Sermon: The Exodus Begins

Text: Exodus 12:29–13:16


 The Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt and this final blow was enough for Pharaoh to release the Israelites:


Exodus 12:29 And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. 

Exodus 12:30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead. 

Exodus 12:31 And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as ye have said. 

Exodus 12:32 Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also. 

Exodus 12:33 And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men. 

Exodus 12:34 And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneadingtroughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders. 

Exodus 12:35 And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: 

Exodus 12:36 And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians. 


So they were able to leave, with all their possessions, and the possessions that the Egyptians willingly gave them.


1) The Numbers Of The Exodus


Exodus 12:37 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children. 

Exodus 12:38 And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle. 


We also notice that they had a “mixed multitude” with them. This would have been other Semitic groups who either believed in the Lord, or saw a way to escape. It could have also included some Egyptians as well.


Here we are given an idea of the population of Israel: 600,000 men besides children (and women). Many scholars estimate the total to be two or three million. Now, in those days, that was a lot of people. A critic might point out that:


1) The population of the entire world in those days is estimated to have been between 35 and 50 million (, so to have two million Israelites would make it a major nation (unlike what God says in Deuteronomy 7:7 about them being the fewest of all people). 


2) There is no mention of Israel in the records of Egypt and there has been no evidence found of their forty years wandering in the Sinai. Which, for a smaller group would be reasonable, but for two million, it seems impossible.


How does a Christian handle this? Well, there’s basically two ways that maintain faithfulness to the text. 


First, it’s possible to understand the Hebrew word for “thousand” to mean “clan” or “military units.” So it was six hundred military units (made up of men on foot) plus women and children (by the way, this helps understand some of the huge military forces in Joshua a bit better). 


We have no way of knowing what the size of the military units would have been, but if they were a hundred men, that would give a total population of 20 or 30 thousand. Of course, I’m sure this way has it’s difficulties, such as when to take the word as “thousand” and when to take the word as “clan” and going against hundreds of years of Bible translation.


Second, take the numbers at face value and acknowledge that, while it seems incredible that two million people wandered around in the desert without leaving evidence, it’s not impossible. The entire Hittite Empire remained hidden until the 19th century.


The point I am making, is that when people have objections to things in scripture—and this, in the scheme of salvation isn’t that important—there are answers we can give.


2) The Timing Of The Exodus


Exodus 12:39 And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual. 

Exodus 12:40 Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. 

Exodus 12:41 And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. 


How long did the Israelites spend in Egypt? We simply assume 430 years, but there is a monkey wrench—it’s the apostle Paul.


16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. (Galatians 3:16–17)


Many people take this to mean that the 430 years began with the promise being given to Abraham in Genesis 12. The persecution by the Egyptians began 30 years later when Ishmael, the son of Hagar the Egyptian, mocked Isaac. That explains the number 400 popping up in some verses:


13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; (Genesis 15:13)


6 And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years. (Acts 7:6)


So the total amount of years that the Egyptians (in one form or another, and not consistently) afflicted the Israelites was 400 years. The actual time from Jacob going to Egypt to the exodus (and the giving of the law) was 215 years, or half of the total 430 years. 


However, our verse here in Exodus seems clear that they sojourned 430 years in Egypt.


40 Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years. (Exodus 12:40)


Also, if you want to increase a population from seventy to two million, you are going to need all the time you can get.


So, going back to Galatians, let’s see if there’s another way of understanding the verse that fits better.


…the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. (Galatians 3:17)


Notice that it doesn’t say that it was referring to the initial giving of the covenant with Abraham. As a matter of fact, God confirmed the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The final time was to Jacob in Genesis 46, right before Jacob goes to Egypt—


3 And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation: 4 I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes. (Genesis 46:3–4)


So now, we have 430 years from a confirmation of the covenant to the giving of the law. What about the couple verses with 400 years in them? We could simply say that they were rounded numbers. Or, we might notice that both those verses refer to the time that they were persecuted in Egypt.


…his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years. (Acts 7:6)


So the 430 years might refer to the total length of time in Egypt and the 400 years refers to the time of bondage in Egypt.


What does it matter to us how long the Israelites spent in Egypt? 


Whether it was two centuries or four, what it means is that Israel would have become so accustomed to the Egyptian culture, that the faith to leave would have been radical. Imagine leaving America to settle in someplace like Liberia or Southeast Asia. 


But every Christian is doing what they did. We are citizens of this earth, yet this is not our home. We have absorbed our culture all of our lives, but we are called to live by Heaven’s values.


…I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; (1 Peter 2:11)


That’s going to take a radical faith. We are called each day to make decisions that don’t jive with our culture. We are to live differently. Sometimes we fail and live according to Egypt. But God is calling us to leave all that behind and live his way.




In the next several verses, several memorials to remember the night of the exodus are laid out:


1) The Passover


Exodus 12:42 It is a night to be much observed unto the LORD for bringing them out from the land of Egypt: this is that night of the LORD to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations. 

Exodus 12:43 And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the passover: There shall no stranger eat thereof: 

Exodus 12:44 But every man’s servant that is bought for money, when thou hast circumcised him, then shall he eat thereof. 

Exodus 12:45 A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof. 

Exodus 12:46 In one house shall it be eaten; thou shalt not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall ye break a bone thereof. 

Exodus 12:47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 

Exodus 12:48 And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof. 

Exodus 12:49 One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you. 

Exodus 12:50 Thus did all the children of Israel; as the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron, so did they. 

Exodus 12:51 And it came to pass the selfsame day, that the LORD did bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their armies. 


2) The Dedication Of The Firstborn


Exodus 13:1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 

Exodus 13:2 Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine. 


What did it mean to sanctify the firstborn? It means to set-apart or dedicate the firstborn to God. The firstborn were very important in ancient times because they represented the future of the family. So to set apart the firstborn was, in effect, to set apart the entire family to God.


For the most part, God would not keep the firstborn for himself. Samuel is a notable exception (1 Samuel 1:11). But to have a ritual where the firstborn were dedicated to the Lord would be a reminder to the Israelites that God owns everything.


The next several verses appear to be disconnected—they talk about the Feast Of Unleavened Bread. 


However, what the next verses do is link the idea of dedicating the firstborn with the death of the firstborn in Egypt. Verse 8 provides another link in that the father is supposed to teach his son that the reason for keeping the feast is “because of that which the LORD did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt.”


Exodus 13:3 And 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. 

Exodus 13:4 This day came ye out in the month Abib. 

Exodus 13:5 And 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. 

Exodus 13:6 Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the LORD. 

Exodus 13:7 Unleavened 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. 

Exodus 13:8 And 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. 

Exodus 13:9 And 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. 

Exodus 13:10 Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year. 


Now we come back to the idea of dedicating the firstborn to the Lord. Here he explains the basic rules for doing so:


Exodus 13:11 And 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, 


Here we find that this was to be something that they would do as a common practice after entering the Promised land.


Exodus 13:12 That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix [womb], and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD’s. 

Exodus 13:13 And 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. 


Firstborn animals were to be sacrificed to the Lord. Donkeys were an exception. They were used as pack animals, but they were unclean, so were not to be eaten or used as a sacrifice. So what did you do with a firstborn donkey? You had two options: break it’s neck or redeem it by sacrificing a lamb for it. Ugly business, to be sure, but it is a picture of our situation. We are either doomed to eternal punishment (neck-breaking) or we need to be redeemed by a substitute. Jesus Christ, of course, is our substitute.


What were they to do with the firstborn son? Thankfully, they weren’t to break his neck! Instead they were to redeem him. We are not told here what the redemption price was, but later we find that it was set at five shekels of silver (Numbers 18:14-16).


By the way, this is what Joseph and Mary did when they when to the temple with baby Jesus:


22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; 23 (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) (Luke 2:22–23)


3) Passing It On To The Next Generation


The final way to memorialize the night the Israelites left Egypt was that they would teach their children about what happened.


Exodus 13:14 And 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: 

Exodus 13:15 And 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. 

Exodus 13:16 And 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.


One could imagine the conversation a father might have had with his son. After explaining that, when he was a baby, they redeemed him as their firstborn son.


“Let me get this straight,” [the son] would say. “When I was little, you dedicated me to God. And in order to do it you had to pay the price, just like you would for a donkey?” (Philip Graham Ryken and R. Kent Hughes, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005], 375)


You could see how this conversation would turn to how there needs to be a sacrifice for our sins, even when we are babies. 


Of course, the Jew only had to look forward to a lifetime of sacrifices to atone for his sins. We, as Christians, can rejoice that Jesus made the final sacrifice for us. God dedicated his firstborn Son, not to redeem him, but for him to be our Redeemer.


Our salvation is free, but our redemption was not cheap—


20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:20)

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