The Fortieth Passover
by Wayne Simpson
During Passover season we hear a lot about the events of the Exodus - the plagues,
Pharaoh, the oppression of the Israelites, etc. But there is another very dramatic biblical
episode that took place during the Passover that is not so often mentioned.
A few years ago I was in Israel for a short time. While there, I enlisted the services of
an Arab taxi driver who took me into the Palestinian territories to Jericho. It was
important to have an Arab driver because of the volatility of the political situation there.
He was able to look out after my interests and get good prices for me for services,
admission fees, and souvenirs, and at the same time communicate in Arabic with the
locals. He helped me buy a Keffiyeh for myself and one for my son. A Kaffiyeh is that
striking Arab headgear that looks like a sheet draped over the head and shoulders with
a couple of large round bands around the head that hold it into place. It is really very
cool and comfortable in that desert environment. I see why the Arabs like them so
much. The local Palestinians were courteous but kind of distant. But after I tried on my kaffiyeh,
they began to warm up. I really think that a kaffiyah is kind of cool, but with the changing
international political climate and the increase in terrorism coming out of the Muslim world, I
wouldn't want to wear it in public now.
Jericho is one of the lowest cities in elevation on the planet. It is only a few feet above
the Dead Sea. The modern city is hardly modern. It has only a few shabby small
businesses and stores, including the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and the
territorial jail. The overall look of the town in that of a quaint Mexican village in a cheap
western movie. But as one looks out over the plain, one sees countless acres of
luscious date palms - clearly the biggest industry in the area. The ancient city of Jericho
lies on the Eastern side of town marked by a large, but not high, mound. Actually in lies
about 30 feet under the ground there. Some years ago Archeologist Kathleen Kenyon
excavated the site of ancient Jericho, and tourists can peer down into her diggings today
and see the ancient structures she uncovered. The site is dominated on the East by a
stately mountain, known today as the Mount of the Temptation. The mountain today is
home to a large monastery ringing its slopes. Actually it is not so much a mountain as
it is the rim of the canyon in which Jericho lies.
As I browsed through the buried ruins of Jericho, I began to think of the great
demonstration of God's power that took place here. Though archaeologists seem bent
on denying it, we are told that a great intervention from God took place here, in the time
of Joshua. The city walls simply fell down to allow the Israelites an easy conquest.
What I find interesting is the TIMING of the event.
Forty years earlier the events of Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread unfolded
the first time. On the Passover the firstborn of all Egypt were slain while the Israelites
were spared in their homes, protected by the blood on their doorpost. The following
day, the first day of Unleavened Bread, a holy day, Israel mobilized and left Egypt with
a high hand. Their journey led them to the borders of Egypt over the next few days, until
they stood on the banks of the Sea of Reeds with Pharaoh's army breathing down their
necks. This day was the last day of Unleavened Bread, also a holy day. On that night,
God miraculously allowed Israel to cross over the sea safely while the pursuing army of
Pharaoh drowned ignominiously. This is the familiar passover story that everyone
But forty years had passed it was again approaching the time for Passover. This time
God would again demonstrate his power in a similar, though reversed fashion for this
new generation of Israelites. It started on the 10th of Nisan, the same day that the
Passover lamb was penned up for observation. On that day, God miraculously blocked
the flow of the Jordan to allow Israel to cross. I doubt that it was done by anything as
simple as an earthquake causing the banks to cave in. The Jordan would probably
already have been at flood stage due to spring thawing in the northern mountains. The
book of Joshua describes a wall of water that would have held the flow for hours as the
Israelites crossed. It says that the watching Canaanites saw and were demoralized by
the awesome event. They would not have been so awestruck by a simple cave in, even
if it had been at such an opportune moment for Israel.
After the crossing Joshua circumcised the Israelites en-masse and allowed a few days
recovery. Then came the Passover which they celebrated at Gilgal. That evening
Joshua was met by the General of God's armies to assure him that victory was at hand
in their conquest of the land. The following day began the assault on Jericho. THIS
WAS THE FIRST DAY OF UNLEAVENED BREAD. The people celebrated the holy
convocation by marching around the city while sounding the shofars, parading the Ark
of the Covenant in the site of the increasingly terrified inhabitants. This process was
repeated ON EACH OF THE DAYS OF UNLEAVENED BREAD. Finally on the LAST
HOLY DAY OF THE DAYS OF UNLEAVENED BREAD, the people encircled the city seven
times, and on the seventh time the walls were toppled by God's power, and the battle
was enjoined. Jericho was destroyed, and all the Canaanites feared the power of God.
The conquest of Canaan had begun.
So a second generation witnessed God's power on the fortieth anniversary of the first
great Passover season.
(c)Copyright 2001 by Wayne Simpson
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