Moses and the Passover
February 2002

“Moses and the Passover,” Ensign, Feb. 2002, 31

Old Testament

Moses and the Passover

The Lord gave the children of Israel an enduring symbol that pointed them to salvation through Jesus Christ.

After nearly 3,500 years, Moses is regarded by people of many different faiths throughout the world as one of the Lord’s greatest prophets. In fact, one of the duties of every latter-day President of the Church is “to be like unto Moses” (D&C 107:91), the deliverer, great lawgiver, and prophet of ancient Israel. Further, the life and teachings of Moses have been used by ancient and modern prophets to exhort followers of God (for example, see Isa. 63:7–14; John 6:31–35; 1 Ne. 17:23–42; D&C 84:23–25). His story may be divided into three equal parts of 40 years each: his royal upbringing in Egypt, his pastoral life in Midian, and his prophetic leadership of Israel (see Acts 7:22–23, 29–30, 36).

Moses’ Early Years

He was born the son of Levite parents but raised by the daughter of the king of Egypt (Pharaoh), who found him floating in a basket upon the Nile River, placed there by his mother, who feared Pharaoh’s decree that all male Israelite babies be killed (see Ex. 2:1–10). Moses became a prince but later chose to reject the religious beliefs and practices of the Egyptians, preferring to suffer persecution for his hope in the Messiah (see Heb. 11:24–26). Aware of how cruelly the Egyptians treated his people, he attempted one day to stop the beating of an Israelite slave and in the process killed the Egyptian (see Ex. 2:11–12). Moses fled Egypt to Midian, across the Gulf of Aqaba from the Sinai peninsula, where in time he married and labored as a shepherd under the guiding hand of Jethro, his father-in-law and a righteous bearer of the Melchizedek Priesthood (see Ex. 2:15–22; D&C 84:6).

When Moses was about 80 years old, he was tending sheep near Mount Horeb (Sinai) and saw a bush that appeared to burn but was not consumed (see Ex. 3:1–2). Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, who is Jesus Christ, spoke to Moses from the bush and called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt (see Ex. 3:4–10). Moses raised several concerns (see Ex. 3:11, 13; Ex. 4:1, 10, 13), but Jehovah resolved each one and called Aaron, Moses’ older brother, to help him deliver the message, “Let my people go” (Ex. 5:1). Jehovah again later appeared to Moses, and Satan also appeared to Moses (see Moses 1:17), further preparing Moses for his mission in Egypt by expanding his understanding of himself, God, His creations, the history of this world, and Satan’s designs (see Moses 1–8).

Moses Leads the Children of Israel

Arriving in Egypt, Moses and Aaron first met with the Israelite elders. After seeing great signs, the Israelites chose to accept Moses’ divine call. Moses and Aaron then came before Pharaoh and pled, “Let us go, we pray thee, three days’ journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord” (Ex. 5:3). But Pharaoh hardened his heart and oppressed the Israelites even more (see Ex. 5:4–19).

Moses and Aaron then performed miracles through the power of the priesthood of God, hoping to persuade Pharaoh. The waters of the land were turned to blood (see Ex. 7:20–21). Frogs, lice, and flies plagued the people (see Ex. 8:6, 17, 24). The Lord also sent a contagious disease upon all Egyptian cattle, and they died (see Ex. 9:6). Boils with swelling, burning sores burst out upon all Egyptians (Ex. 9:10), and a great hailstorm destroyed the crops of the Egyptians and those laboring in their fields (see Ex. 9:25–26), yet Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go. The Lord sent locusts (see Ex. 10:14–15) and three days of darkness (see Ex. 10:22), but Pharaoh still hardened his heart.

The Lord then decreed that “the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die” (Ex. 11:5). However, Jehovah provided a way that the firstborn children of the Israelites could be saved by slaying a lamb without blemish, a male of the first year (see Ex. 12:5), and by putting its blood on the sides and top of the door frame at the entrance to their homes (see Ex. 12:7). The Lord promised that the destroying angel would pass over the homes wherever the sign of the blood was found. The Lord also said that in killing this lamb, its bones were not to be broken (see Ex. 12:46).

These instructions foreshadowed the death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who was the Firstborn of the Father (see D&C 93:21). The blood of this lamb was a symbol for the blood of Christ, which was shed as a ransom for sin. And as Jesus hung on the cross, the soldiers declined to break His legs (see John 19:36).

The Passover Meal

The Lord’s instructions for eating the firstborn lamb can also be pondered as symbols of how salvation may be obtained through Jesus Christ. First, the Israelites were to roast the lamb with fire (see Ex. 12:8), possibly pointing to the purifying influence of redemption through Christ. They were to eat with their loins girded, shoes on their feet, staff in their hand, and “eat it in haste” (Ex. 12:11). This represented the quickness with which the Israelites needed to leave Egypt. “No uncircumcised person” was to eat of it (Ex. 12:48). Further, the lamb was to be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (see Ex. 12:8, 15). Unleavened bread contains no yeast and can therefore be baked without waiting for it to rise. It may also convey the idea that they were to be free of corruption, for leaven or yeast was used as a symbol of corruption (see Bible Dictionary, “Leaven,” 723). Jesus used this same imagery to warn His disciples of “the leaven of the Pharisees” (Matt. 16:6), meaning their corrupt doctrine. Unleavened bread may also be symbolic of Christ, who is the Bread of Life, in whom there is no impurity (see John 6:35). The bitter herbs reminded them of the harshness of the Israelite slavery in Egypt and may also be symbolic of the bitterness of the bondage of sin.

Remembering the Exodus

Inasmuch as the Lord saved the firstborn of the faithful ancient Israelites from death, He rightly claimed them as His (see Ex. 13:2). He commanded that their firstborn sons be dedicated to Him and that their firstborn male animals be sacrificed to Him (see Ex. 13:12). We are similarly indebted to Jesus Christ. He is justified in requesting that we serve Him, for we “are bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). The Passover instituted through Moses for the ancient Israelites is an enduring symbol that teaches us what Jesus Christ has done to bring salvation to all mankind.

More on this topic: See Jeffrey R. Holland, “‘This Do in Remembrance of Me,’”Ensign, Nov. 1995, 67–69; John P. Pratt, “Passover: Was It Symbolic of His Coming?”Ensign, Jan. 1994, 38–45; Terry W. Treseder, “Passover Promises Fulfilled in the Last Supper,” Ensign, Apr. 1990, 18–23.

  • Randall C. Bird is a member of the Falcon Ridge Ward, Layton Utah East Stake.

“And [when] the daughter of Pharaoh … saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it” (Ex. 2:5). (The Passover, by William Henry Margetson; inset: Detail from The Finding of Moses, by Gustave Doré.)

“Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God. … And the presence of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” (JST, Ex. 3:12). (Moses Seeing Jehovah, by Joseph Brickey.)

“And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the Lord had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent” (Ex. 7:10). (Moses and Aaron before the Pharaoh, by Gustave Doré.)