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Giving the Firstborn to God? What Does That Mean?

Question: “In Exodus 22, it says ‘You shall not delay to offer from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me.’ What does ‘the firstborn of your son’s you shall give to me’ mean?”

Answer: Great question! These are verses 28-29 of Exodus 22 and they are defining the holiness of Israel. To answer your question, we have to go back to Exodus 13. The Israelites are on their way out of Egypt, and God is giving Moses the instructions for the Passover. In verse Exodus 13:2, God says, “Consecrate every firstborn male to me, the firstborn from every womb among the Israelites, both man and domestic animal; it is mine.” This is the first place where God is giving that instruction to the Israelites as a whole. Later in this same chapter, God says it again and gives purpose and clarification to the meaning.

“When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and gives it to you, you are to present to the Lord every firstborn male of the womb. All firstborn livestock you own that are males will be the Lord’s. You must redeem every firstborn of a donkey with a flock animal, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. However, you must redeem every firstborn among your sons.

In the future, when your son asks you, ‘what does this mean?’ say to him, ‘By the strength of His hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed every firstborn male in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of humans and the firstborn of livestock. That is why I sacrifice to the Lord all the firstborn of the womb that are males, but I redeem all the firstborn of my sons.’ So let it be a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead, for the Lord has brought us out of Egypt by the strength of His hand.”

God often gave the Israelites traditions to remember Him. Because God struck down every firstborn male of Egypt, and redeemed the firstborn male of every Israelite, He instituted this permanent instruction as a memorial of His power in rescuing Israel from Egypt.

For us today, Jesus put an end to blood sacrifices when He made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Hebrews 9:25-26 says:

“[Christ] did not do this to offer himself many times, as the high priest enters the sanctuary yearly with the blood of another. Otherwise, he would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

God has redeemed every one of us in Jesus and we no longer have to offer sacrifices for our redemption or the redemption of firstborn sons. Praise God for His grace in Christ Jesus!

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