Sermon for Sunday, June 13th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Exo 13:1-22 ESV] 1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.” 3 Then Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the LORD brought you out from this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten. 4 Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out. 5 And when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this service in this month. 6 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. 7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory. 8 You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt. 10 You shall therefore keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year. 11 “When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, 12 you shall set apart to the LORD all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the LORD’s. 13 Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. 14 And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. 15 For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ 16 It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.” 17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” 18 But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. 19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.” 20 And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. 21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.
New Testament reading:
[Rev 10:1-7 ESV] 1 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. 2 He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, 3 and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. 4 And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” 5 And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven 6 and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, 7 but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.
[Luk 2:22-32 ESV] 22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Chapter 13 of Exodus is naturally divided into three parts. First there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Then, the Consecration of the Firstborn. And finally, the Pillar of Cloud and of Fire.
I. The Feast of Unleavened Bread
Previously in the book of Exodus we’ve had the Feast of Unleavened Bread described for us. We know that it is in relation to and celebration of Passover. Because of the haste in which the people of God were to depart from the land, the Lord prepared them, telling them to make unleavened bread, for there was insufficient time to make bread that rises. The Lord had instituted this celebration even before the Exodus of the people began. Now He is again explaining how the celebration is to occur and why it is important.
It is explained:
6 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. 7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory.
And then the purpose is given. It is for remembrance of the mighty act of God that has just occurred.
8 You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.
II. The Consecration of the Firstborn
The Consecration of the Firstborn which God then commands is also clearly related to the Passover and to the remembrance of it. When God passed over the land of Egypt he brought death the firstborn of all Egypt, but deliverance to all the households of Israel. Their firstborn were not killed.
So again they are to tell their children of God’s mighty act:
14 And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. 15 For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals.
While the Feast of Unleavened Bread is to start right away, the Consecration of the Firstborn is to begin only “When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites.”
The text says:
1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”
This is then explained in more detail:
12 you shall set apart to the LORD all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the LORD’s. 13 Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.
But what does this mean? What does it mean to redeem?
What is happening here is this:
The firstborn of all clean animals are to be sacrificed to God.
But unclean animals, like donkeys, are not proper sacrifices, and so a lamb must be killed in the place of a firstborn donkey.
And then, when a human child is born—a son in particular—a lamb is to be killed. Sacrificing a human is abominable to the Lord. That was the practice of the foreigners; the Canaanites who would sacrifice children to their God Molech. And this is considered the most heinous of sins.
But in order to remember the passover, and how the Israelites were saved by the blood of a lamb, the practice of sacrificing a lamb in the place of each firstborn son is continued.
To redeem is “to compensate for the faults or bad aspects of something.” Because humans are sinful, they must have a redeemer. A spotless lamb is to take their place.
We know, however, that no lamb is spotless enough, and that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin. So the real purpose of these sacrifices is to point to the lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world. A true spotless lamb in Jesus Christ. He truly makes up for our faults. He truly redeems us.
The practice of sacrifice which God here institutes is to be of great importance to the Israelites and not forgotten.
But because of Christ the practice need not continue. He fulfilled all the law.
Luke’s Gospel even shows that the sacrifice for redemption upon the birth of the firstborn was performed upon Jesus’s birth.
22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
You might ask “”a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons?” “What happened to the requirement of sacrificing a lamb?”
Well, apparently Joseph and Mary weren’t particularly wealthy.
And the law in Leviticus 12:8 expands on our reading in Exodus explains that if they cannot afford a lamb then they may sacrifice two turtledoves or two pigeons.
Apparently, Joseph the carpenter was not a wealthy man. But he was a righteous or holy man, in that he feared God, and so he and Mary brought Jesus to the Jerusalem to present him to the Lord and make this sacrifice as prescribed in the Law.
The sacrifice, the remembrance, or the passover was so important that it was remembered all those years later.
Application: A warning against hypocrisy.
And our text explains how important the practice was and how they should remember it.
Verse 16 says:
16 It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”
But note the key word there – “AS”
It shall be AS a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes. This is not a literal command for a hand tattoo or a command to hand something in front of your face.
It is a command in the spirit of remembrance.
So later we find Jesus criticizing the Jews who have taken this literally, hypocritically following the letter of the law but not the spirit.
It a section in Matthew 23 on “Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees” Jesus speaks in relation to this verse of Exodus.
He says “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.”
A phylactery was something the Jews would were around their head. It was a small box with a bit of the Scriptures in it, tied right between their eyes. The Scribes and Pharisees took this literally. But they did it not to remember the Scriptures, but to be seen.
And so Jesus warns us about hypocrisy and doing things for show.
Rather, we are to pray in secret, not out for all to see “how great we are.”
And likewise, not only are we to pray in secret, but we are to do good deeds when others are not looking. We are to work because of the joy we have in the Lord, not for the praise of man.
So we have that application from our text, indirectly. A warning against hypocrisy, and a promotion of living for God whether you are seen or unseen by others.
III. A Pillar of Cloud and of Fire
We then come to the third section of this chapter. A pillar of cloud and of fire.
We find that the Israelites have left Egypt. But what now? Where do they go? Which way? Are they free to choose their own way? Or will God lead the way?
He will indeed lead the way. And He does so with the pillar of cloud and of fire.
Lest it be mistaken, this is one pillar! By day it is a pillar of cloud and by night it is a pillar of fire. The same pillar but changing appearance.
I don’t know how big these were, but I imagine they were substantial. Perhaps reaching up in the sky beyond sight. And it has been suggested that the pillar of cloud would have sheltered the Israelites from the desert sun. If that is true, then perhaps it took up a quarter or even half of the sky.
There are three functions of the pillar that I want us to look at. Three things that God does for the Israelites with the pillar of cloud and of fire. That is, it (A) guides them, it (B) protects them), and it (C) does not depart from them.
A. Guides Them
First, the pillar guides them.
21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way.
God’s direction, His path, is not always easy. The Israelites will be wandering the desert for 40 years following the pillar of cloud and of fire. God does not lead them on a direct path into the promised land. (Possibly in a future sermon I’ll try to detail the path they do take from Egypt to Canaan). But while God’s guidance and direction does not bring them direction to the promised land, it does keep them alive. Without God’s direction the armies of Egypt or of some other nation would destroy them. And God’s direction and timing is necessary to rightly discipline and form the people before they enter the Holy land.
God’s guidance is crucial to their survival and crucial to their character.
B. Protects Them
Then also, God, in the pillar of cloud and of fire protects His people.
We’ll see in the next chapter when Pharaoh’s army comes near to them that God protects them with the pillar of cloud.
[Exo 14:19-20 ESV] 19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.
And then the cloud actually is not just defensive, but offensive. A few verses later we find:
[Exo 14:24-25 ESV] 24 And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 25 clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.”
We see over and over than the deliverance of the people is fully the work of God. He is to get all the praise.
C. Does not Depart from Them
And finally, we find that God and His pillar does not depart from them.
22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.
Or, at least, it does not depart from them for the forty years in the wilderness. It seems likely that the pillar ceased operation, so to speak, when they arrive in the holy land.
The key in our understanding of this comes from Nehemiah 9:19
[Neh 9:19 ESV] 19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go.
God guided them and protected them and did not depart from them.
That is the God we all need.
Our life is a pilgrimage. A journey through the wilderness of this world.
You need a guide and protector. You need a guide and protector.
Where He goes you go. Left, right, forwards, even backwards. We are to walk in the way of the Lord. Outside of that path is a deadly desert.
We are indeed fortunate and blessed that our guide and our protector does not depart from us. Our God is faithful. God is faithful. Every day and every night.
Like the pillar of cloud and of fire, we can say
Every day He leadeth me.
And every night He leadeth me.
Praise be to God.