The people of God have been released and as we see in this period of the book of Exodus that this event will be one of the biggest principles that is to be remembered. A story to be able to tell their children and grandchildren. As we have seen in the sings and wonders of God’s power, punishment, preservation and his purpose. We see this culmination in the final blow that stuck the first born of the people of Egypt. We often think that the story of Exodus ends here or at the other side of the Red Sea. We think of the story of Exodus merely as God saving his people from slavery. Why then do we have the additional chapters in the book of Exodus? Why do we need to continue to read. Because that is the start of the story, not the end. Or even more correctly, this is a chapter in their story that has gone back to the Garden of Eden and will extend to the City in Heaven. As we think of the people leaving Egypt we need to notice that they are driven to consider their future, generations that will proceed them. They are given instructions of what sets them apart from other nations, what will this covenant community do. Last time we saw the covenant community is separate (not everyone is included) but we also saw the covenant inclusion (no is excluded from joining) and finally we saw the covenant regulation, of how they were to celebrate through the shadow of the Passover lamb. This week we continue to look at this section and see the instructions given to the people of God through the feast of unleavened bread and the consecration of the first born. We will continue to see that this is not merely a story of the people of Israel but the story of believers as these promises are fulfilled in Christ
From verse 41-42 (cf 51) to verse one we need to notice a big shift in the story. They have been released from Pharaoh’s servitude after 430 years of being slaves to Pharaoh building his houses and his kingdom. Now after been set free from this slavery, they now belong to God. You see this clearly in these opening verses where God says “consecrate to me.” Or the end of verse 2 that “whatever if first… is mine.” Now this might seem harsh as we often want individual freedom and autonomy not to serve others. God has saved his people to be his people. They are to be set apart (as we saw last week in the covenant separation). As you remember a key theme in the first portion of the book of Exodus was on the Sons of Israel and pharaoh seeking to destroy Israel’s sons. Here God commands his people to set apart the firstborn, the ones who were saved when the angel of death Passover their door posts. They belong to the Lord. Again, this seems harsh, barley 24 hours have passed and now they have to serve another. God is not like Pharaoh, Pharaoh ruled harshly and was bitter to them, yet God is gracious and merciful filled with goodness. We will see this as we continue to walk through the book of Exodus. We do need to note that God’s saved them to be their God and they his people. God’s people will not be free to do what they want; they are a people God has called out and separated.
This is Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 when he explains that “You are not your own, You were bought with a price.” Christ purchased his people with his own blood (Acts 20:28; Heb 9:12, 14). Israel has been chosen by God to be a nation and people who will show forth his glory and bring forth the types and shadows which are fulfilled in Christ. Christians are not only set free from the bondage of sin but also are set apart for God’s purposes. This is what the word “saints” can mean as those who are set apart and holy. God would tell the people of God later in the Law that they are to be Holy as he is Holy. The Apostle Peter after quoting that same verse said, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet 1:18–19).
We see that God sets the people apart but also gives them instructions on how they are to celebrate his promises through the meal of Passover (saw this last week) but also the feat of Unleavened bread. We have spent a bit of time reviewing this feast in Exodus 12:14-28. The feast, which was to be celebrated annually, alongside the Passover meal. The significance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was there as festival of remembrance. Highlighting the human tendency to forget and the need for regular reminders of God’s actions and grace. The feast symbolizes freedom and serves as a time for reflection on God’s deliverance. The removal of leaven is linked to a spiritual cleansing, with leaven often symbolizing sin. The text connects this Old Testament practice to the New Testament, particularly in Paul’s writings, where the feast is seen as a shadow pointing to Christ. The importance of church discipline in addressing sin is discussed, along with the personal responsibility to confront and eliminate sin in one’s life. We can see why these two aspects are placed together, that they both show that they were once slaves but now they belong to God.
The truth is that we are more like the cupbearer in the story of Joseph. Remember him, he was spared after Joseph interpreted his dream and Joseph told him to remember him, but he forgot. How can you forget someone who had a great impact in your life, well the cup bearer did, until long after the fact. The people of God are the same way, they will be quick to forget what God had done, they will be quick to embellish their life in Egypt. God knows our frame and he has given to us reminders for us to remember that we did not save ourselves but he saved us, he bought us out of slavery and he has set us apart for his service. We forget so God gave us a day when we can rest and remember. We can hear of the good news every week, twice on that day, morning and evening. He has given us a meal of remembrance where we, feed on Christ in faith. He has told us to tell others and remind others of this great news. John Stott said, “By the grace of God we must determine to remember what once we were and never to return to it; to remember what God has made us and to conform our lives to it.” They were to remember by celebrating the feast of unleavened bread, but also through having it before their eyes, and hands. How do we seek to be able to remember what God has done for us?
One of the ways that we are to remember is to be able to teach and instruct our children. You see this in both the festival of unleavened bread (vs 8) and also when the first born is consecrated (vs14-15). We see the Bible often shows us children asking questions and the parent responding to them. This is one of the foundations of why the church practiced catechistic instruction.
Catechistic instruction refers to a method of teaching that involves the use of a catechism, which is a structured set of questions and answers designed to instruct individuals, particularly in matters of religious faith and doctrine. The series of questions are asked and the child responds with an answer. Although this practice has fallen to the wayside, it is still very important for parents to be able to spend time with their children and help them grow in this area. Although many of us might not be able to recite a whole catechism, I am sure many of us would be able to answer some questions, such as “What is the Chief end of Man?” (WSC 1) Or “What is your only comfort in life and death?” (HC 1).
The catechism is the method which is used but under this is a very important principle that flows throughout the scripture and that is that parents and adults need to teach and pass on teaching to the next generation. The covenant community is one that looks past itself and hopes in the future. The covenant community understands that people will come and go, but God’s promises remain. That the children who are in our pews today will be leading the church tomorrow. We somewhat expect our children to use the family recipe, but all we do is hand down the cookbook, we never cook or bake with them, we never enjoy the meal with them. Now I think sometimes we struggle with this is because we run on empty, we do not know or understand. Notice in the response to the child how personal it is, in verse 8, “It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.” We often sit our children down and explain how Jesus can save sinners, but often our children don’t hear us say that Jesus saved me, a sinner. Jesus is my Lord and my savior. I often am guilty of this, I seek to pass down intellectual knowledge, but Jesus didn’t say, “Let the little children come to correct doctrine, or intellectual knowledge, but Let the little children come to me.” Let us pray that first we would go to Christ, like children, dependent upon him for our salvation but also let us teach our children of our marvelous God who with an outstretched arm saved his people and set them apart.
Spurgeon explained that the practice of covenant catechism has a grand effect, even if not seen immediately, “Even if the youngsters do not understand all the questions and answers in the [Catechism] yet, abiding in their memories, it will be of infinite service when the time of understanding comes, to have those very excellent, wise, and judicious definitions of the things of God. If we would maintain orthodoxy in our midst, and see good old Calvinistic doctrines handed down from father to son, I think we must use the method of catechizing, and endeavor with all our might to impregnate their minds with the things of God.”
Finally, we see the practice of covenant redemption. The Lord told Moses in verse two that he was to consecrate all the first born to God. We see how this is to happen. That the firstborn of the womb was to be set apart as God’s. The principle is simple that the firstborn of animal or woman belonged to God, but it might be redeemed by the blood. For animals the firstborn was to be sacrificed to God. The Unclean animals such as a donkey has a substitute (the lamb) to redeem it back. If they do not want to substitute a lamb, for example the donkey is blemished, then they would break its neck (vs 13). Even the first born of every family must be redeemed. The principle follows something like this. God saved the life of the firstborn, now the first born belongs to God. The family may redeem the firstborn by making a sacrifice in their place.
Dr. Currid explains the cultural meaning and significance of this practice in light of the pagan practices in the surrounding regions, “The verb ‘to pass over’ is also a commentary on pagan child sacrifice. Pagans of the ancient Near East would take a child and pass him over/through the fire as a form of devotion and sacrifice (Deut. 18:10; 2 Kings 16:3). Yahweh does not require such barbarism. He wants the first-born set apart and devoted to his service. Thus the Israelites are not to pass over their first-born in the fire, but pass them over to the Lord.” This again is a teaching moment for the children, as they ask what this means, every year, around spring when the first time mothers give birth and they are redeemed, the parent instructs the son of the great story of God redeeming his son from Egypt.
In all of this we must remember what is found several times in this passage, the first is that God has saved his people from the bondage of Pharaoh. We do not read chapter 13 of Exodus in a vacuum. God has shown his power and his might by defeating Israel’s enemies for them, and has set them free. They had cried to God (Ex 4:22-25) and God has now answered their prayers. The first step of the Covenant was God saving his people, he has done that. The second aspect that we must also see is that they are going to the promised land. They are a people who have grown numerous in number, they are a nation, but without land. God tells them a great promise in this passage that “when the Lord brings you into the land…”(Vs 5, 11). It is not if, The Lord has fulfilled his promises time and time again and we will see, (eventually) him fulfill this promise as well. We see he does bring them into the promise land, but we see the final fulfillment in the coming of Christ. That this aspect of the law (as all of it) was fulfilled by Christ for us. In the gospel of Luke, Luke explains in Luke 2:23 that Christ was presented in the temple as it is written in the law and he quotes Exodus 13:2 and 12. Christ the firstborn, has redeemed his people. God’s son was sacrificed, to redeem us, his children.