Exodus 13 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Exodus 13
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.


(2) Sanctify unto me all the firstborn.—It was a reasonable demand that the existing firstborn of Israel, spared by God when the Egyptian firstborn were destroyed, should be regarded thenceforth as His, and set apart for His service. The extension of the demand to existing beasts was also reasonable, since they too had been spared. God’s further requirement, that henceforth all the future firstborn should also be His, was intended to perpetuate the memory of the recent deliverance, and to help to fix it in the mind of the nation. The substitution of a redemption in the case of unclean beasts was necessitated by the circumstances of the case, since they could not be sacrificed; and the redemption of the firstborn sons naturally followed when the Levitical priesthood was established, and their services were no longer necessary. (See Numbers 3:40-51; Numbers 18:16.) The Jews still observe the ordinance, so far as the children are concerned, and redeem the son which has “opened the womb” on the thirtieth day after the birth.

And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place: there shall no leavened bread be eaten.
(3) Remember this day.—Remembrance was secured in four ways:—(1) By the month being made to commence the ecclesiastical year; (2) by the institution of the Passover; (3) by the seven days of unleavened bread; and (4) by the redemption, and the inquiries it would necessitate (Exodus 13:14-15).

This day came ye out in the month Abib.
(4) The month Abib.—Abib means “green ears of corn,” or “greenness;” and the month of Abib was that in which the wheat came into ear, and the earth generally renewed its verdure. It was a “vague,” or shifting month, since it properly began with the day of the full moon that followed next after the vernal equinox. It retained its name until the Babylonian captivity, when the Babylonian name Nisan superseded the original one (Nehemiah 2:1; Esther 3:7).

And it shall be when the LORD shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, that thou shalt keep this service in this month.
(5) The Canaanites, and the Hittites . . . —The full number of the Canaanitish nations was seven, five of which are here enumerated. The other two were the Perizzites and the Girgashites, which seem to have been the least important. The most important were the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites; and these are consequently almost always placed first. At the time of the Exodus, and for many centuries afterwards, the actually most powerful nation would seem to have been that of the Hittites. (See Joshua 1:4; 1 Kings 10:29; 2 Kings 7:6; and compare the Egyptian and Assyrian remains passim.)

A land flowing with milk and honey.—See Note on Exodus 3:8.

Thou shalt keep this service.—Kalisch concludes from this verse, and from Exodus 12:25, that there was no obligation upon the Israelites to keep the Passover until they obtained possession of Canaan. He holds that two Passovers only were celebrated before that event—one by Moses in the wilderness of Sinai (Numbers 9:1-5), and the other by Joshua at Gilgal, in the plain of Jericho (Joshua 5:10-11).

Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the LORD.
(6) A feast to the Lord.—Comp. Exodus 12:16, where a “holy convocation” is ordered for the seventh day. The Jews regard this day—the twenty-first of Ahib—as the anniversary of the passage of the Red Sea.

Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days; and there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee in all thy quarters.
And thou shalt shew thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the LORD did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt.
And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the LORD'S law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt.
(9) It shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes.—The practice of wearing tephillin, or “phylacteries,” is referred by the Jews themselves to the time of the Exodus, and regarded by them as resting on the present passage, together with Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18. These phylacteries consist of small strips of parchment, on which are written certain passages from the Law—viz., Exodus 13:2-10; Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21—and which are then folded tight, placed in small boxes, and attached by bands to the left wrist and the forehead at the hours of prayer. It is well known that a similar custom prevailed in Egypt (Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians, vol. iii., p. 364); and this has been made an objection to the Mosaic institution of phylacteries, since Moses, it has been thought, would not have encouraged an Egyptian superstition. But the adoption of Egyptian customs, purged from their superstition, is quite in the spirit of the Mosaic institutions, and in no way reprehensible. If the Israelites were addicted to wearing amulets, like the Egyptians, it would have been a wise proviso to substitute for the magic charms of sorcerers the solemn words of the Law, and in this way to turn a current superstition to a good account. The Law was thereby honoured, and the special passages selected would come to be generally known to those who wore them, and to be “in their mouth” and “in their heart” (Deuteronomy 11:18). [Dean Plumptre notices, in his Commentary on the Temptation (St. Matt.), that our Blessed Lord used against the adversary quotations from the Scriptures forming these very Tephillin.]

Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year.
And it shall be when the LORD shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, as he sware unto thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it thee,
(11) The land of the Canaanites.—Either their superior importance or their genealogical position (Genesis 10:15) caused the term “Canaanites” to be used inclusively of all the Palestinian nations. The land is always “the land of Canaan” (Genesis 11:31; Genesis 12:5; Genesis 13:12, &c).

That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD'S.
(12) Thou shalt set apart—i.e., separate off from the rest of the flock or herd, that it might not be mixed up with those which were not “sanctified.”

And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.
(13) Every firstling of an ass.—It is observable that nothing is said of the Israelites possessing horses. Horses were well known in Egypt at the time, but were kept only by the kings and the great men. The Hebrews had not been in a position ever to have possessed any. Asses, on the contrary, were exceedingly common, and formed the ordinary beasts of burden in the country. In default of camels, which they seem not to have owned, the Israelites must have carried their tents and other baggage on asses.

Thou shalt redeem.—Since the ass was unclean. In Egypt he is said to have been “Typhonian;” and Set, the Evil Principle, is represented with long ears, which may be those of an ass, cropped towards the upper extremity. The redeeming of an ass with a lamb (or kid) was favourable to the owner, since the ass colt must have been of considerably more value.

If thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck.—There will always be in every nation those who grudge to make any offering to God, and who will seek to evade every requisition for a gift. To check such niggardliness, the present law was made. It would be effectual without requiring to be put in force.

All the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.—This was declared in anticipation of the arrangement afterwards to be made, whereby the tribe of Levi was taken in lieu of the firstborn for the service Of the sanctuary (Numbers 3:40-45), and an obligation was imposed on Israelites of other tribes to “redeem” their sons by a payment of five shekels for each to the priests (Numbers 18:15-16).

And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage:
And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the LORD slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem.
And it shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt.
(16) It shall be for a token.—See the comment on Exodus 13:9. The “frontlets” (totaphôth) of this passage, and of Deuteronomy 6:8, were called tephillin in Chaldee, both words signifying properly “bands” or “circlets.” The injunctions on the subject which are here given might undoubtedly be explained as metaphorical; but those in Deuteronomy 6:6-9 seem to have been intended, and were certainly understood, literally.

And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:

(17) God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines.—In Exodus 13:17-19 the writer interposes some parenthetic remarks, which are not a continuation of the narrative interrupted (Exodus 12:42), but rather reflections that occur to him. The starting point of the journey being Tanis or Rameses, in the Eastern Delta, not far from the sea, he sees that the shortest, and apparently the easiest, route for the Israelites to have pursued would have been that which led along the coast, from Tanis to Pelusium, thence to Rhinocolura, and from Rhinocolura to Gaza, Ascalon, and Ashdod, the chief towns of the Philistines. The distance along this line was not more than about 200 miles, and might have been accomplished in a fortnight. He anticipates an inquiry, Why did they not pursue this route? The reply is, that such was not the will of God; and the reason why it was not His will is further given—“The people would probably have repented when they saw war, and would have returned to Egypt.” It is implied that the Philistines were already a strong and warlike people, which they may well have been, though not mentioned in the contemporary Egyptian monuments. The Egyptians mention by name very few of the nations of Syria, and the few names which they put on record can seldom be identified.

Although that was near.—Rather, because that was near. God did not, because it was near, lead them that way, but another.

When they see war.—If the Philistines are to be regarded as identical with the “Purusata” of the Egyptian remains, they must be viewed as one of the most warlike people of the time. Even leaving aside this identification—which is very uncertain—we must view them as one of the most important of the tribes inhabiting the lower Syrian region. In Joshua’s time they already possessed their five strong fortresses—Gaza, Ascalon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron (Joshua 13:3); and during the period of the Judges they raised themselves to the leading position in the Palestinian region. Palestine derives its name from them, and would not have obtained the name unless they had been a very remarkable race. We can well understand that the Israelites after four centuries of slavery would have been an ill match for the Philistines, and that, if defeated or intimidated, they might have felt that no course was open to them but a return to Egypt.

But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.
(18) But God led the people about.—Or, led the people a circuit—took them, not by the direct route, through Pelusium, past Lake Serbônis, to Rhinocolura and Gaza, but led them by the most circuitous route possible—the way of the Red Sea and the wilderness of Sinai to the Transjordanic region, the land of the Amorites, and so across Jordan to Canaan proper. The passage seems to dispose altogether of Dr. Brugsch’s theory, that the “Red Sea” of the writer of Exodus was the Lake Serbônis, and that it was not until after this lake was passed that their journey was deflected to the south.

The children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.—It is generally agreed that this is a wrong translation. Very few of the Israelites can have possessed suits of armour until after the passage of the Red Sea, when they may have stripped the bodies of the slain Egyptians. Nor has the word used ever the force of “harnessed.” It might mean “with their loins girded,” but such an exposition would deprive the statement made of any force. Loins were always girded in preparation for a journey, and there would be no need to mention the fact. The best explanation is, that the word here means “organised,” “in military order” (Saadia, Gesenius, Lee, Knobel, Cook). It was clearly necessary, to prevent confusion, that a military order should have been adopted, and there are not wanting indications that during the year of contention with Pharaoh such an organisation was introduced and proceeded with. (See Exodus 4:29; Exodus 4:31; Exodus 6:26; Exodus 12:3; Exodus 12:21; Exodus 12:51.) It must have been brought to a high pitch of perfection for the Exodus to have taken place, as it seems to have done, without serious confusion or entanglement.

And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.
(19) Moses took the bones of Joseph.—Joseph’s body had been embalmed according to the Egyptian fashion (Genesis 1:26). He had ordered it to be conveyed to Canaan when the Israelites went there (Genesis 1:25).

And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness.

(20) They took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham.—The exact positions of both Succoth and Etham are uncertain, and can only be conjectured; but they probably lay to the southeast of Tanis, between that city and the Bitter Lakes. Succoth may have been at or near Tel Dafneh, about fifteen miles from Tanis, and Etham near the modern Ismailia, on the verge of the desert. Dr. Brugsch’s identification of Etham with the Egyptian Khetam is highly improbable, since the Hebrew aleph never replaces the Egyptian kh, which is a very strong guttural. E-tham would mean “the house of Turn,” and point to a temple of the Sun-god, who was specially worshipped in the Eastern Delta, at Heliopolis, Patumus, and elsewhere.

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night:
(21) The Lord went before them.—In Exodus 13:17-18, the writer has declared that “God led the people;” he now explains how. from Succoth certainly, probably from Rameses, He moved in front of the host in the form of a pillar, which had the appearance of smoke by day and of fire by night. The Israelites marched, it is implied, some part of each day and some part of each night, which would be in accordance with modern practice, and is an arrangement introduced to get the march accomplished before the sun attains his full power. The pillar was at once a signal and a guide. When it moved, the people moved; when it stopped, they encamped (Exodus 40:36-38); where it went, they followed. It bore some resemblance to the fire and smoke signals which generals used when at the head of their armies (Lepsius, Denkmäler, vol. ii., pl. 150, 2; Papyr. Anastas, 1; Q. Curt, Vit. Alex. v. 2, &c), and indicated that God had constituted Himself the generalissimo of the host; but it was altogether of a miraculous and abnormal character.

To go by day and night.—The night journeys of the people are mentioned again in Numbers 9:21.

He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
(22) He took not away.—Comp. Exodus 40:38; Numbers 9:16; Numbers 10:34. The cloud probably disappeared at Abel-shittim (Numbers 33:49).

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