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The Law of the First-Born--Part 5

Jan 08, 2009

After all the First-Born in Israel were redeemed by the 22,000 Levites, there were 273 Israelite First-Born sons left over to be redeemed. They were redeemed with five shekels of silver each (Num. 3:46, 47). From then on, in each generation, the First-Born of Israel had to be redeemed by five shekels of silver.

One might ask how a price can be placed upon the First-Born. Are they not worth far more than that? Yes, of course. But the amount is not important. The important factor is that it is a token of obedience that recognizes God's sovereignty over man. It is an act that indicates recognition that God is indeed the Creator and Owner of mankind and that He therefore has the right to claim the First-Born as His own.

God picked the number of grace (five) as the amount of redemption money, because this law is all about grace. It indicates that the First-Born are not perfect; they are in need of grace. In fact, the whole nation of Israel--the First-Born of God--was a spiritual donkey, an unclean animal, and in need of the grace provided by the Passover Lamb that redeemed them. So it was also with all of the individual First-Born sons of Israel. They were not born with the character of the Lamb of God; they were born as stiff-necked donkeys, resistant to and rebellious against God's law.

It was by the grace of God that they were redeemed in spite of their uncleanness. In the New Testament the Apostle Paul develops this idea of imputation of righteousness in Romans 4. Imputation is defined in Rom. 4:17 as God calling what is NOT as though it were. In the case of the First-Born, God redeemed Israel and all of the individual First-Born sons by calling what is NOT as though it were. They were donkeys, but God calls them sheep.

God was not lying to Himself. God was simply seeing the end from the beginning. God is not bound by time, as we are today. Because all time is one, He sees us for what we will be, not for what we currently are. This is how God can redeem us and consider us forgiven and perfect even now, when (in fact) we still struggle with everyday temptations in life and continually fall short of the glory of God.

Similarities to the Law of First-fruits

The law of the First-Born is similar in principle to the law of First-fruits. One is applied to man and animals, while the other is applied to agriculture and fruit. Deut. 26:2 tells us that the people were to bring an unspecified amount of fruit in a basket as a First-fruits offering to God. There is no particular demand as to the size of the basket or to the number or weight of the fruit. What is important is that the people recognize God as the Creator and Owner of the land.

The quality of the fruit, of course, was a reflection of the condition of their own hearts, as we discover from Jeremiah 24. In that chapter the two baskets of figs represent two distinct heart conditions which are explained by the prophet in detail. The basket of evil figs portrays those who legalistically comply with the law's requirement, but whose hearts are far from God. In other words, they study the law in order to find out the minimum basic requirements according to the letter of the law. They have no real desire to know the heart of God, but to conform merely to religious ritualistic requirements.

This is why God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). A cheerful giver loves to give, and so he gives abundantly; a legalistic giver has to give, so he gives the minimum, and that grudgingly. In the Kingdom of God, there is no IRS to take by force and threat. The IRS exists today because the people resent the theft that is inherent in man's tax system. Thus, the IRS must rule by fear--and their agents are taught to make men fear them.

While it is true that men "rob God" by withholding tithes and offerings (Mal. 3:8), it is also apparent that the people were able to do so with immunity insofar as law enforcement was concerned. For this reason the house of God was often underfunded, except in certain brief times of spiritual revival (2 Chron. 31:4-7). God apparently thinks that it is better for His house to be underfunded than to give a law punishing those who withhold tithes and offerings. He really does want cheerful givers--even in the Old Testament.


The First-Born represent the sons of God. This law is basic to the biblical concept of Sonship itself. The primary difference is that under the Old Covenant, it was dependent upon genealogy. One had to be a Levite to represent the First-Born sons. But under the New Covenant, a different Order of priesthood has been instituted to replace the corrupted priesthood of Levi. This is pictured by the story of Eli and his replacement by Zadok.

It is no longer a matter of genealogy, nor even according to the order of one's birth in a family. David, for instance, was the eighth son (1 Sam. 16:10, 11). He was of the Order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4), but his seven older brothers were not. David later had full access to the Ark of the Covenant in his back yard in the Tabernacle of David. He was also able to eat from the Table of Showbread and not sin (1 Sam. 21:6; Matt. 12:3, 4).

When David was crowned king of Judah, he became the ruler over his own older brothers, as if he were the first-born.

Though it is not specifically stated, it is apparent that Moses too was called as a priest of Melchizedek, because, like David, he had direct access to the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, where He spoke with God face to face (Ex. 33:11). Nazarites were also allowed into the Holy Place, as I recently explained in an audio tape (or CD), The Nazarite Law.

The basic idea behind the law of the First-Born is rooted in the fifth commandment, "Honor your father and your mother." It establishes the basic structure of authority in Scripture. Christ, the First-Born from the dead is given the greatest position of authority over creation (Col. 1:18). The overcomers, who are raised in "the first resurrection" (Rev. 20:4-6) occupy the next highest position and are said to "reign with Christ a thousand years."

Those who teach that the first resurrection is merely a reference to one's justification do not consider the distinction between overcomers and ordinary believers. All believers are justified, but not all believers are First-Born. If all that is required to reign is to be justified by faith, then the entire group of believers would represent the First-Born (after Christ, of course). Where, then, is the Old Testament pattern of Levites vs. Israelites? There are citizens of the Kingdom, and there are those called to govern the citizens.

This distinction is also seen in the first-fruits offerings given at the three feast days: barley, wheat, and grapes. They represent the overcomers, the believers, and the world of unbelievers in general. The barley company is the first of the firstfruits (Ex. 34:26) and apply to those of the first resurrection.

Jesus' example of resurrection gives us the biblical definition of resurrection. The principle can be applied to one's new life in Christ, of course, but the term resurrection itself always refers to the harvest from the ground--that is, the dead being raised to life and given a body of some sort.

Our admonition is to go beyond justification into sanctification and finally into glorification. Justification infuses our spirit with God's Spirit; sanctification renews the mind (soul); glorification is the redemption of the body (Rom. 8:23). These are the three aspects that give us complete and full salvation (1 Thess. 5:23).

This is the final part of a series titled "The Law of the First-Born." To view all parts, click the link below.

The Law of the First-Born

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Category: God's Law

Dr. Stephen Jones

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