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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 13

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter continues to relate the departure from Egypt, giving the Sanctification of the First-born as the third great memorial commemorating the Great Deliverance (Exodus 13:1-2), further instructions regarding the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 13:2-10), more specific rules for the Sanctification of the First-born, and some of the highlights regarding Israel’s Road to Canaan (Exodus 13:17-22).

Verses 1-2

“And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Sanctify unto me all the first-born, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.”

There were three great memorials of the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage, namely: (1) The Passover; (2) The Feast of Unleavened Bread; and (3) the Sanctification of the First-born. Each of these was uniquely associated with the event of the deliverance and is incapable of being intelligently associated with anything else. The Passover stressed God’s PASSING OVER the houses of the Israelites on that fatal night; the Unleavened Bread recalled the HASTE OF THEIR DEPARTURE and the unavailability of any leaven during those stressful days; the Sanctification of the First-born was a PERPETUAL REMINDER that only the first-born were slain. This triple memorial, continuously observed throughout historic times establishes without question the historicity of the tremendous event memorialized.

These memorials also did something else. They established an unending chain of teaching and instruction designed to keep God’s people informed throughout all subsequent ages with reference to the events memorialized and their significance to the children of Israel, and unto all people.

Apparently, the reason for the third of these memorials being mentioned in these two verses ahead of the second (the unleavened bread) was that of firmly identifying the third as connected and unified with the other two.

As to when the instructions in the chapter were given, “They were probably given to Moses on the very day of the setting forth and, most likely, at Succoth.”(F1)

This setting apart of the first-born was not designed to separate a priesthood, or anything like that, but was actually a representative thing signifying that “all Israel” was holy unto the Lord. “Inasmuch as the first birth represented all the births, the whole nation was to consecrate itself unto Jehovah, and present itself as a priestly nation in the consecration of the first-born.”(F2) All Israel were intended to be priests unto God, as indeed came to be the case during Messiah’s times and the New Israel of God, which is the church. Although so intended even for the Old Israel, this situation, due to the weakness and unwillingness of Israel, was altered, leading to the substitution of the Levitical order of the priesthood for the whole nation.

The triple memorial of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Consecration of the First-born was far more than mere symbols or memorials. “They (all three) were to be vivid visual aids by which the older generation would instruct the younger in the ways of God.”(F3) Furthermore, this was designed to continue from generation to generation throughout the ages (See Exodus 13:8-10).

Verses 3-10

“And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand Jehovah brought you out from this place: there shall no leavened bread be eaten. This day ye go forth in the month of Abib. And it shall be when Jehovah shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite, which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, that thou shalt keep this service in this month. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast unto Jehovah. Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and there shall be no leavened bread. seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee, in all thy borders. And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying, It is because of that which Jehovah did for me when I came forth out of Egypt. And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thy hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the law of Jehovah may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath Jehovah brought thee out of Egypt. Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in its season from year to year.”

“And Moses said unto the people” No distinction is intended here as regards the instructions that God gave to the people through Moses, from other instructions originating solely with Moses. Despite the fact of its not being specifically stated here that Moses had first received these instructions from God, yet that is certainly the meaning. The omission of any direct reference in this verse to what God commanded was due solely to the condensation of the narrative. Rawlinson affirmed that this was to “avoid unnecessary repetition.”(F4)


The entire first sixteen verses of this chapter were divided by the Jews, with Exodus 13:1-10 as a unit and Exodus 13:11-16 as another, the same being two of the four O.T. texts from which phylacteries were made. The other two were Deuteronomy 6:19 and Deuteronomy 11:13-21. Many have described how these passages were written upon pieces of parchment and made into compact little rolls which were encased in tiny boxes and worn as “frontlets” between the eyes and fastened to the left arm above the elbow (closest to the heart), in a literal interpretation of what is commanded in these places. Esses tells us that these passages (Exodus 13:1-16) were always the ones worn on the left arm.(F5) The Jewish literalization of the command here at last resulted in some bizarre behavior. The Pharisees of Jesus’ time, having a desire to appear righteous in the eyes of men, enlarged the size of these religious ornaments and paraded them publicly as an exhibition of their “holiness.” “But all their works they do to be seen of men: for they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the chief places at feasts, etc.” (Matthew 23:5-6).

It may be doubted that God intended a literal construction of the words here, because, he stated the purpose as, “that the law of Jehovah may be in thy mouth” (Exodus 13:9), indicating that it was “in the hearts” of men that he desired his words to be remembered and honored. Hywel R. Jones thought that the literal construction of these words arose during “intertestamental times.” Of the true meaning, he said that, “The words are pure metaphor, standing as a further witness of the essential inwardness of true religion in the O.T.”(F6)

“In the month of Abib” Harford identified this as an old Canaanite name of this month(F7) but it comes from Hebrew roots, and Rawlinson affirms that there is no need whatever to suppose “a foreign derivation of the word.”(F8) The real significance of “Abib” in this passage is that it establishes the author of Exodus as living long, long before the exile, after which the month was called Nisan. It is this truth that the critics wish to get rid of by the allegation that Abib is a FOREIGN term.

Note: Exodus 13:7-8 are mere repetitions of commandments given in Exodus 12:26-27. Repetition is a necessity in the teaching and instruction of men, regardless of their age, social condition, or historical sequence. Jesus Christ himself constantly used repetition in his revelation of the Holy Gospel, a fact that denies every allegation of so-called “doublets” in the sacred Gospels. What the N.T. critics call “doublets” are nothing more than the usual repetition of Jesus on various occasions of teaching already given, using exactly the same words, or very similar words. It is further proof of this that the very same procedure is observable here.

Verses 11-16

“And it shall be that when Jehovah shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanite, as he sware unto thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it thee, that thou shalt set apart unto Jehovah, all that openeth the womb, and every firstling that thou hast which cometh of a beast; the males shall be Jehovah’s. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break its neck: and all the first-born of man among thy sons shalt thou redeem. And it shall be, when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand Jehovah brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage. and it came to pass when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that Jehovah slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both first-born of man, and the first-born of beast: therefore I sacrifice to Jehovah all that openeth the womb, being males; but all the first-born of my sons I redeem. And it shall be for a sign upon thy hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand Jehovah brought us forth out of Egypt.”

“When Jehovah shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanite” This provison, already given in Exodus 13:4 and repeated here, indicates that the regulations pertaining to Unleavened Bread and the Consecration of the First-born were to be observed after the Israelites were settled in Canaan.

“It is pretty evident that the Israelites were not required to celebrate Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread until they were brought into the promised land.”(F9)

“The land of the Canaanite” There were actually six races of those peoples supplanted by Israel, but in Exodus 13:5, above, only five were listed, the Perizzites, a minor group, being omitted. Here, they were all referred to as Canaanites, there being, in fact, some thirty-two nations or petty-states included in the general designation.

“Thou shalt set apart unto Jehovah” (Exodus 13:12). The word here rendered “set apart” is literally, “cause to pass over unto Jehovah.”(F10) This is exactly the word used to describe heathen practices of sacrificing children to their gods (1 Kings 16:3, Ezekiel 20:31). “And it may be that the Lord purposely used this word to mark the distinction between this dedication and that of the heathen.”(F11) All of the prophets of Jehovah emphatically denounced and condemned human sacrifice of all kinds, and in the dedication of the first-born, one sees the vast difference in the offering of a human life as a bloody sacrifice, or a burnt offering, as contrasted with a life dedicated to the honor and service of God through righteous conduct. Such a consecration was named by the apostle Paul as the requirement of all Christians, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1). Something of that contrast was also doubtless intended by the sacred regulations laid down here.

Whereas, the first-born were mentioned in Exodus 13:2, it is evident that this is limited by instructions here. Note: “all that openeth the womb, being males” (Exodus 13:15). This excluded firstborn daughters and also sons born after a daughter. This quality of additional details being supplied with subsequent mention of God’s regulations pertains to the whole Bible. When God first told Noah to take two by two, it was later explained as including seven each of the clean animals. If there is one example of this in the Bible, there are hundreds. We mention this to say that this characteristic is not the basis for alleging multiple sources, doublets, contradictions, and variations! In short, the critical use of this characteristic is false, being due solely to blindness to the invariable Biblical method.

“And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem… if thou wilt not,… then break its neck” Here again, despite the ass only being mentioned, it was understood by the Jews that all domesticated unclean animals were to be treated in the same manner. Esses understood the significance of this, saying:

“He is telling us that if we do not receive our redemption by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our neck is going to get broken. We are going to get cut off and destroyed. Jesus is saying, `There is no way to the Father but by me (John 14:6).’“ “I AM THE JACKASS. And God loved me enough to redeem me with his Son, the Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus took my place upon the cross. I belong there, but he went there for me.”(F12)

We have included Esses’ comment here because it emphasizes the extent of God’s repudiation of the apostate Israel, following the divided kingdom, when he declared concerning Ephraim (the larger Israel of that day), that he is “a wild Ass” (Hosea 8:9)!

Verses 17-22

“And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt: but God led the people about, by the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea: and the children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt. And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you. And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness. And Jehovah went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way, and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; that they might go by day and by night: the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, departed not from before the people.”

“Led them not by the way of the… Philistines” The nation of the Israelites were far from ready to take possession of any land. The attitude of the people, long accustomed to slavery, was incompatible with any conflict of blood and suffering, to which, had they been suddenly subjected to such things, would merely have resulted in their return to Egypt, a thing they threatened on occasion, to do any way. The leadership of Moses has been praised for this; but it should be remembered that “God led the people about… etc.”

“Philistines” The mocking identification of this word as an anachronism is merely a critical device. No scholar on earth knows that there were no Philistines along the coast at the time of the exodus, and in the light of the firm word here that they were there, and that that is the reason that God took them into Canaan by some other route settles the matter for Christians. Even Davies admitted that, “The early settlement of Philistines before their main invasion may account for the reference.”(F13) Any premise that includes the proposition that there is available today anything more than a mere smattering of knowledge of ancient history known by modern man, is a monstrous misassumption! Until men know a lot more about ancient history than they do, it is far too early to accept their wild and irresponsible guesses instead of what the Word of God declares as fact!

“When Pharaoh had let the people go” Napier called this “a conflict” with Exodus 14:5 a, “When Pharaoh was told that the people had fled.”(F14) But, of course, it is no such thing. Can it be supposed for a moment that following Pharaoh’s permission for the Israelites to leave Egypt, nobody told Pharaoh that they left, or which direction they went, or how far? Or does Napier suppose that our verse here: (1) carries the meaning that Pharaoh watched them leave, or that he followed them, or that he had supernatural knowledge of what followed his permission, and that therefore, (2) it was not necessary for Pharaoh’s servants to report to their master on the activity of Israel? In short, how is there any intelligent acceptance of Napier’s charge of conflict? There is NO conflict, but the narrative continues in an orderly and understandable sequence.

“And Moses took the bones of Joseph” (Exodus 13:19). Jamieson and others have pointed out that not only the remains of Joseph, but those of other patriarchs, were also removed from Egypt (Acts 7:10).(F15)

“The children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt” There are three different renditions of this that we shall observe:

(1) The ASV (this text). “And the children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt” We are not told what this armor was. It could have been merely the customary weapons of self-defense which all travelers of that era certainly carried with them, and Cook says, “There is not the least indication that the Israelites had been disarmed by the Egyptians.”(F16) Cook also pointed out that any people living on a frontier would most likely have supplied themselves with basic weapons. The basic reason underlying this rendition is that the Hebrew word from which the translation came is found four times, and in the other three passages (Judges 7:11; Josh. 4:12; and 1:14). “It is a reference to armed men.”(F17) The word, therefore, certainly could have the meaning of armed, but this is not absolutely certain. As Rylaarsdam put it, the work “sometimes means armed for war.”(F18)

(2) The Septuagint (LXX)(F19) has: “And in the fifth generation the children of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt.” The New English Bible followed this. “The word is apparently a derivative of the (Hebrew) [~chamesh], meaning five.”(F20) It is, of course, from this fact that the Septuagint (LXX) rendition of “five generations” is derived. The following this by the NEB, it appears, is to facilitate the deductions of critical scholars to the effect that only about “one hundred” years “is certainly much nearer the truth”(F21) than the 430 years duration of their Egyptian dwelling as given in Exodus. In addition to the uncertainty about this rendition, it should be pointed out that, even if this is the accurate rendition, it will not bear the critical deduction advocated by Noth. The word “generation,” as previously pointed out, has a number of meanings, and the passage in Exodus 6:13-30, where one finds the listing of only four generations from Jacob to Moses is actually an abbreviation, but significantly, it appears that by counting a “generation” there as the period covered by the ages of each of four of the oldest men listed (each over a century), one still has the figure of 430 years affirmed in both the O.T. and the N.T. If the Septuagint (LXX) is correct, then the sacred author here is doing exactly what he did in Exodus 6:13-30, and that, of course, would make the exodus in the “fifth generation.” There is much to suggest that the passage in Exodus 6 is actually spelling out HOW it was reckoned that Israel came out in the fifth generation. There are discernible in that list four patriarchs whose lives were contiguous, each lasting over a century, the generations thus reckoned, of course, being over a century each. God promised Abraham (Genesis 15:16) that his posterity would come out of the land of their sojourn “in the fourth generation,” but the Lord had already referred to the same period as “four hundred years.” The simple meaning of this is that “generation” in Abraham’s day meant about a hundred years, but that is no longer the case. To count what was meant by the word “generation,” as used by the author of the Pentateuch, as a mere 25 years is a foolish error.
However, we do not believe that the Septuagint (LXX) is correct here.

(3) KJV: “The children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt” Keil, basing his argument upon the comparison of the passages in Judges and Joshua where the word is used with Numbers 32:30; Numbers 32:32 and Deuteronomy 3:18 declared unequivocally that the meaning is “not armed, but prepared for the march.”(F22) Jamieson also declared this to be preferred above all other renditions, noting that this meaning is particularly appropriate as a “record that the Israelites set out on their march in the manner enjoined upon them (12.10).(F23)

(4) This little study again emphasizes the danger of departing from the KJV in favor of versions and renditions supported by Bible critics.

“By way of the wilderness of the Red Sea” (Exodus 13:18). Here again, we have an insistent chorus from the critics demanding that this be translated Reed Sea. Why? Clements gives us their answer: “The words rendered Red Sea appear basically to mean `Sea of Reeds,’ and to refer to reed-covered swampland!”(F24) We consider “Sea of Reeds” or “Reed Sea” as corrupt renditions of this place. That the words could have such a meaning might possibly be true, but, if so, it is another instance, of which there are many, where critics have deliberately chosen a rendition that would afford a denial or a contradiction. What we need from such critics is an explanation of HOW the entire army of Pharaoh was drowned in that “swampland!” But, of course, what the critics are saying loud and clear by such renditions is that they do NOT believe one word of the Sacred Record. Johnson attributed this statement to the Cambridge Bible: “The passage through the Red Sea can be questioned only by an extreme and baseless skepticism.”(F25) “The Reed Sea” cannot be identified. The whole critical fraternity of Biblical detractors “have as yet been unable to achieve any significant measure of unity on the actual identity of the Reed Sea.”(F26) Until they can do so, we shall consider that it exists only in the imagination of Biblical enemies. (See my note at end of the chapter.)

“Red Sea” Why Red? There are several theories: “The waters turned red from microscopic life; the shells on the shore, or the rocks, may have been red; the reflection of the setting sun (viewed from the east, or the rising sun viewed from the west) turned the waters red in appearance. You can take your pick. Perhaps none of these is the right reason; or maybe there is no reason.”(F27)

“Succoth… Etham” It is pointless to speculate about the exact location of many of the places mentioned in Exodus, despite the fact of a detailed listing of the places being included in Numbers. Furthermore, we cannot trace the exact route followed by the people, either in their wanderings in the wilderness, or in their entry into it. It is not WHERE, but WHAT was done there that counts.

“Wanderings in the wilderness” This expression is in the vocabulary of all Christendom, and is even suggested in Revelation, but it should be remembered that Israel did not “wander”; they were LED in the wilderness by God Himself. See Exodus 13:21-22.

“And Jehovah went before them by day in a pillar of cloud” The purpose of this was “to lead them the way.” Despite the fact of its not being mentioned, we cannot rule out the possibility stated by the ancients: “The pillar of the cloud was to shadow them by day, by reason of the violent heat of the sun.”(F28) Based upon Paul’s declaration in Corinthians that the Rock that followed Israel was Christ, Cyprian identified “Jehovah” in this passage with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Angel of Jehovah.(F29)

It is generally thought that this miraculous guidance of God’s people by means of the cloud and the pillar by day and night continued throughout the period of the wilderness sojourn. The true interpretation of them must hail these as “visible evidences of God’s protective care.” The Scriptures state that the manna ceased upon their entry into Canaan, and it is reasonable to suppose that the same occasion was that of the removal of the “fiery, cloudy pillar.” This phenomenon has captured the imagination of all generations, and again and again one finds reference to it in the hymnology of the church:

Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
Hold me with thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want not more.
Open now the Crystal Fountain,
Whence the healing waters flow.
Let the fiery, cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, Be thou still my strength and shield.(F30)


At the time when our notes above on this subject were written, the tremendously significant writings of Bernard Batto on this subject had not been published; but, in Biblical Archeology Review for July/August, 1984, the absolute and final answer to this question has been resolved. As we suggested above, “Reed Sea” is a corrupt rendition, without authority, and unquestionably false and misleading. It will come as a shock to the critics who have been prattling about “Reed Sea” for a generation or two to find out, as Batto put it, “It wasn’t (the Reed Sea that they crossed), and they’re wrong.”(F31)

All scientific angles of this problem are thoroughly discussed by Batto in seven full pages of his devastating article.

Ever since Sir Alan Gardiner, a preeminent authority on hieroglyphics, announced his erroneous conclusion that the [~Yam] [~Cuwp] of the O.T., by reason of its identification with an Egyptian word, p3TWF(y), “beyond dispute,”(F32) means Reed Sea, many of the translators of the Bible, even, have been deceived, leading to the adoption of this outrageous translation in such Versions as the RSV, the Jerusalem Bible, the New American Bible, the New English Bible, and with learned notes admitting it, in such Versions as the NIV. Well, as Batto has pointed out, “Sir Alan Gardiner refutes his own conclusion.”(F33)

“The Egyptian p3-TWFy has nothing to do with [~Yam] [~Cuwp].”(F34) It is impossible for the expression to mean “Sea of Reeds.” We shall not burden the student with all of the details of this marvelous article, but the conclusions of this scientist are as follows:

“[~Yam] [~Cuwp] means `Sea of the End,’ or `Sea at the end of the world’.”(F35) The ancients, prior to 1500 B.C., believed that all of the great Southern Oceans, including even the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and both the Gulfs of Aqaba and Suez, were portions of the End Sea at the end of the world. Old maps may still be seen in libraries which give these names to those bodies of water decorated with drawings which carry the legend, “Here be dragons, here be demons that devour men.” It is not surprising, therefore, that this ancient name would have been given to that body of water crossed by Israel, which most certainly was the Red Sea, and which was universally known to the people of that era as the End Sea. Here, again, is proof that Exodus was not written by priests in the 9th century, but by Moses in the 15th century!

Batto also explored a dozen or so of the other occurrences of this expression, [~Yam] [~Cuwp], in the O.T., showing that there could not possibly be any other meaning than Red Sea, a fact tacitly recognized by all the perverters of Scripture who, while rendering it Reed Sea for the place of Israel’s crossing, revert to its obvious meaning everywhere else, for example, in 1 Kings 9:26, where we have, “King Solomon built a fleet of ships at Ezion-Geber near Elath on the shore of the [~Yam] [~Cuwp]! If the [~Yam] [~Cuwp] means Reed Sea in Exodus 13, then it means Reed Sea where Solomon launched his navy, but of course it means that nowhere in the Word of God.

Batto also explained how the word does not mean “red,” either; the body of water becomes identified with the Red Sea only by virtue of the fact that the End Sea (which is the true meaning) was understood by the ancients to include that part of the Southern Oceans named Red Sea.

We cannot leave this without pointing out how appropriate indeed that Israel should have been created, Pharaoh destroyed, and the forces of evil defeated at the End Sea. That was the END of slavery for Israel; it was the END of Pharaoh; it was the END of the oppression of God’s people in Egypt; and the symbolism reaches all the way into the N.T., where Christian baptism appears as the END of slavery to sin, the End of bondage to Satan; the END of guilt and shame; and the BEGINNING (the other END) of the new life in Christ!

This breakthrough of archeological information is actually founded upon the archeological discovery that that key Egyptian word, p3-TWF(y), through further studies of the hieroglyphics on ancient Egyptian monuments, has been proved to be “never a determinative for lake or water.”(F36) This simply means that it is linguistically impossible for it to modify the word “sea.”

We could perhaps hope that the destructive critics who have so vociferously defended this perversion of God’s Word would confess their error and accept the text for what it truly says, but their track-record leads us to expect the opposite. There is no critical treatise that a man may read today which does not still parrot the old “cliches of atheism” which have been disproved for generations! We expect it to be the same with this.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Exodus 13". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/exodus-13.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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