Exodus 12:29-13:16, Key Verse: 13:14
“In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’”
If someone asked you to remember and tell about one important thing in your life, what would that be? In today’s passage, God takes the last step and does what he promised he would do to bring the nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. The Israelites leaving Egypt after the final plague is the event that this book is named after, the Exodus. It was an event that happened once in human history, never to be repeated. But it needed to be remembered forever, because it defined the identity of Israel as the people of God. So in today’s passage we also see specific instructions about how Israel was to commemorate this event in the future. Today let’s think about what the Exodus means to us and how we can remember what God has done for us.
I. Israel is driven out of Egypt (12:29-42)
In the previous passages, we saw how the Lord sent a series of increasingly devastating plagues on Egypt to convince Pharaoh to let his people go and worship him. But each time, after seeming to be impressed, Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to let Israel go. Finally, Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron to never appear before him again. From that point, as we saw in last week’s message, Moses began to prepare Israel for the last plague, the one that would bring their liberation. They observed the first Passover, in which each family slaughtered a lamb and spread its blood on the doorframes of their houses. When the angel of death came with the final plague, the plague of the firstborn, he would pass over any house that had the blood of the lamb, sparing the people inside. M. Gideon’s message explained how the Passover is a picture of our salvation in Jesus Christ. When we have the blood of Jesus applied to our heart by faith, we are saved from the judgment that comes on the whole world because of sin.
The Israelites did what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron. The first verse of today’s passage, verse 29, says, “At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well.” In every house that did not have the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorframe, the firstborn son died. Even the firstborn of the livestock and animals died.
The impact of this plague was felt immediately and universally. “Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.” (30) What can we say about this judgment? It’s so terrible beyond anything any of us have experienced, we don’t even want to imagine its possibility. But we can try to understand its significance. Notice that this plague is nothing like a natural disaster. It’s unmistakably specific, so it’s impossible to deny that this is a divine judgment. Why did God kill the firstborn? In those times, the firstborn was considered the strength of the family. So the judgment shows how God broke the strength of Egypt. Also, this judgment was the fruit of Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness. As has been demonstrated, no plague less severe than this would cause Pharaoh to let Israel go. So this is also a lesson about how much people can suffer because of one hard-hearted person. Finally, let’s remember that this is a reflection of what Pharaoh himself did when he forced the Israelites to throw their newborn boys into the Nile River. Even so, it would not be right for mere humans to take revenge in this way. But this is totally a divine judgment.
Verses 31 and 32 say, “During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.’” As God predicted, Israel was driven out of Egypt. It’s interesting that Pharaoh now asked Moses and Aaron to bless him. At least for now, he has been humbled—he realizes that even though he is Pharaoh, he is not an all-powerful god, but a limited person who needs to receive a blessing from something mightier than himself.
The Egyptians even helped the Israelites in their leaving. Verse 33 says that the Egyptians, in their fear, now urged the people to hurry and leave the country. The Israelites followed the directions that we heard about last week, to ask the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and clothing, and they came out with great spoils. Verse 34 explains why the Jews eat unleavened bread when commemorating the Exodus. They had to take the dough they were preparing and get out before adding yeast. In summary, Israel left Egypt in a big hurry. This could be a sign for us of how decisively we should flee our old life of sin when we receive salvation in Jesus, leaving our yeasty bad influences behind. Our Exodus can be when we “exit us” from our life of sin.
Verse 40 reminds us that the Israelite people had lived in Egypt for 430 years. That’s a long time. But when it was God’s time to leave, they all left in one night. Verse 37 says there were about six hundred thousand men on foot, not counting women and children, plus all their livestock and herds. No human plan could ever get that many people out of country that fast. In our lives also, we might be waiting a long time for some long-held prayer topic to be fulfilled. But God doesn’t forget his promise, and when it’s God’s time for it to happen, it can happen in the blink of an eye.
Verse 41 says, “At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord’s divisions left Egypt.” Here the tribes of Israel are called “The Lord’s divisions”. A division is a large military unit or formation, a portion of an army. You might not think of Israel at this point as an army, but as just a teeming mass of poor, bedraggled men, women, children, grandmas, and animals. It even says there were other people going along with them—I guess it was anyone who had a reason to want to get out of Egypt and saw this as their opportunity to make a run for the border. But God looked down on all this and saw Israel as a victorious, conquering nation. In Jesus, that is what we are also, even though we also look like just a bunch of men, women, children, grandmas (and animals) scattered around the world. The important thing is that God fulfills his promise to his people, even the promise he made to Abraham so many years ago.
II. The Passover regulations and their meaning (12:43-13:7,11-13)
Starting at Chapter 12 verse 43, we see further instructions that the Lord gave to Moses and Aaron for celebrating the Passover. To us it might seem strange that the “action” parts of the book keeps getting interrupted by these passages with ritual instructions. But when we understand that this book really serves as the constitution of the community of God’s people, it makes sense that the historical accounts are intertwined with the present application of them in the community. Moses is showing God’s people what they are to do to keep the significance of these events alive.
The first regulations here for the Passover are restrictions on who may celebrate it. The general rule was that no “foreigner”, that is, non-Israelite, could eat it. Why not? It’s because eating the Passover is an identifying mark of being one of God’s covenant people. For the Jews, eating the Passover is like eating the Lord’s supper, or communion, is for us. It’s a symbol of partaking in salvation. However, there were exceptions to the “no foreigner” rule. It says that a slave could eat it after being circumcised, though a temporary resident or hired worker could not. A slave could be considered a permanent part of the family. Also, a foreigner and his family living in Israel could eat the Passover if all the males in his household were circumcised. This is because circumcision is a sign that foreigner has pledged their life to be one of God’s people, uniting themselves with the community. This is similar to how most churches restrict the eating of the Lord’s Supper to those who have made a profession of faith and are baptized into the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s Supper, eating the body and blood of Jesus, our Passover Lamb, is a symbol of having Jesus’ salvation in our heart.
The Israelites were commanded to eat the Passover indoors, remembering how they had to stay inside their homes while the angel of death passed over. This also helps them resist the temptation to make this part of the festival just a picnic. Paul gave similar instructions to the church in Corinth, because in their Lord’s Supper time some people were getting drunk while others were getting left out. Also, the Israelites were forbidden to break the bones of the Passover lamb (46). This became a prophecy, because at Jesus’ death, the two criminals who were crucified with him both had their legs broken, but Jesus did not. Here I want to quote what I think is Paul’s most important direction for us concerning the Lord’s supper. 1 Corinthians 11:28-29: “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.” Not only when we eat the Lord’s supper as a church, but every day when we rise to partake of God’s grace again, we should discern the meaning of Jesus’ death for our lives. In that way we can keep the spirit of the Passover all the time.
Starting in Chapter 13, there are regulations specifically about the firstborn in Israelite households. In Chapter 13 verses 1 and 2, The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal.” God gave his people freedom from slavery at the cost of all the firstborn of Egypt. They needed to remember the price that was paid for their salvation, and to remember that they were a people who had been bought for God and belonged to God. Here, “Consecrate” means to fully devote something to God.
Verses 11-13 give the details of what this consecration involved. “After the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as he promised on oath to you and your ancestors, 12 you are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the Lord. 13 Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.” If an animal was one of the clean animals, they could offer its firstborn as a sacrifice. If it was an unclean animal, such as a donkey, it was not suitable for a sacrifice, so they would have to redeem it. To “redeem” means to regain the possession of something through payment or offering. The firstborn donkey was doomed to be sacrificed, but it could be bought back by the sacrifice of a lamb in its place. A human firstborn son would of course be redeemed like this.
As with everything, this points to Jesus. In our Bible study it came up that we in our sins are like the unclean donkey; even if we sacrificed ourselves for our sin, it would not be an effective offering. But we were redeemed, bought back for God, by the blood of Jesus, the lamb without blemish or defect. I believe that through these rituals, the spirit of Jesus’ sacrifice was planted in the hearts of the Israelites, in anticipation of his coming. At any rate, by a ritual to devote the first of their fruitfulness to God, they could remember and acknowledge what God had done for them. The closest parallel for us might be baptism, in which we show that we die to our old selves and rise again in a new life that belongs to God.
III. Tell what the Lord did for you (13:8-10, 14-16)
In Chapter 13 we find multiple instances of the words “commemorate”, “observe”, “keep this ordinance”, all indicating that the elements of the Passover and the associated Feast of Unleavened Bread are to be held on to and not forgotten and observed time and time again. I guess if human beings were not so short-sighted and prone to forget even important things, it wouldn’t be necessary to prescribe all these observances. But God knows what it takes to really make people remember something. The Exodus was the defining moment of Israel’s national identity as God’s people, and so whatever it took to remember it was worth it, so they wouldn’t lose that identity.
Another way that these rituals worked for the good was that they could incite curiosity among the most curious segment of the population—that is, the young. Chapter 13 verse 14 says, “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” I think everyone who has children, have had their children ask at some point about something the family does: “Why do we always do this?” Among us, that question might commonly be about all the preparations we make every week to hold worship service. This natural curiosity that God gave to young people can be a way to help both children and adults remember. Prompted by their children’s questioning, Israelite parents were to answer, “With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.” In this way the knowledge of salvation could be passed on to the next generation, and the next and the next. A shorter version is given in verse 8: “On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’”
God’s wisdom is this is great, using children to prompt their parents to them the story of what God had done. I don’t always remember to talk to my children about things, but whenever they ask me a question, I realize that I actually have a lot to tell them, and I’m very glad that they asked. I realize my children have lived through a lot of the spiritual history of our family, but they don’t necessarily know the significance of it, or what got it all started. When we tell our children about what the Lord did for us, we are giving them spiritual food that will stick with them.
Actually, this doesn’t just apply to children; it’s about making the opportunity to share with people what the Lord has done for us. We shouldn’t be ashamed to do something that worldly people will not understand. If we never do anything different from what worldly people do, we might not have as many opportunities to tell them what we believe. You see that being considered weird can have a very good effect. And giving our testimony and spiritual history is just as good for us as it is for our hearers.
We’ve seen in this passage and the previous ones how the Exodus really represents salvation. Like the children of Israel, we were delivered from slavery to sin by the blood of Jesus, God’s one and only Son, who became our Passover Lamb. Let’s not forget what we have come out of and what the Lord has done for us. Let’s also pray to help others have their decisive exodus from their life of sin, by the power of Jesus’ blood. When we do our part to preserve the knowledge of God’s salvation and his salvation work in our lives, telling the story, we are small lights shining in a dark world.