Let’s read Exodus 4:21-23, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden His heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, Let my son go that he may serve me. If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’”
To the nation of Israel, the firstborn is an important concept. Here, God said that Israel was His son, His firstborn son. He said, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” But Pharaoh would not let the people go. God then said, “Behold, I will kill your firstborn son.” Exodus chapter 11-13 talks quite a lot about the firstborn. We are more familiar with chapter 12, which talks about the Passover: a lamb was killed and the blood was put on the lintel and the two doorposts. God would pass through the land of Egypt that night, and if there was no blood of the lamb on the door, He would strike the firstborn of that household, both man and beast. Because of this severe plague, Pharaoh finally let the people go.
At that time, Egypt was one of the most powerful nations in the world, but God said Israel was His firstborn son. I am not sure how Pharaoh felt when he heard that. In his eyes, these people were slaves. You can read the Book of Exodus to understand more. Pharaoh wanted to kill all the male children of Israel. Let’s read Exodus 1:15-16, 22: “Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.’… Then Pharaoh commanded all His people, ‘Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.’”
Chapter 2 mentions that Moses’ parents hid him for three months; if not, he would have also been killed. That’s how Pharoah treated the Israelites, even though they were already slaves, doing all kinds of hard work such as making bricks. Satan has always wanted to attack the Israelites because the Saviour was to come out of them. So, it was Pharaoh who mistreated the Israelites first, but God is righteous. Egyptians were to cast every newborn boy into the river! In chapter 4, God says, “Israel is my firstborn son.” God would raise them up to become a blessing to all nations on earth. And they are especially blessed.
It was the Egyptians who wanted to kill all the male children of the Israelites in the first place, whether or not those children were the firstborn. Therefore, God said it very clearly that if Pharaoh refused to let His firstborn go and serve Him, He would kill the firstborn sons of the Egyptians. Exodus chapter 12 clearly talks about the blood of the lamb; when God saw the blood on the doorway of a household, He would pass over them.
Let’s read Exodus 13:1-2. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.’”
Verses 11-13 say, “When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, you shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the Lord’s. Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.”
We were like donkeys, unclean and stubborn. The Passover tells us that the Lord is the Lamb of God who carried our sins and redeemed us. From this passage, we see that we should have all died, but the Lord redeemed us, so we should belong to the Lord. 1 Corinthian says that we “were bought with a price.” 1 Peter chapter 1 says that we were ransomed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19) It’s so precious that we are the firstborn. The Lord ransomed us with His precious blood. It is right that we should offer ourselves to Him. We belong to Him. He is the one who bought us with a price, with His own precious blood. We shall be His.
Verses 14-16 read, “And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.
From an earlier verse we read, if the people would not redeem the firstborn of their donkey, they would have to break its neck. That seems pointless. So, what could it mean?
Let’s continue the passage: For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:14-16)