1 - 2 Command to Sanctify the Firstborn
1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me.”
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 objects for the 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 (Heb 12:10; 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).
3 - 10 The Feast of Unleavened Bread
3 Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the LORD brought you out from this place. And nothing leavened shall be eaten. 4 On this day in the month of Abib, you are about to go forth. 5 It shall be when the LORD brings you to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall observe this rite in this month. 6 For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. 7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven be seen among you in all your borders. 8 You shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt. 10 Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year.
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 hath delivered the people, not that they may live for themselves, but for Him Who hath delivered them.
This feast, in verse 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 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 does not play a role in our lives.
The leaven may not be eaten. It should not even be present anywhere in the country. Is 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 area of the people of God?
Celebrating this feast requires accountability to our children (verse 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, our 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.
11 - 16 Sanctification of the Firstborn
11 “Now when the LORD brings you to the land of the Canaanite, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and gives it to you, 12 you shall devote to the LORD the first offspring of every womb, and the first offspring of every beast that you own; the males belong to the LORD. 13 But every first offspring of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem [it], then you shall break its neck; and every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. 14 And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. 15 It came about, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore, I sacrifice to the LORD the males, the first offspring of every womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ 16 So it shall serve as a sign on your hand and as phylacteries on your forehead, for with a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”
The sanctification of the firstborn (verse 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 frees a sinner from the bondage of sin and makes him His slave. Moses speaks of giving up 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 is 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 16:12). 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. If you don’t want to bow the neck, you will have to break the neck of such a person. Whoever acknowledges having salvation no-dig, may appeal to the substitute 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 (verse 15).
To be a firstborn and a 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. verse 16; verse 9). This confirms the close link between the two cases. It makes it clear that the status of firstborn belongs to the practice of an unleavened life.
17 - 18 The Road to the Red Sea
17 Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.” 18 Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea; and the sons of Israel went up in martial array from the land of Egypt.
God does not take the shortest way for the people after their exodus from Egypt. In that shorter way, the people might be engaged in a struggle, which would lead them to long for Egypt. And that is not the intention. 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.
19 Joseph’s Bones
19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones from here with you.”
The moment God speaks of the way He wants His people to go, attention is focused on Joseph’s bones. Joseph’s commission concerning his bones has not been forgotten (Gen 50:25; Heb 11:22; Jos 24:32). Joseph is 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 not to give sin a chance in our walk – after all, He died for that – and for the life of Jesus to become manifest in our bodies.
20 - 22 Pillar of Cloud and Pillar of Fire
20 Then they set out from Succoth and camped in Etham on the edge of the wilderness. 21 The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
The people are not sent into the wilderness on good luck. God does not lead them by the easiest route, but He gives them His guidance. By coming under the cloud, the people are “baptized into Moses” (1Cor 10:2), which means that the people join Moses through whom the LORD leads them. During the day the LORD goes out for them in a pillar of cloud and in the night in a pillar of fire, thereby showing His mercy 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, which 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).