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It was God himself, and God alone who put a difference between the firstborn in Egypt and the firstborn in Israel on the night of judgment and deliverance accomplished in Egypt. We are expressly taught by the Spirit of God that everything on that passover night was typical of Christ, who as “our Passover was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). The sprinkling of the blood of the lamb of the first year, without blemish, and without spot, on the houses of the Israelites, was the one thing that put a difference between the firstborn of Israel and the firstborn of Egypt. The blood of the lamb alone saved Israel’s firstborn from destruction. This we are plainly told in Exodus 11:7.
Vengeance and Salvation
As it was on that great night of judgment and mercy, so the year of Christ’s redeemed is both the day of vengeance and the day of salvation (Isaiah 63:3-5). When the Son of God died as our Substitute upon the cursed tree, he bore all the vengeance of God’s holy wrath for us to the full satisfaction of divine justice and obtained eternal redemption and salvation for us (Hebrews 9:12). At the same time, he declares, “The day of vengeance is in my heart.” Yet, there is a day, appointed and fixed by him, when our God will execute judgment upon his enemies, as well as of mercy upon his people (Acts 17:31; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15).
The birthright belonged to the firstborn among the children of Israel, and gave him preeminence in the family. To him belonged the right of priesthood (Numbers 3:12-13, 40-45; 8:15-18). The firstborn was given a double portion among his brethren (Deuteronomy 21:17). And to the firstborn it was promised, “Thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise. Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies. Thy father’s children shall bow down before thee” (Genesis 49:8). All these Old Testament declarations were intended to show forth the majesty of Christ as “the Firstborn among many brethren.” All the offerings required of God for every male that opened the womb pointed to our Lord Jesus (Exodus 13:2; 34:19-20; Leviticus 12:6; Luke 2:21-24).
Opens the Womb
Robert Hawker suggested that the Scriptures, when speaking of “the firstborn that openeth the womb,” must have been prophetic of the virgin birth of our Savior. Regarding the firstborn, Hawker wrote, “Strictly and properly speaking, none but the Lord Jesus ever did open the womb…In every other instance, from the creation of the world, as anatomists well know, it is accomplished at the time of conception.”
Our blessed Savior, “the Firstborn,” was conceived in Mary’s virgin womb by the overshadowing power of God the Holy Ghost. He opened Mary’s virgin womb when he came forth from it to accomplish our redemption. Thus, throughout the Levitical dispensation, the firstborn of man and beast directed the eye of faith to him whom the triune Jehovah appointed to have everlasting preeminence as “the Firstborn.” In all things it is, was, and forever shall be the will of the eternal God that Christ have preeminence as the God-man, our Mediator and Redeemer.
Yet, the law of God required redemption of the firstborn among the children of Israel (Numbers 18:15-16). The firstborn was brought to the priest, along with “five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary.” The priest received the child in the name of the Lord as his own. Then, the priest returned the child to the care of its parents; but it belonged to the Lord. All the firstborn had to be redeemed. And we who are called “the church of the Firstborn” had to be redeemed to our God by the blood of Christ, either redeemed or killed.
However, the firstborn of the Levites was not redeemed (Numbers 1:47-48; 3:12-13). Why was this exemption made? Why did God require that the firstborn of the Levites not be redeemed? Because the Levites represented our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ; and he, who is our Redeemer, did not need to be redeemed.
Though our Savior came, as a man, from the tribe of Judah, the Levites, being chosen as the priestly tribe, portrayed the whole election of grace as a people holy and accepted in the Beloved, “a kingdom of priests” and “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people,” redeemed and called in Christ (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9). And the whole Levitical priesthood typified Christ our Priest and Mediator, whom God took in the stead of his firstborn ones. He who is the Redeemer did not need to be redeemed.