Exodus 13 – God’s Instruction to Israel upon Their Departure
A. Instructions for a new nation.
1. (1-2) The firstborn belongs to God.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine.”
a. Consecrate to Me: The idea was that the firstborn was to be set apart to God, whether of man or beast – the firstborn belonged to God.
i. “Consecrate could either mean ‘sacrifice’ or merely ‘consider as belonging to God’. Instances of both meanings could be found in the Pentateuch.” (Cole)
ii. “Not that the rest were exempt, but the first-born were, like the Sabbath day and the first ears of corn, a pledge of the dedication of the whole nation.” (Thomas)
b. It is Mine: This was for three reasons. First, because Israel was God’s firstborn (Exodus 4:22), and this practice honored that fact. Second, because the firstborn was thought to be the best, and the best was always given to God. Finally, as a reminder to all generations of when God redeemed Israel, His firstborn from Egypt.
i. “Israel had been saved through the destruction of Egypt’s first-born, and now they were required to dedicate their own first-born as a constant memorial of their deliverance.” (Thomas)
2. (3-7) The feast of Unleavened Bread.
And Moses said to the people: “Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten. On this day you are going out, in the month Abib. And it shall be, when the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall keep this service in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days. And no leavened bread shall be seen among you, nor shall leaven be seen among you in all your quarters.”
a. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread: The purity of the feast of Unleavened Bread followed upon the blood-deliverance of Passover. This illustrates the principle that we can only walk in purity before the Lord after the blood-deliverance at the cross.
b. And on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord: At the same time, the days of Unleavened Bread were not joyless. The time began and ended with a feast – a party. A walk of purity in the Lord is a life filled with joy.
3. (8-10) Remember to tell your children why you do these things.
“And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, ‘This is done because of what the Lord did for me when I came up from Egypt.’ It shall be as a sign to you on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the Lord’s law may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt. You shall therefore keep this ordinance in its season from year to year.”
a. It shall be as a sign to you on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes: God wanted the deliverance from Egypt to be constantly at hand and before their eyes. The Jews used this passage (along with Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21) to institute the practice the wearing of phylacteries – small boxes holding parchment with scriptures on them, held to the forehead or hand with leather straps.
i. Later, Jesus condemned the abuse of the wearing of phylacteries among the Pharisees. They made their phylactery boxes large and ostentatious as a display of supposedly greater spirituality (Matthew 23:5).
ii. In the end times there will be a Satanic imitation of this practice when the number of the Antichrist will be applied to either the hand or forehead of all who will take it (Revelation 13:16).
b. That the Lord’s law may be in your mouth: This shows that God did not command for literal boxes to be tied to the hands and forehead, because to take it in this way means that there should also be a phylactery box to put in the mouth.
i. “The very fact that language like this can be used of the feast of unleavened bread shows it to be pure metaphor.”
4. (11-16) How and why to give the firstborn to the Lord.
“And it shall be, when the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as He swore to you and your fathers, and gives it to you, that you shall set apart to the Lord all that open the womb, that is, every firstborn that comes from an animal which you have; the males shall be the Lord’s. But every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; and if you will not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. And all the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. So it shall be, when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ that you shall say to him, ‘By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. ‘And it came to pass, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all males that open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ It shall be as a sign on your hand and as frontlets between your eyes, for by strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.”
a. When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites: The law of dedicating the firstborn to God (Exodus 13:1-2) was only to take effect when in the Promised Land. By then the need for a reminder of the work of deliverance from Egypt would be all the more necessary.
b. But every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb… And all the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem: If the firstborn was unacceptable to sacrifice (if it was an unclean animal or a human) a substitute was offered to redeem the firstborn from God. If the firstborn was an animal the substitute was a clean animal. If the firstborn was a human, the substitute was money.
i. “For set apart translate ‘make them pass over’ (i.e. by fire) and understand the meaning as ‘offer up as a whole burnt offering’. This is the sinister phrase which is used in 2 Kings 16:3 of Ahaz sacrificing his own son ‘to Molech’.” (Cole)
c. It shall be as a sign on your hand and as frontlets between your eyes: This practice of dedicating the firstborn to God would be a reminder through ritual of God’s great work and strong power for Israel.
B. Israel’s journey out of Egypt.
1. (17-18) God leads them out in the way not expected, the way by the wilderness.
Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, “Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea. And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt.
a. God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near: The coastal route (the Via Maris, known as “the way of the sea”) was the shortest and most common way to go from Egypt to Canaan. Yet it was also the road where Egypt’s military outposts were. God knew the people of Israel were not ready to face this yet (lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt), so He led them a different way.
i. It would have been easy for the Israelites to think that the Via Maris was the way to go; it had good, easy roads, the shortest distance, it was a trade route so food and water could be bought. But the dangers of the way were too great, though they could not see them. God anticipated dangers they could not see.
ii. In the same way, God will never allow us to face more than we are able to bear; He knows what we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). “He carefully chose their way out of Egypt; not the nearer, but the safer. He tempts not above what we are able: but so orders the matter, that evils are not ready for us until we for them.” (Trapp)
iii. “The nation delivered and consecrated is seen at once as under the direct government and guidance of God.” (Morgan)
b. By way of the wilderness of the Red Sea: The Red Sea first mentioned here is not the huge expanse of the Red Sea (some 100 miles wide), but the western “finger” of the Red Sea that extends up unto the border areas of Egypt – the modern day Gulf of Suez.
2. (19) The promise to Joseph fulfilled.
And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had placed the children of Israel under solemn oath, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here with you.”
a. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: In a great act of faith Joseph asked that his bones be taken from Egypt (Genesis 50:25). He did this because he knew that Egypt was not their final resting place, but that God had a Promised Land for them.
b. God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here with you: Genesis 50:25-26 says specifically that Joseph was never buried. His coffin laid above ground for the four hundred or so years until it was taken back to Canaan. It was a silent witness all those years that Israel was going back to the Promised Land, just as God had promise. Now the promise was being fulfilled.
3. (20-22) Israel led by the cloud by day and the fire by night.
So they took their journey from Succoth and camped in Etham at the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people.
a. The Lord went before them: God showed His presence to Israel in a dramatic way, by giving them constant assurance, with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
i. The pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night was also there as a sun and a shield: He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light in the night (Psalm 105:39); or as it says in Psalm 84:11: For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
ii. “The exact location of Etham is unknown.” (Kaiser)
b. A pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light: According to Cole, the ancient Hebrew for pillar literally means “something standing.” It was probably more of what we would think of as a column than a pillar.
i. “This was the Shechinah or Divine dwelling place, and was the continual proof of the presence and protection of God.” (Clarke)
c. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people: Israel could draw great assurance from this visible evidence of God’s presence. Nevertheless, there were still many occasions after this when they seemed to doubt, to rebel, and to act as if God was distant.
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission