The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday is from the second book of the Torah, Exodus. The text is Exodus 13:1-3,11-15 which follows the account of the Passover and precedes the account of the Red Sea crossing. There are many themes and motifs within the context of chapters 12-14, but chapter 13 focuses strongly on the consecration, the setting aside and the redemption of the first-born. This is a very important ritual which we still see practiced in the New Testament Gospels, but why?
In many ways, it sets itself up as a nice tidy sermon outline. The consecration/dedication of the first-born points immediately back to what has just taken place and then points forward to that which is yet to come—the fulfillment of the Covenant. First, it points back to the LORD’s deliverance of Israel from the land of Egypt. Following the first nine plagues is the tenth and most important—the slaying of the first-born. The Angel of Death passes over the land of Egypt and all the first-born of man and animal perish… unless the blood of the lamb is on their doorway. The church has long understood the blood of the lamb as pointing to Christ the Lamb of God who deliverers from sin and death. However, the language of “first-born” is also important. The deliverance from Egypt and the salvation of the first-born of Israel accomplished by this “Passover”—a deliverance out of the land of slavery—is important for the people to remember. It points them to the Lamb of God who is the first-born/only begotten One who delivers His people from slavery to sin and death with His precious blood. Note the reversal in Christ: From the first-born being redeemed, to the First-born who redeems.
Also, ripe for preaching is the theme of deliverance. The LORD God delivers His people, Israel out of the Land of Egypt, the evil land of slavery, and He delivers them into the promised land of the Covenant, the Land of Canaan. Later, the courts of heaven are referred to as the Promised Land into which we are delivered by the blood of the Lamb as well.
Both of these themes, first-born and deliverance, point forward to Christ and His work on behalf of the world. The people of Israel are given the mandate to consecrate the first-born expressly because of this. As they observe this ritual vs. 14 says, “and when in time to come your sons asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say…” this will provide an opportunity to point to all the LORD has done for them and why it means something both looking back and looking ahead to the birth of the Christ child. After all, all of the redeeming in God’s Word ultimately points to the first-born, only Begotten, who redeems the world.
13:1 וַיְדַבֵּר (vay-dab-Ber) root: דבר (daw-bar) Piel: “to say; to speak; Literally: and He spoke”
13:2 קַדֶּשׁ (kad-desh) Piel imperative: “to be holy; to make holy; to consecrate”
פֶּטֶר (Pe-ter) “first-born; that which first opens the womb”
רֶחֶם< (re-chem) “womb”
13:3 זָכוֹר (za-Chor) Qal imperative: “to remember”
יְצָאתֶם (ye-tza-Tem) root: יצא (yaw-tsaw) Qal “to go out; Literally: you went out”
בְּחֹזֶק (be-Cho-zek) from: חֹזק (kho-zek) “by strength; strong; force”
חָמֵץ (cha-Metz) “leavened bread”
13:11 וְהָיָה כִּי-יְבִאֲךָ יְהוָה ()(((ve-ha-Yah ki ye-vi-a-Cha Yah-weh) Literally: “and it will be that the LORD will bring you” “when the LORD brings you” The idea is the Israelites should remember the day they were brought out of Egypt and prepare to remember the day when they will be brought into Canaan. Both are promises kept and the “remember” זכר (zaw-kar) frequently connects the people back to the covenant.
13:12 וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ (ve-ha-a-var-Ta) root: עבר (aw-bar) Hiphil imperative: “to remove; to cause to be set apart; set apart; to take across; Literally: Then you shall set apart”
שֶׁגֶר (She-ger) “offspring; animal young; litter” Literally: “that which is dropped”
הַזְּכָרִים (haz-ze-cha-Rim) from: זכר (zaw-kawr) “man; male person; male”
13:13 חֲמֹר (cha-Mor) “ass; donkey”
תִּפְדֶּה (tif-Deh) root: פדה (paw-daw) Qal: “to ransom; buy back; buy out; Literally: you shall redeem”
בְשֶׂה. (ve-Seh) from: שֶׂה (seh) “small animal (livestock); one of a flock; sheep; goat”
וַעֲרַפְתּוֹ (va-a-raf-To) root: ערף (aw-raf) Qal: “to break the neck of; Literally: then you shall break its neck”
13:14 מָחָר (ma-Char) “in the future; in the time to come”
מַה-זֹּאת; (mah Zot) Literally: “what is this (thing)?” Lutheran translation: “What does this mean?”
הוֹצִיאָנוּ (ho-tzi-A-nu) root: יצא (yaw-tsaw) Hiphil: “to bring out; to cause to be brought out; to expel; Literally: He brought us” Note that the causing agent is the LORD.
13:15 הִקְשָׁה (hik-Shah) root: קשׁה (kaw-shaw) Hiphil: “to harden; to make difficult; to stubbornly refuse”
לְשַׁלְּחֵנוּ. (le-shal-le-che-Nu) root: שׁלח (shaw-lakh) Piel infinitive: “to send away; to dismiss; to let go; Literally: about letting us go”
זֹבֵחַ (zo-Ve-ach) “to sacrifice”
As the text points back to the deliverance from the land of Egypt and their slavery, it also points forward to when the LORD will bring them into the Promised Land of Canaan and shows the “now and not yet” aspect of Israel’s faith. It is the same for us in many ways. The people of Israel, having been rescued and redeemed, now look forward to the Promised Land, but even more to the Coming One who rescues and redeems, the Lamb of God. We, the Church, having been rescued and redeemed by the One (first-born of God) who has come and by His blood saved us from sin and death, look forward to His return and our entrance into the Promised Land of everlasting life.
Lectionary at Lunch-Various resources to help you preach through Exodus 13:1-3, 11-15 from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO.
Help Me Teach the Bible: Kevin DeYoung on Exodus-Audio series on teaching Exodus from Kevin DeYoung a The Gospel Coalition.