” A Perpetual Feast Forever”
This week’s Torah portion, Bo, very much summarizes the major theme of the Book of Exodus. We witness not only the final plagues dispensed upon Egypt (Exodus 10:1-11:10), but we see the institution of the Passover as a memorial meal (Exodus 12:1-32, 42-51) to be remembered by the future generations of God’s chosen people:
“For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance” (Exodus 12:12-14).
In Bo, the final three judgments upon Egypt are executed (locusts, darkness, firstborn), and the people of Israel are finally released to begin their journey to the Promised Land (Exodus 12:33-41). This reading gives us the first regulations about the Spring festivals of the Lord, and how His people are to commemorate the salvific events they memorialize.
Each year when Bo is considered, the reference to Passover being a “permanent ordinance” or “eternal decree” (ATS), chuquat olam (~lA[ tQx), always creates some interesting recollections that you might be able to identify with. For years, prior to becoming Messianic, every time I read this text I paused and thought about the words “you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.”
In the past, while reading through these passages, I remember going back and rereading what is stated about Passover two or three times, and thinking about what the text actually meant. After all, the words “you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever” (Exodus 12:14, RSV) are fairly easy and direct to understand. The problem I had was not in understanding the plain English text. Rather, the problem was in heeding the words spoken. I was confused because the commandment to remember the Passover was very clear—and Passover is by no means some obscure ritual to memorialize. Like many who have been confronted by the simple text, I first turned to my teachers for an explanation. Of course, that is where my problems were compounded.
Many years ago in the 1980s, I was at the mercy of dispensational Christian pastors and Bible teachers, who were largely repeating what they had been taught at Bible college or seminary (in this case, Dallas Theological Seminary). Because of their dispensational presuppositions—reading some parts of the Bible as only applying to Israel, and other parts as only applying to “the Church”—the command to celebrate Passover was not something that apparently applied to me. My dispensational teachers told me that Passover was something that the Jewish people did, but it was not something that Christians today were required to do, because there was a much more meaningful observance that I could participate in called Easter. To a relatively young and naïve Believer, their argument was very persuasive. As I recall, the logic went something like this:
Remember that Jesus was our Passover Lamb. He came and was sacrificed for us. Should we not be thankful for His ultimate sacrifice and come together on the day which celebrates the resurrection of Christ?
Of course, this justification for remembering Easter instead of Passover made good sense. Further questions I asked elicited more reasons to go along with this practice, as I was also told by my dispensational teachers:
You need to understand that this has been going on for centuries, and certainly the ecclesiastical authorities who instituted these events knew what they were doing. The Jews will continue to do the Passover and the Christians will continue to do Easter. Just celebrate Easter and do not worry about what the Jews are doing. We live in the Church Age!
Even though this sounded like a good argument at the time, regardless of the explanation I heard, inevitably, whenever I read these verses in Exodus, the same nagging question arose in my spirit: What does the Scripture mean when it says “forever” or “eternal”?
Sometimes, it is funny how you remember certain things in the past that prompted you to dig more into the Word of God for greater explanation. For example, the word “forever” (Heb. olam, ~lA[) seems to really stand out (BDB, pp 761-763; CHALOT, pp 267-268; HALOT, 1:798-799). As I was maturing in my study and pursuit of the truth, the Lord chose to reveal more about Himself. As a seeker, I was definitely finding Him by consistently and honestly asking Him—just as Jeremiah promises:
“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
James the Just’s admonition, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5), was also something that I prayed. I did not want to find some kind of forgotten truth in the Bible, but then misuse it in the sight of those who were not ready to hear, and were not necessarily convicted by the Holy Spirit at the time the same way I was. As one who believed, and still believes, in the sovereignty of God—there is a pre-determined time for people to come to a fuller knowledge of Him.
At another reading of verses like Exodus 12:14—something dramatic occurred. One night while reading this passage, the concept of “forever” repeated itself over and over again in my spirit. All of a sudden, another thought came immediately to mind:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
When Paul wrote these words to Timothy, he was referring to the Scriptures as they knew them in the First Century, the Hebrew Tanakh (Genesis-2 Chronicles [or Malachi]). Paul told the Romans a similar thing regarding the Scriptures:
“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
I by no means thought that the writings of the Apostles were not Scripture, but I did think that perhaps too many Christians I knew were forgetting what else composed Scripture. Why did too many people just overlook God’s revelation in the Old Testament, when the Apostles themselves did not? While thinking through Exodus 12:14 on Passover one year, a radical thought came to my mind:
Is it possible that the very concept of obeying this commandment “forever” was something that would be profitable for teaching and training in righteousness? Why would many people overlook the Passover, and what it teaches us about the sacrifice of Jesus?
Oftentimes when you have these types of internal debates, you are actually being instructed by the Holy Spirit. Remember that according to Yeshua, it is the Holy Spirit who has been sent to teach His followers all things:
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).
This train of thought was really stretching me away from some of the dispensational doctrines that I was being taught. When I considered this those many years ago, without any significant change with regard to the word “forever,” I simply pondered these thoughts in my heart, waiting for further instruction. At the time, I was not quite ready for the transition to a Messianic lifestyle, nor would I have been led to pursue the issue further. However, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it is clear now that I was definitely being set up for the next stage in my walk. In the 1980s I was thinking about things that would significantly aid me during my spiritual pursuits of the 1990s.
The Seder Experience
In the early 1990s, just like what has happened to thousands of other evangelical Christians in recent years, I was asked to attend a sedar (rds) meal to remember the Passover. Because of a tour to Israel my wife Margaret and I had been on in 1994, we were very open to the Jewish Roots of our faith, and in considering the role of the appointed times for more than just “enrichment.” This sedar was being held at the Messianic Jewish congregation which we had started attending. For the first time in my life, I was going to keep the commandment to remember the deliverance from Egypt in a very tangible way!
The very Torah portion that we are looking at this week, Bo, was being discussed in the context of a Passover remembrance. The whole sedar experience was something to behold. As the leader of the sedar went through a written presentation or haggadah, the details of the deliverance from Egypt were thoroughly discussed. Of course, the parallels between the blood of the lamb and the Messiah Yeshua, being the ultimate blood sacrifice, were mentioned in great detail. Even the (later) Jewish traditions regarding the unleavened bread or matzah (hCm), and how it was to be handled, all seemed to point to the work of the Messiah at Golgotha (Calvary).
Throughout the evening I thought about the commandment to remember the Passover forever. I considered the history of the Jewish people and how they had faithfully honored this commandment for millennia. It was apparent that this, and other remembrances of the appointed times, had kept them a unified and a separated people. And now here I was, a non-Jew participating in the very same celebration that was given not necessarily to just the Jewish people, but to all who serve the God of Israel.
Some of my questions from decades earlier started to resurface in my thoughts. Now, however, I was in a Messianic environment that would discuss some of the historical realities of why centuries of Christians had largely overlooked the Passover. I was finally exposed to some of the decisions made by ecclesiastical councils from the Fourth and Fifth Centuries, which forbade the Christian Church from observing the appointed times. This information, coupled with other data from my Torah studies that was being regularly assimilated, significantly altered the lifestyle of myself and my family.
As a family, we now consider it a great honor and important responsibility to remember the Passover—just as these passages remind us. We believe that we are some of the “generations” that this commandment was directed to. Of course, as we have discovered via experience, you do not get to the point where you believe that remembering the Passover is really for you until you have moved toward a Messianic lifestyle that seeks to consciously follow the Torah and its commandments. Furthermore, making the transition from a neutered Easter celebration to a full-fledged Passover remembrance is not always easy. Should you make this transition, there is a definite need to extend the Lord’s love and grace to others who do not share your conviction. Rather than look at yourselves as being spiritually superior, invite your evangelical Christian family and friends to your Passover table. Allow them to experience the goodness of Passover the same way that you have!
Who do you serve?
How might you figure into all of this? Have you ever really celebrated Passover? If you have, do you remember your first time at a Passover sedar? Did you sense that you were obeying one of God commands, for all of His people for all time? Did you sense the Lord’s presence at this sedar meal, and learn important things about your salvation in Messiah Yeshua? Do you think it would be beneficial for Believers today to remember the Passover, and for all of us to learn how we are beneficiaries of Ancient Israel’s deliverance from Egypt?
By keeping Passover you will certainly be establishing a good example of obedience. You could also use this celebration as a backdrop for additional instruction about how God has miraculously acted throughout history, and how there will be a future deliverance of His people in the end-times. We live in interesting days when our firmly held beliefs and convictions in Him will be challenged by the world. We need to be convinced about who we are serving. By honoring and following His Instruction, we send clear signals that we are worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and not someone or something else.
The Joshua generation that was allowed to enter into the Promised Land faced some of the same challenges that we face today. They had the words of Moses to contend with, as well as fresh memories of their parents and grandparents who were denied entrance into Canaan because they did not believe and obey the Lord. At the end of Joshua’s life, he reminded the people of Israel about all the things that God had done for them over the centuries:
“Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15).
For us today, these same words need to be considered. Will we serve the Holy One of Israel with diligence—correcting previous mistakes of the past—or will we continue to be denied the blessings of remembering Passover? Hopefully, our answer will echo Joshua’s admonition to Ancient Israel to serve the Lord. Today, we can visibly display our allegiance to the Lord by continuing to make the Passover celebration a perpetual feast forever! We can see people enriched in their faith, and understand all of the great lessons that the Passover and Exodus teach us.