“You must give me the firstborn of your sons” (Exodus 22:29).
The child born first to parents is always special. Others who follow may be just as much loved, but none can take the place of the firstborn. Historically, this was the designated heir. In some families, it meant the child would inherit a throne.
The firstborn was prized. Its death was a special loss. Thus, it catches our attention when God points his finger at those firstborns and makes a demand that may startle us: “You must give me the firstborn of your sons.”
The Old Testament Law abounds with God’s demands of offerings—not from left-overs, but of the best. It’s not that he needed them. He reminds us, “For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 5:10)
Demands for wheat or a goat or lamb are one thing. God could provide more of these. But what about this: “You must give me the firstborn of your sons.” ?
Some foreign idols were said to demand human sacrifices. Was the God of Israel like them? Did he thirst for human blood? He did not. He does not.
Yet, there are life and death consequences to how we react to his demands. Through Moses, he once told a defiant Pharaoh: “This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so he may worship me. But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son’ ” (Exodus 4:22-23).
“I will kill your firstborn son…” That should have made Pharaoh tremble. He did not. He brushed it off until the night of the Passover. Then, “Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead (Exodus 12:30).
God spared the firstborns of Israel that night—not because they were better, but because they were redeemed.
Consider the command: “The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons” (Exodus 34:19,20).
Even a firstborn donkey needed to be redeemed—otherwise its neck was to be broken. Redemption is serious business.
To redeem means to gain something in exchange for payment.
Israel was not to forget this. Throughout Old Testament times, a substitute sacrifice could be made. But in the end, a payment in human blood would be required to redeem humans. Not just firstborn sons were on that death list, but everyone who had descended from the first guilty parents back at Eden. Our own names showed up there. We needed to be redeemed.
Golgotha shows the payment being made.
Mary’s firstborn son was killed on that center cross. Yet, that would not be payment enough were he not also God’s Son. He was. Speaking of Jesus, God the Father had announced, “This is my Son, whom I love…”
“This is my Son…” and he sacrificed him.
When we are told, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15), we begin to better understand the significance of the firstborn. God the Father sacrificed his only Son, the firstborn over all creation. Thus he redeemed us.
We pray: Lord God of mercy and might, your ways are beyond our understanding and your love beyond even imagination. We know that every one of us, and everyone that we love, would stand condemned to death in the court of your divine justice. But you allow us to live. You spare us because we have been redeemed. You paid for our lives with the life of your Son. For this, we thank you always and forever. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military