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Exodus 13:11-16

Context

13:11 When the Lord brings you 1  into the land of the Canaanites, 2  as he swore to you and to your fathers, and gives it 3  to you, 13:12 then you must give over 4  to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. 5  Every firstling 6  of a beast that you have 7  – the males will be the Lord’s. 8  13:13 Every firstling 9  of a donkey you must redeem 10  with a lamb, and if you do not redeem it, then you must break its neck. 11  Every firstborn of 12  your sons you must redeem.

13:14 13 In the future, 14  when your son asks you 15  ‘What is this?’ 16  you are to tell him, ‘With a mighty hand 17  the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the land of slavery. 18  13:15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused 19  to release us, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of people to the firstborn of animals. 20  That is why I am sacrificing 21  to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb, but all my firstborn sons I redeem.’ 13:16 It will be for a sign on your hand and for frontlets 22  on your forehead, for with a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.” 23 

1 tn Heb “and it will be when Yahweh brings (will bring) you.”

2 sn The name “the Canaanite” (and so collective for “Canaanites”) is occasionally used to summarize all the list of Canaanitish tribes that lived in the land.

3 tn The verb וּנְתָנָהּ (unÿtanah) is the Qal perfect with the vav (ו) consecutive; this is in sequence to the preceding verb, and forms part of the protasis, the temporal clause. The main clause is the instruction in the next verse.

4 tn The unusual choice of words in this passage reflects the connection with the deliverance of the firstborn in the exodus when the Lord passed over the Israelites (12:12, 23). Here the Law said, “you will cause to pass over (וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ, vÿhaavarta) to Yahweh.” The Hiphil perfect with the vav (ו) provides the main clause after the temporal clauses. Yahweh here claimed the firstborn as his own. The remarkable thing about this is that Yahweh did not keep the firstborn that was dedicated to him, but allowed the child to be redeemed by his father. It was an acknowledgment that the life of the child belonged to God as the one redeemed from death, and that the child represented the family. Thus, the observance referred to the dedication of all the redeemed to God.

sn It was once assumed by some scholars that child sacrifice lay behind this text in the earlier days, but that the priests and prophets removed those themes. Apart from the fact that there is absolutely no evidence for anything like that, the Law forbade child sacrifice, and always used child sacrifice as the sample of what not to do in conformity with the pagans (e.g., Deut 12:31). Besides, how absurd would it be for Yahweh to redeem the firstborn from death and then ask Israel to kill them. See further B. Jacob, Exodus, 371.

5 tn Heb “every opener of a womb,” that is, the firstborn from every womb.

6 tn The descriptive noun שֶׁגֶר (sheger) is related to the verb “drop, cast”; it refers to a newly born animal that is dropped or cast from the womb. The expression then reads, “and all that first open [the womb], the casting of a beast.”

7 tn Heb “that is to you.” The preposition expresses possession.

8 tn The Hebrew text simply has “the males to Yahweh.” It indicates that the Lord must have them, or they belong to the Lord.

9 tn Heb “and every opener [of a womb].”

10 tn The verb תִּפְדֶּה (tifdeh), the instructional imperfect, refers to the idea of redemption by paying a cost. This word is used regularly of redeeming a person, or an animal, from death or servitude (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 109).

11 tn The conditional clause uses an imperfect tense; this is followed by a perfect tense with the vav consecutive providing the obligation or instruction. The owner might not redeem the donkey, but if he did not, he could not keep it, he had to kill it by breaking its neck (so either a lamb for it, or the donkey itself). The donkey could not be killed by shedding blood because that would make it a sacrifice, and that was not possible with this kind of animal. See G. Brin, “The Firstling of Unclean Animals,” JQR 68 (1977): 1-15.

12 tn Heb “and every firstborn of man among your sons.” The addition of “man” is clearly meant to distinguish firstborn humans from animals.

sn One was to sacrifice the firstborn animals to Yahweh, but the children were to be redeemed by their fathers. The redemption price was five shekels (Num 18:15-16).

13 sn As with v. 8, the Law now requires that the children be instructed on the meaning of this observance. It is a memorial of the deliverance from bondage and the killing of the firstborn in Egypt.

14 tn Heb “tomorrow.”

15 tn Heb “and it will be when your son will ask you.”

16 tn The question is cryptic; it simply says, “What is this?” but certainly refers to the custom just mentioned. It asks, “What does this mean?” or “Why do we do this?”

17 tn The expression is “with strength of hand,” making “hand” the genitive of specification. In translation “strength” becomes the modifier, because “hand” specifies where the strength was. But of course the whole expression is anthropomorphic for the power of God.

18 tn Heb “house of slaves.”

19 tn Heb “dealt hardly in letting us go” or “made it hard to let us go” (see S. R. Driver, Exodus, 110). The verb is the simple Hiphil perfect הִקְשָׁה (hiqshah, “he made hard”); the infinitive construct לְשַׁלְּחֵנוּ (lÿshallÿkhenu, “to release us”) could be taken epexegetically, meaning “he made releasing us hard.” But the infinitive more likely gives the purpose or the result after the verb “hardened himself.” The verb is figurative for “be stubborn” or “stubbornly refuse.”

20 tn The text uses “man” and “beast.”

21 tn The form is the active participle.

22 tn The word is טוֹטָפֹת (totafot, “frontlets”). The etymology is uncertain, but the word denotes a sign or an object placed on the forehead (see m. Shabbat 6:1). The Gemara interprets it as a band that goes from ear to ear. In the Targum to 2 Sam 1:10 it is an armlet worn by Saul (see S. R. Driver, Exodus, 110). These bands may have resembled the Egyptian practice of wearing as amulets “forms of words written on folds of papyrus tightly rolled up and sewn in linen” (W. C. Kaiser, Jr., “Exodus,” EBC 2:384).

23 sn The pattern of the passage now emerges more clearly; it concerns the grateful debt of the redeemed. In the first part eating the unleavened bread recalls the night of deliverance in Egypt, and it calls for purity. In the second part the dedication of the firstborn was an acknowledgment of the deliverance of the firstborn from bondage. They were to remember the deliverance and choose purity; they were to remember the deliverance and choose dedication. The NT will also say, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price, therefore, glorify God” (1 Cor 6:20). Here too the truths of God’s great redemption must be learned well and retained well from generation to generation.



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