The Consecration of the Firstborn. The March to Etham
1-16. The Consecration of the Firstborn.
All Israel was holy unto the Lord: see on Exodus 19:5, Exodus 19:6. But the firstborn of man and beast were specially consecrated to Him, as the part representing the whole. There was a special fitness in the consecration of the firstborn, seeing they had been spared in the destruction which overtook the Egyptians. The firstborn of mankind were to be consecrated to the service of Jehovah as priests; the firstborn of animals were to be offered in sacrifice, if clean animals; if not, they were to be redeemed at a price. Afterwards the whole tribe of Levi was consecrated to the priestly service in lieu of the firstborn: see Numbers 3:40-51. The firstfruits of the field were also claimed by Jehovah: see e.g. Exodus 22:29.
2. Openeth the womb] What is claimed is the firstborn male. 8. See on Exodus 12:26.
9. A sign upon thine hand] a figurative expression meaning that they were never to lose sight of this duty. In later times the Jews understood this injunction literally, and to this day at times of prayer they attach to their left arm and forehead small cases containing pieces of parchment inscribed with certain passages of the Law. These cases are called in NT. 'phylacteries': see further on Deuteronomy 6:8.
12. Matrix] the womb.
13. The ass is here mentioned as a representative of 'unclean' domestic animals (see Leviticus 11:2.) which could not be offered in sacrifice. For such, a lamb was to be substituted; if not, its neck must be broken. This would ensure its redemption, as every one would prefer parting with a lamb to losing an ass. Human sacrifices are strictly forbidden, hence firstborn males must be redeemed. The tribe of Levi was substituted for them, and in addition the sum of five shekels was paid as the redemption price of each firstborn male: see Numbers 8:6; Numbers 18:15, Numbers 18:16. To this day the Jews solemnise the 'redemption of the firstborn' on the thirtieth day after birth. This was the rite performed by Joseph and Mary on behalf of the child Jesus as recorded in Luke 22:2, Luke 22:23.
17-22. The March to Etham.
17. The most direct route to Canaan from Raamses in the Eastern Delta where the host had mustered, would have been northeastwards along the Mediterranean coast. This would have implied a journey of not more than 150 or 200 miles. But it would immediately have brought them into collision with the Philistines, a very warlike tribe inhabiting the southwestern part of Canaan, and would have been too great an obstacle for the people's strength and faith. Accordingly the route of march was deflected southeastward into the peninsula of Sinai. The further object of leading the people to Mt. Sinai to be instructed in the Law is not expressly stated here, but neither is it excluded.
18. Harnessed] RV 'armed' in organised array: see on Exodus 6:26.
19. See Genesis 50:25; Joshua 24:32.
20. Succoth] see on Exodus 12:37. Etham] not identified. It was probably one of the frontier fortifications. The wilderness is probably that of Shur (cp. Exodus 15:22, and see on Genesis 16:7). In Numbers 33:8 it is called the 'wilderness of Etham.'
21. There was only one pillar, which in daylight had the appearance of smoke and by night glowed with fire: see Exodus 14:20, Exodus 14:24. It was the symbol of the divine presence with the host (see on Exodus 3:2), and was their signal and guide on the march: see Exodus 40:34-38, and cp. Numbers 9:15-23. It is clearly understood here to be miraculous. It was usual to carry fire signals at the head of an army on the march in early times. Go by day and by (RV) night] It is suggested that the Israelites marched during part of the night as well as by day: cp. Numbers 9:21.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Exodus 13". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany