Exodus 13:14 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
REDEMPTION OF THE FIRST-BORN
Exo 13:14-16. And it shall be, when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage. And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man, and the first-born of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the first-born of my children I redeem. And it shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt.
THE works of God deserve to be had in continual remembrance. His interpositions on behalf of our forefathers ought not to be forgotten by us; for we ourselves are greatly affected by them. The whole nation of the Jews at this day, and to the remotest period of time, are deeply interested in the mercy shewn to their ancestors when the Egyptian firstborn were slain. If we reckon that every Israelite had two sons, as well as daughters, (which, considering the care that had been taken to destroy all the male children, may be taken as a fair average,) and one out of those sons had been slain, we may calculate, that not above one third of that nation would ever have come into existence. On account of the distinguished greatness of that deliverance, God appointed that it should be kept in remembrance, by means of a variety of ordinances instituted for that purpose. Some of these institutions were to be annually observed, (as the Passover and the feast of unleavened bread,) and others were designed as daily memorials of it. Such was the redemption of the first-born, mentioned in our text. In consequence of the preservation of the first-born, both of men and beasts, among the Jews, God claimed all their future first-born, both of men and beasts, as his property: the clean beasts were to be sacrificed to him; the unclean were to be exchanged for a lamb, which was to be sacrificed; and the first-born children were to be redeemed at the price of five shekels, which sum was devoted to the service of the sanctuary. This ordinance the Jews, to the latest generations, were bound to observe,
As a memorial of God’s mercy—
In this view, the end of the appointment is repeatedly mentioned in the text. Every time that the redemption-price was paid for the first-born, either of man or beast, it was to be like “a token upon their hands, or a frontlet, or memorial, between their eyes [Note: See.],” to bring this deliverance to their remembrance.
Now the deliverance vouchsafed to us, infinitely exceeds theirs—
[Theirs was great, whether we consider the state from which they were brought (a sore bondage), or the means by which they were delivered (the slaughter of the Egyptian first-born), or the state to which they were raised (the service and enjoyment of God, both in the wilderness and in the land of Canaan). But compare ours in these respects, the guilt and misery from which we are redeemed — — — the death, not of a few enemies, but of God’s only dear Son, by which that redemption is effected — — — and the blessedness to which, both in this world and the next, we are brought forth — — — and all comparison fails: their mercy in comparison of ours is only as the light of a glow-worm to the meridian sun.]
Every thing therefore should serve to bring it to our remembrance—
[God has instituted some things for this express purpose, namely, baptism and the Lord’s supper. But why should not the same improvement be made of other things? Why may not the sight of a first-born, whether of man or beast, suggest the same reflections to our minds, that the redemption of them did to the Jews? Why should not the revolutions of days, months, and years, remind us of the darkness and misery from which we are brought through the bright shining of the Sun of Righteousness? What is a recovery from sickness, but an image of the mercy vouchsafed to our souls? As for the Scriptures, I had almost said that we should literally imitate the mistaken piety of the Jews, who wore certain portions of them as bracelets and frontlets; but, if not, we should have them so much in our hands and before our eyes, that the blessed subject of our redemption by Christ should never be long out of our minds.]
But the redemption of the first-born was to be observed also,
As an acknowledgment of their duty—
God, in addition to the claim which he has over all his creatures as their Maker, has a peculiar claim to those whom he has redeemed. In this view he called upon the Jews, and he calls upon us also,
To consecrate ourselves to him—
[The Jewish first-born of beasts (as has been observed) were sacrificed to God; and his right to the first-born of men was acknowledged by a redemption-price paid for them [Note: Num 3:46-47.]. The same price too was paid by all (five shekels, or about twelve shillings), to shew that every man’s soul was of equal value in the sight of God. With us, there are some important points of difference. All of us, whether male or female, and whether first or last in order of nativity, are accounted as the first-born [Note: Heb 12:23.]: nor can any price whatever exempt us from a personal consecration of ourselves to the service of the Lord. The Levites were afterwards substituted in the place of the first-born [Note: Num 3:44-50.]: but for us no substitute can be admitted. “We are not our own, we are bought with a price,” says the Apostle: from whence his inference is, “Therefore we must glorify God with our body and our spirit, which are his [Note: 1Co 6:19-20.].” And in another place he expresses the same idea in terms still more accommodated to the language of our text; “I beseech you,” says he, “by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service [Note: Rom 12:1.].”]
To serve him with the best of all that we have—
[The poorest among the Israelites, whose cow had enlarged his little stock, must immediately devote that little acquisition in sacrifice to God. If it were an horse or an ass that had produced him a foal, he must redeem the foal with a lamb, or “break its neck [Note: 3.] ;” God having decreed, that his people shall derive no comfort or advantage from any thing, with which they are unable, or unwilling, to honour him.
Thus are we bound to “honour God with our substance, and with the first-fruits of all our increase.” We must not stay till we have got in our harvest, and then spare to him a pittance out of our abundance; but we must devote to him a portion of what he has already bestowed, and trust him to supply our remaining wants. Strange will it be indeed, if, when “he has not spared his own Son, but delivered him up for us all,” we can grudge him any thing that is in the power of our hands to do.]
Inquire into the nature and ends of God’s ordinances—
[The rites of baptism and the Lord’s supper are very little understood amongst us: whereas, if we would inquire into the reason of these institutions, we should find them lead us immediately to the great work of redemption: in the former of them we are dedicated to Him who has redeemed us from the bondage of corruption; and in the latter, we renew to him, as it were, our baptismal vows, and derive strength from him for the performance of them. In the common ordinances of divine worship we should see the care which God has taken to make known to us the way of salvation, and to display to us the exceeding riches of his grace in Christ Jesus. If we duly considered God’s design in appointing an order of men to minister in his sanctuary, we should not complain that we heard so much of Christ; but rather, we should go up to his house hungering and thirsting after him, as the bread of life and the water of life.
Devote yourselves to the service of your God—
[The names of the first-born, and of them only, “are
written in heaven [Note: Note c.].” If therefore we would partake of the heavenly inheritance, we must regard ourselves as “an holy nation, and a peculiar people.” What the Levites were externally, that must we be in the inward devotion of our souls. We are not loaded, like them, with the observance of many burthensome ceremonies; but the sacrifices of prayer and praise we ought to offer unto God continually; and, in this respect, we are to emulate, as it were, the saints in heaven, who rest not day and night in ascribing glory “to Him who loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood.” We should distinctly consider ourselves as “his purchased possession,” and account it our highest happiness and honour to be in every thing at his disposal [Note: Rev 14:4. The redeemed are to “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.”].]
Endeavour to instruct others in the great work of redemption—
[On all the different occasions it was appointed, that children should make inquiries into the reasons of the various institutions which they saw [Note: Exo 12:26; Exo 13:8, and Jos 4:6-7.] ; and that such explanations should be given them, as should tend to perpetuate divine knowledge to the remotest generations. Such inquiries we should encourage amongst our children: and we should cheerfully embrace every opportunity that is afforded us, of instructing them in the things belonging to their eternal peace. If such catechetical instructions were given in our different families, to how much greater advantage would the word of life be dispensed! Our hearers then, being habituated to the consideration of divine truths, would enter more easily into the various subjects that are set before them. They would attend both with pleasure and profit, more especially when they were arrived at years of discretion; whereas now, the greater part of our auditories hear as if they heard not, and continue years under the ministry of the Gospel without ever understanding its fundamental truths. Let this attention then be paid by all parents and masters to their respective families; yea, let the ignorant in general, whether children or adults, be the objects of our affectionate regard: and let us all, in our respective spheres, contribute, as we are able, to impart the knowledge of Christ to others, that they also may behold the salvation of God.]
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Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836) was an English evangelical Anglican cleric.
Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of Simeon, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.