Grasping God's Purpose: ”Take the Long Road Home” – Exodus 13

I confess that I am not always a patient man. I like short cuts – but they must be proven. I only notice the flowers along the drive because God gave me a wife to call them to my attention. I read management and efficiency literature. Things that are poorly managed bug me. Perhaps that is why this passage put a “burr under my saddle”. In these days of efficiency management, God’s way of doing things can grate us the wrong way. He can take the long way around things and makes a point in what seems an inefficient way. This study will help us understand and relate to the “indirect God” and appreciate the brilliance of His method of teaching!

In the text for our study, there are two clear parts: God makes commands (12:43-13:16) and then begins an example (13:17-22) leading the people. The two sections have one thing in common, both are inefficient in their execution. Why doesn’t God do things the short and easy way? Let’s take the passage apart and it will become clearer. While we do, there is a principle that we will learn:

Key Principle: God knows the SHORT way is not always the best way to move us ahead. He takes His time to make sure the WAY we head is pleasing to Him!

THE COMMANDS (12:43-13:16)

Timing of the Commands (Ex. 12:43)

First, look at the opening Command in Exodus 12:43 “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it…”  Something strikes me strangely about these words…Before we explore WHAT God commanded Moses, I had a question… WHY offer detailed instructions BEFORE you get the people moving out of Pharaoh’s way? Bear in mind the passage is set while they are still in Egypt. It can be as simple as the idea that the record was expanded by Moses later. There is no reason to believe he wrote the final form of what we have THAT NIGHT. At the same time, it occurs to me that there are perhaps two spiritual and yet incredibly practical reasons why this was placed where it is in the story:

First, They were not ready to have God lead them anywhere until they were ready to listen! (and neither are we!)  I have met many believers who have labored over God’s will for some venture or question. Have you ever been fasting and praying and still not hearing clearly from God while you are in the will and the way of God—about what He wants you to do, or where He wants you to go with your issue? It is worth noting that if you are not walking in the will of God you will need to understand that God seldom raises His voice. His Words soak into your ears by a whisper…not a shriek. If you are not close enough to God to hear Him whisper, then you may find yourself wandering continuously with no idea where you are headed…because God’s whisper is only for those that are close enough, and those that are quiet enough to listen. It is as if God says: “IF YOU’RE REALLY INTERESTED IN HEARING FROM ME, MOVE EVERYTHING, EVERY OBSTACLE, EVERY ENCUMBRANCE, EVERYTHING THAT DISTRACTS YOU FROM ME OUT OF THE WAYWhile God had the attention of Israel on the miracle of the Passover – perhaps He used their short attention span to speak words that would last for all their generations. I suspect there is another reason God spoke BEFORE He moved the people out..

Second, God was not ready to show His POWER until we are ready to proclaim His right of OWNERSHIP! God strips a believer of PERSONAL OWNERSHIP before He shows what belonging to HIM means. Have you noticed how God speaks in Scripture as though He is in charge? The writer of a series of billboards seems to “get it” in the “God Speaks” series in the DFW area. The billboards are a simple black background with white text. No fine print or sponsoring organization is included. The sponsorship for these “God Speaks” billboards is anonymous:

  • “Let’s meet at my house Sunday before the game.” – God
  • “C’mon over and bring the kids.” – God
  • “What part of “Thou Shalt Not…didn’t you understand?” – God
  • “We need to talk.” – God
  • “Keep using my name in vain, I’ll make rush hour longer.” – God
  • “Loved the wedding, invite me to the marriage.” – God
  • “That `Love Thy Neighbor‘ thing… I meant it.” – God
  • “I love you and you and you and you and… “ – God
  • “Will the road you’re on get you to my place?” – God
  • “Follow me.” -God
  • “Big bang theory, you’ve got to be kidding.” – God
  • “My way is the highway.” – God
  • “Need directions?” – God
  • “You think it’s hot here?” – God
  • “Have you read my #1 best seller? There will be a test.” – God
  • “Do you have any idea where you’re going?” – God
  • And finally: “Don’t make me come down there.” – God

I am not being snide, but it isn’t in the nature of man to submit to rules or even the concept of Divine ownership. Our pride is big and our resistance is significant – even when God moves into our lives in a PROFOUND WAY, like He did on the first Passover with Israel.

Substance of the Commands (Four Types in Ex. 12:43 – 13:16)

Type One: The Distinction Commands (Ex. 12:43-51)

Exodus 12:43 “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it. 44 but every man’s slave purchased with money, after you have circumcised him, then he may eat of it. 45 “A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it. 46“It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it. 47 “All the congregation of Israel are to celebrate this. 48 “But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it. 49 “The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you.” 50 Then all the sons of Israel did so; they did just as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron. 51 And on that same day the LORD brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.

God said essentially: “Set apart this feast of the Passover and include only those I have specified to observe it for your generations!” (12:43-51). God has a new and special identity for people who desire to walk thorough the wilderness with Him. It is a distinct people, with a unique set of markers and a unique set of standards. Failure to come under His Word bars you from participation! Three important lessons can be seen here.

First, we need to include who God includes, and exclude who God excludes. In the “tolerance at any cost” laden generation, we need to remember that throwing in the towel on God’s standards so that we can be loving and accepting of everyone is NOT a marker of godliness, it is a warped version of truth. We need to be gracious and loving as God’s people. At the same time, that grace stops at the edge of God’s Word. We must be careful, for all around us are voices that call us to allow things God said we cannot allow – and call it all LOVE.

Second, That principle can be even more closely applied to my own life. We need to serve an eviction notice on a lot of stuff left over from our old life. Anything that doesn’t please God and doesn’t honor God needs to be shown the door. Things that are hindering your being properly aligned with the Spirit of God must fall under His Word on the subject. You can’t bring in the treasure until to take the trash out. God doesn’t bless a mess – in ministry or in heart. Once we’ve evicted every encumbrance—then God will move in our heart with free course. Don’t argue to hold on to encumbrances out of some warped theological theory – just give them up.

Third, on a more positive note, careful observation of the text about the meal reveals that God was signaling a FAMILY relationship in the observance. Those who are a part of the family are to take part as sons (12:42). God’s work in people started through the family, and He illustrates the relationship as that of a SON. Interesting, in the time, this was a title of a young man that respected his father, and wanted to be identified as part of his legacy. How the enemy has launched an attack on this part of the identity! Those who are not part of the family are not to take part unless they have been circumcised as the family (12:43-45, 48-49). The people were to be examined and to join the people of God by submitting themselves to reverence one of God’s more difficult to follow commands. Being a part of God’s program was not a negotiation, nor did people come in with a list of demands. It was a privilege to be a part of God’s family. God’s provision was a family experience and cannot be shared outside the house (12:46). Those who refused to join God’s family failed to receive the benefits of the family. It isn’t a right; it is a privilege to have God’s blessings! The off ramp of Hell highway is available, but you must turn the vehicle!

Everyone in the family is to participate – it was not left to your choice (12:47). If you are a part of God’s program, then you do what God says to do. He isn’t taking a head count on what we think, He’s telling us His expectation. After they committed to follow the Lord, they were commanded to move ahead (12:50-51). That’s the pattern of the Bible – trust; then obey, then get blessed. God has no grandchildren and every one must make a decision of whether to trust God or not on their own.

Type Two: The Devotion Commands (Ex. 13:1-2)

Ex. 13:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me.”

“Set apart (Devote) the first born of man and beast – they are MINE” (13:1). God knew that His purchase made in Egypt long ago would quickly be forgotten when the people were redeemed and out of the harsh bondage. Believers tend to lose their enthusiasm the further they get from their lost life. God told them to recall the beginning story with every new generation! Obviously, the tendency of believers both then and now is to be cheap and cheat God on His property!

The roof of the church hall of a little Swiss church, at the turn of the 20th century, was falling down. So the members of the church held regular prayer meetings in the hall after the service to pray for funds to repair the roof. There was an old man, known to be very tight with his money, who used to attend and sit near the back of the hall. He could sneak out just before the collection plate came round at the end of the prayer meeting. One Sunday, he was held up on his way to the prayer meeting in the Hall by the vicar and could only find a seat at the front of the church. During the prayer meeting, a piece of the roof fell and hit him on the head. Feeling spoke to by the Lord, he stood up and said “Lord, I’ll give $1000″ A voice at the back of the church was heard to say” Hit him again, Lord“!

God wanted the FIRST – of EVERYTHING. He bought them and paid for ALL of them, but He wanted them to remember! Later on the price for redemption of a human first born male was set at 5 shekels (Numbers 18:16).

Type Three: The Memorial Commands (Ex. 13:3-10)

Ex. 13:3 Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the LORD brought you out from this place. And nothing leavened shall be eaten. 4 “On this day in the month of Abib, you are about to go forth. 5 “It shall be when the LORD brings you to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall observe this rite in this month. 6 “For 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 throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven be seen among you in all your borders. 8 “You shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 “And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt. 10 “Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year.

The short read is this: “Memorialize our deliverance in this week long festival! Do so by getting leaven out of the feast for a week, eating unleavened bread each year at this time!” (13:3-10). The “memorial commands” are these:

  • The memory of the powerful work of God would be seen in a meal (13:3a). This theme isn’t new to the Bible. There was a meal covenant in Scripture that was shared when peace was forged between waring parties (Psalm 23, Jacob and Laban in Genesis).
  • Leaven was natural, unleavened bread was rushed and un-natural. It went against the grain (13:3b). It was faster to make, but harder to swallow. In many ways, God’s command was to make people reverse the normal ways they did things to recall the events of the wilderness.
  • God was deeply interested in the timing of the event (13:4) and the continued observance of the event (13:5-7). He wanted them to concentrate all their effort on even cleaning any of the “leaven” they had in the camp, carefully cleaning it out! (13:7b).
  • Notice how many times he says “with a strong hand.” The Hebrew root of this word is: khaw-zak’ which means “to fasten on to” “to bind.” The pun was this: just as God delivered you by “BINDING YOU” to His hand, so this observance shall BIND YOU to Him!

Don’t be so quick to think that God doesn’t care about OBSERVANCES. Not everything about God is INFORMAL. I want to challenge that idea. I know that we can come dressed however we want and God can hear us. I know that we can lay in a hammock and worship God in a small Bible study at home with our friends. I know that there are no Biblical commands to erect buildings as churches. I know the job description of clergy is very much more about character in Timothy and Titus – than about what they do. Yet, I do NOT conclude that being a part of a living body of a local church is unimportant. I DO dress to be here. I DO want to worship corporately….and I DO see a God in Scripture who cares about observances – how they are done, what is included in the services, and who should participate. Let’s not keep settling for the downward tug of our times to make everything into a barnyard dance or rock concert. God cares what we do, when we do it, how we are inside and outside. Apply that as the Spirit leads, but don’t dismiss it. Two guys at Dunkin Donuts talking about Jesus with no accountability or leadership structure is NOT a local church- even if modern writers say it is.

Type Four: The Devotion Commands (Ex. 13:11-16)

Ex. 13:11 “Now when the LORD brings you to the land of the Canaanite, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and gives it to you, 12 you shall devote to the LORD the first offspring of every womb, and the first offspring of every beast that you own; the males belong to the LORD. 13 “But every first offspring of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck; and every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. 14 “And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. 15 ‘It came about, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore, I sacrifice to the LORD the males, the first offspring of every womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ 16 “So it shall serve as a sign on your hand and as phylacteries on your forehead, for with a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”

A quick read on this section may be” “Devote the first born of our children and our animals to the Lord remembering that they are the purchase price of our redemption from slavery!” (13:11-16). I  think it is worth remembering that Everyone is prepared to sacrifice SOMEONE ELSE’S STUFF, but not their own!

A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin who is 5, and Ryan who is 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson so she said: “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, “Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.” Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Hey Ryan, you be Jesus.”

God told the people to offer back to Him the first born of their children, not by taking their lives, but by a sacrifice of a lamb. (13:11-13) God kept this command Himself! Ironic that this would be the time when God’s very own firstborn son would become the “Lamb slain” to purchase men! God has people give to help them recall who really owns what we have: Have you ever noticed how big $100.00 looks when you take it to church, yet how small it looks when you take it to the mall?

Don’t skip Exodus 13:13. The donkey was unclean so they couldn’t sacrifice it – so they used a lamb instead. If someone could not sacrifice a lamb, then the donkey’s neck would be broken. It was either redeemed, or it was DEAD – no middle ground. That’s a lesson in the judicial nature of a Holy God.


The commands now given, God led the people out. Take a closer look at what the example teaches us:

  • Protection: God Protects Us from US: God led them the long way to help them overcome a fear He knew they would have (13:17). Exodus 13:17 “Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.” The route chosen by God was southeast towards Sinai. Why? To avoid possible militaristic confrontation with the Egyptians. Because that would encourage people with shallow minds and tunnel vision to go back. Sometime we should thank God not just for His faithfulness in what we went through—but the trouble that we avoided because He shielded us. We may just need to thank God for what we missed along the way…instead of just thanking God for what He brought you out through.
  • Organization: God gave them a chance to spread out and get organized before the journey began (13:18). 18 Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea; and the sons of Israel went up in martial array from the land of Egypt. They needed a chance to get in ranks before they underwent attacks, and God gave them the time and space.
  • Opportunity: God gave them the time necessary to keep their promises. If they had to run, they couldn’t take the bones of their fathers as they promised! (13:19). 19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones from here with you.”
  • Preparation: God gave them a glimpse of the journey before they got into the wilderness (13:20). 20 Then they set out from Succoth and camped in Etham on the edge of the wilderness.
  • Direction: God gave them direction – clear and distinct. Exodus 13:21 The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.

Why doesn’t God do things the short and easy way? Because He knows the shortcut isn’t the best way to get what you need from the journey! He takes His time to make sure the WAY we head is pleasing to Him!

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