Not Just Another Night!

John Plunkett
April 2, 2016

This dinner is not just another dinner! 

This evening is not just another evening! 

This evening is a very special evening to God!

This evening is a Night to be Much Observed!

Today, as we approach the spring Holy Days, in this sermon I want to discuss with you "the five W's of the Night to be Much Observed" -- the "Why", the "When", the "Who", the "Where" and the "What" of the Night to be Much Observed.  Also, I've also added one "H"... the "How."


So let’s start with our first question: "Why?"  Why do we keep this observance? 

Although most people outside of God's church have never even heard of the Night to be Much Observed or, as we used to call it, "the Night to be Much Remembered," it is clearly commanded as an important part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread activities. 

Let us set the stage by reviewing the amazing events of the first Night to be Much Observed; but let's begin with the first Passover night:

Exodus 12:29a:
And it came to pass, that at midnight …

So this was during the night that began Abib 14…

29b: … the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.
30a:  And Pharaoh rose up in the night … 

And this is still the night of Abib 14…

30b: … he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
31:  And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, "Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both you and the children of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as you have said."

Back in verse 22, the LORD had told Moses and Aaron, "None of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning."  So there are a couple of possibilities here.  Even though they were summoned by night, maybe Moses and Aaron didn’t actually go to Pharaoh until the morning.  Otherwise, maybe the LORD gave them special permission to go out during the night.  We are not given this detail; but I feel that the first explanation is the most likely.

Continuing with what Pharaoh said:

32:  "Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also."

Interesting that he would ask a blessing on himself!  After this final plague, he was probably so scared, that he would even ask for a blessing on himself.

33: And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, "We be all dead men."

What came next was definitely after the sun was up, in the daytime portion of Abib 14:

35:  And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment:
36:  And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required.  And they spoiled the Egyptians.

Then, after sunset, now into the beginning of Abib 15:

37: And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children.
38:  And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.
40:  Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.
41:  And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.

When we read these two verses, 40 and 41, the English grammar reads as though the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years.  There is disagreement amongst various translators and Hebrew scholars about this – because the math just does not add up.  The numbers of the years and the patriarchs' lifetimes, just do not add up to 430 years.  Some scholars feel that that 430 years of sojourning actually began with Abraham’s call and includes the time that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were wandering in the various places of Canaan.  That is a different subject for another day; so we will go into that another time.

Repeating verse 41:

41:  And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.

It says "the selfsame day";  but it was definitely nighttime when they came out:

Deuteronomy 16:1:
Observe the month of Abib, and keep the Passover unto the LORD your God: for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you forth out of Egypt by night.

And so, we come to:

Exodus 12:42:
It is a night to be much observed unto 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.

Yes.  It was the night that the LORD brought them out of the land of Egypt.

Let’s just recap:

On Passover Night – Abib 14 – Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron and told them and the other Israelites to leave Egypt to serve the Eternal.  

This they had repeatedly asked to do previously and had been turned down.  

He now gave them freedom to take their sheep and cattle – again, as they had previously requested and had been denied. 

He told them to get out of Egypt and, surprisingly, asked a blessing for himself! 

The Egyptian people were anxious to get the Israelites on their way as soon as possible.  They feared that God would have wiped out all of them if they didn't free the Israelites immediately.

In the daytime portion of Abib 14, according to the LORD's instructions through Moses, the Israelites demanded silver, gold and clothing.  God had caused the Egyptians to give the Israelites all that they asked for.  The Israelites were not stealing from them.  They had been in Egypt for many, many years as slaves; so this was "pay-back time."  

When they use the term that they "spoiled the Egyptians," some Bible scholars believe that, on top of the ten plagues, this "spoiling" actually completed the financial ruin of the nation of Egypt for a long time afterwards.

So, the night beginning Abib 15 was when the Exodus began.  The Israelites – six hundred thousand men, plus women and children, and many sheep and cattle – left Egypt.  

We are also told that "a mixed multitude" travelled with them, as well.   A multitude is a large group of people.  Perhaps this was a large group of non-Israelites of various nationalities.  Perhaps they also had been slaves, who had gained their freedom.  Perhaps some of them were even Egyptians who had recognized that Israel had the benefit of having the true God on their side.  There was not much doubt about that, when they had seen all that God had done for the Israelites. 

So, after a long period of slavery, the Israelites left Egypt.  They travelled from Goshen and Rameses towards a place called Succoth.  They did this starting on this special night – this night of the beginning of Abib 15. 

This was a special night, the night when the mighty God freed the Israelites from bondage in Egypt; and that night is a night to be much observed to the LORD. 

We must remember that this Night to be Much Observed is God's night.  It is not man's night!

Please note also that this extra-special night is to be observed by Israelites (both physical and spiritual) throughout their generations – forever!  (See Exodus 12:14, 17, 24).

But why do we in God's New Covenant Church keep this Night to be Much Observed? 

Yes.  We keep it because God commands it.  But everything that God commands is for a good reason, and is virtually always for the benefit of mankind, and especially for His people.

So, for New Covenant Christians then, what are the good reasons for this command? 

Despite our physical nationalities, all of the members of God's church have been made spiritual Israelites; and, as we've seen, for Israel, this observance is commanded forever! 

The good reasons for the Night to be Much Observed are bound up in the reasons for the Days of Unleavened Bread generally:

Exodus 13:
3:  And Moses said unto the people, "Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place: there shall no leavened bread be eaten. 
4: This day
(night, actually) came you out in the month Abib"... 

God told the Israelites, through Moses, that they were to remember this day on which they came out of their bondage in Egypt, and that it was by the strength of the LORD's hand that they were freed. 

Verse 8:  "And you shall show your son in that day, saying, 'This is done because of that which the LORD did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt. 
9a:  And it shall be for a sign unto you upon your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes, that the LORD'S law may be in your mouth'"…

This is not telling us to strap physical phylacteries on our wrists and foreheads.  It is talking about keeping His laws in our minds, in our thoughts, in our words, and in our deeds. 

9b: … "'for with a strong hand has the LORD brought you out of Egypt. 
10:  You shall therefore keep this ordinance in His season from year to year.'" 

Please note that this observance must be "in His season."  In the LORD’s season.  Not man’s season.  Not even the Jews' season (especially when their timings are wrong, which they often are). 

We are also told here that we are to teach our children – yes, and our grandchildren too – that these things are to be done and that these days and these nights are to be kept, because of how, through great miracles, God brought His Old Covenant people out of physical Egypt; but more importantly for us, how He brought His New Covenant people out of spiritual Egypt, again by great miracles. 

The Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Night to be Much Observed are visible signs that we are keepers and preachers of God's law.  The Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Night to be Much Observed are reminders that, by His great strength, God brought His people out of physical and spiritual Egypt.  All the glory has to go to Him!  

For these reasons, God's people are to keep these ordinances every year at the commanded time.

The marginal reference of Exodus 12:42 in the King James Version gives the alternate translation of "a night of observations."  The Revised Standard Version calls it "a night of watching."  The Modern Language Version says that "that was a night when the Lord kept watch to bring them out of Egypt; it is the night in which through all their generations the Israelites shall keep watch in the presence of the Eternal."

Although Herbert Armstrong used to advise the brethren not to "sermonize" at our Night to be Much Observed dinners, this clearly is an evening when we should be reflecting on the vastly important events that happened on that night – both in the Old Testament era, when God freed physical Israel from physical Egypt, and in the New Testament, when God freed spiritual Israel from spiritual Egypt.

At the very beginning of the New Testament era (which didn't actually begin until Jesus' death), Jesus had been crucified and entombed by the sunset which ended Abib 14 of that year. 

We need to really think about this!  We often think about the Old Testament activities of this night and day; but we need to concentrate on the New Testament happenings. 

That Night to be Much Observed which began Abib 15 in that year was the first night in the whole of eternity that our Lord, our Messiah, our Creator was not alive.  That is hard for us to get our minds around.  It is hard for us to comprehend; but on that night, for the first time ever, a member of the God Family was dead!  Please think about this.

So all of those things constitute why we keep the Night to be Much Observed.


Our second question is "When?"  When should we keep the Night to be Much Observed?

Exodus 12:42:
It is a night to be much observed unto 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.

The LORD God tells us that it should be kept on the same night that Israel was freed from Egypt.  Which night was that?

Numbers 33:3:
And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the morrow after the Passover the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians. 

Let’s get our timing straight here.  Passover day is the 14th of Abib.  Passover night is the beginning of the 14th of Abib. 

In Exodus 12:22, the LORD said that the Israelites were to remain indoors on that night.  The morrow after Passover day is Abib 15, and the morrow night after Passover night and day is the night that begins Abib 15.

The Israelites left Rameses, displaying victory and rejoicing before their former captives on the night beginning the fifteenth day of Abib, the first of God's sacred months. 

Another part of the question "When?" is this:  When should the Night to be Much Observed dinner begin? 

We can be sure that it is absolutely necessary that the Passover service not begin until after the sunset that begins Abib 14.  That is very important. 

However, should it necessarily be the same for the Night to be Much Observed dinner? 

This is my own opinion; but I don’t think that it is.  I believe that, keeping in mind that a special dinner is not specifically commanded for the Night to be Much Observed (we'll come to this shortly), as long as our dinners continue into the 15th, then it is acceptable to begin them before the sunset.  The sunset in our Nanoose location this year (2016), on April 20, is quite late at 8:18pm.  Sunset is even later in other locations further north than ours.  If we didn’t begin our Night to be Much Observed dinner until after sunset, it would make for an uncomfortably late night, and it is important that we really need to have a good night’s rest in preparation for the Holy Day on the following day.


Our third question is "Where?"  Where should the Night to be Much Observed be kept?

We are strongly commanded to keep this Night to be Much Observed, and we are clearly commanded when to keep it; but there is no specific instruction as to where it should be kept.

If we go all the way back to the ancient Israelites again, assuming that they did not leave Egypt right at sunset, those first observers of the Night To Be Much Observed would have kept some of the evening in their homes in the preparation for their departure, and some of it on the road out of Egypt. 

Herbert Armstrong, when he first realized that New Covenant Christians should be keeping the Night To Be Much Observed, he recommended that we keep it at home, along with another one or more church families or individual brethren.  This is what most Church of God families have done throughout the years since then.  

There were a few years when some congregations of God's church kept the Night to be Much Observed all together at various large halls or restaurants.  It is not or me to judge those who continue that practice; but we as a family have chosen not to do so.  For a couple of reasons:  Partially because we don’t wish to transact business on one of God’s annual Sabbath Days; but also because in such large groups, there is too much danger of turning this very special night into "just another dinner".  We have experienced this in the past and this night is too special to allow that to happen.


Question number four is "Who?" 

There are actually two questions that arise here: Who should attend the night to be much observed dinners?  And, if we are hosting a dinner, whom should we invite? 

I am not going to get into the second question in too much detail. I will concentrate more on the first one because, as far as I know, we don’t have many regular listeners in the larger groups or congregations.  However, if you do attend with a large congregation, and if you would like to have some information on this, please either write to me or phone me.

I don’t consider myself to be a Night to be Much Observed expert, of course; but for many years back in our time with the Worldwide Church of God, I was given the job of making sure that all of the brethren in our congregation of 330 were looked after so that none would be alone on this special evening.

So, let’s concentrate on the other question:  Who should attend the Night to be Much Observed dinners? 

All of us who are able to attend Sabbath services regularly shouldn't have any trouble attending one of these dinners.  Some who have health problems should attend the dinner only if they feel up to it.  Some members have told me that they do not feel able to attend both the Night to be Much Remembered dinner and the first Holy Day service.  If it comes to a choice, I would say that the First Day of Unleavened Bread service is probably the priority. 

Unless absolutely necessary, it is not advisable to spend the evening alone, or just with your own family.  As it is such a very special occasion, sharing it with at least one other family makes it more special.

Over the years, various Church of God groups have gone back and forth a few times with the decision as to whether non-church member spouses (or other family members) should attend the Night to be Much Observed dinners. 

As it stands today, non-member family members are to be welcomed.  In order to avoid any unpleasantness, this ruling comes with some obvious reservations and exceptions.  I have a dim memory of one disastrous occasion in the distant past when the very vocal spouse of a visiting member was very contrary and argumentative.  She obviously didn’t like the church at all; but she attended our Night to be Much Observed gathering with her husband and it turned out to be quite unpleasant. 

To avoid this kind of problem, the member whose spouse (or other family member) does not attend church services regularly, is usually the best judge as to whether the family member would be comfortable at such a gathering; and also whether the brethren would be comfortable having him or her there.

Although, as we have said that there should be no "sermonizing" at Night to be Much Observed dinners, still, there will be conversation on spiritual subjects.  And quite rightly so. Yes.  We certainly should take the comfort and sensitivities of any non-member guests into consideration in our conversations; but not to the detriment of the extra-special nature and the spiritual purpose of this evening. 

Again, it is up to the church member to discuss this with his (or her) non-member spouse (or other family member) well in advance in order to spare him (or her) and the brethren any unnecessary embarrassment or discomfort.


Finally, our fifth and last "W" question is "What?" 

What can each of us do to contribute to making this year’s Night to be Much Observed the extra-special evening that God meant it to be?

Please think!  Please plan!  Please be creative!  Let’s get busy and help the hosts as much as possible.  At our 2016 gathering in Nanoose, all of the attendees will be getting involved in the planning and activities. 

But I am not just talking to our local brethren here, but to those people who might listen to or read this later.  Please remember that, just like you, the host family will have been very busy deleavening.  So please do not allow your host to provide the whole meal and clean-up as well!  Please insist on an equitable sharing of the costs, the preparation of the meal, and in the clean-up afterwards.  As already mentioned, we have church services on the following day, so we all will need a good night's rest to get ourselves ready for them.

A word to the men!  This includes us too!  I know that you have been faithfully watching Downton Abbey on TV and that [joking, of course!], like its noble owners, you like the luxury of retiring to the library with your brandy, cigars and oh-so-spiritual conversation, leaving the ladies to do all of the clean-up. 

Please remember that, in most cases, it was the ladies who did most of the work in the preparation of the meal.  The least that we guys can do is to help with the clean-up.  So men! Let's roll up our sleeves and get stuck in on the Night to be Much Observed.  


So that is it for the 5 “W’s.”   Now, please allow me add an "H" to "the five W's."  The "How." 

How should the Night to be Much Observed be kept?

In the years since the collapse of the Worldwide Church of God, some, including some of the detractors of the memory of Herbert W. Armstrong and his sincere efforts in the restoring of the truth to the Church of God, have questioned and criticized the idea that a dinner is even necessary on the Night to be much Observed.  They say that it is extra-biblical, or even unscriptural.  Some have even ridiculed the teaching and the keeping of the Night to be Much Observed itself.  I have read of some who have called it "Armstrong’s folly."

I am not saying that I believe that everything Herbert W. Armstrong did, or said, or preached, was 100% correct.  I know that he did err in some areas.  But who hasn’t? 

However, I do believe that, for the most part, to the best of his knowledge and ability, Herbert Armstrong did strive to go over and above the call of duty, as in the case of the annual keeping of the Night to be Much Observed and its “traditional” dinner. 

It is true that there is no scriptural command to hold a dinner on this night, and the only references to food in the Night to be Much Observed verses are:

Exodus 12:
34:  And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders...
Verse 39: And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual.

Apparently, all they had was a pile of unleavened cakes, which is not much of a holy day meal, of course. 

But let us look at the converse.  Is it wrong for us to hold a dinner on the Night to be Much Observed?  And was it wrong for Herbert Armstrong to institute the tradition of Night to be Much Observed dinners? 

To both questions, I would answer "No."

It is also true that we are not to add to, nor subtract from God’s instructions... in a wrong way.   But in the modern Church of God, some extra biblical decisions have to be made.  For example, do we know exactly how Jesus, the disciples, and the early church groups conducted their Sabbath services?  No, we don’t.  So, lacking that detailed information, most Church of God groups in our modern era have come to their own extra-biblical decisions as to how best conduct church services. 

Likewise, the LORD commanded us to observe this ultra-important night that begins Abib 15; but He did not tell us exactly how to observe it.  So then, should we just go out on that evening and observe the sun as it goes down?  Then just observe the full moon and the stars as they come up?  Or should we observe the evening by having a Bible Study, either on our own, or with local brethren?  I am sure that there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these choices.

But the Night to be Much Observed is an integral part of the First Day of Unleavened Bread, and as such, it is part of one of God’s Feast days.  So is it wrong then, on this Feast day, for God’s people to feast twice on this Feast day – once at the beginning, during its nighttime period, and once during its daytime period?  Of course not!  We know that it is not wrong! In fact, it is quite acceptable, especially if it is done in the right spirit, and again not as “just another dinner.”

We have all been given what Herbert Armstrong used to refer to as "free moral agency."  So, if any member wishes to observe this night in some other manner that he believes to be acceptable to God, he is totally free to do so, and we are not going to judge them:

Colossians 2:16:
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days:

However, if you decline attendance at your local Night to be Much Observed dinner in order to observe it in another way, please be aware that there is a danger of not keeping the evening as something special.  And it is very special. 

Exodus 12:42:
It is a night to be much observed unto 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.

If done properly, our Night to be Much Observed dinners bring the brethren together "unto the LORD" in the spirit of thankfulness, rejoicing and praise for all that happened on this special night, especially in Jesus' New Covenant fulfillment of it.

What else might there be under the heading of how the Night to be Much Observed should be kept?

I believe that it is very important for us to remember these two things: 

First of all, that the Night to be Much Observed evening begins a Holy Day... the first Holy Day of God's sacred year.  It is special just because of that.

Secondly, in our understandable rejoicing that we have been freed from spiritual Egypt, we should also remember the vast importance and the solemnity of what happened on this night two thousand years ago.  As the sun was setting, Jesus was being laid in His tomb.  This was at the end of Passover Day which was also the Day of Preparation for the Night to be Much Observed and the First Day of Unleavened Bread. 

For the first time in all eternity, a member of the God Family was dead.  He was not preaching to the spirits in prison,; nor was He in purgatory, as some believe. He was dead!  He was inactive!  He was out of the picture for three days and nights! 

To God the Father and the holy angels, that short 72-hour period must have seemed like an eternity.  Can you imagine what might have happened to the world – what Satan might have done – if God the Father and His holy angels had not been around keeping the lid of things for those 72 hours?

While it is true that Jesus died so that you and I might have our sins washed away – and that, in itself, certainly is good cause for great rejoicing – and while it is the beginning of a Feast day, and while we certainly should enjoy ourselves, still, the Night to be Much Observed is not a night for partying!

It is interesting to read up on the pre-Passover dinners that are mentioned in I Corinthians 11 and apply what we read there to our Night to Be Much Observed dinners.  Our rejoicing should not be like that of the world, with greed, selfishness, gluttony, and with the excess of noise and alcohol.

Herbert Armstrong strongly recommended that, on each Night to be Much Observed, although we should avoid "sermonizing," we should go around the table and give each member, or member-couple, the opportunity to rehearse their individually miraculous circumstances that led to their being called into the Church of God, and to their being freed from spiritual Egypt, spiritual Pharaoh and the sin of the world. 

If we have the same group of brethren every year, this practice might get a bit "old hat"; but as it is this year, as we are getting together with brethren with whom we haven’t spent a Night to be Much Observed with in previous years, I think it would be a good thing to do.  It helps us understand one another and where we came from, spiritually.

But what about the children?  The scriptures reveal that our children and grandchildren should be encouraged to participate in the Night to be Much Observed, and in the Feast of Unleavened Bread celebrations:

Exodus 13:
8a:  And you shall show your son in that day…

As used here, "son" is just the word for "child."  It is obvious that daughters are also included.

8b: … saying, "This is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt. 
9:  And it shall be for a sign unto you upon your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes, that the LORD's law may be in your mouth: for with a strong hand has the LORD brought you out of Egypt.
10:  You shall therefore keep this ordinance in His season from year to year...

So important is this teaching of our children, that he repeated it in verse 14:

Verse 14:  And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, "What is this?" that you shall say unto him, "By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage...

And again, when we are explaining that to our children and grandchildren, we are talking about the New Covenant version of this.

16:  And it shall be for a token upon your hand, and for frontlets between your eyes: for by strength of hand the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt."

I was recently reading through the account of Joseph, about when he was playing those little "tricks" on his brothers when they came before him in Egypt; but didn’t recognize him for who he was.  He had his servants have them sat in age order at the table for the meal.  We could emulate this by having our guests seated in approximate age order.  This way, each guest would likely be sitting next to someone with whom they likely share common interests.

That is up to the parents, of course; but I believe that our children should listen to at least some of the accounts of conversion being described by the adults.  This is good training and knowledge for the children, about what we have come out of and what led to our conversion.

So there they are: "The five W's and one H of the Night to be Much Observed: the "Why", the "When", the "Where", the "Who", the "What" and the "How." 

I sincerely hope and pray that this year, all of you will have an extra-special Night to be Much Observed. 

But please remember that this is not just another dinner! 

This is not just another night!