Exodus 13 Study Notes

13:1-16 In addition to having the Passover Feast and Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Israelites would memorialize what the Lord had done for them when they set apart, or consecrated, the firstborn males of both humans and animals. In future years the Israelites were to reenact certain events of the exodus. They would eat a meal like their last one in Egypt, and they would eat unleavened bread, as they had done in the early days of their journey out of Egypt (12:39). Because the Lord had distinguished and redeemed Israel, his firstborn, they would redeem their firstborn sons (4:22-23; 6:6; 15:13; 22:29-31; 34:18-20; Dt 7:8; 9:26). All these people, animals, and events were built into Israelite life as reminders of the Lord’s identity. He was known from his actions, and he gave meaning to the lives of his people (cp. Ti 2:14).

13:2 Elsewhere the Lord explained that he had consecrated every firstborn male of Israel as belonging to him when he struck down the firstborn of Egypt (Nm 3:13; 8:17). The significance of Israel’s firstborn sons and animals was tied to what the Lord had done and said rather than to anything special about them.

13:3 The theme of God’s strong hand comes up repeatedly in instructions about the celebration (vv. 9,14,16; cp. 32:11) and uses forms of the Hebrew word for “strong” or “strength” that describe the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by strengthening his resolve and making him more firmly determined (7:13,22; 8:19; 9:35; 10:22,27; 11:10; 14:4,8,17). What had seemed impossible to Egyptian observers had happened (3:19; 5:22-6:1). The might of Pharaoh had been crushed by the strong hand of the Lord.

13:5 On the groups in Canaan that the Israelites would drive out, see 3:7-8; Dt 7:1.

13:9 That the Lord’s instruction may be in your mouth emphasizes that the Israelites would accept, meditate on, and do what the Lord prescribed (Dt 30:14; Jos 1:8; Ps 1:2; Is 59:21). In the context of teaching children, it also describes what the Israelites should know well and talk about to remind themselves and one another (Dt 6:6-8). The effect of what the Lord had done should be as great as if it all were displayed on each person’s hand (easy for the person to see) and forehead (easy for others to see). When that was the case, the individual would readily speak of what the Lord had said, meditate on it, and act accordingly (Ps 50:16; 119:46-48; Mal 2:7).

13:12 The command you are to present to the Lord uses a verb that refers elsewhere to transferring property (Gn 32:16; Nm 27:7-8; 2Sm 3:10; Is 45:14). It is not normally used to describe offerings to the Lord, but it does occur prominently in references to the pagan practice, forbidden to Israel, of killing and burning children as sacrifices (Lv 18:21; Dt 18:10; 2Kg 16:3; 17:17; 21:6; 23:10; Jr 32:35; Ezk 16:21). Its use in Ex 13:12 (“pass something over to”/“convey over to”) recalls its use in describing the actions of the Lord, who “passed through” Egypt (12:12,23). What he had done must shape what his people would do.

13:13 Redemption brought an animal or person back into its original or ordinary use (Lv 25:23-28). Donkeys could not be sacrificed, so the firstborn of a donkey should be redeemed for normal use by giving a sheep or goat in its place. A human firstborn must be redeemed (Nm 18:15-16). The Lord’s requirement of redemption for a human firstborn contrasted with the practices of pagan worshipers who killed children in rituals designed to curry favor with their gods.

13:17 The Lord could have taken his people safely on any route he wished. The choice of route here and the comment on it offer insight into the thinking of both the Lord and the Israelites. The Lord knew the Israelites better than Pharaoh, who considered them a military threat (1:10). It balances reports that the Israelites worshiped and obeyed (12:27-28,35,50-51) and foreshadows their upcoming behavior (14:10-12; 16:2-3). In the process of the exodus, God anticipated the thinking of both the Israelites and the Egyptians and put it to his own use (14:3).

Like his choice to keep Pharaoh alive (9:13-16), this choice of route displays who the Lord is. As a result of it, the Israelites would watch the Lord fight for them (14:13-14). They would experience his care and his willingness to work in spite of their frailties (Ps 103:13-14). Archaeologists have found that Egypt had heavy fortifications along the northern route close to the Mediterranean coast. Though that route would have taken the Israelites by the most direct path to Canaan, through Philistine territory, it would have presented extreme danger and constant opposition. The Philistines came to the western coast of the Mediterranean from islands in the Aegean Sea and would later be frequent foes of Israel. Egyptian or Philistine opposition would have been daunting to the Israelites at this time (cp. 6:9).

13:18 The road of the wilderness would take Israel east into the Sinai Peninsula, to the Wilderness of Shur (15:22; cp. 1Sm 15:7). “Wilderness” describes uninhabited areas with varying amounts of water and pasturage, depending on the area and the time of year. The description of the Israelites leaving in battle formation uses a rare word (Jos 1:14; 4:12; “troops” in Jdg 7:11) and seems contrary to the Lord’s assessment. Perhaps there is irony to be recognized in the discrepancy between outward and inward readiness.

13:19 God was doing exactly what Joseph had said he would do (3:16; 4:31; Gn 50:24-25).

13:20-22 The Lord had promised to accompany Moses as he confronted Pharaoh (3:12; 4:12,15). Now he signified his presence with the Israelites by means of a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. Sometimes it would descend and show that the Lord was talking with Moses (33:9; Nm 12:5; Dt 31:15); even other peoples heard about it (Nm 14:14).

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