Today is Passover. I’ve been a Christian for more than 40 years, and seldom have given Passover more than a nod of notice. But this year seems to be different. Everywhere I look online, people are talking about Passover. There has been a movement to put red markings on our lintels and doorposts. I’ve seen photos all over Facebook and decided to do the same for our home. But this week I learned something about Passover that I’ve missed in over 40 years of reading and studying it. This is from Craig Hill who is among other things, an expert in Ancient Near East covenants.
Westerners don’t really understand covenant, which was and still is a critical cultural concept in the East. There were many types of covenants, several of which God made with Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, and others. But there is one covenant that I had never heard of, but which applies directly to Passover. That is the Threshold Covenant.
The Threshold Covenant
The Threshold Covenant had to do with welcoming guests. Eastern covenants were always ratified with the outpouring of blood, which represented life (see Lev. 17:11). When a guest was expected, the host would indicate welcome and honor by pouring blood on the threshold of his house. The threshold into the Eastern home had a small basin to hold the blood, and the costliness of the blood indicated the degree of honor being bestowed upon the guest. A lightly esteemed person might be honored with the blood of a pigeon, while a more highly honored guest might be honored with the blood of a goat or ox. A king would be honored with a fatted calf.
When the guest crossed the threshold with the blood basin, he was entering into covenant with the homeowner, and the homeowner with him. The homeowner took on the responsibility to protect the guest, even with his life or the life of his family. (Remember the story of Lot who took in the angels he thought were strangers and ended up offering his virgin daughters to protect the strangers (see Gen. 19:1-11)). The guest took on the responsibility of coming in peace and honoring the host while he was in his home.
This is the historical setting for Passover. And here is the part I had never seen before. We see God’s command in Exodus 12:22-23. He is ready to smite the Egyptians with the ultimate plague and He intends to protect the Israelites. Here’s what he says:
” Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. When the LORD goes through (avar) the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over (pasakh) that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down” (Exodus 12: 22-23).
So in the basin is the blood of the Passover Lamb that each family was to slaughter. They are to use that blood to anoint their lintels and doorposts. They need to stay inside (like we are doing during this season) for the covenant to be in effect. Then the Lord will pass through the land to strike the Egyptians. But when he sees the blood on the lintel and doorposts, He will pass over the doorway and come into the home to protect it from the destroyer. In effect, he is reversing roles with the homeowner, who would ordinarily be expected to protect him.
So while the destroyer goes through Egypt, the Lord crosses over the threshold that has welcomed Him with the blood of the Passover lamb. He comes into the house. He is not the destroyer. He enters into covenant with those who remain in the home and He will protect and defend them.
In this season like none of us has ever seen before (just like the Israelites), where our freedom is promised but not yet manifest (just like the Israelites), let us enter into a Threshold Covenant with the Lord (just like the Israelites). Mark your homes. Take communion. Pour some of the wine on your threshold. Invite the Lord Himself to pass over your threshold and come into your home to protect and defend you. And in turn, commit yourself to remain in covenant with Him as we await our liberation (just like the Israelites).
I wish a happy and holy Passover to each of you.