What Does the Word Passover Mean?


The people of Israel were in slavery to Pharaoh and Egypt, and for Pharaoh to release them, God warned that the last of ten plagues, the death of all firstborn children, would happen throughout the land. On Passover night, God told Moses He would protect the Israelites if they would slay a lamb as a substitute and put the blood of the lamb upon the lintel and sides of the doorframes of their houses.


12"On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. 13The 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 12:12-13).


God required faith in the blood of the Passover lamb. Without faith, it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). The Israelites were to take a bunch of hyssop plant and dip the hyssop in a bowl of some of the blood from the sacrificed lamb. The word translated into English as a bowl is the word sap. It is a word rooted in the Egyptian language meaning the threshold or ditch that was dug in front of the doorways of houses in Egypt to avoid flooding. The blood was shed from the lamb on that night and collected in the sap, the gulley, or bowl at the foot of the door. The hyssop plant was dipped in the blood and used to strike the lintel and each side of the doorframe. God wanted to leave the Israelites with an image of a cross over the door. Can you imagine listening to the screams from neighboring houses who just lost their first-born? There is more to this than first meets the eye. For many years, I thought that it was God who was passing by the household of those who had faith in the shed blood of an innocent sacrificial lamb, but this is not the case. The Lord describes what is happening in Isaiah 31:5:


Like birds hovering overhead, the LORD Almighty will shield Jerusalem; he will shield it and deliver it, he will 'pass over' it and will rescue it" (Isaiah 31:5).


The context of this passage is one of protection to the city of Jerusalem. God describes Himself as hovering over the city and shielding the occupants from harm. Ceil and Moishe Rosen, in their book Christ in the Passover, has this to say about the word that is translated "pass over:"


“The verb “pass over” has a deeper meaning here than the idea of stepping or leaping over something to avoid contact. It is not the common Hebrew verb, a-bhar, or ga-bhar, frequently used in that sense. The word used here is pasah, from which comes the noun pasha, translated into English with the word Passover. These words have no connection with any other Hebrew word, but they do resemble the Egyptian word pesh, which means "to spread wings over" that He may protect us."


The picture we are to hold on to is that of the Lord protecting us from harm. It brings new light to the passage where Jesus was grieving over the city of Jerusalem when He said: "O Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). The God we have come to know, and love wants to bring us close to His heart and wrap His arms around us as a hen would gather her chicks under her wings and protect them.


When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down (Exodus 12:23).


The Lord is our protection and help. As a separate destroying angel went through the land, God was hovering over the household of those who had faith in the innocent blood of the substitute lamb over their door. There had to be an element of obedience to God in what He told them. He comes close, wrapping His arms around His people to protect them and bind them to Himself, not permitting the destroyer to enter their houses. The Passover celebration reminds God's people of their deliverance from bondage and slavery. What happened in the book of Exodus was just a picture of what God wanted to do through Jesus becoming our Passover Lamb. He is our Substitute in whom we are to trust and obey. Pharaoh is a picture of Satan, who had us under cruel slavery to our sins. Egypt is a picture of the world in which we live. Christ is our sacrificial Lamb who has laid down His life to deliver us if we place faith in His shed blood applied to the door of our hearts. God wants to be over the homes of our hearts and live with us for eternity. Keith Thomas