EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
The overall theme of Exodus is without doubt the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Most reflections on the book are primarily concerned with its main character, Moses, leading God’s people away from the angry pharaoh after he refused to let the people go despite ten devastating plagues. Our focus here, however, is on Christ, which brings us to the night of Passover. It will take a minute or two to tear down incorrect (but mainstream) concepts around that night in order to provide a grander and more accurate idea of who the Jesus of Exodus is, so bear with us while we explain a few things about the ritual that was really performed that night.
As some may already know from one of our earlier projects, The Messenger, the word “passover” has nothing to do with an angel “passing over [or around]” the blood-marked doorposts of the Israelites. That’s poetic, which is why history has latched onto that explanation and will probably never let it out of its tentacles, but it’s not really what the word means. In fact, the ancient Hebrew word pesach, what the feast is actually named after, predates the tenth plague (and therefore predates the angel of death in that plague) by uncountable generations and involves not only the Israelites, but all of the ancient world as far as we know.
Wait a second…what? Did this book just say that Passover involved pagan nations and was some kind of event that existed long before the night the Jewish Passover feast was inaugurated?
Yes, it’s true. (Seriously, if you don’t have a copy of The Messenger, you’ll want to get it and read it, even if only for the sake of digesting what the Passover feast was really about, as it’s not what many people think, and the research backing it up is immense. However, we will cover at least some of the mind-blowing details here.)
The quickest way of explaining this is to state that the true meaning of pesach is not “to avoid something,” but literally “to cross over and into” something (essentially, it’s paints a picture quite opposite of an angel passing by a blood-marked doorpost).
Rewind to the ancient world, to as far back as we can trace humanity, before worship structures like synagogues or temples were built. Even at that time, humans were inclined (and even were intelligently designed) to reach out to someone or something spiritual, something larger than themselves, and to revere, worship, respect, and pay homage to that deity or supernatural force. Because blood is the common symbol of life—and, at its loss, death—it has been deemed sacred by the first human cultures and onward. As such, the life blood shed from a perfect animal sacrifice as a symbolic stand-in for a human has been a central element of deity tribute from the beginning, inside and outside of any Jewish or Christian religious ceremony. We are then led to ask: What did the earliest sacrificial altars look like, and where would they have been kept, stored, found, or even erected?
The short answer is right inside the doorway of a person’s home—or, primitive domicile.
See, people didn’t have to worry about whether or not the blood of animal sacrifice would stain the carpet, whether the meat from the prepared offering was going to attract mice or other critters, or any other such modern-day hazards. In the earliest lean-to-style shelters, most of which sprang up in nomadic people groups and were therefore transportable anyway, animal sacrifices were carried out right at the doorway of the home. Although the deity being honored or worshipped varied from one territory to another, the purpose of the doorway sacrifice was universal in its symbolism: the threshold of a home or dwelling is where people or spirits come in or out bearing blessings, curses, or whatever else might be their agenda. To sacrifice a perfect animal at the front door to a favored deity, then, symbolized the residents’ appeal for that deity to enter and guard that household against bad spirits or other potential harm from the outside world.
Appropriately, historians and anthropologists today refer to this as the “threshold covenant,” but that’s not what the ancients called it. In Hebrew, as stated earlier, it was pesach, as it described the act of crossing over something. In this case, that would obviously be a home’s threshold, but it would also be the blood of the sacrifice that had just been made. To as many primordial human cultures as we can tell, the life blood that fell to the floor of the threshold was far too sacred to be trampled on, and if that grievance were to be committed—whether accidentally or intentionally—the agreement between the person and deity would be dissolved (or worse, disrespected, possibly to the point of incurring the deity’s wrath, some believed). So any entity (human, spirit, etc.) that came in or out while the blood remained had to “cross over” or “pass over the top of” the life blood.
Also, remember that “bowl” or “basin” of blood from Exodus 12:21–22 the Israelites were told to dip their hyssop branches into before they spread it over the door? That’s an anachronistically (historically out of correct time) translated word, even while the KJV was being translated. If we look up the root word sap in a Hebrew lexicon, it will acknowledge “bowl” or “basin” as its use in younger books of the Bible (for example, 1 Kings 7:50 and 2 Kings 12:13), while in older books (see, for example, Judges 19:27), the exact meaning of this word is “threshold.” From The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, we read the noun “sap…belong[s] to the architectural vocabulary of ancient Israel and denote[s] an essential component of an entrance, whether gate or doorway. In the Hebrew Bible, that component is always the threshold, with the one exception of Ezek 40:6–7, where a gate chamber may be indicated.”[i] (Part of the reason the word became “basin” or “bowl” eventually was because it was generically a “place where blood flows,” so when the Israelites began letting the blood flow into a bowl, the word for “threshold” became synonymous with a liquid-carrying vessel.)
Exodus is one of the older books, before sap would not have been a vessel, so the instruction given in Exodus 12:21–22 is, more accurately, for the Israelites to dip their hyssop branches into the blood on the threshold…the threshold of their homes where they would have literally just sacrificed the perfect lamb whose blood was now sacred in its symbolic invitation to a deity to enter, “cross over” the blood, and stand guard at the doorway to stave off spirits that could otherwise do harm.
Ironically, He would be protecting His own people from the angel of death He was responsible for sending. Why? So all of Egypt could see this miracle and know without doubt that the God of the Jews was who He said He was, and that He was immensely stronger than any of the pathetic gods in the pagans’ own pantheon.
No way… There is no way I’m going to believe that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, would lead His people into participating in a pagan ritual!
Neither would we, and that’s not what He did. (As usual, the contextual details are enormously important here.) What God did was rebrand and trump a universal, familiar ritual known to the ancients of the world (including the Egyptians) by showing Himself far more powerful than any standard “doorway deity,” so to speak. He used a preexisting idea the pagans would have recognized from their own practices and the practices of neighboring heathen civilizations, then He outperformed it—involving blood not only on the threshold, but all around the door—by sending His angel of death, not just weakly protecting them from other random, wandering spirits. By this, He was eclipsing every other threshold covenant that had ever been performed for/with other little-“g” gods, putting the heavenly smackdown on the Egyptians for their cruel and murderous treatment of the people He chose to preserve upon the earth.
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(By the way, that kind of “rebranding” wasn’t as unusual as we may think. Even the moment when Abraham took Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice his own son at God’s command has roots in paganism, as Donna Howell frequently teaches and has spoken about on her web-exclusive show, Chalk Talk. Before he was a follower of Yahweh, Abraham had been from Ur, and those in his home territory had engaged in all kinds of spiritual weirdness, including human sacrifice. Then suddenly we happen upon the awkward, hard-to-read moment recorded in Genesis 22 when our God—the God who, according to His character as it is revealed throughout Scripture, would never agree to human sacrifice—ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son. Isaac wasn’t just any ol’ kid, either. He was the promised child. Today, we can find comfort in that “Whew, that was close! God provided a ram instead!” part of the story, seeing that our God never intended for Abraham to carry out the killing of his own son. However, we still feel uncomfortable seeing God even hint at the concept of human sacrifice, which contradicts His nature, until we understand this: God was taking Abraham through the old, familiar pagan ropes, we might say, to bring him to that very moment when Yahweh would rebrand the former sacrifice ritual into something better that He had ordained with heavenly oversight. Then, it’s as if God said, “Stop! You will follow My ways now. See that ram in the thicket? That’s the suitable sacrifice. For I am your God now, not those gods of old from your past in Ur. You are finished forever with the old ways.” The message was imprinted in Abraham’s mind for good: “Followers of Yahweh don’t sacrifice people, and we never will.” And, of course, we never have. But it took the buildup to the human sacrifice—followed by the illustrative shooting down of that practice with a spiritually suitable replacement—for that to have become firmly established in the mind and practices of Abraham and his future generations all the way down to us. Simply put: God never intended a human sacrifice; He intended the aforementioned “almighty smackdown” of a human sacrifice using a “rebranding” of a pagan idea to outperform it.)
The founder of the Institute for Hebraic-Christian Studies and author of Celebrating Jesus in the Biblical Feasts, Dr. Richard Booker, acknowledges this historical threshold connection to the word pesach. Before the Exodus, Booker says, the word meant “to come under the protection of a deity by crossing over, jumping over, stepping over, or leaping over…the threshold” and into the protection of a home sprinkled with the animal’s blood.[ii] Academic genius of Yale Divinity School, Henry Clay Trumball, also speaks about this in his work, The Threshold Covenant or The Beginning of Religious Rites. While addressing “the beginning of religious rites, by which man evidenced a belief, however obtained, in the possibility of covenant relations between God and man,”[iii] he openly ties the threshold covenant to the universally practiced pesach, which took place at the “threshold, or door-sill, or entrance-way, of the home dwelling-place.”[iv] From there, he notes that, “in Syria and in Egypt…every such primitive covenant in blood includes an appeal to the protecting Deity to ratify it as between the two parties and himself.”[v] So, the Egyptians were accustomed to performing their own pesach to their own protecting deities. Then, Yahweh appears on the scene, and to the Egyptians, He effectively says: “Because you will not let My people go, I will send My own angel of death through your doorways and into your homes, across your threshold. You think your own cross-over covenants will protect you, but there will be no stopping this, as I am mightier than your gods.” Trumball goes on:
How the significance of the Hebrew passover rite stands out in the light of this primitive custom! It is not that this rite had its origin in the days of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt, but that Jehovah then and there emphasized the meaning and sacredness of a rite already familiar to Orientals. In dealing with his chosen people, God did not invent a new rite or ceremonial at every stage of his progressive revelation to them; but he took a rite with which they were already familiar, and gave to it a new and deeper significance in its new use and relations.
Long before that day, a covenant welcome was given to a guest who was to become as one of the family, or to a bride or bridegroom in marriage, by the outpouring of blood on the threshold of the door, and by staining the doorway itself with the blood of the covenant. And now Jehovah announced that he was to visit Egypt on a designated night, and that those who would welcome him should prepare a threshold covenant, or a pass-over sacrifice, as a proof of that welcome; for where no such welcome was made ready for him by a family, he must count the household as his enemy.
In announcing this desire for a welcoming sacrifice by the Hebrews, God spoke of it as “Jehovah’s passover,” as if the pass-over rite was a familiar one, which was now to be observed as a welcome to Jehovah. Moses, in reporting the Lord’s message to the Hebrews, did not speak of the proposed sacrifice as something of which they knew nothing until now, but he first said to them, “Draw out, and take you lambs according to your families, and kill the passover”—or the threshold cross-over; and then he added details of special instruction for this new use of the old rite.[vi]
In Exodus 12:13, the original Hebrew language documents God saying “I will [pesach] you” to any Israelite who has obediently painted the blood of an innocent lamb over and around the doorposts. Once we understand that pesach means “cross over and into [something],” it changes the entire narrative of Exodus in our mind’s eye, because now we see God recognizing the blood and deliberately entering the home and spending the evening with His people like an honored guest, instead of just allowing His angel to pass by it. But pesach, in proper context, doesn’t mean an awkward lunging over blood. The emphasis is upon the end-game, the purpose behind such a stepover—to gain protection. Pesach, then, in light of all we’ve discussed, means “protect.” In fact, the translators of the KJV and other early translations rendered Exodus 12:13 to read, “I [God] will pass over you,” but the English translation of the Septuagint (LXX) has it as, “I [God] will protect you”!
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A shift took place in the unseen realm between God and man that night. A key element of the Old Covenant—one of the most important—was established on the night of the tenth plague, when the threshold covenant marked the moment of intervention, protection, and deliverance of God’s people who came out of Egypt. What that has to do with Jesus might trigger tears…
Consider this passage in Jeremiah that refers to the Exodus narrative:
“Behold, the days come,” saith the Lord, “that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt… But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days,” saith the Lord, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31–34; emphasis added)
Through His prophet Jeremiah, God was announcing that something He had started when He took His people by the hand and led them out of Egypt would find its perfection and completion through the New Covenant. The sacrificial death of a Passover lamb (the animal, lowercase “l”) would cover the sins of God’s people. The sacrificial Passover Lamb (the Messiah, uppercase “L”) would make the sins of God’s people “no more” (Jeremiah 31:31–34). This Lamb, John the Baptist said, is Jesus (John 1:29).
Before we look at Jesus in Exodus any further, consider what shows up immediately at this point:
- A) The Israelites spread a perfect lamb’s blood on the door to establish a threshold covenant between God and them; B) Jesus is the Perfect Lamb, whose sacrifice of blood established the New Covenant between God and all people.
- A) The threshold covenant involved all Hebrews inviting God into their homes through belief in the lamb’s blood on the doorpost; B) The New Covenant involves all believers inviting Christ into their lives through belief in the saving power of the Perfect Lamb’s blood on the cross.
- A) The threshold covenant saved the Israelites from the plague God sent upon the land; B) The New Covenant saves all believers from the judgment of God upon sin.
- A) The threshold covenant ultimately led to the Israelites’ deliverance from bondage in the hands of the Egyptians and onward to the Promised Land; B) The New Covenant immediately made possible our deliverance from the bondage of sin and onward to the Kingdom of God.
- A) The lamb’s blood marked the doorway of a common house, where the Israelites invited God the Father; B) Jesus’ blood marks the doorway of His Father’s house, where God the Father invites His children.[vii]
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, and it goes much, much deeper. This perspective sheds new light on a lot of Christ’s words and helps us understand on a more intimate level why His blood was central to His redemptive work on the cross: “This is my blood of the new covenant” (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20). Christ was telling His disciples, essentially, “This is My blood of the threshold”! Read His words in John:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way [some way other than the door/threshold], the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door [meaning Himself] is the shepherd of the sheep [the sheep are the believers of Christ].… And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.”
This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.
Then said Jesus unto them again, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door [threshold!] of the sheep [believers]. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers [because they didn’t establish a threshold covenant]: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life [through a blood sacrifice on the cross], and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” (John 10:1–10)
A couple of chapters later, we read that Jesus stated for clarification, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father [into His eternal dwelling], but by [through] me [as the new doorway and therefore threshold covenant]” (John 14:6). The writer of Hebrews was well aware of Jesus as the threshold-blood Lamb, as well as the cancellation of a threshold covenant in ancient times if blood were trodden upon: “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins… He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:26–29; emphasis added). Further, Jesus told His disciples on the night he was betrayed, “With desire I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it [the pesach/Passover] be fulfilled in the kingdom of God [which was later accomplished through His sacrifice]” (Luke 22:15–16). Because of the New Covenant established through Him (Luke 22:20; Ephesians 2:11–13), He became the Passover Lamb, “our passover [who was] sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7) on the threshold of His Father’s Kingdom, fulfilling the purposes of the Passover feast even as it extends into Heaven and eternity.
We’re still only barely scratching the surface…
An excerpt from The Messenger reveals some staggering details that have always been there, but that aren’t always obvious:
Recall that, in Exodus 12:46 (see also Numbers 9:12), the Israelites were commanded to prepare the Passover lamb in a way that wouldn’t break a single bone.…but do we all know how the Israelites had to prepare the Passover lamb in order for no bones to break? Do we know how they carefully roasted the animals in such a way that the entire flesh could be accessed and devoured (Exodus 12:10) without breaking any bones?
The process isn’t one we will go into in great detail, because those with weak stomachs may not appreciate it. Put simply: Once the lamb’s organs were removed, a pole (or branch from a sturdy source such as a pomegranate tree) was inserted horizontally to splay open the chest and upper arms of the animal, guaranteeing even and thorough roasting. Then another pole was inserted vertically and driven into the ground in order to hang the animal upright near the fire. The removed entrails were coiled atop the lamb’s head, an ancient tradition called the “Crown Sacrifice” or the “Crown of the Passover Lamb.” The result was literally a blood-crowned lamb hanging on a cross…a visual foreshadowing of Christ’s death. No regular human imagination could have planned that element centuries before He was crucified.
We could explore countless other parallels on this trail to understanding how Christ fulfilled the Passover. Here are just a few more that we can mention quickly:
- Jesus was thoroughly examined by the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes for four days and found to be spotless (1 Peter 2:22), just as the Passover lamb for Seder was continuously examined for four days to ensure perfection before the sacrifice.
- After the building of the temple, when the Jews would gather en masse, preparations took more time to complete, and all the Passover lambs would have to be gathered and tied to their altars at 9 o’clock in the morning in order for the families to assemble to sing the Psalms. Nine in the morning was the same time Jesus would be nailed to the cross.
- In order for the lamb to be prepared in time for the feast, however, it needed to be slain at 3 o’clock in the afternoon—the same time of day Jesus died.
- At 6 o’clock in the evening, the Passover meal is complete and a new day begins. This is the same time Jesus was laid to rest in the tomb.
- When the temple’s high priest had completed the ritual killing of the lamb on the altar, he lifted his hands apart in the air and said, “It is finished.” This was the position of Jesus’ body on the cross when He spoke those same words and then gave up the Spirit.
The list goes on and on, detailing hundreds of intricate links and connections between the manner in which Jesus died and the feast that had been established or ages before He was born, many of which (like the timing of His crucifixion and death) couldn’t have been planned to symbolically align so perfectly.…
The best writers in Hollywood can’t produce a more poetic drama…[viii]
Ladies, gentlemen, behold the Christ of Exodus, our gentle, selfless, Passover Lamb!
UP NEXT: Jesus In Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy
[i] Meyers, C., in D. N. Freedman (Ed.), Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary: Vol. 6 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 544.
[ii] Booker, Dr. Richard, Celebrating Jesus in the Biblical Feasts (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image , expanded edition 2016), 36.
[iii] Trumball, Henry Clay, The Threshold Covenant or the Beginning of Religious Rites (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1896), iii.
[iv] Ibid., 3.
[v] Ibid., 3–4.
[vi] Ibid., 203–204.
[vii] Horn, Thomas, The Messenger: It’s Headed toward Earth! It Cannot Be Stopped! And It’s Carrying the Secret of America’s, the World’s, and Your Tomorrow! (Crane, MO: Defender, 2020), 37.
[viii] Ibid., 43–44, 54.