MDB 42: Exodus 13

Iain D Campbell

God's redeemed people are a consecrated people. Jesus died to sanctify the people, not just to save them (Hebrews 13:12). The reference to the consecration of the firstborn in this chapter is another important link in the unfolding of this narrative. Israel was God's firstborn (4:22); God struck Egypt's firstborn, and now he claims the firstborn of Israel's families and flocks as his own.

The consecration of the firstborn was a reflection, once again, of the total commitment of the people to the God who had redeemed them. The relation between redemption and consecration - between salvation and holiness - is explained in the passage that follows, in which the redemption from Egypt and the rituals surrounding the Passover are in the foreground.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which culminated in the Passover meal, was to be kept by God's people annually. Furthermore, each generation was to pass on both the feast and the explanation for it to the next generation (13:8), and each occasion of observance was a further sign of God's graciousness to them in the past.

But there is always a close link between past and present, between redemption accomplished and consecration required. That is why the Passover is described not merely as a memorial of the past, but a sign that 'the law of the Lord may be in your mouth' (13:9). In other words, each time an Israelite participated in the Feast, he was pledging his commitment to keep God's law, and not just remembering the events which shaped his people and their faith.

But God's redeemed people will also be a pilgrim people. God took them by way of the Red Sea, instead of by a more direct route, in order to deepen their faith in God and ensure that it would not be shaken by the events which they would encounter, 'lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt' (13:17). They would face difficult challenges, hostile foes and experiences of war. But the wilderness years would be years of formation, of development, of maturing and of learning.

Most importantly, God will be present with his people in their pilgrimage. God leads his people in a fiery presence (remember that it was in a burning bush he had appeared to Moses), which gave the appearance of cloud during the day, but fire at night. This theme will be taken up again at the end of the Book of Exodus (40:34-38), but is important in this summary also. It is a reminder to us that the presence of God is a constant one; the God who redeems his people to consecrate them also promises to guide and protect his people on their journey.