Firstborn


Exodus 13:1-16
1The Lord said to Moses, 2“Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.” 3Then Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten. 4Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out. 5And when the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this service in this month. 6Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. 7Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory. 8You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt. 10You shall therefore keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year. 11“When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, 12you shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the Lord’s. 13Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. 14And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. 15For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ 16It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.”

One of the challenges of my job (Director of Christian Education at a church) is to present the message of the Gospel in ways that communicate to the hearts and minds of the people around me in ways that are effective. As the holidays approach I’m once again faced with presenting the Christmas story to a people who are very aware of it in a fresh way. It’s often frustrating to come up with something that captures the imagination when the story is so old. But here we are in our reading for today facing the exact same concept. God wants the people to annually rehearse exactly what He has done for them in The Exodus because it is vitally important and cannot be forgotten by future generations who didn’t experience it firsthand. So He sets up a system of sacrifices and redemption that always point to His ability to save His people.

First He tells them to remember the Passover and share it regularly with their children. This was a monumental event in the history of God’s people and the fact that we still tell the stories today to our children is in direct fulfillment of His command that we do so. All of the generations need to know the power of God and this story certainly proves His greatness and His provision. Second, God sets up a system whereby the Children of Israel will remember the culmination of the Plagues by offering their firstborn (children and animals) to the Lord. In the case of the animals, it means a blood sacrifice. In the case of the children it means paying a price to “redeem” them from the Lord for they truly belong to Him. (God does not ever condone the sacrifice of people. His own Son was the only acceptable human sacrifice ever to be offered and received – both by Him. Let your mind embrace that for a while!)

Embracing the two practices of annually remembering The Exodus and participating in the offering of the firstborn serve several important functions. First, they helped create the spiritual attitude of submission so important for personal discipline, and blessing. When we are focused on remembering what God has done, we are in a better place all day long. Second, we are connected to past generations of believers. We become one with the mega narrative that is the Christian faith.

The community of faith at every age is supposed to identify fully with the original exodus generation, just as one gets “caught up” in a powerful story in book or movie form, or, more significantly, just as one identifies with various kinds of values and commitments learned from beloved grandparents and parents.
Stuart, D. K. (2006). Exodus (Vol. 2, p. 315). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

I think that the foremost goal of the annual celebration of the Passover for the Children of Israel and the offering of the firstborn as consecrated unto the Lord serves an important purpose, that being keeping God at the center of our brains. It is so very easy to let Him slip to the back and then allow Him only to surface on occasion. Last week, I decided to try and experiment with my phone. I put two daily reminders on my calendar. At 8am and 9pm every day of the week my phone alerts me with the words of the Shema. “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) Such a simple thing – and yet it has dramatically changed my days. Now that verse comes to mind over and over all day long and there is more peace in my heart and mind as a result. That is what I believe God wants for His people when He tells them to remember the Passover and offer Him their firstborn. It is a reminder that we are God’s alone. All other claims to our existence are false – even our own.

So I guess I will embrace the telling of the same old Christmas and Easter story to a crowd of people who already know it because it is beautiful and holds the keys to my salvation. I guess I will recite the same Bible verse over and over so that God remains at the front of my mind rather than being relegated to the back. He is a high and lofty God and He deserves to be in front of me all of the time.

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