Twelfth Day – Sanctify the Firstborn

And the Lord said unto Moses, Sanctify unto Me all the firstborn. . . . All the firstborn of man among thy sons thou shalt redeem. And it shall be, when thy son asketh thee in time to come, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt; and it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the firstborn of Egypt; therefore I sacrifice unto the Lord all that openeth the womb, being males; but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ Exod. 13: 1, 13-15.

`Let My people go that they may serve Me,’ – in these words so often repeated by the Lord in sending Moses to Pharaoh, we see how service is the aim of redemption. God makes His people free from the bondage of Egypt, to translate them into the liberty of His service, the willing, loving, free service of a redeemed people. The deeper God’s people enter into the spirit of redemption, the deeper will be the insight into the blessed unity of liberty and service, of liberty and necessity. No true service of God without liberty; no true liberty without service.

We have seen in the Passover what a permanent place the family and the children take in redemption. No less than their parents were they redeemed to serve; all their training was to be a training to the service of God. When Pharaoh said to Moses after the plague, `Go, serve the Lord your God; but who are they that shall go?’ the answer was very distinct, `We will go with our young and our old, our sons and our daughters.’ It was on this point that the negotiations were broken off. The going of the children was what the king would not consent to: `So be the Lord with you, as I will let you go with your little ones: look to it, for evil is before you’ (Exod. 9: 8-10). And when later on Pharaoh still wanted to keep the property, he felt that this at least must be conceded: `Go ye, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and herds be stayed; let your little ones also go with you’ (Ex. 10: 24). It is the future of the nation that is to be secured for God; a people that is really to serve God must, in the first place, see to the little ones.

After the people had left Egypt, the very first command God gave to Moses was in regard to the firstborn, who were to be separated and sanctified for Him. In each family the firstborn son was counted the chief and the best; the father looked upon him as Jacob said of Reuben: `Thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength.’

His was the birthright and the place of honor in the family. He was the representative and head of all the children. God looked upon Israel as His firstborn among the nations. Because Egypt oppressed him, and would not let him go, God slew his firstborn. And now in commemoration of this, and as a pledge of God’s claim on all the children and the whole people, every firstborn belonged to God, and was set apart as His peculiar property.

And with what object? For none other but His service. This comes out with great distinctness in the exchange that was made, by which the tribe of Levi was taken instead of the firstborn. `The Levites shall go to do the service of the tent, for they are wholly given unto Me from among the children of Israel; instead of all the firstborn of the children of Israel have I taken them to Me; for all the firstborn are Mine’ (Num. 8: 14-19). And in the redemption money, which had to be paid at the birth of each firstborn for his release, the parents had the unceasing reminder that the firstborn belonged to God and His service, and were represented in the Levites.

The principle involved in this is one of the deepest importance. God claims our best children for His own direct and immediate service. The whole people, old and young, were to serve Him, but the firstborn, the very best, were to be entirely set apart for the special maintenance of that service, not only by the part they took in the worship, but by instructing the people in the law of their God. Let us try to take in fully the lessons the Christian Church has to learn from this.

In Israel all the firstborn, and as their representatives, all the children of Levi, a twelfth part of the whole nation, were exclusively claimed by God to be continually at His disposal in the service of His house. And in Israel that service consisted solely in the maintenance of what existed, nothing had to be done for the extension of the kingdom or the propagation of the knowledge of God among the heathen. The Christian Church has now not only to see to it that she maintains her hold on what she once has occupied: her calling in her redemption from sin is distinctly and essentially aggressive, to teach all the nations and seek the extension of the kingdom throughout the whole world. And the question is naturally suggested: If Israel had to set apart one-twelfth of its children for the work of God, what portion should the Christian Church devote to the work committed to her? And what portion has she devoted?

Alas! that the answer to the latter question should be so sad! There is hardly a missionary or philanthropic society engaged in teaching and rescuing the ignorant and the lost, that has not to complain of lack of laborers. The call is being sounded forth louder every year that the doors to the hundreds of millions of heathen are opened wide, and yet how few, how sadly few, is the number of laborers. And why? Simply because Christian parents do not, as a rule, educate their children under the conviction that they are the Lord’s, do not place them at His disposal, do not train them to look upon this as their highest privilege, if they be found worthy to bear the name of Christ among the heathen.

Let us just think a moment what would be thought of the loyalty of Englishmen to their Queen if it were found difficult to find men to form her bodyguard, or accept appointments in her service! Or what of the enthusiasm of an army where the General could never obtain volunteers for a post of danger and of honor! And Jesus Christ, our King, who came to seek and save the lost, has said that these are His guard of honor, and shall have His richest rewards, who forsake all for His and the gospel’s sake. And yet, while in every profession there are complaints of more applicants than openings, the Master has to wait, and His work has to suffer, because His people do not understand that they and their children have been redeemed to serve Him who gave Himself for them.

And what is the cure of this evil? And what can we do, each in our sphere, to wipe out this terrible reproach? What we can do is this: Let us devote every child to God and His service. Let us cease praying that our children may be saved, while we never think of giving them to serve. Let us cease choosing honorable and lucrative professions for our children, with the truth that they can serve God in any calling, turned into an excuse for declining special service. Let us lay each child upon the altar, specially our first-born and our best, and seek this one thing — that they may become worthy and fit to be set apart for the service of the King.

And let the Church learn as part of her preaching of redemption to lift aloud her voice and cry, You are redeemed for service, you and your children. Is not this the reason that so many a parent has prayed for the salvation of his child and been disappointed? the prayer was utterly selfish; it was simply the desire to see the child happy, without any thought of the glory of God, or of consecration to His service. When God established His covenant with Abraham and gave him Isaac, it was to have him at His disposal as the channel of blessing to the world. When God rewarded the faith of Moses’ parents, it was because He wanted a servant by whom He could save Israel. When God redeemed Israel’s firstborn in the night of the Passover, it was to have them for Himself. Oh, Christian parent, when God offers to be what He was to Isaac, and Moses, and Israel’s firstborn, to your children, it is because He wants them, for His service, His blessed service of love and liberty. Oh, say, has He not a right to claim it, and shall He not have it? He gave His Firstborn, His Only-begotten, for you and your children; can anything be too precious for Him? Listen not to the thought that the demand is hard or the sacrifice great. Know that for yourself, as for your children, it is the path of honor and blessing. And let your example teach the Church that there are those who, just because they love their children most intensely, know nothing better for them than to yield them utterly to the will and the work of their God.

O Lord! You are a great and a glorious God, and Your kingdom rules over all. You alone are worthy to be praised; You alone have a right to the love and the worship and the service of all Your creatures. And this too is their blessedness: in heaven above and on earth below, blessed are Your servants who stand around Your throne and do Your will.

O Lord! we do bless You that You ask and accept of our children for Your service. We acknowledge Your claim: let them all be used for Your service and glory. But especially would we offer You the first and the best.

O God! teach us to feel deeply that You have need of them. For the building up of Your temple, in the struggle of Your kingdom with the power of darkness, in the ingathering of Your people from the hundreds of millions of heathen, You have need of our children. We give them to You. We will train them for You. We will wait in prayer and faith, and beseech You to inspire them with a holy enthusiasm for the kingdom and its conquests. We beseech You to fill them and us with love to Jesus and love to souls, that they may serve You as Your Son did, and give their lives to save men.

O Lord God! You have redeemed us and our children by the blood of the Lamb, let our firstborn, let all our children, be holy unto the Lord. Amen.