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Holman Bible Dictionary

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First son born to a couple and required to be specially dedicated to God. The firstborn son of newly married people was believed to represent the prime of human vigor (Genesis 49:3; Psalm 78:51 ). In memory of the death of Egypt's firstborn and the preservation of the firstborn of Israel, all the firstborn of Israel, both of man and beast, belonged to Yahweh (Exodus 13:2 ,Exodus 13:2,13:15; compare Exodus 12:12-16 ). This meant that the people of Israel attached unusual value to the eldest son and assigned special privileges and responsibilities to him. He was presented to the Lord when he was a month old. Since he belonged to the Lord, it was necessary for the father to buy back the child from the priest at a redemption price not to exceed five shekels (Numbers 18:16 ). The husband of several wives would have to redeem the firstborn of each.

The birthright of a firstborn included a double portion of the estate and leadership of the family. As head of the house after his father's death, the eldest son customarily cared for his mother until her death, and he also provided for his sisters until their marriage. The firstborn might sell his rights as Esau did (Genesis 25:29-34 ) or forfeit them for misconduct as Reuben did because of incest (Genesis 35:22; Genesis 49:3-4 ).

The firstborn of a clean animal was brought into the sanctuary on the eighth day after birth (Exodus 22:30 ). If it were without blemish, it was sacrificed (Deuteronomy 15:19; Numbers 18:17 ). If it had a blemish, the priest to whom it was given could eat it as common food outside Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 15:21-23 ), or it could be eaten at home by its owner. Apparently the firstborn of clean animals were not to be used for any work since they belonged to the Lord (Deuteronomy 15:19 ).

The firstborn of an unclean animal had to be redeemed by an estimation of the priest, with the addition of one-fifth (Leviticus 27:27; Numbers 18:15 ). According to Exodus 13:13; Exodus 34:20 , the firstborn of an ass was either ransomed by a sheep or lamb, or its neck had to be broken

Figuratively, Israel was God's “firstborn” (Exodus 4:22; Jeremiah 31:9 ) and enjoyed priority status. God compared His relationship to Israel with the relationship of a father and his firstborn son. Within Israel, the tribe of Levi represented the firstborn of the nation in its worship ceremony (Numbers 3:40-41; Numbers 8:18 ).

Christ is the “firstborn” of the Father (Hebrews 1:6 NIV) by having preeminent position over others in relation to Him. He is also described as “firstborn among many brethren” ( Romans 8:29 ) and “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15 NAS). Paul ( Colossians 1:18 ) and John (Revelation 1:5 ) refer to Christ as “firstborn from the dead”—the first to rise bodily from the grave and not die again.

Hebrews 12:23 refers to the “church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven.” Christian believers, united with and as joint heirs with Christ, enjoy the status of “firstborn” in God's household.

Larry Walker

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Firstborn'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​f/firstborn.html. 1991.
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