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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 13

 

 

Introduction

Exodus 13 Regulations Concerning the Firstborn and Unleavened Bread. The First Details of Their Journey

The instruction that follows covers what Israel’s immediate response was to be to what had happened on Passover night . They were to ‘sanctify the firstborn’ which had been spared, and to ‘continue to eat unleavened bread’ until the seven day feast was over. It then covers how both were to be commemorated in the future.

The command are not given haphazardly. They appear to be so to us because we are not used to the chiastic pattern. Note the careful chiastic pattern in the first part of the chapter.

a They were to sanctify the firstborn as a memorial of that first night of deliverance through the mighty hand of God when He delivered their firstborn (13:2).

b They were to eat unleavened bread in that day as a memorial of their coming out of Egypt and His deliverance by the strength of His hand (13:3-4).

b This sign of unleavened bread was to be backed up in the future by the annual keeping of the feast of unleavened bread in which their sons were to be taught the significance of the feast (13:5-10).

a The sign of the offering of the firstborn was to be backed up by the continual offering of all firstborn to Yahweh through which their sons were to be taught the significance of the Passover (13:11-15).

Thus ‘a’ is expanded in its parallel, and ‘b’ the same.

As we consider this chapter we must remember the situation in mind. Israel have just experienced the amazing deliverance of the first Passover. That terrible night has passed and their firstborn alone have been spared of all the firstborn in Egypt. They have now begun their journey with grateful hearts in the midst of ‘the feast of unleavened bread’, looking with gratitude at the fact that their firstborn had been spared. Thus they are now given brief instruction on how they are to respond to this situation. Even in the midst of their flight they must not forget their present responsibility towards Yahweh. This is now dealt with in Exodus 13:1-4. The principles are then expanded on in order to tell them how they must similarly behave once they have reached the land God has promised them, so as to be continually reminded of it.

With regard to this second point it may be thought that the instructions were somewhat premature, for we think in terms of a delay of forty years. But we must consider that God wanted them right from the start to recognise that they must perpetually remember their life changing experience.

And we must remember that they were at this stage on the point of leaving Egypt for a journey which could, at least theoretically, have brought them to Canaan within a moon period, depending on how long they spent at their sacrificial feast in the wilderness and how speedily they moved on. For Canaan was theoretically only eleven days journey from Sinai (Deuteronomy 1:2).

So it was quite reasonable that at this stage Moses should encourage the people by indicating both what they should do immediately, the moment that they had the opportunity, and then what they must continue to do on arrival in the land as an indication of their dedication to Yahweh and of their gratitude for their deliverance, connecting it with their current situation. It would be a confirmation to them that their future was assured.

Moses would not, of course, at this point be aware of all that lay before them, nor of the problems and delays that lay ahead. He had himself after all arrived in Egypt from Midian fairly quickly, and he would not learn until later the very great difference there was between that and travelling when accompanied by a huge body of men, women and children with all their household possessions. Thus his view was probably that ‘it will not be long’.

The chapter in English divides into five sections, the initial command concerning what they must now do with regards to their firstborn as a result of the Passover deliverance that had just taken place (Exodus 13:1-2), instructions concerning the feast of unleavened bread that was now in process (Exodus 13:3-4), instruction as to how it was to be kept in better times (Exodus 13:5-10), the detailed law of the firstborn as it was to apply in the future (Exodus 13:11-16), and the initial first details of their journey (Exodus 13:17-22).

Yahweh Leads His People Out Of Egypt In Triumph (Exodus 13:17 to Exodus 14:31).

The acknowledgement of Yahweh’s initial deliverance having been dealt with the narrative now moves on to the escape from Egypt. There is again a clear chiastic pattern:

a Yahweh leads His people out of Egypt (Exodus 13:17-19).

b The pillar of cloud and fire accompanies them (Exodus 13:20-22).

c Yahweh tells Moses that Pharaoh will think that they are at his mercy and declares that He will get Himself honour over Pharaoh (Exodus 14:1-4).

d The Egyptians say, ‘Why have we let Israel go from slaving for us?’ (Exodus 14:5).

e Pharaoh makes ready his chariot forces and takes them forward (Exodus 14:6-7).

f Pharaoh pursues the children of Israel (Exodus 14:8).

f The Egyptians pursue the children of Israel and get them in their sights (Exodus 14:9).

e The children of Israel lift up their eyes and see the forces of Pharaoh (Exodus 14:10).

d Israel cry out with a willingness to slave for the Egyptians (Exodus 14:11-12).

c Pharaoh will be proved wrong, the salvation of Yahweh will be revealed, the Egyptians will be seen no more and Yahweh will get Himself honour over Pharaoh and his forces (Exodus 14:13-18).

b The pillar of cloud and fire stands between Israel and Pharaoh as a protection against the Egyptians while Moses opens the sea before them (Exodus 14:19-22).

a Yahweh leads Israel triumphantly out of Egypt and the forces of Pharaoh are destroyed (Exodus 14:23-31).

The parallels are clear and powerful. In ‘a’ Yahweh leads His people out of Egypt and in the parallel we have the vivid description of how He finally did it. In ‘b’ He accompanies them with the pillar of cloud and fire and in the parallel it protects them from the Egyptians. In ‘c’ Yahweh says that He will get Himself honour over Pharaoh and in the parallel He does so. In ‘d’ the Egyptians bemoan losing their slaves, and in the parallel the slaves in fear indicate their willingness to return, a deliberate contrast with the triumph of the whole passage, confirming that the deliverance was in no way due to faltering Israel. In ‘e’ Pharaoh makes ready his chariot forces and takes them forward, and in the parallel Israel see them coming. In ‘f’ the pursuit begins and in the parallel Pharaoh gets Israel in his sights.


Verses 1-10

Exodus 13 Regulations Concerning the Firstborn and Unleavened Bread. The First Details of Their Journey

The instruction that follows covers what Israel’s immediate response was to be to what had happened on Passover night . They were to ‘sanctify the firstborn’ which had been spared, and to ‘continue to eat unleavened bread’ until the seven day feast was over. It then covers how both were to be commemorated in the future.

The command are not given haphazardly. They appear to be so to us because we are not used to the chiastic pattern. Note the careful chiastic pattern in the first part of the chapter.

a They were to sanctify the firstborn as a memorial of that first night of deliverance through the mighty hand of God when He delivered their firstborn (Exodus 13:2).

b They were to eat unleavened bread in that day as a memorial of their coming out of Egypt and His deliverance by the strength of His hand (Exodus 13:3-4).

b This sign of unleavened bread was to be backed up in the future by the annual keeping of the feast of unleavened bread in which their sons were to be taught the significance of the feast (Exodus 13:5-10).

a The sign of the offering of the firstborn was to be backed up by the continual offering of all firstborn to Yahweh through which their sons were to be taught the significance of the Passover (Exodus 13:11-15).

Thus ‘a’ is expanded in its parallel, and ‘b’ the same.

As we consider this chapter we must remember the situation in mind. Israel have just experienced the amazing deliverance of the first Passover. That terrible night has passed and their firstborn alone have been spared of all the firstborn in Egypt. They have now begun their journey with grateful hearts in the midst of ‘the feast of unleavened bread’, looking with gratitude at the fact that their firstborn had been spared. Thus they are now given brief instruction on how they are to respond to this situation. Even in the midst of their flight they must not forget their present responsibility towards Yahweh. This is now dealt with in Exodus 13:1-4. The principles are then expanded on in order to tell them how they must similarly behave once they have reached the land God has promised them, so as to be continually reminded of it.

With regard to this second point it may be thought that the instructions were somewhat premature, for we think in terms of a delay of forty years. But we must consider that God wanted them right from the start to recognise that they must perpetually remember their life changing experience.

And we must remember that they were at this stage on the point of leaving Egypt for a journey which could, at least theoretically, have brought them to Canaan within a moon period, depending on how long they spent at their sacrificial feast in the wilderness and how speedily they moved on. For Canaan was theoretically only eleven days journey from Sinai (Deuteronomy 1:2).

So it was quite reasonable that at this stage Moses should encourage the people by indicating both what they should do immediately, the moment that they had the opportunity, and then what they must continue to do on arrival in the land as an indication of their dedication to Yahweh and of their gratitude for their deliverance, connecting it with their current situation. It would be a confirmation to them that their future was assured.

Moses would not, of course, at this point be aware of all that lay before them, nor of the problems and delays that lay ahead. He had himself after all arrived in Egypt from Midian fairly quickly, and he would not learn until later the very great difference there was between that and travelling when accompanied by a huge body of men, women and children with all their household possessions. Thus his view was probably that ‘it will not be long’.

The chapter in English divides into five sections, the initial command concerning what they must now do with regards to their firstborn as a result of the Passover deliverance that had just taken place (Exodus 13:1-2), instructions concerning the feast of unleavened bread that was now in process (Exodus 13:3-4), instruction as to how it was to be kept in better times (Exodus 13:5-10), the detailed law of the firstborn as it was to apply in the future (Exodus 13:11-16), and the initial first details of their journey (Exodus 13:17-22).

Yahweh Lays Claim to the Firstborn of Israel (Exodus 13:1).

The firstborn of the children of Israel had been spared by Yahweh, but now we learn that a price has to be paid. They have, as it were, to be ‘bought back’. This is because Yahweh had sanctified them to Himself by their deliverance (Numbers 3:13) and as a result had delivered them from His judgment and they had therefore become ‘holy’, set apart as uniquely His, to be devoted to Him, along with the firstborn of domestic animals. And the only way that this could be accomplished was by death or redemption through the death of a substitute and representative.

So in order that they may once more enter into the mundane world the firstborn sons had to redeemed by a substitutionary death, probably here by offering a lamb in their place, after which they would still be available to serve in the Tent of Meeting and later the Tabernacle. For the firstborn of clean domestic animals, however, there was no alternative. They had to be offered in death. Unclean domestic beasts had also to be redeemed by the provision of a substitute or else had to have their necks broken.

It should be noted that the firstborn represents the whole, for they were potential heads of their families. As such they would serve in the Tent of Meeting as representing the whole of Israel. Thus the whole of Israel were seen as involved in this sanctification (Exodus 19:5-6).

The Sanctifying of the Firstborns and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 13:1-10)

The passage that follows is revealed to be a unity by the chiastic pattern:

a They were to sanctify the firstborn as a memorial of that first night of deliverance through the mighty hand of God when He delivered their firstborn (Exodus 13:2).

b They were to eat unleavened bread in that day as a memorial of their coming out of Egypt and His deliverance by the strength of His hand (Exodus 13:3-4).

b This sign of unleavened bread was to be backed up in the future by the annual keeping of the feast of unleavened bread in which their sons were to be taught the significance of the feast (Exodus 13:5-10).

a The sign of the offering of the firstborn was to be backed up by the continual offering of all firstborn to Yahweh through which their sons were to be taught the significance of the Passover (Exodus 13:11-15).

In ‘a’ the command is given to sanctify the firstborn and in the parallel instructions are given concerning its future observance. In ‘b’ the command is given concerning not eating leavened bread at this time, and in the parallel instructions are given concerning its future observance.

Exodus 13:1-2

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Sanctify to me all the firstborn. Whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast, it is mine.”

So the command is now given, as a result of the deliverance of the firstborn that has just occurred, to ‘sanctify’ them, that is, to offer them to Yahweh, to set them apart as holy to Him. Yahweh has ‘sanctified them’ (set them apart as holy) to Himself and now His people must make that sanctification effective. Each firstborn of both man and beast that had been delivered was thus to be seen as ‘holy’ to Yahweh. They were to be seen as especially Yahweh’s because as a result of His actions He had spared them from judgment. In this context the firstborn beasts which had been spared were now to be set aside and offered as a sacrifice to Yahweh because they were holy to Him, with those that were unfit for sacrifice being redeemed or killed, while the firstborn sons were to be bought back by substituting a lamb (Exodus 13:13-15). This was then to be a principle that would continue on into the future.

This sanctification of the firstborn had put the whole of Israel under obligation. From Passover onwards (and in each Passover celebration thereafter) Israel were Yahweh’s as never before. They had been declared to be His firstborn son (Exodus 4:22) and as such had been redeemed, now they were His redeemed people.

We are not told at what point in their opening journey this initial ‘sanctification’ of the firstborn was to be carried out, but the instruction is recorded here so as vividly and directly to connect it with the Passover that had just taken place. Vividly aware that their firstborn had been spared, it was intended to bring home to them just what had happened, and what their reaction must immediately be. It was presumably to be carried out at the first point at which they felt that they were safe to do so. That may have been on arrival at Sinai which was the place at which they were to ‘serve Yahweh’ (Exodus 3:12).

The decision was not just arbitrary. The point behind it was that Israel were now Yahweh’s people in a way that they had not even been before (compare Exodus 19:5-6), and their firstborn especially so. The firstborn were the heart of the nation, which was why they were to serve in the Tent of Meeting (until replaced by the Levites later). Instead of losing them by judgment, as the Egyptians had done, Israel would be offering them as a symbol of joy, gratitude and dedication to their covenant God, in loving worship.

Note that it is assumed that ‘males’ will be understood, (it does in fact later in the verse say ‘man’). The ancients were to some extent all chauvinistic and just assumed it. Compare Exodus 13:12 where ‘all that opens the womb’ is specifically qualified by ‘the males’. In Numbers 3:12 it speaks of ‘all the firstborn who open the womb’ and again ‘man’ and beast are mentioned. That it means males comes out in that it is compared with ‘all the firstborn in the land of Egypt’ which also meant males. Numbers 3:43 confirms that this means firstborn males. Females who opened the womb did not need to be redeemed. These firstborn were probably determined on the strict basis mentioned earlier, the firstborns of the first wife only.

We have in this fact of the ‘sanctification’ of the firstborn a reminder that all Israel were intended to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6). God had delivered them because He had a purpose for them, that by being His servants to the nations they might bring the nations under His sway. They were not to live to themselves, but to Him Who had called and chosen them.

Moses Informs the People What God Had Ordained About The Feast of Unleavened Bread Previously Described In Exodus 12:15-20 (Exodus 13:2-10).

Here we have a chiasmus within a chiasmus.

a They were to remember this time in which they came out of Egypt (Exodus 13:3 a).

b The people were to remember that they were delivered by the strength of the hand of Yahweh (Exodus 13:3 b).

c They were to keep this service in the month of Abib (Exodus 13:4-5).

d They were to eat unleavened bread for seven days with the seventh day a special feast (Exodus 13:6).

d They were to eat unleavened bread for seven days throughout their tents (Exodus 13:7).

c The keeping of this service was to be explained to their sons (Exodus 13:8).

b It was to be a memorial that Yahweh had delivered them with a strong hand (Exodus 13:9).

a The ordinance was to be kept year by year in its season (Exodus 13:10).

It will be noted that in ‘a’ Yahweh commands that they were to remember this day in which they came out of Egypt, while in the parallel the ordinance was to be kept year by year in its season. In ‘b’ The people were to ‘remember’ that they were delivered by the strength of the hand of Yahweh, while in the parallel it was to be a memorial of His deliverance of them by a strong hand. In ‘c’ the ‘service’ was to be kept in the month of Abib, whereas in the parallel the ‘service’ was to be explained to their sons. In ‘d’ they were to eat unleavened bread for seven days, with the seventh day a special feast and in the parallel they were to eat unleavened bread throughout their tents.

Exodus 13:3-4

‘And Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondmen. For by strength of hand Yahweh brought you out from this place. There shall no leavened bread be eaten. This day in the month of Abib you go out.” ’

Moses then tells the people to remember this day in which they have been freed from bondage and ceased to be bondmen, and to remember that it was Yahweh Who by His strong arm has delivered them. This is what the eating of unleavened cakes, which they are to continue for the next few days, is to remind them of, the haste with which they have left Egypt, and the reason for that haste, their own salvation. This emphasis on deliverance from bondage will reoccur again and again. It was an essential part of the covenant (Exodus 20:2).

“By strength of hand.” The reference is to all the signs and wonders that He has carried out.

“This day in the month of Abib.” Later the month would be called Nisan, but this is the more ancient name for the month. It indicates ‘greenness’ or ‘ripening of corn’. This was the ancient name in use from the time of the patriarchs, referring to the time of ripening corn in Canaan. The first bread fully made with newly ripened corn would then necessarily have been unleavened. It would only be by adding ‘old dough’ that they could have leavened it, and that would spoil the picture of the newness of the bread. So unleavened bread may have been connected with this month from those days and here simply be given a new significance.

Exodus 13:5

“And it shall be that when Yahweh brings you into the land of the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Hivite and the Jebusite which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you will keep this service in this month.”

Moses had no doubt now that somehow Yahweh would ensure that they were going forward to freedom, to the land of plenty. Although he was not sure how He would bring it about, for they only had permission to enter the wilderness a short way in order to offer sacrifices. And the border posts would know where they were. But he knew Yahweh would find a way. He was only there to obey. And possibly he considered that the children of Israel were under no obligation to a Pharaoh who had turned them into bondmen and constantly broken his treaties concerning them. For the details in this verse see on Exodus 3:8.

“You will keep this service.” This means ‘observe this act of worship’.

It will be noted that only five nations are mentioned compared with the more usual six or seven. This may because here the description is within a covenant and five is the covenant number. Or it may be because, as we know from elsewhere, in Egypt five was seen as a number of completeness. This would stress the early nature of this section, being written while the influence of Egypt was still very much evident.

Note that the seeming deprivation resulting from bread being unleavened is counteracted by the description of the blessings that will be theirs, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Exodus 13:6

“Seven days you will eat unleavened cakes, and in the seventh day will be a feast to Yahweh. Unleavened cakes will be eaten throughout the seven days, and no leavened bread will be seen with you, neither will leaven be seen with you in all your borders.”

This is a brief summary of the feast. It was spoken on the day that they left Egypt (Exodus 13:4), which was the first day of the feast, which is why Moses does not mention the first day as a special day. They were already observing it (a clear indication that this was said at that time), and besides it was the day which continued the Passover and therefore clearly special and to be observed as a memorial into the future. It did not require further mention. What is stressed is that the seventh day is also a special day as God had previously told Moses (Exodus 12:16).

All leaven was to be excluded from their dwellings. The word for ‘borders’ may simply mean the ‘bounds’ within which each family dwelt. To exclude leaven within the whole land would be very difficult as there would be traders passing through to say nothing of foreign settlers who would not (and were not allowed to) keep the feast of Passover. Nor is it expected for it is specifically said ‘with you’. If we take ‘borders’ to mean the borders of the land at any time, the ‘with you’ could still exclude universal application to non-Israelites.

The feast was in the month of Abib which has now been designated the first month of the year because of the deliverance from Egypt. It is possible that up to this time the New Year was seen as commencing in the Autumn. Thus in Exodus 12 the emphasis is on the fact that this was now the first month (in March/April). Here it is assumed. The author knows he has already stressed it enough. Later in Canaan there will be a ‘new year’ celebration in the Autumn. This would arise because of their contact with the inhabitants of the land. There are indications that there was thereafter both an agricultural year, based on the observation by surrounding nations among whom they dwelt, and a festal year, based on the month of the Passover. At different times different ones would be emphasised. We should appreciate that in their ‘primitive’ state the Israelites would not be calendar minded and would be likely to fall in with whoever they lived among for their general calendar, while when at their best also observing Yahweh’s instructions. Calendars were theoretical. The Israelites were practical. The point about Abib being the first month of the year simply indicated that it would commence the round of feasts which it naturally continued to do. But as with many things Yahweh’s instructions were not specifically and rigidly applied once they had settled in the land, especially as they never actually rid the land of Canaanites.

“And in the seventh day will be a feast to Yahweh.” The whole seven days was to be a feast. This therefore means that the seventh day was to be a special feast, a day set apart. In the words of Yahweh it was ‘a holy assembly’ (Exodus 12:16) in which no manner of work was to be done except what men must eat. Moses does not mention this latter fact to the people at this point but it has to be assumed that something made the day special as it is a feast to Yahweh, and as we shall see a rest day was part of Israel’s tradition. Moses was at this stage only summarising what Yahweh had said. The main aim was that the hearers who were listening to the narrative were reminded of the gist of what had been said before (the usual reason for so-called ‘doubletons’ which were common in ancient literature).

Exodus 13:8

“And you will tell your son in that day, saying, “It is because of what Yahweh did for me when I came out of Egypt.”

The eating of unleavened cakes would raise questions among the young and they were then to be reminded of the deliverance from Egypt (compare Exodus 12:26; Exodus 13:14; also Joshua 4:6). Great stress was laid in Israel on communication to the young.

“Did for me.” For the first generation this would literally be true. But when that had died out these words would probably be used by custom with the idea that they had been delivered when their forebears were delivered. Had it not been for this deliverance they would still be slaves in Egypt. Each generation symbolically experienced the Passover and deliverance afresh, just as we symbolically experience the Lord’s death afresh in the Lord’s Supper.

Exodus 13:9-10

“And it will be for a sign to you on your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes, that the instruction of Yahweh may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand has Yahweh brought you out of Egypt. You will therefore keep this ordinance in its season from year to year.”

When they see the unleavened cakes in their hands and before their eyes it will speak to them of the great deliverance and remind them of what God has done. Thus the requirements were to be fulfilled year by year as a constant reminder of that deliverance, and instruction on them must be given as from Yahweh.

“A sign to you on your hand and for a memorial between your eyes.” They will see and will remember. The unleavened bread will also be the equivalent of a sign on the hand or a mark between the eyes demonstrating that they are the redeemed of Yahweh (compare Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18). This probably had in mind that elsewhere men wore on their arms and foreheads symbols of their gods. This is elsewhere also applied spiritually in the Old Testament (compare Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 3:21-22). For Yahweh’s signs and wonders see Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:3. The Pharisees took this literally and carried parts of God’s word in cases bound between the eyes and on the left arm by leather straps. But by that it soon became a token of superiority and therefore lost its meaning.

Many ancient peoples (and some modern) also carried marks and tattoos which demonstrated their dedication to some deity or society, or carried as amulets spells in papyrus or rolled up cloth. But the main reference is possibly to special bangles and headbands, or may simply be metaphorical. Eating unleavened cakes is thus the ‘mark’ on the children of Israel showing that they belong to Yahweh. No physical marks were therefore required. Elsewhere they were forbidden as indicating subservience to other gods and superstitions (Leviticus 19:28).


Verses 11-16

The Redemption of the Firstborn Who Are Holy to Yahweh (Exodus 13:11-16).

Further regulation and explanation concerning the firstborn is now laid down, with special reference to its being explained to their children. The analysis again follows the usual pattern:

a Yahweh will bring them into the land of Canaan as He swore to their fathers (Exodus 13:11).

b All that opens the womb to be caused to pass over to Yahweh, either by death or redemption through a substitute (Exodus 13:12-13).

c Their sons will ask, ‘What is this?’ They will be told how Yahweh delivered them from bondage by strength of hand (Exodus 13:14).

c Yahweh did it by slaying all the firstborn in the land of Egypt (Exodus 13:15 a).

b That is why they sacrifice all that opens the womb to Yahweh and redeem their firstborn sons (Exodus 13:15 b).

a This is the sign that Yahweh brought them forth from Egypt by strength of hand, which is to affect all that their hands do or their eyes see (Exodus 13 :e16)

In ‘a’ the bringing into the land of Canaan is paralleled with their being brought forth from Egypt. In ‘b’ all that opens the womb is to be sanctified to Yahweh and either sacrificed or redeemed, while in the parallel the explanation for this is given. In ‘c’ their sons will be told how Yahweh delivered them from bondage, and in the parallel it is brought home that Yahweh did it by slaying all the firstborn of Egypt.

Exodus 13:11-12

“And it will be when Yahweh brings you into the land of the Canaanite, as he swore to you and to your fathers, and will give it to you, that you will hand over to Yahweh all that opens the womb, and every firstling which you have that comes from a beast. The males shall be Yahweh’s.”

There appears to be a deliberate connection here between God’s promise to their forefathers and the subsequent giving of the land, with the handing over of the male firstlings. This was to be their grateful response and tribute for what God had given them. Notice that ‘all that opens the womb’ is then restricted to ‘the males’. These belong to Yahweh and must be handed over to Him. This had the twofold purpose of reminding them of the deliverance of the Passover, and reminding them that they were tenants in God’s land. Then in the case of unclean animals and man they can be redeemed. But the clean animals must be sacrificed. Later part of these would then be given as food to the priests (Numbers 18:18) who were also ‘holy’. It is possible that here, when there was no unique, set apart priesthood, they were whole burnt offerings, completely given to Yahweh.

Exodus 13:13

“And every firstling of an ass you will redeem with a lamb, and if you will not redeem it you will break its neck, and all the firstborn of man among your sons you will redeem.”

The ass was a valuable animal and its firstborn could be bought back from Yahweh by the offering of a lamb (of lesser value) in substitution. But if it was not bought back it had to be killed by breaking its neck for it belonged to Yahweh and was holy. This breaking of the neck might happen because it had been born disabled or weak. It could not be offered as a sacrifice for it was not seen as suitable for this purpose. It was ritually ‘unclean’. The breaking of the neck would not involve the shedding of blood and was therefore not a sacrifice. So the idea of ‘uncleanness’ was already present, distinguishing animals which could be sacrificed from those that could not (compare Genesis 7:2), although probably not in the detail explained later (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14).

With firstborn sons there was no option. They had to be redeemed, presumably at this stage in the same way as an ass by the ‘payment’ of the sacrifice of a lamb (later it would become five shekels - Numbers 18:15-16). This was to be a continual sign to all of how Yahweh had spared the firstborn of Israel when He had smitten all the firstborn in the land of Egypt. But having been redeemed from death they were still servants of Yahweh, for they were thereby ‘holy’.

Later in 22:29 it is stated that the sacrificing was not to take place until 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

Exodus 13:14-15

“And it will be, when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’, that you will say to him, ‘By strength of hand Yahweh brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondmen. And it came about that, when Pharaoh hardened himself against letting us go, Yahweh slew the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. That is why I sacrifice to Yahweh all that opens the womb, being males. But all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ ”

Again we learn that one of the purposes of these sacrifices and redemptions was as a testimony to future generations. This idea of testimony to the young is constantly emphasised. It is seen as important that they know what Yahweh did for His people in revealing His strength against the might of Egypt and delivering them from bondage. It was a continual reminder to them of the power of their God and His love for His people. And the reminder (and warning) is also given that it was because of Pharaoh’s hardness of heart. It was a constant reminder of the danger of hardness of heart when facing Yahweh’s commands.

Exodus 13:16

“And it will be for a sign on your hand and for frontlets between your eyes, for by strength of hand Yahweh brought us out of Egypt.”

See on Exodus 13:9 where ‘frontlets’ were ‘memorials’. As with eating unleavened bread, so redeeming the firstborn was to be the equivalent of signs on the hands and some sign or mark on the forehead. And they would be a memorial of Yahweh’s strong deliverance. They were to be instead of such literal marks or signs.

Note for Christians.

These ordinance had great significance for Israel, but the New Testament tells us that what underlay them had great significance for us. Paul makes clear that the Passover lamb was a ‘type’ of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who, as our Passover lamb, was offered for us, and that just as the Israelites were to abstain from leavened bread so are we to avoid the leaven of malice and wickedness and partake of the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:7-9). In Galatians 5:9 he uses the leavening of bread as a warning against insidious teaching.

We can compare with this how Jesus Christ Himself warned against the leaven (insidious teaching which can begin to work and spread) of the Pharisees and the Herodians (Mark 8:15).

In the sanctification of the firstborn we can see a picture of the dedication and consecration that God requires from His own. As those who like the firstborn have been redeemed by blood we should be fully set aside to His service.

End of note


Verses 17-22

Yahweh Leads His People Out Of Egypt In Triumph (Exodus 13:17 to Exodus 14:31).

The acknowledgement of Yahweh’s initial deliverance having been dealt with the narrative now moves on to the escape from Egypt. There is again a clear chiastic pattern:

a Yahweh leads His people out of Egypt (Exodus 13:17-19).

b The pillar of cloud and fire accompanies them (Exodus 13:20-22).

c Yahweh tells Moses that Pharaoh will think that they are at his mercy and declares that He will get Himself honour over Pharaoh (Exodus 14:1-4).

d The Egyptians say, ‘Why have we let Israel go from slaving for us?’ (Exodus 14:5).

e Pharaoh makes ready his chariot forces and takes them forward (Exodus 14:6-7).

f Pharaoh pursues the children of Israel (Exodus 14:8).

f The Egyptians pursue the children of Israel and get them in their sights (Exodus 14:9).

e The children of Israel lift up their eyes and see the forces of Pharaoh (Exodus 14:10).

d Israel cry out with a willingness to slave for the Egyptians (Exodus 14:11-12).

c Pharaoh will be proved wrong, the salvation of Yahweh will be revealed, the Egyptians will be seen no more and Yahweh will get Himself honour over Pharaoh and his forces (Exodus 14:13-18).

b The pillar of cloud and fire stands between Israel and Pharaoh as a protection against the Egyptians while Moses opens the sea before them (Exodus 14:19-22).

a Yahweh leads Israel triumphantly out of Egypt and the forces of Pharaoh are destroyed (Exodus 14:23-31).

The parallels are clear and powerful. In ‘a’ Yahweh leads His people out of Egypt and in the parallel we have the vivid description of how He finally did it. In ‘b’ He accompanies them with the pillar of cloud and fire and in the parallel it protects them from the Egyptians. In ‘c’ Yahweh says that He will get Himself honour over Pharaoh and in the parallel He does so. In ‘d’ the Egyptians bemoan losing their slaves, and in the parallel the slaves in fear indicate their willingness to return, a deliberate contrast with the triumph of the whole passage, confirming that the deliverance was in no way due to faltering Israel. In ‘e’ Pharaoh makes ready his chariot forces and takes them forward, and in the parallel Israel see them coming. In ‘f’ the pursuit begins and in the parallel Pharaoh gets Israel in his sights.

The whole narrative can then be split up into sections:

God Leads His People Out Of Egypt By The Pillar of Cloud and Fire (Exodus 13:17-22).

a God does not lead His people by the ‘way of the land of the Philistines’, even though it was the easiest route, lest they face heavy fighting and return to Egypt in discouragement (Exodus 13:17).

b Instead He leads them in a more indirect journey in ‘the way of the wilderness of the Reed Sea’ (Exodus 13:18 a).

c The children of Israel went up armed (or in column of five).

d And Moses took Joseph’s bones with him

d For Joseph had firmly demanded of the children of Israel that when God visited them and they returned to Canaan they would take his bones there with them (Exodus 13:18-19).

c And they took their journey from Succoth and encamped in Etham, on the edge of the wilderness (Exodus 13:20).

b And Yahweh went before them in a pillar of cloud, to lead them in their way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light so that they could travel by day and night.

a God does not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night from before the people (Exodus 13:21-22).

The heart of God is revealed here. In ‘a’ we have explained what God did not do. He did not lead them by a fearsome route along a way dotted with Egyptian forts and which would arouse nations in front of them, for He was conscious of their weakness and their fears, and in the parallel He reveals a similar concern for them in that He did not take away from them the pillar of cloud and fire which was there in order to comfort and encourage them. In ‘b’ He takes them by a safer but more indirect ‘way’ through the wilderness and in the parallel the pillar of cloud and fire goes before them so as to lead them in the right ‘way’ and to give them light at night to speed them on their way. In ‘c’ the people went up in columns armed, and in the parallel took their journey from Succoth to Etham. In ‘d’ Moses took Joseph’s bones with them, and in the parallel did so in accordance with Joseph’s instructions.

Exodus 13:17-18

‘And it happened that when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearest, for God said, “In case perhaps they change their minds when they see fighting, and return to Egypt.” But God led the people by the way of the wilderness by the Sea of Reeds. And the children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt.’

There were different approaches to entering Canaan. There was the coastal road which was undoubtedly the quickest. This was the caravan route and used by the military. It commenced at the frontier post of Zilu and went straight up parallel to the coast and was at some stage called ‘the way of the land of the Philistines’. Early Philistines had had a trading presence there in the time of the patriarchs (Genesis 21:32). But this way was overseen by the Egyptian army and there were fortified posts along it, and it would later bring them face to face with the Canaanites, with their chariots, in heavily guarded territory without any element of surprise for it was the main trade route. Thus they would ‘see fighting’ before they were ready for it.

The safest way was to go on the ways through the wilderness. This was a more difficult journey but did not pose the same problems and would give them time to adjust to their new situation. They had almost certainly developed a slave mentality and needed to be gradually weaned from it. Furthermore it would bring them on Canaan unexpectedly so that they could take the Canaanites by surprise.

“The way of the land of the Philistines”. Some see this as a later name, possibly representing an updating by a scribe of an earlier name on the grounds that the Philistine occupation had not yet taken place (updating was a common practise when copying manuscripts). But we should consider Genesis 21:32. In that passage there was a trading post at Gerar occupied by people from the Aegean coastlands who could certainly later be designated as ‘Philistines’ (Genesis 20), and possibly bore a similar name in the time of Abraham (compare Genesis 10:14. The name is ancient). In Genesis 21:32 ‘the land of the Philistines’ describes their centre in Palestine. If that was not an updating then the name may well have been attached to that part of the coastal road long before the time of Moses, referring to the substantial Aegean trading post.

The main Sea People invasion, which included the later Philistines who settled in the Coastal Plain, would not come until around 1200 BC. The Philistines (Egyptian - prst) were one of the Sea Peoples. The Sea Peoples came from Crete and the Aegean coastlands and settled in various places including the coastal plain of Canaan and it just happened that it was the name of the Philistines that later became attached to the land (so that we know it as Palestine). That in fact may have arisen from the fact that it already bore a similar name because of the early traders. For these Sea Peoples were a varied collection of peoples split into various groupings under different names of which Philistines was only one. We do not know the original name of this coastal road if it was not already called the way of the land of the Philistines.

“The Sea of Reeds (yam suph).” Not here necessarily the Red Sea proper, including the gulfs of Suez and Aqabah, although these may have extended further than they do today (compare Exodus 10:19; Numbers 14:25; Numbers 21:4 and elsewhere where these are in mind). This ‘Yam Suph’ (Sea of Reeds or Papyri) was possibly an inland sea which has since disappeared. It has, however, been linked with the reedy waters of the Bitter Lakes region east of Quantara which are opposite the Wilderness of Shur (Exodus 15:22). These have been known to be strongly affected by powerful east winds in a similar way to that described in Exodus 14:21. It should be noted that geographical terms were not then as precise as they are today and the watery areas to the north of Egypt may all have been called ‘Yam Suph’. Compare how in 15th century BC the name wadj-wer (the great green) was applied by the Egyptians to both the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, and ta-neter (God’s land) to both Punt in particular and to eastern lands generally.

“Went up armed (or ‘arrayed for battle by fives”).’ This was the beginning of emancipation. It was psychologically very important. The bearing of arms was probably forbidden them in Egypt but they had taken the opportunity of arming themselves with whatever they could lay their hands on or obtain from helpful Egyptians, a declaration that they saw themselves as a free people. The type of weapons that they had must not be exaggerated. They would be no match for a fully trained army and the Egyptian armaments and chariots. We find here also the suggestion of the beginnings of organisation (‘in fives’), although it may not have been true literally. It may simply mean ‘in order’.

Exodus 13:19

‘And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him for he had firmly put the children of Israel on oath saying, “God will surely visit you and you will carry my bones away from here with you.” ’

Joseph had made the children of Israel swear from the start that they would take his body with them when they left Egypt (see Genesis 50:25). His body would have been mummified. Presumably the whole mummy was taken. He would have been laid in a grand tomb and this was clearly known to Moses and the children of Israel. Joseph may well have made arrangements as to his place and type of burial in order to facilitate this action. He wanted in the end to be gathered to his fathers.

The fact that Joseph’s bones were taken confirms Moses’ expectation that they would not be returning to Egypt.

Exodus 13:20

‘And they took their journey from Succoth and encamped in Etham in the edge of the wilderness.’

Moses was still concerned to give the impression that they were going into the wilderness to worship Yahweh. He wanted to keep Pharaoh in two minds. The idea of going into the wilderness to worship Yahweh and the idea of going home to Canaan for good are continually held in tension throughout the text. The former was a genuine proposition challenging Pharaoh as to what he would do, the latter was the final intention which Yahweh would bring about in His own way. It was Pharaoh who humanly speaking finally chose to turn the one into the other when he broke his word to Yahweh and sent his army after the children of Israel in order to attack them and to prevent their fulfilling their objective of sacrificing in the wilderness, even though it was Yahweh’s intention all the time.

“Etham”. Some suggest that this connects with the old Egyptian word for ‘fort’ (htm) a name given to several places. Others that it refers to a frontier city such as Sile.

Exodus 13:21-22

‘And Yahweh went before them, by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them in the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.’

God knew that the people would need physical reassurance. He wanted them to know that He was going with them and was guiding them in the best way home. So by day He manifested Himself in a pillar of cloud going on before them. It was a symbol of Yahweh’s presence unseen. And by night, that time that could bring terror to men’s hearts, He gave them comfort by providing light in a pillar of fire, which would remind them of His glory, and give them light to see by. And the pillar would remain with them constantly (see Numbers 10:34; Numbers 14:14; Deuteronomy 1:33 compare Exodus 40:34-38). They may well have done much night travelling in order to avoid the heat of the day (see Numbers 9:21).

Yahweh revealing Himself in clouds of smoke and fire is a constant Old Testament theme (Exodus 3:2; Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:18; Exodus 20:18; Exodus 24:17; Exodus 40:34-38 see Deuteronomy 4:33; Isaiah 4:5). It may here be likened to the smoke and signal fires sent up by scouts going ahead of an advancing army in order to direct their way, but it was not only that. It was an indication that Yahweh was with them and was watching over them. Here Yahweh was their scout and their guide, and was their protector as well.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 13:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/exodus-13.html. 2013.

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Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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