SynopsisIn the last chapter, we read about the Israelites starting to leave Egypt. They had “plundered” the Egyptians (the word used in 12:36), by asking them for articles of silver and gold and for clothing.
But they’re not out of the country yet. And in this passage, God has them stop, and “consecrate” their first-born to Him. We may not be familiar with the word consecrate, these days, so I looked it up in a Bible dictionary:
the devoting or setting apart of anything to the worship or service of God. The race of Abraham and the tribe of Levi were thus consecrated (Ex. 13:2, 12, 15; Num. 3:12). The Hebrews devoted their fields and cattle, and sometimes the spoils of war, to the Lord (Lev. 27:28, 29). According to the Mosaic law the first-born both of man and beast were consecrated to God.
In the New Testament, Christians are regarded as consecrated to the Lord (1 Pet. 2:9).
From Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary, as displayed in Bible Gateway (links to Bible references added by serna)
For some types of animals, they consecrated the first-born by sacrificing it. For other types of animals—humans, for instance—they consecrated by sacrificing another animal on the first-born’s behalf.
And this was to be a regular occurrence, from that time forward:
“After the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as he promised on oath to you and your forefathers, you are to give over to the LORD the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the LORD. Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.
“In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed every firstborn in Egypt, both man and animal. This is why I sacrifice to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the LORD brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”
(This was Moses speaking.)
ThoughtsThere is a good chance, at this point, that the Israelites might have been questioning God’s timing—they’re not even out of the country yet, and He wants them to stop and offer sacrifices?!? But, as we’ve been seeing for chapter after chapter, in the book of Exodus, the point of the whole thing was to illustrate aspects of God’s character. It was He who saved the Hebrews from their slavery in Egypt, and they had to trust that He knew what He was doing—or, at the very least, could keep them safe while they offered their sacrifices.
Once again, the “consecration” of all of the Israelites’ first-born points ahead to Jesus’ death on the cross. As was pointed out in the definition of “consecrated”, in 1 Peter 2:9 it says that all Christians are consecrated to God—because Jesus, His first-born, was sacrificed on our behalf.
Are the Hebrews now home free? Will the Israelites live happily ever after? Well, in the next passage, they’ll be getting to the Red Sea. We’ll see how they handle that; it might give us an idea how the rest of the history of the Hebrews will look…