Numbers 3-4 The redemption price for the firstborn of the people of Israel

From Numbers 3-4

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Moses conducts a census to claim a number of firstborn from the people of Israel for himself. The whole levite tribe is traded in instead. But there is a small number unaccounted for. These people are bought with a redemption price. In the gospel, Jesus reminds us he is the ransom, who redeems us from slavery.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

Chapter three begins with the duties of Aaron and the levites. They were to serve the LORD as his priests because they were him. The firstborn are the LORD’s as well and normally they would be given to the LORD as well.

In today’s passage we read about the firstborn being redeemed.

40 And the LORD said to Moses, “List all the firstborn males of the people of Israel, from a month old and upward, taking the number of their names.

41 And you shall take the Levites for me—I am the LORD—instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the cattle of the people of Israel.”

42 So Moses listed all the firstborn among the people of Israel, as the LORD commanded him. 43 And all the firstborn males, according to the number of names, from a month old and upward as listed were 22,273. (Num 3.40-43)

The census is taken to number all the males, but only the levites, the firstborn of the people and the cattle are claimed by the LORD. The count starts as early as one month old. Taking the number of all the males would put the numbers in perspective. There were 22,273.

The firstborn cattle are sacrificed to the LORD. Firstborn men however are redeemed.

44 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle. The Levites shall be mine: I am the LORD. (Num 3.44-45)

Take the levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel.

So 22,273 Levites must be taken for the LORD. A few verses before this passage we are told the number of levites counted was 22,000 (Lev 3.39).

22,273 – 22,000 = 273 more firstborn need to be claimed because there are not enough Levites.

46 And as the redemption price for the 273 of the firstborn of the people of Israel, over and above the number of the male Levites, 47 you shall take five shekels per head; you shall take them according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel of twenty gerahs), 48 and give the money to Aaron and his sons as the redemption price for those who are over.” (Num 3.46-48)

Firstborn men had to be redeemed, they were not sacrificed.

There were 273 more firstborn than Levites. Each of these had to be redeemed with five shekels of silver, thought to be equivalent to a labourer’s wages for almost six months. Redemption by paying a ransom was common practice (Lv. 25). The price was measured by an official weight, the sanctuary shekel (47; cf. Ex. 30:13). (Carson, D.A. et al. eds., 1994. New Bible commentary: 21st century edition 4th ed., Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.)

49 So Moses took the redemption money from those who were over and above those redeemed by the Levites. 50 From the firstborn of the people of Israel he took the money, 1,365 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary. 51 And Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, according to the word of the LORD, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Num 3.49-51)

The priesthood is given a tidy sum of coin to use in service of the LORD.

Story of Israel

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Redemption was part of everyday life in Israel. It involved the purchase of a person’s freedom or the buying back of an object from the possession of another.

In scripture we see the redemption of property (Lev 25.24-28; 27:15–20; Ruth 4:1–6; Jer 32:8). The redemption of animals (Ex 13.13; 34.20; Lev 27.13,27; Num 18.14-17) and the redemption of individuals (Ex 13.12-13; 21.28-32; 30.12-16; Lev 25.47-55; Num 3.44-51).

The most important instance of redemption in Israel’s history is their redemption from slavery in Egypt.

Moses was commanded to say to Pharaoh;

22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’ ”  (Ex 4.22)

Moses later said to the people of Israel;

6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. (Ex 6.6)

True to his promise, the LORD redeemed his people from slavery.

Story of Jesus

In the gospel, Jesus understands he is the redemption price who God will use to buy his people from slavery to sin. They need to be redeemed as well.

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10.35-45)

Drinking the cup of wrath and baptised into death – He will suffer and die on the cross for us. Jesus says this is true greatness and glory.

Have you been redeemed by Jesus? What do you think of his understanding of greatness?

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2014. All Rights Reserved.