Tonight begins Pesach (Passover) and I am already busy preparing for the Seder. I have invited someone I knew in High School and haven’t been in touch with since then. We now live close to each other and it will be good to have her share this Seder with Donna and me.
The Passover is a very misunderstood festival. The traditional idea is that it is 7 days long, but that is not correct. Also, the teaching that HaBikkurim (First Fruits) is the first day after the beginning of Hag HaMatzot (Festival of Unleavened Bread) is not biblically accurate. The most incorrect belief about Passover of all is that the sacrifice of Yeshua (Jesus) was that of the Passover lamb.
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Let’s start by reading from the Bible some of the passages that relate to Passover.
Leviticus 23:5-6 says:
The Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Festival of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast.
The Passover is really only from dusk on the 14th day of Nissan (then called Aviv) until midnight, which was when the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites. That means the passing over of the angel really occurred on the 15th of Nissan, since dusk on the 14th would have been the end of that day and after the sun had set it would then be the 15th. This is also the day on which the Seder is eaten; when we think about it, by the time the lamb was slaughtered at dusk, brought home, roasted over a fire, and everyone sat down to eat the sun would (probably) have already set, so the Seder is really eaten on the 15th of Nissan.
So, then, if Passover is really only from dusk to midnight, where did they get the idea it is for 7 days? It became confused with the next festival, Hag HaMatzot, which starts with the Seder. In Exodus 12:17-20 it says:
“Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day.
I believe that because unleavened bread starts with the Seder, and the Seder is for Passover, people just assumed that Passover was for 7 days.
As for HaBikkurim, this is also celebrated on a day which is not in accordance with when the Bible says we should.
In his letter to the Corinthians (15:23) Shaul, also called Paul, refers to Yeshua as the First Fruits. Traditionally, the celebration called HaBikkurim (First Fruits) is celebrated on the first day after the beginning of the festival of unleavened bread; this doesn’t coincide with the day Yeshua rose, which would have been three days after unleavened bread began. I believe because Shaul referred to Yeshua as the first fruits that Gentile Believers mistakenly associate Yeshua’s resurrection with HaBikkurim. It isn’t the same.
The Torah tells us that the first fruits are to be offered on the first day after the Sabbath of the harvest. Although the instructions regarding this festival come directly after the instructions regarding Passover and unleavened bread, the first fruits sheave to be waved is not dependent on Passover, but on when the crops are harvested.
Again, let’s go to the source, the Bible. In Leviticus 23:9-11 we read that:
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the Lord so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath.”
The Torah says, clearly, that First Fruits is the day after the first Shabbat after the harvest. Despite the fact that the second day of Pesach and the last day of Hag HaMatzot are both Shabbat days, First Fruits celebration is NOT based on Pesach or Hag HaMatzot, but on the reaping of the harvest.
Lastly, let’s look at the traditional reference to Yeshua as the Pesach (Passover) Lamb. True, he was the “Lamb of God” in that he, like the lamb chosen to be sacrificed, died for our sins. And as such, he is the lamb of the sin sacrifice. But there’s a problem when we refer to him as the Pesach Lamb- the lamb sacrificed for Passover was NOT a sin sacrifice!
When we read the instructions regarding the different kinds of sacrifice within the sacrificial system God gave us (Leviticus, Chapters 1-7) we notice that for the grain, guilt, sin, and wholly burnt sacrifice that only the Cohen was to have a share of the item offered. It is only with the Thanksgiving sacrifice, also called a Peace Offering that the one bringing the sacrifice was allowed to partake of eating some of the meat.
The instructions for eating the Pesach sacrifice clearly shows that the meat is to be taken back to the house and roasted over a fire, then eaten that night. If any is left over, it is to be burned up completely. This is in perfect concordance with the instructions for the thanksgiving sacrifice we read in Leviticus 7: 29:
When you sacrifice a thank offering to the LORD, offer it so that it may be acceptable on your behalf. It must be eaten that same day. Do not leave any of it until morning.
Because the Passover lamb sacrifice is one where the person bringing the lamb also may eat it, that means it is a Thanksgiving or Peace Offering. And when we review the different reasons to perform this sacrifice, one of them is to thank God for deliverance.
The proper timing for this season is that the Seder meal is eaten after the lamb is slaughtered at evening on the 14th of Nissan, which ends up not being until the 15th of the month, on which we also begin the festival of Unleavened Bread for the next 7 days. Originally, HaBikkurim would be a separate festival that began on the day after the first Shabbat, after the harvest. In truth, there was more than one HaBikkurim celebration since there were usually two harvest seasons: the barley harvest in the spring and the wheat harvest in the fall. Biblically, First Fruits really has nothing to do with Passover or Hag HaMatzot. The traditional celebration of it on the first day after Hag HaMatzot is a decision made by the rabbis of old. It is not unlike what happened with the celebration of Shavuot, considered to be a celebration of the giving of the Law to Moses which occurs 50 days after the first Shabbat after Pesach. When you study the timeline from when the Jews left Egypt to when Moses received the instructions at Sinai, it is not 50 days. However, just like with Habikkurim and Pesach, Moses at Sanai and Shavuot have been associated for so long that now they are inseparable.
Does any of this change what we are doing, or make it wrong? I don’t think so. God sees the heart, and I really doubt that he is so nit-picky that he will not accept our worship just because we celebrate first fruits on a calendar day instead of based on a physical harvest. Especially since we aren’t an agrarian society anymore.
So go ahead and celebrate Passover, keep that Chametz far away from your mouth for the week after the Seder, and find joy in knowing that Yeshua rose on the first day after the Pesach Shabbat and through that resurrection, we can find eternal joy in the presence of the Lord.
The fact that the current timing of these celebrations doesn’t match exactly when they are to occur according to the Torah is simply a result of the way the world has changed, and God understands that.
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This Passover is special because it also falls on Shabbat, which we call a Shabbat Shabbaton (special Shabbat) so please enjoy it. Passover is a joyful celebration and I wish you all a very pleasant one.
L’hitraot, Pesach Sameach, and Baruch HaShem!!