Chapter 13

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YHWH decreed that all the firstborn of the Israelites, both man and domestic animal, belonged to him and should be dedicated or sanctified to him. This was because the firstborn of the Israelites had been spared at the time the firstborn of the Egyptians perished. (13:1, 2)

The day the Israelites were delivered from Egyptian enslavement was one they should remember. Upon being settled in the land that YHWH, on oath, had promised to their forefathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) to give to their descendants, they were to observe parts of the month of Abib or Nisan (mid-March to mid-April, the month during which their deliverance had occurred). They would then be enjoying the land formerly in possession of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Chananites, Chettites, Euites, Gergesites, Amorrites, Pherezites, and Iebousites [LXX]) as their land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Their cows and goats would be supplying the Israelites with much milk, and they would have an abundance of honey from wild bees and from fruits in the form of juice or syrup. (13:3-5)

During seven days of the month of Abib (Nisan), the Israelites were to eat unleavened bread. The seventh day was to be observed as a festival to YHWH, and during the entire seven-day period no leaven was to be found anywhere in their homes throughout their territory. To keep the memory alive about the significance of the seven-day observance, the Israelites were to tell their sons about what YHWH had done for them when they came out of Egypt. (13:6-8)

To indicate that the memory of what happened should never be allowed to fade, the Israelites were to consider this as if it was an actual sign or mark on their hand, a mark that would always be before them in all their activity. It was to be a “memorial between [their] eyes” or, according to the Septuagint, a “memorial before [their] eyes [or in full view before them].” The Hebrew expression a “memorial between your eyes” could be understood to mean that what YHWH had done for them was to be like a permanent mark on their foreheads. It was a historical development that should have been firmly fixed in their memory. (13:9)

With the deliverance that YHWH brought about with his “mighty hand” or power being part of their permanent memory, the Israelites would have it as the “law [or teaching] of YHWH in [their] mouth.” They would be able to use their mouths to explain to their offspring the significance of the observance of the Passover and why the seven-day period that followed was one during which no leaven was to be in their homes. From year to year, they were to commemorate the deliverance of their ancestors from Egypt. This included remembering the events associated with the first Passover on Abib (Nisan) 14 — the death of the Egyptian firstborn and preservation of the Israelite firstborn. In obedience to the word of YHWH, their ancestors had eaten the roasted one-year-old lamb or goat along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Also as commanded, they had put some of the blood of the animal on the two doorposts and lintels of their houses . This was the required sign for them to have their firstborn spared from death. When their ancestors left Egypt they had no time to bake bread for the journey but took the available unleavened dough in their bowls. Therefore, the seven-day period that followed Passover served as a reminder that the Israelites ate unleavened bread following their exodus from Egypt. (13:9, 10)

Upon being settled in the land YHWH had promised to give them, the Israelites were to set apart their firstborn sons and the firstlings of their domestic animals as belonging to him. The firstborn males of cattle, sheep, and goats were to be offered as sacrifices. A firstborn of a donkey (an unclean animal and one not acceptable for sacrifice) was to be redeemed with a sheep, which would then be offered as a sacrifice. If a firstborn donkey was not redeemed, the neck of the animal was to be broken. This may have served to deter any Israelite from failing to redeem a firstborn male donkey, for he would have lost the animal as a potential valuable beast of burden. The firstborn sons were to be redeemed by making a payment of five silver shekels at the tabernacle and later at the temple. (13:11-13; Numbers 18:15, 16; see the Notes section.)

If, in later times, a son asked his father about the significance of the redemption of the firstborn, the father was to explain that it was because YHWH, with a “mighty hand” or his great power, had delivered their ancestors from enslavement in Egypt. To force stubborn Pharaoh to free the people, YHWH had struck down every firstborn, the firstborn of both man and beast, among the Egyptians. Therefore, because the firstborn of the Israelite ancestors were spared, their descendants sacrificed to YHWH the first animals to proceed from the wombs of the animals in their herds and their flocks and redeemed their firstborn sons. (13:14, 15)

For the Israelites to carry out the divine command respecting the firstborn was to be like a sign or mark on their hand and a frontlet or symbol “between [their] eyes” or on their forehead (“unmovable before [their] eyes” [LXX]). They were not to forget what their ancestors had experienced in Egypt. In all their activity and on whatever they focused their eyes, the Israelites were to remember YHWH’s law, including the commands regarding the redemption of the firstborn and its significance. (13:16)

The most direct route to the land of Canaan would have been through the territory of the Philistines. YHWH, however, did not lead his people through that territory. This was so that they would not almost immediately after their departure from Egypt have found themselves fighting the Philistines, and warfare could have led them to regret ever having left Egypt and could have made them desire to return there to enjoy peace. Therefore, God led them by “way of the wilderness” toward the Sea of Reeds (yam-suph) or the Red Sea (LXX). This may have been the western arm of the Red Sea, which is now known as the Gulf of Suez. According to the Septuagint, the people departed from Egypt in the “fifth generation,” apparently the fifth generation after Jacob arrived in Egypt with his household. (13:17, 18; see the Notes section.)

Although the Israelites did not have to fight soon after departing from Egypt, the men did leave as persons prepared for battle. They did, however, have to fight against the Amalekites years before they entered the land of Canaan. (13:18; 17:8-16; Deuteronomy 25:17-19)

In expression of his faith in God’s promise that the descendants of his father Jacob would become permanent residents in the land of Canaan, Joseph solemnly enjoined his brothers to carry his bones out of Egypt when God visited them or turned his attention to them. Accordingly, Moses complied with that request. In this way, whenever the Israelites showed a lack of faith, the bones of Joseph continued to be a tangible evidence of his faith in YHWH’s promise and should have reproved their faithlessness. (13:19)

At this point, the Exodus account indicates where the Israelites encamped after they left Succoth. The place of encampment was at “Etham [Othom (LXX)], on the edge of the wilderness.” It is not possible to be definite in linking Etham to any specific known site. (13:20)

The manner in which YHWH led his people through the wilderness is described as having been by means of a pillar or column of cloud by day and a pillar or column of fire at night. Apparently the pillar appeared like a column of fire that provided illumination during the night. This made it possible for the Israelites to travel not just during the day but also during the night. The column itself was always present with the Israelites. (13:21, 22)


In verse 13, the Septuagint says that, if a firstborn donkey was not exchanged with a sheep, the donkey was to be redeemed. There is no explanation of how the donkey should be redeemed. Possibly the translator, in the time he lived, understood the redemption price to have been a stipulated amount of money and chose to translate the Hebrew text according to what had become the practice outside the land of Israel in much later centuries.

The Hebrew expression yam-suph (Sea of Reeds) has given rise to the view that the Israelites did not cross the Red Sea or its western arm. Those who have adopted this view believe that the Israelites crossed the swampy Bitter Lakes region. This region, however, does not fit the biblical narrative that the waters of the sea covered Pharaoh’s entire military host. (13:18; 14:28)