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Dedication of the firstborn (13:1-16)
Since God had spared the firstborn of Israel’s people and animals in the Passover judgment, these rightly belonged to him. The people were to acknowledge this by dedicating, or setting apart, their firstborn to God in an act of thankful worship (13:1-2; see also v. 15). This act also symbolized the consecration (or dedication) of the entire redeemed nation to God, since Israel as a whole was God’s firstborn (see 4:22). The people were reminded again to keep the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, for the event that the feast commemorated was the reason for the dedication of the firstborn (3-10).
Animals considered ceremonially clean, such as sheep and cattle, were dedicated to God by means of sacrifice. Animals considered ceremonially unclean and therefore unfit to be offered as sacrifices, such as donkeys, had to be redeemed. That is, they had to be bought back from God, and this was done by the payment of a clean animal in the place of the unclean. If an animal was not redeemed, it had to be destroyed. Human sacrifice, however, was forbidden. Instead the parents ceremonially presented their firstborn to God, and then redeemed the child by a payment of money (11-16; cf. Numbers 18:15-16).
Note: The instruction in 13:9,16, which speaks of the necessity for true religion in one’s inner life and outward behaviour, is in figurative language that Jews of later generations understood literally. This resulted in the creation of phylacteries. These were small boxes containing strips of cloth on which people wrote selected teachings from the law of God. The Jews usually wore phylacteries on their arms or foreheads (see Matthew 23:5).
Final triumph over Egypt (13:17-14:31)
When they left Egypt, the Israelites did not go by way of the Mediterranean coast, as this was well defended by the Egyptians and war would certainly have resulted. Instead they went east towards the Red Sea (17-18). (A literal translation for the name of this stretch of water is Sea of Reeds. It was not the 200 kilometre wide sea that we today call the Red Sea, but probably an extension of the Red Sea’s north-western arm, the Gulf of Suez. It seems to have been a large shallow expanse of water near the line of the present-day Suez Canal.)
Guided by the symbols of God’s presence, the Israelites headed for Canaan. They took with them the embalmed body of Joseph, in accordance with Joseph’s earlier request whereby he expressed his faith that one day his people would return to the promised land (19-22; cf. Genesis 50:25; Hebrews 11:22).
The Israelites, by contrast, showed no faith at all when they found they had been led into a dead end. With an impassable stretch of water in front of them, Egyptian soldiers in pursuit behind them, and difficult country on both sides, escape seemed impossible (14:1-12). Moses, however, saw that God was in control. God had drawn Pharaoh out, and now he would be glorified in a final demonstration of power that would overthrow Egypt and bring complete deliverance to his people (13-18).
By nightfall the Egyptians had almost caught up to the Israelites, but the fiery cloud that symbolized God’s presence came between the two, and so prevented the Egyptians from advancing farther (19-20). The Israelites received further assistance from the wind, which blew at gale force all night and dried up enough of the sea to form a passage for them to cross to the other side. Just before daybreak, when all the Israelites had crossed over, the Egyptians tried to follow. But by then the wind had dropped and the sea waters began to return to normal, bringing firstly confusion, then panic, and finally destruction to the Egyptian chariot force (21-29). God’s intervention had defeated the enemy and at the same time humbled Israel to a new attitude of faith and reverence (30-31).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Exodus 13". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26