The Imagery of Leaven

by Lois Tverberg

Many of the images in the Bible are obvious to us. We understand God as a shepherd, or being under the protection of his wings.

One image that is not readily apparent is that of leaven, at least in the modern world. The regulation that for one week each year all leavening had to be removed from dwellings of the Israelites can baffle Western Christians. What is so negative about the little packets of yeast that we use in bread?

It seems especially odd that to celebrate Passover and the week after, during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it was so necessary to live without yeast. This prohibition is still observed by Jews even until this day.

Learning about food preservation and bread-making in ancient times can help us better understand this imagery. Whenever grain or flour is allowed to get moist, it will acquire a sour taste and get moldy within a few days: the normal process of decay.

This process comes from yeasts and molds in the air that start growing and producing acids. The microbes will also produce carbon dioxide and sometimes alcohol in this process of fermentation. Without steps taken to prevent it, this will always occur over time.

Far back in ancient history someone discovered that at an early point in the process, when the dough is still edible, it can be baked and the acid and bubbles will add texture and flavor to the bread. It normally takes a few days before fermenting and rising occur naturally, but it can be greatly hastened by inoculating the lump of dough with a little of an old lump that has been aging longer.

The tradition started to take out a lump of dough made each day and keep it until the next day, and add to the next batch. Sourdough breads today are still made this way by adding a “starter” dough from an earlier batch. The lump of old dough would become sour and inedible overnight, and if left longer it would become rancid and rotten, but it would be mixed into the new lump of dough to cause it to rise.

Once we see this picture of ancient bread-making, it becomes much more obvious why leavened dough (hametz in Hebrew) became an image of a life contaminated by sin. The decay that would lead to “death” or rottenness was added to each batch.

Without it the dough tends to be sweet, but adding it would give the dough a slightly sour taste that would get stronger and stronger until it was baked. (Ancient breads probably tasted more like sourdough bread.) Think of how sin tends to “sour” our personalities, and also cause us to “puff up” with pride. Eventually, as Adam first found out, sin leads to our decay and death.

Interestingly, we find a motif that seems like original sin: the infection was started in the first lump of dough that was leavened long time ago, like Adam committing the first sin. Each lump of dough after that received its “decay” from the dough made the day before, like sin being transmitted from generation to generation.

Most of the time leaven is a negative image, and Jesus uses it that way when he says “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 16:6). One time, however, he transformed the image to use it in a positive way, to describe the kingdom of heaven. He says that the kingdom of heaven is like leaven, because you can put a very small amount of leavened dough into a very large mass, and it will have a potent effect on the whole thing (Matt 13:33). 

Jesus was describing the powerful effect of the gospel, how even a few faithful believers can transform the world around them. Here he isn’t really referring to the image of decay but the ability of a very small amount of dough to cause a transformation of the whole dough. May we be like leaven in this way!

It’s good to think about what God was saying through leaven, especially around the time of Passover and Easter/Resurrection Day. The most powerful image of leaven is in the Passover meal that Jesus celebrates with his disciples as the Last Supper. When Jesus holds up the bread and says “This is my body” he certainly would have been holding up unleavened bread, or matzah, because the Jews were required to eat the Passover meal with unleavened bread (Deut 16:1-3).

Jesus wasn’t just speaking about his body as bread in general, but as this specific kind of bread, made without leaven, unadulterated by decay. Unlike the rest of humanity, who had been leavened with sin inherited from their fathers, he had not been infected with the “rottenness” that was in the rest of mankind.

By using this image he is saying another thing about himself: that he was fit as a sacrifice because he was free of leaven. All animal sacrifices offered up to God had to be without blemish, and any grain offerings offered up to the Lord by fire had to be free of leaven (Lev. 2:11, 6:17). It seems that when God prohibited his people 1,500 years earlier from eating leaven during Passover, he was thinking ahead to when Jesus would use the bread at the Passover meal to describe himself.

Because he is not leavened with sin, he is a suitable sacrifice, and because he is not infected with decay, he is God’s Holy One who will not see decay and will live on eternally! (Psalm 16:10, Psalm 49:9, Acts 13:34-37).

Paul and the other early Jewish believers understood this picture of leaven. Paul uses this image along with the fact that Passover came on the first day of the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread to describe how Jesus’ sacrifice should enable us to live righteously:

Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor 5:6-8)

May we all live transformed, unleavened lives!

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Photos: joshbousel [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0], Michael W. May [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0], Eczebulun [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Has Da Vinci Painted Our Picture of Jesus?

by Bruce Okkema

Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” has come to be one of the most famous paintings of all time, yet many do not know its original setting. The image has been reproduced countless times the world over, and has become the subject of many paintings itself. 

Because this painting is so well known, it has been highly influential in establishing a picture in our minds of what the last night before Jesus’ death must have been like. Unfortunately it is the wrong picture! Nearly every detail in the picture is culturally inaccurate.

To list just a few: the people in the picture look European, certainly not Semitic. The supper that Jesus was participating in was a Jewish Passover Seder — Pesach in Hebrew. It was always celebrated after sundown, not with the blue sky as we see. These feasts have usually been celebrated with family, so there may have been other women and men dining with them, and children of all ages.

Jesus would have not been seated in the middle of a long table, he would have reclined on a couch or pillow on the floor, leaning on his left elbow. He certainly would not have been eating fish and leavened bread loaves! Rather, he would have been eating lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread as was commanded in Exodus 12. To leave lamb off the menu for Passover is to forget an essential detail of the supper in which Jesus presents himself as the true lamb of Passover.1

At the point in the Seder when Jesus took the bread, broke it and said, “this is my body broken for you” (Luke 22:19), those present would have seen him hold up the unleavened bread, the “bread of affliction” that reminded them of God’s redemption from Egypt. It was free from leaven, representative of sin in this case, just as a pure sacrifice offered at the temple had to be free of leaven. Without that image, we miss the message in Jesus’ powerful words.

Does it matter that we have the wrong picture? It does if we want to understand Jesus — if we want to understand his culture. Our human mind always associates images with our thinking process; in one sense, we think in terms of pictures. If we use the wrong picture, we will likely miss the message, and the story will sound different than intended.

Da Vinci never intended for this painting to become the theological icon that it has become. The peculiar details that he incorporated into the painting (for example, 25 hands for 12 disciples) are the subject of many books, but it is certain that historical accuracy was not his objective.

Ironically, Da Vinci’s painting which has taken Jesus out of his context, has itself has been taken out of context. We usually see the image portrayed as if it were a painting on canvas, when actually it was a mural measuring 15’ x 29’ painted on a wall in the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy.

Da Vinci was commissioned in 1494 by a patron of the town, Duke Ludovico, to paint a fresco in the monk’s dining hall there. Fresco is a technique using water-based paint applied directly to plaster while it is still wet, and requires the artist to work quickly before the plaster dries. Da Vinci simply could not paint this way; he wanted time to consider, to go back weeks, months, or even years later to add things.

So he decided to lay down a surface on the wall that would allow him to work as he usually did.2 He invented a technique of applying a mixture of oil and tempera over two layers of plaster, a technique that unfortunately proved to be unsuccessful. He could not have predicted that these materials would succumb to the attacks of pollution or humidity. Even during Leonardo’s lifetime the irreversible process of deterioration set in and pieces started flaking off the painting.3

The painting has undergone numerous restorations and remarkably survived a bombing raid in August of 1943, when a protective curtain hung over it prevented irreparable damage. Even so, the painting is just a shadow of what it originally was; its now dulling, neutral colors were once vivid and luminous.

As stated earlier, it was commissioned for a dining hall, but because we usually see the image cropped, we don’t realize that it was actually quite ingenious in its original setting.

Da Vinci made it look as though Jesus and his disciples were eating right there with the monks. The table at which the disciples sat was just like the ones the monks used, as were the dishes, the glassware, and even the tablecloth, with its blue embroidery and fringed ends. The architecture in the painting itself is an extension of the real architecture of the room in which it was painted. From the place occupied by the prior of the convent at meal-times, the painting appears as a continuation of the real refectory building, and the figure of Christ seems to offer the elements from the picture to the real spectators outside it. He chose to paint the moment when Jesus had just told his friends that one of them would soon betray him. The disciples were shown reacting in individual ways, with gestures and facial expressions that were very theatrical and full of emotion.4

Da Vinci’s intention was to present a character study, which is one of the reasons the painting took him four years to complete. The final work was preceded by a long series of preparatory drawings which are today in various collections around the world. The figures which gave Leonardo the greatest trouble were those of Christ and Judas, so much so that while the work was in progress, the prior of the convent went to the Ludovico, the Duke who had commissioned the work, to complain because they had not yet even been sketched.

“Perhaps the fathers know how to paint?” retorted Da Vinci to Ludovico. “How can they judge an artistic creation? For one whole year I have gone every day, morning and evening, to the Borghetto, where the scum of humanity live, to find a face that will express the villainy of Judas, and I have not yet found it. Perhaps I could take as a model the prior who has been complaining about me to your Excellency.”5

Understanding that Jesus was celebrating the Passover meal is critical for understanding how he fulfills its promises of redemption, and brings it to a new level in the lives of his followers. From the time Abraham told Isaac in Genesis 22:8 that “God himself will provide the lamb for the offering, my son” until now, the story of God’s redemption is the story that we have to get right.

Telling the story of how God himself redeemed his people out of Egypt, gave the covenant, and dwelled among them — all of this is commemorated during the Seder. It is vital to understanding Jesus and his ministry as the great fulfillment of that first act of redemption by God. The story is all about the sacrifice, the covenantal meal, blessing, teaching, and making disciples. This needs to be conveyed accurately in words and in pictures for those who come behind us to know the truth.

When you consider the impact that Da Vinci’s wrong picture has had in etching our picture of Jesus, intentionally or not, you can realize the seriousness of taking things out of context. Along with this, due to the innumerable “restorations” and re-paintings of Da Vinci’s work over 500 years, we cannot even be sure that what we see today is what he actually painted.

This scenario has been a great example of what we must not do with scripture. As we are learning and studying we should always be careful to keep things in their historical and cultural context. So as we listen, and dig, and teach, and paint, let us pray for much wisdom so that all those whom we disciple will hear a story, and see a picture that is bright, and clear, and true.

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1 Dwight A. Pryor, “Misconceptions about Jesus and the Passover” Series by the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, Dayton, Ohio jcstudies.com
2 Diane Stanley, Leonardo Da Vinci, William Morrow & Company, New York, 1996
3 Francesca Romei, Leonardo Da Vinci, Peter Bedrick Books, New York, 1994
4 Diane Stanley, ibid
5 Liana Bortolon, The Life & Times of Leonardo, The Curtis Publishing Company, New York, 1997

Photos: Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], Joyofmuseums [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], BB [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Jesus, the True Lamb of Passover

by Lois Tverberg 

The most important week of the year for Christians is Holy Week, when we remember Jesus’ death and resurrection as the lamb that was sacrificed for our sins. Throughout the year we remind ourselves of Jesus’ atonement when we hold up the bread and wine from the Last Supper and think about Jesus’ body that was broken, and his blood that was shed for us.

Some may wonder why we speak of Jesus as the “lamb” or why he talks about bread as his “body” or of a “new covenant” in his “blood.” The key to unlocking many of these important themes is to realize that they are all aspects of the ancient feast of Passover, which was being fulfilled in a powerful new way that year in Christ.

Passover

Passover was the first and most important of the seven feasts that God commanded his people to celebrate. It was a time of great joy, a commemoration of the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt that marked the beginning of their nation and defined them as God’s people. Christians may not realize that Jews still consider the exodus God’s greatest act of salvation in the Scriptures. It was at this time of thanking God for his redemption that Jesus completed his much greater act of saving his people for all eternity.

Up until the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the central feast of Passover was a lamb which each family sacrificed and ate as part of a sacred meal. In Exodus, the blood of the lamb was daubed on the doorposts of the houses of Israel, to mark them as protected from judgment on Egypt during the plague against the firstborn sons of Egypt.

Interestingly, Jesus, God’s firstborn, was arrested and condemned the night after the Passover meal, just as the firstborn sons of Egypt long ago. His blood protected us, and he himself took on the condemnation which was upon us as it was on the Egyptians.

The Passover lamb was significant in that it was an offering eaten by the worshippers. The fact that the people were allowed to eat the sacrifice signified that it was part of a covenantal meal between them and God.

All Israelites were required to participate. If a person was unable to, he needed to celebrate one month later (Numbers 9:9-13). Throughout the history of Israel, Passover celebrations often signified Israel’s national recommitment to their covenant with God. Now we can see why Jesus uses this time to speak of a “new covenant” — a fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31-34, when God said he would make a new covenant to forgive his people’s sins and give them a new heart to love him.

Passover was also the first night of the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. All leavened food had to be removed from homes to commemorate the exit of the Israelites from Egypt before their bread could rise. Leaven was also understood to be symbolic of sin and was never allowed in sacrifices. Jesus would have been holding a piece of unleavened bread in his hand when he said “This is my body,” signifying his worthiness as a sacrifice.

It is particularly interesting that for thousands of years, Passover has been understood to be both be a remembrance of God’s past salvation, as well as a time to expect God’s future redemption in the Messiah. They saw this as originally coming from a passage in Exodus:

“This same night is a night of watching unto the Lord for all the children of Israel throughout their generations” (Exodus 12:42).

The people of all generations were to watch for God’s final redeemer, the Messiah. Even today a door is opened and a place is set for Elijah, who is expected to announce the coming Messiah. Jesus used this time of great expectancy to proclaim himself as the Messianic King, bringing a new covenant for forgiveness of sins through the atonement by his own blood.

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Further reading:

Our Great Redemption
The Greater Story of Exodus
Who Are You Going to Work For?
Eating at the Lord’s Table
The Imagery of Leaven
The Powerful Imagery of Blood
Longing For Moses

The Lord’s Table as Covenant Meal, written by John Mark Hicks 
He Who Is Coming: The Hidden Afikoman, by Paul Sumner

If you would like to keep learning, En-Gedi also recommends the following articles:

Has DaVinci Painted Our Picture of Jesus?
Repainting Da Vinci Again
The Samaritan Passover
Passover in the Time of Jesus, by Daniel B. Wallace
New Light on Jesus’ Last Week

Photos: En-Gedi Resource Center, A Seder table setting [Public Domain]

Redemption at Passover

by Lois Tverberg

“I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God.” Exodus 6:6-7

The theme of Passover is redemption, when God redeemed his people from slavery from Egypt. We miss the full implications if we don’t understand the ancient meaning of that word. If a man fell into debt and went into slavery, a kinsman would be needed to “buy” him back to freedom. But once the man was redeemed by being “purchased,” his relationship to his redeemer changed. Now he was specifically bound to his redeemer, and he became “his,” only as a close family member, not as a slave. As an example, when Boaz acted as kinsman redeemer to Ruth, she became his wife (Ruth 4:9-10).

God is using this image when He told Moses to say to His people,

`I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. `Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God. (Exodus 6:6-7)

God is saying that He will redeem them as a kinsman would, and purchase them as His own people, forming a relationship so that they would be uniquely His, and He would be their God. This verse is recited every year at Passover to remember the relationship that God began with His people through His redemption.

Each of the four verbs God used in the promise above (bring out, deliver, redeem, and take) is related to one of the four cups of wine used in the Seder meal. The third cup of the Passover meal is called the Cup of Redemption, and was associated with God’s promise, “I will redeem you”. This is the cup that Jesus held up at the last Passover supper, and said was His blood shed to redeem us as His people, in a new covenant for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is describing how through His atoning death, he has “purchased us”, to set us free from slavery to sin and death. By this transaction, we have been brought into a new relationship with Him as His covenantal people. His disciples understood the magnitude of Jesus’ redemptive “purchase” of us and expressed it this way:

…You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 1 Pet 1:18-19

Praise the Lord for the great purchase that He made 2000 years ago, when the cup of suffering became the cup of redemption, when He purchased us as His people. Whenever you think of His death and resurrection, remember that we are not our own, but we are His, bought with a price. That should make us eager to serve our resurrected King, Christ the Lord.

Night of the Lord

Full moon

by Lois Tverberg

That was for the LORD a night of vigil to bring them out of the land of Egypt; that same night is the LORD’s, one of vigil for all the children of Israel throughout the ages. – Exodus 12:42

Full moonThe night of the first Passover must have been one of great emotion for the Israelites. After hundreds of years of not being able to worship their God, they were commanded to sacrifice a lamb to him in their very homes, worship that would be punished by stoning if the Egyptians caught them. They were to eat a great feast like they hadn’t had in years, with their bags packed so that they could leave for freedom after hundreds of years of misery. And in the midst of all their joyous celebration that night, in the distance they could hear great wails of anguish, as Egyptians found their dead firstborn among their animals and children, and even among their leaders. High overhead that night was the full moon, brightening the sky. It was the 15th of Adar, which always falls on a full moon because of its place in the lunar calendar.

Two thousand years later, on that same night of Passover, there was a full moon overhead when Jesus and his disciples got up from the feast in the upper room to head back to their camp site outside of Jerusalem. That night would have been one of mixed emotions for the disciples too – the Death of Firstbornjoy of the traditional Passover feast that was marred by the arguments over who was the greatest, and the ugly scene of finding out that Judas was a traitor. For Jesus, this night was one of great turmoil because he knew that it would be hours until Judas would bring the authorities to arrest him. While his disciples nodded off from plenty of wine and good food, he would sweat drops of blood waiting for his torture and execution.

This year, on the night of Passover, we looked up at the full moon again. We remembered that this was the “night of vigil” and thought of the battle that was fought to redeem us – first as God slew the firstborn of Egypt to let his people go, and as he later slew his own firstborn to set us, his people free.


Photo: Lachlan Donald from Melbourne, Australia and Caroline Léna Becker

God Unleashed

Plagues of Egypt

by Lois Tverberg

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.'” Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.” Exodus 5:1-3

During Moses’ encounters with Pharaoh, God told him to tell Pharaoh that the Israelites needed to take a three-day journey into the desert to worship him (Ex. 3:18, 5:3, 8:27). This is confusing because it sounds as if they are asking for a long weekend off, and then they’ll come back. But in fact, in no place does Moses say that they will return afterward.

Another suggestion is that the phrase “three-day journey” is actually not about the length of time they plan to be away, but the distance they need to travel from Egypt before they worship God. In the Scripture, measuring distance in “days of journey” was common. (See Gen 31:33, Num 10:33, Deut 11:1, 1Ki 19:4, etc.) Moses was likely saying that people must be far away from the false Plagues of Egypt“gods” and oppression of Egypt before they worshipped God, or their awesome God might release plagues and destruction. The Egyptians were the ones in danger!

It seems that Pharaoh was undaunted by Moses’ warnings about the power of his God, and he refused to let the Israelites go a safe distance from Egypt. It is easy to imagine that as this holy God approached his people, getting nearer and nearer, the plagues on Egypt became increasingly worse. First the river ran red from some distant danger sweeping downstream, then the insects started swarming, then the animals started dying, then the sky blackened with hail and locusts and utter darkness as this awesome God approached Egypt.

Finally, when the Israelites went ahead and sacrificed a lamb and worshipped their God right in the midst of Egypt, his full power was unleashed on the Egyptians and destruction poured out on the oppressors of his people. Because Pharaoh would not release Israel to worship their holy God, he came to punish their captors and release them himself.


Photo: John Martin

Blood on the Doorposts

by Lois Tverberg

Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household… Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs… The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. – Exodus 12:3-4, 6-7, 12

What was the significance of putting blood on the doorposts? One very important thing to realize is how it foreshadows the future shedding of blood of Christ, that protects us from judgment, just as the blood here protected the families from judgment.

But yet, the act of putting blood on the doorposts says other things as well. One is that it was a public commitment to the God of Israel in that hostile land, in which that kind of sacrifice was an abomination, which would lead to the person’s being stoned (Ex. 8:26). Only those that were convinced that God would triumph over the Egyptian gods would have done so because of fear of public execution.

Also, putting the blood on the doorposts was a mark of faith that apparently was not limited to Israelites, but anyone who placed his or her faith in God. The text says that many others left Egypt with the Israelites (Ex. 12:38) – perhaps they too had claimed this God by marking their homes. Even some of Pharaoh’s officials feared the Lord – could some of them have even done it? Interestingly, entire homes and families were saved, just as in the New Testament, entire families were baptized and saved (Acts 16:34). Even Rahab the harlot was able to save her family by marking her home with a scarlet cord! (Josh. 6:25) The Bible often talks about salvation in terms of families, while we think in terms of individuals.

Finally, it is amazing that God told people to make a sacrifice and put the blood on their homes. Normally sacrifices were made at an altar in a tabernacle or temple, and only the ceremonially clean could enter in. God’s great shekinah glory would be very present at the altar, apart from the rest of the people. Here, God was telling them to anoint their home as God’s altar and publically place their faith in him. God’s presence came that night and to those who did not fear him, it lead to judgment. But to those who had faith, it would set them free.

Tasting Bitterness

Bitter herbs

by Lois Tverberg

They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. – Exodus 12:8

In Hebrew, the word translated “bitter,” maror, can also mean anguish, distress or agony. In this culture that often uses concrete images to express abstract concepts, the idea of eating terrible foods describes what life is like in a miserable situation. An important example if this is in the beginning of Exodus where it says that the Egyptians “bittered” the lives of the Israelites with hard labor (Ex. 1:14).

God wanted the Israelites to remember forever the misery they left behind, and to teach their children too, so he commanded them to remember this by eating bitter herbs on the night of Passover. In modern celebrations of the Seder, people eat horseradish to remind themselves of
Bitter herbsthe bitterness of slavery, and parsley dipped in salt water to remember the tears that their ancestors shed. Along with dry, unleavened bread, these items are the only foods availaible through the long ceremony that precedes the Passover dinner, which begins very late. As they talk about God’s redemption of people from Egypt, the people relive that hardship for just an hour while they are hungry for dinner but have only dry bread and bitter herbs to eat. Finally, they feast on a meal of wine and meat and wonderful food, reminding themselves of the joy of God’s redemption.

It is important for us too to remember our spiritual hopelessness and misery before we came to Christ. We must never lose our hunger for the presence of God in our lives, and our gratefulness for the future feast that we will someday celebrate with Christ.


Photo: Yoninah 

Time for a Change

by Lois Tverberg

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” Exodus 12:1-2

Egyptian CalendarThe very first instruction that God gave the Israelites as they were leaving Egypt was to establish a new calendar that was utterly unlike the Egyptian calendar. This may not seem significant to us, but how we measure time is fundamental for how we look at life. Our calendars define the importance of the day to the entire culture, saying whether we should work, rest or worship, or think about some great event in our past.

This was especially critical as the Israelites left the powerful nation of Egypt, which had strongly influenced their thinking while they lived there. Egypt had a twelve-month solar calendar that was entirely organized around the veneration of their gods. Their year started in late June when the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, arose, about the time of the flooding of the Nile. They spent five days in feasting and worship beforehand, pleading with their gods for a good flood of the Nile and good harvest for that year. Each of the 36 ten-day weeks of the year was dedicated to a different god.

In contrast, God instructed Israel to mark time by remembering their redemption from Egypt. Their calendar no longer focused on idolatrous gods, but on permanently remembering the true God that loved them so much that he freed them from slavery. Every aspect of their calendar repeated this motif. The other major feast of the year, the feast of booths (Sukkot), also focused on reliving their time in the wilderness after God brought them out of Egypt. Even the seven-day week was founded on remembering how God had granted them rest from slavery:

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day. Deut. 5:15

Exodus

Also, the law to celebrate the fiftieth year as a Year of Jubilee was also founded on the idea that they set free those who are in debt, just as God set them free.

If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then he and his children are to be released. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Lev. 25:39-41

All of their worship and time focused on remembering how God saved them and took them to be their people. In the same way, we as Christians should continually remind ourselves of our redemption in Christ, the Passover Lamb, by his death for our sins. Every day of our lives should revolve around living out of this truth.


Photo: Hans Bernhard (Schnobby) and Edward Poynter