When the children of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, We read in Exodus 13:2:
“Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine” (1).
The reason for this is given in verse 3:
“And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand Yahweh brought you out from this place: there shall no leavened bread be eaten” (2).
The significance of these words is shown in Genesis 49:3:
“Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power”.
The firstborn was the beginning of their strength. By strength of hand Yahweh had brought them out of Egypt, therefore they were to sanctify the beginning of their strength to Yahweh. We have to remember that the Almighty had just slain the firstborn of Egypt, the culmination of the ten plagues, to deliver them from bondage.
But how were they to sanctify their firstborn to Yahweh? This is explained in Numbers 3: 41:
“And thou shalt take the Levites for me (I am Yahweh) instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel; and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstlings among the cattle of the children of Israel”.
From this we see that the Levites were taken instead of the firstborn. If we read verses 39-51, we shall see that the Levites numbered 22,000, whereas the firstborn numbered 22,273. To redeem the 273 which were over and above the number of the Levites, Moses was commanded to take 5 shekels apiece, which amounted to 1365 shekels and was commanded to give them to Aaron and his sons. Significantly, each of these numbers are multiples of 7. 273= 39×7 and 1365= 195×7. Now, we hope to show that the firstborn stood for the whole nation.
The word firstborn is the Hebrew bekowr (1060) and means firstborn, hence chief. Bekorah (1062) is derived from this word, and it means birthright. In fact bekorah is the feminine of bekowr. It could be significant that it is feminine because the birthright applies to the ecclesia. Esau had the birthright which he sold to Jacob, which we read of in Genesis 25:31-34:
“And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, sware to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. . . thus Esau despised his birthright”.
Esau the firstborn proved unworthy of this title therefore the birthright went to Jacob. The same word bekorah is used in Genesis 27:36:
“And he said, Is not he rightly named Jacob? For he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing”.
This verse shows that there is a link between the birthright and the promises to Abraham (“my blessing”). It is used again in 1 Chronicles 5:1-2:
“Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but, forasmuch as he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not reckoned after the birthright. For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph’s)”.
Here we see that Reuben proved unworthy of the birthright, so it went to the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Mannasseh. Of these two sons, Jacob conferred the right of the firstborn upon the younger, Ephraim, when he blessed them which we read of in Genesis 48:14, and 18-19. It was Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim who led the children of Israel into the promised land and moreover initially the tabernacle was pitched in Shiloh which was in the tribe of Ephraim. But let us not forget the words in 1 Chronicles 5:2, “For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler”. The Lord Jesus Christ was to descend from the tribe of Judah. The change from Ephraim to Judah is shown in Psalm 78: 60-70:
“So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh (in Ephraim), the tent which he placed among men. . . . But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved. . . He chose David also his servant”.
“Firstborn” is used in Deuteronomy 21:15- 17. Here, this is the natural application of the title, but the Scriptures we have considered have shown that the right of the firstborn is dependant on worthiness. The Almighty has the prerogative to determine who is the firstborn on the basis of worthiness of character. It is noteworthy that the word was used right back in Genesis 4:4-5, where we read:
“And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And Yahweh had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and his offering he had not respect”.
So from the beginning there was significance in the firstborn, memorialized in the fact that Abel brought of the firstlings of the flock, which is the word bekorah, also rendered firstborn. Cain was the firstborn. He could have ruled over his brother, but proved unworthy and was rejected, so the right of the firstborn went to Abel who Cain murdered. But Abel’s blood cried out from the ground. This of course clearly pointed forward to the Lord Jesus Christ who was put to death by the Jews, but his blood “speaketh better things than that of Abel” (Heb.12:24).
We shall now begin to consider the typical significance of the firstborn, but firstly let us note that the firstborn stood for the whole nation of Israel as we see from Exodus 4:22-23:
“And thou shalt say unto Pharoah, Thus saith Yahweh, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And 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”.
The firstborn of Egypt were slain to redeem Israel, Yahweh’s firstborn. As Isaac was miraculously conceived, so Israel as a nation was miraculously conceived, so they were Yahweh’s firstborn.
But the Passover lamb also represented the firstborn. Why? Because by the slaying of the Passover lamb and the eating of it, the children of Israel were saved when the angel of death passed over Egypt, as we see from Exodus 12, the chapter which precedes the chapter on the firstborn. In this chapter instructions are given regarding the slaying of the Passover lamb and then we read in verses 12-14:
“For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and I will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am Yahweh. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt”.
Because Israel slew and ate of the Passover lamb their firstborn were saved when the angel of death passed over and slew the firstborn of Egypt. Therefore the Passover lamb represented the firstborn of Israel which they were to sanctify to Yahweh.
Now let us consider the words of Psalm 89 which speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ, the seed of David. Let us read verses 24-28:
“But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn be exalted. I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers. He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my El, and the rock of my salvation. Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him”.
The title of firstborn has been applied to the Lord Jesus Christ. This we see also from Colossians 1:15-19:
“Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. . . (v.18) And he is the head of the body, the ecclesia: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell”,
and Romans 8:29:
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren”.
If Israel was described as Yahweh’s firstborn, how can this title also be applied to the Lord Jesus Christ? It was because Israel proved herself unworthy of that status, to the extent that the very people who were described as Yahweh’s firstborn, crucified the Son of God, just as Cain who was the firstborn, but proved unworthy of that status murdered his brother Abel, on whom that title should have been bestowed because he had proved worthy. However let us note the words “firstborn among many brethren”. We shall now consider this.
The title of firstborn is dependant on worthiness and this is shown in Romans 9:6-9:
“For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son”.
These words are showing that not every descendant of Abraham is a child of God and therefore not a true Israelite, even though they may be of Israel. They have to be a child of promise as Isaac was. Who are the children of promise? These are defined in Galatians 3:29:
“And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”.
The Apostle continues in Romans 9:10, which confirms that which we have already spoken of concerning Jacob and Essau:
“And not only this, but when Rebecca had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Essau have I hated.. . . (v.16) So then it is not of him that willeth, not of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy”.
But we have also been called to these things brethren and sisters as we see from 23-26:
“And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?”.
We, brethren and sisters have been called to be part of the ecclesia of the firstborn as we see from Hebrews 12: 22-25:
“But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and ecclesia of the firstborn (E.D. “firstborns”), which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect (i.e. those worthy ones of Hebrews 11), And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than that of Abel. See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, (i.e. Moses) much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven”.
In this same chapter we see in verses 15-17 how Esau despised his birthright i.e his place as the firstborn:
“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears”.
How important it is that we learn from Esau’s failure. He put present advantage before the promises to Abraham, before his birthright. In contrast, Jacob wanted the promises. He showed that tenacity of purpose from his birth, when he held on to his brother’s heal in the womb and so held on to the promises throughout his life. If we would inherit the birthright, how important it is that we put the kingdom before present advantage as the Master taught us in Matthew 6:31-34:
“Therefore take no thought (be not anxious), saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought (be not anxious) for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”,
“Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life”.
As Israel by strength of hand were delivered out of Egypt when the angel of death slew all the firstborn of Egypt, so Yahweh’s firstborn Son, the true Passover lamb has been crucified to deliver us from the bondage of sin and death, therefore as part of the ecclesia of the firstborn we should give the beginning of our strength to Yahweh.
Moreover at the Passover, Israel had to be in a state of readiness to leave Egypt. They had to eat it with their loins girded, their feet shod and with their staff in their hand. So with us brethren and sisters, the Master could return at any time and we need to be in a state of readiness for his coming.
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
These words were applied to the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ as we see from Luke 2:22-23*. It is noteworthy that the sanctification of the firstborn was linked with the fulfilment of the requirements of the law for the birth of a son in Leviticus 12. Leviticus 12 focuses on the Lord Jesus Christ. The word man child is the Hebrew zakar which means remembered child. This word is actually rendered remember and moreover significantly is rendered memorial where it is applied to the memorial name of Yahweh in Exodus 3:15*. In the requirements of the birth of the man child in Leviticus 12 the woman was to be unclean for 33 days pointing forward to the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ of 33 years.
Leaven represented malice and wickedness, the things of Egypt. They were to leave these things behind, therefore, the feast of unleavened bread which followed the Passover represented to the children of Israel that from now onwards they must leave the things of Egypt behind. So with us the leaven of the world should not be found in our house. We must leave these things behind in our walk to the kingdom. A very heart searching thought!