Strong Hands–Thrust Out, Led Out
The disaster of the last sign, the taking of the firstborn, resulted in Pharaoh and the people of Egypt being only too glad for Israel to leave (12:31-33.) To keep them in slavery would be death to their beloved nation. And so the Israelites left in a hurry (12:39) – the dough that they had was still unleavened and carried out in bowls (12:34). They did have with them “plunder”, gifts of silver, gold and clothing, that the Egyptians had given them, and which would prove to be a blessing and a curse to the Israelites (12:35-36.)
But whilst they were thrust out by Egypt, they were led out by the LORD, by His strong hand (13:3.) The strong hand of the LORD is not separate to the strong hand of Pharaoh (6:1), but nor is it simply to be equated with Pharaoh’s hand. The faithful covenant God is at work in all the events of this world but He is also doing in them what none of the rulers of this world could imagine or understand (1 Cor. 2:8; Acts 2:23.) This is the mystery of the providence of God who acts finally in Jesus Christ.
The strong hand of the LORD was a phrase of great joy to Israel – that the LORD would act so decisively and faithfully for them! When Israel returned from exile, in the days of Nehemiah, he could say of the assembled returnees, “They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand (Neh. 1:10.)” But the events of the exile showed Israel that the strong hand of the LORD cannot be presumed upon; in shocking language the LORD through Jeremiah had said of the coming invasion and exile, “I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath. (Jer. 21:5.) God’s strong covenant faithfulness evokes and demands a true and obedient response to Him. (This would be symbolised in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the dedication of the firstborn to the LORD.)
The LORD knew his people well and, in leading them out, He led them by a way that they did not immediately encounter warfare – He knew they would turn back to Egypt. He did not leave them to find their own way either. By His own only Presence in the fiery, cloudy pillar, travelling day and night, Israel was led by their God. The presence of God would be both gift and test for them.