Exodus 13:1-2 Fathers and their firstborn children carried special responsibilities for family leadership. The firstborn played a major role in the Passover. The consecration and redemption of Israel relate to settling into the promised land, which Moses and Israel assumed would be taking place within a matter of months. This discussion is preparation for dwelling in the land and not forgetting to keep covenant with the Lord who had redeemed them. The sanctification and dedication of animal firstborn males is understood here as v. 12 clarifies. God here and other places claims ownership of the firstborn of humans and animals, which were required to be presented to him as his property. God did not want to keep them so He made a provision in vv. 13,15 for redeeming the firstborn through a buy-back payment. Israel needed to recognize God’s right of ownership of the first and best. It is necessary and beneficial that we recognize that God is owner of all and offering of the First born acknowledges that.
Exodus 13:3-5 Remember this day when you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery’. Calling Egypt, the house of slavery suggests that Israel served the nation of Egypt just as an individual slave would serve in an individual house or family. They had been servants of a greater power; now they were being freed to be the servants of the Greatest Power. The annual Feast of Unleavened Bread/Passover comes only in “Abib” which later will be called “Nisan”. God had promised this land to Israel, first as a promise to Abraham (Gen 12:7), and then a renewal of that oath to Isaac (Gen 17:21,) and then Jacob (Gen 28:13,) and their descendants (Gen 15:16, 18).
Exodus 13:6–7 These verses restate Exodus 12:14–20: that the Feast of unleavened bread must be a weeklong festival, with a special celebration on the closing day, and removing all leaven/yeast (“anywhere within your borders”; Exodus 12:20, “wherever you live”).
Exodus 13:8–10 Moses spoke these words to those who personally came out of Egypt telling them to speak in first-person “for what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.” Moses also had in mind the solidarity of all Jews in future who are part the experience of the exodus. All people of faith in every generation is to identify fully with that generation and the original exodus. We see this later in Deut 4:3–40 where Moses addresses the generation who grew up in the wilderness as if they had grown up in Egypt, as if they had also lived for many years already in the promised land. Each generation is to identify with all the experiences of all the generations, there is a solidarity and unity for all Jews. The exodus story is to be repeated on that day, the seventh and special day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, regardless of how many other times in the year it may also be told. This is one of many ways the covenant will be kept by remembering: “that the law of the LORD is to be on your mouth”. Passover served in the same way that tefillin (phylacteries) were a reminder. Keeping his covenant was the goal because through it Israel kept within God’s salvation; keeping the feast was a means of keeping the covenant and acknowledging their dependence on Him. The feast must always be kept at the same time annually, never postponed, never rescheduled, never canceled, never abandoned “you must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year,” v. 10.
Exodus 13:11–13 the redemption of the firstborn would begin when they came to the Land. Giving would take place in the tabernacle and later the Temple as v. 12 tells us. In the case of a donkey, a non- firstborn lamb could be a substitute. For children (v. 13) the redemption price was five sanctuary shekels, just as it was for an unclean animal (an animal that one wanted to keep). The full explanation of the redemption pricing is found in Num 18:15–17. It relates to Israel’s redemption as God’s first born (Ex 4:22-23). The ruling in v. 13 about breaking the neck of an unredeemed donkey is to clarify that that a firstborn animal could not be kept for one’s own use, it belonged to God, so if it was not redeemed, it must be destroyed. This foreshadowed the concept of Messiah and His atonement. If a life is to be restored, it must be bought back (redeemed) by a payment; and that payment is often the substitutionary death of something for something else. This is the Jewish concept that Paul was alluding to in 1 Cor 6:20 and 7:23, “You were bought with a price”.
Exodus 13:14–18 God did not want his people to enter Canaan by the Via Maris, the coastal road from Egypt, even though it was the shortest and easiest route. They were not ready to take on the Philistines.
God could have destroyed the Philistines but the Philistines had done nothing to the Israelites and were not in the same category as the Egyptians. They were latecomers to the Land, compared to the Amorites/Canaanites, and did not fall under the condemnation of the “sin of the Amorites” (Gen 15:16). They would be dealt with later. God knew that “if they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” Would they do such a thing? Yes (Num 14:3, 14), they had become accustomed to Egypt, and lived nowhere else for 430 years. Maybe they thought Egypt had repented of their treatment of the Jewish people, the spoils seemed to make it possible. Israel would have little success in any battle without God’s help as we will see in at the Red Sea (14:5ff.), and throughout Israel’s history. God sends Israel “by the desert road toward the Red Sea.” Israel was God’s army even though they were at this point unarmed.
Exodus 13:19 This verse is a reminder of the hope of Israel, life after death. Joseph understood the promises of God to Abraham that Israel would leave Egypt and take their place in the promised land. Israel believed in life after death and took great care of the remains, or “bones” of their family as an expression of faith in the resurrection. The expression be “gathered to the fathers” (Gen 49:29; Judg 2:10; 2 Kgs 22:20; 2 Chr 34:28) spoke of this great hope. The Land was linked to the certainty and hope of the promise by God of the resurrection. Taking the bones of Joseph closed a chapter in Israel’s history and made a statement, just as Jacob was buried in the promised land rather than in Egypt (Gen 49:29–50:14).
Exodus 13:20–22 – The LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them by day and at night a pillar or cloud of fire. This cloudlike pillar represented God’s presence. This cloud is present on Mount Sinai when Moses received the Covenant. This cloud was positioned between Israel and any potential enemy. The cloud represented God’s leadership as they moved through the wilderness. Israel could see the presence of God without seeing Him. Here was a supernatural, huge, and visible reminder that God was with His people as they walked or camped by day or by night. Even though they may appear to be lost and wandering they could have confidence with this visible sign of God’s presence with them.