Exodus 13


                         SANCTIFICATION OF THE FIRSTBORN


In connection with the deliverance from death of the Israelite first-born by the blood of

the lamb, and still further to fix the remembrance of the historical facts in the mind of

the nation, Moses was commissioned to declare all the firstborn of Israel for all future time,

and all the firstborn of their domesticated animals “holy to the Lord.” There was, perhaps,

already in the minds of men a feeling that peculiar dignity attached to the first-born in each

family; and this feeling was now strengthened by the assignment to them of a sacred character.

God claimed them, and also the first-born of beasts, as His own. The clean beasts became

His by sacrifice; but the unclean ones could not be similarly treated, and therefore had to be

redeemed (v.13) by the sacrifice of clean animals in their place. The first-born of men

became at the first institution of the new ordinance God’s ministers; but as this system was

not intended to continue, it was announced that they too would have to be “redeemed”

(vs. 13,15). The exact mode of redeeming them was left to be settled afterwards, and

will be found in Numbers 3:40-51; 18:16.


vs. 1-16 – “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Sanctify unto me all the

firstborn” - The Hebrew word used is masculine, and by its proper force limits the

command to the first-born males, who alone had been in danger from the tenth plague.

whatsoever openeth the womb” - This clause added definiteness, showing that

firstborn did not contain any reference to any later birth, and that it applied to

every case where a woman’s first child was a male – “among the children of Israel,

both of man and of beast: it is mine.  And Moses said unto the people, Remember

this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by

strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place:  there shall no

leavened bread be eaten.” - “by His powerful protection has God brought you on

your way thus far.” Therefore, “Remember this  day, and remember that nothing

leavened is to be eaten on it” (see ch.12:15-20).  “This day came ye out in the

month Abib.  And it shall be when the LORD shall bring thee into the land of

the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Hivites, and the

Jebusites, which He swear unto thy fathers to give thee, a land flowing with

milk and honey, that thou shalt keep this service in this month” – The Israelites

were to keep this ordinance when they came into the land and were living in prosperity.

 The discipline of adversity is apt to draw men nearer to God than that of prosperity. Many

are very careful and regular attendants on Church ordinances when they are afflicted, or in

poor circumstances, or suffering from a bereavement; but, if the world smiles upon them,

if they grow rich and respected, if men court and flatter them, they grow careless and

irregular in such matters. They think that they cease to have the time for them; but in

reality they cease to relish them.  “The cares of the world and the deceitfulness

of riches,” choke the good seed that was in them, and “they become unfruitful.”

(Matthew 13:22) - They forget God, and the marvelous things that He hath done for them.

Hence a warning is required. We must not let the “milk and honey” of Canaan wean

our hearts from God, or make us less zealous in His service, or less constant attendants

upon His ordinances. The higher we are lifted up the more we need His grace; the greater

attraction that the world offers to us, the more helpful to us are those holy rites and usages,

which draw our thoughts away from earthly things, and fix them upon things Divine and

heavenly.  Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day

shall be a feast to the LORD.  Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days; and

there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen

with thee in all thy quarters.  And thou shalt shew thy son in that day, saying, This

is done because of that which the LORD did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt. 

And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine

eyes, that the LORD’s law may be in thy mouth” - The Israelites are instructed from the

first, that the tephillin are to be a means to an end; and that the end is to be the retention

of God’s law in their recollection “ in their mouth,” and therefore in their heart,

since “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”  (Matthew 12:34) - for

with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt.  Thou shalt therefore

keep this ordinance in his season from year to year.  And it shall be when the LORD

shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, as He swear unto thee and to thy

fathers, and shall give it thee, That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD” - The

expression is especially appropriate to the case of first-born animals, which would

have to be separated off from the rest of the flock, or of the herd, and “put aside” for

Jehovah, so as not to be mixed up and confounded with the other lambs, kids, and

calves.  all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast

which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD’s.  And every firstling of an ass

thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt

break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou

redeem”. Later on, the amount of the redemption money was fixed at five shekels of

the sanctuary for each. (Numbers 3:47) – “And it shall be when thy son asketh thee

in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of

hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage:  And it

came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the LORD slew 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 that openeth the matrix, being males;

but all the firstborn of my children I redeem. And it shall be for a token upon

thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes” - It is the custom among the Jews

to write this entire passage — vs.1-16 — on two of the four strips of parchment

contained in the tephillin. In Hebrew, tephillin means "attachments." They were

originally prayer thongs worn by Jews at morning prayer—one on the left arm

and another on the head. They came to be regarded as talismans and were used

 in many traditional ceremonies. The Talmud states: "Whoever has the tephillin

bound to his head and arm … is protected from sin."  The others have inscribed on

them Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21. – “for by strength of hand the

LORD brought us forth out of Egypt.





The direct road from Tanis to Palestine — a road much frequented under the nineteenth

dynasty — lay along the coast of the Mediterranean, and conducted to Philistia. If we look

at the map, and observe the position of Tanis (now San) on the old Tanitic branch

of the Nile, now nearly dried up, we shall see that the route which would naturally suggest

itself to any one wishing to proceed to the Holy Land from Tanis would be one running

almost due east, from Tanis to Pelusium, and from Pelusium, south of Lake

Serbonis, to Rhinocolura; and thence, following the course of the coast to Gaza,

Ascalon, and Ashdod, the chief towns of the Philistine country. It is true that a marsh

region intervenes between Tanis and Pelusium which might seem to bar the route; but

the Egyptian remains show that, in the times of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties, this

obstacle was surmounted by means of an embankment which was carried across it, and

that a direct road thus connected the two cities. Moses, at this point of his narrative, being

about to trace the onward march of the Israelites from Succoth to Etham, in the direction

of the Red Sea, anticipated, it would seem, an objection on the part of his reader, who

would naturally ask, Why was not the direct route eastward taken and Canaan entered on

the south-west after some half-dozen marches? In vs. 17-18, he gives the reply:


Ø      God led them, they did not determine their own route; and


Ø      God would not lead them by the direct route, because it would have

                        conducted them to the Philistine country, and the Philistines were

                        strong, and would have resisted the invasion by force of arms. Hence

                        it was that the southern or southeastern route was taken in preference to                                   

                        the northern one — and that the second stage in the journey was from                          

                        Succoth to Etham (v. 20).


vs. 17-20 – “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God

led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was

near; for God 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 of the Red sea” – Or “led the people a circuit”, made them take a

circuitous route to Canaan.  This gave the nation time to be “gradually accustomed

to fatigues and hardships by a long and tiresome march in the desert” – to be trained

in military discipline and martial virtue by occasional expeditions against the weaker

tribes of the desert.  and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the

land of Egypt.  And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had

straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and

ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.” – See Genesis 50:25. Joseph,

firmly believing in the promise of God to give Canaan to the descendants of Abraham

had made them swear to take his body with them when they left Egypt. The desire to

be laid in their native earth was common to most of the nations of antiquity, and, in

the case of the Israelites, was intensified by Canaan being the “land of promise.”

Jacob had had the same feeling as Joseph, and had been buried by Joseph in the

cave of Math-pelah (Genesis 50:13).  And they took their journey from Succoth,

and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness”.





Having stated, in v.17, that “God led the Israelites,” and determined their route

for them, the writer here proceeds to explain how this leading was accomplished.

With extreme simplicity and directness he states, that the conduct was effected by

means of an appearance, which in the daytime was like a column or pillar of smoke

ascending from earth to heaven, and in the night was like a pillar of fire. He considers

the presence of God to have been in the pillar, which moved in front of the host, and

showed them the way that they were to go. When it halted, they halted when it

advanced, they advanced. Their journeys being made as much in the night-time as in

the day, on account of the intense heat, the pillar took in the night the appearance of a

column of fire, so as to be equally visible as by day. All attempts to give a rational

explanation of the phenomenon are misplaced, since the writer, from whom alone we

derive our information on the subject, clearly regarded it as miraculous; and both here and

elsewhere (chps.14:19-20, 24; 33:9; Numbers 12:5; 14:14) speaks of it as a form under

which God was pleased to show Himself.. God thus constituted Himself the General

of the host.


vs. 21-22 – “And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to

lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire” - The pillar was seen — the presence

of Jehovah, though unseen, was believed to be in it, and to move it. – “to give them light; to

go by day and night” - Or, “so that they might march both by day and by night.”

Night marches are generally preferred by Orientals on account of the great heat of the days.

The night marches of the Israelites are again mentioned in Numbers 9:21. “He took not

away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the

people”.  The last distinct mention of the cloud is in Numbers 16:42, after the destruction

of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.  There is perhaps a later allusion to it in Numbers 20:6.

In Nehemiah it is said that “the pillar of the cloud departed not from them,” so long as

they were in the wilderness (Nehemiah 9:19); and the same is implied, though not formally

stated, in Numbers 9:15-23. There is no mention of the pillar of the cloud as still with the

Israelites in the Book of Joshua.Probably it was last seen on the journey from Beth-jesimoth

to Abel-Shittim in the rich Jordan valley (Numbers 33:49).



                        GOD’S GUIDANCE OF HIS PEOPLE


The Israelites had quitted Egypt, had broken off from their old life, were about to

plunge into that wild waste of sand and rock which separates Africa from Asia by an

almost impassable barrier. If they took the northern line of march, they would come

upon the sandy desert. Before them would stretch “endless sands yielding nothing but

small stunted shrubs — broad plains — newly reared hills — valleys dug out by the last

week’s storm; the hills, and the valleys, and the plains, all sand, sand, sand, still sand,

and only sand, and sand, and sand again.” (Kinglake, Eothen, p. 187.) If they turned

southward, they would find themselves in a labyrinth of twisted wadys, amid huge mountains,

and in a region consisting chiefly of bare granite and sandstone rocks — “the Alps unclothed.”

(Henneker, Notes during a Visit to Egypt, p. 214.) In either case they would sorely need

God’s guidance; and God’s guidance was vouchsafed to them.  So it is with Christians.




      them. God Himself, God the Holy Ghost, co-equal Person with the Father

      and the Son in the Triune Godhead, is their guide and director, “a light to

      their feet and a lantern to their paths.” (Psalm 119:105) - Most necessary to         

      them such direction. Just escaped from Egypt, just freed from the bondage of

      sin, how would they wander and go astray, unless His right hand were

      stretched out to help and guide! On the weary waste, the dry, bare,

      monotonous plain of an eventless life, where no sign showed the way,

            where hope would fail and the heart grow faint, what could they do but for

            Him? In the labyrinth of conflicting duties and uncertain devious paths, how

            could they determine on their course but for Him? Alike in both he leads,

            directs, guides. He “will not leave them nor forsake them.”  (Hebrews 13:5)



            “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20)       

            was the promise given us by our Lord. There is no part of life from which He

            withdraws Himself — not the darkest night of earthly misery and

            disappointmentnot the brightest day of worldly success and glory. And

            in both alike He is needed — perhaps most needed in the day. Then men

            think they can walk by themselves, choose their own course, direct their

            own paths. Then consequently they are most apt to go wrong, and “wander

            out of the way in the wilderness.”  But He is ever at hand to restrain,

            correct, recover them. By internal or external cheeks, by feeling and

            conscience on the one hand, by His Word, His ordinances, His ministers on

            the other, He interposes to save men from themselves, to keep them in the

            right way, or lead them back into the right way if they have departed from

            it. Darkness does not hide us from Him — darkness does not separate us

            from him — yea, “the darkness is no darkness with him — the night and

            the day with Him are both alike.’  (Psalm 139:12)



      THE SOUL. Now by cloud and darkness, an overshadowing of the soul by His           

      felt but unseen presence; now by the flashing in of intolerable light into the

      secret recesses of the heart and conscience, does the Holy Spirit of God direct

      and rule our lives. None can limit Him as to the means which He shall employ.   

      Now He discomfits our foes, directing His keen gaze upon them “through the

      pillar of fire and of the cloud” (ch.14:24); now He simply separates between

      our foes and us by interposing an insurmountable barrier (ib. v.19); at one time

      He shines into our hearts with a mild, gentle, and steady radiance; at another, he

            gives us rest, as under the shadow of a cloudy canopy. At all times He chooses

            the means most fit to accomplish His ends, shrinking from none that are potent

            to effect His gracious purposes. Clouds and darkness would seem to be the things        

            most opposite to the ineffable brightness of his most glorious nature; but even    

            clouds and darkness are pressed into His service, and made His ministers, when           

            they can be ministers of good.



      “The pillar of the cloud departed not” from the Israelites “by day, neither the

      pillar of fire by night,” during the whole time of their long and weary journeying,

      until they reached Canaan. God’s gifts are “without      repentance.” (Romans 11:29)

      - They are given for the whole period during which we need them. As the Israelites

      required guidance until they trod the soil of the Jordan vale, and Canaan’s hills lay

      plainly in sight, so do Christians need the Spirit’s gentle leading, until the whole wilderness

      of this life is past, and the true Canaan reached. AND WHAT THEY NEED THEY

      HAVE! The Spirit’s aid is with them to the end!



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