The Passover narrative is certainly long and convoluted, spanning more than 2100 words in English, and sneakily alternating between immediate exodus-generation instructions and future memorial-ritual instructions. When reading these chapters, I usually find myself afloat in what feels like a swampy mess. By the time my eyes glaze, I’m happy to get a mere nugget or two and move on to the more delightful Red Sea episode.
But curiosity drives me to observe and ask questions. Upon investigating, I find the Passover narrative is similar to the upcoming tabernacle narrative, in that it has two main sections: the instructions describing what will happen (Passover: Ex 11:1-12:28, Tabernacle: Ex 25-31), and the narrative describing what happened (Passover: Ex 12:29-13:16; Tabernacle: Ex 35-39). I covered the first Passover section last week. Now, I’ll try to make sense of the second.
Observation of Exodus 12:29-13:16
Most repeated words: Lord (24 times), all (17x), out (15), Egypt (14), firstborn (14), people (13), land (10), Israel (9).
- This passage narrates Israel’s last night spent in Egyptian slavery. No wonder “out” is repeated so many times.
- And while Ex 11:1-12:18 predicted God’s destruction of the firstborn, the theme of “firstborn” becomes truly prominent only in this second half.
Changes in setting and characters drive the action:
- Ex 12:29-33: God decimates the firstborn of Egypt.
- Ex 12:34-42: Israel’s experience the next day, narrative evaluation of this earth-shattering event.
- Ex 12:43-51: Yahweh’s first speech to Moses and Aaron, the people’s response.
- Ex 13:1-16: Yahweh’s second speech to Moses, Moses’ speech to the people (connected by focus on firstborn).
- When God kills someone in every Egyptian home, the Egyptians begin to fear they will all die (Ex 12:29-33).
- Yahweh watches his people and grants them favor with their oppressors (Ex 12:34-42).
- Yahweh is very concerned with who may eat this Passover in the future. Who is in, and who is out? (Ex 12:43-51).
- Yahweh claims personal ownership over every firstborn of both humans and animals (Ex 13:1-16).
Interpretation of Exodus 12:29-13:16
Some possible questions:
- Why does God treat Egypt so severely?
- Why do the Egyptians give so much stuff to the Israelites as they leave?
- Why is Yahweh so concerned with who gets to eat this annual meal?
- Why does God claim personal ownership of every firstborn?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- When I analyzed chapter 1, I made a point I’ll repeat here: The Lord returns the Pharaohs’ evil on their heads. This is divine justice at work. Because Pharaoh oppressed the people, God sent oppressive plagues. Because Pharaoh tried to murder Israel’s sons, God now executes Egypt’s sons. We’ll see soon what happens to those who tried drowning a generation of Israel’s boys…
- The text makes very clear that the plundering came as a result of God giving favor (Ex 12:36). This same God had been watching them all along (Ex 2:25), and especially on that last night in captivity (Ex 12:42). The same God who has power over life and death (Ex 12:29-33) also has power over favor and oppression. He owns these people and their situation. He can get them out and grant them favor in a single night whenever he wants. He is not absent, blind, or aloof. He is not distant or silent. So the point here is not so much that Israelites get all this stuff from the Egyptians, but that God can give them all this stuff whenever he’s ready to do so.
- Yahweh is the one who performed this feat of rescue (Ex 12:51). He has called this people to himself, and he gets to decide who is in and who is out. There must be no confusion as to who is a member of the congregation of Israel and who is not, who is a part of God’s people and who is not. God redeemed, or paid for, these slaves. Now he owns them!
- Ex 13:3-10 says nothing that wasn’t already said in Ex 12:14-20, except that this time, the directions for the Feast of Unleavened Bread are bracketed by God’s claim on the firstborn (Ex 13:1, 11-16). He confirms what we saw in chapter 12, that the Feast of Unleavened Bread represents a fresh start, a new beginning. Whatever is born first belongs especially to God (“whatever is the first…is MINE!”). Therefore, it must be either executed (to go right to God) or paid for (to be of use to a family). Of course, human children must be paid for; child sacrifice is unacceptable. Therefore, they have not only an annual feast but also every birth of human or animal, all to remind them of this night when God made them his own people. They are to explain this fact to their children at every opportunity (Ex 13:14-15). God wants them to know he owns them. He owns their firstborn. He owns their children. He owns their livestock. He owns everything.
Train of thought: Because God provided a way to spare his people from the worst disaster of all time:
- He owns death and life.
- He grants favor and watches everything.
- He knows who are his.
- He owns his people and everything they have.
Main point: Yahweh strikes his enemies and blesses his people to show he owns all the people of the earth.
Connection to Christ: Jesus took on the form of a bondservant (submitted to the Father’s ownership of him) to rescue God’s people. He did all God’s will, and now he reigns over heaven and earth until all nations come to him.
My Application of Exodus 12:29-13:16
I prefer to feel in control of my life, but any such feeling is an illusion. Because God owns me, all I am and all I have is his.
Right now, God has called me to work through some excruciating conflict. Some of it involves revisiting and dealing with the most difficult season of my life, to pursue peace and reconciliation. Some of it involves entering in to help others deal with one another in ways that honor the Lord. For obvious reasons, I can’t share many details. But I would rather not go through these things at all. I wish my life were safer and more predictable. Yet, I can give no less than my best efforts, for I’ve been paid for and my life is not my own. I belong body and soul to my Savior, Jesus Christ.
Click here to see what I’m doing with this sample Bible study and why I’m doing it.