In every home with children, there is a firstborn. The firstborn grows up with a special destiny. Firstborns are thrust into the role of trailblazers and natural leaders. They represent the future hope of the family and its name. They are also regarded as the first heirs of the family. According to ancient tradition found in Scripture, all of the children of a family should receive an equal share of the inheritance, but the firstborn receives a double portion. Scripture speaks of this blessing of the firstborn as the birthright blessing.
But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, … by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstborn. Deuteronomy 21:17
The Scriptures do not stop there addressing the subject of firstborns. As you are about to discover, there is an incredibly deep teaching about the firstborn. Like hidden treasure, not everything is as it seems when it comes to the subject of the firstborn in Scripture. Consider the story of Abraham and his descendants.
Abraham received a covenant from God to become the father of many, to establish a special heritage and blessing for the people of God. However, Abraham’s firstborn, Ishmael, did not receive the blessing. Instead, Isaac, the son born through Sarah received the blessing. Isaac’s firstborn son, Esau, did not receive the blessing. Instead, Jacob received the blessing. Jacob’s firstborn son, Reuben, did not receive the blessing. Instead, Joseph received the blessing. Joseph’s firstborn son, Manasseh, did not receive the blessing. Instead, Ephraim received the blessing from the hand of Jacob. And still further, when the tribes were numbered, God declared the Levites to be the firstborn of Israel.
What is happening here? Why is the blessing not being given as a birthright to the physical firstborn descendant? The Apostle Paul specifically addressed this question in the book of Romans. He was addressing the hidden wisdom about the firstborn.
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. Romans 9:6-8
Let me summarize this wisdom about the firstborn. It is shrouded in controversy and many do not accept God’s sovereign choices here.
Why was Isaac the firstborn over Ishmael? Isaac was the promised son through Sarah.
Why was Jacob over Esau? Jacob was the prophesied son through Rebekah.
Why was Joseph over Reuben? Joseph was the favored (chosen) son of Jacob because of his love for Rachel.
Why was Ephraim over Manasseh? Ephraim was the adopted son elevated to the level of being a son of Israel.
Why was Levi chosen over the physical, natural firstborns that follow? Because Levi was the priesthood who drew near to the Lord.
The blessing of the firstborn is not about being the firstborn physically. It is about God’s promises, prophecies, choices, adoption, and those who draw near to Him.
To this day, there remains a dispute over who gets the blessing of the firstborn. Islam teaches that they descend from Abraham and that the Jews have stolen their blessing. The Palestinian conflict is rooted in the controversy between Esau and Jacob. Like Esau, the Palestinians (the inhabitants of the land) would prefer to destroy Israel than live with them. But the promised land, descending from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is called Israel. And it is the descendants of these fathers that are the remnant of promise.
And the story doesn’t stop there. The firstborn of Israel are not just the physical descendants; they follow the pattern of those who received the blessing of the firstborn. They are the children of promise. They are prophesied. They are chosen. They are adopted. They are the ones who draw near to the Lord.
Understanding this hidden wisdom about the firstborn is not easy, even for Messianic believers. Some of my Messianic Jewish brethren assert they are physical descendants over the spiritual testimony of being “born again” into the family of God by the Messiah. Further, Christians play into this definition by referring to themselves as the spiritual descendants while Jews are the physical ones. This thinking divides the world into Jews and Gentiles. But the spiritual definition of the firstborn and who gets the blessing is dramatically different.
We have reviewed the path of the fathers and who received the blessing of the firstborn. But let us look at the most profound story of the firstborn in Scripture. Let’s review the story of the Passover. The children of Israel were being oppressed by Pharaoh and the Egyptians. God had made a promise to bring Abraham’s descendants back from Egypt, to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God sent Moses to Pharaoh and his brethren and with great judgments God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt. The final judgment was the death of the firstborn in Egypt.
Why that judgment? Why did God use the death of the firstborn to bring forth Israel out of Egypt? The answer was given by God even before Moses went to Pharaoh.
Then you shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I said to you, let My son go, that he may serve Me; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn.” Exodus 4:22-23
The Passover was the night that God passed over the houses that had the blood of the lamb on the doors, but those houses that did not have the covering of blood suffered judgment. The blood pattern over the door formed the Hebrew letter Het. The letter Het has a specific meaning to Hebrews; it makes the word Chai which means “life.” You may have heard the Jewish expression when toasting a glass at a joyous event – “L’ Chaim” which means “to life!” Even more so, Messianic believers see even more in the Passover because of Yeshua’s death, burial, and resurrection. We see the Messiah as the Passover Lamb, whose blood covers us, who passes us from death to life.
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. John 5:24
But let’s ask a very basic question about this story of Passover since it is a story of salvation and deliverance. Who was saved at the Passover? Who was delivered? Was it all of Israel? No. It was only the firstborn of Israel that were saved by the blood of the Lamb. Many erroneously think that all of Israel was saved that night. Not so. It was the firstborn.
You could make an argument that all Israel was saved at the crossing of the Red Sea and you would be right. However, because of the Passover, not the Red Sea, the Torah gives some very profound instruction about the firstborn for all of Israel.
Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me. Exodus 13:2
This passage addresses the results of someone being saved. In the ancient tradition, a person saved by a deliverer owed his life to the deliverer. Since he would have died without deliverance, he now owes his “life” for being delivered. It was customary for the “saved” person to become the servant of the deliverer. God saved the firstborn of Israel and thus required them to belong to Him. God’s instructions go further.
Now it shall come about when the Lord brings you to the land of the Canaanite, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and gives it to you, that you shall devote to the Lord the first offspring of every womb, and the first offspring of every beast that you own; the males belong to the Lord. But every first offspring of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck; and every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, “What is this?” then you shall say to him, “With a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. And it came about, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the Lord killed every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore, I sacrifice to the Lord the males, the first offspring of every womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem. So it shall serve as a sign on your hand, and as phylacteries on your forehead, for with a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.” Exodus 13:11-16
By this statement in Scripture, the ancient tradition became the commandment of the Lord for all God’s people. The firstborn belong to God because He redeemed them. This is God’s definition of “redemption.” To redeem means to purchase out of slavery. Let us go further. You are about to discover the price tag for redemption.
The first offspring from every womb belongs to Me, and all your male livestock, the first offspring from cattle and sheep. And you shall redeem with a lamb the first offspring from a donkey; and if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. You shall redeem all the firstborn of your sons. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Exodus 34:19-20
So what is the price of redemption or a firstborn son? What is it that is to be in your hand to redeem him? The answer for this comes from when God numbered all the firstborn of Israel and numbered the Levites. Initially, He substituted the Levites for the firstborn of Israel and made the Levites to be the Lord’s portion (the redeemed value). But a specific value was determined for all Israelites who would follow.
Now, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the sons of Israel instead of every firstborn, the first issue of the womb among the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall be Mine. For all the firstborn are Mine; on the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, from man to beast. They shall be Mine; I am the Lord. Numbers 3:12-13
And you shall take the Levites for Me, I am the Lord, instead of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the cattle of the sons of Israel. Numbers 3:41
Consider this for a moment. God has consistently chosen to follow the path of natural things, yet His choice is sovereign and not determined by natural things. It wasn’t Ishmael, Esau, or Reuben. It wasn’t Manasseh, nor the physical firstborn of Israel. It turns out to be Levites who are called to be the firstborn of God. They will be commissioned to come near to the Lord (His altar) on behalf of all Israel.
When God selected the Levites as his firstborn, He instructed Moses to count all of the firstborn of Israel and the number of Levites. This is the meaning behind the book of “Numbers.” A comparison match was made and there were 273 firstborn of Israel more than the number of Levites.
And for the ransom of the 273 of the firstborn of the sons of Israel who are in excess beyond the Levites, Numbers 3:46
Apparently, a ransom price was paid for the 273 beyond the number of Levites. That value was recorded as 1,365 shekels.
From the firstborn of the sons of Israel he took the money in terms of the shekel of the sanctuary, 1,365. Numbers 3:50
It is simple to do the math. 1,365 divided by 273 equals 5. The ransom price for a firstborn is 5 shekels. These are referred to as the “coins of redemption.” This is the price of redemption for a firstborn.
But you might ask, where did God get this price from? Did He just pick the number out of the air? No, of course not. It is the value of Joseph when he was sold to the Egyptians by his brethren. Referring back to Genesis, it is recorded:
Then some Midianite traders passed by, so they pulled him up and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt. Genesis 37:28 NASB
This is one place where the NASB doesn’t quite get it right, although it meant well. In the original Hebrew, it simply says it was 20 pieces of silver which is equivalent to 5 shekels, not 20 shekels. The sages of Israel have concluded that the price paid for Joseph was 5 shekels. This is where the price of redemption for the firstborn was determined. Apparently, this was fresh on the Israelites’ minds as they were carrying the bones of Joseph out of Egypt when the numbering was done. Therefore, when Moses specified that price, the testimony of Joseph and his valuation by his brethren was well understood. The price was (20 pieces) 5 shekels.
Jumping forward a bit, you might be wondering how the price of Yeshua (30 shekels) plays into this Biblical theme. First, the 5 shekels was paid for Yeshua as child. When Mary and Joseph went to the temple with Yeshua the first time, Mary was there to complete her purification requirements for the birth of a son according to the Law and to observe the custom of the Law for the coins of redemption.
And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Yeshua, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, [Simeon blessed the child according to the custom] Luke 2:22-27
Apparently, the custom of the “coins of redemption” worked this way. The 5 shekels were to be paid to a righteous man. The righteous man would accept the price (the 5 shekels) and pronounce the redemption of the child. It did not necessarily have to be to the temple treasuries or to the priests. Simeon was a righteous man and he received the coins of redemption (5 shekels) for Yeshua as a firstborn of Israel. This is what Mary and Joseph were doing in the temple that day.
Simeon’s pronouncement of redemption for Yeshua was shocking. He proclaimed that his eyes had now seen “the redemption of Israel!”
But let’s consider the price of Yeshua (30 shekels) paid to Judas when He did the work of redemption for us. That is to say, the value was not for Him (Yeshua) but for all of us to be redeemed. So, the math works this way: 5 shekels (the price of redemption for a firstborn) times 6 (the number for man, mankind) equals 30 shekels. Thirty shekels is the both the value of a sacrifice and symbolizes the “coins of redemption” for all the firstborn from the Messiah.
A child is too small to know of the coins of redemption or how they are paid. It is like the commandment of circumcision; it is a commandment observed on behalf of the child by a parent. Part of the blessing for the firstborn is that the Lord has already paid the coins of redemption for us (we have been ransomed and we didn’t know it). Yeshua really is the “firstborn among many (firstborn) brethren.”
There is another aspect to be the firstborn that relates directly to the Messiah being the firstborn of many. It is explained to us in Scripture as “first fruits.” This, too, is an integral part of the Passover observance and is part of the blessing of the firstborn. The firstborn are the first fruits of the womb.
He also struck down all the firstborn in their land, the first fruits of all their vigor. Psalm 105:36
Passover time is really a threefold observance together. The first is Passover itself, the watchnight and remembrance meal. Then there are the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. But in the midst of the seven days, the first day after the weekly Sabbath, is the Feast of First Fruits. It is from the Feast of First Fruits that the counting of the Omer and the Feast of Weeks is determined. This is part of the commemoration and remembrance of how the firstborn were saved at the Passover. Here is God’s instruction for the Feast of First Fruits.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them, “When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. Now on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb one year old without defect for a burnt offering to the Lord. Its grain offering shall then be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering by fire to the Lord for a soothing aroma, with its libation, a fourth of a hin of wine. Until this same day, until you have brought in the offering of your God, you shall eat neither bread nor roasted grain nor new growth. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places.” Leviticus 23:9-14
The ripe barley sheaves that had been harvested were to be waved before the Lord. Passover is observed in the Spring (Aviv) between the barley and wheat harvests. The first fruits of the barley harvest are waved at First Fruits. The first fruits of the wheat harvest are waved before the Lord at the Feast of Weeks (seven Sabbaths – 50 days after the barley sheaves are waved). God even instructs that the new harvest is not to be eaten until the first fruits are brought before Him.
With this precedent pattern in place, there are other similar instructions for all kinds of first fruits. They bear significance in understanding the firstborn.
You shall give him the first fruits of your grain, your new wine, and your oil, and the first shearing of your sheep. Deuteronomy 18:4
In effect, the tithe is the first fruits (a tenth) of the increase. When a person tithes, he is presenting his first fruits. Therefore, the last portion of your increase does not qualify as a tithe or first fruits to the Lord. Why does God demand the first fruits? Because the firstborn belong to Him!
And the first of all the first fruits of every kind and every contribution of every kind, from all your contributions, shall be for the priests; you shall also give to the priest the first of your dough to cause a blessing to rest on your house. Ezekiel 44:30
This is the same instruction given by Moses for the first fruits to be given to the Levites. Remember the Levites became the firstborn of Israel.
Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, “Now behold, I Myself have given you charge of My offerings, even all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel, I have given them to you as a portion, and to your sons as a perpetual allotment. This shall be yours from the most holy gifts, reserved from the fire; every offering of theirs, even every grain offering and every sin offering and every guilt offering, which they shall render to Me, shall be most holy for you and for your sons. As the most holy gifts you shall eat it; every male shall eat it. It shall be holy to you. This also is yours, the offering of their gift, even all the wave offerings of the sons of Israel; I have given them to you and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual allotment. Everyone of your household who is clean may eat it. All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the Lord, I give them to you. The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours; every one of your household who is clean may eat it.” Numbers 18:8-13
The Messiah is the person who ties together the concept of the firstborn and the first fruits for us. The truth is that all of these commandments were simply to instruct us in the Messiah, and how the Messiah would accomplish this. This is why Paul instructs us many times about the Messiah.
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren; Romans 8:29
He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. Colossians 1:18
And He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. Colossians 1:15
God’s sovereign choice of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Ephraim, and ultimately the Levites is a demonstration of a much larger theme in God’s plan. This is where we get the terms the “children of promise” and the “Chosen People.” Each of us hold to the promises of God given to our fathers, and we discover that we are here by God’s gracious choice.
But wait a minute. God must follow the rules too. What gives God the right to substitute another person in His family before the natural physical firstborn? How can He arbitrarily put one before another? Paul addresses this momentarily in both Romans and Galatians.
Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” Romans 9:13-17
For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. Galatians 3:18
God’s merciful choice actually has a legal term you may be more familiar with – Adoption. God adopts (elects) us into His family and kingdom – He chooses us! This adoption is how we are made part of His family and given the position and inheritance of the firstborn despite the natural born. Adoption is the merciful choice of a parent! And they show mercy on whom they have compassion.
For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15
According to laws of adoption, an adopted son receives the inheritance of a firstborn, a double portion, and unlike the natural born, can never be disinherited. He is there by choice of the father, not by natural birth. The Levites, as the adopted firstborn, did not receive a portion like the other tribes. Their portion was the Lord’s portion. The same is said of us as the firstborn of the Messiah. Our portion is not here; it is with the Lord.
As a Jewish believer of Yeshua the Messiah, I do not assert my position as a firstborn natural Jew. I assert God’s choice of me (my adoption) into His family. Consider this the next time you take your seat at Passover. Remember the commandment to see yourself, to consider yourself there in Egypt being passed over. I remember struggling with this commandment. I asked myself, “How can I go back to Egypt and pretend I am there in the room with the blood on the door with my father or with my son?” I have learned it is really about seeing yourself as the firstborn at the Passover. It is what God did for me at the Passover.
1. The firstborn are covered by the blood of the Lamb.
2. The firstborn are passed over from death to life.
3. The firstborn are the redeemed.
4. The firstborn belong to the Lord; they owe their lives to God.
5. The firstborn are the first fruits of the kingdom, the best part.
6. The firstborn are the “chosen people;” they are adopted by God.
7. The firstborn are those who draw near to the Lord.
And when our children ask us why this night is different from all other nights, tell them that we are the firstborn of God, by His merciful choice. Tell them how the blood of the Lamb covers us. Tell them how we are passed over from death to life. Tell them how we are the first fruits, the best part. Tell them how they too are the firstborn of the Lord. And teach them how to “draw near” to the Lord to serve Him. And remind them that their inheritance is not here among mortal men; it will be brought to all of us when the Master returns. Tell them that this is the “blessing of the firstborn.”
Monte W. Judah