The original Passover instructions clearly stipulate that Passover is a single day—Abib 14—followed by the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread, beginning on Abib 15 (Exodus 12:6-20; Leviticus 23:5-8; Numbers 9:2-5). These original instructions also direct the Israelites to keep the Passover in individual homes rather than at the Tabernacle or Temple—to catch the blood of the lamb in a basin and smear it on the doorposts and lintel of the house (Exodus 12:22).
Over time, though, the children of Israel moved farther from God and His instructions. During the reigns of the kings, Israel and Judah, now separate nations, adopted many practices from the pagan cultures surrounding them, with the kings often leading the way. However, a few kings of Judah, such as Hezekiah and Josiah, stand out for their dedication to God. Under these zealous monarchs, various religious reforms were instituted to try to bring Judah back to God's way. Among other reforms, they reinstated the commanded observance of the Passover, which the people were not keeping to any significant degree, if at all.
However, these well-meaning reforms also contained a subtle change: Under both Hezekiah and Josiah—at the king's command rather than God's—the people observed the Passover at the Temple rather than in individual homes (II Chronicles 30 and 35). The kings may have done this to ensure that the people actually kept the Passover, and did so without mixing in the Baalism that was so prevalent in the land. These kings' examples introduced a second way of observing the Passover. Now the Jews had both God's original Passover instructions as well as the kings' reforms to draw on when determining how to observe the festival.
While God intended the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread to be separate (though adjacent) observances, the Jews ended up combining the two during the Babylonian exile, as the Encyclopaedia Judaica confirms: "The feast of Passover consists of two parts: The Passover ceremony and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Originally, both parts existed separately; but at the beginning of the [Babylonian] exile they were combined" (vol. 13, p. 169). This careless and unscriptural merging of festivals resulted in the Jews observing Passover late on Abib 14, just hours before the Feast of Unleavened Bread began. Thus, a third variation of Passover observance was added to the mix.
At the time of Jesus Christ, this mixture was on full display. Philo of Alexandria, in De Vita Mosis, notes that in the early first century, the Passover was not strictly a Temple-kept event, but one in which people also killed their own lambs without help from the priests. In his Wars of the Jews, Flavius Josephus records that in 4 BC over 250,000 lambs were sacrificed for Passover. However, given the limited space of the Temple environs and the fact that Jewish tradition (not the Word of God) held that the lambs were to be slain within a two-hour time slot (from the ninth to the eleventh hour, or 3:00-5:00 pm), it is readily apparent that not all of those lambs could have been sacrificed at the Temple. In fact, Joachim Jeremias, in Jerusalem in the Times of Jesus, calculates that the three courses of priests on duty could slay only 18,000 lambs during those two hours. Josephus records that the rest of the lambs—a far greater number—were slain by individuals at their own homes.
Another critical point is that, despite Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread being distinct festivals, they were commonly grouped together and simply called "Passover." Thus, when the gospel writers mention "Passover," it can sometimes refer to the Passover sacrifice itself (Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12), the day when the sacrifice was made (Mark 14:1), or the whole eight-day period of Abib 14-21 (Passover plus Unleavened Bread; Luke 22:1).
In actuality, then, there were really two Passover observances happening at the time of Jesus: one led by the priests at the Temple and the other observed by the people in their homes. These separate observances were also at different times: The Temple-kept Passover was observed late in the afternoon of Abib 14, while the home-kept Passover was kept at the beginning of Abib 14. As the gospels show, Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover in a home rather than at the Temple, observing it the evening before the priests did at the Temple. In other words, Jesus kept it as Abib 14 began, while the priests kept it as Abib 14 ended.
David C. Grabbe
The English phrases, "from your houses" (Exodus 12:15) and "in your houses," (verse 19) derive from a single Hebrew word, bayith, which can also mean "homes," "households," or "families."
Exodus 13:7 expands on this: "Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days. And no leavened bread shall be seen among you, nor shall leaven be seen among you in all your quarters." The English words "your quarters" come from the Hebrew word gebul, which can mean "borders," "coasts," "bounds," "landmarks," "space," "limit," "territory," and "region."
God's instruction shows that we should deleaven all the areas for which we are responsible. Obviously, this includes our homes, but what about our cars, garages, yards, and workspaces? Should we deleaven them? Where do our "quarters" end?
Many centuries ago Galileo wrote, "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." God expects His people to be sensible. He should not have to explain every single detail for long-time members of His church. He does not expect us to deleaven areas where there has been no chance of leaven getting into it. Think about it! Is it possible that leavened products have made their way into the downstairs bathroom or into the tool cupboard or work bench? Does anyone ever eat in the car? Have groceries been carried in the trunk? Has anyone eaten in the office? Are we sure?
If a person has young children, of course, there can be no guarantees! But if we are absolutely sure that no leaven has been taken into an area over which we have responsibility, then there is no need to deleaven it! Our time at this period of the year is so valuable. Why waste any of it? We would spend it better preparing for the Passover and searching for spiritual leaven.
The Five Ws of Deleavening
The Exodus involved a great deal of urgency and haste. With Egypt virtually destroyed, the Egyptians urged the Israelites to leave lest further devastation occur. However, God knew Egypt would not long tolerate the loss of her slaves or delay in seeking vengeance. The window of opportunity for escape would quickly close! They did not even have time to let their bread rise! Biblically, leaven represents sin. Once we are converted, we must diligently endeavor to rid ourselves of sin and live God's pure way of life (I Corinthians 5:8). Like the Israelites, we must flee from sin, lest it pursue and destroy us (Matthew 12:43-45).
Holy Days: Unleavened Bread
People frequently joke about having eaten something leavened during the Days of Unleavened Bread. However, notice how serious this is to God. At the very least, "cut off" means to be excommunicated from camp, and at its most extreme it implies being put to death! Could it be that we do not take sin and holiness as seriously as God does?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Countdown to Pentecost 2001
There are seven days of Unleavened Bread but only one day of Passover, Pentecost, Trumpets, and Atonement. God knows that we tend to change slowly. He gives us seven days each year to concentrate on our duty to rid our lives of sin. Those acts that are God's responsibility - the sacrifice of one for all sin, the sending of His Spirit, the resurrection of the dead, or the binding of Satan - He can accomplish in one day. The part that involves mankind's participation - overcoming sin - requires more time and attention. The Days of Unleavened Bread represent a period of judgment when man is required to overcome. To us, overcoming a deep-seated sin can seem to take an eternity! The obvious lesson is that we must draw much nearer to the Source of the power to overcome.
Holy Days: Unleavened Bread
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Exodus 12:19: