Friday, June 28, 2013

God Makes Another Request and Moses Has To Prepare the People for It -- Exodus 13:1-10

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me.”  Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this place. And nothing leavened shall be eaten.  On this day in the month of Abib, you are about to go forth.  It shall be when the Lord brings you to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall observe this rite in this month.  For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord.  Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven be seen among you in all your borders.  You shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’  And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt.  Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year.”
Exodus chapter 12 ends with God bringing the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.  And chapter 13 begins with God speaking only to Moses this time with another request (if that’s the right word) of the children of Israel.  This time, a request that perhaps requires a personal sacrifice of the Israelites and it involves their own “first-borns”.

I find it interesting that this whole account sometimes has God speaking to Moses alone and sometimes to Moses and Aaron together.  This is one of the former occasions when this rather ‘big ask’ from God comes to Moses alone because of its sensitivity.  We must remember it was Moses that God chose to be His instrument at this time and that Aaron his brother was appointed to help him because of Moses’ stuttering.  The vessel that God was using to accomplish His will was Moses and the responsibility and onus of getting God’s message across to the people of Israel were indeed his and no one else’s.  As Christian leaders, we can delegate a lot to others but not everything.  We have a responsibility to be in close communication and relationship with God ourselves.  It is our job to make sure we are getting the message right and then to seek His guidance and direction as to how we are to communicate to, and implement it for, those we are responsible for.

And what was it that God was asking for this time?  Simply this – each Israelite would be required to take steps in dedicating and offering each of their first-borns (both their own and the first-borns of their animals) to God.  That is, they would belong to Him and He could do with them as He liked.  The word “sanctify” is used to describe what that really means.  Each parent was to “set apart” these firstborns and to “declare them holy” for God’s use.  There was, however, no immediate loss or other consequence required except the realization that this newborn baby (in the case of firstborns still to come) or this oldest child (in the case of firstborns already born) was really God’s to do with as He liked and all the parents could do is provide this firstborn with the right care and nurturing so that he (later we see this applied only to sons) would be best available to serve the Lord.  This is a much less demanding sacrifice then what the Egyptians had to undergo when they lost their firstborns to the angel of death.  For the Israelite parent who truly believed in what God had done for the children of Israel in releasing them from their bondage, this was very doable.  All Moses had to do was to figure out a way of how to present it to them.  And he did.

His chosen words and his actions exhibit further his true leadership abilities and why God had chosen him for the role that he was given.  He commences his talk to the people of Israel, supposedly now some distance from “downtown Egypt” by telling them to “Remember this day that they left Egypt and slavery by God’s mighty hand.”  Clearly, there was no denying that.

Then he repeats again what God expects the Israelites to do during the month of Abib, the month in which they were led out of Egypt. This is the beginning of the “biblical” year when the first New Moon is seen after the barley in Israel reaches the stage of ripeness call “Abib” (literally, Hebrew for ‘ear of grain’).  And Moses tells them that they are to observe the rite of not eating anything leavened during this time once they get to the Promised Land that God swore to give to their fathers.  He very carefully and intentionally points out that this would be their land and they have a right to it as per God’s granting.  He adds that it will be a land of “milk and honey” making reference to the agricultural abundance of the land of Israel.  And finally, as they celebrate this feast for seven days, they are to tell their “sons” (and one presumes ‘daughters’ as well although not mentioned here) that all that they are (or would be) enjoying is “because of what God did when He brought us out of Egypt”.

At this point in the text, Moses instructs the Israelites to commemorate this event in what appears to be a very physically demonstrated way by signs on their hand and forehead, as well as by continuously talking about it and God’s Law.  Commentators, however, struggle with this idea.  David Guzik writes the following, “The Jews used this passage to institute the practice (of) the wearing of phylacteries – small boxes holding parchment with scriptures on them, held to the forehead or hand with leather straps . . ..”  But then in reference to the phrase “That the Lord’s law may be in your mouth” he writes, “This shows that God did not command for literal boxes to be tied to the hands and forehand, because to take (it) in this way means that there should also be a phylactery box to put in the mouth.”  Which there is not, being his point.

Another commentator, Robert Jamieson, adds to this interpretation:  Nor is it probable that either this practice or the phylacteries of the Pharisees--parchment scrolls, which were worn on their wrists and foreheads--had so early an existence. The words are to be considered only as a figurative mode of expression.”  And with reference to the phrase about “the Lord’s law may be in thy mouth”, he adds: “that is, that it may be the subject of frequent conversation and familiar knowledge among the people.”

I will leave it up to the reader to discern and decide for themselves what God intended for the Israelites with reference to this section.  What we do know for sure though is this:
i.  The Jews did at one point or another commence the practice of wearing phylacteries on their forehead and arms;
ii.  Jesus did, much later, condemn the abuse of (not necessarily the actual wearing) of phylacteries among the Pharisees (see Matthew 23:5) for they were making their phylactery boxes larger and more pretentious as, we assume, a demonstration of their greater spirituality;
iii.  In the end times, as David Guzik points out, using Revelation 13:16, “
there will be a Satanic imitation of this practice when the number of the Antichrist will be applied to either the hand or forehead of all who will take it.”  Whether or not that is a coincidence (I doubt it) or an ‘imitation’ as Guzik calls it, one does not know for sure.  Some Jews may well have used (and still do use) the phylacteries as they thought or think God intended them to be used; and
iv.  Finally, we do know that God wants us to remember, obey, and keep His Law in our minds (forehead), our deeds (hands), and in our witness (mouth), whether or not we choose to display that requirement physically.

This section of Scripture ends with “Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year.”  So while we started with God’s new requirement of the Israelites concerning their firstborns, we end the portion with Moses still reminding them of the requirement for them to celebrate what God has done for them.  Only in that context is he ready to share God’s new request of them as we will soon see.  The lesson for us is simply this: We need to always remember, when God is asking us to obey Him, what God has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ and what we were saved from.  It is with that in mind that we choose to obey Him under all circumstances, serve Him better, love Him more, and accept His will for our lives.  I pray it is so with you and me.

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