Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dedication of the Firstborn (Exodus 13:1-16)

The following quote is taken from

"Even more peculiar is God's obsession with first-born sons.  In Exodus 13:2 the Lord said "Consecrate to me every first-born that opens the womb among Israelites, both man and beast, for it belongs to me."  Later it says that you can redeem (replace) an ass with a sheep and that you must redeem a child for an unspecified price.  It is clear from the context that "consecrate" means a burning sacrifice.  These priests are guilty of theft and kidnapping.  Since any sins in the Old Testament were punishable by death, these priests used the threat of death to extort food and money from their followers.  What do we call a scum-bag that threatens to kill your kids unless you pay a ransom?  A kidnapper!  If these priests were alive today they would be in prison with Abraham."

            Let us examine this passage, and others in the Torah that discuss the dedication of firstborn males, both human and animal.
   claims that "it is clear from the context that 'consecrate' means a burning sacrifice".  The Hebrew word used in Exodus 13:2 is qadash, which means "to set apart, consecrate, sanctify, be pure, separate, be holy" [1].  This differs from the word that is normally used to describe a burnt offering: 'olah.  It was not God's intention that every firstborn human male was supposed to be sacrificed as a burnt offering; rather, it was to set each firstborn male apart, dedicating them to God.  The sacrifice of a human child was forbidden; the Law clearly stated that every firstborn son (and every unclean firstborn animal) had to be redeemed with a price, not sacrificed (Exodus 13:15, 34:20; Numbers 18:15; Deuteronomy 12:31, 18:10).  The redemption price was not unspecified; it was 5 shekels of silver, about 2 ounces (Numbers 18:16). 
            The reasoning behind this is given later in Exodus chapter 13: "In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 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.’ And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the LORD brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand” (Exodus 13:14-16). 
            The redemption of the firstborn sons was a permanent reminder to the Israelites that God had spared their firstborn sons during the first Passover, when God struck down all of the Egyptian firstborn males (Exodus 11-12).  This was partially in response to Pharaoh refusing to release the Israelites from slavery, and partially because, years earlier, Pharaoh had commanded the murder of thousands of Israelite baby boys (Exodus 1:8-22).
            The purpose for redeeming a donkey with a sheep was because the donkey was unclean, and unfit for sacrifice (Exodus 13:12-13; Numbers 18:15-17).  All clean firstborn animals were sacrificed as an offering to God.  

[1] Gesenius's Lexicon, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius (translated by Samuel P. Tregelles), 1847