23 Sep 2018

Living With the Passover Lamb Before Sacrificing It

Religious 5 Comments

Even those with a passing familiarity with the Exodus account know that God (through Moses) told the Israelites to slaughter a Passover lamb and spread the blood on each household’s doorpost, in order that the angel of death would “pass over” that house while killing all the firstborns of Egypt.

However, it wasn’t until a recent sermon that I realized that the Israelite households were supposed to choose the unblemished lamb and then let it live with them (inside their houses) for four days. In the text (at least the ESV) it’s not obvious (Ex. 12):

1The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2“This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. 3Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. 4And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. 5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.a

However, it is well established that they were to keep the lamb in the house. (Also, what sense would it make to “keep it until the fourteenth day” if it just meant, let the lamb run around as before?)

There are obvious parallels with Jesus as the Lamb of God–He lived among us before dying for our sins. (This writer thinks the 4 days in the middle of Holy Week are significant here.) Yet even if we just focus on the Passover practice in ancient Israel, we can see the psychological function: Everybody in the household (especially the children) would get attached to the lamb, before seeing it killed. This wasn’t a ritual that could happen on the periphery.

5 Responses to “Living With the Passover Lamb Before Sacrificing It”

  1. Eustace Scrubb says:

    Very good!

  2. Mark says:

    Exo 12:22 says, “Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning.”

    Years ago I read a Chick tract (I know – a can of worms) that illustrated that. It showed a guy standing in the doorway of a house turning from side to side with the hyssop touching the doorposts. So the connection between the two doorposts creates a horizontal line of blood, and having already touched the middle of the lintel gave it a vertical line of dripping blood, with the two lines forming a cross of blood.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone speak on that, but it’s an interesting idea.

  3. Major_Freedom says:

    Old Testament was always rather blood thirsty in NARRATIVE.

  4. Tel says:

    On a practical note, when he says “according to what each can eat” I presume they did eat the lamb after doing that ritual with the blood.

    Four days is about the length of time to ensure that the digestive tract of the lamb has cycled through… so while you keep it in the house you also have a good idea of what it’s eating. Goats especially are more tolerant to alkaloid toxins than humans are, especially if you intend to eat the animal’s liver (tradition in the Middle East is cut and eat the liver raw before eating anything else from that animal). It also gives you some opportunity to see if the animal is in good health, based on behaviour, energy levels, appetite, etc.

    Everybody in the household (especially the children) would get attached to the lamb, before seeing it killed. This wasn’t a ritual that could happen on the periphery.

    I would argue that in the historical context where most people were hungry most of the time, four days gives the family time to visualize cutlets and sausages… and you get busted by the elders of the tribe if you start the feast early so there’s a presumption that they would have eaten frugally for the week before. A lot of these social traditions are based around forcing people to eat together in order to encourage cohesion (and the reverse of course, food prohibitions discourage anyone fraternizing with those bad guys over there, because impurity).

  5. Benjamin Cole says:

    Well… Granted we are working with an English translation here.

    What the text says to bring a lamb for the household. It does not seem to say the lamb must reside within the walls of the house. Indeed, I would assume the lamb would be roped to a nearby tree or post. Goats especially eat everything and are not circumspect about their bowel movements.

    My take is that the delay between the arrival of the goat and the eating is to heighten the celebratory nature of the feast . But man, I am way out of school talking about this.

    I enjoy Robert Murphy’s blogs and he is always a very civilized person.

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