A Passover Meditation

Pressing on in our Pilgrim Journey

And thus shall ye eat [the lamb]: with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and yhour staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord’s passover.—Exodus 12:11

By Charles Redeker

During the Memorial season the thoughts of the brethren instinctively turn to our Lord Jesus, to consider anew his life and to commemorate his costly sacrifice for us. To assist in these meditations, our Lord instituted the Memorial Supper with its very special emblems and meanings. Many of the Lord’s people have also found it instructive to turn their attention to another ceremony, the original Passover which was celebrated in the land of Egypt almost 1,650 years before our Lord’s ministry began.

Why should we be interested in going back into the dim past of Israel to examine the Passover rite? It is because we are convinced that the Lord’s supper cannot be appreciated in its fullness without a background knowledge of the Passover. These are not merely random events: they stand as type to antitype, shadow to substance, as preview to reality. We might almost say that neither of these two important ceremonies—the Passover or the Memorial—can be understood fully without grasping the relationship between the two.

Hence we believe it will be helpful for us to look again at the events of the first Passover night, way back in the land of ancient Egypt. Hidden away in the details of the type is a lovely and instructive picture that portrays the method that God will use to bring salvation and blessing to the human family.

Various Pictures

When we think of the original Passover several aspects come to mind. The larger picture shows the escape of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt across the Red Sea. There were many actors in this real-life drama: natural Israel represented the whole people of God, that is, all of the human family who will ultimately become reconciled with him. The Egyptians pictured the opponents of God, both men and angels; Pharaoh, the prince of evil and arch adversary of God. Moses represented Christ, the deliverer; and the Red Sea was a symbol of the second death.

Within this scene there are yet other pictures. Many of the things that happened to Israel were ensamples for the New Creation and were meant for our admonition (1 Cor. 1:11). Especially do we feel this is so in regard to the details of the Passover. Think, for example, of the firstborn—how they were spared or passed over from the tenth and final plague of death upon Egypt.

It was only the firstborn who were subject to the possibility of death in advance of their brethren. By passing them over and sparing their lives, God reckoned them as his own hallowed possession. Later, during the wilderness wanderings, God exchanged these for the tribe of Levi.

They were separated from their brethren, gave up all inheritance in the land, and became priests and teachers. We can see how these fittingly pictured the Royal Priesthood class in training, who are subject to death (the second death) during the Gospel age in advance of the world. They are the "church of the firstborn," whose names are written in heaven (Heb. 12:23). Only they are sufficiently enlightened with truth and in covenant relationship with God so that their eternal destiny is placed "on the line," so to speak, at the present time.

Pilgrims and Strangers

But it is another aspect of this firstborn class on which we would especially like to focus. It is the aspect of their giving up their earthly inheritance, which the church must do, as it accepts instead the heavenly calling—that great hope which is offered in Christ Jesus. If the firstborn class gives up their right to earthly life and privileges, they might be considered as pilgrims and strangers in the land. And indeed that is exactly how the Scriptures describe them!

Peter writes: "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul . . . Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that he should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9, 11).

So let’s take another look at the Passover activities to see what lessons we can find for the New Creature, thinking of it especially from the standpoint of pilgrims and strangers. In the grandest sense of the term, we are running for the prize of the high calling, towards a city whose builder and maker is God. We surely want to be keenly interested in any instructions which our Heavenly Father has given that will help us to press on in our pilgrim way.

The Desired Goal

The first thing that a traveler must have firmly in mind is a destination—where is he heading? The Proverbs inform us, "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (29:18). Of the ancient worthies, those outstanding men of faith in the Old Testament, we are told that "they desired a better country, that is, an heavenly"—the city prepared for them (Heb. 11:16). Regarding the children of Israel about to make their momentous exodus from Egypt, it was evident what their destination would be, for it was spoken of by God for many generations: "I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians . . . and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God . . . And I will bring you into the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob" (Exod. 6:6-8). It was the promised land of Canaan, flowing with milk and honey.

But what about the Lord’s people today? What is our long-range goal? Where are we headed? Jesus said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness" (Matt. 6:33). Have we caught this vision of the kingdom, "the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven" (Rev. 21). That the blessed place where God shall wipe away all tears and there shall be no more sorrow or crying, or any more pain? Where the saints of God shall live and reign with Christ the thousand years? (Rev. 20:4-6). If we can but keep before our mental vision this vision of the Kingdom in all its glory, how it will help us endure the hardships of the way. As David expressed it, "I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Psa. 27:13).

Loins Girded

Let us note again the peculiar manner in which the Passover meal was eaten: "with loins girded, shoes on, staff in hand, and eaten in haste" (Exod. 12:11). Let’s consider these one at a time. "Your loins girded." The Living Bible says, "with your traveling clothes on, prepared for a long journey." Literally, the Israelites simply drew up their long skirts and fastened them in their girdles; this had the effect of leaving the legs and knees free for active motion.

What does this mean for us? The Christian pathway is not a flowery bed of ease. It is a long and difficult way (Matt.7:14). We need to be prepared for the long haul, and we need the right outfit to wear, appropriate for our purpose. Pilgrims and strangers are not dressed in party clothes or anything else that will restrict their movement or hinder their progress. They have neither the time nor the inclination to stop for worldly pleasures. Their clothing relects the journey that needs to be completed, the battle of faith that must be carried out.

In another figure, Paul writes, "If ye then be risen with Christ [if we share the same vision of the kingdom with him], seek those things which are above, not on things on the earth" (Col. 3:1, 2). Let us be diligent that we not permit the transitory things of this life, whether it be job or family or earthly goals or anything else, to sidetrack us—to interfere with our making progress along our pilgrim way. Let us remember our Lord’s example, of whom it was written that he set his face like a flint and was not ashamed (Isa. 50:7). He said, "I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened [that is, pressed] till it be accomplished" (Luke 12:50).

Shoes on Feet

The next item was eating the meal with "shoes on your feet." The Living Bible says, "wearing your walking shoes." It is the usual custom of Orientals to remove their shoes when indoors and the ancient Egyptians followed this rule. But the Israelites were not to adhere to the custom of their world. They were to be prepared to leave at once, and needed the proper footwear to tread the difficult path of the wilderness that lay ahead.

Christians also are not conformed to this world, nor to be wearing the slippers or sandals that might picture the comfortable life. We are promised to be led into paths of righteousness with the Lord as our Shepherd. But this does not mean that the going will necessarily be easy. To the contrary we read, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matt. 16:24). Also, "All that live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12). So let us make up our minds to wear our traveling outfit that will protect us from the sometimes harsh environment about us. Perhaps the shoes could also represent our willingness to follow our Lord wherever he leads us, even through the difficult terrain.

Staff in Hand

One other item was mentioned along with the clothing and shoes: they were to eat "with staff in hand." The Living Bible says, "carrying your walking sticks in your hands." Since it must have made eating quite difficult, for God to have required this must have been a rather important item in the collage of instructions intended for us. The staff was used as an aid in walking and perhaps also in guiding the various animals that accompanied them on the exodus. To any outside observer, it would have made it abundantly evident that the Israelites were embarking on a long journey.

The New Creature also has a staff upon which to lean: it is the promises of God that sustain us each and every day of our pilgrimage. The more difficult the way becomes, the more we need the staff and the help that it affords. And so, in pressing on in our Christian way, let us make full use of our staff—the staff that our Lord supplies. Especially in the times that we live, we need every precious promise that the Lord has given. Let us go to the Scriptures, be continuously reminded of our close relationship to the Father and the Son, and be uplifted by their words, so precious to us and needful, let us not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ—"it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1:16). Let it be evident to all that we are using our staff—all along the way.

Eaten in Haste

The Passover meal was eaten in the night time that preceded the deliverance, typifying the night of sin and death. It was to be eaten in haste, for the Israelites were in the land of Egypt, longing for the promised land. They had to be prepared for Moses’ command to assemble and to begin the exodus at a moment’s notice. This was no ordinary meal, with relaxed participants taking part in casual dinner conversation, savoring the food and relishing the occasion. They were to concentrate on the rigors of the journey ahead and not to waste valuable time or be distracted from their mission.

In the antitype, the participants of this meal are to show by their conduct in life that they are indeed pilgrims and strangers in this world. There is little time for the customary frivolities and pleasures of the day. We are not to be conformed to such or be entangled in earthly affairs. Our chief duty is to be concerned with spiritual matters and to prepare ourselves for the kingdom of the Lord.

John tells us, "Love not the world, neither the things in the world" (1 John 2:15); and James adds, "keep [yourselves] unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). Perhaps these admonitions are pictured by eating the Passover meal in haste. The hymn writer also reminds us "to touch lightly the things of this earth, esteeming them only to trifling worth."

Closing Thoughts

In closing, let us look at our pen picture of the pilgrim traveler from a negative standpoint. What would happen if he started out on his journey without any destination or without any preparation? Suppose he did not have on his traveling clothes, good walking shoes, and staff in hand? And, we might add, without a good meal? The results would be predictable and one other item was mentioned along with the clothing and shoes: they were to eat "with staff in hand." The Living Bible says, "carrying your walking sticks in your hands." Since it must have made eating quite difficult, for God to have required this must have been a rather important item in the collage of instructions intended for us. The staff was used as an aid in walking and perhaps also in guiding the various animals that accompanied them on the exodus. To any outside observer, it would have made it abundantly evident that the Israelites were embarking on a long journey.

The New Creature also has a staff upon which to lean: it is the promises of God that sustain us each and every day of our pilgrimage. The more difficult the way becomes, the more we need the staff and the help that it affords. And so, in pressing on in our Christian way, let us make full use of our staff—the staff that our Lord supplies. Especially in the times that we live, we need every precious promise that the Lord has given. Let us go to the Scriptures, be continuously reminded of our close relationship to the Father and the Son, and be uplifted by their words, so precious to us and needful, let us not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ—"it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1:16). Let it be evident to all that we are using our staff—all along the way.

The verses of the well-known hymn, Way-Worn Pilgrim, sum it up well:

I saw a way-word traveler
In tattered garments clad,
Yet struggling up the mountain,
His face would make you glad.
His back was laden heaven,
His strength was almost gone.
He shouted as he journeyed,
Deliverance will come.

The summer sun was shining,
The sweat was on his brow,
His garments worn and dusty,
His step seemed very slow;

But he kept pressing onward,
For he was wending home,
Still shouting as he journeyed,
Deliverance will come.

I saw him in the evening;
The sun was bending low,
He’d overtopped the mountain,
And reached the vale below;
He saw the golden city—
His everlasting home—
And shouted loud, Hosanna,
Deliverance has come!

I heard the song of triumph
They sang upon that shore,
Saying, Jesus has redeemed us,
From death forevermore;
Then casting his eyes backward
On the race which he had run,
He shouted loud, Hosanna,
Deliverance has come!