The first-born is the first son and the first among siblings. Jesus was Mary’s first-born (Matt.1:24-25). Jesus had four brothers, besides his sisters (Matt.13:55-56). The first-born of a father is the first son. After the first-born of the father was born, each woman had her first-born. Bathsheba had four sons for David. Shimea was the first-born, then Shobab, Nathan and Solomon, the youngest. But David’s first-born was Amnon, son of Ahinoam (1 Chr.3:15). If the wife that begot the first-born would not beget other sons, this child would be the only- begotten, even if this father had many wives with many children. This was the case with Abraham. Sara had just one son, who is called only- begotten, even though Abraham had seven sons besides him from other two wives (Gen.16:1-4; 25:1-2; Heb.11:17).
The genealogy of a man was counted from his first-born. This is why the strength of a man was in the first-born (Deut.21:15-17). If the first-born died, the lineage and the strength of that man were cut off.
The last plague that Jehovah dumped on Egypt was the death of all the first-born, of both men and animals: “Now it came about at midnight that Jehovah struck all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of cattle” (Ex.12:29). The Scriptures say that the weeping and the cries of Egypt were very great (Ex.12:30).
The value of the first-born came from Jehovah. Jehovah called the people of Israel “first-born”(Ex.4:22). So we can understand that, in order to save his first-born, Jehovah killed all the other first-born in Egypt.
The value of the first-born was such that Jehovah took them for himself. “Sanctify to Me every first-born, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both man and beast; it belongs to Me” (Ex.13:2). “You shall devote to Jehovah the first offspring of every womb, and the first-offspring of every beast that you own; the males belong to Jehovah. But every 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 first-born 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 Jehovah brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. And it came about, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that Jehovah killed every first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man and the first-born of beast. Therefore, I sacrifice to Jehovah the males, the first offspring of every womb, but every first-born of my sons I redeem (Ex.13:12-15). These verses make it clear that, when there is not redemption, the first-born will be sacrificed to Jehovah, for they belong to him. This is similar to the circumcision. Every male was circumcised as a perpetual ordinance. “‘And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant” (Gen.17:12-14). The same happens with the ransom: If a father does not redeem the son, he broke the covenant of Jehovah. The first-born will be beheaded before Jehovah. The Interpreted Old Testament, of R.N. Champlin says that all the first-born were sacrificed to Jehovah. Also the Vocabulary of Bible Theology of Editora Vozes makes a comment that, through the excavations of Gezer and Taannak, they came to the conclusion that the barbarous ritual of child immolations was seen in Israel, too. Jehovah not only accepted human sacrifices, as he also demanded them, for he demanded that Abraham sacrificed his son Isaac (Gen.22). He accepted the sacrifice of the daughter of Jephtah (Judg.11). He accepted the sacrifice of the seven sons of Saul, to appease his wrath. This case is worth commenting. Saul had been dead for more than thirty years, but the anger of Jehovah and his thirst for vengeance only grew. Saul was in hell, in Satan’s hands, and his sons were in the hands of Jehovah, who sent three years of famine over Israel. David inquired Jehovah and he said: It is because of Saul, who ordered the death of the Gibeonites. David consulted the Gibeonites and they asked him to give them seven sons of Saul to sacrifice them to Jehovah. These seven unlucky men were hanged before Jehovah (2 Sam.21:9). The text ends by saying that the wrath and the thirst for vengeance were gone, and Jehovah calmed down (2 Sam.21:14).
Speaking again of the first-born, the price paid for their ransom was five shekels of silver (Num.3:46-47). There was the silver shekel (Lev.5:15; 27:3). There was also the gold shekel (Gen.24:22; Judg.8:26). In the seventh chapter of Numbers, which deals with the offerings, there are dozens of mentions to shekels of silver and of gold.
Now, the apostle Paul, speaking of the ransom of our souls, expresses himself in this manner: “And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet.1:17-19).
What is alarming to us in this declaration that Peter made is that he called it “vain tradition,” that is, “without any value,” something of such high value to Jehovah that, once disobeyed, was punished with death. The truth is that gold and silver redeemed souls for Jehovah, but did not redeem souls for the Father. It is Christ alone who redeems them with his precious blood; the rest is vanity, with no value, a ritual of tradition with the purpose of deluding credulous people.
By Pastor Olavo Silveira Pereira