Summary: Jesus is God’s Firstborn who redeems us with his own blood.
Let’s go to Exodus 4:22-26 one more time to look at another aspect of the gospel found in it:
And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: 23And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn. 24And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him. 25Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. 26So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.
We’ve talked about what it means that Israel is God’s firstborn, and we’ve shown how that position is associated with blood and redemption in the Jewish mind. The blood of Moses’ son satisfied God and saved Moses, the blood offered for the firstborn in Passover redeemed the whole family, and later the Levites replaced the firstborn to prevent wrath. Of course this all points us to Christ who is “the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” (Rev. 1:4).
Now, we’ve talked only a little about the responsibilities of the firstborn in ancient Israel, and now I’d like to revisit that topic and go a little further with it. Specifically I’d like to show the role of the firstborn as a redeemer. To begin let’s look at the Jewish concept of redemption:
All the best of the oil, and all the best of the wine, and of the wheat, the firstfruits of them which they shall offer unto the LORD, them have I given thee. 13And whatsoever is first ripe in the land, which they shall bring unto the LORD, shall be thine; every one that is clean in thine house shall eat of it. 14Every thing devoted in Israel shall be thine. 15Every thing that openeth the matrix in all flesh, which they bring unto the LORD, whether it be of men or beasts, shall be thine: nevertheless the firstborn of man shalt thou surely redeem, and the firstling of unclean beasts shalt thou redeem. 16And those that are to be redeemed from a month old shalt thou redeem, according to thine estimation, for the money of five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. 17But the firstling of a cow, or the firstling of a sheep, or the firstling of a goat, thou shalt not redeem; they are holy: thou shalt sprinkle their blood upon the altar, and shalt burn their fat for an offering made by fire, for a sweet savour unto the LORD (Num. 18:12-17).
So the priests were allowed to eat the best fruits and meats in all of Israel, but they weren’t allowed to eat anything unclean or to eat human beings. The firstborn males belonged to the Lord, and so they were given to the Levites, but they were redeemed by their families with money. The meaning of “redemption” in both Greek and Hebrew is to ransom, and essentially that’s what they were doing: they bought the oldest son back from the Lord. The animals were sacrificed and their blood was offered, but a Jewish baby was saved by the payment of a ransom; he was redeemed.
Now think about that within the context of the Exodus and the Passover and you’ll see the theme and pattern. The firstborn were bought with a price to prevent wrath, and the whole family participated in the deliverance. The firstborn, then, were a type of redeemer through their redemption, and this role carried on into adulthood. Boaz wanted to redeem Ruth, but he had to ask the “closer” kinsman (Ruth 4:4). The Sadducees brought up a question of marriage and widowhood that started with the oldest brother and worked downwards (Mt. 22:25-26); the next-eldest brother was responsible for the widow until they were all finally dead. The firstborn was responsible for the well-being and preservation of his family, so this is why he received the double portion, and that’s what we’ll look at next: the Jewish concept of the redeemer:
If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold (Lev. 25:25).
This first responsibility is to restore that which was lost. Land was a major part of the Israelite inheritance, so to be without it is a failure. God promised the possession to Abraham and his descendants, so if one of them sold his portion out of necessity, the firstborn was expected to reclaim it to keep it within the family. Skip down a little further and you’ll see that this restoration was more than just for land: