What does it mean to be the firstborn son?

editor - 16 July 2011

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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