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13. Consecration of the Firstborn

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 2Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.

3And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place: there shall no leavened bread be eaten. 4This day came ye out in the month Abib.

5And it shall be when the Lord shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, that thou shalt keep this service in this month. 6Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the Lord. 7Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days; and there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee in all thy quarters.

8And thou shalt shew thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt. 9And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the Lord’S law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the Lord brought thee out of Egypt. 10Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year.

11And it shall be when the Lord shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, as he sware unto thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it thee, 12That thou shalt set apart unto the Lord all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the Lord’S. 13And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.

14And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage: 15And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem. 16And it shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt.

17And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt: 18But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt. 19And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.

20And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness. 21And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: 22He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.

2. Sanctify unto me all the first-born. This also refers to the First Commandment, because God asserts His right over the first-born, lest the recollection of their redemption should ever be lost. For thus were the Israelites admonished that they must honor that God by whose grace they had escaped in safety from the common destruction of Egypt, and, moreover, that they were rescued by His special blessing, in order that they should consecrate themselves to God their Deliverer. For the offering which He here requires, was a mark of separation between them and the heathen nations.328328     Omitted in Fr. The first-born is called the opening of the womb, because it is the beginning of generation. The expression, “among the children of Israel,” when he is speaking of brutes, as well as of their own offspring and children, is meant to distinguish the wild beasts from the tame and domestic animals. But although He commands only the first-born of the race of Abraham to be offered to Him, still this must undoubtedly be extended to the sanctification of the whole people; for whilst He says, that the first-born were His, because they especially owed their preservation to His mercy, yet for the same reason he signifies that all were His own.

3. And Moses said unto the people. He repeats what he had said more at length in the foregoing chapter, respecting the unleavened bread, not so much to instruct as to exhort them; for he had already expressed the matter with so much clearness, that there was no need of further explanation; but it was useful to stimulate them, that they might devote themselves with greater zeal to their duty, and especially lest, after a longer lapse of time, their ardor should, as usual, gradually abate. He therefore exhorts them, that after they cane into the land, they should diligently observe what he had before commanded. And from the context here, it is plain that the two commands as to the sanctifying the first-born, and celebrating the passover, had the same object, viz., that their deliverance should retain the elect people in the special service of the true God.

4. This day came ye out. He compares the day of their coming out with the whole time of their sojourning in the land of Canaan; as if he had said that they were redeemed not to enjoy a mere transient joy, but that they might be mindful of their blessing throughout all ages. He proceeds to eulogize the extent and the fertility of the land again, principally for two reasons. The first is, lest after such glorious victories pride should possess their minds, and in the abundance of their good things their eyes should be closed by fatness;the second, that by the very multitude of their possessions they might be the more incited to the duty of gratitude, and to the service of God. For it might be that the conquerors of so many nations, and the lords of so rich and extensive a territory would wax wanton, so as to be less devoted to God’s service, unless they had been reminded that they owed it to God alone that they had conquered so many peoples, and had obtained dominion over them. But Moses shews them that, in proportion to God’s goodness to them, so would they be the more inexcusable, if they did not earnestly labor to testify heir gratitude. With this object he repeats the names of the nations, by the destruction of which they were to become inheritors of the land; and then adds, “a land flowing with milk and honey,” in order to arouse them still more and more to piety by the great profusion of the blessings which would be ever before their eyes. Those are entirely mistaken who suppose that the month Abib 322322     אביב C. has copied the Hebrew in his text, writing it Abib, as a proper name; but in the V. it is translated “mensis novarum frugum,” and in S.M., “mensis maturescentis frugis.” The name for July is אב, which exists in Chaldee as a general name for the fleshy fruit of trees. David Levi says, in his Lingua Sacra, that one of their Rabbis had observed that Ab or Av is not to be found in Scripture, and that all the names of the Jewish months, as Sivan, Nisan, etc., are not Hebrew but Chaldee; for which reason we do not meet with them but in the books of Zechariah, Daniel, Ezra, and Esther, which were written during the captivity; and in these four books mention is made of seven of the months, but in the Jerusalem Targum of Esther they all follow regularly. This is also the opinion of Aben-Ezra; but adds, “we find three of the months named in Hebrew, viz., Zif, in 1 Kings 6:1; Bul, in same chapter, verse 38, and Ethanira in 8:2; which plainly shews that they had names for all the months in Hebrew; but during the captivity they adopted those of their masters.”W. is the same as Ab, which corresponds with our July. For it is evident that the Israelites came out of Egypt in the month Nisan, about the vernal equinox; of which circumstance, the keeping of Easter, handed down by tradition from our forefathers, is an unquestionable proof. Now, since the Hebrews borrowed from the Chaldeans all the names of their months, which were in use two thousand years after, it would be absurd in this place to regard Abib as a proper name, especially when, in Scripture, we nowhere find the months designated by proper names. Since, then, reason demonstrates that this word is applied appellatively, we must inquire why it is applied to March or the beginning of April. Those who translate A bib “ripening fruits,” have no ground for it, since the word simply means “anything which grows;” hence it is applied to the stalks of corn; and because in those warm climates the corn rises to its height about the vernal equinox, from this fact, Nisan is called the month of stalks. It is also a probable conjecture, (as we have already said,) that the beginning of the year was changed, in order that the nativity of the Church might receive more distinction; as if the world were then renewed. The opinion of some that Noah came out of the ark in the same month, so that the temperature of spring might receive him in his new birth, as well as the other animals, I leave undecided as I have done on Genesis 8. But if this opinion be accepted, there will be an anticipation (prolepsis) in the name of the months; and in this there will be an absurdity, because it was useful for the people to be accustomed to the rites of the Law. But I do not enter into controversy about uncertainties.

8. And thou shalt shew thy son in that day. He repeats what we have already remarked, viz., an injunction to parents to teach their children, that they may thus transmit the service of God to their descendants. In the preceding chapter it was said, “when your children shall say unto you,” etc.; and now he more briefly commands that God’s goodness should be proclaimed, although none should make inquiry respecting it; because parents ought to be voluntarily disposed to educate their children in the fear of God. He also repeats, as we have seen above, that the memory of their deliverance should be annually renewed lest it should ever fade away, since religion is easily neglected unless men are diligently exercised in its study, tie uses a comparison when he says, “it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes;” as though it had been said that their redemption should be set before their eyes in the passover, just as the ring which is on the finger, or the ornament which is bound upon the forehead are constantly seen. For which purpose also he had before desired that the precepts of the Law should be inscribed both on the head, and on the hands, and fringes of their garments. The sum is, that in the passover a monument of God’s grace should exist, so that it might never sink into oblivion; just as ornaments which appear on the forehead and on the fingers awaken the attention by their being constantly beheld. But, if any should rather be of opinion that Moses alludes to those who, conscious of their own faithlessness, contrive means to assist their memory,323323     “Et pourtant font des neuds a leurs ceintures, ou quelque marque a leur bonnet;” and therefore make knots in their girdles, or some mark in their cap. — Fr. I offer them no opposition; as if he had said that, since they were disposed to forgetfulness, they should use this remedy, to awaken themselves to gratitude. He will soon afterwards repeat the same injunction, in connection with the offering of the first-born. The following words, “that the Lord’s Law may be in thy mouth,” confirm the opinion that the passover has reference to the First Commandment. They intimate that it is not enough to perform the external rite, unless it be associated with its proper object, viz., that they should devote themselves to God and to His doctrine. He mentions the mouth, not because the main thing is, to speak or discourse of the Law, for if piety lay in the tongue, hypocrites would be the best worshippers of God; but he expressly requires that, when each one shall have privately applied himself to the study of the Law, they shall also mutually teach and exhort each other.

11. And it shall be when the Lord shall bring thee. He proceeds with what had been glanced at in the beginning of the chapter with respect to the consecration of the first-born, that in this way they should bear witness to the special blessing of God which preserved them when He destroyed the first-born of the Egyptians. But He commands the animals to329329     Observe A. V., “thou shalt set apart;” margin, “cause to pass over;” Lat., “transferes.” be brought to Him, in order that they should be slain in the tabernacle. It is a common figure of speech to say, that the faithful and their gifts were placed in God’s sight when they entered the tabernacle. I conceive that they were ordered, in Exodus 22:30, to keep the first-born seven days, in order to prevent deceptions, because if the young had been earlier torn from the teats of their dams, and immediately delivered to the priests, the offering would have been useless. Yet I doubt not that the eighth day was chosen because it was the one prescribed for circumcision. An exception is added, that a price should be paid for an ass, the offering of which would have been unclean. With regard to their children, it was requisite that they should be redeemed, because they could not be offered in sacrifice, nor made priests.

17. And it came to pass when Pharaoh. Moses here assigns the reason why God did not immediately lead His people by the more direct way into the land of Canaan, which would have been just as easy to Him, but preferred to bring them round through the desert, by a long and difficult and dangerous journey; viz., lest, if perhaps they had met with enemies to contend against, a ready means of return would have encouraged them to go back into Egypt. We know how great was the supineness and cowardice of this people, as soon as any difficulty presented itself; and how quick they were to revolt from the divine government, as often as a heavier burden than they liked was imposed upon them. We know how often they repented of having followed God as their leader, and thus were prepared to throw away by their ingratitude the grace offered to them. When, therefore, they were powerless in the use of arms, and were altogether without experience of military tactics, with what courage would they have engaged with an enemy, if any should have advanced against them within a few days of their coming out? Assuredly they would not have borne up against a single assault, but would have been willing rather to submit themselves to the Egyptians, with humble supplications for forgiveness. Lest, then, any desire of return should steal over their hearts, God was willing to set up a barrier behind them in the difficulty of the journey. Besides, if in their departure from Egypt they had immediately encountered the inhabitants of the land of Canaan in war, greater troubles would have awaited them; for the Egyptians would by no means let them alone, but., being aided by the subsidies and forces of so many peoples, would have endeavored to avenge themselves, and, having entered into alliances on every side, would have hemmed in the unhappy Israelites. Wherefore, God provided excellently for them, by leading them through inaccessible paths, and by their very weariness shutting the door against their ever desiring to return into Egypt; while afterwards He gradually restored their’ confidence, before they came to fight, and had to sustain the attacks of their enemies. I admit, indeed, that God might have otherwise obviated all these evils; but since He is often wont to deal with His people on human principles, He chose to adopt the method which was most suited to their infirmity. Moses now commends this His admirable design, in order that we may know that nothing was omitted by Him which was for the safety and advantage of His people. For this “God said,” which he mentions, refers to His providence; as much as to say, that the easier and more ordinary passage was not undesignedly rejected, but that because God knew it to be more expedient, He thus advisedly obviated the temptation.

18. The children of Israel went up harnessed. The word חמשים,148148     חמשים. Fives. The Rabbinical notions here mentioned are thus briefly stated in S M , “Exponitur a Kimchi sic, Et accincti armis in quinta costa. Alii autem sic exponunt, Et accincti quinque armorum generibus.” In speaking of what the Greeks had imagined, C. alludes to the LXX., who entirely depart from the Hebrew, by rendering this clause, πέμπτὟ δὲ γενεᾷ, κ. τ. λ.. “And in the fifth generation, the children of Israel went up,” etc. — W. chemishim, is derived from “Five,” from whence some have explained it, that they were furnished with five kinds of arms, but this is too absurd. The Hebrews, because they could conjecture nothing better or more probable, almost with one consent would understand it, that they were armed under the fifth rib. But whence were there so many military corselets ready for the Israelites? But I reject so forced and improbable a meaning, and doubt not that the word is one of number; as though Moses had said, that they went out in ranks of five; because, if each individual in so great a multitude had tried to advance, they would have been in each other’s way. I have therefore thought fit to translate it “dispositi,” (in ranks.) The idea of the Greeks about “the fifth generation,” is very foreign to the present narrative. But in the sense I have given it, there is nothing obscure or doubtful; for it readily appears that God’s favor is celebrated also in this particular, because He led forth His people in order. For, although they came out confusedly and hastily, still He restrained there, as it were, under His banner, and in companies, lest any disturbance should occur.

19. And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him. Hence it appears, that even in their adversity the memory of their promised deliverance had never departed from the people, for had not the adjuration of Joseph been currently spoken of in common conversation, Moses would never have been able to imagine it; but he expressly states that he acted in obedience to the holy patriarch in carrying away his bones. It is, therefore, probable that they were so deposited, that the hope of the people might be kept alive by seeing daily the urn or coffer which contained them, as if the holy man even after death uplifted from his tomb a sign of their deliverance; for although by this symbolical act he cherished his own faith, when he desired that, though dead, he might enter on the possession of the promised land, yet there is no doubt that he had more regard to his brethren and the whole posterity of the holy race.149149     D’Abraham. — Fr. For, having known by experience their apathy and the weakness of their faith, he naturally feared lest in a longer lapse of time they should grow more and more indifferent, and at length should despise the proraise, and give themselves up altogether to listlessness about it. And certainly it must have been this mistrust of them which urged him not to be contented with a simple injunction, but to bind their minds more strongly by an oath. In Acts 7:16, Stephen seems to assert that the other eleven sons of Jacob were also buried in Sichem; and it may be probably conjectured, that they were led piously to emulate the example of their brother Joseph. Assuredly the faith of the departed Joseph, even in his dry bones, preached loudly to his descendants of the promised deliverance, lest they should grow careless from the long delay; and when at length the Israelites were led forth, the bones or ashes of the twelve Patriarchs were like so many standard-bearers, going before the several tribes to encourage their confidence. Wherefore the cowardice of the people was still more detestable, so often basely turning their backs upon their journey, when they had in sight so eminent a ground for confidence. The words of Joseph, which Moses reports, “God will surely visit you,” etc., confirm the expression of the Apostle, (Hebrews 11:22,) that “by faith — he gave commandment concerning his bones,” because he thus takes upon himself the character and office of their surety, to exhort his nation to embrace the promise. How far the silly superstition of the Papists in worshipping the relics of saints differs from this object we may gather from hence without difficulty, viz., that they studiously catch at every means whereby they may be withdrawn further from the word of God.

21. And the Lord went before them. Moses here proclaims another of God’s mercies, that, having redeemed His people, He was their constant leader and guide; as the Prophet also in the Psalms distinctly makes reference to both. (Psalm 77:15; and 78:14.) It was indeed a marvelous act of loving-kindness that, accommodating Himself to their ignorance, he familiarly presented Himself before their eyes. He might, indeed, have protected them in some other way from the heat of the sun, and directed them in the darkness of the night; but, in order that His power might be more manifest, He chose to add also His visible presence, to remove all room for doubt. But, although the words of Moses seem in some measure to include the Lord in the cloud, we must observe the sacramental mode of speaking, wherein God transfers His name to visible figures; not to affix to them His essence, or to circumscribe His infinity, but only to show that He does not deceitfully expose the signs of His presence to men’s eyes, but that the exhibition of the thing signified is at the same time truly conjoined with them. Therefore, although Moses states that God was in the cloud and in the pillar of fire, yet does he not wish to draw Him down from heaven, nor to subject His infinite glory to visible signs, with which His truth may consist without His local presence.150150     “Sans qu’il y soit requis une presence de lieu;” without a local presence being required. — Fr. But execrable is the mad notion of Servetus, who pretended that this cloud was uncreated, as though it were the Deity of Christ, for he substituted this One Person for the Three, as if there had then been a corporeal Deity, which he calls the “figurative Son,” who was afterwards made flesh; not that He put on flesh, but because He appeared as man, compounded of three uncreated elements, and of the seed of David. But, soon after, Moses calls this same being an Angel, to which he now assigns the name of the eternal God. And with good reason, because our heavenly Father then led the Israelites only by the hand of His only-begotten Son. Now, since He is the eternal guardian of His Church, Christ is not less truly present with us now by His power than he was formerly manifest to the fathers. When, therefore, Isaiah prophesies His coming, he recounts amongst others this divine blessing, that “the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night,” — that there might be

“a tabernacle for a shadow in the day-time from the heat, and for a place of refuge and for a covert from storm and from rain,”
(Isaiah 4:5, 6;)

as if he had said, that He would really and substantially fulfill what then was seen under a figurative symbol. And surely that promise, —

“The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night,” (Psalm 121:6,)

refers not to a single day, but to all ages. The statement of Moses, then, that “He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night,” is a blessing which God extends to us, as well as to them, except only the visible symbol, which was temporary, on account of the infirmity of the people. As to his saying’ that God always appeared to them, that they might march by night as well as by day, he does not mean that they went on continually without any rest, since he had just before mentioned that their first station was in Succoth, from whence they encamped in Etham, but merely informs us that the flow of God’s grace was continual, since the token of His favor and protection shone forth no less amidst the darkness of the night than at midday itself.

50. Thus did all the children of Israel. This chiefly refers to the slaying of the Paschal lamb with its adjuncts, although I do not deny that allusion is also made to the other circumstances attending their sudden departure. But it is not so much their promptitude and alacrity which are praised, as the wondrous power of God in fashioning their hearts, and directing their hands, so that, in the darkness of the night, amidst the greatest disturbances, in precipitate haste, with nothing well prepared, they were so active and dexterous. Meanwhile, Moses concludes, from the obedience of the people, that nothing was done without the command and guidance of God; from whence it is more clearly manifest that He was the sole author of their deliverance.


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