January 29, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“After the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as he promised on oath to you and your ancestors, you are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the Lord. Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.”—Exodus 13:11–13 (NIV)
Nothing is free. There’s always a cost incurred by someone. The question is, “Who’s paying the cost?”
Today’s passage reveals some important truths about our lives, all of which point us to the work of Jesus. First, let’s answer what the Lord was teaching the Israelites through these laws of consecration and redemption of the firstborn.
Why dedicate the firstborn males of one’s cattle, lambs, and goats? Because they belonged to the Lord to be used by the priests in the temple. Numbers 18:17 (NLT) explains they “are holy and have been set apart for the Lord. Sprinkle their blood on the altar, and burn their fat as a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”
All the children of Israel were to participate in this practice. Why? First, because the firstborn was thought to be the most important offspring, and this practice was a reminder that our first and best always belongs to God, because He’s worthy of our best. Second, the firstborn was believed to be the strongest and most productive; thus, by giving him up to the Lord, they were being taught not to rely on themselves but on Him to provide all they needed.
In this one ordinance, we see the principle of tithing, first fruits, and Sabbath all at work. We see a reminder to the people living in the Promised Land that it was God who delivered them from Egypt and through the wilderness and gave them “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 26:9 NIV). But there’s something even deeper being revealed.
We see it most prominently in the redemption of the firstborn son and the unclean animal. In both instances, something had to be paid for their redemption (tip̄deh: to purchase, deliver, pay the ransom). Again, the firstborn males of every species (even human sons) belonged to the Lord, to His service. In the case of an unclean animal like a donkey, a lamb had to be sacrificed to redeem it. And for the firstborn son, five shekels or a lamb were to be paid to the temple in order for the people to “buy back” their sons.
I hope you can see this was a foreshadowing of God Himself offering up His best, His only begotten Son, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15 NIV) as a sacrifice for the redemption of unclean, depraved, wicked, sinful people, providing all we need to enter into the eternal kingdom of God by “adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:5 NIV).
So, who paid the price for our redemption? Who paid the ransom to buy us back from sin and death in order to offer salvation, reconciliation, and eternal life freely to all who would receive Him? God did “in accordance with his pleasure and will to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Ephesians 1:5–6 NIV). Never forget this, friends. Never take for granted the cost of the gospel!
Pause: Why is it important that we not skip over passages like this? What do these types of laws and practices in the Old Testament teach us? What have you learned from passages like genealogies, laws, and rituals?
Practice: Read Luke 24:27 and commit to looking deeply into passages in Exodus that go into laws and practices of the Israelites. Find the gospel of Jesus that’s woven into it!
Pray: Heavenly Father, I thank You for Your Word—for ALL of Your Word. I thank You that the gospel of Your Son, Jesus, is present, woven, and working within each and every commandment, genealogy, story, ritual, psalm, proverb, and prophecy. I thank You that You breathed the glory of the gospel into the hearts and minds of each Old and New Testament writer in order that I may be able to see and know You clearly through any section of Your holy Word. I pray that this Word would be hidden deeply into my heart that I might not sin against You, and that it would permeate every aspect of my life and heart. Amen.
Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.