Pass It on (Exodus 13).
We all need help remembering things. Life is busier and more complex than ever before and there’s just so much to remember. Work deadlines, social engagements, birthdays, family gatherings, social media accounts, regular commitments, time with love ones, personal admin, bills, budgets, passwords. You get the picture. So many things. At work I’d let so many balls drop without the help of my Outlook reminders and where would any of us be without reminders on our smartphone?
Maybe you were one of those people who used to write things on their hands to help them remember? I could never write legibly enough on skin to benefit from it, but it seemed to help loads of my primary school peers. Little did I know that they were actually following an ancient and altogether more solemn precedent.
Orthodox Jews literally wear the Word of God about their persons. Phylacteries (or Tefillin) are little boxes containing verses of Scripture that are worn both on the forehead and on the wrist. They are to help the wearer remember God’s law. They might look silly, but I love how devoted these guys are to being close to God’s Word. Maybe I ought to try it sometime? Maybe I’d find it’s harder to think unworthy thoughts if the Word of God is literally bound to my forehead.
Exodus 13 is one of the roots of this custom (also Deuteronomy chapters 6 & 11, which I’ll get to another time). Set between the culmination of the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea, the middle of this chapter pauses to take stock. Here, between redemption and rescue, traditions are birthed and ground-rules laid down. The Israelites are told that they must celebrate a Passover festival regularly (once a year) to give thanks for all that God has done for them.
This is what the Israelites were commanded to do. Even before the Exodus had started in chapter 13 they were told in advance how they should remember and commemorate it. They were told to observe the Passover festival regularly, to redeem firstborn children and animals and to teach their children. At this point the Ten Plagues have finished but the Israelites have not yet left Egypt. So they’re being told how to be thankful both for things that have just happened and for things that are about to happen.
They are to remember, to commemorate, and to pass on.
Remember what the Lord has done for them. Remember the slavery they used to be in, the transformation of their fortunes and the mighty wonders performed by God as evidence of His unrivalled power and His irrefutable love.
God, knowing our human tendency to forget and to take for granted, spoke through Moses to give the Israelites regular, concrete things they could do to keep alive the memory of what He had done for them. Remembrance is where worship starts. What we remember we are mindful of, what we are mindful of we do not take for granted and what we do not take for granted we are properly thankful for.
We too should remember what God has done for us, redeeming us from an empty life of slavery to sin and giving us salvation and the hope of glory.
Commemorate this defining act by recreating features of it: unleavened bread that evokes the breathless hurry after so much waiting, innocent blood spilled in memory of how they were protected, seven days set aside to completely honour God for His complete rescue.
We too should commemorate, only for us it is the cross, not the midnight slaughter. For us it is not a Passover lamb but Jesus, the Lamb of God. For us it is not unleavened bread and roasted lamb but the bread and wine of communion. Since what we’ve been rescued from is greater and the promises given even better, we should commemorate all the more.
Pass it on. Tell their children why they do these things. These strange customs could easily lose meaning and be lost altogether if the next generation are not involved and clued in. “On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.'” (Exodus 13:8).
We too should pass it on. Pass the good news of the gospel on to our children to raise them in the faith (Proverbs 22:6 encourages the same thing) but also pass it on to others who don’t yet know this hope, who aren’t yet saved. For us this is so much more imperative than it was for the Israelites because the salvation is greater, its remit and validity limitless, and because the stakes are higher. It’s not just about physical freedom any more, it’s now about saving souls.
For the Jews “This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips.” (13:9). Hence the phylacteries. God knew we’d have a hard time remembering, He knows we forget and stray easily, so He made provision to keep us on track. He inaugurated regular customs and traditions that would keep these vital truths alive. But, you see, it’s not just a once a year thing. The annual festival was a reminder of the way of life that was to be forever on their lips. They were to live and breathe this stuff.
Same goes for us. Don’t just go to church once a year for Christmas, go along every week and be part of the family. Don’t just flick through your Bible idly every now and then, keep it open and available constantly. It can only be “alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12) if you engage with it. A closed Bible gathering dust on a shelf is as much use to you as a Passover festival neglected and bereft of all significance.
What the Israelites did to remember was also costly. They had to sacrifice firstborn animals to God as a sign of gratitude for when He spared their firstborn in the tenth plague. These were valuable animals, something difficult to part with. The equivalent for us would be giving up a significant amount of money, the lack of which you will notice. When there’s cost involved you’re much less likely to undervalue something. It would be very easy to cheapen and become blasé about something that costs you nothing. That should make us think, what things today do we take for granted? Our democratic right to vote, our freedom, the rule of law, clean drinking water, safe toilets, the welfare state…The list goes on and on. Granted, we have to pay for some of these things through taxes and bills, but they still become so familiar that we take them for granted. Whether necessities or privileges, many people are deprived of these things and that should make us stop and think.
When someone does something amazing for you, it’s not natural to keep it to yourself. Most of us would want to shout about it and tell others. It wouldn’t be right, when we’ve been blessed, to forget it or undervalue it. What we’ve been given by God is the most amazing thing of all, and as a result our response should be both voluble and faithful. If we remember small acts of kindness and praise the person who did them how much more should we remember God’s ultimate gift and tell others about it?
God has done so much for us. He has rescued us, delivered us, forgiven us, redeemed, restored, justified, chosen, adopted, and sanctified us and given us “every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3). So let’s remember. Let’s commemorate. And let’s pass it on.
To take away:
What practical step can you take today to pass on the blessings God has given you?