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Exodus 12:26 – What Do You Mean by This Observance?

Summary

The question of the children during the Passover meal prompts a rehearsal of the deeds of God for Israel and against the Egyptians.

Analysis

The wondrously simple question of the child provides a ritual moment for a confessional telling of the story of Israel's deliverance. The narrative seems to pause for a drawn out description of the feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread. There is no time for bread to leaven; now is the time to leave Egypt. And yet there is time to answer the child's question. Time flows differently in the narrative plot line and in liturgical rehearsal. The two timelines interpenetrate in this presentation. Painting the door posts anticipates an event that is to come; it is an anticipatory act of faith. It trusts that God will continue to distinguish Israel from Egypt. To rehearse the confessional narrative to the children anticipates a full future for those children. They will have a future in which there will be a need for memory. Interpreters have long seen bits and pieces of later practice retrojected into this text, but such later augmentation, if it did occur, would be consistent with the question of the children. The meaning of the observance was not locked into one evening in the past. Observing the feast of the Passover and Unleavened Bread brings the past confession into every present tense that is to follow. Overall, the book of Exodus functions to shape Israel's ongoing identity and practice. This section of the book does so very explicitly.

Exodus 12:26

26And when your children ask you, “What do you mean by this observance?”

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