive army, he cornered the Israelites at the mouth of a natural pocket formed by the sea and a mountain that terminated at its shore.16
It was at this point that Yahweh, within a pillar of cloud and accompanied by a pillar of fire, moved in between Pharaoh’s army and the Israelites.17
THE SEA OPENS
At the same time, just after the arrival of Pharaoh’s army, a tremendous storm rose up. Under instructions from Yahweh, Moses next stretched out his hand over the sea with his staff, and a pathway through the water opened.
During the rest of that night, the Israelites followed Moses through the midst of the Suph Sea, escaping to the opposite shore.18
EGYPTIANS ENTER SEA
Shortly before dawn, as the last of the Israelites were escaping to the opposite shore, the Egyptian army, in hot pursuit, followed the Israelites into the sea.
However, Yahweh and his cloud of glory, together with the pillar of fire, still formed a barrier between the rear guard of the Israelites and the front lines of the Egyptians.
EGYPTIAN ARMY DESTROYED
Then, when all the Israelites had reached safety, Yahweh looked upon the Egyptians from the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire, causing them great consternation.
Suddenly, the water, which had formed great walls on each side of the passageway through the sea, collapsed on top of the Egyptian army, who were now well inside the sea basin.19
All the Egyptians were destroyed; all the Israelites were saved.20
With the historical account given in Scriptures, the Passover sacrifice for Yahweh had assured safety for the Israelites during their seven-day experience of their release from bondage out of the land of Egypt during the Exodus.
The association of a sacrifice made to assure a safe passage and the act of limping (passing over) at a funeral service were also brought together in this Passover episode.
Not only was there the death of the Passover victim, but the Israelites left Egypt in the midst of a great Egyptian funeral for their firstborn.
These extraordinary events resulted in the birth of the new and independent twelve-tribe nation of Israel, governed by the priests of Levi and their submission to Yahweh.
With this quick summary of the Exodus behind us, we will proceed to our next installment of the Passover series titled 5. Passover – Pentecost Connection I.
For further reading, see the publication by Qadesh La Yahweh press titled The Festivals and Sacred Days of Yahweh.
Click this link for Bibliography and Abbreviations.
1 Exod. 12:17, 13:3-10.
2 That the Israelites spent 400 years in Egypt see Gen. 15:13-14; Acts 7:6-7; Jos., Antiq., 2:9:1, Wars, 5:9:4, Table, 2:4–6; Ps.-Clement, 1:34; etc. The 210-year chronology for the Egyptian sojourn of the Israelites, which is currently popular, is both late and spurious. It was first formalized by Demetrius, a second century B.C.E. Jewish chronographer, who wrote in the Greek language and flourished in Egypt. It was not totally accepted by Jewish chronologists until the second century C.E.
6 Exod. 11:4-7, 12:12-13, 23, 29.
8 Num. 33:3-5; Exod. 12:37. Josephus notes that many years later the Persian leader King Cambyses built the Egyptian city of Babylon upon the previously deserted site of Succuth (Jos., Antiq., 2:15:1). Today the ruins of Egyptian Babylon are found in Fostat, located near Old Cairo.
9 The Hebrew name ים סוף (Yam Suph; Sea of Suph) is found in the Greek sources (LXX, Exod. 10:19, 13:18; Jos., Antiq. 2:15:1; and many others) as ἐρυθρὰν θάλασσαν (eruthran thalassan; Red Sea). Many modern day translators assume that the name Yam Suph was Egyptian and equate it with an Egyptian word that signifies a seaweed resembling wool, hence it has been popular to call it the sea of reeds or weeds (e.g., DOTB, pp. 785f; DB, p. 556; NBD, pp. 1077f). Nevertheless, the word is not Egyptian. The ancient Egyptians never even referred to this body of water by that name. It is Hebrew and means “to snatch away, i.e. terminate:—consume, have an end, perish . . . to come to an end . . . a termination:—conclusion, end, hinder part” (SEC, Heb. #5486, 5487, 5490). The Suph Sea was the sea that formed the border of the ancient frontier of Egypt proper; it was at the end of the land (VT, 15, pp. 395–398). It was also the sea in which Pharaoh and his Egyptian army perished—an event that terminated the Exodus experience. Accordingly, some understand Yam Suph to mean the “sea of extinction” or something quite similar, indicating “the primal significance of the miracle at the sea” (MBD, pp. 738f).
10 In the LXX the Hebrew name “Suph” Sea is translated by the Greek name for this sea, the “ἐρυθᾶς (eruthras; Red)” Sea (e.g., at LXX Exod. 13:18, 15:4, 22, 23:31, and so forth).
11 Exod. 12:37-42, 13:17-14:1; Num. 33:3-7. When the Israelites crossed the Suph Sea they found themselves located in Etham, in the wilderness of Shur (Exod. 13:20, 15:22; Num. 33:6-8), the territory that bordered the front of Egypt (Gen. 25:18; 1 Sam. 15:7).
12 Num. 33:3-4.
13 Exod. 12:34, 39, 13:18-14:2.
14 Exod. 14:3-9.
15 Exod. 14:5-12.
16 This detail is indicated by Exod. 14:3, “They are entangled in the land, the wilderness has shut them in.” Josephus explains that the Egyptians had, “confined them between inaccessible cliffs and the sea; for it was the sea in which terminated a mountain whose rugged face was destitute of tracks and prohibitive for retreat. Accordingly, occupying the pass where the mountain abuts upon the sea, they blocked the passage of the Hebrews, pitching their camp at its mouth, to prevent their escape to the plain” (Jos., Antiq., 2:15:3). And again he writes that the Israelites were, “hemmed in by mountains, sea, and enemy, and seeing nowhere from these any imaginable escape” (Jos., Antiq., 2:15:4).
17 Exod 14:13-20.
18 Exod., 14:21-22.
19 Exod. 14:23-28.
20 Exod. 14:28-31.