Exodus 12 – 19
The Israelites ate their first Passover meal shut into their homes to avoid the destroying angel, who passed over and killed the firstborn of Egypt, from its citizens to its cattle. The next day, they were delivered from Egypt and from slavery. This also began a new religious festival, the observance of which was to be honored forever. After the one-day high-holy-day of Passover, the seven-day Feast of Unleavened bread began. The story was that because of their hurried departure, the Israelites had no time to allow their bread to rise. The loaves baked in the sun without rising, thus commemorating the Exodus. “Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, eventhe bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life. And there shall be no leavened bread seen with thee in all thy coast seven days; neither shall there any thing of the flesh, which thou sacrificed the first day at even, remain all night until the morning” (Deuteronomy 16:3, 4)
The Feast of Unleavened Bread contains more imagery of the Savior, Jesus Christ, to add to that found in the Passover. Today, the two festivals and their imagery are combined. Unleavened bread is a symbol of purity, and in this case, the leavening represents sin or the leanings of the carnal mind. The Apostle Paul would later say, “Your glorying isnot good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
In the Passover ritual meal, which is partaken of in remembrance of deliverance and redemption, the unleavened bread represents the Messiah to come. But notice that it must be pierced and striped in order for it not to rise during baking. Christ was pierced and flogged for us, as part of His atonement. At His Last Supper, He used the unleavened bread of the Passover meal to testify of Himself, urging His apostles to no longer partake of the bread looking forward to the Messiah, but to look backwards, doing so in remembrance of Him.
Other symbolic foods are used during the Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread. The charoseth, a sweet mash of diced fruit, represents the mortar used by the Israelite slaves to make bricks; it also represents the sweetness of hope. The covenantal wine used at the feast represents joy. Celebrants remove drops of it from their cups to mourn the fact that the Egyptians had to suffer during their deliverance — thus their cup of joy should not be full. Sweet herbs represent the blooming forth of the earth in spring. Bitter herbs remind celebrants of the bitterness of slavery and captivity. A lamb shank bone not only represents the Passover sacrifice, but that God delivered Israel from Egypt with an out-stretched arm. A roasted egg represents rebirth and the temple festival offering. Celebrants recline to symbolize their status as free men (slaves eat crouching in the field).
Three Festivals in One Week
The third of seven holy Exodus festivals occurs during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The festival is called Bikkurim, a word which is derived from “honored son.” It was to be celebrated on the day after the Sabbath which occurs during the week. Since Passover is a sabbath, and a Saturday sabbath always occurs during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Rabbis lost sight of the directive and argued over which sabbath was intended. Now the holiday is honored on the 16th of Nisan (Aviv), while Passover should be the 14th, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread should begin on the 15th. In truth, Christ would be crucified on the 14th of Nisan, a Thursday night, and taken down for the approach of the High Holy day of Passover (Friday). (See John 19:31.) He remained in the tomb through a double-Sabbath (the High Holy Passover Sabbath and the normal Saturday Sabbath) and then rose on Sunday, the first day of the week, which was Bikkurim.
Bikkurim was the first grain offering of the new season and guaranteed a perfect harvest for the year. A field adjoining the temple in Jerusalem would be planted, but could not be watered or tended. The grain had to grow up unto itself. With the common consent of the people, a perfect sheaf of grain was chosen as the wave offering in the temple. Christ rose as the offering was presented, guaranteeing a perfect harvest of souls in the resurrection.
The Israelites in the Wilderness
A nation of priests was born through the water of the Red Sea as the Exodus began with another great miracle — the parting of the sea to allow the Israelites to cross on dry ground. The sea closed over the armies of Pharaoh Ramses II. Latter-day Saints have information verifying that the Exodus account is correct. Both the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants state directly that it was the Red Sea and not the marshy and shallow “Reed Sea” that the Israelites crossed (see 1 Nephi 17:24–27 ; Doctrine and Covenants 8:3 ). Exodus 14:22, 29 says that “the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left,” certainly implying more than passing through a marshy area dried by a sudden wind.
The Lord may have had at least two reasons for taking Israel through the Red Sea. First, the action displayed His awesome and great protective power. He was the only warrior in this battle against one of the most formidable armies in the world. Therefore, this event was the prelude and proof of His demand henceforth for trust and obedience. Second, when that battle was over, the power of the Egyptian army was destroyed. The time necessary for rebuilding Egypt’s power left Israel unmenaced until she became established in the promised land. Paul taught that the passage through the Red Sea and the overshadowing of the cloud or pillar of fire were clearly types or symbols of the baptism of water and fire (see 1 Corinthians 10:1–4 ).
Though the miracles performed during the plagues of Egypt should have converted the weakest in spirit among the Israelites, Jewish writings say that many of the Israelites stayed in Egypt, preferring the known (however difficult) to the unknown trek in the wilderness. Also, those who failed to obey the Lord’s prophet Moses in painting the lintels of their houses with the blood of the lamb, would have decimated families and perhaps be unable to leave.
There is a problem in dealing with large numbers of people in the Old Testament, often because the word for “soldier bearing arms” is the same as “man” in some instances. In Exodus 12:37-38 the figure given of six hundred thousand men agrees approximately with the official census of the Israelites given in Numbers 1:45–46 . There, however, men means only the males twenty years and older who were capable of going to war. This fact means that the total company could easily have been over two million people. Since many Israelites stayed behind, this shows that the house of Israel had indeed burgeoned in Egypt.
Murmuring against Moses
No sooner had the Israelites been delivered from slavery and oppression into the wilderness, but they began to complain about their situation. In Exodus 15:24 it says they began to murmur against Moses. Because of this, and their sinfulness, the Israelites went through many trials in order to chastise them. They wandered 40 years, when their journey could have taken only months, and none of the original emigrants were alive to attain the promised land.
Lessons in the Wilderness
Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 10:1–4 makes clear what the Lord was seeking to teach Israel regarding Christ when He provided both manna and water for them. Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s commentary on Paul’s statement is very enlightening:
“Christ is the bread which came down from heaven, the Bread of Life, the spiritual manna, of which men must eat to gain salvation. ( John 6:31–58 .) He is the spiritual drink, the living water, the water of life, which if men drink they shall never thirst more. ( John 4:6–15 .)” ( Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:355.)
The “hidden manna” mentioned by John in Revelation 2:17 was explained by Elder McConkie as being “the bread of life, the good word of God, the doctrines of Him who is the Bread of Life—all of which is hidden from the carnal mind. Those who eat thereof shall never hunger more; eternal life is their eventual inheritance.” ( Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:451.)
Later, the Lord commanded Moses to hold up a staff with a brazen serpent on it, that if the people just looked upon it, they would be healed. The staff symbolized Christ, who would be lifted up upon the cross.
The Lord ordained four other holy festivals during the Israelites’ sojourn in the wilderness. Shavuot, or the Feast of weeks, falls 49 days after the Passover festivals. This is seven times seven weeks, upholding the symbolism of the holy number 7, the number representing wholeness and perfection. It is also the number of letters in the names of the 12 sons of Israel. The Feast of Weeks comemmorates the reception of the scriptures and the spirit. In New Testament times, the Lord would fulfill the imagery of this holiday by bestowing the Holy Ghost upon His chosen apostles and upon Christ’s church.
All these high holy days are convocations that center upon the temple. They are pilgrimage festivals. Although it was only commanded to make pilgrimage three times (Passover, Weeks, and the Festival of Booths), the Passover week is a cluster of three festivals, and the fall holidays also consist of a cluster of three festivals, with the Festival of Weeks, hovering between them. The fall holidays are Rosh haShanah (the new year, or Feast of Trumpets), Yom Kippur (or Day of Atonement), and Sukkot (or Feast of Tabernacles). The imagery of the fall holidays typify of the Second Coming of Christ, the judgment, and the ushering in of the Millenium. The Feast of Trumpets sounds the alarm to awaken men to the fact that judgment is coming, and that they should awake, arise, and gather. This is the separation of the righteous from the wicked. The hope is to have one’s name written in God’s Book of Life. A period of final repentance follows, culminating with the Day of Atonement. It is one’s last chance to repent. Symbolism of blood atonement is everywhere, and sacrificial blood is even sprinkled in the Holy of Holies in the temple. The Feast of Tabernacles has everything to do with the advent of the Millenium, and is full of rejoicing.
Could Israel be Sanctified?
The Lord’s goal was to sanctify Israel. His desire was for every Israelite to see His face and know Him. But the Israelites essentially refused. (See Exodus 19:10-25 and Doctrine and Covenants 84:23.)
“If they had accepted all of the privileges offered them and followed the instructions which would have qualified them to receive the fulfillment of all God’s promises, they could have been accorded the grandest of all revelations: He offered to come down in the sight of all the people and let them hear when He spoke to Moses that they might know for themselves about His will and His law, and believe in Moses’ future revelations from God, and revere the Lord evermore (cf. Deuteronomy 4:10 ). Note the need of cleanliness and spiritual dedication in their preparation for this great spiritual experience.
“At the prearranged signal, the sounding of the trumpet ‘exceeding long,’ the people trembled in anticipation and awe, but apparently they were not fully ready to come up ‘in the sight’ of the Lord on the mount where Moses was, for the Lord told him to go down and warn them not to come up. Hints as to why this was so are found in the next chapter, 20:18–19, and in Doctrine and Covenants 84:21–25 . But even though their hearts were not fully prepared to endure His presence, they did hear the voice and the words of God as the Ten Commandments were given, as will be seen later when we study Moses’ review of these great events in his valedictory, in Deuteronomy 4:10, 12, 33, 36 ; 5:22–26 .
“(The presentation of the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets is recounted a little later in the narrative, in Exodus 31:18 ; 32:15, 19 ; and a second set of tablets, prepared after the first set were broken, and are spoken of in Exodus 34:1 ff.)” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:83.)
*Parts of this article were adapted from the LDS Institute Old Testament Manual.