What does it mean to be the firstborn son?

Kees de Vreugd Saturday 16 July 2011 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share by email Printer friendly

God calls Israel His firstborn son
“This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son” (Ex. 4:22). ‘My firstborn son’- it is one of the words that express God’s love for Israel. Israel belongs to God. God loves Israel. He remains faithful to His people. It is remarkable that this is especially said, too, of the Ten Tribes (Jeremiah 31:20; Hosea 11:1).
When the Gospel of Matthew (2:15) applies the Hosea verse to the Lord Jesus, it shows among other things, Jesus’ unity with Israel.

God elects Israel as His son
God has adopted Israel as His son (Romans 9:4). That is the way in which God works, not ‘according to the flesh, but to the promise’ (Rom. 9:8). Abraham is called out of the (gentile) nations. Isaac is designated as son and heir of Abraham, though not at the cost of Ishmael (Genesis 21:12-13; Rom. 9:7). Jacob is chosen in stead of Esau (Gen. 25:23; Malachi 1:2-3; Rom. 9:11-13).
It is all about the important and decisive task that Israel has to fulfil among the nations. To pharaoh, who was seen as a deity and as a son of the gods himself, this was immediately clear. In the culture of ancient Egypt, pharaoh formed the connection between heaven and earth. But now God is designating His own choice: Israel is My firstborn son (Ex. 4:22-23).

The firstborn son
Esau sold his ‘primogeniture’ – as the Hebrew literally reads – to Jacob (Genesis 25:29-34). According to the right of succession of the ancient Near East and the Old Testament, the firstborn son receives a double portion – he gets twice as much as any other sons (Deut. 21:15-17).
However, the firstborn son is in the Old Testament not just the heir. He is himself sanctified. That means, he is set apart as God’s possession. He must be given to the Lord (Ex. 22:29). Because he is the Lord’s possession, he must be redeemed (Exodus 13:12-15; 34:19). But in stead of all firstborns of Israel, God now designates one tribe to be priests before Him (Numbers 3:12-13). They constitute, as it were, the link between God and the nation. So is Israel out of all nations designated to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation before God (Ex. 19:5-6).

The purpose of sonship
In this way God sanctifies Israel. The calling of Israel as son is now explained more fully. Is Israel not taken out of Egypt to worship God (Ex. 4:23)?
Why does God sanctify Israel? Because He wants to dwell with his people (Ex. 25:8). Therefore the people must be sanctified by the temple service. But the praise to God is the pivot on which everything hinges. How does God dwell in Israel? He is enthroned on the praises of Israel (Psalm 22:3).
So Israel proclaims God’s name among the nations. It bears God’s name (Numb. 6:27). This counts especially for Jerusalem. God’s name dwells there (Deut. 12:11 and many other places). God’s name is God’s revealed presence. Jerusalem becomes the place where the nations, too, will call on the name of God.

Blessing to the nations
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all received a special blessing from the Lord (Gen. 12:3; 26:24; 28:13-15). Israel is blessed, too. In Deut. 28 blessing and curse are presented to Israel. Blessing and curse are connected to the keeping of the Torah (‘law’). But these are preceded by the fundamental blessing God has promised to the patriarchs and through them to Israel (Numb. 24:9). This blessing must be recognised by the nations. In this way the nations bless Israel and will be blessed themselves. It is the recognition that Israel is the centre of God’s salvation plan for this world and thus for the nations (Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 11:12,15).


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11 Comments to “What does it mean to be the firstborn son?”

  1. EWA HENSHAW says:

    I dont understand this issue of first born,what is expected of them from God. what do i do as the firstborn.

  2. Kees de Vreugd says:

    The article focusses on the fact that God calls Israel His firstborn son. He does that in a very specific context, namely before the pharaoh of Egypt. In the ancient world, the firstborn son had specific rights and obligations. (These are also described in Deuteronomy.) He was to be the head of the family, and as such was seen as the ‘link’ between the divine and profane worlds. In other words, he was considered the priest who mediated the divine blessings for the family.
    In Egypt, pharaoh (the king) was seen as the firstborn son of god (or the gods), and thus as the channel through which the divine blessings flowed to the land and the people.
    You know that the people of Israel were slaves of the Egyptians. Now the LORD comes and says that those slaves are His firstborn son, and not the mighty pharaoh! In other words, God chooses not the powers of the world, but a people of slaves as His instrument to bless the nations of the world. And that is still the purpose of Israel in God’s redemptive plan.
    Now, what does this mean for you as the firstborn (or me, I am a firstborn too)? First of all, the focus of the article is that we should bless Israel and recognize it as the people of God’s choice, to bring redemption to the world – fully and perfectly in Christ as the only begotten son.
    Secondly, I don’t think the laws of Deuteronomy apply to us in the same way as they apply to the Israelites. But I somehow feel a special call to intercession for our families.

  3. Antoinette Wagner says:

    Kees, what you said was very clear, and I agree that we as believers, being grafted in (Rom11:17-25) are not first born. But we have a very important role now. We are beginning to see that the prophets tell us, what we will do to comfort and bless Israel. Isa.61:5-6 show us that we can learn to humble ourselves and serve His first born son. This means standing with and helping physically, financially and with our constant prayers. We do not need to evangelize them,God said He will do that.(Ezek36:26) We need to help carry them (they are our burden of responsibility) if we are truly grafted in. Isa.60
    Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

  4. Kees de Vreugd says:

    Dear Antoinette, The only thing I have to say as a response to you is: Amen.

  5. Steffie Longonya says:

    I’m a christian born-again but i don’t buy into the idea that we should ”serve” Israel,God’s first-born son!There’s only one to whom we should humble ourselves and” serve” with joy and gladness of heart,it’s God only!Assistance of any kind as you mentionned it to Israel or” any other country” in distress should be the burden of the church of Christ around the world.

  6. Kees de Vreugd says:

    well, Christ Himself was not ashamed to be called a ‘minister of the circumcision’ (Romans 15:8). The Greek reads: diakonos, which means ‘minister’ or ‘servant’. ‘Circumcision’ in Paul’s language usually refers to the Jewish people. So if Christ was a minister or servant to the Jewish people, what should His followers from the gentiles be?

  7. Gib_Filps says:

    Christ did not say “of the”, Christ said “to the”. Much in the same way a teacher is a servant to her/his pupils with the idea she/he must educated them. This is why the teacher is there.

    This is true of Jesus as well. God sent Jesus to reform the Jews and to introduce His new laws to the Jews. Jesus was not sent to be a subject of but rather a teacher to.

    As Jesus said – only those, and this include the Jews, who come to Him will know His Father. His Father is God, God who sent Jesus with that message.

    It is required of Christians to teach these Jews this message, it is not required for Christians to serve Jews.

  8. Kees de Vreugd says:

    Dear Gib, the Greek of Romans 15:8 reads “diakonon peritomès’ – a genitive construction. Likewise the KJV translates: minister of the circumcision, and the NIV, even more boldly: a servant of the Jews. Of course, this could be interpreted the way you do. But I don’t think that that is what Paul means, given the context of Romans 14 through 16.
    Moreover, Jesus did not teach ‘new laws’. When He gave His ‘new commandment’ (John 13:34), it was in fact a reinforcement of the summa of the Torah. It is both old and new (cf. 1 John 2:7-8).
    If only we, as Christians, could receive the grace that the teachings of Christ made us love each other, and that they don’t mean persecution, like the Jews have experienced over and over again in the Christian era.

  9. martin baiada says:

    It is up to the first-born to sanctify the Law of the Father. This is quite a challenge; some first-borns do not. This is why the rights of the first-born were passed unto Issac and Jacob. Jesus did sanctify His Father’s Law and is the culmination of the Rule of the First-born.

  10. frank morris says:

    Exodus 4:22 does Israel is Hashem first born , that why in Hosea say my son Israel whom I loved have brought you out of eygpt , then why in the NT changes it, it drops the first part of that verse in Hosea , why?,to show it has nothing to do with the messiah, why is this so important, Israel is the servant of G-d ,over and over it calls that israel my servant, please explain yourself. Frank

  11. Kees de Vreugd says:

    Dear Frank,
    Thank you for your comment. Matthew quotes the verse from Hosea not in extenso, but we can assume that Matthew and his hearers/readers are aware of the context of these words. It is often the case both in the New Testament and in rabbinic literature that while only part of the verse is cited, the whole verse, and even the whole chapter, is meant.
    Indeed, Hosea 11:1 is as such not a messianic prophecy. If you compare this quotation with other “fulfilment quotations”, you see that Matthew wants to show that Jesus goes the way of Israel. His life is in a sense a re-enactment of the history of Israel. In other words, His life is interpreted in terms of Israel’s history. It shows that Jesus is from the beginning till the end one with Israel. So Israel is God’s servant, and within (and only within) Israel Jesus is God’s servant.

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