Now the sojourn of the children of Israel who lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years—on that very same day—it came to pass that the armies of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. It is a night of solemn observance to the LORD for bringing them out of the land of Egypt. This is that night of the LORD, a solemn observance for all the children of Israel throughout their generations.
The Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament says of this passage: "[This night is] a preservation-night of the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. . . . This same night is (consecrated) to the Lord as a preservation for all children of Israel in their families." Commentator Adam Clarke adds, "[It is] a night to be held in everlasting remembrance."
At least in part, Israel was to keep the Night to Be Much Observed as a night of watching—of watchful vigil—to commemorate the reason they were able to leave Egypt so easily. The reason they could flee from Egypt unscathed was due to God watching over them as His plan unfolded. Their sojourn in Egypt as a slave people disciplined them and prepared them for their journey through the wilderness and for taking over the Promised Land. This was God's plan, and so God watched over them to bring it to its completion.
However, that plan is not yet completed, because we are also part of that plan. It has eternal consequences, and it is an ongoing operation. Thus, we celebrate this significant day too.
Can anyone deny that God was watching out for Israel? On Passover night, God saw the blood on the doorposts and lintels and passed over those houses, sparing the firstborn. No one can deny that He watched over them the following morning as they spoiled the Egyptians and gathered to meet in Rameses. How closely was He watching?
Please understand that "watching" does not mean that He was just passively observing them as they left that evening. No, it suggests that He was actively guarding them. "Watched" is the Hebrew shamar, used in many places in the Old Testament. It is translated as "keep" 283 times, and this indicates "preserve" or "secure." It suggests not just watching, but also keeping, guarding, protecting, and preserving.
Exodus 11:7 gives an indication of the extent of God's keeping watch: "But against none of the children of Israel [as they left Egypt] shall a dog move its tongue, against man or beast." We know how excitable dogs are. They protect their territory and do a whole lot of barking. Next door to us lives a female boxer with the strangest bark. It sounds like it has a gravelly sore throat all the time. But no one can set foot in our yard without that dog barking. All a person has to do is step onto the driveway, and that dog begins to yap. That is the nature of dogs.
Yet, God was watching so closely that not even a dog barked as Israel left Egypt. Imagine the din of a few million people walking along the road with their wagons, pans jingling, talking to one another, their animals clomping and making their noises—and the Egyptians' dogs along the way did not even bark!
Notice the rest of Exodus 11:7: ". . . that you may know that the LORD does make a difference between the Egyptians and Israel." God was making a witness that He was involved, watching out for His people.
Can anyone deny that God was not watching as they walked out that night in the sight of the Egyptians who were burying their dead? Certainly, the Egyptians blamed the Israelites for the death of their firstborn—their sons, their daughters, even their animals. They would be enraged at the Israelites. They could not see Israel's God, but they could take out their vengeance on His people. Yet, they stood numbly by, burying their dead as the Israelites walked away.
As the children of Israel struck out into the wilderness, Exodus 13:21-22 tells us:
The LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people.
The pillar of cloud and fire was a visible sign that God was with them—watching them, observing them, protecting them. In Exodus 14, Israel finds itself trapped at the Red Sea:
And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night. (Exodus 14:19-20)
The Night to Be Much Observed is the official recognition of God's watchful care. It is good and right to celebrate what God did and still does for His people. It is easy to understand that this portion of the holy day contains great significance. A whole nation of slaves, without having to lift a hand to effect their liberty, walked away from their captors. Most people must undertake bloody warfare to win their liberty, and many lose their lives. Those who do not suffer the loss of life usually lose their wealth. Israel lost no lives, and the people came away rich! In this case, the captor nation was helpless to do anything to keep their slaves because the Egyptians were restrained by God.
That is what happened in Egypt. Through this Feast, God is telling us spiritually that Satan's whole system—spiritual Egypt or Babylon—is supported and sustained by man's slavery to him. His system will collapse, too, when God ends mankind's slavery. Satan knows it, and he wants to preserve what he feels is his. We have been able to walk away from that satanic slavery only because God keeps vigil. He watches over us, keeps us, guards us, protects us—and Satan has to stand helplessly by and watch his "slaves" leave.
Some day in the near future, God's people will walk away from this system to a Place of Safety. Not long thereafter Satan's whole house of confusion and deception, built on spiritual slavery, will collapse. What happened in Egypt is a physical type of what is going to happen—only in that future time, it will be much greater: The whole world will be involved.
This is what God wants us to remember, to observe: that we came out because He keeps vigil.
- John W. Ritenbaugh