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In the midst of the teachings in these chapters on centralized worship, tithes, and kosher food comes this short paragraph which unites the three topics, along with the theme of the sanctified firstborn male.
Moses commands the Israelites to set apart the firstborn male of their cows and sheep (unless it has a physical defect). Again, this is not to give to the priests or to the temple, but is to be eaten by the worshipper and his family as a ceremonial meal. The sacrifice demonstrates trust in the Lord and joy in his bountiful provision.
If the animal has a defect, it can still be eaten, but just as an ordinary meal, not a special one. It must still be killed in the appropriate way, by draining its blood (cf Gen 9:4; Lev 17:10-14). The eating of blood was anathema to the Israelites because they understood the soul of the creature to reside in the blood. (As we mentioned a few days ago, that doesn’t mean that we can’t eat blood now, as people in SE Asia do. But I personally can’t bring myself to do it!)
This is a small and simple paragraph; deeper significance lies in its development of the theme of the sanctified first-born. The story of the first-born begins with Abraham (not) sacrificing Isaac (Gen 22); is underlined when Yahweh calls Israel ‘my firstborn’ (Ex 4:22); continues in the salvation and consecration of the Israelite first-born when the angel of the Lord passed over Egypt, killing every first-born that was not marked by blood (Ex 12-13); and is enshrined in law (Ex 34:19-20; Num 3:12-13). Of course, Paul picks up on this theme to refer to the eternal Son of God, firstborn of creation and, in the person of Jesus, firstborn from the dead (Col 1:15,18 cf Rev 1:5). The firstborn is sanctified, set apart, holy before God. The Israelites, if they followed the commandment, would register this in the depths of their being, as every year they set apart the firstborn for a special feast before the Lord. We have no such practice, but perhaps if we did then we would pick up more readily on this motif throughout the scripture.
Prayer: Thank you, Father, for sacrificing your firstborn son, Jesus, so that I can be in relationship with you. Help me to rejoice in all that you have given me, and to trust in your provision.
Next week we will leave Deuteronomy for a while, just to have a change. Studies will be on Ecclesiastes.