Israel was commanded to observe the special days listed in Leviticus 23, which included the weekly Sabbath as well as the seven annual Sabbaths. Significantly, these times are for many more people than just Israel. The Feasts will be kept by everyone worldwide in the coming Millennial kingdom. It’s no wonder— Yahweh commanded them forever.
In addition, Exodus 12 speaks of a special night to be observed. Notice: “It [is] a night to be much observed unto Yahweh for bringing them out from the land of Egypt: this [is] that night of Yahweh to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations” (Ex. 12:42). The Jewish Tanakh reads a bit differently: “That was for [Yahweh] a night of vigil to bring them out of the land of Egypt; that same night [Yahweh’s], one of vigil for all the children of Israel throughout the ages.”
A Night to Leave?
Some have understood this verse to mean that the night to be much observed was the night Israel left Rameses in Egypt to begin their trek to the Promised Land. That is, the beginning of the 15th of Abib, the High Sabbath, the first of the days of Unleavened Bread.
The setting sun, which ended Abib 14, saw all Israel gathered at Rameses with all their belongings, their livestock, and all their family including children and the aged. This first High Sabbath was to be a memorial for leaving Egypt. They were prepared for the march to the Promised Land. The last day of Unleavened Bread is marked by the Israelites’ crossing over the Red Sea and being completely free of Egypt. Thus, the seven days of Unleavened Bread memorialize Israel’s exit from bondage.
The Israelites kept Passover properly at the beginning of the 14th just after the setting sun, doing so until the captivity.
The Encyclopaedia Judaica reads, “The Feast of Passover consists of two parts: the Passover Ceremony and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Originally, both parts existed separately, but at the beginning of the exile they were combined” (Vol. 13, “Passover,” p. 169).
Today the Jews keep a Seder service with the family at home on the 14th of Abib, and on the beginning of the 15th they gather at the synagogue to observe what they call “Passover” on the first day of Unleavened Bread.
Israel left Egypt by night the next night after Passover, Deuteronomy 16: 1. The first annual Sabbath during Unleavened Bread commemorates leaving Egypt. However, the verses dealing with this first high Sabbath nowhere mention a special night of watching, or a vigil during normal hours of sleep. Nor do we find examples of Yahweh’s people remembering this preservation-night of Yahweh.
Preservation and Beginning
Just as ancient Israel kept vigil the night the destroying angel was about, Yahweh’s people were to observe a night of vigil on Passover night as well. Evidence is clear that the Passover night is the “night much to be remembered.”
Keil and Delitzsch agree that this speaks of Passover night, and state, “Because [Yahweh] had preserved the children of Israel that night from the destroyer, it was to be holy to them, i.e. to be kept by them in all future ages to the glory of [Yahweh], as a preservation” (Old Testament Commentaries).
A brief review of the situation will help us gain a deeper perspective of this momentous occasion.
This event is really the birth of the nation of Israel. The first three plagues came upon everyone in the land of Egypt. Yahweh sequestered the land of Goshen (where the Israelites were) from Egypt. Henceforth Israelites were not affected by any more than the three plagues.
The Israelites had been told to take a yearling from their flock and kill it at the going down (Heb. bo) of the sun, ending the day. At sunset the 13th ended, and the next day, Passover, the 14th began.
Throughout Goshen preparations for the Passover were well under way. The lamb had been set aside since the 10th of that month. Firewood collections and roasting pits were ready. Some of the Israelites with small families arranged to join neighbors,Exodus 12:1-4.
The lambs were killed between the evenings (of sunset and dark) and the blood collected in a basin and smeared on both the lintel and doorposts. The lamb was then roasted whole over the glowing coals in the pit already prepared.
Several hours later the blackened carcass of the lamb was placed on the table in their houses as the Israelites gathered to eat of its flesh with unleavened bread.
Everything was done hurriedly, with trepidation and fear. At midnight the destroying angel would come and kill all unprotected firstborn of the land, both man and beast.
They WOULD Remember!
The night of the Passover was a very solemn, somber night of abject fear and trembling. The Israelites knew judgment was coming and were praying they would be “passed over” by the destroying angel and allowed to survive the night. Huddled in their houses, the Israelites prayerfully trusted that the destroying angel would see the blood at their door and spare them by “passing over” their houses.
Sleep was hard to come by that Passover night because of the anguished cries in many Egyptian houses upon discovering their dead firstborn. All Israelites were warned to remain within the protection of their blood-marked houses the entire night. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning,” (Ps.30:5).
What a night to remember!
The “Watch” Word
The command we wish to focus upon is found in Exodus 12:42:
“It [is] a night to be much observed (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance No. 8107) unto Yahweh for bringing them out from the land of Egypt: this [is] that night of Yahweh to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations.” Strong’s No. 8107 isshimmur, from No. 8104; an observance. Strong’s says of No. 8104 shamar: “A prim. root; prop. to hedge about (as with thorns), i.e.guard; gen. to protect, attend to, etc.: -beware, be circumspect, take heed, keep, mark, look narrowly, observe, preserve, regard, reserve, save, sure, wait, watch.” Clearly the meaning is watchings.
The Tanakh on Exodus 12:42 reads, “That was for [Yahweh] a night of vigil to bring them out of the land of Egypt; that same night is [Yahweh’s], one of vigil for all the children of lsrael throughout the ages.”
The Passover night’s activities made up the key events leading to the release of Israel from Egypt. It is much observed because it was the death of the firstborn that caused Pharaoh to release Yahweh’s people, bringing them out of Egypt.
Watching at Passover in the New Testament
Following the celebration of the Passover with His disciples, the Savior went with His disciples to Gethsemane to pray. It was the night of the Passover. “And when they had sung a Psalm, they went out into the mount of Olives” (Mat. 26:30). It was the custom at Passover to sing the Great Hallel (“praise”), Psalms 113 to 118.
When they came to Gethsemane, the Savior asked the disciples to sit there while He went a bit further with Peter, James and John to pray. He then says to them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry here, and watch with Me” (Mat. 26:38).
Then we read, “And He came unto the disciples, and found them asleep, and said unto Peter, What, could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed [is] willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mat. 26:40-41).
This happened three times. Yahshua expected His disciples to stay awake and watch with Him. But instead they slept.
Was it not on this night, the 14th, when ancient Israel had been afraid to go to sleep while the destroying angel was going about Egypt slaying all the firstborn of man and beast?
How fitting that the Savior should ask His disciples to watch with Him so they could recall at a later time the agony He went through in preparing for the excruciating ordeal and the final victory that followed.
Be Awake, Alert
The underlying Greek word translated “watch” in both the Complete Biblical Library (CBL) and Strong’s is gregoreo, (CBL No. 1121) and (No. 1127 in Strong’s, from No. 1453). The word means to be vigilant and wide awake; to be alert: be or stay awake, to keep awake, be alert, i.e. watch. It is translated be vigilant, awake, be watchful.
Yahshua wanted His disciples to be alert and watchful that night after they celebrated the Passover. It was the same night some 2,000 years earlier that Israel kept vigilant all night, fearing the destroying angel. It was a night much to be remembered, for on this night the world under Satan thought it had triumphed by taking prisoner “Yahweh’s Lamb that takes away the sins of the world.”
Instead, the Jewish authorities and the Romans played right into Yahweh’s hand. Within twelve hours He would be nailed to the tree at Calvary and put to death.
People, People Everywhere
A question arises as to why there were so many prominent people about this late on Passover night. Was it only because there was a scheme afoot to get rid of the Nazarene? Or was there another reason that even the young damsels were up and about? Notice the Bible’s account:
• “Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, you also were with Yahshua of Galile.” (Mat. 26:69).
• “And when he [Peter] was gone out into the porch, another [maid} saw him, and said unto them that were there, This [fellow] was also with Yahshua of Nazareth” (Mat. 26:71).
• “And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there came one of the maids of the high priest: And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, And you also were with Yahshua of Nazareth” (Mark 14:66-67).
• “And a maid saw him [Peter] again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is [one] of them” (Mark 14:69).
• “But a certain maid beheld him [Peter] as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him, and said, This man was also with Him” (Luke 22:56).
• “And after a little while another saw him, and said, You are also of them. And Peter said, Man, I am not” (Luke 22:58).
• “Then said the damsel that kept the door unto Peter, Are not you also [one] of this man’s disciples? He said, I am no” (John 18:17).
It is apparent that this was an extraordinary night.
Why Were Young Girls Out Late?
John 18: 16-17 shows that young girls were up and about, even the responsible porter (one who kept charge of the door of the palace of the high priest). Why were these young girls up at this time of a chilly night?
Why the one charged with keeping the door of the high priest was still up we can perhaps understand. But what about the others? The Savior had just celebrated the Passover with His disciples some 12 hours earlier and had asked them to keep a vigil while He prayed.
Was this not the shimmurim, the night of watchings?
Customarily those observing Passover would stay awake all night long. Many would sing songs to keep awake out of respect for those ancient Israelites who had huddled in their houses in Egypt for fear of the destroying angel.
Whenever one of the party fell asleep, the atmosphere of the vigil was broken, the group broke up, and everyone retired.
The New Testament supports the Passover as “the night to be much remembered,” especially when viewed through the activities of the Savior. Going to the Mount of Olives, as their leader, Yahshua evidently sang the last part of the Hallel. He sang the lines ofPsalms 114 through 118, and the disciples responded with “HalleluYAH!”
He thus promised to keep His vows; ultimately to triumph despite rejection, and call all nations to praise Yahweh. (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, p. 539)
A Time for Us Today
Passover is an important one of the annual observances. It was observed in the Garden of Eden, it was kept by Israel, by the prophets, by Yahshua, by His Apostles after He rose from the dead, and will be kept in the Kingdom, Matthew 26:29. Shouldn’t we also be keeping it today?
May future commemorations of the Passover lift us to new heights as we rejoice in the reassurance we all have in Yahshua as we keep the “Night to Be Much Remembered.”
by Donald R. Mansager