This is a transitional chapter, functioning as a wrap-up of the Passover and a set-up for the great Red Sea escape, but it serves four important purposes.
First, the section in verses 1-16 reports the same phrase four times: “By a strong hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt” (v.3, 9, 14, 16). This was to be given as the reason for both the observance of the feast of unleavened bread and the dedication of the firstborn. In other words, God wanted His people to be constantly reminded of how He had rescued them from slavery. They must not forget.
The night of the exodus from Egypt they had eaten unleavened bread, so when they ate it once a year in the month of Abib, it would prompt an annual re-telling of the Passover story. Our observance of the Lord’s Supper is like that. It begs questions from our children, prompting gospel conversations as we share the meaning.
Whenever a first birth occurred (human or livestock), that male child or animal would be specially dedicated to the Lord. This would remind the Israelites that God “passed over” their firstborn sons while those of Egypt died.
You may have seen an Orthodox Jew wearing a little box (called a phylactery, a.k.a. tefillin) strapped to his arm or forehead. Taking verses 9 and 16 literally, they wear these boxes containing tiny scrolls of Scripture portions. Exodus 13:1-16 is one of the four passages written on the scrolls.
The second purpose for this chapter is that it tells us the first leg of the Exodus route. When you read tomorrow’s chapter, remember that God led the Israelites to a dead-end at the Red Sea on purpose (v.17-18). God had a miracle waiting there.
The third purpose is to tell how God led the people (v.21-22). The “pillar of cloud” and the “pillar of fire” directed the people and assured them of God’s presence with them.
Last, this chapter includes the fact that Moses took the mummy of Joseph with him on the exodus from Egypt. This was the fulfillment of a prophetic statement Joseph had made before he died (Genesis 50:25). He knew that God had promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan, and he wanted to be buried there. He finally was many years later (see Joshua 24:32).
Let me offer a blessing based on this interesting chapter:
May you always remember what God saved you from. May you trust His leading even when you don’t understand it. May you be assured of His presence and His guidance at every moment. And may you have the faith of Joseph, who believed God’s promise.