Lessons from Israel: No.19 : Ownership?
Ex 13:1,2 The LORD said to Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether man or animal.”
When we come to this next chapter, there appears this particular claim by God on the lives of certain children. Let’s examine it and see why and what are the implications. This, of course, follows the last of the ten plagues whereby every firstborn male in every family across Egypt died in God’s judgment on this land. “So Moses said, “This is what the LORD says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.“ (Ex 11:4,5) This death toll had thus been entirely inclusive – no family escaped – except those who followed the Lord’s instructions and who killed a lamb and put its blood on the doorposts of their homes. That night of the Passover saw a dead body in every home; either a first born son or a lamb.
Now why the first born son? We aren’t told specifically so we must speculate. First the question, why not every single Egyptian? There were other times in Israel’s history when the command was going to come to slaughter every person and as one theologian has commented, the big question is not why God judges but why He doesn’t wipe us all off this planet. If we were master beings and were growing creatures in a laboratory and we saw that they started turning on each other and killing each other, we would cull them and quite happily destroy the aberrant ones, but God doesn’t seem to do that much of the time; He seems to give second chance after second chance as we’ve noted in a previous meditation. It is a sign of His mercy and His desire to bring Egypt to their senses that He only takes the first born.
But why the first born? Well, as we said, we can only speculate, but is it because all the hopes and dreams and pride of a family are wrapped up in the first born? Why males only and not firstborn girls? Perhaps it is because in that period men were clearly dominant and were seen as the name bearers of the next generation. Even today the woman usually takes the man’s surname at marriage. So in taking the first born from every family, the Lord was taking their hopes, their dreams and their pride. For the rest of their years the survivors would remember that they had been a humbled generation.
Now when we come to the Israelites they still have their first born, but it is only by the grace and mercy of God and so the Lord lays claim to their lives. Does He really want them? Probably no more than He wants the hearts of all His people, but He wants them to remember this, that they still have their hopes and dreams for the future and their pride and family name, purely by the mercy of God. The killing of a lamb was not magical and had no power in itself, but it was an act of faith by the Israelites. That was all they contributed to the salvation of their children. Their children were alive because God, in His mercy, had given them a way to avoid premature death.
Verses 3 to 10 that immediately follow refer back to the Feast of Unleavened Bread which in turn refers back to the exodus after the Passover. The consecrating of the first born comes immediately before that and immediately after it in verses 11 to 13. It is to be seen as all linked together, and then the following verses again were instructions on how to tell the future generations about it when they asked what this meant. The ‘consecrating’ or setting aside as holy to God of the first born son was a reminder or acknowledgement that their lives had been spared by the mercy of God and they owed their hopes, dreams and family name to Him. They were what they were; they were still families, because God in His mercy had made it so.
Do we, I wonder, view ourselves similarly? Do we who are Christians see that our lives belong to God because it is only the grace and mercy of God that allows us a future? All our hopes and dreams are wrapped in our salvation that has come because The Lamb of God was slain in our place. There is a very practical outworking of all this, as the apostle Paul was to see: “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” (Rom 6:13) We too, he was saying, have been saved from eternal death and given eternal life and so we belong to God. Later in the same book he reiterated it even more clearly: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Rom 12:1). Did you see that? “In view of God’s mercy.” That is the key! God’s mercy means that now we have been saved we belong to Him. Is that how we see our bodies?