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What is the significance of cooking the passover lamb by fire rather than boiling?

Exodus 12:8-9 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. (ESV)

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They were to eat the lamb roasted over fire because it was quick: the same reason they were to eat it with their cloak tucked into their belt, their sandals on their feet and their staff in their hand. “Eat it in haste; it is the LORD's Passover.” (Exodus 12:11) They did not know exactly when the LORD was going to call them out but they were to be prepared to go when He did. Roasting the lamb over fire was much quicker than boiling it in a pot.

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  • Actually I think sometimes the simplest answer can be the best one. I was thinking along those lines since it was supposed be cooked without being butchered (head and legs in and entrails in). I would like to see if anyone has heard or read of any other opinions – Tonyg May 10 '16 at 2:52
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The lamb was to be roasted with fire not eaten raw or boiled. The lamb was to be proportioned between households so that everything would be eaten:

…every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ house, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. (Exodus 12:3-4 ESV)

It should have been eaten; yet the LORD made provision if it was not eaten:

And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until morning you shall burn. (Exodus 12:10 ESV)

At the first Passover the entire animal would have been consumed by fire, either by roasting and being eaten or by burning what was not eaten. Since boiling would not consume the uneaten portion, roasting ensured the entire animal would be consumed by a singular method of using fire.

At the first Passover blood was the most important element; without the blood on the doorposts and lintel a house was not passed over and the firstborn would have been killed. After the Passover the relationship between blood and meal changed: the meal becomes the most important element (blood was not a part of the service). Therefore the significance of roasting by fire should be seen in terms of the how this event would be commemorated in the future. In other words, the LORD’s instructions for the meal are purposeful in what the Israelites were to do on the first Passover to establish the foundation for how this event would be observed in the future.

The instructions on how and why this rite was to be observed in the future were given as part of the Passover:

You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice זֶֽבַח (zebah) of the LORD’S Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’”… (Exodus 12:24-27 ESV)

There is a significant connection with the history of the zebah offering and the Passover. The first zebah offering was made by Jacob on his return to the land promised to Abraham:

This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you and this pillar to me, to do harm. The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac, and Jacob offered a sacrifice (zebah) in the hill country and called his kinsman to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night in the hill country. (Genesis 31:52-54 ESV)

The second zebah offering was also made by Israel:

So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices (zebah) to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said. “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” (Genesis 49:1-4 ESV)

There is no mention of these sacrifices being made with fire. However that would be the most likely manner they would be made and it is unlikely they would have been made by boiling.

The third zebah offering was the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover (Exodus 12:27). This means the zebah marks Israel’s entrance to and exit from Egypt. It also recalls the first zebah in Scripture made between Jacob and Laban when Jacob exited Paddan-aram and returned to Israel.

The meal is the centerpiece of the Passover service which was to declare that it was the sacrifice (zebah) of the LORD’S Passover to future generations:

”Passover was a family festival originally observed without reference to altar, sanctuary or priesthood (note the absence of ritual prescriptions in the Levitical calendar at Lev. 23:5)” 1

As commentaries note Leviticus has no instruction on the Passover sacrifice but it does identify the zebah sacrifice as the peace offering:

”If his offering is a sacrifice (zebah) of peace offering, if he offers an animal from the herd, male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before the LORD. (Leviticus 3:1 ESV)

The animal of the peace offering could be taken from either herds or the flocks and Chapter 3 describes how the sacrifice would be done for each of the different animals: one from the herd, a lamb, or a goat. Of the 3 the lamb offered had two unique aspects:

If he offers a lamb…(3:7)…the priest shall burn it on the altar as a food offering to the LORD. (Leviticus 3:11 ESV)

Only the lamb was specifically designated as a food offering to the LORD; the others were a “sweet savor to the LORD.” Only the lamb could be offered by the priest; the others were to be offered by Aaron and his sons. Thus the language and methods in Leviticus links the sacrifice (zebah) of the LORD’s Passover with the lamb offered as sacrifice (zebah) of the peace offering. The role of the priest when the lamb is sacrificed as a peace offering also parallels the first Passover where the father of each house (not only Aaron or his sons) selected and sacrificed the lamb.

Among the sacrifices described in Leviticus, boiling what is eaten separates the sin offering from all others:

…This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the LORD; it is most holy. The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it… (6:25-26)… And the earthenware vessel in which it was boiled shall be broken… (Lev 8:28 ESV)

The language of Leviticus not only connects the sacrifice of the peace offering to the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, it differentiates that offering from the sin offering using the same method of cooking found in the Passover.

Conclusion

Roasting by fire establishes a physical connection with the meal of the zebah of the LORD’s Passover and the peace offering; not boiling continues that distinction to the sin offering. Therefore a Passover remembrance is also a reminder that the sacrifice made at Passover is a peace offering. It also remembers Israel’s entrance to and exit from Egypt and recalls the first zebah made between Jacob and Laban.


1. The International Bible Commentary p. 163

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  • Abraham's sacrifice of the ram, instead of Isaac, in Gen 22 was also a burnt offering. – Joshua May 17 '16 at 11:26
  • @Joshua Abraham's sacrifice is important yet different from the Passover sacrifice in several ways. One is language; it is a burnt offering (olah) not a peace offering (zebah). Another is it was a ram and specifically not a lamb (the animal both Isaac and Abraham expected to be sacrificed). Finally there is no mention of eating; so the aspect of a covenant meal is absent. The use of fire in the sacrifice is consistent with roasting required in the Passover. At the same time, I believe the use of fire is a common denominator in all sacrifices and does little to distinguish one from another. – Revelation Lad May 17 '16 at 18:42
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I believe that the laws of the Passover sacrifice closely resemble the laws which apply to all of the sacrifices which took place in the ancient Temple. The Passover sacrifice was unique among all the sacrifices in one important way. The commandment to offer the Passover sacririce was given before the Temple (or even the Tabernacle) existed. This means that although there was an obligation for the Priests to make an offering, the commandment was applicable without a Temple.

Given that the Passover sacririce was commanded before any other sacrifices specified in the Torah were being made, it logically follows that the Israelites, even the Priests, were not familiar with the relevant rules. As the following passage shows, the rules for other sacrifices were similar to the Passover sacrifice:

Leviticus 1:9

וְקִרְבּוֹ וּכְרָעָיו יִרְחַץ בַּמָּיִם וְהִקְטִיר הַכֹּהֵן אֶת הַכֹּל הַמִּזְבֵּחָה עֹלָה אִשֵּׁה רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ לַיהֹוָה:
And he [the Priest] shall wash its legs and innards in water, and the Priest shall cause the whole thing to go up in smoke on the alter, as an aromatic offering to the L-rd.

I don't believe that burning in fire rather than some other means of cooking, such as boiling, was unique to the Passover sacrifice, although many other aspects were unique. Rather, the instructions to burn the Passover sacrifice were in line with what we would expect for any sacrifice to be offered in the Temple.

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  • This is a valuable observation about general observance of the Passover in later periods. However, this answer does not appear to really engage with the core of the OP's question which is geared around the observance of the first Passover, and what the significance was for the sacrifice to be roasted and not boiled on that first occasion. – Steve Taylor May 17 '16 at 11:16
  • @SteveTaylor The thesis of my answer is that the special significance does not necessarily have to do with the method of cooking in that all sacrifices would be treated this way in the years to come. – Tim Biegeleisen May 17 '16 at 11:23
  • Okay, so effectively the Answer is trying to explain that the only significance of the cooking method was that this would be the requirement for all sacrifices, and so it was to be taught early on and confirmed later? So in other words, it's all purely about correct methodology, and there's no discernible practical or theological reason (in Exodus or later) why burning in fire was preferable to boiling? – Steve Taylor May 17 '16 at 11:47
  • I am saying that cooking vs. boiling has no significance for the Passover sacrifice over any other sacrifice. – Tim Biegeleisen May 17 '16 at 12:08
  • @Tim Biegeleisen 1 Sam 2:12-16 says that the sons of Eli would come whenever sacrifices were being made and take the meat before the fat was 'burned' up because they did not want boiled meat. So, that being said I'm a little confused with your answer since you seem to indicate that 'any sacrifice to be offered in the temple' was to be burned with fire and boiling was not the prescribed method. It does seem to be important rather that it was to be roasted over boiling. – Tonyg May 17 '16 at 12:39
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Boiling any animal or fish without dressing it out and washing the meat before cooking by boiling would be a health problem. The danger of fecal matter in the boiling pot would be guaranteed.

Without dressing and cleaning the inside of the cavity only cooking on a open fire would the lamb be safe to eat. We are not told if they skinned the animal. Either skin on or off roasting over fire was the safe way to cook a undressed animal.

I have cooked many fish over a fire without cleaning out the entrails, and after fire roasting the fish on a stick over open fire you just pull off the skin and eat the meat and discard the rest. Would never boil fish without cleaning out entrails. Think about what going into your soup pot.

Israel was required to eat all the meat before morning and burn the inedible parts in the morning. The night was the night of the 14th of Abib supported by Lev. 23 and Exodus 12. The day of preparation was also the 14th given in the same texts. If the evening sacrifice on the 9th hour of the 14th of Abib was daylight. Israel was instructed to kill the lamb and follow the instructions given then at twilight or sunset go into their dwelling for the Passover meal and that same night at midnight the death angel passed over Israel's dwellings that were protected by the Passover Lamb's blood.

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  • Roasting an animal that has not been gutted is NOT FAST. Takes much longer due to the need to raise the temperature to a safe cooking temp throughout. After gutting out any animal it is must faster to cook then not gutted. – Woodboat May 27 '16 at 8:47
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Given that the wool and the skin of the lamb would have to burn off before the underlying meat could roast, and given that the entire process had to be done in haste in anticipation of leaving Egypt, it is likely that the dead lamb was skinned prior to roasting. Additionally, roasting the carcass with the guts inside could cause them to burst and contaminate the meat that was to be completely consumed. In the context of the Bible, eating contaminated meat was prohibited. The issue lies within the Hebrew word translated into the English word "with". There are many connotations of the word, and context determines the proper usage. Given the context of the Scriptures, the appropriate translation would be "from near". In other words, the lamb would be roasted "from near" its entrails.

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