A Passover Seder is a beautiful experience. Of course, that is the way our Father intends it, as we memorialize his divine deliverance. It isn’t something to be rushed; Jewish sources say the duration of a Passover Seder should be 3 hours or more.
There are many traditions associated with Passover, just as there are with other Biblical celebrations. Most of these traditions are intended to enrich the observance, as Scripture itself has minimal instructions leaving the celebrant to fill in the blanks. The guide for conducting the Seder, a Hebrew word meaning “order,” is the haggadah, another Hebrew word meaning “telling.” There are many variations to the haggadah, and thus different lengths of time it takes to go through one. The haggadah will take you through fifteen steps for a complete Seder.
The First Passover
Passover is a memorial of God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage. We as believers in Messiah Yeshua recognize it as prophetic of his death, bringing salvation (deliverance) to those who put their trust in him. Being a memorial or remembrance of a one-time event, there are things that happened as part of the original event that would not be performed annually as part of the observance. For example, we do not annually bring a lamb into our homes for four days, then slaughter it and smear blood on the doorposts and crossbeam of the house.
As Passover approaches, I wanted to see exactly what Scripture has to say about it.
The original Passover story is found in Exodus 12, so that seemed like a good place to start. I’ve posted it here. This story is the first use of the Hebrew word Pesach, Strong’s number H6453. After this story, the word is used 44 times in the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament). The Greek equivalent, Pascha, Strong’s number G3957, occurs 29 times in the Brit Chadasha (the Apostolic writings, the New Testament). This Greek word also appears a dozen times in 1 Esdras. These are listed at the end of this post.
Timing of the Passover
Torah tells us that the Passover is on the 14th day of the first month at evening, or literally “between the evenings.” While this date is mentioned several times in the Tanach, it is interesting to note that the date is never mentioned in the New Testament. In fact, I’ve not found any calendar date ever mentioned in the New Testament.
Several passages clearly state that the Passover is on the 14th day of the first month. Following the Passover, from the 15th day until the 21st day, are the days of Unleavened Bread. These two passages indicate that Unleavened Bread is to be eaten for seven days, beginning with the Passover:
During the first month in the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, you are to eat matzot, until the evening of the twenty-first day of the month. For seven days no hametz is to be found in your houses…
Observe the month of Aviv and keep the Passover to Adonai your God… You are not to eat hametz with it. For seven days you are to eat matzot with it…
When the Appointed Times are listed in Leviticus 23, Passover is described as being in the evening of the 14th day:
During the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening, is Adonai’s Passover…
When describing Yom Kippur, this same chapter in Leviticus says it is on the tenth day. The tenth day is described as beginning on the evening of the ninth day, indicating that the evening is associated with the end of the day.
However, the tenth day of this seventh month is Yom Kippur… On the ninth day of the month in the evening—from evening until evening—you are to keep your Shabbat.
The two phrases are not exactly the same. Literally, Passover is described as on the fourteenth day “between the evenings.” Yom Kippur is described as the tenth, beginning on the ninth “in the evening from the evening until the evening.” However, there is enough similarity to conclude that the “evening” of Passover is at the end of the day, which would then begin seven full days of eating matzah (unleavened bread).
Earlier I mentioned that there are 15 steps to a traditional Passover Seder. Of these 15 steps, only a few are actually mentioned in Scripture as part of the Passover observance. Many of the rest will have a general basis elsewhere in Scripture even though not specifically associated with Passover, and some of them are simply tradition. That doesn’t make any of it wrong or irrelevant, but I wanted to identify the things we are actually instructed to do in observing Passover.
- KADESH (sanctification of the day) – Traditional (1st cup of wine)
- URCHATZ (handwashing with no blessing) – Traditional
- KARPAS (eating the green vegetable) – Traditional
- YACHATZ (breaking the matzah) – Traditional
- MAGGID (telling the story) – Exodus 12:26-27 (four questions, 2nd cup of wine)
- RACHTZAH (handwashing with a blessing) – Traditional
- MOTZI (blessing before eating matzah) – Traditional
- MATZAH (eating the matzah) – Exodus 12:8
- MARROR (eating the bitter herb) – Exodus 12:8
- KORECH (Hillel’s sandwich) – Traditional
- SHULCHAN ORECH (eating the meal) – Exodus 12:8
- TZAFUN (eating the afikomen) – Traditional
- BARECH (blessing after eating) – Traditional (3rd cup of wine, probably used by Yeshua)
- HALLEL (songs of praise) – Traditional (4th cup of wine)
- NIRTZAH (conclusion) – Traditional (next year in Jerusalem)
The Biblical instructions for the Passover include these four things:
- Telling the Story (Exodus 12:26-27)
- The Passover Lamb (Exodus 34:25, Numbers 9:12, Deuteronomy 16:2)
- Matzah – Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:8, Numbers 9:11, Deuteronomy 16:3)
- Marror – Bitter Herbs (Exodus 12:8, Numbers 9:11)
Interestingly, wine is not mentioned in connection with the Passover except at Yeshua’s final Passover. He referred to it as the “blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20), a phrase that only appears elsewhere in Exodus 24:8, Hebrews 9:20 (referring to the Exodus passage) and Hebrews 10:29.
The Passover Lamb is to be sacrificed “in the place Adonai chooses to make His Name dwell” (Deuteronomy 16:2). Jewish sages teach that this is specifically the Temple, and they say since there is no temple today, this cannot be done. Deuteronomy 6:5 specifically prohibits doing this anywhere else. Because of this, roasted lamb or any other roasted meat is not eaten today during the Passover meal. Instead, a portion of a lamb shank bone is placed on the Seder plate. If we accept this understanding, it would make it impossible to fully observe the Biblical Passover today.
My Conclusion and Dilemma
I suppose that the majority of those reading this could participate in a Passover Seder and do all of the things outlined in these 15 steps. I plan to do so. My purpose for looking into this is because I will also be with a group of men who are unable to spend several hours at a Seder, will not have access to all of the traditional things needed for the Seder, and will be unable to do it at the specified time. These men are incarcerated. And while I will be privileged to observe a full Seder outside the prison, I’ll also go in with these men and do the best we can.
You may also encounter someone whose circumstances make it not possible to do these things; perhaps that person is elderly or infirm. This Passover season, don’t overlook them. Share with them a little matzah and some bitter herb and tell them the Passover story. And remember that where two or three are gathered together to observe this holy time, the Passover Lamb, Yeshua, is there in the midst.
Bible occurrences of the Hebrew word Pesach, Strong’s number H6453
2 Kings 23:21,22,23
2 Chronicles 30:1,2,5,15,17,18
2 Chronicles 35:1(2),6,7,8,11,13,16,17,18(2),19
Bible occurrences of the Greek word Pascha, Strong’s number G3957
1 Esdras 1:1,6(2),8,9,12,17,19,21,22
1 Esdras 7:10,12
1 Corinthians 5:7