Exegetical Analysis: Exodus 13:1-14:31
In the first fifteen chapters of the book of Exodus, "Yahweh is seen as beginning to fulfill the patriarchal promise by means of redeeming Abraham's seed out of Egypt" (Beale, 1984, p. 130). The divine name YHWH, emphasizing God as one who effects and controls reality is highly significant in the context of these chapters. Through the revelation of His YHWH name, God demonstrates His authority, power, and essence to the Egyptians, to Pharaoh, and to the greater Pagan world. Chapters 13 and 14 form the basis of this analysis. Chapter 13 focuses on God's instructions to the children of Israel regarding the celebration of the Passover feast, whereas chapter 14 dwells on their deliverance at the Red Sea (Levinsohn, 2012).
Structure of the text (Exodus 13:1-14:31)
13:1-16 will be analyzed as Part One, and 13:17-14:31 as part two.
Part One (13:1-16)
Theme: the Law of the Firstborn and a Memorial of the Exodus
This is merely a continuation of God's instructions to the Israelites from chapter 12. The instructions were aimed at preparing the Israelites for their departure from Egypt, and included "laws relating to the Passover, laws of the first-born, and other precepts that were ordained for all time as a memorial to" that departure (Levinsohn, 2012, p. 53). Fig 1 below shows how these instructions are embedded from chapter 12 through 13.
Fig 1: How the Instructions are embedded from Chapter 12 through 13
12:50: The children of Israel do as God had instructed
12:43-49: The Lord speaks to Moses and Aaron regarding
12:51: Recapitulation of 12:1, introduction of the next set of instructions
13:3-16: Moses speaks to the children of Israel
The Lord speaks to Moses regarding the dedication of first-borns
(Source: Levinsohn, 2012, p. 53)
The instructions can, to this end, be subdivided into two categories;
i) The Lord gives instructions to Moses (and Aaron) (12:43-13:2);
a) On the Passover feast (12:43-51)
b) On the dedication of first-borns (13:1-2)
ii) Moses gives instructions to the children of Israel (13:3-16);
a) On unleavened bread (13:3-10)
b) On the redemption of the first-born (13:11-16)
13:1-2: Instructions on the redemption of first-borns are given to Moses in a generalized format; the details of the same were mentioned later on in Moses' speech to the children of Israel (Levinsohn, 2012).
13:3-10 (Moses' Addresses the People concerning the Passover feast): The children of Israel are instructed to remember the fifteenth day of the first month as the day the Lord brought them out of bondage in Egypt (Levinsohn, 2012; Sheriffs, 1990). They were not to eat leavened bread on this day, and on the seven days immediately preceding it (13:6). Each year, they were to dedicate this day as a festival to the Lord, and explain to their children that they did so in remembrance that with a mighty hand, the Lord had freed them from slavery in Egypt (Patterson, 2004).
13:11-16 Moses Addresses the people concerning the sanctification of the first-born: the children of Israel were instructed to set apart, and commit unto the Lord every firstling of their offspring (Hendrix, 1990). They were to sacrifice to the Lord every firstborn offspring of their livestock, with the exception of the donkey, but redeem the firstborns among their children (Hendrix, 1990). They were to explain to their children that they did this in remembrance that with His mighty hand, the Lord slew all the firstborns in the land of Egypt (both of man and livestock) in order to free the Israelites from slavery (Hendrix, 1990).
Theme: Deliverance at the Red Sea
Levinsohn (2012) divides this segment into two; "the journey to the sea (13:17-14:4); final encounter with Pharaoh (14:5-31)" (p. 60).
13:17-22 (Journey to the Sea): the death of Egyptian firstborns, including Pharaoh's son,...
The Lord leads them into the wilderness towards the Red Sea, blatantly avoiding the route that passed through the land of the Philistines, though this would have been easier (Overstreet, 2003). The Lord feared that the Israelites would turn and go back to Egypt if they came face-to-face with war in the land of the Philistines (13:17). The Lord "led them through a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night" (13:22).
14:1-31 (Final Encounter with Pharaoh)
Levinsohn (2012) divides this segment into a number of episodes;
14:1-4: Turn Back Instructions -- The Lord instructs Moses to have the Israelites change course and encamp by the sea, opposite Baal Zephon, to make Pharaoh think that they were wandering around the land in confusion (14:3). The Lord would harden Pharaoh's heart and make him go after the Israelites but the Lord would use this encounter to prove His might to the children of Israel (14:4).
14:5-9: Pharaoh Gives Chase -- Pharaoh regrets having let the Israelites go; he takes his army and sets out to pursue them (14:8). The Egyptian troops overtake the Israelites who had camped by the sea (14:9).
14:10-14: Fear grips the Israelites: on seeing Pharaoh's troops, the Israelites are terrified and accuse Moses of bringing them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness (14:11). Moses urges them to remain calm and watch as the Lord fights, and delivers them from the Egyptians (14:14).
14:15-20: God Responds: God instructs Moses to raise his staff over the sea and divide the waters so the Israelites would go through (14:15). He promises to harden the Egyptians' hearts so they would go after the Israelites; but adds that in the end, He would only gain glory (14:18). The angel of the Lord, and the pillar of cloud both withdrew and stood behind the Israelites, separating the two camps, and bringing light to the Israelites and darkness upon the Egyptians (14:20).
14:21-29: The Sea Parts
14:21-22: The Israelites go through -- Moses raises his staff, and the Lord sends "a strong wind to separate the waters, creating dry ground for the Israelites" to go through (14:21).
14:23-25: The Egyptians' discomfiture -- The Egyptian army goes into the sea after the Israelites. The Lord throws the pillars of fire and cloud into confusion, and jams the wheels of the Egyptians' chariots; the Egyptians acknowledge that God must be fighting for the Israelites (14:25).
14:26-29: The pursuers are punished -- the Lord instructs Moses to raise his staff so the waters would go back to their place and cover the Egyptian army (14:26). Moses does as instructed; the waters sweep the Egyptian horsemen and cover their chariots, and not a single one survives (14:29).
14:30-31: The Israelites Acknowledge God's Might -- on seeing the Egyptians' bodies lying lifeless ashore, the Israelites put their trust in the Lord and in His servant Moses (14:31).
Orientation and Context
The central theme of Exodus 13 and 14 appears to center around God's actualization of His promises. God's expectation that Christians will keep the covenants they make with Him comes out as another element of importance. In 13:1, Yahweh speaks to Moses and commands him to instruct the Israelites to consecrate the firstborn from every womb to Him in remembrance that God had redeemed them from slavery on the night of the tenth plague and had kept His promise by sparing their firstborns as He slew those of Egyptian households. For the same reason, they were to celebrate the feast of the Unleavened Bread every year (13:6-7). They were to keep these rites even after the Lord had brought them to the land of the Jebusites, the Hivites, the Amorites, and the Hittites;' the land that flowed with milk and honey (verse 5). This promise of possession of the land of Canaan is a repeat of promises made to Abraham (Gen 15:18-21), Moses (Ex 3:18), Jacob (Gen 28:13; 35:12), and Isaac (Gen 24:7). However, only those who kept God's commands, as stipulated in Exodus 20 would inherit this Promised Land.
God's commands were not to be reinterpreted; judgment would come upon any person who failed to keep the covenant (Leder, 1999). Such judgment would be aimed at bringing the errant individual back to covenant with the community, and with God (Leder, 1999). In accordance with the first-born law, Mary's first-born son was dedicated unto the Lord at the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:22-39).
Yahweh demonstrates His dynamic and active presence through the pillars of cloud and fire. The symbols assured the children of Israel of God's protection throughout the Exodus. God's visible presence, referred to as the Glory Cloud in English, and the Shekinah in Hebrew, is not limited to the Exodus; in the New Testament, it enveloped Jesus at His ascension (Acts 1:9), and transfiguration (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:34), and the Virgin Mary, when the Holy Spirit Overshadowed her (Luke 1:35).
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