Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
Our Old Testament passage for this week, from Exodus 13, speaks of God’s method of redemption, through the substitution of a firstborn male. In this passage, we read of every firstborn male, human and animal, being dedicated in some way to the Lord. This dedication, or consecration, is a reminder and re-enactment of the rescue from Egypt, when the Lord brought his people out of their slavery after putting to death all of the firstborn of Egypt who were not protected from the angel of death according to God’s decree.
When the people of Israel fled from Egypt, they were departing from five hundred years of servitude. They were going to freedom, but that move to freedom also required some loss. Doubtless some of the Israelites served humane masters. Some had homes and possessions they could not carry with them. Some, no doubt, even had relatives and friends within the Israelite community who didn’t put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, who lost their firstborns, and who remained in Egypt, while the rest of their relatives and friends left the country. Any time you leave one situation for another, you do leave something behind, and frequently that thing you leave behind is meaningful.
The departure from Egypt and dedication of the firstborn was significant of more than personal change, though. Why would Israel have to give something up? Because they were purchased by God. They don’t belong to themselves. They were bought with a price and they are not their own. If God says to dedicate the firsborn to him, that’s what they will do.
The firstborns don’t have to be killed, don’t worry. Some will be, specifically, the livestock. However, the people are treated a little differently. The firstborn males of the people of Israel are redeemed. God has provided a replacement for them, among the tribe of Levi, where those who will serve in the tabernacle and, later, in the temple, will be dedicated to the Lord throughout their lives. The firstborn of the other tribes are consecrated to God, but their regular service is replaced by the service of the Levites. This idea of a substitute becomes very important, not only in Judaism, but even more so in Christianity.
Jesus, God the Son, the firstborn (and only born) of the Father, is the substitute for every single man, woman, or child ever born on earth. He is the one who takes the place of you and of me in death. He is the one who takes on the guilt before God of the sin of the whole world. He is the one whose perfect obedience on behalf of us, who don’t obey perfectly, is credited to us. This is the great message of substitution in the Scripture. It is God’s life for ours.
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