And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be Mine, for all the firstborn are Mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for My own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be Mine: I am the LORD.”Numbers 3:11-13
The killing of the firstborn was required for God to finally free Israel from Egypt (Exodus 12:29-32). Not only did God spare the firstborn of Israel on that first, harrowing Passover, but He also spares Israel’s firstborn again. Instead of taking Israel’s firstborn children as well as the firstborn of their beasts as the price of saving them, God takes the priestly tribe of Levi for Himself. He doesn’t take them to kill them, however. He simply says, “The Levites shall be Mine” (v. 12).
The Levites are His for His good purpose; they stood in the place of Israel’s firstborn children in God’s taking of the Levites’ firstborn cattle (v. 41). God also required five shekels per firstborn child to be given to the Levites, which is important because they were not given a portion of land. Thus, in this way, God provided for the Levitical priests through His people Israel. (There’s a correlation here in today’s congregations providing for their pastors.) God set apart these Levitical priests to offer up sacrifices on behalf of Israel in the place of their firstborn children. While other world religions around Israel were sacrificing their children to their gods, Yahweh spares them.
Ultimately, as the final Priest, Christ stands in the place of all by offering Himself up as the final sacrifice once for all (John 10:17-18; Romans 6:10; Hebrews 9:11-28). And He has thus become the firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18). Being the firstborn from the dead, therefore, this means many are to follow His resurrection. Having died to sin and now living to Christ by virtue of your Baptism, you will follow a resurrection just like Christ’s, the firstborn from the dead (Romans 6:1-5).
Much as God redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt and spared their firstborn from death, so Christ has redeemed you from slavery to sin and spares you from eternal death. This happened not only when Christ died on the cross for you, but it also happens each time you partake the Lord’s Supper. For just as Christ instituted His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins on the Passover (Matthew 26:17, 26-28), so every Divine Service is a Passover where God’s wrath passes over you and you meet His grace in the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.