A reading for Pesach

And they ate from the produce of the land on the day after Pesach: matzah and roasted grain – on this same day. – Joshua 5:11

This text comes from one of the traditional haftarah portions read during the Pesach festival. The ‘they’ in the text is the Israelite people, just five days after they crossed the Jordan river to enter the land of Israel; the Land which HaShem had promised the patriarchs – Avraham, Yitzkhak and Ya’acov – to give to their descendants, the Children of Israel. “The people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho” (Joshua 14:9, JPS) and then, four days later, during which time all the males were circumcised, “Encamped at Gilgal, in the steppes of Jericho, the Israelites offered the passover sacrifice on the fourteenth day of the month, toward evening” (5:10, JPS). This repeats the language and timings of the Exodus from Egypt, forty years ago: the people selected their lambs on the tenth day of the first month; they slaughtered, roasted and ate them at twilight on the fourteenth day of the month and then left Egypt in the early morning of the fifteenth day, with only matzah – unleavened bread – because the bread dough had not had time to rise (Shemot 12:34).

Michael Fishbane explains that, “in this context, it is clear that the eating of the new grain occurs the morning after the paschal meal”, adding that, “according to Rabbi David Kimhi, this is to be understood literally; that is, the eating may commence with daybreak on the fifteenth day of Nisan.” This can also be seen by noting that the words mimochorat hapesach are used to relate the Exodus morning: “They set out from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month. It was on the morrow of the passover offering that the Israelites started out defiantly, in plain view of all the Egyptians” (B’Midbar 33:3, JPS). The Israelites ate matzot ve’kaluy, unleavened bread and parched grain to fulfill the command not to eat chametz. Parched grain is grain that has been dry roasted, rather than being ground or processed with liquid in any way; a very common way of eating grain in the ANE cultures. Everett Fox points out that this typifies “simple, easily obtained food. The list here anticipates the bounty of the Promised Land, in a kind of ‘down payment'”. From the Early Church Fathers, John Chrysostom spiritualises Israelite meal to draw a symbolic picture: “Unleavened bread and new wheat are a type of Christ as the bread of life. This life is the divine life of G-d, which sets on fire those who partake of the bread (in the Eucharist) in a proper manner.”

Rabbi Hirsch says that avur, the word translated ‘produce’ in the text, means last year’s produce, not this year’s ‘new’ grain. Until the bringing of the Omer offering on the sixteenth day of the month, the next day, only the produce of the previous year was permitted. Our text from Joshua goes on to say, “in that same day, when they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. The Israelites got no more manna; that year they ate of the yield of the land of Canaan” (Joshua 5:12, JPS), so Robert Alter comments that “evidently, the Israelite troops have been foraging in the territory adjacent to Jericho. The substitution of the produce of the Land for the manna is another marker of the end of the Wilderness experience.” These events – the celebration of the first Pesach in the Land, the first careful meal of non-chametz food in the Land, and the cessation of manna – together form a commemorative division between life in the desert and life in the Land.

Even the last word of our text – hazeh, ‘this’ – contributes to the sense of significance. Everett Fox observes that “We might expect ‘that’ here; it sounds as though an audience is being addressed.” The story is being rehearsed and emphasised – on this very day – to remind another generation of exactly why we do this. As HaShem says in one of the other haftarah portions read during the festival: “My witnesses are you — declares the L-RD — My servant, whom I have chosen. To the end that you may take thought, and believe in Me, and understand that I am He: before Me no god was formed, and after Me none shall exist — none but me, the L-RD; beside Me, none can grant triumph. I alone foretold the triumph and I brought it to pass; I announced it, and no strange god was among you. So you are My witnesses — declares the L-RD — And I am G-d” (Isaiah 43:10-12, JPS).

What, then, is the significance of this for today? Simply that before moving on into G-d’s future, He asks us to celebrate and acknowledge His past: the things that He has done, both through history and in our own lives. Yeshua celebrated Pesach with His disciples before He moved into the final stage of His earthly ministry. Rav Sha’ul called the elders from Ephesus to meet with him at Miletus (Acts 20:17-38); as well as praying with them and taking leave, they would almost certainly have eaten together. When we leave a job to move on to another, we may have a leaving party with our old co-workers and colleagues. We may invite friends round for dinner to day ‘goodbye’ if we move house and neighbourhood. Extending the analogy, we might say that a wedding reception is a marker on changing from being single to being married.

So too with the calling of the kingdom. Our way forward is built on and depends upon what G-d has already done in our lives. I believe it is important that we acknowledge this as we progress through our lives and ministries as believers. The Jewish feasts – Pesach, Shavuot, the Autumn feats – provide a mechanism for doing that and anchoring G-d’s goodness in His mighty acts of the past for our people, as does observing Shabbat and ceasing from our work to share in G-d’s rest, but sharing bread and wine in communion too is a way of acknowledging G-d’s provision and sovereignty. When we take time not only to ground ourselves in G-d but to positively acknowledge His rule in our lives, we affirm the framework and context that He has built so far and enable the building to go on.

We must take care – as the Israelites of Joshua’s time did by eating only parched grain during the week of unleavened bread – to stand in obedience with what G-d has already told us to do. There may be changes ahead, but the basic principles of our relationship with G-d will remain unchanged. Current activities may need adapting or even bringing to a tidy close to enable transition, but our future in G-d is anchored in the past of His word, the present of life in Yeshua and the daily guidance and direction of the Ruach. Celebrating the festival of Pesach, blessing G-d on Yom HaBikkurim – Resurrection Day and then steadily counting through the days of the Omer provide an unshakeable foundation of practical steps that keep our feet firmly connected with Him and walking along the path He has chosen for us. The manna may stop so that we eat from the produce of the land where we are, but all this is G-d’s provision for us. Knowing and recognising the voice of the Spirit will enable us to recognise when “your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21, ESV).

Lastly, remember the closing phrase of our text: “on this same day.” We are not living in ‘that’ day, but in ‘this’ day, this very day. The past is gone, and while we celebrate and commemorate it, we cannot live in the past; those who try will neither succeed or be the witnesses that G-d wants today. We are called to engage with the kingdom of G-d today, to be His witnesses of what He is doing today. This will be completely consistent with what He did in the past, but will also be completely different from the past. We must hear from the Spirit G-d’s fresh word and direction for today, every day.

Chag Pesach Sameach!

Further Study: Jeremiah 31:32-33(33-34); John 6:31-33

Application: Are you listening to the ‘today’ voice of the Spirit as you celebrate the past in order to hear what G-d wants you to do today and where He wants you to be in the future? Keep your feet on the ground, but listen for His voice speaking to you today.