Introduction: Exodus Chapter 13 continues God’s statutes for celebrating the Jews’ deliverance from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh in Egypt. The festivals that celebrated the Jews’ deliverance all foreshadowed Christ (Col. 2:16-17). Just as God delivered the Jews from physical captivity, Christ has delivered you from spiritual captivity (Luke 4:18). The Jews’ journey to the Promised Land of Israel also foreshadows the journey of every believer to the eternal Promised Land in heaven. From this chapter, God reveals seven important lessons.
First, out of gratitude for your deliverance, God wants you to honor Him by leading a sanctified or holy life. Second, through the example of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (which is repeated here for emphasis), God wants you to honor Him by staying free from sin. Third, through the example of the Feast of First Fruits, God wants you to honor Him with the first fruits or the best of your life. Fourth, through the example of the “phylacteries” that the Jews wore on their foreheads, God wants you to honor Him by letting His Word in you serve as a visible light to others. Fifth, through the example of how God took the Jews on an indirect route to Israel, He wants you to honor Him by trusting Him. Sixth, through the example of Joseph’s request not to be buried in Egypt, God wants you to trust His promises to you. This includes the promise that you will not be left behind or forsaken in the land of bondage. Finally, through the example of the pillar of light that guided the Jews, God wants you to honor Him by following His guidance.
God’s decree to “sanctify” every firstborn for His use. During the Passover, the angel of death spared any firstborn where the family had placed the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the house. In exchange for being saved, God ordered that every firstborn (including both people and animals) be set apart or “sanctified” for His holy use: “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.’” (Ex. 13:1-2). “The first offspring from every womb belongs to Me, and all your male livestock, the first offspring from cattle and sheep.” (Ex. 34:1; Lev. 27:26). “The first offspring from every womb belongs to Me, and all your male livestock, the first offspring from cattle and sheep.” (Nu. 3:13; Neh. 10:36). Hannah later complied with this law by dedicating her firstborn son Samuel to the Lord (1 Sam. 1:22). All of Israel was meant to be God’s “firstborn,” set aside for His use: “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn.’”’ (Ex. 4:22). As God’s firstborn, Israel was meant to be a kingdom of holy priests: ‘“and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” (Ex. 19:6).
Jesus was dedicated to God as the “firstborn” of creation. Jesus was God’s first and only son (Jo. 3:16). He was also “the firstborn” or preeminent one “of all creation.” (Col. 1:15(b)). He was also Mary’s firstborn. To fulfill God’s statutes, Mary dedicated Him to serve the Father shortly after His birth: “And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.’” (Lk. 2:23). Jesus served the Father humbly by giving up His life so that all who believe might live (Matt. 20:28; Phil. 2:17).
God calls upon every believer to be holy and set aside for His use1
You are the firstborn of Christ. As a believer in Christ, you are part of His “firstborn”: “to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,” (Heb. 12:23). As part of the “church of the firstborn,” you also should be sanctified and set apart for Christ’s use. You are to be holy for God is holy: “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.’” (Lev. 19:2; Ex. 22:31; 1 Pet. 1:16; Ep. 1:4; Matt. 5:48). Are you living a holy life? Or, are you using His mercy and grace as a license to sin? (Ro. 6:15; Gal. 5:13).
The second giving of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In order to stress the importance of living without sin in response to what God has done, He repeated the law for the Feast of Unleavened Bread that He gave in the prior chapter: “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.” (Ex. 13:3(b)-10; 12:14-20; Dt. 16:3-4, 8). The quick departure of the Jews did not give them the time to bake bread (Ex. 12:34, 39). Yeast, the ingredient that causes the bread to rise, also was not used because it is a symbol of sin (1 Cor. 5:6-8; Gal. 5:9). The “matzo” (bread crackers without yeast) also reminded the Jews of their “affliction” while in bondage (Dt. 16:3). The seven-day festival also symbolized a prolonged attempt to make a break from the sins of their past. It also symbolized the importance of acting quickly upon God’s calling. The rabbis taught that if a Jew had to wait for the bread to rise before they could join God’s people, their heart was still in bondage of Egypt. By repeating this law in two consecutive chapters, God sought to emphasize its importance. Churches must never shy away from frequently admonishing believers to turn away from sin.
If you ignore sin, it will rise. One gram of yeast contains 20,000,000,000 (twenty billion) single-celled living microorganisms. If you leave any hidden sin in your life, it will rise like leaven in bread. Is there any small sin in your life that you have failed to remove? If so, it will not stay hidden for long.
Like yeast, sin comes in many forms. There are more than 600 different species of yeast, and they are widely distributed in nature. Just as there are many kinds of yeast, there are many kinds of sin. Are you looking for many kinds of hidden sin in your life?
Let the Word expose your hidden sins. Jesus once referred to believers as being “mixed with leaven” (Matt. 13:33). Today, believers are the bride of Christ (Rev. 22:2, 17). The house or temple where the Holy Spirit dwells is in your body (1 Cor. 3:16-17). Through Jesus’ death, your body has also been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). If you were once a slave to sin, you have now become a slave to righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18). As a slave to righteousness, you should not follow the morals of the world (Lev. 18:1; Ezek. 20:18-19). You should therefore be looking to purge sin from your body to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread (1 Cor. 5:7; 6:13-15; 18-20). If you wish to remove the leaven in your life, you must first find it through reading the Word. “[T]hrough the law comes the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:20). Once you find your sin, you must repent of it. (1 Jo. 1:9). Are you reading the Word daily to find your sins?
There is joy in purity. Giving up the leaven in your life is not a sacrifice of the good things in life. Commentator David Guzik observes that “the days of Unleavened Bread were not joyless; the time began and ended with a feast - a party. A walk of purity in the Lord is not a joyless life!”2 Is the joy of the Lord visible in your life for others to see?
The Feast of First Fruits. After repeating His statutes for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, God then gave His statutes for the Feast of First Fruits “bikkurim”, which came at the end of the seven-day festival: “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.’” (Ex. 13:11-15). This feast also pointed to Jesus.
Honor Jesus with the firstfruits of your time, talent, and treasure3
Jesus’ first fruit harvest of those who were once asleep in the grave. The Bible tells us that the Old Testament festivals all foreshadowed Christ (Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 10:1). This is also true of the Feast of First Fruits. On the last day of the seven-day festival, the 17th of Avivi / Nisan, God saved the Jews at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:1-31). On this same day, God also saved Noah by bringing him to dry land in the mountains of Ararat (Gen. 8:4). On this day, God also saved the Jews by having Haman hung for plotting to have the Jews killed (Esther 3:12; 4:16; 5:4). On this day, the Jews gave the first fruits of their first harvest (the barley harvest) in gratitude. Also on this day, Jesus rose from the grave and became the “first fruits” for those who were once dead: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:20). He then harvested the believers on earth as the “first fruit” of the dead: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ is the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,” (1 Cor. 15:22-23). A second harvest was the Festival of Shavuot (the wheat harvest). This corresponded to the day when the Holy Spirit came to dwell with us during Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). A final harvest occurred during the Feast of Tabernacles (the fruit harvest). It corresponded to the time when Christ dwelt with us and when He will dwell with us again. A faithful farmer would have given the first fruits during each of the three harvests. If you are grateful for what Christ has done for you, make your life a “living sacrifice” to Him (Ro. 12:1).
The barley used in the first fruit harvest. Barley was the “first fruit” that came from the first of three seasonal harvests (Lev. 23:9-14). Each of the three harvests represents a stage in a believer’s walk with God: (1) barley = justification, (2) wheat = sanctification, and (3) fruit = glorification. This corresponded with Christ’s resurrection and symbolized the offering of a new believer (1 Cor. 15:20). When Jesus fed the masses of followers, he used “five barley loaves and two small fishes.” (John 6:9). When they were filled, He said unto His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” (John 6:12). These believers were part of the masses. They were not close to Jesus. Yet, they were saved and had overcome death. Are you part of the masses of believers who float in and out of church? Or, are you set apart from the world for Jesus?
Give the first fruits of your life to support those in ministry. The Jews tithed to support the Levities who were in full time ministry (Ex. 29:27; Lev. 7:31-32, 34; Dt. 14:27; 18:3-5). Based upon Jacob’s example, the Jews were expected to tithe 10 percent of their income (Gen. 28:20-22). “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, . . .” (Jam. 1:17(a)). This includes your income. You can tithe out of thanksgiving to support the ministries of the Church (Mal. 3:8). This includes giving the “first fruits” of your own life (Lev. 23:17). If you are grateful for your freedom from your eternal debts, are you tithing to give back to God the first fruits of what you have received?
Test God by tithing when times are tough. Normally, believers are not allowed to test God (Matt. 4:7; Dt. 6:16). Yet, tithing is the one area where He encourages us to test Him: ‘“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’” (Mal. 3:10). Where you put your money is also a sign of where your heart is (Matt. 6:21). If you seek first His kingdom (which includes tithing and giving to the poor), He promises to provide for you (Matt. 6:33). “Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.” (Prov. 3:9-10). Are you trusting God and giving to Him when times are tough?
Instead of robbing God, worship Him with proper tithes. Tithing can be an act of worship. When you fail to properly tithe, God states that you are robbing Him: “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.” (Mal. 3:8). This warning applies to the entire nation: “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you!” (Mal. 3:9). He wants you to “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High;” (Ps. 50:14). If you are grateful for what God has done for you, are you willing to make an actual sacrifice for Him?
Be a joyful giver. It is not enough to give the best of your time, talent, and treasure. God also expects your giving to be done joyfully. “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7). “For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” (2 Cor. 8:12). “You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.” (Dt. 15:10). “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution.” (Ex. 25:2). “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Heb. 13:15). Are you tithing your time, talent, and treasure out of joy?
Teach your children to offer their first fruits to God. The first fruits commandment also applies to your children: “The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me.” (Ex. 22:29 (b)). “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.” (Ex. 13:2). “The first offspring from every womb belongs to Me, and all your male livestock, the first offspring from cattle and sheep.” (Ex. 34:19). Children are a gift from God (Ps. 127:3). Like any other gift from God, you should tithe this gift. You can tithe your children by raising them up in the Lord (Prov. 22:6). Are you teaching your children God’s Law? (Dt. 4:9; Eph. 6:4).
Don’t hide the light of the Word that lies within you. As a transformed believer, the light of Christ in you should be visible to those around you. In Old Testament times, this was symbolized by “phylacteries” that an observant Jew wore on his forehead: “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.” (Ex. 13:16). In the Jews’ call to worship, the “Shema”, the Jews were again told to bind God’s Word to their foreheads: “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.” (Dt. 6:8). “You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.” (Dt. 11:18). For orthodox Jews over age 13, the head-tefillin (“shel rosh”) is placed above the forehead The hand-tefillin (“shel yad”) is wrapped around the upper arm. It contained the three passages found in Exodus 13:1-16 and Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21. Tefillin are not donned on Sabbath and during the seven major Jewish festivals because observing these holy days was a sufficient sign. For Orthodox Jews today, they are mainly worn on nonreligious days during their morning service. Yet, some wear them all day long as was more common in the past. For some, the tefillin is thought of as a wedding ring for God. Oddly, in paintings or depictions of Jesus, almost never shown Him wearing phylacteries or tassels. Yet, because Jesus kept the Law, He would have worn both phylacteries and tassels (Dt. 6:8, 11:18; Nu. 15:38). Jesus did not criticize those who wore them as being misguided. He instead criticized those who wore excessively long phylacteries or tassels merely to be noticed by others (Matt. 23:5). Jesus, however, also fulfilled the law (Matt. 5:17-18). His name will be the tefillin written on the heads of the 144,000 Jews saved in the end times will have “His name [Christ] and the name of the Father [were] written in their foreheads.” (Rev. 14:1). Also, there will come a day when believers will be asked to wear a counterfeit tefillin. It will be “666”, the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:16-18). Today, believers are not called to wear God’s Word as a physical ornament. Without the right motives, wearing a cross or a leather box with the Word is meaningless to God. Instead, God’s Word in your life should be visible in your head (your thoughts and words) and in your hands (your works and actions) (Matt. 5:15). Are your thoughts and actions an advertisement for Christianity to non-believers?
God’s decision to take the Jews on an indirect route to the Promised Land. Because God knew the faith of the Jews was weak, He took them on a longer route to the Promised Land. His route avoided the more direct travel route through the Egyptian military garrisons along the western Sinai peninsula bordering Mediterranean Sea and the Philistines in modern day Gaza: “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.” (Ex. 13:17-18). God instead took the Jews on an indirect route through the deserts of eastern Sinai. Later, He took them through the deserts to what is now called Saudi Arabia (Gal. 4:25).
God’s people fled in a hurry4
God will never test you with more than you can handle. To build your faith up in Him and to show you what things of the flesh you need to leave behind, God may also take you on a desert path. Like the Jews and later Jesus, you also will face trials and testing in the desert. Yet, God will never give you a trial or a temptation that you cannot bear: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13). “[T]hen the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, . . .” (2 Pet. 2:9). If you feel trapped in temptations that are beyond your power to escape, you must deny the flesh (which can include fasting) and pray for His mighty outstretched arm to deliver you.
The faith of Joseph in God’s promises. Through faith, Joseph asked that his bones not be buried in Egypt because He believed in God’s promise that He had given the Jews the Promised Land: “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.’ Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.’ So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.” (Gen. 50:24-26). Approximately four hundred years later, Moses fulfilled Joseph’s request by having his coffin carried to the Promised Land: “ 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.’” (Ex. 13:19). Joshua later fulfilled the pledge to Joseph by burying him “at Shechem, in the piece of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of Joseph's sons.” (Josh. 24:32). Normally, it would be a dishonor not to bury a body. Joshua’s request not to have his body buried is remembered as a great act of faith (Heb. 11:22).
God’s people carried the bones of Joseph with them5
Trust in God’s promises. In Genesis and Exodus, God promised ten times that He would give the Jews the Promised Land: “Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him.” (Gen. 12:6-7; 13:14-15; 15:7; 17:8; 26:4; 28:13-15; 50:24; Ex. 12:25; 23:20-31; 33:1-3). As the Creator of the universe, the Jews had no reason to doubt His promises. As God previously told Abraham: “Is there anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14). Are you doubting any of God’s promises? If you don’t know His promises, how much faith can you have in them?
God’s pillar of light in the wilderness. The Jews never needed to wonder which path to take as they traveled through the wilderness. God guided them with a pillar of light both day and night: “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.” (Ex. 13:20-22). This foreshadowed the role of both God’s Word and the Holy Spirit in guiding believers.
Let God’s Word and His Spirit guide you in your walk. Instead of a pillar of light, God has left each believer with His Word to guide you and protect you: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105). Before Jesus left, He also promised that He would leave us with “a helper” – the Holy Spirit – to teach us His will (John 14:26). But we cannot see Him directly. We need to trust God and know that He is there. Jesus explained that many see without seeing and hear without hearing (Matt. 13:13; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10). The Holy Spirit guides using God's Word: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26). But in order for the Holy Spirit to bring you into “remembrance of all that [Christ] said to you” you need to know God’s Word. Have you given the Spirit a lot of verses to work with? Can He remind you of much with only a few memorized verses?
Don’t grow complacent when you witness one of God’s miracles. God’s pillar of light was nothing short of a miracle. It might be tempting to mock the Jews for repeatedly turning on God while seeing this miracle in front of them. But we are no different. Most believers have observed a miraculous healing, an unexplained provision, or protection from calamity. But it is human nature to forget what God did for you in the past and assume that He will not be there for you when the next disaster or trial strikes. Thus, to boost your faith, remember all the times you have previously been delivered. You must also: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5; Ps. 37:5).