After 400 years of cruel bondage and enslavement, the Jews are walking out with God’s mighty hand on them, just as promised (Exodus 13). What could have been a short 10-day trip from Egypt to Canaan would take about a year – because God had quite a bit to teach His people. It was much easier to get Israel out of Egypt than to get Egypt out of Israel. This is a beautiful picture of the Christian’s journey of faith. God saves us out of the world (Egypt) in an instant, yet the growing process of sanctification is the ongoing process of getting us ready for the Promised Land.
Lesson 1: God wants us always to REMEMBER Him (v3-10)
It’s human nature to forget – especially the things that are good and right. It’s easy to forget what God has done for us, isn’t it?! That is why the book of Deuteronomy commands us to ‘remember’ God’s mighty works and ‘not forget’ His deeds nearly two dozen times. We really need more tangible things in this life that point our attention and feeble memories toward the next life. This is exactly why God reinforces their traditions of unleavened bread and celebrations of the passover. Every year, exactly the same way. This was to be a sacred memorial, a spiritual ordinance forever. Memorials that focus our eyes upward, upon God, are an important part of faith. Not only are they good for us, but they are best for the sake of our children. They create teachable moments — a ‘show & tell’ of our heritage of faith (v 8, 14).
Lesson 2: God is worthy of our FIRST & our BEST (v1-2, 11-16)
The Hebrew custom of the redemption of the firstborn still lives on in Jewish homes today as pidyon ha-ben. Even Jesus was taken to the temple to be redeemed by Joseph and Mary for five pieces of silver (Luke 2:27). This custom of redeeming the firstborn (boy) and the donkey (beast of burden) reminded Israel that God has delivered them from the Destroyer and the taskmasters. Everything belongs to the Lord and He deserves all, yet only requires the first-fruits. The New Testament reveals that Christians too are a purchased people (1 Cor. 6:18-20) and that God owns us now in a two-fold manner (by creation and by redemption). Our redemption from sin and slavery is the greatest cause for our worship (acts of sacrifice).
Lesson 3: God LEADS us where He knows is best (v17-22)
The most difficult lesson we each must learn is one of trust. We will never fully follow God if we do not trust Him. In many cases, we think we have better judgment or perspective on our situation than God. Such was the case with God’s people in Exodus 13. Verse eighteen says they were suited up and lined up, ready for battle. They thought they were prepared, but God knew better. Verse seventeen says that God guided them on a more southern route so they wouldn’t encounter any warfare, lest their hearts would get faint and they would retreat back to Egypt. He always knows best. Let us pray that God would lead us in plain paths (Ps. 27:11) and that we would know of His will (John 7:17). We can be certain that God provides where He guides. In the pillar of cloud and fire was provision enough for this desolate wilderness: He gave them shade during the day and heat during the night. Finally, may God’s people always remember that God is ‘with them’ (meaning of Etham, v20).