THE PASSOVER is the Old Testament feast that celebrates and remembers God’s liberation of Israel from Egypt. After Joseph saved Egypt from starvation (Genesis 41), the Israelites lived in Egypt as guests. Eventually, the Egyptians forgot about Joseph and enslaved the Israelites for hundreds of years (Exodus 1:6-14).
Overburdened with work and mistreatment, the Israelites suffered a great deal and called out to the Lord. God responded to their cry and raised a great leader, Moses, who challenged the Pharaoh and Egypt’s power.
The book of Exodus explains how God freed how people from Egypt. Because of the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart, God punished Egypt with ten plagues (Exodus 7-11). However, instead of recognizing the true God of heaven and earth, Pharaoh grew angrier and oppressed the Israelites even more. One way Pharaoh increased the Israelites’ suffering was by refusing to give them straw, one of the key materials to produce bricks.
However, God would not be denied. As the plagues continued, the suffering shifted from the Israelites to the Egyptians. The nations paid dearly for Pharaoh’s stubbornness. During the last plague, God killed all the first-borns-humans and animals-in the land of Egypt.
God gave his people a way to escape the destruction: the blood of a perfect lamb could take the place of the first-born in the family. God gave Moses specific instructions to follow the night that God’s punishment passed over the Israelite homes (Exodus 12). They were to sacrifice a perfect lamb (and mark their door frames), make unleavened bread, and gather bitter herbs.
The Israelites ate this meal standing up, ready to leave Egypt at any moment. This celebration is now called the Passover because God “passed over” the homes marked with the lamb’s blood. The Passover feast was to be repeated throughout the generations as a memorial forever.