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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Exodus 13

Verses 1-2

Command to Sanctify the Firstborn


The LORD gives Moses the command to sanctify every firstborn. Sanctify means to set apart for a particular purpose, and that is here to be for Him. Before, God sanctified a day, the sabbath day, and set it apart from the other days (cf. Gen 2:3). Now He sanctifies persons, the firstborn. Other persons who will be sanctified later are the priests and Levites and the whole people. Later He also sanctifies a place – tabernacle and temple – and utensils for service. What He sanctifies is from and for Him. By sanctifying something, He exercises His right to it.

In the New Testament we read that the believers are sanctified (Heb 10:10). Therefore they are called “saints” (1Cor 1:2a; Rom 1:7). That is the position of the believer. Sanctification is also mentioned as an ongoing process (1Thes 5:23). The believer belongs to Him and should glorify Him (1Cor 6:20). If He has bought us, He is also entitled to everything we own. What the believers are as ‘firstborn’, they are through their connection with the Lord Jesus, Who is “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom 8:29).

Verses 3-10

The Feast of Unleavened Bread


Before Moses continues with the sanctification of the firstborn, he speaks once again emphatically about the Feast of unleavened bread. This emphasizes how much sanctification and unleavened bread belong together. With true separation from the world and dedication to God there is no place for leaven. Being separated from the world and living for God is a feast. Sin (leaven) spoils that feast.

The people are reminded of this feast on the occasion of the redemption which the LORD has brought about. Time and again God refers to that salvation when He talks about the relationship with His people. He has delivered the people, not that they may live for themselves, but for Him Who has delivered them.

This feast, in Exo 13:6 for the first time called “a feast to the LORD”, must be celebrated not only in the wilderness, but also in the land. When we think of the redemption from the world and the power of sin, it makes our life in the wilderness, which is this world for the believer, a feast. God participates in such a feast. He rejoices in it as His own people celebrate this feast. It also makes our stay in the land, for us the heavenly places, a feast. There we may enjoy the blessings given to us in Christ (Eph 1:3). We can only enjoy it if sin is not allowed in our lives.

The leaven may not be eaten. It should not even be present anywhere in the land. Is it not a major cause that so little is really enjoyed of the heavenly, spiritual, eternal blessings, that so much sin (leaven) has come into the lives of the people of God?

The meaning of this feast must be explained to our children (Exo 13:8). It is the same as with the Passover, where the question comes from the children (Exo 12:26). The explanation is not a theological treatise on what happened in Egypt, but a personal testimony of the head of the family. He tells what the LORD personally did to him in his redemption.

Can we explain to our children why we live the way we do? Are we doing this in connection with the redemption that the Lord Jesus has worked for us? This feast should constantly direct what we do – “hands” – and what we look at, what our field of vision is – “between your eyes”. The best use we can make of our eyes is to read the Word of God. The result is that what we say, our confession, is in accordance with God’s will.

Verses 11-16

Sanctification of the Firstborn


The sanctification of the firstborn (Exo 13:2) means that the firstborn must be given or dedicated to the LORD. In the time in which we live, every believer is a firstborn (Heb 12:23b). If God saves from judgment, He does so for Himself. God delivers a sinner from the bondage of sin and makes him His slave. Moses speaks of devoting to the LORD as something that only happens when the people have arrived in the land of Canaan. Spiritually, this means that real dedication to the Lord according to God’s thoughts takes place in connection with knowing the blessings in Christ in the heavenly places.

A special case is the firstborn of a donkey. It must be redeemed by a lamb. If this does not happen, the neck of the foal must be broken. This peculiarity is connected to the firstborn of a human being. The firstborn son must also be bought free by a lamb. This refers back to the redemption from Egypt, where the firstborn was also redeemed by a lamb. Whosoever did not hide behind the blood of the lamb died by the hand of the destroying angel (Exo 12:23).

The firstborn of a human being is compared here with the firstborn of a donkey. The donkey is an unclean animal. Man by nature is also unclean to God. The donkey is the picture of man under the yoke of sin (cf. Gen 16:11-12). God does exercise His right to it. In the redemption lies the salvation. A person can only belong to the church of the firstborn if he is redeemed by the Lamb (1Pet 1:18-19). The Lamb died in place of all who believe.

The comparison with a donkey is not flattering, but it is significant. Whoever does not want to bow the neck, the neck of such a person must be broken. Whoever acknowledges to be in need of salvation may appeal to the substitutionary sacrifice of the Lamb. We should make this clear to our children when they ask for it. The example of Pharaoh is added as a warning (Exo 13:15).

To be a firstborn and redeemed by the Lamb must determine our actions and our thinking. The end of the section on the firstborn is the same as the end of the section on unleavened bread (cf. Exo 13:16; Exo 13:9). This confirms the close link between the two cases. It makes it clear that the status of firstborn demands the practice of an unleavened life.

Verses 17-18

The Way to the Red Sea


God does not take the shortest way for the people after their exodus from Egypt. In that shorter way, the people will be engaged in a struggle, which would lead them to long for Egypt. And that is not the purpose. God knows the hearts of the people. Hence He brings the people on the way to the Red Sea. There He will teach them another important lesson. They will learn that God has broken the power of the enemy completely. In Egypt they learned that God is against them, but that they are protected from His wrath by the blood of the lamb. At the Red Sea they learn that God is for them and against their enemies.

Verse 19

Joseph’s Bones


The moment God speaks of the way He wants His people to go, attention is focused on Joseph’s bones. Joseph’s order concerning his bones has not been forgotten (Gen 50:25; Heb 11:22; Jos 24:32). Joseph was the savior of the world. He died. As the dead man he is carried away in the midst of the people. The memory of the savior thus remains alive.

The application for us is found in 2 Corinthians 4: “Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2Cor 4:10) The constant remembrance of the death of the Lord Jesus will make it possible for us to resist sin in our walk – after all, He died for that purpose – and that the life of Jesus may be manifest in our bodies.

Verses 20-22

Pillar of Cloud and Pillar of Fire


The people are not sent into the wilderness left to their own devices. God does not lead them by the easiest route, but He assures them of His guidance. By coming under the cloud, the people are “baptized into Moses” (1Cor 10:2), which means that the people move with Moses through whom the LORD leads them. During the day the LORD goes out before them in a pillar of cloud and in the night in a pillar of fire, thereby showing His great compassion to them (Neh 9:19).

The pillar of cloud is a protection against the heat during the day. Because of the light from the pillar of fire, night is no obstacle to travel. Today God leads His people through the Holy Spirit, Whom He does not take away either. The Lord Jesus says of Him that He will “be with you forever; [that is] the Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:16b-17).

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Exodus 13". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/exodus-13.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.