Deuteronomy 16:1-8 – Passover/Unleavened Bread


Deuteronomy 16:1-8


The Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread are reinterpreted with respect to Israel’s experience of deliverance at the Red Sea and the centralization of worship in Jerusalem.


This passage speaks of two possibly prior festivals (of Passover and Unleavened Bread) which are combined here and centralized at Jerusalem. In the Passover celebration, the blood of the sacrificed lamb smeared upon the doorposts of houses was described as warding off the “angel of death” who “passed over” homes thus marked, during the tenth plague of Egypt (Exodus 11-12). The verb “pass over”  or the verb “to have pity, or be placated” may be the intended meanings of the Hebrew verb pesah, a topic still debated by philologists.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which may have originally been celebrated as an agricultural festival at the barley harvest, here is celebrated for theological reasons. The Israelites had no time to let their bread rise at the Exodus; haste was required.

Thus the two separate festivals have been merged to celebrate the birth of the nation at the Exodus, and the life of every firstborn son who was “redeemed” at the time of Israel’s departure from Egypt.

Like Babylonians and Akkadians, before the institution of Passover, the Hebrew year had begun in the month of Tishri, in the autumn. Now, in commemoration of God’s deliverance of the people, it begins in Abib (later, Nisan), in the springtime. God, through Moses, instructs the Israelites to mark Abib/Nisan as the first month (Exodus 12:1-2). Deuteronomy adds the requirement that the combined festival take place “at the place that the LORD will choose as a dwelling for his name” (16:2, 6, see also 7) in conformity with the principle of worship at the central shrine (12:5, 11, 14). Originally, Passover was celebrated by families in their homes.