Chapter 12

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Before the Israelites left Egypt, their new year began in the fall. For the start of their sacred year this changed, with the month of their liberation from Egyptian enslavement being divinely designated as the first month. This month came to be known as Abib (mid-March to mid-April) and, after the exile in Babylon, it was called Nisan. Early during the month, YHWH, probably by means of his representative angel, told Moses and Aaron that it was to be the first month and, during this month, an annual commemoration regarding their release from enslavement was to be observed. This commemoration came to be known as Passover, for YHWH’s angel passed over the houses of the Israelites at the time all the firstborn of the Egyptians died. (12:1, 2; see the Notes section.)

Certain features of the first Passover observance in Egypt were unique, but other features continued to be part of the celebration after it was conducted on an annual basis. On the tenth day of the month, the household head was to select a lamb (or goat). If the household was too small to eat an entire roasted lamb (or goat), the household head was to invite his nearest neighbor, along with the man’s entire household to share in eating the meal. This arrangement was to take into consideration the number of persons present for the observance and what they would be able to eat. (12:3, 4)

At twilight on the fourteenth day of the month, the selected unblemished one-year-old male lamb or goat was to be slaughtered. Only in Egypt was some of the blood of the slaughtered animal collected in a basis and, with a bunch of hyssop, put on the two doorposts and the lintel of the house in which the meat would be eaten. In Egypt and also in the land of Canaan (the Promised Land), the entire animal (head, legs, and inner parts) was to be roasted (not left raw nor cooked in water), undoubtedly after having been skinned and having the inner parts washed. The meat was to be eaten that night along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. All of the meat was to be consumed by morning. Any leftover meat was to be burned. (12:5-10, 22; see the Notes section.)

In Egypt, the Israelites were to eat the meal as persons who were ready to depart without delay. With their loins girded, their sandals on (so as to be prepared to travel over varied terrain), and a staff in their hand, they were to eat in haste (not leisurely). YHWH (his “destroying angel” [Targum]) would pass through the land of Egypt that night, striking down all the firstborn of man and beast (the firstborn offspring). It would be a night when YHWH would be executing judgment (or taking vengeance [LXX]) on all the “gods of Egypt,” exposing them as without any power to shield the firstborn from death. The blood on the the doorposts and lintels of the houses would indicate these houses to be the ones to be passed over at the time the Egyptian firstborn would be slain. (12:11-13, 23)

Throughout future generations, the Israelites were to commemorate the day of their deliverance from Egyptian enslavement. It was to be an annual memorial day, a “festival to YHWH.” For seven days after the Passover, from the fifteenth day of the month (which began at sundown) onward, the Israelites were to eat unleavened bread (never leavened bread). This required that they search throughout their houses to make sure that all leaven was removed. From the first day of the festival (Abib [Nisan] 15, which began in the evening of the fourteenth day) until the seventh day (Abib [Nisan] 21, which ended in the evening of that day), anyone eating what was leavened would be “cut off” (“destroyed” [LXX]) from the community of Israel. This included resident aliens living among the Israelites. On the first day and the seventh day, a “holy assembly” was to be held. With the exception of preparing food to be eaten, the people were not to perform any work. (12:14-20, 24)

When the Israelites observed the Passover in the Promised Land annually as they had been commanded, their “sons” would ask the reason for the observance. It would then be explained to them that YHWH had passed over the houses of his people and spared their firstborn when the firstborn of the Egyptians were killed. (12:25-27)

Moses summoned the elders of Israel and related to them everything that had been revealed to him about the Passover and the seven-day festival associated with it. Apparently after Moses had finished speaking, the elders bowed down and prostrated themselves in worship. The “sons [or people] of Israel” did everything that was required of them in preparation for the first Passover observance and the observance itself. (12:21-28)

At midnight, YHWH (his “destroying angel” [Targum]) struck down “all the firstborn in the land of Egypt.” None were spared, from the firstborn of Pharaoh to the firstborn of a prisoner or captive confined in a pit or dungeon. Also all the firstborn of domestic animals died. Pharaoh, his servants or officials, and all his subjects got up in the night and gave way to a loud, mournful outcry or wailing. He summoned Moses and Aaron, telling them that the “sons [or people] of Israel” should leave with their flocks and herds to serve YHWH their God. Pharaoh did not want to be cursed, leading to additional calamities. Therefore, he requested that Moses and Aaron bless him or wish him well. (12:29-32; see the Notes section.)

The death of all their firstborn must have filled the Egyptians with dread, fearing that the continued presence of the Israelites in the land would lead to utter ruin. They urged them to leave quickly, for, as they said, “We are all dead men.” In view of their hasty departure from Egypt, the Israelites took their unleavened dough in their kneading bowls, bound them up in their garments, and carried the bowls on their shoulders. Later, they used the dough to bake unleavened bread. This aspect was recalled during the seven-day festival that followed the Passover on Nisan 14, for no leavened bread was to be eaten during the entire festival. (12:33, 34, 39; see the Notes section.)

Before their departure, the Israelites, in keeping with the instructions Moses had given them, asked the Egyptians for silver and gold articles and garments. The Egyptians gave them everything according to their requests. In this manner, the Israelites despoiled the Egyptians. This development is attributed to YHWH. The account reads, “YHWH had given favor to the people before the eyes [or in the sight] of the Egyptians.” (12:35, 36)

Raamses (Rameses [Ramesses (LXX)]), the starting point from which the Israelites set out in their departure from Egypt, cannot be positively identified with any known location. It could have been either a district or city in Goshen that was located not far from the capital of Egypt at that time. Josephus (Antiquities, II, xv, 1), in conjunction with the exodus of the Israelites, refers to Leto (Letopolis), a site about 10 miles (c. 16 kilometers) south of Heliopolis and about 10 miles (c. 16 kilometers) north of Old Cairo. Although Succoth has been linked to Thukke in Egyptian inscriptions, there is no way to make a definitive identification of Succoth with any known site. (12:37)

Besides women and children, the number of men who left Egypt is given as about 600,000. This number is also found in the Septuagint. Josephus (Antiquities, II, xv, 1) indicated that it was not easy to number all who left Egypt, “including the women and children.” The men who were old enough to be “fit for war” numbered 600,000. (Regarding this number, see the comments in the introduction of Exodus.) Along with sizable flocks and herds, a “mixed multitude” departed with the Israelites. This mixed multitude could have included Egyptians who had married Israelites and their offspring as well as Egyptians and other foreigners who had come to believe that YHWH, the God of the Israelites, was the only true God. It may well have been that the ten plagues led them to this conviction. (12:37, 38)

According to the Masoretic Text, the “sons [or people] of Israel” resided in Egypt 430 years and then departed. (12:40, 41) This, however, is in error. The Septuagint preserves the right significance, indicating that they lived in Canaan and Egypt during the 430 years. Josephus, in his Antiquities (II, xv, 2), correctly wrote that the Israelites were in Egypt 215 years, not 430 years. “They left Egypt in the month of Xanthicus [Abib or Nisan], on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; 430 years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan but 215 years only after Jacob removed into Egypt.” In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul likewise included the residence in Canaan as being part of the 430 years, for he wrote that 430 years passed between the time God made the promise to Abraham regarding his future “seed” or offspring that would receive the land of Canaan as their inheritance (Genesis 12:4-7) and the giving of the law at Mount Sinai, in the same year the Israelites had left Egypt. (Galatians 3:16, 17) Although Targum Jonathan provides a different starting point for the 430 years, it clearly states that the time the Israelites were in Egypt was much shorter than 430 years. It says, “The days of the dwelling of the sons of Israel in Mizraim [Egypt] were thirty weeks of years (thirty times seven years), which is the sum of 210 years.” (See the Notes section.)

The night of Abib or Nisan 14, was a night for YHWH to watch developments in relation to bringing his people out of Egypt. It was his night. As a night to be remembered by all future generations of Israelites, this night was to be one for watching or a vigil. It would be a night for them to observe in honor of YHWH for what he had done for them in liberating them from Egyptian enslavement. (12:42)

To Moses and Aaron, YHWH revealed additional requirements for those who would be partaking of the Passover meal. No foreigner was entitled to eat it. Any non-Israelite slave whom the Israelites might purchase would have to be circumcised before he could join in eating the Passover meal. Alien residents or hired non-Israelites would be excluded from the Passover observance. Each roasted lamb or goat was to be eaten in just one house. None of the meat was to be carried outside that house, and no bone of the lamb or goat was to be broken. The entire community of Israel was to observe the Passover. A resident alien could eat the Passover meal if he and all the males in his household had been circumcised. His status would then be like that of an Israelite native in the land. No uncircumcised male, however, could eat the Passover meal. Only one law would govern natives, strangers, and resident aliens in the midst of the people of Israel. (12:43-49)

“All the sons [or people] of Israel did what YHWH commanded them through Moses and Aaron. It was on the very day the Israelites observed the first Passover that YHWH brought them as a free people out of the land of Egypt. (12:50, 51)


Although the month of Abib (Nisan) was the first month of the sacred calendar (12:2), the Israelites continued to consider their secular or agricultural year to begin in the fall. In his Antiquities (I, iii, 3), Josephus wrote, “Moses appointed that Nisan … should be the first month for their festivals because he brought them out of Egypt in that month.” … This “month began the year as to all solemnities they observed to the honor of God, although he [Moses] preserved the original order of the months as to selling and buying, and other ordinary affairs.”

In the Septuagint, verse 10 contains an addition regarding the animal, “and you must not break a bone of it.”

The death of the Egyptian firstborn (12:29) would have exposed the weakness of the deities they worshiped, for none were able to save even one of their firstborn. Rulers of Egypt considered themselves as gods, the sons of the god Ra or Amon-Ra. Therefore, the death of the firstborn son of Pharaoh would have been regarded as the death of a god.

In verse 29, the Septuagint refers to a captive woman confined in a pit, whereas the Hebrew text indicates that the prisoner or captive was a male.

Regarding the unleavened dough (12:34, 39), Josephus (Antiquities, II, xv, 1) wrote that the Israelites had no food from the land near the Red Sea, “because it was a desert.” He then continued, “They ate of loaves kneaded of flour, only warmed by a gentle heat; and this food they made use of for thirty days.” This was because what they brought from Egypt was insufficient to sustain them any longer. Targum Jonathan says that the dough “was baked for them by the heat of the sun.”

The words of Josephus about the residence in Canaan agree with the Genesis account (25 + 60 + 130 = 215 years). From the time Abraham entered Canaan until the birth of Isaac was 25 years. (Genesis 12:4, 5; 21:5) Isaac became father to the twins Esau and Jacob at the age of 60. (Genesis 25:26) Jacob was 130 years old when he entered Egypt with his household. (Genesis 47:8, 9)