THE NIGHT TO BE OBSERVED AND THE HOLY CONVOCATIONS

Many people who observe a 13th/14th Passover and a 15th-21st Festival of Unleavened Bread believe that God commands a special, festive banquet on the eve of the 15th of Nisan.

Surprisingly, a simple misunderstanding of one primary scripture, plus a few peripheral verses form the basis for this teaching. The primary scripture quoted for this teaching is Exodus 12:42:

"It  is a night to be much observed to the Lord for bringing them out from the land of Egypt:  this is that night of the Lord to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations" (KJV).

There is no doubt that verse 42 is speaking of the night of the 15th of Nisan. But, does this scripture command the observance of a festive banquet on the night of the 15th  to celebrate  and commemorate the event when the Israelites left Egypt? The answer is No, it does not say this.

The English word 'observed' in verse 42 is the Hebrew word 'shimmurim', which means 'vigil or watch.' In Jonah 2:9, the verbal root of 'shimmur' means 'paying attention.' The word 'shimmurim' is only used twice in the entire Bible (both times in the plural form) and does not refer to observing a feast or celebration of any kind.

The problem is that 'shimmur' ('vigil' or 'a watch') cannot be translated into the English word 'observance' without altering the meaning of this verse. The intent of the command to keep a vigil or a watch does not support the teaching of a mandatory banquet celebration  on the evening of the 15th of Nisan. The instruction of verse 42 is that the Israelites were to remember 'that night of vigils', and that night was clearly the first Passover night (15th of Nisan) wherein the Israelites ate the meal in a state of watchfulness.

Three other scriptures that are cited as supporting a commanded festive banquet on the evening of the 15th are: Ex.12:14,16-17:

"And this day shall be to you for a memorial;  and you shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations by an ordinance for ever . . .. And the first day there shall be an holy  convocation, and the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you and no manner of work shall be done in them saving that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you. And you shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall you observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever" (KJV).

These verses reveal the following important information about the 15th of Nisan:

There is nothing in Exodus 12:14,16-17 that substantiates the teaching that a festive banquet is mandatory on the evening of the 15th of Nisan to commemorate the day the Israelites left Egypt. However, the command does say to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is a separate observance from the Passover, which contains the ceremonial eating of unleavened bread and drinking of wine that is commanded to be observed on the evening of the 15th of Nisan.

THE HOLY CONVOCATIONS

"And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts" (Lev.23:1-2 KJV).

The following are annual festivals in which there is to be a commanded assembly of God's people:  

"These are the feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire to the Lord, a burnt offering, and a meat offering, a sacrifice  and  a drink offering, every thing upon his day" (Lev.23:37 KJV).  

"Three times (seasons) in a year shall all of the males appear before the Lord your God in the place where he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the Lord empty: Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which he has given you" (Deut.16:16-17).

One of the requirements for observing the annual festivals was that all the males of Israel were to come before God to give an offering of gratitude for his blessings.

An important point to take note of is that these were commanded assemblies in which the place of assembly was chosen by God. The Israelite males did not have an option to appear or not to appear before the Lord (Deut.16:2-16). These assemblies with the attending sacrifices and offerings were compulsory if the Israelites were to remain in right-standing with God and receive blessings from him (Ex. chp.19 and Deut. chp.28).

The assemblies on the annual festivals were not for the purpose of having a festive meal; they were for the purpose of worshiping God.

SUMMARY

It should be remembered that the first Passover ceremony, which included the killing and eating of the sacrificial lamb was not a joyous festival; it was an anxious and fearful event. Exodus 12:11 and Deuteronomy 16:3 use the Hebrew word 'be-hipazon', which means 'in an alarmed hurry', to denote an element of fear and tension on the night of the 15th of Nisan. However, the portion of the 15th of Nisan when the Israelites came out of Egypt was to be remembered as a joyous occasion.

There is no scriptural support in the Bible for observing a banquet celebration in the evening of the 15th of Nisan. In fact, the apostle Paul reprimanded the Christians at Corinth for having a festive meal during the Passover ceremony—the 15th of Nisan. See 1.Cor.11:17-34.

The following is a literal English translation of Exodus 12:42:

"A night of vigils it is to the Eternal to bring them from the land of Egypt. It is this night, to the Eternal, of vigils for all the sons of Israel, for their generations."

A careful study of Exodus chapter twelve shows that the Israelites killed and ate the Passover Lamb on the evening of the 14th/15th. This night was not a night of festivity; it was a night in which there was a very anxious, fearful, and sober observance; it was a night of apprehension and death, it was a NIGHT TO KEEP VIGIL, because it was the night they left Egypt!

By B. L. Cocherell, file b5w34