What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
For the events of Genesis 15:17-21, the sun has gone down, and it is dark. In the crucifixion sequence, by dark the Son was in His grave. This is now the 15th of Nisan, the day that became the first day of Unleavened Bread, the part known as the Night To Be Much Observed, "the selfsame day" of Exodus 12:41. Numbers 33:3 confirms Israel left Egypt on the 15th of Nisan, but Exodus 12:42 specifically states Israel began its departure at night, and God names that night the "Night To Be Much Observed." Its significance is that, because the firstborn of the Egyptians have been slain, the descendents of Abraham are released from their bondage and free to leave Egypt. The firstborn of Egypt thus become a type of the True Firstborn, Jesus Christ, the sacrifice for our sins that enslave us to spiritual Egypt.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Countdown to Pentecost 2001
Now it was dark. In the antitype, the Firstborn, Christ, is in His grave. Therefore, time-wise we are now into Abib 15. We have come all the way from ben ha arbayim, at the beginning of Abib 14, and the events progressing one after the other through Genesis 15. At verse 17, Abib 15—the First Day of Unleavened Bread—begins.
What occurs in Genesis 15:17 is the actual beginning of the Night To Be Much Observed. Exodus 12:41-42 merely records a fulfillment of this first Night To Be Much Observed. Genesis 15:17 is the point from which the 430 years began, and they ended in Exodus 12:41—down to the very day. It was the beginning of Abib 15.
This is a night of great significance in the salvation story of God's people. Because the firstborn of the Egyptians had been slaughtered, and the descendants of Abraham had been released from their slavery to leave Egypt, the firstborn of Egypt thus become types of the Firstborn, Jesus Christ—the Sacrifice for our sins that enslave us to spiritual Egypt.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wavesheaf and the Selfsame Day
In our culture, because we do not deal with patriarchal inheritances, it is difficult to understand "birthright." Since we live in an individual-oriented society, perhaps we can grasp the concept of "opportunity" more readily.
Advertisers inundate us with offers to learn about a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." It usually ends up in a meeting where a motivational speaker tries to recruit us for another network-marketing "opportunity." Or, it may be a chance to buy a franchise of a promising new chain of restaurants or stores. After a few of such pitches, we can become jaded to the fact that God truly offers us an incredible "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to end all others.
Indeed, most of humanity from the days of Adam will never be given the opportunities God offers us. Our birthright is a once-in-eternity opportunity, offered by One who cannot lie!
What is our fantastic opportunity? Not many will rise in the first resurrection, the small first harvest of God's children. Yet, those who attain to this resurrection will receive promises never again to be offered or repeated. We could be the very Bride of Christ, if we do not despise our calling. We could work intimately with the King of Kings as a leader and ruler of several cities of our own in a glorious Millennial world, if we do not sell out for our "bowl of lentils." We could be crowned with a diadem designed by the Master Designer with our new name inscribed on it, if we do not become blotted out of the Book of Life because of rebellion against God. God has called us to eternal life full of joyful, pleasurable experiences for all eternity (Psalm 16:11).
God says, "The meek inherit the whole earth" (Psalm 37:11; Matthew 5:5), but He does not stop there. He has already told us that we are not to inherit just some land here on earth, but we are co-heirs with Jesus, slated to inherit and rule over everything (Hebrews 2:8)! Drive out into the country one clear night and get far away from city lights. Now look at the starry expanse above. Those stars, nebulae, and galaxies could be ours—or we could give them up for the temporary pleasure of sin that lasts for a moment now.
We could hear our Master announce, "Well done, good and faithful servant," or we could hear, "Depart from Me, I have never known you." The choice is largely ours at this point. God calls us His children, and therefore we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ of everything God has and everything God is (Romans 8:16-17)!
So how are we doing with God's once-in-an-eternity offer? Are we showing by our actions that we are treasuring it or despising it?
When people recognize a true opportunity, they give up everything else to be sure they get it. Jesus says a man would give up everything he has to obtain a pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). Paul says many run the race, but most are not doing what it takes to win. He says he is racing after an incorruptible crown, keeping his passions well controlled, lest in the end, he be just another castaway and lose out (I Corinthians 9:24-27).
Inheriting birthrights sometimes means having to sacrifice profoundly and give up the pleasures and desires of the here and now, as Moses did (Hebrews 11:24-27). Moses took the long view, "for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible" (verse 27). We have to see God in all this and recognize what He is handing to us. Then, we humbly accept it and hang on to it for all its worth!
What is Your Bowl of Lentil Stew?
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
Here, God tells the Israelites that their firstborn cattle and sheep must be offered to Him on the eighth day of life. Likewise, the firstborn of the Israelite children—or rather the redeeming sacrificial lambs with which the parents bought back their newborn babies from God—must be offered on the babies' eighth day of life. In the case of a boy, this coincides with the day of his circumcision. The baby was "presented" to God at this time, and, although the parents had redeemed the baby, God still claimed the firstborn as being special to Him and still belonging to Him!
Note that the eighth-day presentation and offering were peculiar to the firstborn and was in addition to the sin offering and burnt offering (pigeons, turtledoves, or lambs) that were required for every other newborn baby and for the ritual purification of the mother: "Speak to the children of Israel, saying, 'If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. . . . And on the eighth day [he] . . . shall be circumcised'" (Leviticus 12:2-3).
The Law of the Firstborn
"Firstborn" is a term that appears quite frequently in Scripture. People most frequently think of it in terms of Jesus. He was Mary's firstborn (Matthew 1:25). He is also referred to as being "the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29). In Colossians 1:18 and Revelation 1:5, He is called "the firstborn from the dead." These biblical references are then linked in the minds of some with the belief that the resurrection, as described in I Corinthians 15:50-53, is a Christian's birth into the Kingdom of God, despite the fact that Paul never mentions being born in the context of resurrection (in fact, in I Corinthians 15:8, he uses "born" in terms of his calling!). So is this conclusion correct?
The Bible uses the term "firstborn" in a way that some may not realize, and in this way, "firstborn" may not indicate a literal birth at all! Once again, we are dealing with a term that has a spiritual meaning different from its literal one. Clearly, in the earliest parts of the Bible, "firstborn" indicates the eldest son. Within the Hebrew culture, it indicated a position of strength and the son to whom leadership of the family would pass when the father died. Thus, firstborn was a position of distinction and a fair measure of sanctity.
However, as one continues through the Bible, one begins to find that "firstborn" does not always mean that the person so named is literally the first born. Abraham passed on this right to Isaac, not Ishmael, who was the actual firstborn. Jacob was not Isaac's firstborn ("the older shall serve the younger"), but God certainly esteems him above Esau ("Esau I have hated").
Joseph, son of Jacob from Rachel, was not literally Jacob's firstborn. When the true eldest son, Reuben, disqualified himself, the right of firstborn did not automatically pass on to the second born, Simeon. Instead, Jacob passed that title of prominence and its prerogatives on to Joseph (I Chronicles 5:1-2). Surely, God had a hand in this transference. This clearly shows that God Himself does not necessarily follow the traditions of Israelitish culture but awards this prominence to the one prepared for the responsibility.
A great deal of further evidence of the use of the term "firstborn" flows directly from God Himself. Ephraim was not Joseph's firstborn, as Genesis 48:13-22 clearly shows. Jacob gave him that prominent position and title by God's inspiration. God commanded Moses to say to the Pharaoh of Egypt, "Israel is My son, My firstborn" (Exodus 4:22). Many nations were "born" long before Israel, but God gave the title of preeminence, "firstborn," to Israel. Later, in Jeremiah 31:9, God says, "For I am Father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn."
God uses "firstborn" in ways that we are generally unfamiliar with but that are nonetheless consistent with its use elsewhere in both Scripture and secular writings:
» Job 18:13: "It devours patches of his skin; the firstborn of death devours his limbs." Here, Bildad refers to a disease that he describes as powerful and deadly.
» Isaiah 14:30: "The firstborn of the poor will feed, and the needy will lie down in safety." The phrase indicates the poorest of the poor.
» Psalm 89:27: "I will make Him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth." This refers first to David, who was not himself a literal firstborn son, but also and more importantly, to Jesus Christ.
In these examples, "firstborn" is being used as a superlative, indicating preeminence, special quality, or significance to God. When it refers to Jesus Christ, it implies a preferential status, priority, dignity, sovereignty, and oneness with God. His relationship with God is unique, of the highest and greatest significance and quality. His relationships to creation, man, and especially to His brethren are also unique.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Three)
1 John 5:19-20
The very fact that we know these things—that we are of God, that Satan is the unseen ruler of this world, and that we know God and His Son Jesus Christ—is evidence that we have been given an understanding. This knowledge is not something we have determined on our own; the sovereign God has given it to us to fulfill His purpose in us. And in His sovereignty He has withheld it from others.
Other passages, in more specific areas of our profession, show the uniqueness of our calling to an even greater extent. For example, Paul writes in II Thessalonians 3:1-2, "Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have [the] faith." From our own experiences we know his statement is true. Not everyone has faith. It is obvious that some believe and others do not. Even within the church we are at different stages of faith.
Acts 13:48 adds important ramifications to this subject of God's sovereignty, our calling, and faith: "Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." The implications of Luke's words are rather startling. Only those whom God appointed or predestined to eternal life believe the preaching of Paul and Barnabas! The rest, though they also hear the word of the Lord, persecute and expel them from the region. They do not believe what they hear, and it angers rather than converts them. We must conclude that God triggers something in the minds of those He calls, making the Lord's words agreeable, so they will believe what they are hearing.
This agrees perfectly with Ephesians 1:5—"[God] predestined us to adoption as sons by [through] Jesus Christ"—and Romans 8:29-30, which explicitly states the whole panorama of His purpose:
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. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
God has the whole process planned out, and He is so confident of His ability to accomplish it that He perceives it as already done! He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six
Find more Bible verses about Firstborn:
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
Sign up for the Berean: Daily Verse and Comment, and have Biblical truth delivered to your inbox. This daily newsletter provides a starting point for personal study, and gives valuable insight into the verses that make up the Word of God. See what over 150,000 subscribers are already receiving each day.
We respect your privacy. Your email address will not be sold, distributed, rented, or in any way given out to a third party. We have nothing to sell. You may easily unsubscribe at any time.