The night of the fourteenth day of the month Nisan—that night of grief to the Egyptians—was a night of earnest waiting, of solemn preparation by the Israelites. Before that night came, they had received instructions for its observance in that form, in which it was to become a yearly commemorative festival of their deliverance to all generations. It thus, like the great Christian rite of the Lord’s Supper, was instituted previous to the actual occurrence of the momentous event, the memory of which it was designed to keep alive in coming ages. Intended to be the great national festival of the Israelites, “the Passover” commemorated not only the deliverance wrought for them by their Almighty Protector, but their introduction into an independent national existence, and the solemnities with which it was to be observed were directed to be such as should call up vividly to the mind the remembrance of that event. As each house had its own special deliverance from the calamity which carried wailing into the houses of Egypt, so there was to be in each a domestic celebration. As in the night of the emancipation, no Israelitish house that had been marked with the blood of the slain lamb, had been invaded by death, so the sprinkling of the lamb’s blood on the door-post of every Hebrew dwelling was to make, through all time, a part of the commemoration. As the people had hurried forth from the land of bondage, so they were to meet around the table of this festival in the attitude of haste; their sandals bound upon their feet, their girdles tightened on their loins, and their staves in their hands, as if ready for the toils of travel. They were, for the same reason, to throw away the bones of the lamb, without, as usual, breaking them to taste the marrow; and they were to eat unleavened cakes, in remembrance of the urgent circumstances which, on that memorable night, had not permitted their fathers to eat bread prepared in the usual manner. Other regulations Note: Such as those in Exo_12:9-10. They are so regarded by Maimonides and other Jewish writers. appear to have been framed to guard against the danger that idolatrous observances should creep in among the ceremonies of such an exciting time. And to make the season in all respects august, it was ordained that the month in which it occurred should in all future time be reckoned the first of the national religious year. From this time accordingly in ecclesiastical computation, the year began in the month Nisan, otherwise Abib (March—April), while the civil year continued to be reckoned as it had been from Tishri (September-October).
Such in substance were the directions given to the Israelites in anticipation of this memorable night, and which they so duly observed, that they were in the very act of their commemorative feast at the moment when the midnight cry for the slain of Egypt arose. The Israelites had been directed to remain that night within their own doors—both to ensure that their families should be collected when the moment of departure came, and perhaps, as Dr. Palfrey suggests, to prevent the Egyptians from attaching to the people any suspicion of personal agency in the impending desolation. Further, to impress upon their minds with the utmost distinctness, that Jehovah could and would protect an obedient people, and to give to the ceremonies of the commemorative rite the liveliest power over the imaginations of the coming generations who were to observe it, the people were directed to put a mark—a mark of blood—the blood of the slain lamb (an authentic figure of Christ’s ransoming blood), upon their dwellings—and were assured that all of them who should perform that first act of allegiance, God would recognize as his own, so that while ruin was raging all around them, it should pass no portal distinguished by that sign. Note: Voyaging up the Nile, the Rev. F.A. Strauss arrived at Manfalut during the day commencing the great Moslem festival: “Into whatever house we looked the inhabitants seemed busy in the preparation of the lamb. A woman came out from one habitation with a basin containing the blood of the slain lamb, which she first sprinkled with her hand on the door-posts, and then poured the remainder on the door; forcibly reminding us of the sprinkling of the blood of the passover lamb on Israel’s departure from Egypt. But no further connection could we trace between them”—Sinai and Golgotha, p. 63. This, it will be observed, is a Mohammedan—not a Jewish—custom in Egypt. That it has some reference to the Jewish institution we doubt not, but the process of transmission is uncertain.
In further preparation for their departure from the Egyptian territory, which was now about to take place, the Israelites received a direction from Moses, which has been made the subject of much misconception and causeless complaint. Moses is made, by our translation, to say to the people, under the Divine direction, “Let every man borrow of his neighbor, and every woman of her neighbor, jewels of silver and jewels of gold.” Here, by the use of the word borrow, meaning to ask and receive under a pledge of repayment, is conveyed an implication of the Hebrews being directed to act dishonestly. But this idea is entirely without foundation in the language of the original narrative. The word in Hebrew is an exceedingly common one, and means simply “to ask;” and as Kennicott remarks, should any one here contend for rendering it by ‘borrow,’ let him try to render it so in Psa_122:6, ‘O, borrow the peace of Jerusalem!’” It is better and more just to preserve here the ordinary sense of the word, and the interpretation of it in that sense will not be difficult. We may understand that the Israelites were directed to ask and reclaim, before their migration, such portions of their own property as they might have lent to their neighbors; or to ask that the payment of what might be due to them, might be made in light and valuable articles, suitable for convenient carriage in the approaching journey. Or even if they were directed to ask gifts of such, as, from motives of friendship, might be disposed to bestow some token of good will at parting, still there is no recommendation of discreditable conduct. At all events, no such idea, as that of borrowing, out of which the whose question grows, is involved in the original word.
Nevertheless, if any one likes to stand out for this word of borrowing, even that may be explained without the slur upon the character of the Israelites which it has been thought to convey. When this transaction took place, there is no reason to suppose that the Israelites did know that they were not again to return to Egypt, although they certainly did expect some present advantage, and ultimate deliverance, from the step to be taken. It may be even questioned whether this was known until that decisive moment on the third day of their departure, when they were directed “to turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea” (Exo_14:2), whereby Pharaoh himself first gained the assurance that the people fled. It may be doubted whether Moses himself had any assurance until then. The strongest fact to show that he had is that the bones of Joseph were taken away; but, rightly apprehended, this may imply no more than that he felt doubtful whether they might return or be directed to pursue their journey after they had actually departed; and while there was, in this matter, the least uncertainty, it would be felt right that the remains of Joseph should be taken, lest there should be no opportunity of returning for them. Besides, the oath which Joseph had taken of them was absolute, that they should take his bones with them when they departed; and in that strict regard for the letter of an oath, for which they were honorably distinguished among the nations, the elders of Israel would feel bound to take his corpse with them, seeing they were literally about to quit the land, even though they might be persuaded that they would have to bring it back again.
This being the case, it would be in entire conformity with the customs of the East, that they should borrow of their wealthy Egyptian neighbors “jewels of gold and jewels of silver,” with which to adorn themselves during this their high festival—the only one they had been for generations afforded an opportunity of commemorating. If the custom of personal adornment on such occasions existed—and it did exist—we may be certain that the Israelites would desire to appear in the utmost splendor of ornament they could command. It is in the blood of the nation; and no one who lives in a place where two Jews can be found, will need any evidence how desirable the ornaments of “jewels of gold and jewels of silver” are in their esteem. At this day, when the Orientals go to their sacred festivals, they always put on their best jewels. Not to appear before the gods in this manner, they consider would be disgraceful to themselves and displeasing to the deities. A person whose clothes or jewels are indifferent, will borrow of his richer neighbors; and Robarts assures us, that nothing is more common than to see poor people standing before the temple, or engaged in sacred ceremonies, well adorned with jewels. The almost pauper bride or bridegroom at a marriage, may often be seen decked with gems of the most costly kind, which have been borrowed for the occasion. The knowledge, therefore, that the Israelites were going to hold a feast in honor of that God, whose power the Egyptians had by this time such good reason to know, would be a strong inducement to them to lend the valuables that might be required, as they themselves were, at their sacred festivals, accustomed to wear the same things (as we know from their monuments), and also, doubtless, to lend them to one another. This, on the hypothesis of borrowing—which, however, for the reasons stated, we do not entertain—may still account for the great readiness with which, as the sacred narrative assures us, the Egyptians responded to the parting request of the Israelites.