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God said to Moses,

A light to the Gentiles - Greg Olsen (gregolsen.com)

“Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, whether human or animal.”

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. Today, in the month of Aviv, you are leaving. 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 to you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you are to observe this ceremony in this month.

For seven days, eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day, hold a festival to the Lord. 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. On that day, tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’

Presentation in the Temple – L. Carracci (1605)

This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of God is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year.

After the Lord brings you into the promised land, as he promised with an oath to you and your ancestors, you are to give the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to God. Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey but if you do not redeem it, break its neck.

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Redeem every first born among your sons. When your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’, tell him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, God 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. And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symb0l on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”

What the story means to us today

An ancient ritual practice reminds Israelites about the cost of sin

Like debtors who must “sell themselves” as debt-slaves, the Israelites must pay the price for God’s saving grace. The do this in the ritual manner described by God.

Symbolic rituals have been used by religions for countless years.  These rituals force religious followers to have a “stake in the game” through prescribed, ritual practices.

Rituals engrain religion within the culture in a deep and unforgettable manner. Rituals require sacrifice. In this case, financial sacrifice in the form of the Israelites’ firstborn livestock. Rituals require discipline. In Israelites’’ instance, they are required to perform the ceremony annually. And rituals serve as a reminder of the religion’s core principles. The process God prescribes reminds the Israelites of the cost of sin.

The Levites and sacrifice

Later we will find that God changes the ceremonial requirements and instead, assigns one of the tribes of Isreal a priestly role in order to stabilize religious principles within Hebrew culture.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Why do the verses repeat the requirements for eating unleavened bread?

The middle verses may seem out of place to some readers. Moses begins his address to the people by again reminding them about the requirement to eat unleavened bread during Passover (as we discussed in the previous chapter). In this instance, Moses’ statements are a sermon to the people – a reminder of their obligation to God before he introduces the requirements for the consecration of the firstborn. Nothing changed in the Passover requirements. Moses was simply reminding the Hebrews what was expected.

Were the firstborn to be killed?

Detractors may propose that these verses command child sacrifice. It is an absurd presumption since the Bible so clearly considers child sacrifice a pagan ritual that is forbidden by law. What God is asking here, is for the child to be dedicated to God through an act of consecration.

Exactly what were the Hebrews supposed to do with their firstborn sons to “consecrate” them?

God told Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male.” The word used here is closer to “sanctify” and means “be holy, be distinct, set apart”. Some believe the firstborn were given priestly roles. This is indeed possible but more likely, a ceremonial ritual was performed to symbolize the consecration of the firstborn male.

What is “redemption”?

The verses tell us “Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey”. Redemption is the idea of paying a cost or a debt. The redemption of the firstborn donkey symbolizes payment for God’s salvation. Through sacrifice of a firstborn animal, the Israelites repay God for his grace.

Why sacrifice animals?

The concept of animal sacrifice is totally foreign to the modern western world, but God tailored his plan for mankind to the times. To ancient easterners, where the practice was common, watching the blood drain from the throat of one of their prized animals must have been surreal, a powerful, vivid reminder of what awaits them if they fail to follow God’s word.

The sacrifice was painful to experience, of course, but that was the point. A powerful, horrifying symbolic act that reminded the Israelites about the cost of sin. The practice was later replaced by another symbolic death – the death of Jesus.

Why don’t Israelites consecrate their firstborn today?

Although the Israelites sill celebrate the events of the Exodus, we will find that later in the Bible (Numbers 3:12), the consecration of the firstborn was replaced by the tribe of Levites and their priestly role. The Levites would encourage religious discipline over the Israelites rather than requiring each Israelite to demonstrate character through sacrifice.

The science and history behind the story

The Jewish “tefillin”

The concept of the Jewish “tefillin” comes from these verses. A tefillin, or Phylactery, is a personal Jewish ornament, a small leather box made of metal and closed with a leather strap. Orthodox Jewish men wear it on their head and arm during weekday morning prayers. The boxes contain four hand-written texts from the Bible, in which believers are commanded to wear certain words on the hand and between the eyes. Exodus 13:9 is one instance that Jews take as a literal command to wear it upon their head and hand.

The hand tefillin has all four texts written on a single strip of parchment but the head tefillin has four separate compartments, each containing a single text.

Tefillin can only be made by specific scribes. The scribe is required to purify himself in the mikvah (ritual bath) before he starts working on the tefillin. The texts have to be written with halachically acceptable ink on halachically acceptable parchment paper. Any error made during the creation of the tefillin invalidates it completely and it must be discarded and begun again. There are 3188 letters in the parchments and it can take a scribe as long as 15 hours to write a complete set.

The leather box and straps must be completely black. The boxes must be perfectly square. The stitches must also be perfectly square, and both thread and leather must be halachically acceptable.

The arm tefillin is put on first, on the upper part of the weaker arm. A blessing is recited and the strap wrapped around the arm seven times. The head tefillin is loosely fastened on the head about one centimeter above a person’s original hairline. The strap of the hand tefillin is then wound three times around the middle finger while reciting Hosea 2:21.

Notes on Biblical translation

The month of Aviv

The verses say, “Today, in the month of Aviv, you are leaving”. The month of Aviv (or Abib) means something like “months of fresh young ears” which implies Springtime.

Bible Text

NIV

Passover celebration - Artist unknown

13 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.”

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.

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.”

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

13:1  The LORD spoke to Moses: 13:2 “Set apart to me every firstborn male—the first offspring of every womb among the Israelites, whether human or animal; it is mine.”

13:3 Moses said to the people, “Remember this day on which you came out from Egypt, from the place where you were enslaved, for the LORD brought you out of there with a mighty hand—and no bread made with yeast may be eaten. 13:4 On this day, in the month of Abib, you are going out.

13:5 When the LORD brings you to the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites, and Jebusites, which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, then you will keep this ceremony in this month. 13:6 For seven days you must eat bread made without yeast, and on the seventh day there is to be a festival to the LORD. 13:7 Bread made without yeast must be eaten for seven days; no bread made with yeast shall be seen among you, and you must have no yeast among you within any of your borders.

13:8 You are to tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 13:9  It will be a sign for you on your hand and a memorial on your forehead, so that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth, for with a mighty hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt. 13:10 So you must keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year.

13:11 When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and to your fathers, and gives it to you, 13:12 then you must give over to the LORD the first offspring of every womb. Every firstling of a beast that you have—the males will be the LORD’s. 13:13 Every firstling of a donkey you must redeem with a lamb, and if you do not redeem it, then you must break its neck. Every firstborn of your sons you must redeem.

13:14  In the future, when your son asks you ‘What is this?’ you are to tell him, ‘With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the land of slavery. 13:15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to release us, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of people to the firstborn of animals. That is why I am sacrificing to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb, but all my firstborn sons I redeem.’ 13:16 It will be for a sign on your hand and for frontlets on your forehead, for with a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

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New King James Version

13 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine.”

3 And Moses said to the people: “Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out of this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten. 4 On this day you are going out, in the month Abib. 5 And it shall be, when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall keep this service in this month. 6 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 seven days. And no leavened bread shall be seen among you, nor shall leaven be seen among you in all your quarters. 8 And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, ‘This is done because of what the LORD did for me when I came up from Egypt.’ 9 It shall be as a sign to you on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the LORD’s law may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt. 10 You shall therefore keep this ordinance in its season from year to year.

11 “And it shall be, when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as He swore to you and your fathers, and gives it to you, 12 that you shall set apart to the LORD all that open the womb, that is, every firstborn that comes from an animal which you have; the males shall be the LORD’s. 13 But every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; and if you will not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. And all the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. 14 So it shall be, when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ that you shall say to him, ‘By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 15 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed 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 males that open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ 16 It shall be as a sign on your hand and as frontlets between your eyes, for by strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

      1–2 13 GOD spoke to Moses, saying, “Consecrate every firstborn to me—the first one to come from the womb among the Israelites, whether person or animal, is mine.”

      3 Moses said to the people, “Always remember this day. This is the day when you came out of Egypt from a house of slavery. GOD brought you out of here with a powerful hand. Don’t eat any raised bread.

      4–5 “You are leaving in the spring month of Abib. When GOD brings you into the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, which he promised to your fathers to give you, a land lavish with milk and honey, you are to observe this service during this month:

      6 “You are to eat unraised bread for seven days; on the seventh day there is a festival celebration to GOD.

      7 “Only unraised bread is to be eaten for seven days. There is not to be a trace of anything fermented—no yeast anywhere.

      8 “Tell your child on that day: ‘This is because of what GOD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’

      9–10 “The day of observance will be like a sign on your hand, a memorial between your eyes, and the teaching of GOD in your mouth. It was with a powerful hand that GOD brought you out of Egypt. Follow these instructions at the set time, year after year after year.

      11–13 “When GOD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he promised you and your fathers, and turns it over to you, you are to set aside the first birth out of every womb to GOD. Every first birth from your livestock belongs to GOD. You can redeem every first birth of a donkey if you want to by substituting a lamb; if you decide not to redeem it, you must break its neck.

      13–16 “Redeem every firstborn child among your sons. When the time comes and your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you tell him, ‘GOD brought us out of Egypt, out of a house of slavery, with a powerful hand. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, GOD killed every firstborn in Egypt, the firstborn of both humans and animals. That’s why I make a sacrifice for every first male birth from the womb to GOD and redeem every firstborn son.’ The observance functions like a sign on your hands or a symbol on the middle of your forehead: GOD brought us out of Egypt with a powerful hand.”

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

13 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine. 3 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. 4 This day came ye out in the month Abib. 5 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. 6 Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the LORD. 7 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. 8 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. 9 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. 10 Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year. 11 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, 12 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. 13 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. 14 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: 15 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. 16 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.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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