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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 13

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-16


SANCTIFICATION OF THE FIRSTBORN. In connection with the deliverance from death of the Israelite first-born by the blood of the lamb, and still further to fix the remembrance of the historical facts in the mind of the nation, Moses was commissioned to declare all the firstborn of Israel for all future time, and all the firstborn of their domesticated animals "holy to the Lord." There was, perhaps, already in the minds of men a feeling that peculiar dignity attached to the first-born in each family; and this feeling was now strengthened by the assignment to them of a sacred character. God claimed them, and also the first-born of beasts, as His own. The clean beasts became his by sacrifice; but the unclean ones could not he similarly treated, and therefore had to be "redeemed" (Exodus 13:13) by the sacrifice of clean animals in their place. The first-born of men became at the first institution of the new ordinance God's ministers; but as this system was not intended to continue, it was announced that they too would have to be "redeemed" (Exodus 13:13, Exodus 13:15). The exact mode of redeeming them was left to be settled afterwards, and will be found in Numbers 3:40-51; Numbers 18:16.

Exodus 13:1

On the true grammatical nexus of this verse, see note on Exodus 12:51. The injunctions of Exodus 12:2, and probably those of 3-15—were given to Moses on the very day of the setting-forth, most likely, at Succoth in the evening.

Exodus 13:2

Sanctify unto me. Not by any positive ceremony, but by regarding it as "set apart unto the Lord" (Exodus 13:12)—made over to him, that is, as his own. All the first-born. The Hebrew word used is masculine, and by its proper force limits the command to the first-born males, who alone had been in danger from the tenth plague. Whatever openeth the womb. This clause added definiteness, showing that "first-born" did not contain any reference to any later Birth, and that it applied to every case where a woman's first child was a male. It is mine. Or, "it shall be mine." I claim it.

Exodus 13:3

And Moses said. Without relating the directions given to Moses any further, the author passes to the directions given by him. He thus, here and elsewhere, avoids unnecessary repetition. Remember this day. The injunction came with great force at the close of the first day's journey, when the good-will of the Egyptians had been shown, and the people had been helped and speeded on their way, and felt that they were actually quitting the house of their bondage, and setting out for Canaan. By strength of hand the Lord brought you outi.e.; "by His powerful protection has God brought you on your way thus far." Therefore, "Remember this day, and remember that nothing leavened is to be eaten on it" (see Exodus 12:15-20).

Exodus 13:4

In the month Abib. The name of the month had not been previously mentioned. Some have derived it from the Egyptian Epiphi. As, however, ab means "greenness" in Hebrew, and abib "green ears of corn," while ibba meant "fruit" in Chaldee (Daniel 4:12, Daniel 4:14), and abbon means "green herbs" in Arabic, there is no need of a foreign derivation for the word. The month of "greenness," or of "green ears of corn," would be both appropriate and intelligible.

Exodus 13:5

The land of the Canaanites, etc. Compare Exodus 3:8, Exodus 3:17. The six nations of these passages are reduced here to five by the omission of the Perizzites, one of the less important tribes. Which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee. See Genesis 15:18; Genesis 24:7; and compare the comment on Exodus 6:8. That thou shalt keep this service. This injunction had been already given (Exodus 12:25) almost in the same words; but on the former occasion it was delivered to the elders only; now it is laid upon the whole people.

Exodus 13:6

Seven days. Compare Exodus 12:15. In the seventh day shall be a feast to the Lord. The feast lasted during the whole of the seven days, but the first day and the last were to be kept especially holy. (See Exodus 12:16; Le Exodus 23:6-8.)

Exodus 13:7

Here again the injunctions are mere repetitious of commands already given in Exodus 12:1-51. (See Exodus 12:15 and Exodus 12:19.) Repetition was no doubt had recourse to in order to deepen the impression.

Exodus 13:8

And thou shalt shew thy son. Repeated from Exodus 12:26, Exodus 12:27.

Exodus 13:9

And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thy hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes. There can be no doubt that the Jewish system of tephillin, or "phylacteries," grew mainly out of this passage, and was intended as a fulfilment of the commands contained in it. The tephillin were strips of parchment with passages of Scripture written upon them and deposited in small boxes, which were fastened by a strap either to the left arm, or across the forehead. The modern Jews argue that they were what Moses here intended, and that their employment began from this time. Some Christian commentators agree with them. But the great majority argue, from supposed probability and from the entire absence of any reference to the actual wearing of tephillin in the Old Testament, that the custom must be, comparatively speaking, a modern one. It is generally supposed to have originated, with other superstitious practices, in the time of the Babylonish captivity. Those who take this view regard the words of Moses in the present passage as merely metaphorical, and compare them with Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 6:21; Proverbs 7:3. Kalisch, however, observes with reason, that if the injunction to write passages of the Law on the door-posts of their houses (Deuteronomy 6:9; Deuteronomy 11:20) was intended to be understood literally, and was literally carried out (Isaiah 57:8), the commands with respect to tephillin, which are coupled with them (Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18) must have been similarly intended. And probability, which is said to be against the Mosaic origin of tephillin, may perhaps rather be urged in its favour. The Egyptian practice Of wearing as amulets "forms of words written on folds of papyrus tightly rolled up and sewn in linen" is well attested. Would it not be in harmony with the general character of his legislation, that Moses should adopt and regulate the custom, employing it to do honour to the Law and keep it in remembrance, without perhaps purging it wholly from superstitious ideas? Moses allowed the Israelites in many things "for the hardness of their hearts," content if he could introduce some improvement without insisting at once on an impracticable perfection. That the law of the Lord may be in thy month. The Israelites are instructed from the first, that the tephillin are to be a means to an end; and that the end is to be the retention of God's law in their recollection—" in their mouth," and therefore in their heart, since "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh."

Exodus 13:10

This ordinance. The ordinance of unleavened bread. See Exodus 12:14, Exodus 12:24.

Exodus 13:12

Set apart. The expression is especially appropriate to the case of first-born animals, which would have to be separated off from the rest of the flock, or of the herd, and "put aside" for Jehovah, so as not to be mixed up and confounded with the other lambs, kids, and calves. The males shall be the Lord's. This limitation, implied in Exodus 13:2, is here brought prominently into notice.

Exodus 13:13

Every firstling of an ass. The ass was the sole beast of burthen taken by the Israelites out of Egypt. (See Exodus 20:17.) Neither the horse nor the camel was among their possessions in the wilderness. This is agreeable to the Egyptian monuments, by which the camel appears to have been rare in Egypt at this time, and the horse as yet mainly used for war and by the nobles in their chariots. With a lamb. A lamb or a kid. The word used is the generic one. (See the comment on Exodus 12:3.) If thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break its neck. This enactment was evidently made to prevent a refusal to redeem. It would not require to be put in force, since by refusing under such a penalty a man would suffer pecuniary loss. All the first-born of men among thy children. Rather "among thy sons." Shalt thou redeem. Later on, the amount of the redemption money was fixed at five shekels of the sanctuary for each. (Numbers 3:47.)

Exodus 13:14

When thy son asketh thee. Compare Exodus 12:26, and the comment ad loc.

Exodus 13:15

When Pharaoh would hardly let us go. Bather, "when Pharaoh hardened himself against letting us go." At his last interview with Moses, Pharaoh had absolutely refused to let them go with their cattle (Exodus 10:24-27), and Moses had absolutely refused to go without them. I sacrifice all that openeth the womb, being males. And being clean animals. The common sense of the reader or hearer, is expected to supply the restriction. Of my children. Rather, as in Exodus 13:13, "of my sons."

Exodus 13:16

A sign … frontlets. See the comment on Exodus 13:9. It is the custom among the Jews to write this entire passage—Exodus 13:1-16—on two of the four strips of parchment contained in the tephillin. The others have inscribed on them Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21.


Exodus 13:1-16

The Dedication and Redemption of the First-born.

In commemoration of the great mercy whereby their first-born sons were spared, when all those of the Egyptians were slain, God required the Israelites to do two things:—

(1) To dedicate all their first-born sons, not only of the existing but of all future generations, to himself; and,

(2) to redeem them, or buy them back for the purposes of secular life, by a money payment. It is analogous to this—

I. THAT CHRISTIAN PARENTS ARE REQUIRED TO DEDICATE, NOT THEIR FIRST-BORN SONS ONLY, BUT ALL THEIR CHILDREN, TO GOD IN BAPTISM. All have deserved death. All have been in danger of it. All have been spared by the mercy of God, on account of the atoning blood of Christ. All therefore are to be dedicated by their parents to God's service—brought to the font, and presented to him to be his faithful soldiers and servants until their life's end. All are to receive a species of consecration, whereby they become "priests to God" (Revelation 1:6), and may have boldness to approach him without the intervention of a human mediator. But all are not to be ministers. The ministry is for such as have a special call, which cannot be known in infancy, or indeed until persons are well advanced towards manhood.

II. THAT CHRISTIAN PARENTS HAVE, AFTER DEDICATING THEM, TO TAKE THEIR CHILDREN BACK, AS IT WERE, TO SECULAR LIFE. Hannah gave her son up to God from the time that she weaned him, took him to the Temple, and left him with the priests. Christians cannot do this. Though some of their sons may ultimately have a call to the ministry, this will not be the case with all, and they must act as if it would not be the case with any. They must take their children back to their houses, give them a secular education, and prepare them in most instances for secular life. But they have not to buy them back. This arises from the difference between the two dedications, the one having been a dedication to the ministry and the other not. Christians do not need to retract the dedication of their children by any subsequent act. They may and should maintain it. Laymen may lead lives as truly sanctified as clergymen. They may serve God as well, though in a different way. They may be, and should be "holy to the Lord." Who would not desire his children to be such?

Exodus 13:3-16

The rightful use of Church ordinances.

Church ordinances are

(1) Commemorative;

(2) Disciplinary;

(3) Channels of supernatural grace.

The benefits derivable from them depend mainly upon their rightful use. We learn from the instructions hero given to the Israelites by Moses, that their rightful use consists especially—

I. IN THE REGULAR KEEPING OF THEM. "Thou shalt keep this ordinance in his season from year to year." Spasmodic observance, enthusiastic and frequent at one time, perfunctory and infrequent at another, ten times this year, once the next, will bring no blessing, conduct to no good result. Each ordinance has its own time or times—baptism and confirmation once in a lifetime—the Holy Communion weekly, if opportunity offers; if not, monthly; or, at the least, thrice a year—attendance at public worship, each Sunday, twice—fasting, on Fridays and in Lent—commemoration of chief festivals, once a year—and so on. Fitness has in every ease been considered, and set times appointed at proper intervals. Let the rule of the Church be regularly followed, let there be no needless variation, no will-worship, no caprice, and the greatest benefit may be confidently anticipated. But following one's own fancy in the matter, now observing rules, now breaking them, making ourselves in fact a law to ourselves, is a course that will assuredly obtain no blessing upon it. "Thou shalt keep each ordinance in his season."

II. IN THE STRICT KEEPING OF THEM. "There shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee, in all thy quarters." Lukewarmness, double-mindedness, half-and-half measures, are everywhere condemned in Scripture. "If the Lord be God, follow Him; if Baal, then follow him." "Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." If the ordinances of the Church are worth following at all, they are worth following strictly. If the Church says—"Put away gaiety and amusement during this or that season," then all gaiety and amusement should be put away—none should be seen "in all our quarters." If she appoints two services, or (as some understand it) three for Sundays, then men should not limit their attendance to one. If she urges frequent communions, they should attend frequently, and not be content with the minimum of three times in the year.

III. IN THE KEEPING OF SUCH OF THEM AS ARE COMMEMORATIVE WITH REMEMBRANCE. "Remember this day, in the which ye came out from Egypt"—"the Lord slew all the first-born—therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the matrix." A large part of the ritual of every church is commemorative. Sunday is a commemoration. The Friday fast, enjoined by the Church of England and others, is a commemoration. Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide, Ascension Day, are commemorations. And the Holy Communion is in part commemorative. To observe, in a certain sense, these days and seasons and ordinances, without giving serious thought to the historical events with which they are connected, and out of which they have arisen, is to lose half the benefit which their observance was intended to secure to us. It is scarcely, perhaps, to be supposed that any one could receive the Holy Communion without some thought of the death of Christ upon the Cross; but it must greatly conduce to the rite having its due and full operation on our minds and hearts, that we should vividly present to ourselves on the occasion a mental picture of the agonies suffered for us, that we should dwell in thought upon the whole scene of the trial and the crucifixion, and seek to realise its particulars. We cannot have too deeply impressed upon us the recollection of the day on which, and the means by which, God brought the Church of the first-born out of the spiritual bondage of Egypt, saved them from the destroyer, sanctified them, and made them his "peculiar people."

IV. IN THE CONTINUED KEEPING OF THEM THROUGH TIMES OF PROSPERITY. "When the Lord shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, thou shalt keep this service." The discipline of adversity is apt to draw men nearer to God than that of prosperity. Many are very careful and regular attendants on Church ordinances when they are afflicted, or in poor circumstances, or suffering from a bereavement; but, if the world smiles upon them, if they grow rich and respected, if men court and flatter them, they grow careless and irregular in such matters. They think that they cease to have the time for them; but in reality they cease to relish them. "The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches," choke the good seed that was in them, and "they become unfruitful." They forget God, and the marvellous things that he hath done for them. Hence a warning is required. We must not let the "milk and honey" of Canon wean our hearts from God, or make us less zealous in his service, or less constant attendants upon his ordinances. The higher we are lifted up the more we need his grace; the greater attraction that the world offers to us, the more helpful to us are those holy rites and usages, which draw our thoughts away from earthly things, and fix them upon things Divine and heavenly.


Exodus 13:1-3, Exodus 13:11-17

The sanctification of the first-born.

This command has its basis in the fact that on the night when God executed his tremendous judgment against Egypt, the first-born of Israel was spared. Because this great mercy had been shown to Israel, the first-born of man and beast were ever afterwards to be reckoned as specially belonging to Jehovah. The first-born of the generation then living was his by direct purchase; all later first-borns were to be his by grateful dedication. It was required, in addition, that the first-born of man, as well as of unclean beasts, should be "redeemed." This may have been designed to teach that the lives of these later first-borns were as truly forfeited by sin as were those of the original first-born, on the night of the exodus; and that the nearer the relation in which the individual stands to God, the more pressing becomes the need for atonement.

I. REDEMPTION IS BY SUBSTITUTION. This is well illustrated by the law for the redemption of unclean animals (Exodus 13:13; cf. Numbers 18:15). The firstling of an ass, being unclean, could not be offered on the altar. It was, therefore, to be redeemed by the substitution of a lamb. If not thus redeemed, its neck was to be broken. This teaches the further lesson—unredeemed life must die. It was on the same principle that the lamb was substituted for the first-born on the night of the exodus. This law does not specify the mariner of the redemption of the first-born of male children, but it was probably originally by a lamb also. The redemption was subsequently effected by a money-payment of five shekels (Numbers 18:16). This gave prominence to the idea of a ransom, already implied in the use of the word "redeem." The principle of the redemption was still the substitution of life for life, the money-payment pointing back to the lamb or other victim of which it was the price. Jesus has fulfilled the type under both its aspects. He has redeemed us by the substitution of his holy life for our sinful ones (Hebrews 9:26-28). His life has been given as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6).

II. REDEEMED LIFE BELONGS TO GOD (Exodus 13:1, Exodus 13:12, Exodus 13:15). As all later generations of Israel were represented in that first one, so all later first-borns were represented in those of the night of the exodus. By redeeming them from death, God purchased the firstborn of Israel in a peculiar manner to himself. What held true of the first-born, held true, in-a wider sense, of the nation as a whole, and holds true now of all believers. They are God's, because God has redeemed them. We must not seem to lessen the natural claim which God has upon our service. All souls are God's; and no moral being has a right to use his powers otherwise than for the glory of him who gave them. But in a special manner Jehovah claims redeemed life for himself. "I have redeemed thee, thou art mine" (Isaiah 43:1). "Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:20).


Exodus 13:3-11

Remember this day.

The exhortation in these verses may very well be applied to Christians. They are to remember the fact add the might of their redemption. They are to commemorate it by observance of appointed ordinances. They are to beware of forgetting it in days of prosperity. They are to show their remembrance of it by a holy walk, and by due instruction of their children.


1. The fact of it (Exodus 13:3-8). How Jesus has brought you up "out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay" (Psalms 40:1); has redeemed you from the law's curse, from Satan's tyranny, from a condition of wrath, and from spiritual death; has introduced you into the liberty of God's children, and started you on your journey to an everlasting and glorious inheritance. Redemption from the thraldom of Pharaoh sinks into insignificance as compared with this "so great salvation." If Israel was summoned to remember the day on which they came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, much more is it the duty of Christians to remember what great things God has done for them.

2. The might of it. "By strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place" (Exodus 13:3, Exodus 13:9, Exodus 13:14). They were to remember this as enhancing their sense of the greatness of their redemption, and as affording a pledge that God was able to accomplish all else that he had promised (Exodus 13:5). The might expended in the Christian redemption is not less, but greater, than in the exodus from Egypt. It does not detract from its greatness that it is chiefly moral strength—power exerted in overcoming evil, in producing moral effects in the minds and consciences of men, and in making them new creatures in Christ Jesus. Redemption has both its objective and its subjective sides, and in both is displayed the power of God. God's might is seen in the upholding of Christ; in the victories which, while on earth, he was enabled to gain over the powers of evil; in the gigantic triumph of the Cross; and in the spiritual effects produced since, through eighteen centuries, by the preaching of his Gospel; in the regeneration of souls, in the strength given to his servants to do spiritual work, in the victory whereby they overcome the world.

II. BEWARE OF FORGETTING YOUR REDEMPTION IN THE DAYS OF YOUR PROSPERITY, Exodus 13:15. Prosperity has a subtle influence in leading away the heart from God. When men have eaten, and are full (Deuteronomy 8:12-18), they are very apt to grow haughty and self-sufficient. This danger is one to be jealously watched against.


1. By observing his ordinances. The special ordinance here alluded to is the feast of unleavened bread—a sequel to the passover (Exodus 13:3-10). Christians are to observe the Lord's Supper.

2. By a holy life. The observance of the outward ordinance would be valueless if that which it spiritually represented was lost sight of, viz; the need of a walk in "newness of life." We are to "keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:7). To this end has Christ redeemed us, that we may walk in holiness (Romans 6:4-7; Ephesians 5:25-28; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18).

3. By instruction of children. God lays stress on this (Exodus 13:8-14; cf. Deuteronomy 6:6-9; Deuteronomy 11:18-22). It is his chief way of perpetuating a holy seed. The responsibility of instruction rests primarily on the parent. No task should be more delightful to him, or should be discharged more faithfully. If the parent is willing, many opportunities will present themselves. A child's curiosity is ever active. The ordinances of the Church will furnish starting-points for conversation. We have in these verses, and elsewhere in the book, specimens of the instruction that is to be given.—J.O.


Exodus 13:1, Exodus 13:2

The consecration of the first-born.


1. Man's first-born the type of the first-born of God, in his authority and priestly function among his brethren, and as the object of the father's love and trust.

2. In Egypt's and Israel's first:born we find the two-fold type of Christ and his people. Egypt's die, Israel's are saved. The death of Egypt's first-born bursts the bends of Israel, the death of God's first-born, the bonds of his people.


1. His claim upon the saved life: "It is mine."

(1) His right to our service. He has bought us with a great price.

(2) His delight in us. We are a treasure and a joy to him. Because he loved us he gave Christ to die for us.

2. The life which Christ has redeemed is to be set apart for God (Romans 12:1).

(1) With full purpose of heart.

(2) Under the power of Christ's love: "the love of Christ con-straineth us."

(3) With unceasing prayer for the Spirit's indwelling.

Exodus 13:3-16

How to declare God's salvation.


1. "Remember this day in which ye came out from Egypt."

(1) The Lord's Supper is an ordinance of remembrance: "Do this in remembrance of me."

(2) The remembrance of deliverance extends over the Christian's whole life: "unleavened bread is eaten."

2. The celebration of the Passover awoke inquiry among those who had not witnessed God's deeds (Exodus 13:8).—True gratitude, heartfelt thanksgiving, will make the reality of God's love to be felt by those who have not known him.

(1) The place and use of the Lord's Supper in the Christian Church.

(2) The power of love in the Christian life.

(3) Of true praise and worship in the congregation. To make God something to others, he must first be something to ourselves.

II. BY THE DOING OF HIS WILL. The Israelites, in sacrificing or redeeming the first-born, woke again the question, "What is this?" (Exodus 13:14, Exodus 13:15). Our obedience to tile good and holy will of God, our consecration to his service will show the reality of his salvation and awaken in many hearts the question whence this consecration flows and the desire to share it. "Let your light so shine" (Matthew 5:16).—U.


Exodus 13:10


Utmost pains taken that the day should be honoured and remembered.

(1) The month in which it occurred became the beginning of months.

(2) A special ordinance as to the first-born pointed back continually to the event celebrated (Exodus 13:11-13).

(3) The annual feast was specially devised to keep it in memory (Exodus 13:14, etc.). Why all this?

I. REASON OF OBSERVANCE. It commemorated:

1. A great judgment. Nine plagues had passed; the members of each successive trial following one another at shorter intervals and with increasing severity. [Illustration, siege of town. Besiegers draw parallels closer and closer, each time sounding summons to surrender. Every summons disregarded; at length word given for the assault.] God laying siege to Egypt, now preparing for the assault (cf. generally Amos 4:1-13.). "Therefore, prepare to meet thy God" (Exodus 11:4). "I will go out;" the representatives stand aside that the arm of Jehovah may be recognised. Fourteenth of month; midnight. God accompanied by the angel of vengeance. Picture result—palace, dungeon, stables, fields, temples, streets. The judgment was upon Egypt and her gods.

2. A great deliverance.

(1) From death. God the judge is impartial. If Egypt has sinned, so also Israel. Three plagues shared by both, both now threatened by self-same danger. Israel, however, trusting God, may escape by obedience. Lamb chosen four days earlier. Slain that afternoon at sundown. Light of full moon shows blood streaks on lintels and doorposts of houses in Goshen; inside, people prepared for departure, feeding on lamb. Midnight: Is it imagination that rush and quiver of unseen wings? The shadow of the wings of God shelter each blood-stained door, whilst the angel of vengeance passes over, sparing those whom God protects.

(2) From slavery. Wailing throughout Egypt. Midnight message, "Go, get ye gone." At once families gather to standards of their tribes. Soon one great army, harnessed and equipped, laden with spoils of Egypt, the Israelites march forth from the land of their captivity. The time fulfilled to the day (Exodus 12:41), when their hour is come their God is ready.

3. A great exhibition of Divine power. Not a mere judgment or a mere deliverance, but judgment by a personal judge, deliverance by a personal deliverer.

(1) The Egyptians needed to learn who Jehovah was. The Israelites had not done much to make him respected; rather had brought his name into disrepute as the patron of a slavish multitude. Must cause his own name to be hallowed (cf. Ezekiel 36:20-23).

(2) Israel needed to learn that Jehovah was the deliverer—a God faithful to his promises, yet who could not endure sin. Moses and Aaron his instruments, but the victory due only to his right hand and his holy arm.

II. USE OF THE OBSERVANCE. By communicating the judgment and the deliverance, it was calculated to keep men mindful of the judge and the deliverer, and to prompt respect for his law (Exodus 13:9). Commemorations are an aid to memory, reminding of past events, and recalling associations connected with them. Mere observance as an end in itself, bondage (cf. Galatians 4:9, Galatians 4:10); as a means to an end, helpful and necessary. The Pharisee makes a virtue of observance; the right thing is to draw virtue from it. See what this observance taught:—

1. God is long-suffering, but the day of vengeance comes at length. The help to memory, as to what he had done, was a help to conviction as to what he might do.

2. God will not clear the guilty, yet his mercy doth endure for ever. Even with the help, how often were these truths forgotten; would any have remembered them without it?

Apply. Life, which forms the memory of the future, grows out of memory of the past. A good memory is a help to good living. What helps do you use to prompt memory? The marked bill, the birthday text-book, the diary—all these helpful; above all, the day, the anniversary, if we use it rightly. Commemorations are but sign-posts pointing to that which is commemorated; use them as such, follow out their indications. So, remembering past mercies, faith will be strengthened and hope sustained.—G.

Verses 17-20


THE DIRECTION OF THE JOURNEY.—The direct road from Tanis to Palestine—a road much frequented under the nineteenth dynasty—lay along the coast of the Mediterranean, and conducted to Philistia. If we look at the map, and observe the position of Tanis (now San) on the old Tanitic branch of the Nile, now nearly dried up, we shall see that the route which would naturally suggest itself to any one wishing to proceed to the Holy Land from Tanis would be one running almost due east, from Tanis to Pelusium, and from Pelusium, south of Lake Serbonis, to Rhinocolura; and thence, following the course of the coast to Gaza, Ascalon, and Ashdod, the chief towns of the Philistine country. It is true that a marsh region intervenes between Tanis and Pelusium which might seem to bar the route; but the Egyptian remains show that, in the times of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties, this obstacle was surmounted by means of an embankment which was carried across it, and that a direct road thus connected the two cities.

Moses, at this point of his narrative, being about to trace the onward march of the Israelites from Succoth to Etham, in the direction of the Red Sea, anticipated, it would seem, an objection on the part of his reader, who would naturally ask, Why was not the direct route eastward taken and Canaan entered on the south-west after some half-dozen marches? In Exodus 13:17, Exodus 13:18, he gives the reply—

1. God led them, they did not determine their own route; and

2. God would not lead them by the direct route, because it would have conducted them to the Philistine country, and the Philistines were strong, and would have resisted the invasion by force of arms. Hence it was that the southern or south-eastern route was taken in preference to the northern one—and that the second stage in the journey was from Succoth to Etham (Exodus 13:20).

Exodus 13:17

Although that was near. Rather "because it was near" (ὅτι ἐγγὺς ἧν, LXX.)—i.e.; "God did not, because it was near, lead them this way, but a longer one." Lest peradveature the people repeat when they see war. The Philistines were a powerful and warlike race half a century after this, in the time of Joshua, and were masters of the five important cities of Gaze, Ascalon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron, which seem to have formed a confederacy (Joshua 13:3). It would appear that their strength was already considerable, and that the Israelites, though perhaps more numerous, were incapable of coping with them, being wholly unaccustomed to war, The Israelites were therefore not allowed to take this route, which would have brought upon them at once a severe trial, and might have led to their voluntary return into Egypt.

Exodus 13:18

God led the people about. Or "led the people a circuit," i.e; made them take a circuitous route to Canaan, the way of the wilderness of the Red Seai.e; by the southern wilderness, or what is now called "the wilderness of Sinai." Kalisch shows the wisdom of this course—how it gave time for the nation to be "gradually accustomed to fatigues and hardships by a long and tiresome march in the desert"—to learn obedience to their chief—and finally to be "trained to military discipline and martial, virtue by occasional expeditions against the weaker tribes of the desert." He errs, however, in ascribing the wisdom of the course taken to Moses, since Moses expressly declares that the conception was not his, but God's. And the children of Israel went up harnessed. The word here translated "harnessed," is generally thought to mean either "with their loins girded" (Onkelos, Kimchi, Kalisch) or "in military order" (Gesenius, Lee, Knobel). Ewald, who inclines to the latter of these two senses, suggests that, strictly, it means "in five divisions"—viz; van, centre, two wings, and rearguard. The word is, apparently, a derivative from khamesh, "five."

Exodus 13:19

Moses took the bones of Josephi.e; his body, which had been embalmed, and deposited in a mummy case (Genesis 50:26), most probably at Tanis, which was the capital of the Shepherd kings, no less than of Menephthah. He had straitly sworn the children of Israel. See Genesis 50:25. Joseph, firmly believing in the promise of God to give Canaan to the descendants of Abraham had made them swear to take his body with them when they left Egypt. The desire to be laid in their native earth was common to most of the nations of antiquity, and, in the case of the Israelites, was intensified by Canaan being the "laud of promise." Jacob had had the same feeling as Joseph, and had been buried by Joseph in the cave of Machpelah (Genesis 50:13).

Exodus 13:20

And they took their journey from Succoth and encamped in Etham. On the probable position of Etham, see the "Introduction" to this book. The word probably means "House of Turn," and implies the existence at the place of a temple of the Sun-God, who was commonly worshipped as Tuna or Atum. The name, therefore, is nearly equivalent to Pithom (Exodus 1:11), which means "City of Turn;" but it is not likely that Moses designated the same place by two distinct appellations. The site of Etham, moreover, does not agree with that of the Patumos of Herodotus (2.158), which is generally allowed to be Pithom.


Exodus 13:18-21

It is the method of the Divine action to accomplish ends by circuitous means.

God "led the Israelites about." Instead of conducting them straight from Tanis to Canaan in the course of six or seven days, he carried them down nearly to the furthest point of the Sinaitic peninsula, at least two hundred miles out of the direct line of route. He afterwards made them occupy in desert wanderings the space of forty years, and brought them into Canaan on the side furthest from Egypt—that which fronted the east. So it is—

I. IN GOD'S NATURAL WORKINGS. To make a planet suitable for the habitation of man, he does not create one fit for him straight off. He prepares an extended mass of matter which gradually condenses, throws off an atmosphere, settles into land and sea, undergoes for many thousands of years a series of aqueous and igneous changes, deposits strata, elevates them into mountains, works out river courses, raises and submerges continents; and only after a number of millennia does he, by this long and tedious process, effect the end aimed at from the first, the construction of a habitation suitable for such a being as man. Again, he will have man live on bread; but he does not make bread. He makes a germ capable of developing into a plant, of throwing out roots and leaves, deriving sustenance from air and earth and showers, increasing gradually for several months, and finally throwing up the tall spike, which after growing, and swelling, and ripening, bears ultimately the golden grain that is suited to be man's food.

II. IN GOD'S SPIRITUAL WORKINGS. If God has a work for a man to do, if for this a certain character is required, God again pursues no compendious method. The man is born in a certain sphere, given certain powers, and then it is left for the circumstances of life to work out in him, under Divine superintendence, the character required. Moses is trained for eighty years in order to qualify him for his position as deliverer of the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt; and is only rendered fit to accomplish the task by what befals him in that long period. All the saints of God, raised up to do any great work, have had some such long training. Even Christ did not enter on his ministry at once, but remained in obscurity for thirty years, before asserting his mission.

III. EVEN IN GOD'S MIRACULOUS WORKINGS. Christ would assuage the pains of hunger of the five thousand. He does not simply, as he might have done, remove them by a word. He obtains such food as there is at hand: he blesses and breaks; he causes the multitude to sit down; he distributes the food among the apostles, and bids them distribute to the multitude. If the Red Sea is to be parted, an east wind is made to blow for some hours; if a blind man is to be cured, clay is taken, and mixed with spittle, and put upon the blind man's eyes, and by a circuitous method his cure is effected. All this seems strange to us because we are so impatient. Our life here endures so short a space, and we so little realise the fact of the life to come, that we are always in a hurry to obtain results, and are annoyed at having to wait for them. But an Eternal Being can afford to be patient. "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." The question with God is never as to the quickest, but always as to the best method. Haste is proverbially unsafe. "Most haste, worst speed," says theadage. It would bring much improvement into human life, if there were less of bustle and hurry in it—if men were not in so much haste to be rich—if they did not expect to reap the harvest so soon as they have sown the seed—if they would allow time for plans to take effect, for improvements to be brought to perfection, for institutions to take root and grow.

Exodus 13:19

It is a Christian duty to carry with us on the path of life the bones of our dead.

Joseph had sworn the Israelites to carry his bones with them out of Egypt at their departure; and they were thus in a special way bound to do it. But, apart from any such oath, or any positive wish expressed, it would have been well for them to have taken him with them. We are intimately bound up with the men of the generation before our own, and cannot too carefully carry along with us their memory. Men may be considered to carry their dead with them on their course through life—

I. WHEN THEY BEAR IN MIND AND HAVE RESPECT TO THEIR FATHERS IN THE FAITH, ESPECIALLY THOSE NEAR TO THEM IN TIME. It is almost impossible to measure adequately the amount of our debt to those who have immediately preceded us in life—who have set us an example of a consistent Christian course—and shown us its possibility. What living Christian man does not feel that to some other Christian man, older than himself, still alive or else passed away, he is indebted for the impetus which changed his path in life, turned him from the dumb idols which he was following, and led him to the worship of the living God? What gratitude is not due in each such case! Such memories are to be cherished, clung to—not relinquished, because he to whom we owe so much is dead. Being dead, such an one "still speaketh;" and it is well that our hearts should still hear his voice, and be thankful for it.

II. WHEN THEY CHERISH THE MEMORY OF THE FRIENDS AND RELATIONS WHOM THEY HAVE LOST. It is too common a practice, with men especially, to shut out the memory of the deceased. Bereavement is so terrible a thing, so poignant a grief, that to spare themselves men mostly make a sort of resolve that they will not think upon their dead. And it is quite possible, after a while, so to turn from the thought as to make it both transient and rare. But the better course—the true Christian course—is to retain our dead in our thoughts. The recollection can do us nothing but good. It is sobering, chastening, yet elevating. It is apt to wean us from the world; to soften us; to draw us into communion with the unseen; to help our higher nature in its struggle with the lower.

III. WHEN THEY BEAR IN REMEMBRANCE THE WORST SINS THAT THEY HAVE COMMITTED. The most terrible death to which we poor human creatures are subject is that "body of death," which we bear about with us in our flesh, and under which we "groan, being burthened"—viz, sin. There are persons who succeed in putting away the memory of their past sins, and who are as gay and light-hearted as if there were nothing against them in God's book. But it is a wiser course to bear about with us always this "death" also, and not seek to hush it up or put it out of sight. The thought of our past sins is well calculated to make us humble, penitent, forgiving; to save us from presumption, and make us throw ourselves absolutely for justification on the merits and atoning blood of Christ.


Exodus 13:17-21

The way of the wilderness by the Red Sea.

The direct road to Canaan lay through the land of the Philistines. God, however, did not lead the people by this way, but round by the Red Sea. "For God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt" (Exodus 13:17). Another reason was that he designed to make his covenant with them, and give them laws, in the solitude of the "mountain of God" (Exodus 3:12).

I. REDEEMED FROM EGYPT, THE PEOPLE ARE NOT PERMITTED TO LINGER ON ITS BORDERS. What snatches of repose are granted, are only meant as a preparation for resumption of the journey on the morrow. Their destination was Canaan. To this they must press forward. A rest of eleven months (at Sinai) will be granted afterwards, meanwhile, on the borders of Egypt, they must pause no longer than is absolutely necessary. At the beginning of the Christian life, delays, pauses, lookings back, are peculiarly dangerous. Egypt is too near. Return to it is too convenient. The pursuer will gain too easy an advantage. There must be no pausing till we are fairly out of the enemy's territory. Succoth to Etham, Etham to Pi-hahiroth (Exodus 14:2).

II. IT RESTS WITH GOD TO DETERMINE THE WAY BY WHICH HIS PEOPLE SHALL BE LED. "When Pharaoh had let the people go, God led them not," etc. (Exodus 13:17).

1. It was the privilege of the Israelites that they had God as their guide. His pillar of cloud and fire went before them (Exodus 13:21, Exodus 13:22). What wiser or safer guide could any one desire?

2. God's guidance was authoritative. Not only were the Israelites not left to pick out the way for themselves, but whither God directed, thither they were bound to go. They were not permitted to take any route they pleased. They were God's people, and must walk by his law.

3. God's guidance was frequently mysterious. They would often be perplexed to understand the reasons of it. A reason seems to have been given here, but otherwise the route chosen must have seemed a very strange one. The believer is often thus led by a way he knows not (Isaiah 42:16).

III. GOD CONSULTS FOR HIS PEOPLE'S GOOD IN THE WAYS BY WHICH HE LEADS THEM. "For God said, peradventure," etc. (Exodus 13:17). Consider here,

1. God's procedure.

(1) He turned the Israelites aside from the road which naturally they would have followed. The way of the land of the Philistines was no doubt the road by which they expected to be led. It was the customary road. It lay straight before them. It was the shortest and most direct. How often does God thus turn us aside in Providence from what might seem to be the natural, as, without a thought to the contrary, it may have been the anticipated course of our lives? The road that lies straight before us is not the one in which we are permitted to walk. Even in Christian work, by what zigzag ways are we sometimes conducted to our ends!

(2) He led the Israelites by a long detour into the wilderness. If the end was to escape the Philistines, God did not allow the Israelites to suppose that he intended to pamper and indulge them. The wilderness was a worse place to travel in than "the way of the land of the Philistines." They would have to encounter many trials. A heavy strain would be put upon their faith. Though exempted from war at the beginning, they had to fight enemies on the way, and ultimately were marched up to the borders of Canaan, to undertake, at another point, the work of invasion. In like manner, the Christian curriculum is not an easy one. Whoever enters upon the Christian journey, expecting to find it all sunshine and roses, is doomed to sorrowful disappointment. The road, under God's guidance, soon takes a turn, which leads into the wilderness of trial.

2. The reasons of God's procedure.

(1) The direct way was at that time an impassable one. The Israelites, just escaped from Egypt, were not in a condition to force their way through the strongly defended territory of the Philistines. The difficulty, it is true, lay in them—in their want of faith, courage, and power of obedience, not in God, whose help was all-sufficient. But practically, the direct road was closed against them. So, in God's merciful guidance of his people, the path is sometimes bent aside, because no other is for the time practicable. Obstacles to their progress, insurmountable by them at that stage of their knowledge and experience, block up the road which seems more direct, and to be allowed to advance in it would be no kindness.

(2) The direct road was fraught with danger for themselves. Their strength and faith were not equal to the opposition they would encounter. It would have proved too much for them. They must be allowed time to gather experience, to throw off the habits of their servitude, to be brought under discipline for war, to acquire steadiness and courage in facing an enemy. Led up against the Philistines in their present undisciplined condition, they would have fled at the first onset, and would have clamoured, even more vehemently than they did in the desert (Exodus 14:12), to be conducted back to Egypt. And does not this in large measure explain the mysterious turnings and windings in our own lives? God, who knows our frame, understands perfectly what degree of severity in temptation we are able to endure, and he mercifully orders our course, so that we may not be tempted above that we are able (1 Corinthians 10:13). We pray, "Lead us not into temptation" (Matthew 6:13), and this is one way in which the prayer is answered. Another way is by preventing or restraining the temptation. But where, as in the present case, it is a temptation which, so to speak, belongs essentially to the situation—which we must encounter, if that path is to be travelled at all, then is there no way of avoiding it but by being led in a different road. Especially in the beginning of a Christian course may we expect these sudden turnings of our path. We are not then in a condition to encounter very powerful enemies, to endure very fierce temptations, and by taking us a little way about God shields us from them.

(3) There was a discipline to be gained in the circuitous route by which they were led. God's design, in sparing his people the battle with the Philistines, was not, as we have seen, to indulge and spoil them. The place whither he conducted them was the wilderness, and there he purposed to subject them to a severe moral training. The end of this training was simply to bring them up to the standard which as yet they had not reached, to develop in them the qualities in which they were as yet deficient, to impart to them, in short, that hardihood and strength of character and will which would enable them to cope with Philistines, or any other foes. The end God has in view in our own trials is precisely the same.

IV. OUR WISDOM, UNDER ALL THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF OUR LIVES, IS TO RESIGN OURSELVES TO GOD'S LEADING, BELIEVING IT TO BE ALWAYS THE BEST FOR US. We cannot err in resigning ourselves to the guidance of one omniscient, wise, loving, and supremely good.—J.O.

Exodus 13:19

Joseph's bones.

A premise, and most of all a promise to the dead, is to be regarded as sacred. Amidst the haste of their departure the Israelites did not forget to take with them the bones of Joseph. They probably carried away also the bones of the other patriarchs (Acts 7:16). In this touching incident, see—

I. FAITH'S ANTICIPATIONS VERIFIED. Joseph had said, "God will surely visit you" (Genesis 50:25). He had died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off (Hebrews 11:13-22). At the time of Joseph's death the tokens were scant that Israel would grow to be so great a people, and would be led forth, many thousands strong, to go to Canaan. Joseph's faith rested on God's naked word. God had said that this time would come, and it did. We are never wrong in depending on the Divine promise. Those who trust it, however the world may ridicule them as devout enthusiasts, will prove to be right in the long run. Events will verify their confidence. Apply, e.g; to the ultimate triumph of Christianity.

II. FAITH'S CHOICE GIVEN EFFECT TO. He had strictly sworn the children of Israel, saying, "Ye shall surely carry up my bones away hence with you." Notwithstanding the splendour of his position in Egypt, Joseph's heart was still with his own people. To his clear moral vision, the godless character of the Egyptian civilisation was sufficiently apparent. The Hebrews were as yet but a handful of shepherds; but he discerned in them a spiritual greatness which was wanting to Egypt, and he had faith in the magnificent future which God's Word pledged to them. So he was not ashamed to call the humble settlers in Goshen his brethren, and to declare that he preferred a grave with them to the proudest mausoleum that Egypt could erect for him. He left a charge that when they departed, they were to take his bones with them, and lay them in Canaan, as subsequently they did (Joshua 24:22). He thus anticipated Moses in choosing the better part, and in preferring union with God's people to all the treasures and renown of the land of his adoption. We act in the same spirit when we set the things which are "unseen and eternal' before those which are "seen and temporal," and count it our highest honour to be enrolled among "God's children."

III. A HINT OF THE RESURRECTION. Whence this care of Joseph for the bestowal of his bones? What matters it—it may be asked—where the dust is laid, if only the spirit is secure? In one way it matters very little, though affection naturally inspires the wish to sleep beside one's kindred. There may have been more than this. The care of the body in Egypt was, as we now know, connected with a hope of its revival. And there are good grounds for believing that the same hope had to do with this command of Joseph, and with the loving care shown by the patriarchs generally in the bestowal of their dead.. The believer's body is a sacred deposit. Destined to share with the soul in the glory yet to be revealed, there is a fitness in treating it with reverence, and in laying it in a place consecrated to the Christian dead.—J.O.


Exodus 13:17-22

Israel's journey the emblem of the Christian's pilgrimage.


1. Trials and temptations are proportioned to their ability to-bear them. "He led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines." The conflict with these was not too much for his strength, but it was too much for Israel's faith. They would have made shipwreck at the very outset. He will not suffer us to be tempted beyond that we are able to bear.

2. It "was near;" but the shortest way to our possession may not be the surest. God's love is more fully displayed in leading us seemingly away from what we desire than it would be in at once leading us to it.

3. His purpose in delay. God leads us by the way of the wilderness where, by the knowledge of ourselves and of him we may be prepared for the earthly and the heavenly portion he designs to give us.


1. The time might have been when the hope expressed by those unburied bones seemed vanity and folly, but not now. These relics touched a million hearts, and reminded them how gloriously God had redeemed his word.

2. We carry with us mementoes which fill us with strong assurance for the future. The very light we now possess tells how God fulfils his promises. Human hearts believed God of old when he said that the Sun of Righteousness would arise, and human lips declared the hope. The past fulfilments of prophecy lay broad foundations for our trust that every word will in like manner be redeemed.


1. We have the indwelling of the Spirit and of Christ. We cannot mistake the way if we follow him who goes before us.

2. The light of his presence is brighter in the night of trial. When all else is veiled from sight, the light of that gracious presence beams out in fullest splendour.

3. There must be the following by day to have the consolation of the glory by night. Are we following in the footsteps of Jesus? Is he Saviour as well as sacrifice to us?—U.

Verses 21-22


THE PILLAR OF THE CLOUD AND OF FIRE. Having stated, in Exodus 13:17, that "God led the Israelites," and determined their route for them, the writer here proceeds to explain how this leading was accomplished. With extreme simplicity and directness he states, that the conduct was effected by means of an appearance, which in the daytime was like a column or pillar of smoke ascending from earth to heaven, and in the night was like a pillar of fire. He considers the presence of God to have been in the pillar, which moved in front of the host, and showed them the way that they were to go. When it halted, they halted when it advanced, they advanced. Their journeys being made as much in the night-time as in the day, on account of the intense heat, the pillar took in the night the appearance of a column of fire, so as to be equally visible as by day. All attempts to give a rational explanation of the phenomenon are misplaced, since the writer, from whom alone we derive our information on the subject, clearly regarded it as miraculous; and both here and elsewhere (Exodus 14:19, Exodus 14:20, Exodus 14:24; Exodus 33:9; Numbers 12:5; Numbers 14:11) speaks of it as a form under which God was pleased to show himself. There is little doubt that fire and smoke signals were already used by commanders of armies for much the same purpose as that which God now accomplished in this way. The Egyptian documents of the period contain indications of the usage; and it is found among the Arabians, the Greeks, and the Persians. (See especially Q. Curt. Vit. Alex. 5.2; "Perticam, quae undique conspici posset, supra praetorium statuit, ex qua signum eminebat pariter omnibus conspicuum: observabatur ignis noctu, fiunus interdin.") The miracle was thus, in a certain sense, founded upon an existing custom, with the difference that God here gave the signals miraculously, which were wont to be given in a natural way by the human leaders of armies. He thus constituted himself the general of the host.

Exodus 13:21

The Lord went before them. From Succoth at any rate; perhaps even on the journey from Rameses to Succoth. In a pillar of cloud. The pillar was seen—the presence of Jehovah, though unseen, was believed to be in it, and to move it. To go by day and night. Or, "so that they might march both by day and by night." Night marches are generally preferred by Orientals on account of the great heat of the days. The night-marches of the Israelites are again mentioned in Numbers 9:21.

Exodus 13:22

He took not away. The last distinct mention of the cloud is in Numbers 16:42, after the destruction of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. There is perhaps a later allusion to it in Numbers 20:6. In Nehemiah it is said that "the pillar of the cloud departed not from them," so long as they were in the wilderness (Nehemiah 9:19); and the same is implied, though not formally stated, in Numbers 9:15-23. There is no mention of the pillar of the cloud as still with the Israelites in the Book of Joshua. Probably it was last seen on the journey from Beth-jesimoth to Abel-Shittim in the rich Jordan valley (Numbers 33:49).


Exodus 13:21, Exodus 13:22

God's guidance of his people.

The Israelites had quitted Egypt, had broken off from their old life, were about to plunge into that wild waste of sand and rock which separates Africa from Asia by an almost impassable barrier. If they took the northern line of march, they would come upon the sandy desert. Before them would stretch "endless sands yielding nothing but small stunted shrubs—broad plains—newly reared hills—valleys dug out by the last week's storm; the hills, and the valleys, and the plains, all sand, sand, sand, still sand, and only sand, and sand, and sand again." If they turned southward, they would find themselves in a labyrinth of twisted wadys, amid huge mountains, and in a region consisting chiefly of bare granite and sandstone rocks—"the Alps unclothed." In either case they would sorely need God's guidance; and God's guidance was vouchsafed to them. So it is with Christians.

I. CHRISTIANS HAVE THE GUIDANCE OF GOD'S SPIRIT THROUGH ALL THE INTRICACIES AND DESERT PLAINS OF LIFE. The Lord leads them. God himself, God the Holy Ghost, co-equal Person with the Father and the Son in the Triune Godhead, is their guide and director, "a light to their feet and a lantern to their paths." Most necessary to them such direction. Just escaped from Egypt, just freed from the bondage of sin, how would they wander and go astray, unless his right hand were stretched out to help and guide! On the weary waste, the dry, bare, monotonous plain of an eventless life, where no sign showed the way, where hope would fail and the heart grow faint, what could they do but for him? In the labyrinth of conflicting duties and uncertain devious paths, how could they determine on their course but for him? Alike in both he leads, directs, guides. He "will not leave them nor forsake them."

II. THE GUIDANCE IS PERPETUAL BOTH BY NIGHT AND DAY. "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" was the promise given us by our Lord. There is no part of life from which he withdraws himself—not the darkest night of earthly misery and disappointment—not the brightest day of worldly success and glory. And in both alike he is needed—perhaps most needed in the day. Then men think they can walk by themselves, choose their own course, direct their own paths. Then consequently they are most apt to go wrong, and "wander out of the way in the wilderness." But he is ever at hand to restrain, correct, recover them. By internal or external cheeks, by feeling and conscience on the one hand, by his word, his ordinances, his ministers on the other, he interposes to save men from themselves, to keep them in the right way, or lead them back into the right way if they have departed from it. Darkness does not hide us from him—darkness does not separate us from him—yea, "the darkness is no darkness with him—the night and the day with him are both alike.'

III. THE GUIDANCE IS VARIED TO SUIT THE DIFFERENT NEEDS OF THE SOUL. Now by cloud and darkness, an overshadowing of the soul by his felt but unseen presence; now by the flashing in of intolerable light into the secret recesses of the heart and conscience, does the Holy Spirit of God direct and rule our lives. None can limit him as to the means which he shall employ. Now he discomfits our foes, directing his keen gaze upon them "through the pillar of fire and of the cloud" (Exodus 14:24); now he simply separates between our foes and us by interposing an insurmountable barrier (Exodus 14:19); at one time he shines into our hearts with a mild, gentle, and steady radiance; at another, he gives us rest, as under the shadow of a cloudy canopy. At all times he chooses the means most fit to accomplish his ends, shrinking from none that are potent to effect his gracious purposes. Clouds and darkness would seem to be the things most opposite to the ineffable brightness of his most glorious nature; but even clouds and darkness are pressed into his service, and made his ministers, when they can be ministers of good.

IV. THE GUIDANCE CONTINUES UNTIL THEY REACH THE PROMISED LAND, "The pillar of the cloud departed not" from the Israelites "by day, neither the pillar of fire by night," during the whole time of their long and weary journeying, until they reached Canaan. God's gifts are "without repentance." They are given for the whole period during which we need them. As the Israelites required guidance until they trod the soil of the Jordan vale, and Canaan's hills lay plainly in sight, so do Christians need the Spirit's gentle leading, until the whole wilderness of this life is past, and the true Canaan reached. And what they need, they have. The Spirit's aid is with them to the end.


Exodus 13:21, Exodus 13:22

The fiery-cloudy pillar.

The visible pillar is no longer beheld, but God's fiery-cloudy presence still attends the Church in her wanderings, and confers upon her benefits analogous to those enjoyed by the ancient people. God's presence, as manifested in the pillar of cloud and fire, was—


1. God is holy. Holiness is the principle which guards the distinction between the Creator and the creature. It eternally excludes everything evil and impure from the Divine nature (Martensen). It is the "zeal of the Lord of Hosts" for his own honour, and for the maintenance of the interests of truth, purity, and righteousness. The fire in the cloud was a symbol of it.

2. It is as the Holy One that God dwells in his Church. "The Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee" (Isaiah 12:6). Holiness, accordingly, becomes those who would serve him (Psalms 93:5).

3. The privilege is great, but perilous.

(1) Sin leads to the withdrawal of God's presence. When Israel sinned in the matter of the golden calf, God withdrew beyond the precincts of the camp. The cloudy pillar removed to a distance (Exodus 33:7-10).

(2) Rebellion provokes God to anger. On more than one occasion fire came out from the midst of the pillar and destroyed the rebels (Le Exodus 10:2; Numbers 16:22; Numbers 17:10). "Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). Holiness turned against sin is wrath. God tempers the vision of his holiness, which otherwise would be unendurable to man, by shrouding it in the cloud.

II. ENLIGHTENING. "A pillar of fire to give them light." God's presence in his Church is illuminating.

1. Whence the light shines. The light shines in the Word, in Divine providence, and in the teaching of the Spirit which illuminates both.

2. What the light does. It shows us spiritual truth. It reveals duty. It guides (see below). It cheers in the night of affliction.

3. Light with attendant mystery. The light is in the cloud. At best, we know but "in part" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Even revealed truth has its side of mystery, HI. SHELTERING. The allusion in Isaiah 4:6 would suggest that the cloud spread itself over the camp in the daytime, and so formed a canopy or shadow from the heat. God's presence is a grateful shelter to his people. They feel the need of it when temptations fiercely assail, or when tribulation and persecution ariseth because of the Word. "In the time of trouble shall he hide me in his pavilion; in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me" (Psalms 27:5).

IV. GUIDING. The pillar went before the camp of Israel "to lead them the way" (cf. Deuteronomy 1:33). The cloud pointed the way in the daytime, the fire by night. The Church and the individual believer are similarly guided. He who seeks to know the will of God will not fail of direction. Providence opens the road. The light that streams from the Word shows the path of duty. "Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way: walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand and to the left" (Isaiah 30:21).

V. ADAPTIVE. The pillar adapted itself to the circumstances of the people. In the daytime, when the sky was light, it took the form of cloud; in the night season, it shone as bright fire. Now it moved in front as a guiding beacon; again, it was spread as a grateful awning over the camp; at another time, it went behind, intercepting the enemy (Exodus 14:19). Thus does God vary the aspects of his presence and the modes of his help with unfailing adaptation to the special needs of his people. He is the All-sufficient.

VI. HOSTILE TO THE ENEMY.—He intercepts their pursuit; he hides his people from their fury; he makes their way dark to them; he frowns upon them, and discomfits them (Exodus 14:19-26).—J.O.


Exodus 13:17-22

Fire and cloud.

"And the Lord went before them," etc. (Exodus 13:21). Israel might have been in Canaan within ten days. Reason why not is given Exodus 13:17. This however, not a reason for the forty years wandering: but only for the circuitous route by the desert of Sinai. The line of Israel's march for the first two days is soon given. They start from Rameses, capital of Goshen, a store city, recently built by the Hebrews, the king there possibly. The first stage was Succoth ("tents") perhaps a caravan station or military camp—a journey of about fifteen miles. Another fifteen miles to Etham on the edge of the desert. There roads, canals, now all to be left behind; just there and then appeared the FIRE AND CLOUD.

I. ITS NATURE. Point out the three leading theories, especially as the two earlier mentioned lead up to the third and the true. The phenomenon was:

1. Common natural fire. Seen as fire by night, as smoke by day. Perhaps the sacrificial fire of Israel preserved from primitive times. An ordinary caravan fire. Or such as was borne at the head of the Persian armies.

2. The same, but glorified by association with a religious idea; viz; that God was in reality the Guide of his people, and that that was well represented by the fire at the head of the hosts.

3. Altogether supernatural. God saw the need of Israel at that moment, and met it in his own superb manner. [For full discussion of Ritualistic explanations, see Kurtz, vol. 2:344-348, Eng. ed.] The phenomenon was a trinity in unity. It was one, not two, not one kind of pillar by night and another by day. It consisted of cloud, of fire (electric?) in the cloud, and of Jehovah in both (Exodus 13:21; Exodus 14:24) The last doubtless a manifestation of the "Angel-God" of the Old Testament.


1. Forms.

(1) Usually a pillar (Exodus 13:21).

(2) A wall, see Exodus 14:19, Exodus 14:20. Must have been a wall in this case, of perhaps more than a mile in length. A wall of cloud to Egypt, hiding the moon, the sea, and the advanced movements of the armies of Israel When the cloud lifted, Israel was gone. On the other side, a mile or more of, as it were, electric fire, adding to the moon-illumination by which Israel passed through the sea.

(3) A roof or an awning. See Numbers 10:34; Psalms 105:39; 1Co 10:1, 1 Corinthians 10:2; and the very beautiful passage, Isaiah 4:5, Isaiah 4:6.

2. Movements.

(1) Usually stationary—on the tabernacle—on the mercy-seat—sometimes filling the tabernacle, so that none could enter to minister.

(2) Lifting, when Israel advanced.

(3) Descending, when Israel was to rest.

III. SIGNIFICANCE. Israel could not have seen the fire-cloud for forty years without catching much of the meaning; but we more. The fire-cloud teaches that the Lord Jesus is:

1. Ever in and with the Church. The glory of Jehovah appeared in the cloud.

2. In two-fold glory; in the fire of holiness; in the cloud of mercy that tempers the blaze. He so appears to the individual soul—to the family—to the Church—to the nation—to the wider world. Note the special outbreakings from the cloud at certain sinful crises in Israel's history.

3. The leader of our pilgrimage. See C. Wesley's hymn, in Wesley's Collection, 326. Yet some scope, then as now, seems to have been left for the play of intelligence (Numbers 10:31).

4. Captain in our holy war. On Egyptian monuments generals are represented as flames, streaming in darkness, at the head of armies. See the hymn beginning: "Forward be our watchword."

"Burns the fiery pillar

At our army's head;

Who shall dream of shrinking,

By our Captain led?"

5. Our wall of defence.

6. Our canopy for comfort.

7. Whose interpositions are ever marked by wondrous timeliness. It was on the "edge of the wilderness" that the fire-cloud first appeared; and after the desert journey, seems to have disappeared, save as it may have been represented by the Shechinah above the mercy seat, which assured unwonted splendour at the dedication of the first temple.—R.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/exodus-13.html. 1897.
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