Concerning the feast of unleavened bread. — V.1. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, v.2. Sanctify unto Me all the first-born, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast; it is Mine. This is not said of the general sanctification of the people as God’s own nation, but of the consecrating, of the setting apart, of the first-born, both of men and of animals, for the specific service of Jehovah. They were the Lord’s not only by virtue of creation, but because He spared them in the great slaughter in Egypt. The first-born sons were to serve the Lord as priests, until this right was vested in the descendants of Levi, when they were obliged to redeem themselves by payment of a sacrifice of exemption; the first-born beasts were to be sacrificed to the Lord. V.3. And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage. The Lord here repeats His ordinance respecting the Feast of Unleavened Bread with impressive solemnity, His name for Egypt being “house of slaves”; for that was the relation in which they had stood to Pharaoh and to all the Egyptians, that of practical slavery. For by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place. The expression is more emphatic than the usual “by a strong hand.” There shall no leavened bread be eaten, not only during the present days, but also at every anniversary of the occasion. V.4. This day came ye out, in the month Abib, the fifteenth day of the first month of the church-year. V.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. Thus the Lord formally instituted the Feast of Unleavened Bread, with the usual detailed description of the Land of Promise and the corresponding reference to the fruitfulness of this country. V.6. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the Lord. Cp. chap. 12,16. on the seventh day there was to be a special assembly for the purpose of worship. V.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. All foods in whose preparation leaven was used were prohibited so strictly that their very presence in the house was not tolerated. V.8. And thou shalt show 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. The use of the singular here places the duty upon every individual father and parent, for the children were not only to take part in the public services, but also to be instructed at home concerning the great miracles of the Lord. V.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. These are proverbial expressions denoting that the Israelites should keep the facts of their deliverance in their memories always, as the people of many nations wore bracelets and frontlets to remind them of certain religious duties. The redemption of the Lord and His ordinance concerning it was to be accepted with believing hearts and to be fulfilled with faithful hearts, with hearts conscious of the debt of gratitude which all Israelites owed to the Lord. V.10. Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year, as often as these days recurred. Thus we Christians are ever mindful of the fact that we have been delivered from sin’s and Satan’s house of slavery through the redemption of Jesus, and that our debt of gratitude toward Him demands our purging out the old leaven of sinfulness and consecrating our lives to Him.
Concerning the first-born. — V.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, the Lord here laying special stress upon His faithfulness, which causes Him to keep the promises of His goodness always, v.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. The female children and the female young were not included in this order, but the male first-born, both of man and beast, was to be offered and consecrated to the Lord. Cp. chap. 22, 29. 30; Deut. 15, 21. V.13. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb, clean beasts were to be substituted for the unclean; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck, for the unredeemed animal might not be kept; and all the first-born of man among thy children shalt thou redeem. The Lord later provided special regulations for the redemption of the first-born sons by means of a certain sum of money, Num. 3, 46. 47; 18, 15. 16. V.14. And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, at some time in the future, 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; v.15. and it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man and the first-born of beast; therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the first-born of my children I redeem. The fathers of Israel are here represented as speaking collectively and as giving individual instruction to their sons, for the Lord did not want a mechanical observation of customs that were no longer understood. V.16. And it shall be for a token upon thine hand and for frontlets between thine eyes, they were to keep these facts in remembrance constantly; for by strength of hand the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt. It is well-pleasing to the Lord if His children at all times keep in mind the great acts of deliverance wrought by Him.
The first stage of the journey. — V.17. And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, had dismissed them and sent them out of the country, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near, which would have been the shortest, the most direct route; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt. The Israelites, disheartened and weakened by a life of servitude, were at that time in no condition to cope with the warlike Philistines. V.18. But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea, by the southeastern route, through the desert; and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt, they did not go in irregular troops, like fugitives, but in marching order, a provision which kept their forces together and made supervision easy. V.19. And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him; for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you in mercy; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you. Gen. 50, 25. This last order of Joseph had been transmitted from generation to generation, and the vow was now remembered in all its earnestness. V.20. And they took their journey from Succoth, apparently nothing more than an encampment on the boundary of the desert toward Philistia, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness. Instead of continuing toward the east, they turned southward, along the western shore of the Bitter Lakes, Etham being located at their southwestern end. V.21. And the Lord, Jehovah, the Son of God, 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. V.22. He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night from before the people. Thus the Lord, in a miraculous manner, gave evidence of His presence to the children of Israel and guided them on their long journey. In the same way the Lord is present in His Church at all times in the means of grace, leading His children on the right path and protecting them against all enemies.