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Exodus 12:37 - 14:20

Frank Binford Hole


The latter part of Exodus 12, and the whole of Exodus 13, are occupied with two things. First, certain historical details concerning the actual departure of the people from Egypt. Second, the record of certain instructions, conveyed to them from God by Moses.

Verses 37-39, show us how greatly God had multiplied the people under the afflictions of Egypt. They went out about 600,000 men, whereas when Jacob went down there the number mentioned in Genesis 46: 27 is 70. They went out complete with children, flocks and herds, as verse 38 records, but also with "a mixed multitude," who presently became a source of weakness and trouble. This is a very significant statement and worthy of note.

We do not find such a thought as God having a people of His own until we come to the children of Israel in Egypt. How striking then that as soon as God takes a people for His own and calls them out of bondage to be for Himself, there should be the intermingling of a foreign element, which helped to develop the corruption innate in the people themselves. Thus it was with Israel, and thus it has been in the history of the church.

Verses 40-42 show us the exactitude with which God keeps to His own appointed time. He had mentioned 400 years to Abraham, as we see in Genesis 15: 13. We are not told the exact point from which the calculation of the 430 years starts, but on the very day it ended the people went out of Egypt, and they are designated, "the hosts of the Lord," though to all appearance they were but a large collection of liberated slaves. That night of their deliverance they were never to forget. That it was the "self-same day" of the Divine purpose is again affirmed in verse 51.

We have, in the intervening verses, further instructions from the Lord as to the observance of the Passover. It was to be what we may call a household feast, for all outside Israelite households were excluded from it. The hired servant, who might at short notice quit his job, was not regarded as of the household, whereas the bondman, who had sold himself for money, according to the regulations of Exodus 21: 1-6, was considered as belonging to it, under one stringent condition, that he was circumcised.

This feast was for all Israel and none could excuse themselves from it. All were to join in this observance which kept alive the memory of the great deliverance from Egypt, while at the same time it had a prophetic value, as pointing forward to the death of Christ. This is apparent to us though in all probability the children of Israel did not know it. In the same way the intention of the Lord in instituting His supper is that all His saints should observe it; the memorial of His death on the one hand, while pointing forward to His coming on the other.

But whether the native Israelite or the servant bought with money or the stranger, all must be circumcised. This outward rite—a cutting around and off of man's flesh— pointed on to that which was effected in the death of Christ, as is shown in Colossians 2: 11. In this verse the words "of the sins," have very little manuscript authority. It should read, "putting off the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of the Christ" (New Trans.) As Christians we are to recognize that we have put off the flesh in its totality in the death of Christ. We are "circumcised" in His "circumcision;" that is, His death.

The rite was one which only applied to the males among the people. They had to suffer the pain and inconvenience of it, the female was regarded as circumcised in the male. In this respect also the type is a fitting one, for all the suffering entailed fell upon Christ and we are circumcised in Him. Now that the type has been fulfilled in His death, those who would merely enforce the outward rite are dismissed as the "concision," which means a mere cutting down, a lopping off, and not a complete removal. The true circumcision today are those who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh as said in Philippians 3: 2, 3. Such treat the flesh as condemned, and hence are not merely trying to lop off its more objectionable habits.

Exodus 13 opens with another very important matter. In the previous chapter the firstborn had been sheltered by the blood of the lamb. They are now formally claimed by God as belonging to Him. "They are Mine," is the word, and hence Moses was to "sanctify" them; that is, set them apart for God's special pleasure and service. If we turn to Numbers 3: 40-45, we find this confirmed, but that the Levites were taken in substitution for the firstborn to do that service. This is the first mention in Scripture of sanctification as applied to persons. The previous use was in Genesis 2, when God sanctified, or set apart, the seventh day of creation. Both scriptures help to show the simple meaning of "sanctification"—"to set apart for God." It is because we are thus sanctified that practical sanctification is incumbent upon us. We have not been sheltered from judgment by the blood of Christ to set us free to please ourselves but to be for Him.

Verses 3-10 made clear to Israel that the feast of Unleavened Bread was not something to be observed just as they came out of Egypt, and then to be dismissed as done with; It was for all time, as a memorial of the great deliverance. If we had only the record in the three Gospels of the institution of the Lord's Supper, it might be thought that the bearing of that did not extend beyond the night in which He was betrayed. But the fourth record, in 1 Corinthians 11, settles the point. It is to be observed, "till He come." Israel was to "keep this ordinance in his season from year to year." We observe the Lord's Supper from Lord's Day to Lord's Day.

Verses 11-16, present another commandment to be observed in Israel, as a further reminder of how God delivered them from Egypt. All the firstborn in Israel, whether of man or beast, were to be regarded as the Lord's. That the firstborn of Israel should be linked together with the firstling of a donkey is a humbling thing, but thus it is in verse 13. The firstborn of man must be redeemed. The firstling of an ass might not be, and in that case it suffered death itself. If redeemed, it was by the death of a lamb in its room and stead, just as the firstborn were redeemed in Exodus 12. Thus again do we have presented to us that redemption is made effective on a substitutionary basis.

From verse 17 we learn that the Philistines were already settled in the coastal plain of Palestine, and that they were a warlike race. Now for the pilgrim people of God war is inevitable, but God in His compassion did not mean Israel to be faced with it within a few days of their deliverance. Hence what looked like the short and easy cut to Canaan was avoided and the longer route by the Red Sea was ordered of God. There was therefore a good reason for the longer and more difficult route, just as there are good reasons for difficult passages in the lives of saints today. Though the more difficult road had to be taken, they went under authority. Translators, it appears have some difficulty as to the exact meaning of the word translated "harnessed," but in a general way it surely indicates that they went forth in good order as a host and not as a disorderly rabble.

We see from verse 19 how observant Moses was of the dying charge of Joseph, though uttered long before Moses was born. In this charge, as Hebrews 11 shows, the faith of Joseph expressed itself, for he knew it would be better for his bones to rest in the land in which Messiah's glory should shine than lie entombed in the elaborate and costly sepulchres of Egypt. God did not permit the desires of his faith to be overlooked.

The closing verses of the chapter record how God put before His people the visible symbol of His presence. He became their Leader in this striking way and in spite of all their subsequent failure and faithlessness did not forsake them. In the pillar of cloud He was their guide by day. In the pillar of fire He was their light by night. And what He was, He was always. What they had in this visible way we have in His word today and in the presence of His Holy Spirit.

Exodus 14 opens with definite direction being given through Moses as to the first movement they were to make. There was nothing haphazard about this, though it led them into what seemed an impossible position. God knew exactly what Pharaoh's reaction to this move would be. Panic-stricken he had let the people go, but he was just the same Pharaoh. His heart was quite unchanged and the hour had now come for his destruction. When God hardens a man's heart his doom is fixed, and God would be honoured in the judgment of him and his hosts.

Thus it turned out in the event. The move they made, as Divinely directed, appeared to the warlike eye of Pharaoh as a colossal military mistake. They were entangled in the land, with the sea before them and the wilderness on either flank It was so apparent that Pharaoh could not resist the temptation to have his last revenge upon them So collecting the very flower of his formidable army, he planted his forces behind them; the obvious thing to do from a military standpoint. The children of Israel were now hemmed in by death on every side—death by drowning in front; death by wilderness starvation on the right hand and on the left; death by the sword of Pharaoh behind.

This the people saw quite clearly They cried out to the Lord, which was right. But they also cried out against Moses, which betrayed their lack of faith. Modern discoveries of the many graves of Egypt and their treasures enable us to appreciate the sarcastic sting in their words, "Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?" A few days before, "the people bowed the head and worshipped" (Exodus 12: 27). How different now! Immediately danger appears they betray their lack of faith and claim that they had asked to be let alone to serve the Egyptians. Here at once we see the germ of that unbelief which eventually led to their carcases falling in the wilderness. They did die in the wilderness, not because Moses or God failed them, but "because of unbelief" (Heb. 3: 19).

Their words were a cutting blow to Moses, but his answer to them is very fine. No recrimination, but rather a word of calm faith, calculated to still their panic and assure their hearts. The people put their unbelief between themselves and the Egyptians, whereas he saw the Lord between them, and about to act on their behalf. It was not theirs to act, but to see the salvation of the Lord as He acted on their behalf.

While Moses displayed this calm faith that may well fill us with admiration, he yet made a mistake. He bade the people to "stand still," whereas when he cried to the Lord the command was that they "go forward," and he was to act on behalf of the Lord. Their going forward was to be an act of faith by which they would appropriate the remarkable salvation that God was about to effect. If they had remained stationary, the dividing of the sea would not have delivered them.

Can we not see a striking type here? The great salvation which is ours is not something that we accomplish, but it is something that we appropriate in faith, and we are warned against neglecting it. By His death and resurrection Christ has wrought salvation on our behalf, and we have no hand in it. But this does not shut us up to that species of fatalism which would say that there is nothing we can do about it, and that, if we are to be saved, we shall be without any move on our part; and that if we are not going to be saved, that is final and nothing we can do will alter it. Truly only Christ can accomplish the work but it is ours to go forward in faith and receive for ourselves the benefit of what He has done. Let us endeavour to hold evenly the balance between these two sides of Gospel truth.

Moses was to act, lifting up his rod over the sea, when the Lord would carve a way through it for His people. That way would be salvation to Israel but destruction to proud Pharaoh and his host, and that in such signal fashion as to be remembered through many generations. We see in type that a way of life was to be made through the waters of death.

Verses 19 and 20 record what we may venture to call the decisive move in this tremendous drama. The Angel of God in the pillar of cloud removed from the van of the Israelites and planted Himself between them and the pursuing Egyptians. The Angel was about to walk with them through the waters of death, but He would do so as covering their rear with the cloud of His presence. Whatever was now about to happen, no Egyptian would be able to strike a single Israelite unless he could pierce through the cloud. Before he could touch any of those who were escaping from slavery he would have to overcome God Almighty!

Was not this move then the most decisive of the whole remarkable series? It happily illustrates the great word that the Apostle wrote in Romans 8: 31, "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?" Yes, indeed! Who can be? Let us never lose the sense of the security and the triumph of this wonderful fact.

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