Bible Study Review: Exodus 12:40-13

The Story so Far: The people of Israel settled in Egypt during the time of their ancestor Joseph, who saved both them and the people of Egypt from famine.  Generations later the people grew into a large group and a new king came to the thrown who “did not know Joseph” and forced the people into hard labor.  God took notice on the suffering of the people and was moved to act, choosing Moses, a Hebrew raised by Pharaoh’s daughter who ran away from Egypt and began a new life in Midian, as the agent through which the people would be set free.  Moses initially tried to get out of answering God’s call but God rejected Moses’ objections and Exodus 4:18 sees Moses prepared to go and do what he’s been commanded to by God. Pharoah rejected Moses’ request to let the people go, setting up a head to head conflict between Pharaoh (considered to be a god) and God.  After ten plagues (the final being the death of the firstborn throughout Egypt), Pharaoh finally allows the people to go.  For more details about what’s happened already in Exodus check out previous Bible Study Reviews.

12: 40-51 – There is a break in the story of the people’s trip out of Egypt for rules regarding the celebration of this event in the future.  This hammers home how important the Exodus is to be for the people.  Like the 4th of July in America, the celebration of Passover will not only serve to remind the people of a specific historical event but also to point them towards a set of ideals that should define them: freedom, opposition to oppression, and faith in God’s action on behalf of the oppressed.

  • There is an obvious tension in the text concerning who is allowed to take part in the celebration.  There seems to be a desire to be inclusive while also keep the meal sacred for the people of God.  This is a similar issue to what the early church will face.  They want all to have access to what they are offering but also to make sure they understand this is no small thing.
    • The conclusion reached in Exodus is not a more qualification or test on doctrine, but circumcision.  To be a part of the feast means to become part of the community, to bear the physical mark of being set apart from the world.

13: 1-16 – two themes emerge, the consecration of the firstborn and the use of unleavened bread

  1. Firstborn – reminder that God has a claim on all things, including their firstborn.  The consecration of the first born serves as a reminder for future generations that God claims Israel as God’s first born and their allegiance is owed to God.
  2. Unleavened Bread – in times of abundance this will serve as a reminder of times of need.  They are reminded that all they’ve gained comes from God, the got none of it on their own.  Once again this is identified as a means of sharing the story with future generations

13: 17-22 – the beginning of the journey and the bones of Joseph

  • God leads them on the long route out of Egypt – isn’t going to risk them turning back due to hardship.
    • God recognizes that Israel won’t take to freedom right away, they are addicted to the order Egypt provided, the oppression that became their norm, and even the food that came from the hands of their oppressors.  They are going to have to learn how to be free so God guides them in a way that gives them time to grow accustomed to being on their own.
  • Joseph’s Bones are taken with them.  This fulfills the promise Joseph made his brothers make when he died and connects the people of the Exodus to the past promises of God.  None of this happens if God had not heard the cry of the people and remembered God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants (2:24).  Joseph is held up as an example of faith (Hebrews 11:22).  Over four hundred years earlier he trusted that God was not done with the people and bet on Israel having a future.

Takeaway: The Israelites bringing Joseph’s bones with them is an important lesson in how we relate to our past.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the present that we forget the past, we leave the bones of the ancestors behind because we’re so excited about what’s to come.  Sometimes we are so obsessed by the past that we refuse to leave where the bones are and stop ourselves from moving forward.  The people of Israel show a third way, they bring the bones with them.  They are faithful to their past while also looking ahead and incorporating where they’ve come from into where they’re going.

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