When I need my children to do something, I tell them what to do, like "go clean your room before playing." I usually explain why - if company is coming or whatever. If it is really important to me, I'll say, first, "Go clean your room and then you may play." Second, "Do you understand?" And if it is just vitally important, I'll go one step further and say,
Perhaps that's why God gives the Israelites three events to remember He brought them out of Egypt. In case they ever are tempted to think, "We brought ourselves out of Egypt," or "We just walked out," or "Our sheer numbers rebelling brought us out," or "Moses, the great leader, or Aaron, the great spokesman, brought us out," - God gives them a third event that says, "It is I, God, who brought you out of Egypt."
He has given them the Passover meal that stresses that God passed over the Israelite houses on that fatal night. He has given them the Feast of Unleaven Bread that recalls the haste with which they departed Egypt. Now He gives them a third event to remember His hand in bringing them out of slavery - the Sanctification of the firstborn males. This was a perpetual reminder that only the firstborn were slain in Egypt, but the Israelite firstborn were redeemed with a price.
These memorials established an unending chain of teaching and instruction designed to keep God's people informed throughout all ages of the events they had just been through and their significance to the children of Israel and unto all men. Have you ever been through something significant and think, "I am here at an event where history is being made?" [Earthquake at Candlestick Park, San Francisco.] You look around for some kind of memorabilia to remember the event yourself or to show to others that says, "Hey, I was there when that happened." God was giving these Israelites something to remember all these wondrous events.
This setting apart of the firstborn was a representative thing signifying that "all Israel" was holy unto the Lord. Since the first births represented all the births, the whole nation was to consecrate itself unto Jehovah and present itself as a priestly nation. God would have liked for ALL Israelites to be priests. He wanted them all to be priests, as Peter says we are all priests now in 1 Peter 2:5. But just like God didn't really want them to allow divorces or to have an earthly king over them, due to the weakness and unwillingness of Israel, the plan was altered and the Levitical order of the priesthood was established later for the whole nation.
Studying this sanctification of the firstborn, we can have a better understanding of a New Testament scripture. But first let's look at Numbers 3:11-13. God makes it very clear that from that point, He has taken the Levites from among the people of Israel INSTEAD of every firstborn that opens the womb--one Levite male for every firstborn male of the other tribes. In that third chapter, the firstborn males of all the tribes, one month and older, were numbered and found to be 22,273. Then the Levite males were numbered and found to be only 22,000. They were short 273 Levite males. God said these extras could be redeemed for 5 shekels apiece and the money given to the Levite tribe. Instead of giving up their firstborn to be priests, the other tribes could "pay" the Levite tribe to do it instead. They were ransomed from the priesthood with money! So in a sense, the Levites were paid to be the priesthood--the sanctified--for the whole nation. So in 1 Peter 1:18 when Peter says, "You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot," this is what he is talking about. Peter calls their ransoming out of the priesthood, which all started from this sanctification of the firstborn in Exodus 13, futile because they were ransomed with perishable silver and gold. Now we are ransomed, "bought with a price," by the nonperishable - the blood of Jesus Christ.
We didn't pay for Christ to be our high priest or our blood sacrifice. You can't put a price on a thing like that. He GAVE Himself - not at our asking - but as His idea. "I Gave My Life For YOU." Be we have to say,"Yes, you are my Redeemer." We have to accept Him as the Substitute for our rightful death and separation from God. In return, we put off our old sinful nature--we die to sin--and are "renewed in the spirit of our minds and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness," as Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:22-24. --Just as Israel is going to put off a life of slavery and begin a new life in the Wilderness after crossing the Red Sea.
Speaking of the Red Sea, did some of your references (such as commentaries and footnotes) suggest that this Sea should be translated REED SEA? There is an article in the Biblical Archeology Review for July/August 1984 by Bernard Batto that Brother James Burton Coffman says puts to rest any notion that this sea should be called the "Reed Sea." He says with substantial proof in that 7-page article that the Hebrew word "Yam Sup", that some man erroneously translated "Reed Sea," really means "Sea of the END" or "Sea at the end of the world." (You've probably seen dragons in the sea on old maps.) If you consulted any books written before 1985, your book probably suggested that this sea could be called the "Reed Sea." But the more recent, knowledgeable authors are agreeing that this sea was referred to as the "End Sea" by the ancient peoples of that land. So all that arguing that a lot of the commentaries carry on about--"they couldn't have crossed what we now call the Red Sea because it doesn't have reeds in it, so they must have crossed in some shallow marshy area that would have reeds"--those arguments no longer float. Now we know it is best translated - "END SEA."
How appropriate that Israel should have been created, Pharaoh destroyed and the forces of evil defeated at the "End Sea." That was the END of slavery for Israel; it was the END of Pharaoh; it was the END of oppression of God's people in Egypt. And the symbolism reaches all the way into the New Testament, where baptism appears as the End of slavery to sin, the End of bondage to Satan, the End of guilt and shame, and the beginning (the other END) of the new life in Christ as we put on our new nature! Look at the first five verses of 1 Corinthians 10 sometime to see how Paul describes the Israelite's passing through the Red Sea with the cloud above them as a type of baptism.
The topography of the land has changed drastically over the centuries from the silt from the Nile and the Red Sea and from the dust storms capable of filling in canals and such that whole cities have been lost in that region. Some of the cities mentioned in our text can't be positively identified. If you consulted more than one map for the Exodus route you likely found them in conflict with each other. That the Israelites did cross over on dry ground through a substantial amount of water, enough water to drown a multitude of charioteers, is all we need to know. The marvelous events of this 14th chapter declare in tones of thunder that the nation of Israel did not JUST HAPPEN; it was created by a sovereign act of God. Spiritually, this event is unsurpassed by anything else in the Old Testament. We see faith rewarded, and unbelief defeated and destroyed. We see proud tyranny and oppression cast down to oblivion and death. We see the mightiest military machine of its time broken, defeated and destroyed by a shepherd's crook. We see a nation of slaves given liberty and we see the great pantheon of pagan gods yield their dominion to the one true and Almighty Living God - the God of the Israelites.
It was indeed a WONDER TO BEHOLD, a miracle, to witness how God saved the Israelites from Pharaoh's advancing army. But no more of a wonder than how His Son saves us today from the army of sin that surrounds us today. The Israelites had felt trapped by Pharaoh's army. Have you ever felt trapped by sin? 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us God will not let us be tempted beyond our strength, but with the temptation, He will also provide the way of escape, that we may be able to endure it.
Next week we'll begin looking at the Israelites' experiences in the wilderness, where this liberated nation of slaves becomes a type, for all ages to come, of the struggles of the true people of God against temptations and hardships we encounter here on earth. When they enter the Promised Land, we'll see the pledge of Divine Promise that at last the faithful "in Christ" shall enter into that BETTER KINGDOM where all the problems of earth shall be solved in the light and bliss of Heaven.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR