18
Jan
2011

The Firstborn, the Levites, Substitution and the Redemption Money

Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed by the shear brilliance of the typological pictures of redemption that God gave Israel. For instance, in the first chapter of the book of Numbers the Lord told Moses and Aaron to number all the men who were able to go to war, according to their tribe, from twenty years old and older. The only tribe that was not to be numbered was the tribe of Levi. the Levites, being set apart to be the mediating tribe, were appointed over the work of the Tabernacle. The Lord had already revealed in the book of Exodus that the Levites would not inherit the land, but that the Lord would be their inheritance. He gave a further development of the purpose of the priesthood when he told Moses, “the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the Testimony, that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the children of Israel.” The Levites prefigured Christ, who stands between the presence of the Holy God and His people. If there was not a mediator between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of men, the just wrath of God would be poured out. It is poured out on Christ instead, so that it does not break out upon us.

After numbering each of the tribes, the Lord told Moses and Aaron to set the tribes around the Tabernacle of meeting, according to each of their respective places determined by the Lord. The men of war from each tribe would position themselves north, south, west and east of the Tabernacle. God Himself would dwell in the midst of His people. This too was a picture of the coming and presence of Christ. When Jesus came the Gospel writers frequently record that He was “in the midst.” Even when He was crucified, He was placed between two thieves. The apostle John puts it this way: “and Jesus in the center.” John also tells us, in Revelation, that Christ (the Lamb) is the center of heaven, as He sits on the throne of God. All the redeemed surround the throne and sing His praises.

Interestingly, Judah was to camp on the east side when the tribes were positioned around the Tabernacle. In the unfolding of the restoration of Eden and the presence of God, the east side (or East Gate) represents the way back (see Gen.28; and 3:24). When Adam and Eve sinned, they were cast out of the Garden. Two cherubim with flaming swords were placed at the East of Eden (Gen. 3:24), guarding the way back to the dwelling place of God. (For a development of this theme see Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “East of Eden.”) Christ, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, is the One who opens that way up again. He is the way to the presence of God, because He is the presence of God. Whenever the east gate of the Temple is mentioned in the Old Testament, it is generally mentioned with reference to Judah’s place.

In chapter 3 we are given a further description of the Gospel in the picture of representation and substitution. When the Lord delivered Israel out of Egypt, He set apart the firstborn of the male children of Israel, and the firstborn of the animals.  The Lord appointed the Levites to stand in the place of the firstborn of Israel: “Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. “Therefore the Levites shall be Mine,”  becauseall the firstborn are Mine. On the day that I struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They shall be Mine: I am the LORD” (Num. 3:12-13). In this, a very clear picture of representation and substitution is seen. This is, of course, pointing forward to the representative Priesthood of Jesus Christ. He is the true and eternal firstborn of God, and He is the true and eternal High Priest. He represents His people fully and perfectly.

The reference to the redemption money in Num. 3:44-51 is also linked to the work of Christ. Later in the book of Numbers (Num. 18:14-16) we are again told the precise ransom price for the first-born. The redemption money typified the fact that redemption is costly. Moses and Aaron were instructed to number all the firstborn from among the tribes of Israel. The number exceeding the number of Levites who would serve as the substitutes for them, the Lord told Israel to make up the difference with the amount of money set by the Lord. This act showed that the souls of men must be redeemed by a substitute of suitable value. The Levites, smaller in number than all the firstborn of the children of Israel, were not sufficient substitutes unless there was a one-for-one substitution. Christ is a suitable sacrifice for all His people because His soul and Person is of infinite value to His Father–the human nature being inseparably united to the Divine nature. For a masterly defense and explaination of this, read Jonathan Edwards’ The Wisdom of God Displayed in the Way of Salvation. There, Edwards writes:

It was requisite that the person, in order to be sufficient for this undertaking, should be one of infinite dignity and worthiness, that he might be capable of meriting infinite blessings. The Son of God is a fit person on this account. It was necessary, that he should be a person of infinite powerand wisdom. For this work is so difficult that it requires such an one. Christ is a fit person also upon this account. It was requisite that he should be a person infinitely dear to God the father, in order to give an infinite value to his transactions in the Father’s esteem, and that the Father’s love to him might balance the offense and provocation by our sins. Christ is a fit person upon this account. Therefore called the beloved (Eph. 1:6), He has made us accepted in the beloved.

King David picked up on the spiritual significance behind the redemption money when he writes, “Those who trust in their wealth and boast in the multitude of their riches, none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him—for the redemption of their souls is costly” (Ps. 49:6-8). The Apostle Peter also takes this biblical theological development to its ultimate realization when he writes, “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). The blood of Jesus is the price by which all the children of God are purchased and set apart. We are accepted in the eternal firstborn Son of God. We are represented by Him, as He stands between the Holiness of God and our sinful souls. He is a great High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for us.

6 Responses

  1. Thank you for the clear explanation of how the Levites were a type of Christ and His role as mediator. You’re opening sentence said it all. It sets my heart on fire, the way the Bible was written. Every word was weighed and everything had a symbolic meaning that pointed to Christ. Awesome!

  2. Joy

    Hello.

    I praise the Lord for leading me to this blog/article after reading Numbers 3 for devotions and googling for “what is levitical redemption money”. Beautifully written. I feel like it’s just for me. Spirit-breathed. For the first time I’m realising and truly discovering how costly redemption really is – no cliches anymore, but literally. I am so humbled by how much it’s taken to save me & to bless me. I am eternally indebted to my perfect Substitute!

    Thank you for the ministry of this article/blog! God be praised!

  3. I love this! I was just reading in Numbers 8 today, and my heart kept being drawn to the idea of the Levites being presented as a wave offering, being set apart, replacing the firstborn, performing services and making atonement for the people, and standing in the gap to keep the rest of the people from coming too close to the holiness of God. Thank you for this further insight! God Bless and Shalom!

  4. Izzy

    Wonderful recap of this beautiful christophany. Just wondering why there’s no mention of the Levites being greater in number than the fistborn before God rounded the Levite count down to less than that of the firstborn. The redemption money wouldn’t apply if God didn’t change the net count of the Levites, if not then would Aaron have owed 135 redemption shackles to the firstborn?

  5. Rev. Gathirwa, KENYA

    Great piece of biblical exposition on Redemption of firstborns.
    We have a bible study on Redemption and members asked if they can redeem their sons. There has been erroneously teaching in many Evangelical churches on the issue here in Kenya concerning whether or not Christians should pay redemption money in their firstborns. I feel the typology and prefiguration of redemption of firstborns answers the question aptly.

    I wish to connect more with you.

  6. Eric T

    Yes! Reading through Numbers 3, I had the question of “Redemption of the First Born (ESV)” and did a Google search, finding this excellent piece. Thank you.

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