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Sanctification of the first-born, and Promulgation of the Law for the Feast of Mazzoth. - Exodus 13:1, Exodus 13:2. The sanctification of the first-born was closely connected with the Passover. By this the deliverance of the Israelitish first-born was effected, and the object of this deliverance was their sanctification. Because Jehovah had delivered the first-born of Israel, they were to be sanctified to Him. If the Israelites completed their communion with Jehovah in the Passover, and celebrated the commencement of their divine standing in the feast of unleavened bread, they gave uninterrupted effect to their divine sonship in the sanctification of the first-born. For this reason, probably, the sanctification of the first-born was commanded by Jehovah at Succoth, immediately after the exodus, and contemporaneously with the institution of the seven days' feast of Mazzoth (cf. Exodus 2:15), so that the place assigned it in the historical record is the correct one; whereas the divine appointment of the feast of Mazzoth had been mentioned before (Exodus 12:15.), and the communication of that appointment to the people was all that remained to be mentioned here.
Every first-born of man and beast was to be sanctified to Jehovah, i.e., given up to Him for His service. As the expression, “all the first-born,” applied to both man and beast, the explanation is added, “ everything that opens the womb among the Israelites, of man and beast.” כּל־רחם פּטר for רחם כּל־פּטת (Exodus 13:12): כּל is placed like an adjective after the noun, as in Numbers 8:16, כּל בּכור for בּכור־כּל , διανοῖγον πᾶσαν μήτραν for πᾶν διανοῖγον μήτραν (Exodus 13:12, lxx). הוּא לי : “ it is Mine, ” it belongs to Me. This right to the first-born was not founded upon the fact, that “Jehovah was the Lord and Creator of all things, and as every created object owed its life to Him, to Him should its life be entirely devoted,” as Kurtz maintains, though without scriptural proof; but in Numbers 3:13 and Numbers 8:17 the ground of the claim is expressly mentioned, viz., that on the day when Jehovah smote all the first-born of Egypt, He sanctified to Himself all the first-born of the Israelites, both of man and beast. Hence the sanctification of the first-born rested not upon the deliverance of the first-born sons from the stroke of the destroyer through the atoning blood of the paschal lamb, but upon the fact that God sanctified them for Himself at that time, and therefore delivered them. But Jehovah sanctified the first-born of Israel to Himself by adopting Israel as His first-born son (Exodus 4:22), or as His possession. Because Israel had been chosen as the nation of Jehovah, its first-born of man and beast were spared, and for that reason they were henceforth to be sanctified to Jehovah. In what way, is more clearly defined in Numbers 8:12.
The directions as to the seven days' feast of unleavened bread (Exodus 12:15-20) were made known by Moses to the people on the day of the exodus, at the first station, namely, Succoth; but in the account of this, only the most important points are repeated, and the yearly commemoration is enjoined. In Exodus 13:3, Egypt is called a “ slave-house, ” inasmuch as Israel was employed in slave-labour there, and treated as a slave population (cf. Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6; Deuteronomy 6:12, etc.). יד הזק “ strength of hand, ” in Exodus 13:3, Exodus 13:14, and Exodus 13:16, is more emphatic than the more usual חזקה יד (Exodus 3:19, etc.). - On Exodus 13:5, see Exodus 3:8, and Exodus 12:25. In Exodus 13:6, the term “ feast to Jehovah ” points to the keeping of the seventh day by a holy convocation and the suspension of work (Exodus 12:16). It is only of the seventh day that this is expressly stated, because it was understood as a matter of course, that the first was a feast of Jehovah.
“ because of that which Jehovah did to me ” ( זה in a relative sense, is qui , for אשׁר , see Ewald, §331): sc., “I eat unleavened bread,” or, “I observe this service.” This completion of the imperfect sentence follows readily from the context, and the whole verse may be explained from Exodus 12:26-27.
The festival prescribed was to be to Israel “ for a sign upon its hand, and for a memorial between the eyes.” These words presuppose the custom of wearing mnemonic signs upon the hand and forehead; but they are not to be traced to the heathen custom of branding soldiers and slaves with marks upon the hand and forehead. For the parallel passages in Deuteronomy 6:8 and Deuteronomy 11:18, “bind them for a sign upon your hand,” are proofs that the allusion is neither to branding nor writing on the hand. Hence the sign upon the hand probably consisted of a bracelet round the wrist, and the ziccaron between the eyes, of a band worn upon the forehead. The words are then used figuratively, as a proverbial expression employed to give emphasis to the injunction to bear this precept continually in mind, to be always mindful to observe it. This is still more apparent from the reason assigned, “ that the law of Jehovah may be in thy mouth.” For it was not by mnemonic slips upon the hand and forehead that a law was so placed in the mouth as to be talked of continually (Deuteronomy 6:7; Deuteronomy 11:19), but by the reception of it into the heart and its continual fulfilment. (See also Exodus 13:16.) As the origin and meaning of the festival were to be talked of in connection with the eating of unleavened bread, so conversation about the law of Jehovah was introduced at the same time, and the obligation to keep it renewed and brought vividly to mind.
This ordinance the Israelites were to keep למועדהּ , “ at its appointed time ” (i.e., from the 15th to the 21st Abib), - “ from days to days, ” i.e., as often as the days returned, therefore from year to year (cf. Judges 11:40; Judges 21:19; 1 Samuel 1:3; 1 Samuel 2:19).
In Exodus 13:11-16, Moses communicated to the people the law briefly noticed in Exodus 13:2, respecting the sanctification of the first-born. This law was to come into force when Israel had taken possession of the promised land. Then everything which opened the womb was to be given up to the Lord. ליהוה העביר : to cause to pass over to Jehovah, to consecrate or give up to Him as a sacrifice (cf. Leviticus 18:21). In “all that openeth the womb” the first-born of both man and beast are included (Exodus 13:2). This general expression is then particularized in three clauses, commencing with וכל : ( a) בּהמה cattle, i.e., oxen, sheep, and goats, as clean domestic animals, but only the males; ( b) asses, as the most common of the unclean domestic animals, instead of the whole of these animals, Numbers 18:15; ( c) the first-born of the children of Israel. The female first-born of man and beast were exempted from consecration. Of the clean animals the first-born male ( פּטר abbreviated from רחם פּטר , and שׁגר from the Chaldee שׁגר to throw, the dropped young one) was to belong to Jehovah, i.e., to be sacrificed to Him (Exodus 13:15, and Numbers 18:17). This law is still further explained in Exodus 22:29, where it is stated that the sacrificing was not to take place till the eighth day after the birth; and in Deuteronomy 15:21-22, it is still further modified by the command, that an animal which had any fault, and was either blind or lame, was not to be sacrificed, but to be slain and eaten at home, like other edible animals. These two rules sprang out of the general instructions concerning the sacrificial animals. The first-born of the ass was to be redeemed with a male lamb or kid ( שׂה , as at Exodus 12:3); and if not redeemed, it was to be killed. ערף : from ערף the nape, to break the neck (Deuteronomy 21:4, Deuteronomy 21:6). The first-born sons of Israel were also to be consecrated to Jehovah as a sacrifice; not indeed in the manner of the heathen, by slaying and burning upon the altar, but by presenting them to the Lord as living sacrifices, devoting all their powers of body and mind to His service. Inasmuch as the first birth represented all the births, the whole nation was to consecrate itself to Jehovah, and present itself as a priestly nation in the consecration of the first-born. But since this consecration had its foundation, not in nature, but in the grace of its call, the sanctification of the first birth cannot be deduced from the separation of the first-born to the priesthood. This view, which was very prevalent among early writers, has been thoroughly overthrown by Outram ( de Sacrif. 1, c. 4) and Vitringa ( observv. ii. c. 2, pp. 272ff.). As the priestly character of the nation did not give a title in itself to the administration of the priesthood within the theocracy, so the first-born were not eo ipso chosen as priests through their consecration to Jehovah. In what way they were to consecrate their life to the Lord, depended upon the appointment of the Lord, which was, that they were to perform the non-priestly work of the sanctuary, to be servants of the priests in their holy service. Even this work was afterwards transferred to the Levites (Num 3). At the same time the obligation was imposed upon the people to redeem their first-born sons from the service which was binding upon them, but was now transferred to the Levites, who were substituted for them; in other words, to pay five shekels of silver per head to the priesthood (Numbers 3:47; Numbers 18:16). In anticipation of this arrangement, which was to be introduced afterwards, the redemption ( פּדה ) of the male first-born is already established here. - On Exodus 13:14, see Exodus 12:26. מחר : to-morrow, for the future generally, as in Genesis 30:33. מה־זאת : what does this mean? quid sibi vult hoc praeceptum ac primogenitura ( Jonathan).
לשׁלּחנוּ הקשׁה : “he made hard” (sc., his heart, cf. Exodus 7:3) “to let us go.” The sanctification of the first-born is enforced in Exodus 13:16 in the same terms as the keeping of the feast of Mazzoth in Exodus 13:9, with this exception, that instead of לזכרון we have לטוטפת , as in Deuteronomy 6:8, and Deuteronomy 11:18. The word טוטפת signifies neither amulet nor στίγματα , but “binding” or headbands, as is evident from the Chaldee טוטפא armlet (2 Samuel 1:10), טוטפתּא tiara (Esther 8:15; Ezekiel 24:17, Ezekiel 24:23). This command was interpreted literally by the Talmudists, and the use of tephillim, phylacteries (Matthew 23:5), founded upon it;
(Note: Possibly these scrolls were originally nothing more than a literal compliance with the figurative expression, or a change of the figure into a symbol, so that the custom did not arise from a pure misunderstanding; though at a later period the symbolical character gave place more and more to the casual misinterpretation. On the phylacteries generally, see my Archäologie and Herzog's Cycl.)
the Caraites, on the contrary, interpreted it figuratively, as a proverbial expression for constant reflection upon, and fulfilment of, the divine commands. The correctness of the latter is obvious from the words themselves, which do not say that the commands are to be written upon scrolls, but only that they are to be to the Israelites for signs upon the hand, and for bands between the eyes, i.e., they are to be kept in view like memorials upon the forehead and the hand. The expression in Deuteronomy 6:8, “Thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes,” does not point at all to the symbolizing of the divine commands by an outward sign to be worn upon the hand, or to bands with passages of the law inscribed upon them, to be worn on the forehead between the eyes; nor does the “advance in Deuteronomy 6:8 from heart to word, and from word to hand or act,” necessarily lead to the peculiar notion of Schultz, that “the sleeve and turban were to be used as reminders of the divine commands, the former by being fastened to the hand in a peculiar way, the latter by an end being brought down upon the forehead.” The line of thought referred to merely expresses the idea, that the Israelites were not only to retain the commands of God in their hearts, and to confess them with the mouth, but to fulfil them with the hand, or in act and deed, and thus to show themselves in their whole bearing as the guardians and observers of the law. As the hand is the medium of action, and carrying in the hand represents handling, so the space between the eyes, or the forehead, is that part of the body which is generally visible, and what is worn there is worn to be seen. This figurative interpretation is confirmed and placed beyond doubt by such parallel passages as Proverbs 3:3, “Bind them (the commandments) about thy neck; write them upon the tables of thine heart” (cf. Proverbs 3:21, Proverbs 3:22, Exodus 4:21; Exodus 6:21-22; Exodus 7:3).
Journey from Succoth to Etham. - Succoth, Israel's first place of encampment after their departure, was probably the rendezvous for the whole nation, so that it was from this point that they first proceeded in an orderly march. The shortest and most direct route from Egypt to Canaan would have been by the road to Gaza, in the land of the Philistines; but God did not lead them by this road, lest they should repent of their movement as soon as the Philistines opposed them, and so desire to return to Egypt, פּן : μή , after אמר to say (to himself), i.e., to think, with the subordinate idea of anxiety. The Philistines were very warlike, and would hardly have failed to resist the entrance of the Israelites into Canaan, of which they had taken possession of a very large portion. But the Israelites were not prepared for such a conflict, as is sufficiently evident from their despair, in Exodus 14:10. For this reason God made them turn round ( יסּב for יסב , see Ges. §67) by the way of the desert of the Red Sea. Previous to the account of their onward march, it is still further stated in Exodus 13:18, Exodus 13:19, that they went out equipped, and took Joseph's bones with them, according to his last request. חמשׁים , from חמשׁ lumbus , lit., lumbis accincti , signifies equipped, as a comparison of this word as it is used in Joshua 1:14; Joshua 4:12, with חלוּצים in Numbers 32:30, Numbers 32:32; Deuteronomy 3:18, places beyond all doubt; that is to say, not “armed,” καθωπλισμένοι ( Sym.), but prepared for the march, as contrasted with fleeing in disorder like fugitives. For this reason they were able to fulfil Joseph's request, from which fact Calvin draws the following conclusion: “In the midst of their adversity the people had never lost sight of the promised redemption. For unless the celebrated adjuration of Joseph had been a subject of common conversation among them all, Moses would never have thought of it.”
From Succoth they went to Etham. With regard to the situation of Succoth (from סכּת huts, probably a shepherd encampment), only so much can be determined, that this place was to the south-east of Raëmses, on the way to Etham. Etham was “at the end of the desert,” which is called the desert of Etham in Numbers 33:8, and the desert of Shur ( Jifar, see Genesis 16:7) in Exodus 15:22; so that it was where Egypt ends and the desert of Arabia begins, in a line which curves from the northern extremity of the Gulf of Arabia up to the Birket Temseh, or Crocodile Lake, and then on to Lake Menzalet. According to the more precise statements of travellers, this line is formed from the point of the gulf northwards, by a broad sandy tract of land to the east of Ajrud, which never rises more than about three feet above the water-mark (Robinson, Pal. i. p. 80). It takes in the banks of the old canal, which commence about an hour and a half to the north of Suez, and run northwards for a distance which Seetzen accomplished in 4 hours upon camels ( Rob. Pal. i. p. 548; Seetzen, R. iii. p. 151, 152). Then follow the so-called Bitter Lakes, a dry, sometimes swampy basin, or deep white salt plain, the surface of which, according to the measurements of French engineers, is 40 or 50 feet lower than the ordinary water-mark at Suez. On the north this basin is divided from the Birket Temseh by a still higher tract of land, the so-called Isthmus of Arbek. Hence “Etham at the end of the desert” is to be sought for either on the Isthmus of Arbek, in the neighbourhood of the later Serapeum, or at the southern end of the Bitter Lakes. The distance is a conclusive argument against the former, and in favour of the latter; for although Seetzen travelled from Suez to Arbek in 8 hours, yet according to the accounts of the French savan, de Bois Aymé, who passed through this basin several times, from the northern extremity of the Bitter Lakes to Suez is 60,000 métres (16 hours' journey), - a distance so great, that the children of Israel could not possibly have gone from Etham to Hachiroth in a day's march. Hence we must look for Etham at the southern extremity of the basin of the Bitter Lake,
(Note: There is no force in the objection to this situation, that according to different geognostic indications, the Gulf of Suez formerly stretched much farther north, and covered the basin of the Bitter Lake; for there is no evidence that it reached as far as this in the time of Moses; and the statements of early writers as to the position of Heroopolis in the inner corner of the Arabian Gulf, and not far to the north of Klysma, furnish no clear evidence of this, as Knobel has already observed.)
which Israel might reach in two days from Abu Keishib, and then on the third day arrive at the plain of Suez, between Ajrud and the sea. Succoth, therefore, must be sought on the western border of the Bitter Lake.
From Etham, at the edge of the desert which separates Egypt from Asia, the Israelites were to enter the pathless desert, and leave the inhabited country. Jehovah then undertook to direct the march, and give them a safe-conduct, through a miraculous token of His presence. Whilst it is stated in Exodus 13:17, Exodus 13:18, that Elohim led them and determined the direction of their road, to show that they did not take the course, which they pursued, upon their own judgment, but by the direction of God; in Exodus 13:21, Exodus 13:22, it is said that “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, to go by day and night, ” i.e., that they might march at all hours.
(Note: Knobel is quite wrong in affirming, that according to the primary work, the cloud was first instituted after the erection of the tabernacle. For in the passages cited in proof of this (Exodus 40:34.; Numbers 9:15., Exodus 10:11-12, cf. Exodus 17:7), the cloud is invariably referred to, with the definite article, as something already known, so that all these passages refer to Exodus 13:21 of the present chapter.)
To this sign of the divine presence and guidance there was a natural analogon in the caravan fire, which consisted of small iron vessels or grates, with wood fires burning in them, fastened at the end of long poles, and carried as a guide in front of caravans, and, according to Curtius ( de gestis Alex. M. V. 2, 7), in trackless countries in the front of armies also, and by which the direction of the road was indicated in the day-time by the smoke, and at night by the light of the fire. There was a still closer analogy in the custom of the ancient Persians, as described by Curtius (iii. 3, 9), of carrying fire, “which they called sacred and eternal,” in silver altars, in front of the army. But the pillar of cloud and fire must not be confounded with any such caravan and army fire, or set down as nothing more than a mythical conception, or a dressing up of this natural custom. The cloud was not produced by an ordinary caravan fire, nor was it “a mere symbol of the presence of God, which derived all its majesty from the belief of the Israelites, that Jehovah was there in the midst of them,” according to Köster's attempt to idealize the rationalistic explanation; but it had a miraculous origin and a supernatural character. We are not to regard the phenomenon as consisting of two different pillars, that appeared alternately, one of cloud, and the other of fire. There was but one pillar of both cloud and fire (Exodus 14:24); for even when shining in the dark, it is still called the pillar of cloud (Exodus 14:19), or the cloud (Numbers 9:21); so that it was a cloud with a dark side and a bright one, causing darkness and also lighting the night (Exodus 14:20), or “a cloud, and fire in it by night” (Exodus 40:38). Consequently we have to imagine the cloud as the covering of the fire, so that by day it appeared as a dark cloud in contrast with the light of the sun, but by night as a fiery splendour, “a fire-look” ( כּמראה־אשׁ , Numbers 9:15-16). When this cloud went before the army of Israel, it assumed the form of a column; so that by day it resembled a dark column of smoke rising up towards heaven, and by night a column of fire, to show the whole army what direction to take. But when it stood still above the tabernacle, or came down upon it, it most probably took the form of a round globe of cloud; and when it separated the Israelites from the Egyptians at the Red Sea, we have to imagine it spread out like a bank of cloud, forming, as it were, a dividing wall. In this cloud Jehovah, or the Angel of God, the visible representative of the invisible God under the Old Testament, was really present with the people of Israel, so that He spoke to Moses and gave him His commandments out of the cloud. In this, too, appeared “the glory of the Lord” (Exodus 16:10; Exodus 40:34; Numbers 17:7), the Shechinah of the later Jewish theology. The fire in the pillar of cloud was the same as that in which the Lord revealed Himself to Moses out of the bush, and afterwards descended upon Sinai amidst thunder and lightning in a thick cloud (Exodus 19:16, Exodus 19:18). It was a symbol of the “zeal of the Lord,” and therefore was enveloped in a cloud, which protected Israel by day from heat, sunstroke, and pestilence (Isaiah 4:5-6; Isaiah 49:10; Psalms 91:5-6; Psalms 121:6), and by night lighted up its path by its luminous splendour, and defended it from the terrors of the night and from all calamity (Psalms 27:1., Psalms 91:5-6); but which also threatened sudden destruction to those who murmured against God (Numbers 17:10), and sent out a devouring fire against the rebels and consumed them (Leviticus 10:2; Numbers 16:35). As Sartorius has aptly said, “We must by no means regard it as a mere appearance or a poetical figure, and just as little as a mere mechanical clothing of elementary forms, such, for example, as storm-clouds or natural fire. Just as little, too, must we suppose the visible and material part of it to have been an element of the divine nature, which is purely spiritual. We must rather regard it as a dynamic conformation, or a higher corporeal form, composed of the earthly sphere and atmosphere, through the determining influence of the personal and specific (specimen faciens) presence of God upon the earthly element, which corporeal form God assumed and pervaded, that He might manifest His own real presence therein.”
(Note: “This is done,” Sartorius proceeds to say, “not by His making His own invisible nature visible, nor yet merely figuratively or ideally, but by His rendering it objectively perceptible through the energy it excites, and the glorious effects it produces. The curtain ( velum ) of the natural which surrounds the Deity is moved and lifted ( revelatur ) by the word of His will, and the corresponding intention of His presence ( per dextram Dei ). But this is effected not by His causing the light of His countenance, which is unapproachable, to burst forth unveiled, but by His weaving out of the natural element a holy, transparent veil, which, like the fiery cloud, both shines and throws a shade, veils and unveils, so that it is equally true that God dwells in light and that He dwells in darkness (2 Chronicles 6:1; 1 Timothy 6:16), as true that He can be found as that He must always be sought.”)
This sign of the presence of God did not depart from Israel so long as the people continued in the wilderness.
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Exodus 13". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany