DIG: Why is God particularly concerned that the firstborn be dedicated to Him (also see 4:22-23; 12:12-13)? How does one give over a child to God? What does this say about the position the LORD wanted to occupy in the lives of the Israelites? By what sign does God want this remembered?
REFLECT: Did your parents dedicate you to God? How old were you when you realized what that meant? Has it made any difference in your life as an adult? How do you let people know He is number one in your life today? If you have no firstborn, what is something equivalent you will give over today to show God’s importance in your life?
The firstborn of Egypt had died. The gods of Egypt had always claimed the firstborn as their own. But now God claimed the firstborn of Israel as His own. He also wants the first from us today. The LORD claims our best, our very best and claims the first of everything but many believers put Him last. We give God what is left over.237
The basic principle that ADONAI wanted Moses to convey was this: Consecrate, or set apart and make holy, to Me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to Me, whether man or animal (13:1-2). This command did not apply to the Gentile world because God had adopted Israel as His firstborn son (4:22) and brought him out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1). Therefore, the firstborn of every male was redeemed, or set apart for Him. In 13:3-10 we have the background of the dedication of the firstborn, which is the redemption of the firstborn in Egypt.
Moses spoke to the people of Israel on the very day they left Egypt. They were to remember the Passover and the day they came out of Egypt. Then Moses reminded the people of the importance of the day of their deliverance: Set this day apart and make holy the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery because ADONAI brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast (13:3). This repetition was to emphasize the importance of the Passover to the nation of Israel. It would come to symbolize the concepts of freedom, deliverance and redemption. Today, in the month of Abib, you are leaving (13:4). The word Abib was used earlier of a barley crop (9:31). Historically, the barley harvest in Palestine takes place in April.
They were to remember the Passover when they came into the Land (13:5-7). The Hebrews were no longer to serve the Egyptians; from that point onward they were to serve the LORD and Him alone. When ADONAI brings you into the Land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites – the Land He swore to your forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, a Land flowing with milk and honey – you are to observe this ceremony in this month (13:5). Only five of the seven original nations are mentioned. The basic promise of 3:8 and 17 is reiterated. God is a promise keeper and He was in the process of fulfilling what He had said to His people earlier.
Like the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread had great educational value in the home. For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to ADONAI (13:6). The number seven in Hebrew often symbolizes completeness. Here the Passover reaches its climax on the seventh day. It is a festival day in which all the people gather for a festival to ADONAI (Deuteronomy 16:8). Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders (13:7). This is repeated from 12:15 where the Israelites were instructed to keep yeast out of their homes. Here, however, they were instructed not to have any within their borders. At this point they didn’t have any borders. In fact they wouldn’t have any borders for another forty years. This was told to them in faith, for the borders they would eventually have in the Promised Land of Canaan (Joshua 12:2, 16:2-8).
The redemption from Egypt needed to be told to all succeeding generations. On that day tell your son, “I do this because of what ADONAI did for me when I came out of Egypt (13:8). The Haggadah is a word that means the telling or simply narration because this is a book that narrates the core, the essence of the Seder, or Passover, ceremony. In a real sense the Seder is a talk-fest. The basis for the development of the Haggadah is found here in this verse that literally states you shall tell. The Hebrew word for you shall tell has the same root as the word Haggadah; therefore, the Haggadah is the telling of the Passover. Four different times in the Torah, the Jews are commanded to repeat the story of the Passover (Exodus 12:26, 13:8, 14; Deuteronomy 6:20). The story need not be complex for the children. It is simply enough to tell them what God has done for them. The answer is simple. God has redeemed them; He has purchased them and set them free.
This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that ADONAI brought you out of Egypt with His mighty hand (13:9). Later, Moses would write: Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads (Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18). And for two thousand years and more, observant Jews have taken those passages literally. The four scriptures that form their contents (Exodus 13:1-10, 13:11-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-22) are written on four strips of parchment and placed in two small leather boxes, one of which the pious Jewish man straps on his forehead and the other on his left, or weaker arm before he says his morning prayers. The practice may have originated as early as the period following the exile to Babylon in 586 BC. Today, these scriptures are also found in a little box on the doorpost of an observant Jew’s home.
It hardly needs to be said that there is nothing inherently wrong with such a custom. The boxes, called phylacteries, are mentioned in Matthew 23:5, where Jesus criticizes a certain group of Pharisees and teachers of the law for wearing them. Christ, however, did not condemn the practice as such, but only those who flaunt their religiosity in public. He said: Everything they do is done for men to see. They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long (Matthew 23:5).
So although the use of phylacteries might be spiritually legitimate, it is probably best to understand the references from Exodus and Deuteronomy as figures of speech, since similar statements are found elsewhere in the Old Covenant. For example, of love and faithfulness it is said: Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart (Proverbs 3:3), and, even more to the point, of a father’s commands and mother’s teaching it is suggested: Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck (Exodus 6:21, also see 7:3; Song of Solomon 8:6). Perhaps the explanation of Deuteronomy 11:18 says it best: Fix these words of Mine in your hearts and minds for we can stumble others when we wear our religion on our sleeves.238 You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year (13:10).
On the basis, then, of what happened on the Passover, we have the principle of the firstborn in 13:11-16. Then Moses continued: After ADONAI brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as He promised on oath to you and your forefathers, you are to give over, literally pass over, to God the first offspring of every womb (13:11-12a). Here we have a play on words. Just as God passed over the Israelites during the tenth plague, so now the Israelites were to pass over their first offspring to Him.
Jesus, the Virgin Mary’s firstborn son (Luke 2:7), was brought to Jerusalem and presented to God at the appropriate time. Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus in accordance with the divine command to give over to God their first male offspring. When the time of their purification according to the commandment of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took Him to Jerusalem to present Him to God (as written in the commandment, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to ADONAI”), and offer a sacrifice in keeping with what the Torah of ADONAI has said (Luke 2:22-24a CJB). Luke even quotes Exodus 13:12 in his description of Joseph and Mary carrying out this divine command.
The verb to pass over is also a commentary on the pagan practice of child sacrifice. Pagans of the ancient Near East would take a child and pass him over/through the fire as a child sacrifice (Deuteronomy 18:10; Second Kings 16:3). God does not require such barbarism. He wants the first offspring to be set apart and devoted to His service. Thus the Israelites were not to pass over their first offspring in the fire to death, but they were to pass them over to God to life. They were to be set apart for His service. This commandment applied to both humans and animals.239
All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to God (13:12B). If they owned an unclean firstborn male animal, like a horse, donkey or whatever, it needed to be substituted with a clean firstborn male animal. For example, they were to redeem a firstborn male donkey with a firstborn male lamb. The owner of an unclean firstborn animal was allowed to buy it back by slaughtering one of his own clean firstborn animals as a substitute. But if a man did not want to substitute one of his clean animals for an unclean animal, he was to kill the donkey by breaking its neck (slaughtering the donkey might be mistakenly thought of as a sacrifice, so its neck was to be broken instead). Since man was depriving God of his price, meaning a lamb, he was denied the use of the donkey. The LORD commanded the Israelites to redeem every firstborn among their sons (13:13). With the ransom complete, God said that all of Israel’s firstborn men and livestock belonged to Him.240
In the days to come, when your son is curious and asks you, “What does this mean?” say to him: With a mighty hand God brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, ADONAI killed every firstborn in Egypt, both man and animal. This is why I sacrifice to God the first male offspring of every womb, and redeem each of my firstborn sons (13:14-15).
And the dedication of the firstborn will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that God brought us out of Egypt with His mighty hand (13:16). Both were reminders of God’s gracious deliverance from the land of bondage.241
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ you have been redeemed. The pouring out of his life means that your life has been bought back with blood. You are the firstfruits to be ransomed from death (First Corinthians 15:20). But now, you belong to Him. Therefore, you must allow Him to live out His life in you. His body was given that you might live. Now, you need to serve Him. Your life is a service of worship, and you have become His bondservant.
Your spiritual death in this life is real. The work you would have chosen for yourself must change in ways that suit His preferences. Your innermost circle of decision making must include God and no one else! He calls you His friend, and He has given you freedom to choose. He makes His preferences real in your life only if your tastes are, first and foremost, to serve Him with abiding joy, standing up for Him. Are you ready to walk in a way that makes Him so alive in your life that you forget who you are?242
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2017