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Consecration of the Firstborn The Firstborn Consecrated The Consecration of the Firstborn Dedication of the Firstborn The First-born
13:1-2 13:1-2 13:1-2 13:1-2 13:1-2
The Feast of Unleavened Bread The Festival of Unleavened Bread The Feast of Unleavened Bread
13:3-10 13:3-10 13:3-10 13:3-10 13:3-10
The Law of the Firstborn The First-born The First-born
13:11-16 13:11-16 13:11-16 13:11-16 13:11-16
God Leads the People The Wilderness Way Israel's Deliverance (13:17-14:31) The Pillar of Cloud and the Pillar of Fire The Departure of the Israelites
13:17-22 13:17-22 13:17-14:4 13:17-22 13:17-20

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph
  4. Etc.


  1. Brief Outline
    1. In Exod. 13:1-2 YHWH speaks to Moses.
    2. In Exod. 13:3-16 Moses speaks to the people.
    3. Exod. 13:17-22 is a later summary.

  2. Also note how the subjects change.
    1. Exod. 13:1-2 deals with the firstborn (i.e., Israel was YHWH's firstborn, cf. Exod. 4:22).
    2. Exod. 13:3-10 deals with the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
    3. Exod. 13:11-16 returns to the subject of #1.
    4. Exod. 13:17-22 introduces the route of the exodus and YHWH's special presence in the pillars (cloud and fire).


1Then 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."

13:1 "Sanctify to Me" This is a Piel IMPERATIVE (BDB 872, KB 1073) of the VERB, kadosh. See SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY. It meant something dedicated to God for His purposes. The firstborn (lit. "opens the womb") belongs to YHWH to signify He is the giver of life!

▣ "every firstborn" This was a way of showing ownership. This same imagery is seen in

  1. one day a week, the Sabbath showed God's ownership of time; see SPECIAL TOPIC: SABBATH (OT)
  2. ten percent (see SPECIAL TOPIC: TITHES IN THE MOSAIC LEGISLATION) giving showed God's ownership of all material things
  3. the first of the harvest given to God means all the harvest belongs to Him
  4. the terminology applied to Israel collectively in Exod. 4:22 denotes His special ownership of them (cf. Exod. 19:5-6)


▣ "both of man and beast" This showed God's ownership of Israel and her livestock. Remember, the plague killed the firstborn of Egypt's children and remaining livestock (cf. Exod. 12:12).
Later in Deut. 15:19-23 the instructions on how to deal with the firstborn of the herds is specified. Numbers 18:15-20 describes how the clean firstborn animals became food for the priests. Leviticus 27:26- 27 gives the instructions of how to redeem the unclean animals' firstborn.

3Moses 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. 4On this day in the month of Abib, you are about to go forth. 5It 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. 6For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. 7Unleavened 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. 8You shall tell your son on that day, saying, 'It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.' 9And 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. 10Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year.

13:3 "Remember" This is a Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE functioning as a Qal IMPERATIVE. This is a recurrent theme (cf. Deut. 5:15; 7:18; 8:2,18; 9:7,27; 11:2; 15:15; 16:3,12; 24:9,18,22; 25:17; 32:7)!
I like the quote (by Leslie C. Allen) from NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 1103, "the Exodus was not simply an event in history but a window through which to glimpse God's redemptive will for his people and individual believers in every generation."

▣ "for by a powerful hand" This anthropomorphic imagery (i.e., Exod. 3:19) is repeated in Exod. 13:9 and 16. See SPECIAL TOPIC: HAND.


▣ "leavened" This was a symbol of haste, not evil, in this context. See SPECIAL TOPIC: LEAVEN.


13:5 For information on these tribes who inhabited the land of Canaan see SPECIAL TOPIC: PRE-ISRAELITE INHABITANTS OF PALESTINE.
These tribes' judgment was predicted by YHWH in Gen. 15:12-21.

▣ "which He swore to your fathers to give you" The promise is repeated several times.

  1. Abraham - Gen. 12:7; 13:15,17; 15:18; 17:8
  2. Isaac - Gen. 26:3-4
  3. Jacob - Gen. 28:4,13-14; 35:12

▣ "a land flowing with milk and honey" This was a way to express the land of Canaan's agricultural blessings (cf. Exod. 3:8,17; 13:5; 33:3; Lev. 20:24; Num. 13:27; 14:8; 16:13-14; Deut. 6:3; 11:9; 26:9; 27:3; 31:20; Jos. 5:6). It later became the Persian name for the land beyond the river (i.e., Canaan).

▣ "you shall observe" Literally this is "serve this service."

  1. VERB - BDB 712, KB 773, Qal PERFECT with waw
  2. NOUN - BDB 715
Obedience is crucial (cf. Exod. 13:10; Deuteronomy 27-30; Luke 6:46; James 2:14-20, see SPECIAL TOPIC: KEEP; also note Deut. 4:2,6; 16:12; 30:8; YHWH's covenant was a "conditional covenant"). See SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT.

13:6-10 These verses describe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, as Exodus 12 described the Passover Feast.
These two feasts were at some point later combined into one annual feast (cf. Leviticus 23).

13:8 "tell your son" The feast days of Israel (see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE FEASTS OF ISRAEL) were meant to inform later generations of YHWH's great acts (cf. Exod. 12:26-27; 13:14; 10:2; Deut. 4:9-10; 5:29; 6:2,13,20-25; 11:19; 32:46). Parents were to pass on the faith to the next generation at home!

13:9 Israel had three mnemonic devices to help them remember the exodus and YHWH's love for them.

  1. a sign on your hand - Exod. 12:4; 13:9,16; Deut. 6:8; 11:18; the following is from my commentary on Deut. 6:8
    Deut. 6:8 "you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead" Originally this phrase seemed to be used as a metaphor (cf. LXX). The context is lifestyle teaching opportunities for God's word. However, the rabbis took this verse very literally and they began to wrap a leather strap around their left hand with a small box (tefillin) attached which contained selected Scriptures from the Torah. The same kind of box was also strapped to their forehead. These "phylacteries" or "frontals" (BDB 377) are also mentioned in Deut. 11:18 and Matt. 23:5.
  2. sign on your forehead (lit. "between the eyes") - these were called "phylacteries" (cf. Deut. 6:8; 11:18; Matt. 23:5; see James Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, pp. 367-377)
  3. later a metal box containing several Scriptures (i.e., Exod. 13:1-10,11-16; Deut. 6:4-9, 11:13-21) was placed on the door frame of the house (i.e., where the blood of the Passover was placed). The following is from my commentary on Deut. 6:9:
    Deut. 6:9 "And you shall write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates" This again is a symbolic gesture that God is to have a part, not only in our home life, but in our social life (i.e., gate, cf. 21:19; 22:15,24). As the threshold (BDB 265) of the home was often seen as the place of the demonic in the Greek and Roman worlds, in the Jewish world it represented the presence of God (i.e., the place where the blood of the Passover was placed, cf. Exod. 12:7,22,23).
    "Your gates" (BDB 1044) may refer to the place of social meeting and justice (i.e., like the city gates). Usually, these small boxes and door markers (mezuza) contained several set passages of Scripture: Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21 and Exod. 13:1-10,11-16.



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, 12you 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. 13But 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. 14And 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. 15It 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.' 16So 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."

13:11 Notice that this verse denotes the night of the Passover, while Exod. 13:1-10 was written later.

▣ "the land of the Canaanite" There are several tribes listed that inhabited Canaan (see SPECIAL TOPIC: PRE-ISRAELITE INHABITANTS OF PALESTINE) but two of them served as collective terms for them all.

  1. Canaanite - denoting all the tribes but especially those who lived along the coast
  2. Amorites - denoting all the tribes but especially those who dwelt in the higher elevations

▣ "as He swore to you and your father" This refers to the promise of Gen. 12:12-21. See note at Exod. 13:5.

NASB  "devote"
NKJV, NRSV, JPSOA, LXX  "set apart"
TEV  "offer"
NJB, REB  "make over"
This VERB (BDB 716, KB 778, Hiphil PERFECT with waw) is also used of YHWH "passing over" the blood-marked homes in Exod. 12:12 (Qal PERFECT with waw). As YHWH "passed over," so now the firstborn passes over to Him.
The firstborn males died in the last plague, so now the firstborn males of Abraham's descendants and their beasts belong to YHWH.

13:13 "redeem" This VERB (BDB 804, KB 911) appears three times in this verse. It basically denotes buying someone out of slavery. See SPECIAL TOPIC: RANSOM/REDEEM.
This involved the payment of a price for the humans and animals or a sacrifice of the animals.
These "firstborn" servants of YHWH will later become the Levitical Priests and Levites.
In Numbers 18:16, the price to redeem a firstborn son was five shekels; see SPECIAL TOPIC: ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN WEIGHTS AND MEASURES (METROLOGY).

13:14 See note at Exod. 13:8.

13:15 "stubborn" This is the Hebrew VERB (BDB 904, KB 1151, Hiphil PERFECT) "hardened." See note at Exod. 7:3.

▣ "the Lord killed" Notice YHWH Himself (cf. Exod. 11:4; 12:12,29) is the agent, not the angel (cf. Exod. 12:23). However, remember all causality was attributed to God (cf. Isa. 45:7; Amos 3:6).

▣ "I. . .I" The MT has the PRONOUN "I" (BDB 58) and the implied form of the second VERB.
The PRONOUN is אני, but TEV has the collective sense "we" (אנו), which makes sense in this context (see UBS Handbook, p. 321).

▣ "redeem" See note at Exod. 13:13.

13:16 See note at Exod. 13:9.

17Now 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." 18Hence 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. 19Moses 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." 20Then they set out from Succoth and camped in Etham on the edge of the wilderness. 21The 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. 22He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.


▣ "the way of the land of the Philistines" This would have been the shortest route to Canaan along the Mediterranean coast, but it had many Egyptian forts along its path. The Egyptians called it "the road/way of Horus."
This verse reveals the reason God did not take them this shorter route (cf. Exod. 14:11-12; Num. 14:1-4; Deut. 17:16).
The term "Philistines" is an anachronism (cf. 1 Chr. 1:12), since this did not appear in Canaan until the time of Rameses III (1187-1156 B.C.).

▣ "change their minds" This is the Hebrew VERB "to be sorry" or "to repent" (BDB 636, KB 688, Niphal IMPERFECT). The RSV translates the VERB "repent." NRSV changes it to "change their minds" (cf. NJB).
The JPSOA has "may have a change of heart." See SPECIAL TOPIC: REPENTANCE (OT)).

13:18 "the Red Sea" See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE RED SEA.

▣ "the sons of Israel went up in martial array" This ADJECTIVE (BDB 332) means "battle array" (cf. Jos. 1:14; 4:12-13; Jdgs. 7:11). This is implied in the word "hosts" (cf. Exod. 12:41; see SPECIAL TOPIC: LORD OF HOSTS).
The LXX translates this as "Now in the fifth generation" (cf. NEB, REB), but this demands an emendation. The UBS Text Project (p. 103) gives the MT a "C" rating (i.e., considerable doubt). It suggests the wording "and in five groups" as a possibility.
The Aramaic Targums, the Vulgate, and Rashi translate it as referring to weapons ("armed with weapons"), which the Israelites would have gotten from the bodies of the dead Egyptian soldiers who drowned in the Red Sea, that floated to the side where Israel camped.
One of my favorite sources for OT information is Roland deVaux, Ancient Israel (2 vols). He mentions that an Arabic dictionary defines this root as referring to an army on the march with

  1. a vanguard
  2. a main body
  3. a left flank
  4. a right flank
  5. a rear guard
thereby, the root for "five" (pp. 216, 217).

13:19 "the bones of Joseph" Joseph was embalmed by the Egyptians but he wanted to be buried in the Promised Land (cf. Gen. 50:24,25; Jos. 24:32; Heb. 11:22).

▣ "solemnly swear" This is a Hiphil INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and a PERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 989, KB 1396), which denotes intensity.

▣ "surely take care" This is another INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE (Qal) and an IMPERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 823, KB 955), which denotes intensity.

13:20 "Succoth. . .Etham" See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE ROUTE OF THE EXODUS (uncertain).


13:21-22 "a pillar of cloud. . .a pillar of fire" This refers to the special cloud ("pillar," BDB 765) representing YHWH's personal presence that led and protected the Hebrew slaves as they left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness (cf. Exod. 13:21-22; 14:19,24; 33:9,10; Deut. 1:33; Neh. 9:12,19; Ps. 78:14; 105:39). This cloud/pillar disappeared after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land.
This was called the "Shekinah Cloud of Glory" by the rabbis (cf. Exod. 13:21-22; 14:19,24; 33:9-10; Ps. 78:14; 99:7). It accomplished several things for the Israelites.

  1. symbol of YHWH's personal presence (shekinah means "to dwell with")
  2. it separated Israel from Pharaoh's elite troops (cf. Exod. 14:19-20)
  3. it led Israel (cf. Exod. 13:21-22; Num. 9:17-23)
  4. it covered them and protected them from the heat (cf. Ps. 105:39)
  5. it lit up the camp by night, even allowed Israel to travel at night (cf. Exod. 13:21; Neh. 9:12,19)
  6. it caused the nations to fear Israel (cf. Exod. 23:27; Deut. 2:25; 11:25; Jos. 2:9)
  7. it finally disappeared when Israel crossed the Jordan (cf. Exod. 16:35; Jos. 5:12), but reappeared at the dedication of Solomon's temple (1 Kings 8).

13:21 "fire" Fire often symbolized God's presence.

  1. blazing torah - Gen. 15:17
  2. burning bush - Exod. 3:2
  3. pillar of fire - here; Ps. 78:14
  4. fire and smoke on Mt. Sinai - Exod. 19:18; 20:18; 24:17
  5. lightning falling in destruction - Gen. 19:24; Job 1:16
  6. come down in fire - Isa. 66:15
  7. execute judgment by fire - Lev. 10:2; Num. 11:1-3; Isa. 30:30; 66:16; 2 Thess. 1:7
  8. His throne is surrounded by "the burning ones" (cf. Isa. 6:2-3; i.e., Seraphim, see SPECIAL TOPIC: SERAPHIM)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Why are the regulations mentioned in Exodus 12 repeated in Exodus 13?
  2. Why does the firstborn belong to YHWH? What does it symbolize?
  3. Why did YHWH give Israel the land of Canaan? Did it not belong to other peoples?
  4. Where and to whom did YHWH promise Canaan? Why?
  5. How was the firstborn male redeemed?
  6. What is the practical significance of Exod. 13:8 and 14?
  7. Why is the name "Philistines" unusual in Exod. 13:17?
  8. Why did YHWH not take His people to Canaan by the shortest route?
  9. Where is the Red Sea?

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