Passover is a famous Jewish festival that remembers and celebrates the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. In Hebrew, it is called Pesach, which literally means to “pass over,” because God passed over and did not kill the Israelites’ firstborns in the tenth plague. Passover is the first festival that God commanded the Jewish people to celebrate, and it is one of three pilgrimage festivals in which all Jews traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate together; the other two pilgrimage festivals are Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks) and Sukkoth (the Feast of Tabernacles). This year, Passover is celebrated from April 19-27.
The Passover Story
The Passover story is recorded in Exodus 1-14. The Israelites are in Egypt as a result of the famine that took place in the time of Joseph. Their prosperity and growth intimidates Pharaoh, which leads him to enslave them. The Israelites are greatly oppressed. God hears their cry and sets their deliverance in motion by miraculously saving, intentionally calling, and boldly sending Moses to request that Pharaoh let his people, the Israelites, go.
God sends ten plagues on Egypt as a result of Pharaoh’s unwillingness to let the Israelites go. The tenth plague—the death of all firstborns whose household doorposts were not covered with lamb’s blood—finally breaks Pharaoh, and he lets the Israelites go.
When the Israelites are gone, Pharaoh regrets his decision and sets out with his men to recapture them. God miraculously divides the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross, and it swallows the Egyptians as He sets it back into place. The Israelites are free from slavery and finally on their way to the Promised Land.
The Biblical Command
God knows the Israelites are forgetful. He establishes Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread as a memorial and reminder of His miraculous delivery of the Israelites from slavery into freedom.
The biblical command to celebrate the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread is throughout Exodus 12-13. For Passover, God commands each Israelite family to choose an unblemished lamb, sacrifice it at twilight, and mark their doorposts with its blood. Then, they were instructed to have a special meal including roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread. For the Feast of Unleavened Bread, God commands that all Israelites clean all leaven out of their homes and eat unleavened bread (called matzah today) for seven days.
Celebrating Passover Today
Today, Jewish people all around the world celebrate the Passover. They hold a Passover “Seder,” which is a special meal with organized activities designed to help one remember the events of the Exodus and God’s miraculous delivery. Jews also sterilize their houses of all leaven, and abstain from eating it for seven days. These take place in the Jewish month of Nisan, which is in the Spring. It is a special time of year that brings families and friends together.