III. The Deliverance of Israel (Exodus 12:1–15:21)
III. The Deliverance of Israel (12:1–15:21)
12:1-2 Exodus 12 describes the greatest of Israel’s annual festivals: Passover. By faithfully putting this ritual into practice, the Israelites would be protected by God from the plague on the firstborn and delivered from Egyptian bondage. Then, every year afterwards, they were to celebrate the Passover to remember how God had saved them. The month in which Passover was to be held would be the first month of the Jewish calendar year (12:2). It includes portions of our months March and April. In Canaan the month was called Abib; in Babylonia it was called Nisan.
12:3-13 Each family was to select an animal (12:3). The sheep or goat was to be a year-old male and unblemished (12:5). It was to be selected on the tenth day of the month and slaughtered at twilight on the fourteenth (12:3, 6). At that point, the Israelites were to take its blood and place it on the doorposts and the lintel of their houses (12:7). They were also to be dressed for travel and to hurriedly eat the meat . . . roasted . . . along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (12:8, 11). This was the Lord’s Passover (12:11). The name of the festival arises from the fact that the Lord would pass through the land . . . and strike every firstborn male (12:12), but he would pass over homes bearing the distinguishing mark of blood (12:13).
Passover foreshadowed the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and his atoning death on the cross. To make sure his followers didn’t miss the connection, Paul told the church in Corinth, “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7). It was through the events of the first Passover that Israel was set free from slavery. Through placing faith in Christ’s substitutionary death, we likewise are set free from slavery to sin (see Rom 6:17-18). And as people covered by “the blood of the lamb,” we will conquer Satan (see Rev 12:11). “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7). Don’t miss that we are redeemed from sin “with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:19). God had our salvation, too, in mind on that fateful night in Egypt.
12:14-20 This day was to be a lasting memorial for Israel to celebrate as a permanent statute (12:14). They were to observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread for seven days and remove yeast from their houses (12:15-20). Yeast, sometimes called “leaven,” is often symbolic of sin in the Bible (see Luke 12:1; 1 Cor 5:6-8). Moreover, eating unleavened bread would remind the Israelites of their hasty exodus out of Egypt because their deliverance happened so quickly that there was no time to use yeast to allow the bread to rise before they hit the road.
12:21-28 Once Moses received the Lord’s instructions about the Passover, he relayed them to all the elders of Israel (12:21). The festival would be a time of sober remembrance and celebration. But it would also provide a teaching tool for future generations. When Jewish children asked their parents the meaning of the feast, the parents were to explain how God had judged Egypt and delivered his people (12:26-27).
When the Israelites heard what God planned to do on their behalf, the people knelt low and worshiped and did just as the Lord had commanded (12:27-28). The appropriate response to divine deliverance is always worship and obedience.
12:29-30 The stage was set; the preparations were made. At midnight the Lord struck every firstborn male in the land (12:29). There was a loud wailing throughout Egypt because there wasn’t a household that didn’t awaken to at least one corpse within it (12:30). Pharaoh had led his nation to cruelly enslave Israel and rebelliously despise Israel’s God. As a result, Egypt was drinking the fury of the cup of God’s wrath.
12:31-36 Finally, Pharaoh had endured enough. He said, Get out immediately from among my people (12:31). He released all of the Israelites and all of their animals, just as the Lord had said he would (12:31-32; cf. 3:19-20). The Egyptians did everything they could to hurry the Israelites quickly on their way, giving them silver . . . gold . . . and clothing (12:33-34). In this way [the Israelites] plundered the Egyptians (12:36; see commentary on 11:2-3).
12:37-39 Six hundred thousand able-bodied men left Egypt in the exodus (12:37). With women and children, the people of Israel would have numbered over two million. The Lord had certainly blessed the original seventy descendants of Jacob who had come to Egypt (1:5). The mixed crowd indicates that non-Israelites accompanied them (12:38). Marriages to Egyptians, much like those of Joseph and Eleazar, would have produced dark-skinned offspring such as Phinehas (see 6:25), as well as a merging of the bloodlines between Nubians and Semites.
12:40-42 The Israelites’ 430 years there had finally come to an end (12:40-41), just as the Lord had promised Abraham that they would (Gen 15:13-14). Therefore, the Hebrews were to always remember this night in honor of the Lord (12:42).
12:43-51 These verses provide further instructions regarding the Passover, outlining who may and may not partake of it. Note that, regarding the sacrifice, the Israelites were not permitted to break any of its bones (12:46). According to the New Testament, this was also fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the true Passover Lamb (see commentary at 12:3-13). When Jesus was crucified, the soldiers did not break his legs—which was a typical tactic used to hasten the death of a crucifixion victim—because Jesus was already dead when they broke the legs of those killed alongside him. The apostle John saw that action as a fulfillment of Exodus 12:46 (see John 19:31-36).
13:1-10 Since God had destroyed all of the firstborn males of Egypt and spared the firstborn of Israel, he declared that the Israelites were to consecrate, or dedicate, to him their own firstborn (13:2). Moses reminded the people to remember this day, the day God had delivered them out of the place of slavery (13:3). They were to celebrate it in the years to come, even after they had entered the promised land. They were also to teach its meaning (13:5, 9).
13:11-13 When the Israelites arrived in the land of the Canaanites, every firstborn male—man and animal—was to be presented to the Lord (13:11-12). The people were to redeem every firstborn son by offering a sacrifice from their flocks. They were also to redeem every firstborn donkey with a sacrifice. If they did not redeem the donkey, they were to break its neck (13:13).
13:14-16 With these actions too came opportunities for the Israelites to teach their children truths about God and what he had done for them (13:14). The redemption of the firstborn was a reminder that God had spared Israel’s firstborn when he killed Egypt’s (13:15). Similarly, the acts of baptism and the Lord’s Supper provide Christian parents visual pictures to help them instruct their children about the redemptive work of God through Jesus Christ. Taking advantage of such opportunities is part of how we “Bring [children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4).
13:17-22 When the Israelites departed Egypt, God did not lead them down the nearest road because it led to the land of the Philistines. To go immediately from slavery to battle might discourage the people and cause them to return to Egypt (13:17). Though the departing Israelites had assumed battle formation, God knew they were not ready to face opposition. So he led them toward the Red Sea along the road of the wilderness—that is, into the Sinai Peninsula (13:18). God led his people with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (13:21). In keeping with Joseph’s wishes (see Gen 50:24-25), Moses took the bones of Joseph with him so that they could bury him in the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (13:19).
14:1-4 At this point, the Lord had Moses change the direction of the Israelites (14:1-2). He did this so that Pharaoh would hear of it and become convinced that they were wandering around the land in confusion (14:3). In other words, God’s judgment on Egypt was not yet complete. One more time he would harden Pharaoh’s heart and receive glory through Pharaoh’s foolish rebellion against his clear will. Then the Egyptians would know once and for all that [he is] the Lord (14:4).
14:5-9 Pharaoh acted just as the Lord predicted. When he learned of the seemingly erratic actions of the Israelites, he asked, What have we done? We have released Israel from serving us (14:5). Then he took six hundred . . . chariots, sped after the people in hot pursuit, and caught up with them . . . by the sea (14:6-9).
14:10 When the Israelites caught sight of their pursuers, they were terrified and cried out to the Lord for help. Clearly, they thought themselves in a no-win situation. And true, they seemed to be caught between a rock and a hard place—between the sea and the Egyptian army. But what they were failing to grasp was that God was sovereignly directing the whole encounter. God, in fact, had orchestrated an apparent disaster. And he often does similar things in our lives today. Sometimes he will place his people in a dilemma, so that he can be glorified as he teaches us more about himself and accomplishes his purposes in our lives.
14:11-12 Out of the Israelites’ fear rose some fussing. The hero who had delivered them from slavery quickly became an object of their scorn. They asked, Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? (14:11). In other words, they felt they’d been better off living as slaves than to die in the wilderness (14:12).
14:13-14 Just as the people started to panic—caught between death by drowning and death by Egyptian will—Moses declared, Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation. . . . The Lord will fight for you, and you must be quiet (14:13-14). Though their fear made them want to run, the Lord told them to “stand firm.” You too can choose not to fear by fulfilling your obligation as one under the protection of God—by acting in spite of your fear.
Notice that God didn’t give Israel a plan of attack. He told them to “see [his] salvation” because “[he would] fight for [them].” Their eyes were on the Egyptians and the sea, which means they were looking in the wrong places. They needed to shift their attention away from their fears in order to recognize that the Lord would indeed fight on their behalf. This is a reminder that when you’re boxed in by a dilemma, you must trust in the Lord. Look with the eyes of faith to see him working through your circumstances.
14:15-20 God called Moses to stretch his staff . . . over the sea and divide it so that the people could walk through the sea on dry ground (14:16). Meanwhile God would harden the hearts of the Egyptians (14:15; see commentary on 4:21; 9:8-12) so that they would chase the Israelites into the sea. Once again, God’s plan was to bring himself glory through the actions of those who’d initially set themselves against him (14:17-18). While the Israelites prepared to march toward the sea, the angel of God—who had been leading them with the pillar of cloud—now stood behind them as a guardian, preventing the Egyptians from overtaking them (14:19-20).
14:21-22 Moses did as God commanded, the Lord drove the sea back, and the Israelites went through . . . on dry ground (14:21-22). God, then, worked two miracles. Not only did he split the sea in half, but he also dried the ground so they could walk through without getting all muddy. This was a surprise level of provision they never would have expected, even given the dramatic escape route provided. It suggests that we too should look for the lavish, unexpected miracles that often accompany the bigger, more obvious ways that God works to help us as we face crises. Thanking him for such things gives him the glory that he deserves.
14:23-25 Moses had told the Israelites, “The Lord will fight for you” (14:14). And they were about to see him in action. As the Egyptians set out in pursuit, God threw them into confusion and caused their chariot wheels to swerve (14:23-25). Pharaoh’s forces, having just survived the plagues, immediately realized what was happening: The Lord is fighting for [the Israelites]. And they knew what they should do in response: Let’s get away from Israel, they said (14:25).
14:26-28 Finally, the Lord was ready to deliver the knockout punch. He again told Moses to stretch out [his] hand over the sea (14:26). And as the Egyptians tried to escape, the Lord caused the sea to flow back into its normal position (14:27). The water . . . covered the chariots and horsemen and the entire army. . . . Not even one of them survived (14:28). The Egyptian king who had defied the God of creation had his army wiped out by God’s creation.
14:29-31 Israel, however, walked to safety at the other side of the sea (14:29). When they saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord (14:31). Likewise, when you receive deliverance from a crisis, you should remember that the correct response to it is to fear the Lord. Take him and his work on your behalf seriously. Give him the praise he’s due and submit to his agenda.
15:1-5 In a response of praise for this miraculous exodus, Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord. They said, God is highly exalted because of his triumph over Pharaoh’s army, casting the horse and its rider into the sea (15:1). They had seen for themselves that the God of their fathers—of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—had come to save his people (15:2). The elite troops of Egypt were no match for their God: the Lord is a warrior (15:3-4).
15:6-10 Scripture often speaks of God accomplishing actions with his right hand as a way of referring to his mighty power. Like a boxer with a devastating right hook, the Lord shattered the enemy (15:6). The song’s poetic imagery emphasizes God’s great majesty. His burning wrath reduced the opposition to stubble (15:7), and the mere breath of his nostrils transformed the sea into a weapon of mass destruction (15:8, 10).
15:11-12 The song asks, Who is like you among the gods? The answer is obvious. The Lord is one of a kind. He alone is glorious in holiness and to be revered with praises (15:11). The Egyptian “gods” had proven powerless to stop him because they were imaginary.
15:13-18 The final verses of the song look to the future. God will lead the people whom he has just redeemed (15:13). The enemies who stand in their way will be filled with anguish and terror and dread when they hear how the mighty Egyptians fared under his actions on Israel’s behalf (15:14-16). The Lord will plant Israel securely like a mighty tree in the land prepared for them (15:17). All they needed to do was follow their King—who will reign forever (15:18).
15:19-21 Once again, God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel is emphasized (15:19). It’s little wonder why the exodus is still celebrated by Israel and is so frequently mentioned in the pages of the Old Testament. The song continues: Moses’s sister Miriam (the first woman to be identified in Scripture as a prophetess) sang to the women of Israel (15:20-21). Interestingly, Micah 6:4 speaks of Miriam along with her brothers Moses and Aaron as playing a role in the deliverance of the people. This is a reminder that even in the early biblical witness, women were not marginalized but were critically involved in the kingdom program of God. Thus, the church must celebrate and encourage the ministry of women.