13:2 “Set apart 1 to me every firstborn male – the first offspring of every womb 2 among the Israelites, whether human or animal; it is mine.” 3
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
13:15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused 9 to release us, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of people to the firstborn of animals. 10 That is why I am sacrificing 11 to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb, but all my firstborn sons I redeem.’
1 tn The verb “sanctify” is the Piel imperative of קָדַשׁ (qadash). In the Qal stem it means “be holy, be set apart, be distinct,” and in this stem “sanctify, set apart.”
sn Here is the central principle of the chapter – the firstborn were sacred to God and must be “set apart” (the meaning of the verb “sanctify”) for his use.
2 tn The word פֶּטֶּר (petter) means “that which opens”; this construction literally says, “that which opens every womb,” which means “the first offspring of every womb.” Verses 12 and 15 further indicate male offspring.
3 tn Heb “to me it.” The preposition here expresses possession; the construction is simply “it [is, belongs] to me.”
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, vÿha’avarta) 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
9 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.”
10 tn The text uses “man” and “beast.”
11 tn The form is the active participle.