EVENTS now moved rapidly. God told Moses to tell the Israelites to ask their Egyptian neighbors and acquaintances to pay them on the fourteenth of the month for the many services that they had performed for the Egyptians for so many years. Many Egyptian people really appreciated the things that the friendly Israelites had done for them. Besides, they held Moses in very high esteem. But first, another very important thing had to take place before the Israelites could receive their pay and leave.
Israel Observes the Passover
"This present month, which I have named Abib, is the first month of the year," God told Moses. (Exodus 12:1-9.) "Instruct the Israelites that on the tenth day of this month every family should provide itself with a perfectly healthy male lamb not more than a year old. These lambs must be kept till the evening of the fourteenth day of the month. Then each family must kill its lamb, roast it with its head, legs and inner parts, and eat it with bitter — flavored herbs and unleavened bread. "Be sure to roast it well. Don't eat it half — cooked and don't boil it. Eat all of it if you can, but if any part is left over, burn it. Moreover, when you eat this lamb, be dressed as though you are about to start out on a long journey. "When you kill the lamb, take some of the blood and smear it on the two sides and upper parts of the doors of your homes. Then, when I send angels to slay the firstborn of Egypt, these signs on your doors will direct the angels to pass over those marked houses.
"This will be known from now on, therefore, as the Passover. It will show my mercy toward the people I have chosen to help carry out my plan on Earth. It will prove to Egypt that no heathen king, prince, idol or so-called god has any power against me. "The Passover shall become a memorial to you, to be observed forever, to remember that I spared your first-born from the death angel when you were living in Egypt. "One day later, on the fifteenth day of the first month — starting at sundown of the fourteenth day — you are to gather yourselves together to observe a yearly Sabbath. It will be known as the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. You shall put all leavening out of your homes before that holy feast day starts, and for seven days the bread that you eat must have no leavening in it. "The last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread — the twenty-first day of the first month — shall also be a holy annual Sabbath. As on the first holy day of this week without leavened bread, you shall gather together to worship me, and no work shall be done except that of preparing food. (Verses 15-20.) "This week during which you eat no leavened bread shall be a time to be observed forever by you. It is to help you remember my bringing you out of the sinful, idol — worshipping nation of Egypt." (Exodus 13:3-10.) God then went on to explain that leavening (which we generally refer to as yeast, baking powder and baking soda) was something that caused a puffed-up condition. He pointed out that such sinful characteristics as pride, conceit and vanity caused people to be puffed up in their minds with false feelings of importance and goodness. "Just as you must depart from sinful Egypt," God continued, "so must you leave behind the sinful ways that are symbolized by leavening. "Anyone among you who continues to eat leavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, whether he is an Israelite or of any other nation, that person will not be allowed to go with my chosen people on their way to freedom in a land I have prepared for them." When the Israelites learned these things, they obediently prepared for what was to come. When the sun went down in the late afternoon of the thirteenth of the month, and the fourteenth day began, thousands upon thousands of families slaughtered lambs for the commanded Passover. In many cases young goats, or kids, were slaughtered, for God had said that young goats could be used if lambs were not plentiful. After the lambs and kids were killed, the Israelites immediately smeared the animals' blood on their doorposts — the sign for God's death angels to spare the first-born human beings and beasts wherever the blood smears showed. (Exodus 12:22-23.) By the time the Passover animals were roasted and ready to eat, the Israelites were dressed as though prepared to leave. Obeying God's directions, they hurriedly ate the meat with the bitter vegetables and unleavened bread at this very first Passover. Little did they realize what would happen on that same night and at that same time of evening hundreds of years later.
What the Passover Represents
We know now that God's Son, often spoken of as the Lamb of God, was also slain as a sacrifice on the same day and month that the Passover was started. God is good and perfect, and so He does things at the right time and on time. He made the weekly Sabbath a holy day. He did the same for the annual Sabbaths. He set certain dates for us to observe, and He carefully told us when these times would be, so that we could keep them in the proper manner. These sacred dates are signs between God and His people — the people of His church who have been chosen for a very important task. Down through the ages there have been proud, disobedient kings, priests, ministers, politicians, dictators and all kinds of leaders of men who have tried to change or blot out the days and times made special and holy by God. Many such men have succeeded in causing millions of people to believe that it is just as well to observe one day as another, or even that there are no worthwhile reasons to observe any of the days hallowed by God. However, no man has succeeded in actually doing away with any of the days God has set aside for sacred purposes. If, for example, not one person in the world observed the weekly Sabbath, yet the Sabbath would still be holy time. Meanwhile, no one would receive the wonderful blessings and happiness that come because of obeying God in these important matters. Today, most people who are considered Christians aren't aware that there is only one time and one new way of observing the Passover. Many of these people don't even know what the Passover is. Some think that it was some sort of harsh, Jewish custom which later developed into a beautiful Easter service pleasing to their Creator. It is well to remember that the Jews aren't even mentioned in the Bible till long after the Passover was started. That very first mention of the Jews pictured them at war with Israel! (II Kings 16:6.) You will find the word "Easter" in some Bibles. It was never written in the original, God — inspired text, however. It is there in the English translations along with a few other errors made several hundred years ago by writers who thought, or who were told, that it would be a good thing for the Passover to be joined with the pagan worship of the ancient goddess Astarte, later called Easter. Many people have been taught to observe Passover under several different names and in as many different times and manners. It is often called "Communion." Some partake of it as often as once a week. Others think that once a month is proper. Still others feel that four times a year is the thing to do. Those who are obedient in this matter go according to the Bible, and observe the Passover once a year in the first month of the Hebrew calendar, at the exact time God has said it should be observed.
Since the death of Jesus Christ, who was killed as a supreme sacrifice for us, obedient Christians follow the example Jesus give before He died. They now gather together on the date of the Passover, which ancient Israel observed in Egypt, and which was the same date upon which Christ was killed. They eat broken, unleavened bread, which stands for the sinless body of Christ, broken by the cruel whips that were used on Him. As a symbol of the blood of Christ, poured out so that our past sins would be blotted out, they also follow Jesus' example by drinking a very little bit of wine. God gives special understanding to those who work and study to learn how they can best please Him. Little by little He opens their minds to grasp unusual knowledge and wisdom. Thus they come to know how important it is to properly observe God's sacred times and customs — beginning with the New Testament Passover — so that His wonderful plan for a happy future is made known to them. You might think that God's plan — which will be told to you in more detail later — would be taught in most churches and church schools, but it isn't. However, even the fact that it isn't fits into the way God is working. There are about two and one-half billion people in this world. Many millions of them live in our lands. But only a few thousand know how God is using human beings to prepare for glorious and amazing things to come.
God Again Punishes Egypt
Now to return to the story. During the night of the Passover in Egypt, the Israelites stayed in their homes, having been told that the only safe places would be behind the blood — marked doors. (Exodus 12:27-28.) The middle of the night came and went, and those in the marked homes saw nothing unusual and heard nothing unusual. It was much different with the Egyptians, however. At the stroke of midnight every first-born of their people and animals suddenly dropped dead! (Verse 29.) Inasmuch as many Egyptian families were still up at that hour, hundreds of them fell dead before the eyes of their friends or relatives. Whenever an Egyptian met death, it had long been the custom of the people to rush into the roads or streets and show their grief by wailing and howling in loud tones of dismal distress. Those who first noticed the dead didn't lose much time in starting the mournful howling. This awakened their neighbors, who got up to find that there were dead in their homes, too. Before long every city, town and village in the land was filled with horrible moaning and yelling. Also, as was their custom, the mourners beat themselves with their fists and frantically ripped their clothing into tatters. As for Pharaoh, he was stunned with surprise and dismay when he found his oldest
son lifeless in bed. If the king had thought that only Moses and Aaron were to blame for this thing, he would have angrily sent soldiers to kill them. But he then fearfully realized, more than ever, that the dreadful power of the God of Israel had come upon him and his people. This was one time when he didn't hesitate to act.
Israel Ordered Out of Egypt
"Send my swiftest messenger over to Rameses! " Pharaoh shakily commanded an aide. "Tell the messenger to go to Moses and Aaron with this command from me: 'Get all Israelites out of Egypt at once with their flocks and herds to go worship your God!'" (Verses 31-32.) "It shall be done quickly, oh Pharaoh," the aide murmured, and turned to hurry away. "Wait!" the king called. "One more thing. Tell the messenger to ask Moses and
Aaron to pray to their God to have mercy on me!" The sun was almost up when the messenger from Memphis arrived at Moses' residence with the command from Pharaoh. Because it was no longer dark, the Israelites were beginning to venture out of their homes. A large group of elders and officers had already gathered with Moses and Aaron, who were awaiting the king's next move following the terrible events of the last few hours. "This is it!" Moses exclaimed to those around him after the messenger had spoken to him. "This is the moment we have long awaited. Send the signal to all Israelites to either gather here as soon as possible or meet us on the way by which it has been decided to leave Egypt." The escape they had looked forward to wasn't to be made in a careless, unplanned manner. Moses and his officers had long since worked out the details, with help from God, and now messengers were rushed out to all parts of Goshen to tell the Israelites what to do. Because of following God's orders to be dressed for a journey while eating the
Passover, they were ready to leave when word came to them. But even before the word to leave arrived, their wailing Egyptian neighbors came knocking on their doors. "Take all of our gold, jewels, clothing, food and anything of ours you want!" the Egyptians begged them. "We will pay you in some measure for your services to us as our slaves. If you want more, say so. We're willing to give you anything we have. All we ask is that you quickly leave our country before your God destroys all of us." (Verses 35-36.) This tenth and last plague death to their first-born — was too much for the Egyptians. Now they feared what God might do next. They were frantic to get the Israelites away from them. Furthermore, it was no small matter that the first-born of their animals had been killed. Almost every kind of animal was worshipped by the Egyptians. To them, the sudden death of these creatures was almost like sudden death to some of their idols. Now being urged by their Egyptian neighbors to depart at once, and also being told by messengers from Moses that they should leave without any delay, the Israelites didn't have any extra time to pick up many belongings. They simply seized whatever they could load on their pack animals and what they could carry on foot. (Verse 33.) Using long, wide pieces of cloth, they quickly bound up their necessary possessions. These included many of the things the Egyptians had given them, plus their bread? mixing bowls filled with meal and unleavened bread dough. Having expected that they might receive a message to leave at any time, the Israelites had kept their flocks and herds close to their homes. Thus prepared, they rounded them up as quickly as possible, and moved with them toward the city of Rameses or Old Cairo.
The Exodus Begins
In the next few hours there was a gathering of a tremendous number of people — a huge multitude such as the world had never known. By nightfall of the fifteenth they had arrived at camp along a trail from Rameses to points several miles northeast of that city. On this night they were to hold a joyous festival as God commanded. There were about six hundred thousand men gathered for the escape from Egypt. However, many of these men had families, and that greatly increased the number of Israelites. Furthermore, there were people of other nations who wished to go with the Israelites. Adding up all the people, it is plain that at least two and a half million persons must have gathered together to move out of Egypt. Cakes of bread made of the dough that was in their mixing bowls were the main items of food for the Israelites on that first night of camping. There had not been time to add yeast to cause the dough to rise. But it was according to the instructions they had been given — not to eat leavened bread. It had been a great day for the weary Israelites. After generations in Egypt, they were at last on their way to freedom and a land of their own where sticks, stones and animals weren't worshipped as gods. They thanked God for bringing them out from among the idol — worshipping Egyptians, and for sparing their first-born the night before. That eventful night of the fifteenth — the first annual Sabbath — was one long to be remembered. In fact, God told the Israelites to tell their children about it down through their generations, so that they wouldn't forget how He had freed them by performing awesome miracles. (Exodus 13:3-10.) Today, many centuries later, the people of God's Church still remember the night of the fifteenth of the first month by meeting in a joyous festival together, as they have been told to do, at the beginning of the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. Later that night the Israelites prepared to leave the city of Rameses. They divided themselves into their twelve tribes and formed themselves into rough ranks. There was order and control in the manner in which they moved. God didn't want His people to rush from Egypt in an unruly mob. Perhaps you will remember that before Joseph died in Egypt he asked to be buried in Canaan. Now, many, many years later, the Israelites took with them his bones from his tomb to carry out his wish. In fact, the bones of all twelve of Jacob's sons were brought to Palestine. Starting out from a place called Succoth, around which they camped for the next night, the Israelites probably expected to travel northeast on the shortest way to the land of Canaan. However, a small nation of people called the Philistines lay on this shortest route to Canaan. The Philistines probably wouldn't have let the Israelites pass through their land without attacking them or at least demanding some kind of heavy payment for the Israelites going through their land. God didn't intend that the Israelites should run into wars as soon as they got started. Therefore He chose a different way for them to go. (Verse 17.)
Toward the Red Sea
That morning a strange thing happened. A small cloud appeared in the eastern sky. Slowly it grew larger, extending almost down to the ground like a massive, white pillar. It could be seen by all the Israelites — even by those who were several miles away in the rear ranks of the mass of people. "This cloud will be our guide," Moses told those at the head of the multitude. "Send the word back through our ranks that God is leading us by it, and that we are to go when and where it goes." This startling bit of news spread swiftly back to all the people. Probably there were many who couldn't believe that a cloud would be their guide, but when the cloud began to move eastward, they must — have come closer to realizing a fact everyone should know: with God all things are possible. (Verses 21-22.) Probably it was plain at first to only those in the foremost ranks that the cloud was moving, and they did likewise. Others behind them followed, until gradually the whole, vast multitude, spread out for several miles, was on the march. Never in the history of mankind had there been a sight like this — millions of people walking or riding at the same speed, headed by a cloud that seemed to stand on one end! It wasn't possible for that gigantic caravan to move fast. Animals usually move rather slowly when they are herded, and the people couldn't move any faster than they could drive their many thousands of cattle, sheep, goats, burros, and camels. A large number of these animals were heavily loaded. Besides, there were thousands of small children and elderly people on foot who couldn't go very far at a swift stride. The journey from Succoth was one through an area where there was plenty of grass for the livestock. But by the end of the day the green vegetation thinned out. The Israelites were leaving the lush delta country of the Nile, and were approaching an arid region. Many hours passed. Then the cloud ceased moving. This was the sign for the people to stop and camp. It was in the general area of a place called Etham.