The Book of Exodus began with the troubled history of Israelite slaves who were mistreated by the Egyptian pharaohs and their people. As we have studied each chapter, we have seen how God was working on their behalf to deliver them from bondage and to increase their faith in Him.
Last week, we learned about the Passover and exodus from Egypt. The Ten Plagues destroyed Egypt and finally broke Pharaoh’s will. He finally let God’s people go.
After such exciting chapters, you may feel a let down when you come to Exodus 13. There are no miraculous plagues or feisty conversations between Moses and Pharaoh. But what we find in this chapter is nonetheless important because it tells us something about our God and His care for His people.
Despite the lack of “exciting” content, I hope that you will carefully follow along and see the goodness of God in this chapter and also allow the Holy Spirit to work in your heart.
- The Lord’s Command (1-2)
It is interesting how the Lord continued to use Moses as his spokesman. Moses had represented the Lord to Pharaoh. Now he is representing the Lord to the Israelite people. With that relationship in mind, the Lord spoke to Moses so that he would convey his command to the people.
[Read Exodus 13:1-2.]
I recently listened to a debate about capitalism and socialism and learned that socialism desires for all of the people to be in charge instead of one person. While we like the idea of individual rights, free speech, and the right to vote, this doesn’t seem like a practical way to govern a large company or nation. This thought came to mind as I read these verses. God seems to always use one person to lead, speak, and represent him as opposed to the entire group. Perhaps God’s idea of government throughout the Bible is something that we should study in the future.
The Lord told Moses that all of the firstborn were to be consecrated to Him. It is interesting to read that this included both the firstborn of people and of animals. Compare this to the tenth plague in Exodus 11-12 and notice that the firstborn of Egyptian people and animals were killed. The Lord seems to continue that idea in this command to consecrate the firstborn.
Why did the Lord want the firstborn consecrated to Him?
Isn’t God already the Creator and Owner of all that He has made? Yes, He is. But in this instance, the Lord wanted the Israelites to have a continuing reminder of what He had done.
So, “to perpetuate the remembrance of that remarkable event, and in token of their gratitude for it, their firstborn … were to be consecrated to God as his peculiar portion” (Bush 154).
Do you remember the Andy Griffith episode where Andy puts out a fire in a barrel of rags while Gomer Pyle is sleeping? The rest of the episode has Gomer showing his thankfulness to Andy for saving his life. That episode is funny because Gomer becomes obnoxious to Andy and his family.
The Israelites were in a similar but much different situation. The Lord had saved their lives and delivered them from the oppressive Pharaoh in Egypt. But their devotion would now be shown toward the Lord by doing what He required. In thankfulness for his deliverance, they were to consecrate their firstborn sons to the Lord.
What about you?
The command given here was for the Israelites and not for us. However, you too have benefited from what the Lord has done. He gave His own firstborn (Jesus) to take our place and shed his blood to save us from the judgment we rightfully deserved.
What should we do in response to God? “Does he stand so high in our affections that we are willing for his sake to part with what we love best in this world?” (Bush 154) Instead of giving our firstborn, we ought to consecrate our lives to His service.
Romans 12:1-2 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
Perhaps it would be good to mediate on your own response to what the Lord has done for you and to decide how you can express your thankfulness to Him today.
- Moses’ Instruction (3-16)
After hearing what the Lord wanted the people to do, Moses gave more specific instructions to the people. They were to celebrate what God had done and then consecrate the firstborn. Let’s look at the first section.
[Read Exodus 13:3-10.]
a. Celebrate what God has done (3-10).
i. Remember what the Lord did (3a).
How easily we forget what the Lord has done in our lifetime. Do you remember any of the prayers that have been answered at Calvary Baptist Church? Do you remember what the Lord has done in your lifetime?
The Lord wanted the people to have an annual reminder of what He had done in Egypt. They were to be reminded that God showed His strength to deliver them from their slavery in Egypt.
ii. Feast of Unleavened Bread (3b-7)
To help them remember, after they arrived in the Promised Land, they were to not eat leavened bread for seven days. This was called the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Unleavened bread is bread with no yeast in it. Normal bread rises in the oven because of the yeast in it. But unleavened bread stays compact and flat.
How would this remind them of what happened?
“Since the children of Israel left Egypt hastily, they did not have time for the bread to rise, so it was made on that very first Passover without leaven, also known as yeast” (gotquestions). (See also Deuteronomy 16:3.)
When you are used to eating regular bread, it would be a stark reminder to eat flat, cracker-like bread. Doing this for seven days would cause them to remember the events that took place in Egypt.
iii. Remind your children (8-10).
You can probably recall your young child asking questions about why certain things were done in your home. The Israelite children would have similar question. Why are we eating this flat bread? This would have been a good time to recount what God had done in Egypt.
One of my favorite songs in a different hymnal is “Give ear unto God’s Holy Word.” The lyrics encourage us to teach our children about God’s mighty works.
“Give ear unto God’s Holy Word and hear His perfect law
Remember what His hand hath done and tell His works in awe
Recount unto thy children’s hearts the things which thou wast told
The truth which thou hast heard and known from generations old.
So shall thy children hope in God and not forget His name
But follow in the ways of Him Who ever is the same”
This is a good time to think about ways to remind the next generation of what God has done in your life and in this church’s time here in Willard. Celebrate what God has done.
b. Consecrate the firstborn (11-16).
[Read Exodus 13:11-16.]
In this section, the Israelites were instructed to consecrate their firstborn male children and animals to the Lord. This practice would begin when they finally arrived in the Promised Land.
i. The firstborn were to be set apart for the Lord (11-13).
The act of consecration to the Lord was a setting apart. The Hebrew word means “make to pass over; i.e. from [your] own power and possession; [you shall] make a transfer of it” (Bush 157).
With this in mind, God was telling them to transfer the ownership of their firstborn son or animal to Him. This would be hard to do. Would any of you be willing to give any of your children to someone else? Most parents would say no.
It would also be difficult for a herdsman to give up the firstborn animal as there was no guarantee that there would be any future offspring.
But giving to the Lord was something that should have come easily for thankful people who had just been delivered from slavery. Giving to the Lord would have been an act of thankfulness each time it was done. And (to put your mind at ease) the Lord also expected the parents to redeem (buy back) their children instead of sacrificing them on an altar as the animals were (in most cases).
“Since donkeys were considered ceremonially unclean animals (Lev. 11:2-4) they could not be sacrificed, but they could be redeemed (padah, ‘to buy back for a price’) by lambs sacrificed in their place” (Hannah 130).
Now, why was this done?
ii. The practice reminded them of what the Lord had done (14-16).
In the future, when a son asked his father about the firstborn, he would hear the story of how the Lord delivered them from Egypt with “strength of hand.” By the end of the ten plagues, there was no doubt who was stronger than stubborn Pharaoh.
Some years ago, I met a man with extra large hands. His hands were literally half again as big as mine. I can’t say what would have happened if I had arm wrestled him, but I figure he would have had the advantage. His hand strength would have overcome me.
How do you think a boy would respond to his father’s story about Pharaoh and God’s mighty power?
He would probably never forget that story. Hearing that the Lord defeated Pharaoh and his gods ten times and destroyed the land would be a constant memory (like frontlets) that the Lord is all powerful and able to deliver them from any future enemy.
Summary: God wanted the Israelites to celebrate and consecrate. They were to celebrate what God had done for them. And they were to consecrate their firstborns to the Lord in thankfulness and remembrance of God’s goodness to them.
- The Nation’s Journey (17-22)
With all the instruction and celebration, it is easy to forget that Israel was on a journey to the Promised Land. These verses tell us three details about the journey to this point.
[Read Exodus 13:17-22.]
a. God’s path (17-18)
“The shortest route to the land of Canaan was through the territory of the Philistines in the direction of Beersheba and the Negeb. It led along the Mediterranean Sea, the military road of the Egyptians” (Hannah 130).
However, the Lord did not lead the Israelites on that path. He knew that these recently released slaves were not battle tested enough to handle the Philistines who would oppose them on this route. He knew their hearts and did not want them to become afraid and want to return to Egypt. So, he gave them a different path which went southeast from Egypt through a deserted area (not desert).
b. Promise to Joseph (19)
Years ago, Joseph had instructed his children to take his bones/casket back home to be buried. Moses remembered this and brought his remains with them. “Later Joseph’s bones were buried at Shechem (Josh. 24:32)” (Hannah 130).
c. God’s direction (20-22)
Such a large group must have traveled slowly. Remember that there were 600,000 fighting men. If you were to add a wife to each man and a couple of children, the total population must have been about 2 million people. Whatever the case, this group made their way from Succoth to Ethan on the edge of the wilderness area.
As they traveled, the Lord led the way with a pillar shaped cloud during the day. At night, He led them with a pillar of fire which lit the way which would have been comforting in an area which was unknown to them.
Summary: The Lord showed his care for Israel in these verses. First, He took them down a route that would not discourage them. Second, He reminded them of better times with Joseph’s casket being carried with them. Third, He led them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
As we conclude our study of Exodus 13, I wonder what caught your attention?
1. God’s command to consecrate the firstborn
As you saw God’s command for the firstborn to be consecrated, did you also see your need to consecrate your life to the Lord as opposed to living it for yourself? He certainly is deserving of anything we can offer to Him.
2. Moses’ instructions to celebrate and consecrate
As you read Moses’ instructions for Israel to remember what God had done for Israel, were you reminded of times when He met your needs and worked out things in your life that you thought could never be handled well? He certainly has in the past and still can today. Celebrate the Lord today.
3. God’s care for the Israelites as they traveled
As you read of the Lord’s care of Israel along their journey, did you realize that the same God has been caring for you all along? He has promised to never leave or forsake His children. So, trust and thank Him for His watch care over you.
John D. Hannah, “Exodus” in Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publication, 1989, 130-31.
George Bush, Notes on Exodus, Minneapolis, James & Klock, 1852, reprint 1976, 154-164.
“Frontlets” in ATS Bible Dictionary as viewed at Topical Bible: Frontlets (biblehub.com) on 4/23/2022.
“What is the significance of unleavened bread?” as viewed at What is the significance of unleavened bread? | GotQuestions.org on 4/23/22.