What does this mean to us? The Old Testament answer is only symbolic of its New Testament principle. God has brought the people of His church out of this sinful "world held captive." Verse 15 now takes on new meaning:
And it came to pass, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animal. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all males that open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.
The firstborn animals represent the Egyptian firstborn. God released Pharaoh's strong grip on Israel—His Old Testament firstborn—by killing Egypt's firstborn on that first Passover night. Likewise, God released Satan's grip on the people of His church—His New Testament firstborn—by allowing His Firstborn Son, Jesus Christ, to be killed as our Passover (I Corinthians 5:7). We are then free to escape this world and our sins, just as Israel left Egypt on the first day of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:37-42).
Can the Egyptian firstborn symbolize our Savior, the slain Lamb of God? Though it seems an unworthy comparison, God inspired the apostle Paul to write that Jesus allowed Himself to be degraded to the bottom of the barrel—to become the lowest of the low—to personify a curse and sin itself. Notice Galatians 3:13-14: "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree'), . . . that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."
The redemption or "buyback" of the Israelite human firstborn is a reminder of the miraculous preservation of their firstborn on the first Passover night. It also looks forward to the church's redemption by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who became sin like the lambs that represented Egypt and the Egyptian firstborn. Paul says in II Corinthians 5:21, "For He [the Father] made Him who knew no sin [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
Because Jesus willingly became sin for us, He has become our Firstborn Elder Brother:
· For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)
· He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. . . . And He is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:15, 18)
· But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, "Let all the angels of God worship him." (Hebrews 1:6)
· . . . and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood. . . . (Revelation 1:5)
The Law of the Firstborn
This relationship between the firstborn and the Feast of Unleavened Bread is repeated later in Exodus 34:18-20.
The Law of the Firstborn
We can safely conclude that the price of buying the Israelites' freedom was the devastation of Egypt's land, and above all, the killing of Egypt's firstborn. God designed the redemption of Israel's firstborn to remind them of the high cost of their liberty. The Egyptians slain for Israel's release belonged to God just as surely as the Israelites, but God used them to pay for Israel's freedom. That collective sacrifice became a type of Christ. The practical inference is that Israel was obligated to the One who paid the price—God. To us, that God would use virtually an entire nation to pay for another nation's freedom can be a stunning, even shocking concept. However, God is Creator. He owns everything and is certainly free to do as He pleases.
God will even things out later, though, as Isaiah 19:18-25 shows. Then, Egypt will once again be a great nation. The redeeming of Israel's firstborn was to serve as a costly and constant reminder that freedom is not free and that they were obligated to God for their redemption from Egypt. Forgetfulness produces ingratitude, which in turn produces disobedience because such people are no longer motivated by a sense of obligation to the One who worked so powerfully in their behalf (Deuteronomy 8:10-20).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Four): Obligation
The implication is that, when Israel finally came into the land, God made it possible for them to come into it. In other words, it was because of what the Lord did, not only in Egypt, but also in the wilderness, that enabled them to reach and enter the land. It is what the Lord does.
This is not a minor bit of trivia. It is not merely that we come out of sin and this world, but this fact puts everything about our coming out—our growth and overcoming, and eventually entering the Kingdom of God—into its proper perspective, because human nature is ever ready to take the credit for more than it actually accomplishes.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sanctification and Holiness (Part 1)