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Deeper Commentary


Exo 13:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
It seems this legislation about the firstborn was given the same day they left Egypt (:3,4).

Exo 13:2 Sanctify to me all of the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of animal. It is mine-
The Levites had not yet been chosen as the priestly tribe. Perhaps it was God's initial intention that all the firstborn should be sanctified to His service, from whatever tribe. But this plan didn't work, and so He called one tribe to be His sanctified priests. And they also didn't really do their ministry, and so under the new covenant, all are priests.

The idea that we are God's, we "the church of firstborns" (Heb. 12:23) are His, answers man's existential fear of loneliness, his desire to belong, to be in a family, to belong to another. For "they are mine" and  finally in the Kingdom as Malachi puts it, "they shall be mine". Man is not alone. We are God's. We belong. Our need to belong is ultimately met. This is part of the sex drive within man. It is why refugee families are desperate not to be divided. The childhood desire to have something "of my very own" remains for a lifetime. My room, my flat, my house, my section, my area, however small; my career, my job. And yet the human structures for belonging go wrong. Families break up, people die. Things go wrong. What you once knew as yours, as you, disintegrates and goes bad. Only in "you are Mine" is there the answer. Our need both to own "of our very own" [stronger when we are younger], and yet also to belong to another [stronger as we get older], are met only in becoming "the very own" of God.

The command to sanctify the firstborn was given to all Israel. They were to sanctify or set apart their firstborns unto God. The firstborns were the priests. But they failed to remember their great salvation on passover night, the blood of the lamb failed to imprint deeply upon them. For at the time of the golden calf, they led the desire to return to Egypt. And so they were replaced by the tribe of Levi as priests. This is why "Lest we forget" is so important for us. It's why we have the breaking of bread service. It's why we must remind ourselves of the blood of the lamb and our redemption. For as all Israel were the firstborn ["Israel is My firstborn"], so we are the church of firstborns.

Exo 13:3 Moses said to the people, Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand Yahweh brought you out from this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten-
The 'remembrance' was to be of the power of Yahweh's grace in as it were forcing Israel out of Egypt, when they actually wanted to remain there (Ez. 20:7,8 "I said to them, Throw away every man the abominations of his eyes, and don’t defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God.
 But they rebelled against Me, and would not listen to Me; they didn’t throw away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt... So I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt"), were idolatrous and had told Moses to leave them alone and let them serve the Egyptians. Yahweh's strength therefore refers to the power of His grace in continuing His program with them.  

Exo 13:4 This day you go out in the month Abib-
"Abib" is a young ear of green corn. The idea was that there was hope now of spiritual fruit to be brought forth.

Exo 13:5 It shall be, when Yahweh shall bring 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-
This land inhabited by those tribes was significantly smaller than the territory sworn to the fathers, which was from Egypt to the Euphrates. It seems God had recalculated the extent of the inheritance, or at least realized that they needed a more limited objective to achieve first. He is so sensitive to our weaknesses. 

A land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall keep this service in this month-
The promised land was to flow with milk and honey to those who kept covenant. And yet Saul later precluded the people from experiencing the blessings of the covenant by petty legalism and a desire for personal control. The people were obedient to his word, but then totally disobeyed Yahweh's command about not eating blood as a result of it (1 Sam. 14:25,33).

Exo 13:6 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to Yahweh-
This refers to the feast of unleavened bread, which was not the same as the feast of the Passover, which was seven days earlier. These seven days were to recall the seven days of creation; for the exodus was a new creation of Israel, out of the water of the Red Sea.

Exo 13:7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and no leavened bread shall be seen with you, neither shall yeast be seen with you, in all your borders-
Their "borders" aren't defined, but the idea was that their houses in Egypt were to become as the entire territory they then controlled- be it their individual land inheritances, or the entire land.

Exo 13:8 You shall tell your son in that day, saying, ‘It is because of that which Yahweh did for me when I came out of Egypt’-
The Hebrew understanding of hope and memory is such that past events can be presented again through rituals like the Passover in a very palpable manner; and “This is my body… this is my blood” is a classic example. Paul’s language of “showing the Lord’s death” at the breaking of bread (1 Cor. 11:26) is rooted in the Passover being a ‘showing’ of what God had done in the death of the Paschal lamb (Ex. 13:8 Heb.). The breaking of bread is therefore a calling to an acting out, just as the Passover was.

The Passover meal was in order to remember the great salvation which God had wrought for all Israel at the Red Sea. Egypt, representing the power of sin, was gloriously vanquished there. Yet the faithful Israelite of all ages was to also proclaim that "This is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt" (Ex. 13:8). Our memorial meeting has this same two fold structure; remembering the deliverance which God wrought for us personally, as well as for the whole community of the redeemed. This is why at the breaking of bread there ought to be an awareness of personal fellowship with God, and also with each other, and with those who have gone before.

A striking difference between the Pentateuch and other contemporary legal codes is that those codes are straight codices of statutes; whereas God's law isn't like that. It is commandment interspersed between historical documents and incidents. We read of some incident in the wilderness journey, then we have some commandments recounted, then another incident, some more commandments, etc. This surely reflects how God intended obedience to His law to not be a legalistic exercise- it was a code for real human life, which should affect the very spirit of human existence in a way which no dry legal code really could. It was to set a rhythm of life, revealing how that law was "for our good always, that God might preserve us" (Dt. 6:24)- the person who obeyed the law was to live in it (Hab. 2:4 etc.). The motive for obedience to the law was not so that God might give them salvation or status as His people- it was precisely because He had done that, by grace, that they were to respond in obedience (Ex. 12:26; 13:8,14; Dt. 6:20).

Exo 13:9 It shall be for a sign to you on your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes, that the law of Yahweh may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand Yahweh has brought you out of Egypt-
The only two sacraments which we have- baptism and the breaking of bread- are related, in that both show in physical symbolism our association with and blessing from the Lord's sacrifice. The breaking of bread is in a sense an ongoing reminder of the same principles which we showed at our baptism. Likewise the Jewish Passover (cp. our breaking of bread) was in order to bring to mind the deliverance achieved at their national baptism. They were even to wear a sign on their hand and between their eyes that reminded them of the exodus (Ex. 13:9); all their thinking and doing was to be overshadowed by the awareness of the fact that they had been redeemed that day. It seems they never did this, although the idea may be that there to remember their redemption as if it were a seal on their hand and between their eyes. If we do feel that we have fallen so deeply into the rut of semi-spirituality that we can't crawl out, then think back to your baptism, or to the days when you first read Christian literature, bought a Bible, started praying...

"Sign" is s.w. "token" in Ex. 12:13, "the blood shall be for a token". Just as the blood was put on the lintel and doorposts, so Israel were to as it were have that blood on their hands and between their eyes always. Their vision, their worldview, all that they did with their hands, was to be influenced by the blood of the lamb. Smearing the blood on doorposts was part of the original Passover which was not repeated in the subsequent legislation about the feast of Passover; instead, it was to be as a token permanently on every Israelite. The pagans wore tokens of their gods on their hands and between their eyes; God's people were to instead have their mental awareness of the lamb's blood as the equivalent. All this speaks of the huge awareness we should have of the implication of the Lord's blood and the great salvation achieved. Not just when as it were we keep Passover at the communion meal, but in life lived with a worldview affected by it.

Exo 13:10 You shall therefore keep this ordinance in its season from year to year-
The reference is specifically to the feast of unleavened bread, not Passover.

Exo 13:11 It shall be, when Yahweh shall bring you into the land of the Canaanite, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and shall give it you-
It could be that the "you" refers to the people of God in a collective sense. But the more comfortable application is to that generation to whom Moses was then speaking. This promise of entering the land was solemnly made, with uplifted hand as it were, to that generation who left Egypt (Ex. 6:8; Num. 14:30). But they did not enter the land, as Num. 14:30 makes clear. This was because Israel broke their side of the covenant, and did not in fact want to enter the land; and continued serving the idols of Egypt, which they took with them through the Red Sea (Ez. 20:8; Acts 7:43). But that promise was guaranteed by the fact that "I will bring you into the land... I am Yahweh" (Ex. 6:8). The very essence of Yahweh, that 'I will' save, as surely as 'I will be who I will be', a saviour God, was fought against by Israel's idolatry and unfaithfulness to the covenant. And because 'Yahweh' involves His character, which includes His judgment of sin and not turning a blind eye to it (Ex. 34:4-6), human intransigence and faithlessness was allowed to as it were even counteract His most essential 'being' a saviour God for His beloved people. But that salvation was recalculated and reinterpreted with reference to another generation, and to the people of God generally rather than to the initially intended audience.   

God swore / lifted His hand to Heaven as He had no greater to swear by. He swore to their fathers, :5, but also "to you". Likewise the Passover deliverance was done "to me". There is a strong sense that all these things were done to each individual in history, just as baptism makes the promises to Abraham personal to each of us. Hence "He will give it thee", you singular. 

 Exo 13:12 that you shall set apart to Yahweh all that opens the womb, and every firstborn which you have that comes from an animal. The males shall be Yahweh’s-
I suggested on :2 that it was God's initial intention that all the firstborn should be sanctified to His service, from whatever tribe. And the sacrificial animals would be provided by the firstborn of every animal. But this plan didn't work, and so He called one tribe to be His sanctified priests, and all Israel were to provide animals for sacrifice. And they also didn't really do their ministry, and so under the new covenant, all are priests. We marvel at how God continually seeks to forge ahead with His plans for relationship with man.

Exo 13:13 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 you shall redeem all the firstborn of man among your sons-
The redemption of unclean devoted animals was to be at the basis of the animals value plus one fifth (Lev. 27:27). But the firstborn of donkeys were to be redeemed with a lamb, and a lamb would have been of less value than a newborn donkey. The firstborn of the donkey was to be redeemed by a lamb (Ex. 13:13) as a ritual reminder of the power of the Passover lamb's redemption. The value of its blood was far greater than its commercial value. And this was to point forward to the value of the blood of the Lord Jesus, far more precious than of any gold or silver (1 Pet. 1:18). The donkey was the most common domestic animal, and it was an unclean animal. It was therefore representative of common people, in their unclean state. Firstborn donkeys were to be redeemed because they were to be understood as representative of God's people, redeemed by the Passover lamb.    

Donkeys were unclean animals. The firstborn of their flocks would have been clean animals as they were only to keep clean animals. The donkey was the one unclean animal whose firstborn was to be redeemed and given to God. Ez. 23:20 uses the donkey as a symbol of Egypt. Perhaps this was for all time to reflect and remind Israel of God's desire to save Egypt. We recall His huge efforts to save Pharaoh.  

Exo 13:14 It shall be, when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ that you shall tell him, ‘By strength of hand Yahweh brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage-
The son was to be taught that 'we' were delivered from Egypt. What had been done in history had been done to all within the body of God's people. David and the writers of the Psalms and restoration prophets clearly grasped this, as they constantly glory in what God had done for them and "us" at the Red Sea. The Biblical approach to history is unique. God's word is seen as a living word, and all His previous acts of salvation are to be felt as experienced by us. In our world, human history is generally felt to be bunk, irrelevant to this generation, of merely passing cultural fascination to the hurrying man of modern society. And in some ways, that may indeed be a legitimate take on secular history. But Biblical history is to be seen quite otherwise by God's people. It is a living word spoken to us, and the salvation acts which are there recorded happened to us. For "all live unto Him"(Lk. 20:38), those now dead people who experienced Divine salvation are alive in God's mind [although not personally conscious]. We therefore live out our lives as it were on a stage, before the great crowd of witnesses of God's people over history (Heb. 12:1). It requires us to see ourselves as part of a far greater whole, the Israel of God, and not individuals isolated at a point of time. Salvation has both a collective and an individual dimension. Our individual salvation is predicated upon our choice to identify with the collective salvation of God's people which began with God's grace to Adam in Eden. Just as the sin of Adam and Eve is that of everyman, in that in essence we repeat it in our own failings; so the plan of salvation which began there can be accepted by everyman. 

Exo 13:15 and it happened, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that Yahweh killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of animal. Therefore I sacrifice to Yahweh all that opens the womb, being males; but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem’-
OMIT As the firstborn, Moses should have been slain on Passover night (Ex. 13:15); but he made the Passover sacrifice for his own redemption, although Heb. 11:28 says that he did it for the sake of Israel's redemption. Likewise the Lord's almost incomprehensible victory over human nature was not motivated by a selfish desire for his redemption; he did it for himself, that it might be for us. And this is what strengthened him. And on a far lower level, our own salvation is surely worked out through the sacrifices we make for the sake of others' spirituality. The fact that the Lord, as Moses, has gone along the same path to salvation really should be a comfort to us; it should lessen the distance which we feel between us and our Lord. Thus a study of typology and of the atonement is not barren; it really will bring us closer to the Lord Jesus if we do it in the right spirit. 

Exo 13:16 It shall be for a sign on your hand, and for symbols between your eyes: for by strength of hand Yahweh brought us out of Egypt-
Contemporary ideas about Satan, demons etc. are often alluded to in the Pentateuch, and Israel are given the true understanding. Take the well known command to Israel to wear a phylactery as a reminder of the Passover deliverance from Egypt: "You shall have the record of it as a sign upon your hand, and upon your forehead as a phylactery, because by the strength of his hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt" (Ex. 13:16 N.E.B.). Wearing a phylactery wasn't a new concept; the idea "refers to amulets which were worn in order to protect their wearers against demons". So by giving this command, Israel's God was showing His people that instead of being on the defensive against demons, needing good luck charms against them, they should instead replace these by a positive remembrance of how Yahweh had saved His people from all the power of evil which was symbolized by Pharaoh's Egypt. Rejoicing in His salvation and constantly remembering it was intended to totally sideline the various false beliefs about demons which were prevalent at the time.

As discussed on :9, the equivalent of ["it shall be for..."] pagan amulets on the hand and forehead was to be the mental awareness of the great salvation wrought through the blood of the lamb. Likewise the whole law was to be "for" a token on the hand and forehead (Dt. 6:8). The idea is not that the entire law could literally be placed there. Rather, the equivalent of pagan amulets was to be a mental awareness of God's law. The use of phylacteries in Judaism is a complete missing of this point.

Exo 13:17 It happened, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God didn’t lead them by the 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 they return to Egypt-
The fear of God lest Israel would not attain the promised land ("lest perhaps") shows His humility, in being so concerned for the salvation of petty man; and that characteristic likewise will be His, right up to and through and beyond the day of judgment. 

We see here a window onto God's sensitivity towards us. "For God said..."- to whom? This opens up His internal thinking, what He said to Himself. He will not let us be tested beyond what we can bear; and He will not allow the rod of the wicked to be so strong that the righteous put forth their hands to sin. So He knows our levels. He knew Israel's levels. Later in their journey, they did encounter war- with Amalek, with Og king of Bashan etc. He knew that they could endure those experiences [perhaps because by then their faith should have been increased by the daily experience of manna and water, and the presence of the cloud and fire]; but not the experience of war with the Philistines at this early point. We know the geography of the area from what the Bible tells us about Isaac and Abraham going down south of Israel into the land of the Philistines. Dt. 1 tells us that it takes only 11 days to travel by the highway from Egypt to Canaan- through the land of the Philistines. God knew their likelihood of wanting to return to Egypt- and He knew that if they were just a few days journey out of Egypt, on the main highway, then they would be tempted to return to Egypt. When they did later state they wanted to return to Egypt (Ex. 32; Num. 14:4), this was therefore inexcusable. God knew they did not need to have decided that. He knew that if they had encountered war with the Philistines, then they would have been overpowered by the temptation to want to return to Egypt. The result is that every failure before temptation is inexcusable. There can be no situational ethic. God foresees our likely sins and seeks to save us from them- by taking Israel on a longer route, perhaps leading them by the fire and cloud in such a way that there was no clear return path for them through the trackless wilderness, whereas the quicker way was on a well established highway. God likewise foreknew that the Philistines would not honour the peace treaty made with Isaac and Abraham, and would attack Israel as they passed through their land. We think how God drove Adam and Eve out of Eden, lest they take of the tree of life and live eternally in a fallen, miserable state. He foresees likely human behaviour despite our freewill.

It was the Angel which led Israel in the pillar of fire and cloud. Despite their limitations, we know that the work of our guardian Angel is so over-ruled that we will never be tested above what we are able to bear. The trials they choose for us are in accordance to the spiritual strength they know we possess- thus the Angel leading Israel through the wilderness "led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines; for God (the Angel leading them) said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt; but God led the people about through the way of the wilderness" (Ex. 13:17,18). So we see the great fear our guardian Angel has that we will return to Egypt (the flesh), and therefore He gives us trials which will prevent this, although at the time we feel like Israel that the trials are actually enough to make us want to return to the world.


Exo 13:18 but God led the people around by the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea; and the children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt-
"Armed" is literally 'in fives', perhaps implying they marched five abreast. Hence LXX "and in the fifth generation the children of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt". If the LXX is correct then we have here confirmation of the argument made on Ex. 12:40 that Israel were in Egypt for 215 years, not 430. If we read "in fives" as 'five abreast' then as discussed on Ex. 12:37, a group of 600,000 men plus women, children and a "mixed multitude" would require a column of around 1000 km. long. See my suggestion on Ex. 12:37 that the numbers were far smaller. "Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael plays around with the letters of the word “armed” (chamushim) to suggest that if the vowels are altered slightly, it might actually mean that only one out of five (chamishah) Israelites left Egypt". This would fit with the small number of firstborn given in the census of Num. 3- as if many firstborn were slain from disobedience to the Passover laws.

Or we can understand that they went up armed as in with arms, prepared for war; which fits the context of :17, where God foresaw that if they did encounter actual war, they would be tempted to return to Egypt. They went up armed because they were frightened there would be warfare, and God saw that this fear could become obsessive to the point that they would return to Egypt if they ever had to use their weapons. Again we see how sensitively God foresaw their situations ahead of time.

"Red Sea" can be "the sea of reeds"; just as even in English there is a similarity of spelling between "red" and "reed". It is the same word in Ex. 2:3 of the reeds where Moses was hidden. The idea of salvation in the reeds was the narrative of Moses' life. He has been saved out of the reeds, and this was to encourage him that God would save him and Israel again. And again, his sister Miriam was involved, as she led the women in praise afterwards. We see how circumstances repeat, in Moses' example, after 80 years- experiences are intended to reinforce and develop faith.

Exo 13:19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had made the children of Israel swear, saying, God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones away from here with you-
Despite living a long life in the opulence of Egypt, without apparently falling from power and wealth, the heart of Joseph was not in it at all, but rather in the land of promise, in the things of the Kingdom. An example to us all.

We note it was Moses personally who carried Joseph's bones, possibly hinting that the Israelites were so burdened down with the wealth of Egypt. Acts 7:16 implies the bones of his brothers were also carried back and buried in Shechem.

Exo 13:20 They took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness-
Etham in Egyptian means a ‘closed place, fortress, castle’. Presumably there was a Philistine garrison there, as it was a border town, and remnants of the castle have been unearthed. Again we sense the Egyptians as powerless before this huge column of Divinely liberated slaves. This incident was providentially arranged to strengthen the Israelites in faith when a far greater Egyptian force approached them. See on Ex. 14:3.

Exo 13:21 Yahweh went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them on their way, and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light, that they might go by day and by night:-
This is very rhythmic and poetic in Hebrew, as if part of a marching song: "And YHWH went before them / by day in a pillar of cloud / to lead them by the way / and by night in a pillar of fire / to give them the light / to go by day and night. / Aside turns not / the pillar of cloud by day / nor the pillar of fire by night / before the people".

"He spread a cloud for their covering" (Ps. 105:39). We note God's sensitivity to His people in the desert- fire at night to warm them against the desert cold, and cloud in the day time to shield them from the heat of the sun. He is likewise sensitive to our issues on our wilderness journey to His promised land.

The Passover deliverance was to be the beginning of months for Israel (Ex. 12:2); time and history, and our sense of where we are in time and history, were to be constantly governed by this experience of great salvation. Yet people tend to live without this sense of their place in history, never learning from history and never seeing the long term horizon, just living life as it is experienced right in front of their eyes and ears. Hence the Hebrew months are called just the second month, the third month etc. The names of the Hebrew months were picked up only in Babylonian exile. And this is how radically our great salvation should affect our lives. It could be argued that Israel's entire wilderness experience was lived in the shadow of the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. They were in an envelope of Divine protection and their sense of day and night was governed by these things, rather than their sight of the sun or moon. Likewise the arrival of the quail and manna gave them their sense of "morning" and of the sixth day, when double manna was given, and the Sabbath when there was no manna. They lived without any way of telling the time as we do. We likewise are to live in a total environment of awareness of God's salvation, that I have been redeemed and am on my path to the Kingdom. And yet even whilst living in this total environment of salvation, Israel rebelled and wanted to return to Egypt. 

Exo 13:22 the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, didn’t depart from before the people-
Ex. 13:21,22 says that there was a pillar of cloud in the day time and a pillar of fire by night. But at the time of the Exodus, there was a pillar of cloud for the Egyptians and a pillar of fire to give light in the night for the Israelites (Ex. 14:20,24). Could this mean that the meaning of time was collapsed at this time? It was night for the Israelites but daytime for the Egyptians? Is. 42:16, amidst many exodus / Red Sea allusions, speaks of how God makes the darkness light before His exiting people. The many Johanine references to the Lord Jesus being a light in the darkness for His followers would then be yet more elaborations of the idea that the Lord Jesus is the antitype of the Angel that led Israel out of Egypt (Jn. 8:12; 12:35,46). Num. 9:21 says that the pillar of cloud was with the Israelites at night, and sometimes it was taken up in the night and they therefore had to move on. Does this mean that there were times when the meaning of time was collapsed during their journey, and the night was made as the day (perhaps Ps. 139:12 alludes to this experience)? When Yahweh came down on Sinai, He was enveloped in a cloud of fire- suggesting that there was no day and night for Him (Ex. 24:15-17; Dt. 5:22).