Consecration of the Firstborn
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Sanctify to Me [that is, set apart for My purpose] every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of animal; it is Mine.”
Moses said to the people, “Remember [solemnly observe and commemorate] this day on which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage and slavery; for by a strong and powerful hand the Lord brought you out of this place. And nothing leavened shall be eaten. On this day in the month Abib, you are about to go onward. And it shall be when the Lord brings you into 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 [of abundance] [a]flowing with milk and honey, that you shall keep and observe this rite (service) in this month. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, nor shall there be leaven within the borders of your territory. You shall explain this to your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ It shall serve as a sign to you on your hand (arm), and as a reminder on your forehead, so that the instruction (law) of the Lord may be in your mouth; for with a strong and powerful hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt. Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at this time from year to year.
“Now it shall be when the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanite, as He swore to you and your fathers, and gives it to you, you shall set apart and dedicate to the Lord all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock shall be the Lord’s. Every firstborn of a [b]donkey you shall redeem by [substituting] a lamb [as a sacrifice for it], but if you do not [wish to] redeem it, then you shall break its neck; and every firstborn among your sons you shall redeem [that is, “buy back” from God with a suitable sacrifice]. And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘With a strong and powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage and slavery. For it happened, when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, that the Lord struck every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animal. Therefore, I sacrifice to the Lord all the males, the first [to be born] of every womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ So it shall serve as a sign and a reminder on your [left] hand (arm) and as [c]frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong and powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.”
God Leads the People
So it happened, when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was nearer; for God said, “The people might change their minds when they see war [that is, that there will be war], and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the [d]Red Sea; the sons of Israel went up in battle array (orderly ranks, marching formation) out of the land of Egypt. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had solemnly ordered (placed under an oath) the Israelites, saying, “God will assuredly take care of you, and you must carry my bones away from here with you.” They journeyed from Succoth [in Goshen] and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness. The [presence of the] Lord was going before them by day in a pillar (column) of cloud to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, so that they could travel by day and by night. He did not withdraw the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from going before the people.
- Exodus 13:5 This phrase referred to the abundant fertility of the land of Canaan. Milk (typically that of goats and sheep) was associated with abundance; “honey” referred mainly to syrups made from dates or grapes and was the epitome of sweetness. Bees’ honey was very rare and was considered the choicest of foods.
- Exodus 13:13 For most Israelites, the donkey would eventually be important for their livelihoods as a work-animal, so God foresaw the need and allowed this exception. Those who had no need for an additional donkey were not required to redeem it, but were to kill it in recognition of God’s right to the firstborn. On the other hand, redemption was of course the only option for a firstborn son. God thereby honors His own right to the firstborn, but at the same time forbids human sacrifice.
- Exodus 13:16 Heb totaphoth, later renamed tefillin (“attachment”) but often called phylacteries (Gr “safeguards”) these came to be small cube-shaped leather pouches which contained tiny parchments of Ex 13:1-16 and Deut 6:4-9; 11:13-21. They were strapped to the forehead and the left forearm of Jewish men (or the right forearm, if a man was left-handed) in obedience to the commands in this verse and Deut 6:8. Phylacteries and the parchments contained in them were very artistically made, and are still worn today by observant Jews during morning services.
- Exodus 13:18 Lit Sea of Reeds. See note 10:19.
Pharaoh in Pursuit
Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Tell the sons of Israel to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. You shall camp in front of Baal-zephon, opposite it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, ‘They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ I will harden (make stubborn, defiant) Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will be glorified and honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians shall know [without any doubt] and acknowledge that I am the Lord.” And they did so.
When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart toward the people, and they said, “What is this that we have done? We have let Israel go from serving us!” So Pharaoh harnessed horses to his war-chariots [for battle] and took his [a]army with him; and he took six hundred chosen war-chariots, and all the other war-chariots of Egypt with [b]fighting charioteers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he pursued the Israelites, as they were leaving confidently and defiantly. The Egyptians chased them with all the horses and war-chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and they overtook them as they camped by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up and saw the Egyptians marching after them, and they were very frightened; so the Israelites cried out to the Lord. Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What is this that you have done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Did we not say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians [as slaves] than to die in the wilderness.”
The Sea Is Divided
Then Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid! Take your stand [be firm and confident and undismayed] and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for those Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you while you [only need to] keep silent and remain calm.”
The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to move forward [toward the sea]. As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, so that the sons of Israel may go through the middle of the sea on dry land. As for Me, hear this: I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will go in [the sea] after them; and I will be glorified and honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and his war-chariots and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know [without any doubt] and acknowledge that I am the Lord, when I am glorified and honored through Pharaoh, through his war-chariots and his charioteers.”
The [c]angel of God, who had been going in front of the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them. The pillar of the cloud moved from in front and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel. It was a cloud along with darkness [even by day to the Egyptians], but it gave light by night [to the Israelites]; so one [army] did not come near the other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all that night and turned the seabed into dry land, and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the middle of the sea on dry land, and the waters formed a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. Then the Egyptians pursued them into the middle of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his war-chariots and his charioteers. So it happened at the early morning watch [before dawn], that the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and put them in a state of confusion. He made their chariot wheels hard to turn, and the chariots difficult to drive; so the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from Israel, for the Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may come back over the Egyptians, on their war-chariots and their charioteers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal flow at sunrise; and the Egyptians retreated right into it [being met by the returning water]; so the Lord overthrew the Egyptians and tossed them into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the charioteers, and all the army of Pharaoh that had gone into the sea after them; not even one of them survived. But the Israelites walked on dry land in the middle of the sea, and the waters formed a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
The Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians [lying] dead on the [d]seashore. When Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, they feared the Lord [with reverence and awe-filled respect], and they believed in the Lord, and in His servant Moses.
- Exodus 14:6 Lit people.
- Exodus 14:7 Or perhaps three-man teams.
- Exodus 14:19 See note Gen 16:7.
- Exodus 14:30 Lit the lip of the sea.