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Shemot/Exodus 13:2 "Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the opening of each womb ..."
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is a noun from the root - to burst open, let out, let go, or dismiss (Davidson) - with the meaning "a breaking forth, an opening".Rashi illustrates this with the verse, "Like one who makes water burst forth from a hole in a dam, is one who starts a dispute" (Proverbs 17:14). The imagery speaks of more than a forceful process to bring the first child into physical life; it is also the bursting forth of a new family and the start of a new generation. More, although the birth of any child is a unique and special moment, it is also a new spiritual phase in the life of the parents who now have to raise, disciple and encourage their growing family. They will truly never be the same again.
Nahum Sarna, in the JPS Torah Commentary, comments that "the first-born belongs to G-d solely by reason of an act of divine will decreed at the time of the Exodus and not on account of any inherent sanctity." That is: G-d said so! On the other hand, he continues, "It is explicitly related in B'Midbar 3:12 'Now, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the sons of Israel instead of every first-born, the first issue of the womb among the sons of Israel' (NASB) and 8:16 'for they are wholly given to Me from among the sons of Israel. I have taken them for Myself instead of every first issue of the womb, the first-born of all the sons of Israel' (NASB) that ... the Levites supplanted the first-born in assuming priestly and ritual functions." That being so, Sarna claims "it may safely be inferred that Moshe is here installing the first-born to fulfill priestly duties" and cites the Sages of the Mishna: "Before the tabernacle was set up, the high places were permitted and the service was done by the first-born. When the tabernacle was set up, the high places were prohibited and the service was done by the priests" (m. Zevachim 14:4). Sarna is supported by theRashbam who said, "Before the priests were consecrated, it was the first-born who performed G-d's service."
ObadiahSforno adds another piece to the picture with his comment about the roles of sacred and secular: "They are all obligated to be redeemed similar to all other consecrated objects, in order that they be permitted to do secular work, for without redemption they are prohibited to occupy themselves with secular work, similar to 'you shall not work with the first-born of your herd, nor shear the first-born of your flock' (D'varim 15:19, NASB)'." Release from the exclusivity of the sacred realm, so that the first-born can also perform secular work in order to keep himself and his family, is achieved only through redemption, otherwise the first-born is dedicated completely to G-d.
RabbiHirsch brings these thoughts another step forward when he writes, "In order that the one thought of their common mission that unites them all about the One G-d should remain vivid and vital in all of them, G-d appointed living representatives of this thought within the families and homes ... in the midst of the family, the first-born son as His representative, to be the bearer, cultivator and defender of His will; and in the herd, the first-born as the expression of the family possessions belonging to, and being given up to, this will. By the efficacy of the first-born sons and by the consecration of all first-born, the homes and families are to be kept conscious of the holy common mission of the nation." This comes so close to G-d's plan and purpose, but just fails to make the final connection to Yeshua as G-d's first-born son who fulfilled the role of both the first-born son and the first-born of the herd, being given up in consecration to G-d.
So we find G-d Himself declaring Yeshua to be His Son at His moment of consecration: "As soon as Yeshua had been immersed, he came up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, he saw the Spirit of G-d coming down upon him like a dove, and a voice from heaven said, 'This is My Son, whom I love; I am well pleased with Him'" (Matthew 3:16-17, CJB). Then Rav Sha'ul explains how G-d gave Him up, "He who did not spare even His own Son, but gave Him up on behalf of us all" (Romans 8:32, CJB). G-d Himself kept the Torah, knowing that His own Son had to be the one single exception from the rule that all first-born sons must be redeemed, so that He might be the means of redeeming all of us who believe in Him and in that faith find forgiveness for our sins and reconciliation with G-d. But the text continues to speak of Yeshua as the first-born: "He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead" (Colossians 1:18, CJB). Uniquely raised from death never to die again, "the Messiah has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died" (1 Corinthians 15:20, CJB) so that He might be "the first-born among many brothers" (Romans 8:29, CJB).
In the same way, just as the Levites were set apart following the incident with the Golden Calf to take the place of the first-born in each family, so Yeshua has been set apart to perform the service of worship in the heavenly tabernacle before G-d. We should notice that this is not a matter of replacement or supercession in the same role, for Yeshua does not offer sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. Instead, just as the Psalmist foretold: "The L-RD has sworn and will not change His mind, 'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek'" (Psalm 110:4, NASB). Although by earthly descent from the tribe of Judah, Yeshua's priesthood is of a different order or category than the Aaronic priests, who served G-d first in the tabernacle and then in the Temple. Moreover, this was not something that Yeshua chose or took for Himself but was both a part of who He is and G-d's calling on Him: "And no one takes this honor upon himself, rather, he is called by G-d, just as Aharon was. So neither did the Messiah glorify himself to become cohen gadol; rather, it was the One who said to him, 'You are my Son; today I have become your Father.' Also, as he says in another place, 'You are a cohen forever, to be compared with Malki-Tzedek'" (Hebrews 5:4-6, CJB).
We read about Melchizedek in the Torah just after Abram (as he was still, then) had defeated the kings who had captured his nephew Lot from Sodom. "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of G-d Most High. And he blessed him and said, 'Blessed be Abram of G-d Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be G-d Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.' And he gave him a tenth of all" (B'resheet 14:18-20, NASB). The author of Hebrews explains that Melchizedek simply is; he has no record of birth, parentage, life or death outside this one appearance, yet he is both a king of righteousness (his name) and a priest of G-d Most High. Since Yitzchak and Ya'akov had not yet been born, the tribe of Levi did not at that time exist, yet in form all the tribes of Israel including Levi - and so the Aaronic priests - acknowledged and submitted to the priesthood of Melchizedek; a different order to their own, although both called of G-d. The Hebrews author makes it plain that Melchizedek was greater than our father Abram: "he blessed Avraham, the man who received G-d's promises; and it is beyond all dispute that the one who blesses has higher status than the one who receives the blessing" (Hebrew 7:6-7, CJB) and that Levi was included: "Levi, who himself receives tenths, paid a tenth through Avraham; inasmuch as he was still in his ancestor Avraham's body when Malki-Tzedek met him" (vv. 9-10, CJB). Notice the use of the present tense in that verse; the Levitical priests were still receiving tithes at the time the letter was written (cf. Acts 6:7), so that Yeshua's priesthood did not terminate the Aaronic priesthood - G-d simply suspended the majority of their functions by removing the Temple, although the Aaronic benediction is still pronounced during Shabbat services and at the Kotel at the regalim feasts three times each year - Yeshua is a priest of a different order, without beginning or end and serves in the heavenly tabernacle rather than the earthly one.
Yeshua, then, is the first-born Son of G-d. He was given up - that is, sanctified solely to G-d, without being redeemed - so that He might fulfill all the promises that G-d had revealed through the prophets and be the permanent presence of G-d in both the house of Israel and the hearts of believers from all the nations. By His obedience and sacrifice, He has redeemed the many. He is both the King of Israel and the High Priest of Israel; it is He who takes our prayers and service before the Father in the heavenly tabernacle; He who brings about our sanctification.
Further Study: Hebrew 7:1-10
Application: Do you sometimes doubt that your prayers and petitions are reaching the Father? Yeshua was perfectly serious when He said: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6). He is our perfect conduit and channel to the Father and we find our peace in Him.
© Jonathan Allen, 2010
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