When did the Israelites celebrate the Passover?

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By BibleAsk Team


The Passover is one of the most significant feasts in the Jewish tradition, commemorating the Israelites’ liberation from Egyptian slavery. It is a central event in the history of Israel and is celebrated annually. The celebration of Passover is described in detail in the Bible, particularly in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua. Here, we will explore when the Israelites celebrated the Passover, using references from the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible.

The First Passover in Egypt

The origin of the Passover celebration dates back to the final plague in Egypt, when God struck down the firstborn of every Egyptian family but passed over the homes of the Israelites who had marked their doorposts with lamb’s blood.

Exodus 12:1-14 (NKJV):

“Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, ‘This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: “On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man’s need you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat it raw, nor boiled at all with water, but roasted in fire—its head with its legs and its entrails. You shall let none of it remain until morning, and what remains of it until morning you shall burn with fire. And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord. Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.”‘

The Passover was instituted by God as a perpetual ordinance for the Israelites, marking their deliverance from slavery.

The Annual Celebration of Passover

Following their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were commanded to celebrate the Passover annually to remember their deliverance and to teach future generations about God’s mighty acts.

Leviticus 23:4-5 (NKJV):

“These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the Lord’s Passover.”

Numbers 9:1-5 (NKJV):

“Now the Lord spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: ‘Let the children of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time. On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time. According to all its rites and ceremonies you shall keep it.’ So Moses told the children of Israel that they should keep the Passover. And they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month, at twilight, in the Wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so the children of Israel did.”

The observance of Passover was to take place on the fourteenth day of the first month (Nisan) each year, at twilight.

Passover in the Promised Land

After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, the Israelites finally entered the Promised Land. The first Passover celebrated in the Promised Land occurred soon after crossing the Jordan River.

Joshua 5:10-12 (NKJV):

“Now the children of Israel camped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight on the plains of Jericho. And they ate of the produce of the land on the day after the Passover, unleavened bread and parched grain, on the very same day. Then the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year.”

This celebration marked a significant transition from the wilderness provision of manna to eating the produce of the Promised Land.

The 14th of Nisan

The Israelites held the feast of Passover on the 14th of Nisan. They slayed the paschal lamb in the afternoon and ate it with unleavened bread, after sunset that same night, during the first hours of Nisan 15 (Exodus 12:6–14, 29, 33, 42, 51; 13:3–7; Numbers 9:1–5; 33:3; Deuteronomy 16:1–7).

The 15th of Nisan

Nisan 15, a ceremonial sabbath, also marked the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:8, 18, 34, 39; Leviticus 23:5, 6; Numbers 28:16, 17; Deuteronomy 16:3, 4, 8). The feast activity continued through the 21st, the 15th and 21st of Nisan being celebrated as sabbaths irrespective of the days of the week on which they might fall (Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 23:6, 7).

The 16th of Nisan

On Nisan 16, the second day of this feast, the wave sheaf of the first fruits was offered in the Temple (Leviticus 23:10–14). The term “Passover” was first used to point only to Nisan 14, but during the period of Christ it was sometimes used of the Feast of Unleavened Bread also (Luke 22:7; Act 12:3,4)(Antiquities ii. 14. 6; xi. 4. 8; xiv. 2. 1 [311–313; 109–111; 21]; xvii. 9. 3; War ii. 1. 3; v. 3. 1 [10; 99]). The services of the 14th to the 16th day of the feast were regarded as the most important.

The 17th of Nisan

On the 17th, those who had come up to Jerusalem to attend the feast were allowed to return to their homes if they want to do so. However, the devout among the Israelites kept the requirements of the ceremonial law and remained for the period of the whole feast rather than only for the least time obligatory by the rabbis.

Passover During the Monarchy

During the reign of King Hezekiah, Passover was celebrated with great zeal as part of a national religious reform.

2 Chronicles 30:1-5 (NKJV):

“And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, to keep the Passover to the Lord God of Israel. For the king and his leaders and all the assembly in Jerusalem had agreed to keep the Passover in the second month. For they could not keep it at the regular time, because a sufficient number of priests had not consecrated themselves, nor had the people gathered together at Jerusalem. And the matter pleased the king and all the assembly. So they resolved to make a proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, that they should come to keep the Passover to the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem, since they had not done it for a long time in the prescribed manner.”

King Hezekiah’s efforts led to a significant and widespread observance of Passover, even though it was celebrated in the second month instead of the first due to the circumstances.

Another notable Passover celebration took place during the reign of King Josiah, who also initiated religious reforms.

2 Chronicles 35:1-19 (NKJV):

“Now Josiah kept a Passover to the Lord in Jerusalem, and they slaughtered the Passover lambs on the fourteenth day of the first month. And he set the priests in their duties and encouraged them for the service of the house of the Lord. Then he said to the Levites who taught all Israel, who were holy to the Lord: ‘Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, built. It shall no longer be a burden on your shoulders. Now serve the Lord your God and His people Israel. Prepare yourselves according to your fathers’ houses, according to your divisions, following the written instruction of David king of Israel and the written instruction of Solomon his son. And stand in the holy place according to the divisions of the fathers’ houses of your brethren the lay people, and according to the division of the father’s house of the Levites. So slaughter the Passover offerings, consecrate yourselves, and prepare them for your brethren, that they may do according to the word of the Lord by the hand of Moses.’ Then Josiah gave the lay people lambs and young goats from the flock, all for Passover offerings for all who were present, to the number of thirty thousand, as well as three thousand cattle; these were from the king’s possessions. And his leaders gave willingly to the people, to the priests, and to the Levites. Hilkiah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, rulers of the house of God, gave to the priests for the Passover offerings two thousand six hundred from the flock, and three hundred cattle. Also Conaniah, his brothers Shemaiah and Nethanel, and Hashabiah and Jeiel and Jozabad, chief of the Levites, gave to the Levites for Passover offerings five thousand from the flock, and five hundred cattle. So the service was prepared, and the priests stood in their places, and the Levites in their divisions, according to the king’s command. And they slaughtered the Passover offerings; and the priests sprinkled the blood with their hands, while the Levites skinned the animals. Then they removed the burnt offerings that they might give them to the divisions of the fathers’ houses of the lay people, to offer to the Lord, as it is written in the Book of Moses. And so they did with the cattle. Also they roasted the Passover offerings with fire according to the ordinance; but the other holy offerings they boiled in pots, in caldrons, and in pans, and divided them quickly among all the lay people. Then afterward they prepared portions for themselves and for the priests, because the priests, the sons of Aaron, were busy in offering burnt offerings and fat until night; therefore the Levites prepared portions for themselves and for the priests, the sons of Aaron. And the singers, the sons of Asaph, were in their places, according to the command of David, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun the king’s seer. Also the gatekeepers were at each gate; they did not have to leave their position, because their brethren the Levites prepared portions for them. So all the service of the Lord was prepared the same day, to keep the Passover and to offer burnt offerings on the altar of the Lord, according to the command of King Josiah. And the children of Israel who were present kept the Passover at that time, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days. There had been no Passover kept in Israel like that since the days of Samuel the prophet; and none of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as Josiah kept, with the priests and the Levites, all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah this Passover was kept.”

Passover After the Babylonian Exile

After the Babylonian exile, the returning exiles reinstituted the celebration of Passover as part of their reestablishment of worship in Jerusalem.

Ezra 6:19-22 (NKJV):

“And the descendants of the captivity kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves; all of them were ritually clean. And they slaughtered the Passover lambs for all the descendants of the captivity, for their brethren the priests, and for themselves. Then the children of Israel who had returned from the captivity ate together with all who had separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land in order to seek the Lord God of Israel. And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy; for the Lord made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.”

Passover in the New Testament

In the New Testament, Jesus Himself celebrated the Passover with His disciples, which became known as the Last Supper. This event is significant as it precedes His crucifixion and establishes the foundation for the Christian practice of Communion.

Matthew 26:17-19 (NKJV):

“Now on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, ‘Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?’ And He said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, “The Teacher says, ‘My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.”

Luke 22:7-8 (NKJV):

“Then came the Day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed. And He sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat.'”

The celebration of Passover by Jesus and His disciples underscores its enduring significance and its fulfillment in Christ.

Conclusion

The Israelites celebrated Passover as a perpetual reminder of their deliverance from Egypt and God’s faithfulness. From its institution in Egypt, through the wilderness, into the Promised Land, during the monarchy, after the exile, and into the New Testament, Passover has remained a cornerstone of Jewish faith and practice. It is observed annually on the fourteenth day of the first month, Nisan, in accordance with God’s command. This celebration is not only a historical commemoration but also a deeply spiritual observance that connects past, present, and future generations in a shared experience of God’s salvation and deliverance.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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