Saturday of week 15 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Exod 12:37-42

Yesterday’s reading about the celebration of the Passover is followed by instructions on the feast of Unleavened Bread and other instructions on the observance of the Passover. The book then goes back to the narrative and, considering its climactic role, gives a rather brief account of the Tenth and most terrible Plague, the killing of all the first-born Egyptian children and animals.

Pharaoh now had enough and ordered Moses and Aaron to leave with all their people, their herds and their possessions.

Today’s passage describes the beginning of the long journey out of Egypt to the Promised Land by way of Mount Sinai. The journey began in the city of Rameses in the very north of Egypt, where the Hebrews had been employed virtually as slaves in the Pharaoh’s great construction works. They set off for Succoth which lay to the south-east about half way between Rameses and the Sea of Reeds.

The numbers were estimated to be 600,000 men, not counting children. There was also a crowd of “mixed ancestry” with them. These were probably the result of mixed marriages between the Hebrews and the native Egyptians. They also brought with them numerous flocks of sheep and goats and herds of cattle.

However, they had left in such a rush that the flour they had with them had no time to be leavened, so they made bread with the unleavened flour. This is another tradition of the origin of the use of unleavened bread as part of the Passover celebration. They left in such a rush that they did not even have time to prepare any proper food for their journey.

It was the end of a long sojourn in Egypt – estimated by the Bible as 430 years – from the time Joseph had first invited his family to settle there. The day they left was said to be the exact anniversary date of their arrival. It was seen as the greatest event in the history of Israel.

They had also started on their journey by night so future celebrations of the event were forever more to be observed by a vigil. “This was a night vigil for the Lord, as he led them out of the land of Egypt; so on this same night all the Israelites must keep a vigil for the Lord throughout their generations.”

And, as we have seen, it will be the foreshadowing of a much greater Passover, a more significant vigil to come – the Christian Easter Vigil.

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