Exodus 13

1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 ‘Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal.’

What does Consecrate mean?

‘Consecrate’ is synonymous with ‘sanctify’ – make holy – and when applied to an object, say a plate, it means that it is set apart to be used only for that holy purpose – perhaps to only be used for making offerings. But there is a deeper meaning. Whatever is consecrated is actually given back to God; it becomes his property – it is this that makes it holy. In other places the word ‘devoted’ is sometimes used, but with the meaning ‘wholly given over to God’.

Every firstborn in Egypt, man and animals, had just been killed. The firstborn of the Israelites however, had been redeemed by the blood of the lamb. They now needed something that would be a constant reminder to the people of the cost of their salvation.

What does redeemed mean? Bought back – a good example is an item given as surety for a loan. You redeem the article by paying off the debt.

The firstborn of the generation at the time if the Exodus were covered, but what about the next generation, and those to follow?

Within the system of Laws given by God to the Israelites, all firstborn animals were consecrated to God and had to be given as a sacrifice. If the animal was valuable, or the owner too poor, it could be redeemed by offering a substitute (v13, and later laws), or in some cases it could be bought back for a price.

That seems fine for animals but how could this apply to humans? Fortunately, God did not want human sacrifice, simply people devoted to him in his service. When he gave Moses the laws for his people he explained:

Numbers 3: 11 The Lord also said to Moses, 12 ‘I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine, 13 for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether human or animal. They are to be mine. I am the Lord.’

14 The Lord said to Moses in the Desert of Sinai, 15 ‘Count the Levites by their families and clans. Count every male a month old or more.’ 16 So Moses counted them, as he was commanded by the word of the Lord.

The duty of the Levites from then on was to serve God all their lives.

However, there were not enough Levites, so each of the remaining men had to be redeemed by paying five shekels (Numbers 4:40-51).

Back to our study.

3 Then Moses said to the people, ‘Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast. 4 Today, in the month of Aviv, you are leaving. 5 When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites – the land he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey – you are to observe this ceremony in this month: 6 for seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the Lord. 7 Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders. 8 On that day tell your son, “I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.” 9 This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. 10 You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year.

People have such short memories!

What would eating unleavened bread for a week remind them of? (Exodus 12:33-34, 39)

Why is yeast (leaven) used to describe wrong teaching elsewhere in the Bible?

(Matthew 16:6-12, Galatians 5:7-10)

Yeast spores are all around us naturally. They are microscopic fungi that live on sugars found in organic matter. In favourable conditions they multiply rapidly; warm damp dough is ideal. The breaking down of sugar by yeast is called ‘fermentation’, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Wherever it occurs, it will spread invisibly, its natural aim is to work its way through ripe fruit, turning it ‘bad’

Error starts small, but doesn’t stay small for long. It multiplies and spreads silently even in people who appear to be sound. If unchecked, it will continue to spread.

God knew that the Exodus from Egypt would soon be forgotten, or reduced to a myth. To use a festival to commemorate it where the Exodus events could be re-enacted would fix the essential points in people’s memories.

11 ‘After the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as he promised on oath to you and your ancestors, 12 you are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the Lord.13 Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.

14 ‘In days to come when your son asks you, “What does this mean?” say to him, “With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.” 16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.’

While they were travelling in the desert, even daily living would be a struggle. But (v11) once they were established in their ‘Promised Land – flowing with milk and honey’, life would be easy, and there was a bigger danger they would forget the one who had saved them.

More than just an annual festival, there now (v12) had to be a more personal, costly, on-going practice. The daily checks of the flocks and herds, and the subsequent slaughter of the first-born; and the rituals relating to the first-born human sons, were all to serve as constant reminders of the God who rescued them.


The Israelites were living in the area labelled GOSHEN on the map. Where were they going to go? Obviously the main coast road to the North-East would be the quickest route to Canaan. But there were Philistines living in the area we now call the Gaza Strip.


17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ 18 So God led the people around by the desert road towards the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.

The roads shown on the map are suggestions – no-one now can remember where they really were, but the topography of the land, and towns on the roads suggest these. Obviously there was another ‘desert road’ too.

Verse 18 says they were ‘ready for battle’ but God was fully aware that they weren’t.

Why was that? They may have looked the part, but they had had no training or experience of fighting.

19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.’

20 After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert.

It is very likely that they had always lived in tents. Even so, to pack up and leave quickly, taking all you possess – with flocks and herds too, would not be easy.

The Lord was well aware of their fears so immediately we read:

21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

Exodus 14

1 Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 ‘Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to camp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon

Now we encounter the first of many problems: where are all these places? Unfortunately there are still no answers – just many theories. (The Exodus occurred about 3300 years ago – in the middle of Britain’s Bronze Age, before writing developed here. To find ancient settlement names here that are still in use today would be most unlikely) I like the following map, simply drawn from the bible narrative.



(For more on the ‘Red Sea’ see the next study)

To the Israelites this change of direction might have seemed very odd, but they were beginning to learn to follow the Lord’s leading. So in verse 8 we read they ‘were marching out boldly’. They would be blissfully unaware that the Lord was effectively leading them into a trap. Instead they were sure that Pharaoh had agreed (and the Egyptian people insisted) that Moses could take the Israelites for a three-day march into the desert.

However the Lord knew Pharaoh’s heart, and was well aware that he would send his army. What do you think was in Pharaoh’s mind? Did he really want to bring the Israelites back, or did he simply want revenge, and so was happy to destroy them?

Now we will see that the Lord’s ways are not our ways. We would never choose to be trapped between the sea and the desert with no means of escape. But God’s plan was quite deliberate. The Egyptians (and no doubt many Israelites) still needed proof that He Was God almighty, and that there was no other.

3 Pharaoh will think, “The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.”4 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.’ So the Israelites did this. 5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, ‘What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!’ 6 So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. 7 He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. 8 The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. 9 The Egyptians – all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops – pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.

For Pharaoh it was now too late: the Lord had given him many opportunities to repent which he had rejected. Now he would only confirm in Pharaoh’s heart what he had effectively demonstrated to God: ‘I think nothing of you – you don’t frighten me’

(V8 and 17)

10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, “Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians”? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’

The Israelites were literally afraid for their lives. Yes, God needed to teach them too that his salvation did not depend on anything that man might rely on.

Not yet could they say: Psalm 20:7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

13 Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’

Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today  .  .  .  . you need only to be still’. Can we honestly say we have learnt that lesson?

What’s our problem?

Exodus 11Exodus 14

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Exodus 13:1-22, 14:1-14 Israelites leave Egypt. The armies of Pharaoh pursue them.
(For Exodus 12 see Exodus 11)