Exodus 12:40-42 is describing the Night To Be Much Observed, not the Passover night. There is a reason why God established two different festivals. The first, Passover, on the 14th of Nisan, begins in the evening, that is, at the beginning of the day with the killing of the lamb.
The killing of the lamb has a specific focus, the death of the Savior, showing that we have a part in His death. The second part of the ritual, the eating of the lamb, emphasizes the more important continuance of the relationship. When a person ingests food, he receives energy, and his life is sustained. This is the symbolic meaning of eating the lamb.
Nisan 15—the First Day of Unleavened Bread, when the exodus occurred—emphasizes the action required to keep the relationship going and growing. That is our part. We have to get up and do something; we have to leave Egypt, a type of leaving sin.
We are dealing with two different festivals with two altogether different focuses.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Night to be Much Observed
The account of Israel's exodus from Egypt provides a clue to the significance of the afternoon of the 14th—the time when the Messiah was crucified.
The Israelites had killed the lambs after sunset as the 14th began, smearing the blood on the doorposts of their houses. They then roasted and ate the lambs, burning the remains. At midnight the Death Angel passed over, slaying the firstborn of those not under the blood. The Israelites remained in their houses until daybreak, after which they finished spoiling the Egyptians, then all 2-3 million of them traveled to Goshen. Numbers 33:3 records that they departed Rameses on the 15th day—“the day after the Passover”—and Deuteronomy 16:1 verifies that they left at night.
The Exodus, then, began at night, as Abib/Nisan 15 began. This “night of solemn observance” is the “very same day” or the “self-same day” (King James Version [KJV]) as an event that happened 430 years before—to the exact day. That prior event is the initial covenant God made with Abraham:
Then He said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” And he said, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?” So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. . . .
Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. . . .
And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram. . . . (Genesis 15:7-10, 12-14, 17-18)
In verse 13, God's states that Abraham's descendants would be afflicted, yet finally delivered. This is that “very same day” to which Exodus 12:41-42 refers—the beginning of the 15th day, just after sunset.
David C. Grabbe
Why Was Jesus Not Crucified as Passover Began? (Part Two)
Israel was to keep the Night to Be Much Observed in part as a night of watchful vigil to commemorate the reason they could leave Egypt so easily: God watched over them as His plan unfolded.
Reading Genesis 15 with the story in Exodus, we can see how God watched over them. Israel's bondage in Egypt had disciplined Israel, preparing them to go through the wilderness, and afterwards, take the Promised Land. This was God's plan for them, and He watched it brought to completion. His greater plan is not completed even now, because we are a part of it! Genesis 17 shows that it has eternal consequences and is still in operation.
The Night to be Much Observed is a significant event in God's plan. Will anyone deny that God watched out for Israel, seeing the blood on the doorposts and lintels and passing over them? Can anyone deny that He watched over them as they finished spoiling the Egyptians during the daylight portion of Nisan 14, watching as they gathered to meet in Rameses?
“Watch" does not mean that God passively observed them as they left. Instead, it means that He actively "guarded" them. "Watched" comes from the Hebrew shamar, used often and translated as “keep.” Whenever one desires to keep something, he guards and protects it. In like manner, God watched, kept, guarded, and protected Israel. Exodus 11:7 shows just how closely God watched, not allowing even a single dog to bark.
Can anyone deny that God watched as the Israelites walked out that night of Nisan 15 in the very sight of the Egyptians who were burying their dead? Most likely, the Egyptians would want to blame the Israelites for the death of their children and animals. They would be enraged. They could not see God, nor blame Him directly, as it were; but they would take it out on His people. But they stood by numbly instead of resisting or fighting.
The Night to Be Much Observed is the official marking of God's watchful care. It is good and right that we celebrate what God did and continues to do. We can easily see that this portion of the first day of Unleavened Bread is of great significance, not just on the basis of its prior history in the life of Abraham, but also its significance to the Exodus. An entire nation of slaves just got up, and without lifting a hand to achieve their liberty, they walked away.
Most people, in order to win their liberty, must undergo bloody warfare, and many people lose their lives. Those who do not suffer the loss of life usually lose their material wealth. Israel did not lose any lives and came away rich! The captor nation was helpless to do anything to retain its slaves because God restrained the Egyptians.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Night to be Much Observed
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Exodus 12:40: