If you were God, and you were creating for the first time a people for yourself, a new nation, where would you begin? You might reason, rightly, that no nation can exist without laws. However, what law would you established?
Would your first concern be that Civil Laws be established to keep order and govern the internal affairs of the nation? How about the laws that govern morality? Surely, you would want people to treat you and each other with proper respect and love. Interestingly, Yahweh begins by forming the nation of Israel around Ceremonial Laws!—the laws of religious observance!
In Chapters 12 and 13 of Exodus, we discover that God’s priority is to establish the ceremonial laws that relate to CELEBRATION, CIRCUMCISION, and CONSECRATION of Israel.
The first two laws that God laid down for Israel covered the annual commemorative celebrations of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Regarding the Passover, He ordered in Exodus 12:14—
This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance.
And in verse 17, He commanded—
“Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.”
The third law for the new nation is given in Exodus 12:43-50—
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover: “No
foreigner is to eat of it. Any slave you have bought may eat of it after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident and a hired worker may not eat of it. “It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. The whole community of Israel must celebrate it.
“An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you.” All the Israelites did just what the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron.
MANY OTHER PEOPLE (literally a MIXED MULTITUDE) were part of the Exodus according to 12:38. Many non-Israelites enjoyed the benefits of Israel’s deliverance, but they were not a part of the community by birth or by faith.
THE MIXED MULTITUDE wanted to get out of Egypt for many reasons, but they had not experienced redemption. They went along for the ride! It seemed like the best option at the moment, considering the plagues and potential for the Israelite God to wipe out all of Egypt with even more devastating plagues.
The Israelites had sprinkled the blood of Passover lambs on the doorframes of their houses and the Destroyer had passed over their firstborn. That was not the case with the MIX MULTITUDE—their firstborn were dead! They went along, but were not part of the new community by birth or faith!
To become a member of the new community, the mix multitude and all others attracted to Israel in the future generations would have to participate in the celebration of Passover—God’s redemption!
Israel was not to keep YAHWEH to themselves, they were to share Him with the world by living a holy life that would attract others to Him. When outsiders desired to become a part of the community of faith, they would be required to submit in obedience to God’s terms.
No one would be allowed to participate in the Passover meal unless he was circumcised and thus a member of the community of faith. This law excluded temporary residents, hired workers, aliens, and all foreigners.
Circumcision formed the grand boundary line between the Israel of God and all the nations that were upon the face of the earth; and the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ forms the boundary between the Church and the world. It matters not, in the smallest degree, what advantages of person or position a man possessed, he could have no part with Israel until he submitted to that flesh-cutting operation.
This was true of all Israelite males by natural descent also. God had instituted circumcision with Abraham in Genesis 17:11—
You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.
Circumcision was a sign of covenant relationship with the LORD. It is a work, an act of faith, but it did not redeem a person. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 2:28-29—
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.
Paul explains what he means in Romans 4:9-12—
We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.
So then, He is the father of all who believe, not only those who have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. He is the Father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
There are four points to Paul’s argument, which are important to today’s text. First, Abraham, the father of all Jews, was a Gentile saved by faith before he was circumcised. Second, no physical ceremony produces spiritual changes! Third, circumcision was merely an outward sign of faith, as water baptism is today! Fourth, circumcision was connected to Grace, not Law.
All Abraham had to do was believe God! The Law was never given to save anyone; the Law only brings wrath and reveals sin. The Law completely cancels grace, just as works will cancel faith; the two cannot exist side by side on equal footing. But faith is dead without works. Faith must produce a flow of works in obedience to God’s commands. Abraham’s faith saved him and circumcision proved his faith.
Therefore, circumcision was a sign, an act of faith for the Israelites descended from Abraham as well as for the alien who wanted to be part of this new community of faith. Circumcision never saved one person, but God demanded that the rite be performed on all males of Israel. No uncircumcised male could participate in God’s covenant without being circumcised.
How does this square with what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:19?—
Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.
The early church correctly reached Paul’s position in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. Circumcision in the flesh means nothing today, but not so in the OT economy of the nation of Israel. For God stated in Genesis 17:14—
Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.
In Chapter 4 of Exodus, God sought to kill Moses because he had not circumcised his son. Moses’ wife Zipporah evaluated the situation and circumcised their son saving her husband’s life. As we discovered, Zipporah’s action was one of the more significant theological events of the OT.
In the OT times, a circumcised beggar was considered by Israel to be nearer to God than an uncircumcised king because the Israelite participated in the joys of the redeemed. But the Jews missed the point entirely! It was faith in the Passover lamb’s blood that redeemed them, not the blood of circumcision!
So, also, now there can be no participation in the joys of God’s redeemed, except by faith in the Cross of the Lamb of God, which sweeps away all pretensions, levels all distinctions, and unites all in one holy congregation of blood-washed worshipers.
Why is it that the uncircumcised male could eat and celebrate the LORD’S Passover?
This is very important! Passover is God’s act of redemption in the OT. This event redeemed the Israelites. To be redeemed, one must be an Israelite by faith, to be an Israelite by faith; one must demonstrate his faith by being circumcised and celebrating Passover. Circumcision made the male a member of the OT community of faith—Israel. Apparently, his wife and unmarried daughters living with him were sanctified (set apart unto God) by his act of faith. His sons would have to be circumcised and then the whole family could celebrate the Passover, thereby sharing in Israel’s redemption.
When it came to celebrating the Passover, each lamb was to remain in one house. It parts were not to be divided and eaten in separate homes; it was to be the basis of a fellowship meal stressing the UNITY and JOY of the participants. Thus, Israel’s separation from all strangers was strictly maintained, in the institution of Passover; and Israel’s unity was clearly enforced.
An acted-out prophecy appears in the Passover lamb itself. Notice that verse 40 says, DO NOT BREAK ANY OF THE BONES. This foreshadows the Lamb of God according to John 19:33-36—
But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.”
The Exodus was a real Sabbath—these people who had been slaves all their lives had truly entered into rest for the first time. Exodus 12:51—
And on that very day the LORD brought the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions.
It is estimated that two and one-half million people marched by their tribes and clans out of Egypt. Deliverance from Egypt is not yet complete! The Red Sea Crossing lies ahead, but the Exodus has begun and the victory has been secured. Pharaoh like Satan is already defeated by the blood of the Lamb, but he doesn’t know it yet! The liberation of Israel is not simply being brought out of Egypt, a matter of geographical placement; it is being delivered from the hand of the Pharaoh, the embodiment of the evil one!
Now that the ceremonial laws of participation (circumcision and celebration) in the community have been laid down by the LORD, there needs to be consecration. Exodus 13:1-2—
The LORD said to Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether man or animal.”
We cannot overestimate—set too high a value—on the importance of this command. God did not base His claim on the firstborn because of being the Creator, but the Redeemer. God but purchased the Israelite firstborn with the innocent blood of one year-old unblemished male lambs, which was the redemption price—a foreshadowing, a down payment of what was yet to come in Christ. Acts 20:28 says—
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
To the Lamb of God, the four-living creatures and twenty-four elders sang a new song in Revelation 5:9—
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
1 Peter 1:18-19 states—
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 makes the clear the purpose of redemption—
You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
What Paul says to the Church in the NT, God is saying to Israel here in Exodus. The redeemed, the firstborn belong to me! They were bought at a price! They belong to Him and He wants the redeemed CONSECRATED.
The word CONSECRATE in Hebrews is QADASH. It is translated in the OT as to consecrate, sanctify, dedicate, be hallowed, be holy, be sanctified, and be separate.
To CONSECRATE means they were to be SET APART from common usage for holy purposes. I submit that God saved you to be consecrated to Him. Ephesians 2:8-10 says—
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
The Israelites of the Exodus were saved by grace—they did not work for to obtain their salvation—they could do nothing to help themselves, they were powerless and hopeless slaves that were delivered by the mighty hand of the LORD!
Again, the reader of Exodus is forced to remember what God has done on Israel behalf. Repeatedly, God focuses our minds on His act of redemption calling for remembrance. The ritual of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are vehicles in and through which God affects salvation for each new generation of Israelites. These instruction are given for Israel’s continued life and blessing. The concern is not solely that God be properly thanked but that the redemptive experience is a living reality for each Israelite in every age.
Since we have studied these two feasts in some detail, I will just read Exodus 13:3-8 without comment—
Then Moses said to the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the LORD brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast.
Today, in the month of Abib, you are leaving. When the LORD brings you into the land of
the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites—the land he swore to your
forefathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey—you are to observe this
ceremony in this month: For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the LORD. Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders. On that day tell your son, `I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’
Exodus 13:9-10 contain God’s purpose and motivation for the celebration of these two annual feasts—
This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that the law of the LORD is to be on your lips. For the LORD brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year.
With the Babylonian captivity, the Jews began wearing of PHYLACTERIES on the forehead and left arm. The phylacteries were two cubical leather boxes in which strips of parchment containing Exodus 13:1-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 were placed and then strapped on. With this practice, the Jews exchanged the inner reality for an external ritualism. It was a giant step into darkness. The Word of God was to activate their lips, hearts, and hands, not be trapped in a box! By the time Jesus came, such practices had made the Jews spiritually blind!
Exodus 13:11-13 add a special twist to redemption—
After the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as he
promised on oath to you and your forefathers, you are to give over to the LORD the first
offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the LORD.
Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck.
Redeem every firstborn among your sons.
The firstborn are to be “given to God,” but as God Himself did, they are to be redeemed rather than sacrificed. The Israelite firstborn were saved the night of the Passover. But at what cost? The Egyptian firstborn were killed. Thus, the redemption of the firstborn is to be a reminder of the great cost of human life for their redemption.
Since God acts in grace for His people, He lays claim on them. The redeemed become the property of the Redeemer! Exodus 13:14-16—
“In days to come when your son asks you, `What does this mean?’ say to him, `With a
mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed every firstborn in Egypt, both man and animal. This is why I sacrifice to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the LORD brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”
Israel’s firstborn constitute a counter to Pharaoh’s efforts to claim authority over all Israel. When Israel gets to Canaan, the inclusiveness remains, but the practice of redemption pertains only to sons. The redemption of sons becomes a sign for the redemption of all children of both sexes.
Personal devotedness is the first thing God has a right to look for from His blood-bought people. We are saved by grace, through the sprinkled blood of Christ, and we are to separate ourselves from sin—to be holy. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 calls for this consecration—
Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.
Carelessness of walk, evil associations, worldliness, and fleshly indulgences are things, which hinder us from keeping the Festival.
The Christian life is marvelously pictured in Exodus 12:43-13:16. We are redeemed by the mighty hand of the Father who redeemed us by His Son’s blood from the bondage of the world, the flesh and the Devil, so that by the circumcision of our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we might consecrate ourselves to God and celebrate the Festival of holy living.
The Book of Romans and the Book of Exodus are very similar. Both rehearse God’s redemption and then exhort the redeemed to consecrate themselves to God. Romans 12:1-2—
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.