In our culture we no longer honor firstborns the way they did in agrarian societies. In the culture of the Bible the firstborn was given a double portion of the inheritance. Part of his double portion was that all the father’s land usually came to the firstborn undivided. With this extra wealth came extra responsibilities, for the firstborn was responsible for his widowed mother and any unwed sisters. This is why we see at the cross Messiah handing the responsibility for His mother’s care to John. It was probably not because he felt his brothers were unworthy but rather His knowledge that John would live longer.
There are several passages concerning firstborns in the Bible. Over the next few weeks we will look at all of them. There are the firstborn of Egypt, the first born of Israel, the Levite who become the firstborn, the curse on the firstborn of any who would rebuild Jericho, our Messiah is the firstborn of the dead, and last of all the congregation is the assembly of firstborn.
First and Foremost the Firstborn is one who must be Redeemed
Egypt’s Firstborn a type of Israel’s Firstborns
For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man and the first-born of cattle. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all the males that first open the womb; but all the first-born of my sons I redeem.’ Ex. 13:15
Because the Lord had taken the firstborn of Egypt He now requires the service of the firstborn of Israel. These firstborn were to be consecrated to the Lord as priests. However things are changed after the tabernacle is built. In Numbers 3-4 the Levites and their cattle replace all the firstborns of the other tribes, and those of the other tribes are redeemed and no longer must serve the Lord and his temple.
And you shall take the Levites for me — I am the LORD — instead of all the first-born among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstlings among the cattle of the people of Israel.” Num. 3:41
Every time a newborn came into a family this law is reemphasized as five shekels were to be paid to the high priest.
FYI: A shekel is not a coin but rather a unit of measure. Coins don’t come into existence until just prior to Alexander the Great. Five ancient shekels amount to just about 100 grams of pure silver. This fluctuates to modern currencies see Silver Gram Price Calculator
Joseph – Rachel’s firstborn son, was sold by his brothers for twenty silver pieces, the equivalent of five shekels. This established that the standard “price” for a (firstborn) human is five shekels, which are given to the priest to redeem the child.
The changing of the law is troublesome because God never changes.
But thou art the same, and thy years will never end.” Heb. 1:12b
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Heb. 13:8
What must be remembered is that He is not changing the need for redemption but rather who will provide the required sacrifice. The change in the law of the redemption of the firstborn is a type for the change in the law of the insufficient sacrifice of the blood of goats and bulls to the one sufficient sacrifice of His own Son.
. . . he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. Heb. 9:12
For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. Heb. 10:4