SYMBOLIC ACTS OF COMMEMORATION HELP GOD’S PEOPLE APPRECIATE THEIR DELIVERANCE AND REDEMPTION
Having explained the Passover, Moses now goes into more detail about 2 observances that will help God’s people remember, celebrate and perpetuate God’s great work of deliverance and redemption. The structure of this section is a little peculiar because the first 2 verses are more oriented towards the second of the two observances. But the entire section is tied together by God’s sovereign rights over those whom He has delivered and redeemed for himself.
John Oswalt: Festival of Unleavened Bread and Dedication of the Firstborn (13:1–16). In this section, God commands the people to engage in two additional sets of symbolic activities designed to insure that they will never forget the events that confirmed to them the character and nature of God. The first is the Festival of Unleavened Bread (13:3–10), and the second is the sacrifice or redemption of firstborn males (13:11–16). Verses 1 and 2, although they make specific reference to the firstborn, provide a superscription to the whole: These practices are at the command of God. Houtman (1993:2.144) says these customs will “make transparent … that the people of Israel belong to Yahweh and are to be a nation consecrated to Yahweh … which out of gratitude for Yahweh’s mighty deeds is called to live according to his commandments.” Thus, while Israel must never live in the past, the past is to shape every response of Israel to new situations and challenges.
John Hannah: After an introductory statement about the Israelites’ firstborn (vv. 1-2), who were to be dedicated for the service of the Lord (since they were spared in the 10th plague), Moses addressed the people again about the Passover and the Unleavened Bread feasts (vv. 3-10), and then returned to the subject of the firstborn (vv. 11-16).
Douglas Stuart: What links all the material of 13:1–16 together especially is this sense of preparation for inhabiting the land—and not forgetting once there to keep covenant with Yahweh, who had made it possible for his people to have all that they would enjoy in their new land.
(:1-2) SUPERSCRIPTION – SOVEREIGN RIGHTS OF THE COVENANT KING
A. Command: Setting Apart the Firstborn
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Sanctify to Me every first-born, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast;”
Walter Kaiser Jr.: the sanctification of all firstborn was commanded by God probably at Succoth, the first stopping place after the Exodus (12:37); and it fell within the seven days set aside for the Feast of Unleavened Bread (12:15).
Motyer: ‘Set apart’ could be translated as ‘sanctified’ (see the older English versions). We are not told, however, in what ways this ‘sanctification’ (or ‘consecration’, ESV) worked out in the lives of the firstborn. Were they intended to be the priests of Israel, and are they the ‘young Israelite men’ who we find functioning as priests in Exodus 24:5? This has the ring of truth, for even though the Lord’s highest purpose was that Israel should be a ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exod. 19:6), the sacrificial code would, simply as a practical necessity, have involved some delegation of function. Following the incident of the golden calf and the separation to God of the tribe of Levi (see Exod. 32), however, the Lord specifically says that he took the Levites for their special service, (lit.) ‘in the place of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel’ (Num. 8:18).
John Mackay: This reintroduces the concept of ‘holiness’ which has already occurred in 3:5 and which will feature prominently in later chapters. Firstborn males are to be set aside from the ordinary occupations of life and are to be exclusively appropriated to the service of the Lord. This is an assertion of the sovereign rights of the covenant king not only over the possessions of his subjects but over their persons as well. That these rights are grounded in the Lord’s saving activity is clearly stated later (13:15).
B. Reason: Divine Ownership
“it belongs to Me.’”
Walter Kaiser Jr.: Their sanctification did not rest o their deliverance form the tenth plague, but rather God’s adoption of Israel as his “firstborn” led to his delivering them. From that time onward, that spared nation would dedicate the firstborn of its men and beasts in the way detailed in vv. 12-16 in commemoration of God’s acts of love and his deeds that night.
Douglas Stuart: His desire was that the Israelites recognize his right to ownership of the first and best, in whatever came to them in spoils of war, or harvests, or offspring. It is necessary and beneficial that human beings recognize that God is superior to them, and the requirement of a ritual that reminded every Israelite of this by insisting on “receiving” their firstborn from them helped create the spiritual attitude of submission so important for salvation, personal discipline, and blessing.
I. (:3-10) FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD – APPRECIATING OUR DELIVERANCE FROM BONDAGE
A. (:3) Remember Deliverance from Bondage
“And Moses said to the people, ‘Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the LORD brought you out from this place. And nothing leavened shall be eaten.’”
John Davis: The whole purpose of this ceremony was to perpetuate the memory of the recent deliverance and to fix it in the mind of a nation which tended to forget divine blessings so easily.
Alan Cole: This associates the feast of the unleavened bread with the deliverance from Egypt. Not only so but (verse 8), like passover, it is to be associated with instruction given by father to son, presumably the first-born son. As he is the one peculiarly concerned, there is a double link with the context.
John Mackay: Eat nothing containing yeast. This symbolised the fact that the Lord’s deliverance had introduced a decisive break in their lives from the corrupting spiritual influences of Egypt. Moses consequently emphasises the fact of their departure from Egypt. Today, in the month of Abib, you are leaving (13:4). One wonders if this emphasis at that particular juncture in the people’s experience was to counter all too human feelings of reluctance at being uprooted from homes and farms where they had lived for several centuries. Despite the brutality of the Egyptian regime, they would have memories and fond associations regarding the places they were leaving. But it was the land of rebellion against the Lord, and it was the land of oppression for his people. The way out was the way forward. There was no future for them there.
B. (:4-8) Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread
1. (:4-5) Connection with Future Blessing
“On this day in the month of Abib, you are about to go forth. And it shall be when the LORD brings you to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall observe this rite in this month.”
John Davis: The feast of unleavened bread was not only designed to bring back the memory of that great deliverance, but to remind them of the possibilities of future blessing. This is vividly portrayed in verse 5 of this chapter, for the land of promise is brought into view, a land which was then inhabited by enemies but one which would one day provide blessing and sustenance to a people who had eaten the food of slaves only.
2. (:6-7) Connection with Present Sanctification
“For 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 throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven be seen among you in all your borders.”
Douglas Stuart: These verses restate and condense (with somewhat varied wording to help reinforce the concepts in the listener/reader’s mind) what 12:14–20 have already covered: the Feast of unleavened bread must be a weeklong festival, culminating with a special celebration on the closing day, and requiring absence of yeast in all locations (13:7, “anywhere within your borders”; 12:20, “wherever you live”).
3. (:8) Connection with Past Deliverance
“And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’”
C. (:9-10) Perpetuate This Observance
1. (:9) Meaningful Observance
“And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt.”
Walter Kaiser Jr.: The Jewish practice of writing Exodus 13:1-16 out on two of the four strips of parchment (along with Deut 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 on the other two) and placing them in two cubical leather boxes (tepillin; cf. “phylacteries,” Matt 23:5) that were strapped to the forehead and left arm seems to have originated in the Babylonian captivity. These were worn especially at daily morning prayers. This was, however, to exchange the intended inner reality for an external ritualism. The word was to activate their lips, hearts, and hands, not to be trapped in a box.
2. (:10) Annual Observance
“Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year.”
Douglas Stuart: The exodus story is to be repeated on that day, presumably the seventh, special day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, regardless of how many other times in the year it may also be told. That way, at least annually, there will be a special focus on the Exodus for a week—at the beginning via the Passover rite and at the end with the seventh day’s special testimonial. What was the point? Not a desire merely that an important memory be preserved but a desire that a life-saving covenant be kept! . . . It triggered remembrance of the covenant law by which the Israelites were kept in proper relationship with God and for which he had brought them out of Egypt in the first place (to serve him, not just to go to a nicer place to live). Keeping his covenant was the end goal because thereby Israel kept itself within God’s salvation; keeping the feast was a means of being sure to be reminded to keep the covenant. God is ever an evangelist, who always seeks the rescue of his people from the penalty of sin and always seeks to keep them aware of their need to be rightly—dependently—related to him. Thus the feast must always be kept at the same time annually, never postponed, never rescheduled, never canceled, never abandoned (“you must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year,” v. 10).
II. (:11-16) REDEMPTION OF FIRSTBORN SONS – APPRECIATING OUR REDEMPTION
A. (:11-12) Remember the Promise of Redemption
1. (:11) Reason = Fulfilment of God’s Promise
“Now it shall come about when the LORD brings you to the land of the Canaanite, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and gives it to you,”
2. (:12) Command = Redeem the Firstborn
“that you shall devote to the LORD the first offspring of every womb, and the first offspring of every beast that you own; the males belong to the LORD.”
B. (:13) Celebrate the Redemption of the Firstborn
1. Firstborn of a Donkey
“But every first offspring of a donkey
you shall redeem with a lamb,”
“but if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck;”
Wiersbe: The firstborn of an ass, being an unclean animal, could not be sacrificed to God, so it was redeemed by a lamb. Being a valuable work animal, the ass was spared only in this way, but if the animal was not redeemed, then it had to be killed.
Motyer: Death by breaking the animal’s neck seems a pitilessly cruel mode of dispatch and, one would have thought, not all that easy to accomplish.
2. Firstborn of Man
“and every first-born of man among your sons you shall redeem.”
C. (:14-16) Perpetuate This Observance
1. (:14) By Communicating its Significance to Future Generations
“And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.’”
Tim Chester: Each of these acts of commemoration includes a moment when future generations are expected to ask about its meaning (12:26; 13:8, 14). The festivals do more than merely help Israel to remember a past act. They are re-enactments of the story. People are not simply observers, but participants. So they incorporate future generations into the people of God. As the Passover Festival was kept, the Passover event became an act which future generations were part of. It became an act which continued to shape their identity as God’s people.
2. (:15) By Connecting its Observance to its Historical Roots
a. Death of Firstborn of Pharaoh and the Egyptians
“And it came about, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed every first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man and the first-born of beast.”
b. Dedication of Firstborn to the Lord
“Therefore, I sacrifice to the LORD the males, the first offspring of every womb, but every first-born of my sons I redeem.”
Walter Kaiser Jr.: The obligation of the firstborn to serve the Lord in some nonpriestly work around the sanctuary was later transferred to the Levites who became God’s authorized substitutes for each firstborn boy or man (Num 3). When the number of Levites was exhausted, additional males could be ransomed or redeemed at the price of five shekels apiece. Verses 15-16 again reiterate the explanation: the firstborn were owned by the Lord; for he dramatically spared them in the tenth plague, and he had previously called them to be his firstborn in 4:22.
3. (:16) By Continuing to Focus on the Redemption Accomplished by the Lord
“So it shall serve as a sign on your hand, and as phylacteries on your forehead, for with a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”
John Oswalt: Although the people might fall into the trap of thinking that the receipt of the Promised Land was the end of the story, it was not. God was concerned to establish his kingdom in the hearts of human beings, and that could only happen if Israel retained an accurate understanding of the revelation that had been given to them at the outset of their national existence.
John Mackay: Again the insertion of these regulations increases the dramatic impact of the surrounding story, while emphasising the importance of remembering every aspect of it. In their past the people will find a constant reminder of what the Lord has done for them before (verses 3, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16) and from this they are called to look to the future with confidence awaiting what the Lord has committed himself to do for them in the land to which he is bringing them (verses 5, 7, 11). What awaits them is not just a hoped for prospect to which much uncertainty still attaches, but something so assuredly granted by the Lord that it is even now time to set out their responsibilities when they get there. Nothing was more certain to boost their faith than the fact that the discussion is based on a ‘when’ not an ‘if’.