Friday, May 6
Exodus 5: The proclamation, “Thus says the Lord” (cf. also Exodus 32:27), places Moses squarely in the prophetic tradition. This is, in fact, the Bible’s first great encounter of a prophet with a king, an encounter that will be repeated with the likes of Nathan and David, Elijah and Ahab, Isaiah and Ahaz, Amos and Jeroboam II, Jeremiah and Zedekiah, Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, John the Baptist and Antipas, Paul and Agrippa. It is instructive to remember that, on the sole occasion when Abraham was called a prophet, it was in connection with a local ruler in the Negev; cf. Genesis 20:7.
The source of Pharaoh’s problem is that he does not “know the Lord” (verse 2). Before much longer, nonetheless, he will have ample opportunity to make the Lord’s acquaintance; cf. Exodus 8:22; 9:29. Moses’ encounter with such a man may be compared to David’s confrontation with Goliath, who also did not “know the Lord”; cf. 1 Samuel 17:45-47.
Pharaoh reacts “that same day,” taking the initiative away from Moses and Aaron, thereby making them look inept in the eyes of the Israelites (verses 4-9). “Thus says the Lord” now becomes “thus says Pharaoh” (verses 10-14). Here there is a series of complaints: the overseers to the foremen, the foremen to Pharaoh, Pharaoh to the foremen, the foremen to Moses, Moses to God. Pharaoh’s tactic is to divide the people that he wants to oppress. He does not discredit Moses directly; he acts, rather, in such a way that the people themselves will turn on Moses.
The scene in verses 15-21 will be repeated many times in the next 40 years. On each occasion when things do not go well, the people will blame Moses. And when the people blame Moses, Moses will often enough blame God, as he proceeds to do now.
John 3:22-36: The position of this section of John may have been determined by the earlier reference to Baptism in 3:5. The Evangelist now returns to John the Baptist for the last time.
The reference to Jesus baptizing does not mean that He did so with His own hands. From 4:2 we will learn that Jesus’ apostles normally performed this rite. It is not easy to determine the exact nature of this baptism, and it is difficult to affirm that it was the Christian sacrament of Baptism of which John the Baptist had spoken earlier (1:33), because the Holy Spirit will not be conferred on the Church until much later in this Gospel. However, there is no need to be apodictic on the nature of the baptism here in John 3; we may leave the question as unclear as the Evangelist leaves it.
The place named in verse 23 is not identified with certainty, though we presume John’s earliest readers recognized it. The name means “springs,” which suggests that it was not a site on the banks of the Jordan. Some archeologists identify it with a site in Samaria. If true, of course, it indicates that John the Baptist had some following among the Samaritans.
In verse 24 the Evangelist presumes his readers’ familiarity with the story of the death of John the Baptist (cf. Mark 6:17-29).
Verse 25 indicates the context of the words of John the Baptist. It is clear that controversies about Jewish cleansing rituals were not uncommon (cf. Mark 7:1-5).
The disciples of John the Baptist were understandably disturbed that the prestige of their leader was being eclipsed by the growing notoriety of Jesus. In answering them, John the Baptist again affirmed his own preparatory and subordinate role with respect to Jesus. He knew the ministry and task given him from heaven and dared not attempt to transcend the limits of his vocation (verse 27). Jesus, as the Messiah (verse 28), was the bride’s groom, whereas John was only His best man (verse 29).
We have here the first instance of what is a veritable mystique of the voice of Christ in the Gospel according to John.
Saturday, May 7
Exodus 6: Here commences God’s response to Moses’ complaint in chapter 5, and the major message is one of reassurance. God recalls his covenant with the patriarchs, to whom He was also obliged to give reassurance from time to time. God’s covenant with them has now been perfected by the revelation of God’s mysterious Name (cf. Ezekiel 20:5-7). Everything that Moses is to tell the people is summed up in the revelation of the Divine Name.
In verses 14-27 we find another genealogy, of which there were so many in Genesis, and many more of which will be found in the rest of Holy Scripture. Although modern readers may be disposed to skip such passages as uninteresting, they were certainly important to the biblical writers, not least because they helped give structure to the continuity of the narrative. In this case the genealogy serves to relate the founding of Israel’s priestly family, the established priesthood being one of Israel’s principal defining institutions. In biblical thought, salvation is not a purely individual thing; it is intimately linked, rather, to certain prescriptive institutions and authoritative ministries, and priesthood, as one of these, involves a proper succession. Proper succession is also a requirement of Christian ordination, a point that was argued strongly before the end of the first century; cf. Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians 40-44.
John 4:1-26: The three-days’ walk through Samaria was the shortest way of making the trip between Jerusalem and Galilee. Luke records that Jesus took that route, but in that instance the Samaritans did not receive Him favorably (Luke 9:51-53). We should observe that only John, among the evangelists, tells of a ministry of Jesus to the Samaritans.
The well is identified with the town Sychar, known today as Askar. (The well is still there and well known; it lies between Gell el-Balatah and Askar.) Jesus sat down beside the well (pege), though one papyrus manuscript says that He sat “on the ground” (ge).
What Jesus did next was nearly unthinkable in the social context of that time. A Jew, He spoke to a Samaritan. A man, He spoke in private to a woman who was not His relative. A Jew would normally never have drunk from the defiled water pot of a Samaritan. In the context envisioned by John, this whole story has the ring of improbability, not to say shock and scandal.
He asks her for a drink, and she is appropriately shocked. In response, Jesus speaks of living water—hydor zon. This was a common metaphor in the Hebrew Bible, signifying Wisdom, divine grace poured out in the last days, the Holy Spirit, and so forth.
Sunday, May 8
Exodus 7: Moses will be the wonderworker, and Aaron the speaker. (As a matter of irony, however, we will find Moses doing almost all the talking, while Aaron extends the wonderworking rod.) Deed and word go together in the Bible, as in any fine drama. Speaking and doing are the two components of God’s revelation. Indeed, these two things sum up the whole activity of Jesus and the Apostles (cf. Mark 6:30; 1 Thessalonians 1:5).
What is described in verses 8-13 is not one of the plagues, but it is the beginning of a prolonged test of wills and skills. Pharaoh is not much impressed with Moses, since his own people demonstrate comparable skills. After his initial retaliation, however, Pharaoh will never again be in a position to retaliate. Moses and Aaron will keep him on the defensive, with his hands full of trouble. The most he can hope for from any encounter is to break even, and gradually this too will be taken from him.
The first plague is most serious, because the Nile has always been the foundation of the entire Egyptian agricultural and mercantile economy. Pharaoh’s response is very humorous. After all, the last thing Pharaoh needs right now is another display of water-to-blood skills in Egypt!
John 4:27-45: The high point of Jesus’ identification, in this discussion with the Samaritan woman, is the Ego eimi of verse 36. These are the words from the Burning Bush, and they appear in the context of God’s revelation. John’s expression, “I am, the one who speaks to you,” comes very close to the Lord’s words in Isaiah 52:6 (LXX)—Ego eimi avtos ho lalon: “I am, the very One who speaks.”
In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ auto-identification as “I am” is the culminating point of a discussion that has been centered around the question of who He is. He is both the Messiah and the One who spoke from the Burning Bush.
It is at this point that the Lord’s disciples return, and the woman quickly departs, leaving her water pitcher, rather like the disciples earlier left their nets. Since John explicitly mentions this point, it seems likely that she left the water jar so that Jesus might drink from it.
She runs to tell her fellow citizens what has occurred. “Come,” she invites her friends, “see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (4:29).
Two points may be noted here:
First, the woman’s tentative question—“Could this be the Christ?”—bears substantially the same message that Philip bore to Nathanael: “We have found Him of whom Moses wrote in the Law, and also the prophets—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (1:45).
Second, the woman’s identification of Jesus as an anthropos ties this story to the Lord’s Passion. Jesus will be identified later by Pilate as “Man”—“Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And [Pilate] said to them, “Behold the Man!” (19:5).
This is one of the places where John ties the story of the Samaritan well to the Lord’s Passion, as Celano perceived. Another is John 6:14—“Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ But they cried out, ‘Away, away! Crucify Him!’” In John, both this meeting with the Samaritan woman and the Lord’s crucifixion take place at the same time—midday.
Jesus continues His discussion with the newly arrived disciples: In the meantime His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know.” Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him something to eat?”
The failure of the disciples to understand the statement on food corresponds to the woman’s inability to understand the statement about living water, as well as Nicodemus’s misunderstanding the necessity of being born again. Jesus must be more explicit with them: “My food is that I shall do the will of Him who sent Me, and that I shall complete His work.” This is a summary of Jesus’ whole life and ministry.
In the next verse Jesus cites what was evidently a proverb about the distance between sowing and harvest: “There are still four months and the harvest comes.” In His mouth, however, it becomes a parable about God’s sowing and harvesting. Jesus is telling the disciples to keep alert: They are about to see a harvest. In fact, as John well knew when he wrote of this scene, Samaria was to become an important step in the Gospel’s promulgation throughout the world (Acts 8). Indeed, John himself would be sent to Samaria to confirm the work of Philip’s evangelism.
These words about a prior sowing in the north country probably refer, as well, to the ancient ministry of the prophets up there: Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Hosea. The Christian preachers will reap the fruit of their sowing.
During the time that Jesus stays with the Samaritans, they come to a mature faith in Him, no longer dependent on the testimony of the woman at the well. At the end of the story, the woman’s Samaritan friends add another important Christological title: “We know that this is in truth the Savior of the world” (4:42).
This confession of the Samaritans—“Savior of the world”—forms a summary, as it were, of John’s reflections on the discourse with Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” That is to say, the conversion of the Samaritans is an important step in the evangelization of the whole world.
Monday, May 9
Exodus 8: There are several obvious connections among the various plagues. Here, for instance, there is a great multitude of frogs, because their natural habitat, the water, has become contaminated.
Even though this second plague is not as harmful as the first, we will see Pharaoh begin to weaken. Obviously this second plague has gotten his attention. For all that, it may be thought of a “nuisance plague,” perhaps putting one in mind of Elijah’s mocking of the prophets of Baal prior to doing them the real damage (1 Kings 18:20-40).
Once again Pharaoh’s magicians, still a bit “unclear on the concept,” demonstrate that the bringing forth of frogs is also within their power—as though Egypt was suffering a shortage of available frogs!
Pharaoh’s reaction is new; he is starting to recognize that Moses is not a nobody. Pharaoh is going to test if Moses is really a spokesman for God. As will be very much the case later in the Exodus narrative, Moses is presented as a man given to intercessory prayer. Here he tells Pharaoh to “pick the time,” and Pharaoh, remembering that the previous plague lasted a week, prudently picks the next day! In this plague (verses 9-10), as in the previous one, mention is made of the outrageous stench afflicting the nation. The third and fourth plagues are clearly related to the death of all the frogs, which are the natural predators of insects.
Although Pharaoh will once again harden his heart, we at last see in him some disposition to negotiate. He starts to make some concessions that Moses will reject as inadequate. Since the Israelites and the other Semites were accustomed to sacrifice certain animals unacceptable to the Hamites, including Egyptians, however, Moses insists that the people be allowed to leave Egypt to perform these sacrifices. Moses still has a “hidden agenda,” of course, as does Pharaoh. There is no reason either man should trust the other.
Psalms 25 (Greek and Latin 24): In virtually all the traditional Eucharistic rites used by Christians, both East and West—-going back to the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus near the beginning of the third century—when the celebrant commences the central Eucharistic benediction (corresponding to the Hebrew berakah), he turns to the congregation to exhort them to intensify their prayer: “Let us lift up our hearts!” (Ano skomen tas kardias is the lovely Greek original.) In the ancient Latin version, this exhortation becomes more succinct: Sursum corda, “Hearts up!” A congregation of elevated hearts is the proper context for that great act known simply as “The Thanksgiving,” Eucharistia (the celebrant’s next line being “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!”).
Psalm 25, which begins with the lifting up of the heart, goes on to elaborate what this means: It is a prayer for guidance and deliverance. Confused by the “mixed signals” of life in this world, the believer petitions, “Show me Your ways, O Lord, and teach me Your paths. Lead me by Your truth.” Surrounded by perils on every side, the believer prays, “Behold how many are my enemies, and with an unjust hatred have they hated me. Guard my soul and deliver me, that I may not be put to shame, for in You have I placed my hope.”
Tuesday, May 10
Exodus 9: The matter of the livestock had been introduced in connection with the previous plague, as well as the Lord’s protection of the Israelites from all the plagues. This latter is particularly important. God is already beginning to separate Israel from Egypt, and this separate treatment will continue till its culmination on the night of Pascha.
As the Hebrew word ’aba‘bu‘oth (verses 8-12) appears nowhere else in the Bible, the exact nature of these sores is obscure. The Greek word in the Septuagint text, helkos, means any sort of wound, abscess, or ulcer. We observe that at last the magicians retire, no longer able even to put in an appearance in Pharaoh’s court.
Exodus 9:16 is quoted as part of St. Paul’s famous treatment of the dialectic of salvation history; cf. Romans 9:17. It is one of the greatest misfortunes of theological history that some later commentators, abstracting this passage from its context and inserting it into philosophical speculations about divine predestination and foreknowledge, reached certain conclusions unwarranted by the Scriptures—at odds with the traditional teaching of the Church, and unknown to the earlier, classical commentators on Romans (such as St. John Chrysostom). It is important to insist that the argument in Romans 9 is not about individual salvation; it is about the historical relations of Israel to the Church. There is nothing in this passage to infer that Pharaoh (or Esau) was predestined to be damned.
Since verse 6 states that all the cattle of the Egyptians had perished anyway, some question may arise with regard to the cattle mentioned in verse 19. Obviously the inspired biblical writer is not interested in problems like this, a fact perhaps suggesting that we shouldn’t be, either.
While some of the other plagues, such as insect infestations, visit Egypt occasionally even in normal times, a hailstorm in northeast Africa is a truly rare thing (verse 23). Accompanied by a frightening display of lightning and thunder, this one proves too much for Pharaoh, and for the first time he admits his sin. Alas, his repentance does not outlast the plague that inspired it.
Verses 31-32 are our only indication with respect to the time of the plagues, suggesting the month of January, before the appearance of the winter wheat.
Wednesday, May 11
Exodus 10: To an agricultural economy, few things are more frightening than a visitation of locusts, which can reduce all plant life, over many square miles, to absolute ground level in a matter of hours (cf. the first chapter of Joel).
In three respects this is the most effective of the plagues to date: (1) Pharaoh’s servants, who had begun in support of him, and had come to see themselves bested (8:15), and had then retired from the combat (9:11), now come out to make a common plea with Moses against Pharaoh; (2) Pharaoh, for the first time, offers to release the Israelite men even before the plague starts; (3) Pharaoh himself asks for forgiveness. Even though the king’s heart is still hardened, the inspired author takes note of the progress.
In Egypt the sun god, Re, held a special prominence, so this plague of darkness is freighted with special theological significance; the Lord is in earnest doing battle with the gods of Egypt. The three days of darkness here should be seen as a type of the three hours of darkness that covered the earth on that afternoon when the new Moses did battle with the most ancient of the pharaohs of our slavery, himself the Prince of Darkness (Mark 15:33). There on Calvary, as here, the plague of darkness immediately precedes the death of the Firstborn Son.
Psalm 38 (Greek and Latin 37): This is one of the rougher parts of the Psalter, and its thematic conjunction of sin and suffering is also the manifest key to its meaning.
Suffering and death enter the world with sin. To humanity’s first sinners the Lord said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow,” and “Cursed is the ground for your sake” (Gen. 3:16, 17). So close is the Bible’s joining of suffering to sin that some biblical characters (such as Job’s friends and the questioning disciples in John 9:2) entertained the erroneous notion that each instance of suffering was brought about by certain specific sins.
Like Psalm 6, the present psalm commences with a prayer for deliverance from divine anger: “O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your wrath, nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure.” Already the poet feels overwhelming pain which he describes, whether literally or by way of metaphor, in the most physical terms: “Your arrows pierce me deeply, and Your hand presses me down.” What he suffers comes from sin and the response of the divine wrath, from which he begs to be delivered: “There is no soundness in my flesh, because of Your anger, nor any health in my bones because of my sin.” The equation: sin = wrath of God.
Whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual—or all of them together—what we suffer in this life are the incursions of death, and death is simply sin becoming incarnate and dwelling among us, for “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
Such is the essential conviction of our prayer in this psalm: “For my iniquities are gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds are foul and festering because of my folly.”
The proper response to sin and suffering? Confession of sins and the sustained cultivation of repentance, for “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Thus we pray in this psalm: “For I am ready to fall, and my sorrow is continually (tamid ) before me. For I will declare my iniquity; I will be in anguish over my sin.” Notwithstanding a widespread heresy that says otherwise, repentance (metanoia) is not something done once, and all finished; according to one of the last petitions of the litany, it is something to be perfected (ektelesai ) until the end of our lives. This sorrow for sin, says our psalm, is continual, ongoing (tamid). Every suffering we are given in this life is a renewed call to repentance. Every pain is, as it were, the accusing finger of Nathan: “You are the man” (2 Sam. 12:7).
Psalm 38 is not the happiest of psalms, but it is exceedingly salubrious to the spirit. If its message can be summed up in one line, that line may well be David’s response to Nathan: “I have sinned against the Lord.” These words make all the difference, because, as another psalm insists, “a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Over and over the tax collector “beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13)
Sin is also the great solvent of our relationships to one another. As is clear in the accounts of the first sins (Gen. 3:11–13; 4:12), sin means isolation and alienation. Sin separates us, not only from God, but also from one another. Our psalm speaks of this isolation: “My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague. And my relatives stand afar off.”
We are not talking about morbidity here. Contrition and sorrow in this psalm are accompanied by repeated sentiments of longing: “I groan because of the turmoil of my heart. Lord, all my desire is before You; and my sighing is not hidden from You. My heart pants, my strength fails me. . . . For in You, O Lord, I hope; You will hear, O Lord my God.”
Finally, there are the enemies. As I have insisted all through these meditations, the demons are the only enemies of the man who correctly prays the Book of Psalms. Nowhere does Holy Scripture exhort us to forgive or pity the demons. They are the only true enemies that our prayer recognizes. Unlike human enemies who are to be prayed for, the demons are always to be prayed against. Our fight with them is unsleeping, as is their fight with us, plotting our ruin: “Those also who seek my life lay snares for me; those who seek my hurt speak of destruction, and plan deception all the day long.”
Thursday, May 12
Exodus 11: Commenting on this “borrowing” from the Egyptians by Israel, one observes two preoccupations among the Fathers of the Church: (1) their concern lest anyone think that this action on Israel’s part was to be copied as a moral example. Some of the Fathers took care to point out that the Israelites were, in fact, slaves and, as such, entitled to just remuneration for their coerced labor, and (2) their insistence that the silver and gold that the Israelites took from the Egyptians was to be understood allegorically, as representing the philosophical and cultural riches of Egypt. Thus, they used this example to justify the Christian use of classical pagan philosophy, law, and cultural ideals.
This allegorical interpretation is not far-fetched; indeed, it is rooted in historical fact. Israel did, indeed, take from Egypt a massive inheritance of philosophy, law, literature, and other cultural wealth. Their own Semitic culture had become enormously enriched by their extensive sojourn in northeast Africa, surrounded by one of the oldest and richest civilizations the world has ever seen. Alas, however, so many of these trinkets would eventually be used in the construction of the golden calf, a fact indicating the dangers inherent in any “borrowing” from the world.
In some sense, Moses and Aaron will now be “out of the picture.” The final and decisive plague will involve no activity on their part. This work will be accomplished without human mediation of any kind; the Lord will use only the angelic ministry. The chapter ends by saying that Moses and Aaron had done all they could do to prevent what was about to befall Egypt.
Doubtless this is what accounts for the anger of Moses as he leaves Pharaoh’s presence for the last time. Sign after sign had been ignored by an inveterately stubborn man seemingly intent on his country’s destruction, and the inspired biblical author stands amazed at such hardness of heart. (Compare St. John’s bewildered comments on the later hardness of heart that could not be softened by the many “signs” done by Jesus; cf. John 12:37-41.)
Psalm 37 (Greek and Latin 36): If we think of prayer as speaking to God, this psalm appears at first to challenge the very notion of the psalms as prayers, inasmuch as not a single word of it is explicitly addressed to God. It speaks about God, of course, but never to Him, at least not overtly.
It is obvious that Psalm 37 has close ties to the Bible’s Wisdom tradition. If it were not part of the Psalter, we would expect to find it in Proverbs or one of the other Wisdom books. It appears to be a kind of discourse given by a parent to a child, or a wise man to a disciple. It is full of sound and godly counsel: “Fret not thyself because of evildoers . . . Trust in the Lord and do good . . . Cease from anger and forsake wrath . . . Wait on the Lord and keep His way,” and so forth. Such admonitions, along with the psalm’s allied warnings and promises, are stock material of the Wisdom literature.
So how does one pray such a psalm? To begin with, by respecting its tone, which is one of admonition, warning, and promise. Surely prayer is talking to God, but it also involves listening to God, and this is a psalm in which one will do more listening than talking. It is a psalm in which the believer prays by placing his heart open and receptive to God’s word of admonition, warning, and promise.
One may likewise think of Psalm 37 as the soul speaking to itself: “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him . . . But the meek shall inherit the earth . . . The little that the righteous has is better than the riches of many wicked . . . The Lord knows the days of the upright . . . The Law of his God is in his heart,” and so on. The human soul, after all, is not of simple construction. The great thinkers who have examined the soul over many centuries seem all to agree that it is composed of parts, and sometimes these parts are at odds one with another. This mixture of conflicting experiences in the soul leads one to utter such petitions as, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” It is one part of the soul praying for the other.
In this psalm, one part of the soul admonishes the other, reminds the other, cautions the other, encourages the other. And this inner conversation of the human spirit all takes place in the sight of God, the Giver of wisdom.
This inner discussion is rendered necessary because of frequent temptations to discouragement. As far as empirical evidence bears witness, the wicked do seem, on many occasions, to be better off than the just. By the standards of this world, they prosper.
Our psalm is at pains to insist, however, that this prosperity is only apparent, in the sense that it will certainly be short-lived. As regards the workers of iniquity, “they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb . . . For evildoers shall be cut off . . . For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be . . . For the arms of the wicked shall be broken . . . The transgressors shall be cut off together.”
The suffering lot of the just man is likewise temporary and of brief duration. He need only wait on the Lord in patience and trust: “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He will give thee the desires of thy heart. Commit your way unto the Lord, and trust in Him, and He shall bring it to pass . . . But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord; He is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord will help them and deliver them; He will deliver them from the wicked and save them, because they trust in Him.”
This, then, is a psalm of faith and confidence in God, without which there is no Christian prayer. It is also faith and hope under fire, exposed to struggle and the endurance that calls for patience. After all, “faith is the substance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1), and “We were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope . . . But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (Rom. 8:24, 25). Our psalm is a meditative lesson on not being deceived by appearances, and a summons to wait patiently for God’s deliverance.
Friday, May 13
Exodus 12: There are four features especially to be noted about this important text, which interrupts the narrative sequence in order to place the whole into a more theological and liturgical context:
First, the paschal lamb is an example of “substitutionary” sacrifice; like the ram that had replaced Isaac on Mount Moriah in Genesis 22:13, the paschal lamb’s life is given in place of the lives of Israel’s first born sons.
Second, there is nothing in the text to suggest that this sacrifice is “expiatory.” That is, unlike certain other biblical sacrifices, such as those associated with Yom Kippur, the sacrifice of the paschal lamb is not made in reparation for sins. Moreover, the Old Testament provides not a single example of an animal being sacrificed in place of a human being whose sin was serious enough to merit death.
Third, the blood of this paschal lamb is sprinkled at certain points of the houses of those who are “redeemed.” This sprinkling is explicitly said to be a “sign” of covenant protection, parallel to the rainbow in the covenant with Noah in Genesis 9:12-17 and circumcision in the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17:19-27.
Fourth, because this paschal lamb was a type or symbol of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7), it was fitting that the meal celebrating the new covenant in His blood should be inaugurated in the setting of the paschal seder (cf. Luke 22:15-20).
The “this day” of verse 14 is the fifteenth day of the month Nisan, but it includes the night of Pascha. Pascha itself was to be the first liturgical day of an entire “week of sabbaths,” that is, seven days of rest and festival continuing the celebration, during which Israel could eat unleavened bread as on Pascha itself. More regulations relative to this weeklong feast are to be found in 13:3-10. In the New Testament the two terms, Pascha and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, are used almost interchangeably.
After the lengthy and detailed instructions that prepare for it, the tenth plague is narrated very succinctly, to great dramatic effect. The Exodus itself follows at once. In the writings of the New Testament, the event especially served as a prefiguration and type of redemption, including all of the events narrated of that great week, both His death for our sins and His rising again for our justification.
So important was the liturgical observance of Pascha to the life of the early Christians that one of the major and most heated controversies of the second century Church concerned the proper dating of the feast. In spite of a venerable tradition held in Ephesus and the other churches of Asia Minor, it was finally determined that Pascha would always be celebrated on a Sunday, a rule that has been maintained by all Christians since the fourth century.
In verses 43-50 we find more regulations relative to the preparation of the Seder of Pascha. As was noted above, there was no disagreement among the early Christians with respect to the deeper meaning of the paschal lamb. Indeed, verse 46 here, about not breaking the bones of the paschal lamb while preparing it, was seen by St. John as a prophecy of the body of Jesus on the cross, in that the soldiers did not break His legs (cf. John 19:36).