Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Ordinance of the Passover -- Exodus 12:43-51

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it; but every man’s slave purchased with money, after you have circumcised him, then he may eat of it.  A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it.  It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it.  All the congregation of Israel are to celebrate this.  But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it.  The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you.”  Then all the sons of Israel did so; they did just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron.  And on that same day the Lord brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.
An “ordinance” as used in Scripture, is a “prescribed religious rite”.  Outside Scripture it carries the connotations of “an authoritative order” or “decree”.  It is also a municipal government level of legislation.  In our text, God gives Moses and Aaron a piece of legislation, a decree, or more exactly perhaps a prescribed way of observing the particular religious rite of the “Passover”.  That ordinance of God’s requires that no foreigner is to participate in this meal.  This rite was strictly for the households of the children on Israel.  The modern-day parallel for Christians is that our equivalent of the Passover – the Lord’s Supper or Communion is not to be shared with or partaken of by those who are ‘foreign’ if you like, to the Body of Christ.  One must be a believer in Jesus Christ as his own personal savior in order to take Communion.

So a traveler or passerby may not participate in this meal celebration.  Neither could a slave that is simply hired temporarily or rented on the long term.  However, if an Israelite owned a slave that had been purchased properly, and circumcised him (if a male) as an Israelite, then the servant could be a participant in this meal.  [One would assume that female slaves so purchased could also participate although due to cultural positions at the time, Moses in his writings omits mentioning this.  As a minimum, it seems to me those female slaves so purchased and whose husbands or fathers have been circumcised, would also be allowed to participate in this Memorial Meal rite.]   The person was deemed to have become part of the household of his Israelite owner.  The concept involved is one of “permanence” or “staying power”.  The idea then, as it is today with our Lord’s Supper or Communion Table is not to be exclusive in the end, but to be inclusive, subject to one being willing to first become part of the family or household then, or the Body of Christ today.  In either case, a lasting or forever relationship.  And of course, we note that the slave had to undergo (if he were male) a painful circumcision process.  There was a definite cost to joining an Israelite household.  We would do well to remember that there is a definite cost (though not in the form of circumcision) to join the Body of Christ today.  It is not like buying a ‘one-day’ membership to a fitness club in order to get you the discount.  There is a cost to becoming a Christian.  Too often we, in our efforts to convert the lost, emphasize only the benefits.  We say nothing of the costs of discipleship, sacrifice, and obedience to Christ that is required in our lives from that point forward.  Unwarned of these, many hastily make the decision, raise their hands to accept Christ, and then just as quickly abandon Him.  I regret to suggest that we may well have a major responsibility in that.

Given the above and given what God tells Moses and Aaron about this meal, and perhaps when we consider how Jesus celebrated the Last Supper (which is our model for the Lord’s Supper and the Communion table), there is some merit in having communion observed by churches in a separate service from the regular worship services.  Note that Jesus did not rent a synagogue to do so, but held it in a private room with his disciples.  I am not necessarily suggesting a day other than when our main “open to the public” services are held, but I am suggesting a separate portion of the service, perhaps at the end and after the general dismissal, where those who are not yet part of the Body are free to excuse themselves, if they wish.  As a minimum, the message must somehow be strongly communicated that the Lord’s Supper or Communion is only for believers.  I have sat through too many services where this is not even mentioned.  Can you imagine the confusion of those who are guests or not used to this observance?

Thirdly, the Passover meal is to be eaten inside a “single” house of the family or household.  I find that interesting.  God wanted this special meal to be eaten by His people together, as a family, and not in their various homes – the whole family under one senior patriarch was to eat together.  God wants us to celebrate Him and our deliverance from bondage as a family, perhaps a ‘local church family’ today.

Fourth, no part of the Passover meal is to be taken outside.  Matthew Henry suggests, “None of it must be carried to another place, nor left for another time.” This raises the issue of whether or not, “communion” as we know it was to “be taken to others” – say as in a hospital or prison much like some priests carried their consecrated ‘host’ or ‘communion bread’ form house to house.  While I understand the need for a prisoner or a sick person to take ‘communion’ I believe, if we were to be true to Scripture and take this ordinance as a prototype or model of how the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated today, then we would be careful not to let a prisoner or ailing person take communion alone, but that a number of others in the Body of Christ take it with him/her.

Fifth, no bones of the lamb that was used for the Passover meal were to be broken.  David Guzik suggests, “None of the bones of the Passover lamb were to be broken. This looks forward to Jesus, the ultimate Passover Lamb, who had not one bone broken even in His crucifixion.”

Sixth, “All the congregation of Israel” were to celebrate this.  There were no exceptions for the Israelites.  Similarly, Matthew Henry writes, “The New-Testament Passover, the Lord’s Supper, ought not to be neglected by any who are capable of celebrating it.”  How many times do we opt to skip this Memorial Meal because “we’re running late, or have other appointments, or just don’t feel like it”?  While in the New Testament we are simply told, “For as often as you do this, do it in remembrance of Me (Christ),” we would do well to remember that in the Old Testament, this was indeed an ordinance that had to be observed.  We may not be required to do so today, but would God find it more pleasing if His Children considered it a privilege as well as a responsible act of thanksgiving to do so?  I believe He would.

Perhaps the seventh point being ‘ordained’ here is this.  Strangers would have to be “circumcised” then and “become part of the Body” today to participate in this Meal of Remembrance.  But once they do, they are to be treated like “one of us” or “native” to us.  That says a lot of how we treat fellow-believers who are passing through.  We, as believers, are to extend hospitality not only in our homes, but also in our worship, and in the activities of our church, to fellow believers who are part of the Body of Christ.

Eighth, whether they come from ‘next door’ or ‘from afar’ this law applies equally to them.  If they became circumcised and bonded with the Israelites as are part of their ‘family’ they could participate.  If they did not, they could not.  So, it is with us today with respect to who can and cannot participate in our Communion Table.

The chapter concludes reminding us that “all” the children of Israel did as they were told to do by God, through Moses and Aaron.  And the very next sentence, the last one, says, “And God did as He promised.”  God did for them – He saved them, He delivered them – because they obeyed Him.  And He did it “on that same day” – for all of them – “by their hosts” that is, “in their large numbers”.
David Guzik writes, “When Israel left Egypt, it was a nation born in a day. It was as if the 430 years were a time in gestation when the baby grew large. The plagues were like labor pains before birth and now the nation is born.”  And we look forward to studying their journeys from that point forward.   But for now, let us contemplate on how we view, and partake of, the Lord’s Supper.


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  1. Thank you. As I read the scriptures the Lord's Supper came to mind, and reading your commentary blog just confirmed my thoughts.

    1. Glad this was helpful. May God bless you as you study His Word and apply it to the world's need for meaning today. Ken Godevenos.