When we read this whole segment, you’ll notice that it begins and ends with regulations regarding the firstborn. However, sandwiched between this are verses regarding the first fruits. This has significance for a couple reasons. First, after Passover comes First Fruits, which is celebrated three days after the Passover – the day that Israel crossed the Red Sea, and that Jesus would have resurrected. Second, this is the season. It is early spring, when the flowers are blooming, the winter crops are being harvested, the animals are giving birth, and nature itself shows the reality of resurrection.
Therefore, I don’t see the consecration of the firstborn as something altogether separate and distinct from the rituals mentioned regarding first fruits and Unleavened Bread. The consecration mentioned in Exodus 13:2 is later expanded in Numbers 3:12, 8:16, and 18. The firstborn are seen at the Tabernacle performing Levitical duties. Here in verse 2, that which is consecrated is specifically that which was dealt with in the plague. Men were affected, and therefore they must be consecrated. Beasts were affected, and therefore they must be consecrated. God has spared the firstborn of Israel, and therefore the firstborn is considered holy unto the Lord.
Therefore, with verse 3, we have “Remember this day…” Why? It isn’t just the date that is commemorated, as if this event is a single event. This event is eternal. It is a pattern by which we can comprehend the glory of God, and His intentions throughout all generations. It is a prophetic perception, and not merely something that we “believe” that gives this kind of testimony. Passover is seen throughout the whole Scripture, and not just the actual event, but the eternal pattern of pesach.
Passover represents the coming out of darkness and into light, the coming out of “the house of bondage” (a phrase Moses uses frequently in Deuteronomy as well) and into the beautiful freedom of God’s House. Therefore the unleavened bread is more than just a sing of remembrance. It is more than a matter of leaven meaning “sin”. “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees” was a warning regarding their doctrine, and not simply their practices. There is a spirit behind the words, and an attitude that conveys whether they are truth or only factual.
“For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread…” Seven is the number of perfection, and not simply completion. Yes, I know that that the creation was completed in seven days, but it was also made perfect. There were seven nations “greater and stronger than” Israel that they must dispossess from the land. Why? Because there was completion? No, because the Land is perfect, and from it the glory of the LORD is to go forth, but the enemy has desired to take hold of that Land. This is a perfecting of the saints. We hold the feast of Unleavened Bread through the bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor 5:6-8) – that is, from living, speaking, doing, and having all of our life governed by authenticity in Christ.
Notice the rest of that verse. it isn’t merely that we are forced to eat without leaven, and oh what a burden that is. We celebrate with a feast on the seventh day. It isn’t like God is trying to make us eat the bread of affliction (Deut 16:3), or that we’re required to eat the bread of adversity (Isaiah 30:20), or the bread of tears (Psalm 80:5), but that we’re to have a massive party and celebrate that God is not causing us to live in that any longer. The point isn’t oppression, but freedom.
In regard to explaining to the children, this particular verse is not directed at when the children ask. This is spoken to the parents to simply explain it, whether the child initiates the conversation or not. In the following verse (9), the wearing of tefillin is mentioned. The Jews have translated this verse as wrapping a leather cord around your arm (traditionally, the left arm, but it’s not specified), and a box upon your forehead. In the box are four verses, and this is one of them. Personally, I don’t quibble against the phylacteries (tefillin), but I believe that the command has to make sense in the context.
What is it about unleavened bread that has to do with the arm or forehead? It makes sense that in our mouth the command of God shall be – for we’re eating it in observance. When we’re released from bondage, it is a release from that which constrains. Therefore, the sign is upon our hand/arm because we are no longer held back, and upon our head because it takes the mindset of freedom to recognize freedom. If you hold an animal in captivity from its youth, even when you let it free, it won’t realize that it can move beyond whatever leash it was given in captivity. There must be more than a breaking of chains, but also a mental recognition and ascension unto freedom. And let us not forget the last bit of the verse, that it was “by the strong hand of the LORD” that we were let out.
In our final section (verse 11-16), we deal again with the firstborns. Here we have God again speaking regarding how the firstborn is His, not only now, but also when they inherit the Land. The means by which you can have your firstborn back is through what is called “redemption”. Redemption is not merely being free from sin, or being “saved”, or making it to heaven, or whatever other silly things we typically think. Redemption is deeply rooted in the patriarchal system. When a family member is injured, stolen, or lost, it is up to the patriarch of the family to “redeem” them – to bring them back into the family safely, whatever the cost, and whatever the need.
When we’re dealing with redemption from the Lord, we’re speaking specifically in flesh and blood manner. If you want to keep your firstborn son to continue your family name, then you must purchase him back from the priests/Levites for an allotted price. Once again, this isn’t to be “Ra ra fury fury”, but rather to in the Hebrew culture, this was an honor. It was a living means by which they could perpetuate the remembrance of what God has done for them, and such demand is a grace that should reveal to us that God is not an elitist. Yes, the Levites and priests are the only ones allowed to be near the tabernacle… except for the firstborns who are consecrated unto God.
I confess that I have not the sufficient insight to understanding why certain things are the redemption of certain animals. Nor do I fully grasp why you must break the neck of the donkey if you don’t redeem it. If any of you have some suggestions, I would be honored to hear them.