Offering the Firstborn

sacrificial lamb 3

Q. Num 3:13 “for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether human or animal. They are to be mine. I am the LORD.” Does that mean all the firstborn are to be sacrificed to God? See also Num 8:17. Isn’t that cruel?

A. All the firstborn belong to the LORD, but that does not mean all are to be sacrificed to God, because they could be redeemed:

Ex 13:13 Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.
• Ex 13:15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’
• Ex 34:20 Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons. “No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
• Num 3:45-37 “Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock. The Levites are to be mine. I am the LORD. To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, collect five shekels for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs.
• Num 18:15-17 The first offspring of every womb, both human and animal, that is offered to the LORD is yours. But you must redeem every firstborn son and every firstborn male of unclean animals. When they are a month old, you must redeem them at the redemption price set at five shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. “But you must not redeem the firstborn of a cow, a sheep or a goat; they are holy. Splash their blood against the altar and burn their fat as a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the LORD.

Note the following:
• Every firstborn son belongs to the LORD, but must be redeemed.
• When this law was first established, instead of taking all the firstborn of Israel, God took the Levites. Since the number of firstborn Israelites exceeded the number of Levites, the excess were redeemed at a redemption price of 5 shekels of silver. All subsequent Israelite firstborn sons had to be similarly redeemed. This is practiced to this day among Orthodox Jews.
• The firstborn donkey could also be redeemed, but if they are not redeemed, their necks must be broken. The firstborn cow, sheep or goat must not be redeemed. They must be killed. The donkey is unclean and cannot be used in offering sacrifices, so may be redeemed or killed. Cows, sheep or goats are clean and used in sacrifices, therefore must be slaughtered and burned.

When a firstborn son is dedicated to God, it does not mean he is offered as a sacrifice either. For example, Hannah gave Samuel to the LORD all the days of his life (1 Sam 1:11), and he served God as a Nazirite (1 Sam 1:22). God is not cruel, sin is, as it required the death of the sacrificial animal and ultimately the Son of God as an atonement.

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