First-Born (בּכוֹרָח בּכוֹר, בּכַירָה, from בָּכִר, to ripen early; Sept., and N T. πρωτότοκος,Vulg. prsimogenitus), applied equally to animals and human beings. Among the Hebrews the first-born son had many privileges, to be entitled to which it was not only required that a man should be the first child of his mother, but that he should be, at the same time,-the first son of his father (De 21:15-17). The eldest son received a double portion of the father's inheritance (De 21:17), but not of the mother's (Mishna, Bekoroth, viii; 9)-. If the father had married two wives, of whom he preferred one to the' other, he was forbidden to give precedence to the son of the one if the child of the other were the first-born (De 21:15-16). 'In the case of levirate marriage, the son' of the next brother succeeded to his uncle's vacant inheritance (De 25:5-6). Under the monarchy, the eldest son usually, but not always, s-appears in the case of Solomon, succeeded his father in the kingdom (1Ki 1:30; 1Ki 2:22). That some rights of primogeniture existed in very early times is plain, but it is not so clear in what they consisted. They have been classed as
(a.) authority over the rest of the family (b.) priesthood; (c.).a double portion of the inheritance.
The birthright of Esau and of Reuben, set aside by authority or forfeited by misconduct, prove a general privilege as. well as quasisacredness of primogeniture (Ge 25:23,31,34; Ge 49:3; 1Ch 5:1; Heb 12:16), and a precedence which obviously existed, and is alluded to in various passages (as Ps 89:27; Job 18:13; Roam. 8:29; Col 1:15; Heb 12:23); but the story of Esau's rejection tends to show the supreme. and sacred authority of the parent irrevocable even by himself, rather than inherent right existing in the eldest son, which was evidently not inalienable (Ge 27:29,3,36; Grotius,. Calmet, Patrick, Knobel, on Genesis 25). See Hottinger, Deprimagenilis (Marb. 1711); Schreder, De vett. Hebrm. etprissogeasitis (Msarb. 1741); 'Fabricius, Bibliogr. Antiq. p. 892; Gerdes, De variis locs ismb quibus primogenitorum mentio occurrit (Duisb. 1730); Frischmnuth, De prinmogens-tura (Jan. 1649). SEE BIRTHRIGHT.
The expression "first-born" is not always to be understood literally' it is sometimes taken for the prime, most excellent, most distinguished of things. Thus "'Jesus Christ" is "the first-born of every creature, the first- begotten, or first--born from the dead;" begotten of the Father before any creature was produced; the first who rose from the dead by his own power (see Jour. Sac. Lit. Apr. 1861). Wisdom, says that she came out of the mouth of the Most High before he had produced any'creature (Pr 8:22; Ecclus. 24:3; Ina. 14:390). "The first-born of the poor." signifies the most miserable of the poor (Job 18:13). "the first-born of death," the most terrible of deaths (see Wemyss, Symbol. Dict.). The "Church of the firstborn" (Heb 12:23) signifies the Church of the redeemed-those who have become peculiarly the Lord's, and through the blood of the everlasting covenant, applied to their consciences, are consecrated to his for evermore, in accordance with the custom of consecration described below (see Schottgen, Hoas. Hebr..i, 922).
DESTRUCTION OF THE FIRST-BORN. This was the tenth and last plague inflicted on the Egyptians (Ex 11:1-8; Ex 12:29-30). 'We learn from Herodotus (ii, 85) that it was the custom of the Egyptians to rush from the house into the street, to bewail the dead with loud and bitter outcries; and every member of the family united in these expressions of sorrow. How great must their terror and grief have been when A' at - midnight Jehovah smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt.", Hemmgstenberg remarks (Egypt and the Books of Moses) that the phrase 'sall the first-born' must' not be pressed too far. The whole tenor of the narrative is opposed to such a proceeding, and particularly the declaration, 'There was no house where there was not as dead; since in every house there was not a first-born. It must not be inferred that none of the first- born remained alive in the land, or that none besides the first-born died. That the Egyptians were swept off by an epidemic is indeed probable,' and much more than probable, from Ex 9:15. What the Lord there says he had long been able to do, that he now really dies; since the reasons here given in ver. 16, which until now have prevented him from proceeding to this last resource, have now ceased; since, in short, he has by a series of acts sufficiently unfolded his omnipotence and grace." SEE PLAGUES OF EGYPT.
FIRST-BORN, SANCTIFICATION AND REDEMPTION OF.(קדוּשִׁת בּכוֹר, פַּדיוֹן הִבֵּן). Males of human beings and animals were strictly enjoined to perpetuate the remembrance of the death. of Egypt's first-born, whereby the liberty of the Israelites was secured, and of the preservation of Israel's first-born. Compare Ex 12:2,11-15.
1. Sanctification of the First-born, its signification, etc. - The fact that the first-born of Egypt were selected to be smitten down for the hard- heartedness of Pharaoh, and that their death was regarded as the greatest calamity, shows of itself that a peculiar sanctity had already been attached to the first-born of both man and cattle. The cause of this is easily traced in the Scriptures. The power of procreation was declared by God himself to be a special blessing (Ge 1:22,28; Ge 9:1; Ge 17:16; Ge 29:31), and was granted as a reward to those who were well pleasing in his sight (Ge 15:4; Ps 128:4). This was fully appreciated by the Jews; for the possession of children, especially of the male sex, was esteemed the climax of social happiness (Ge 16:2; Ge 29:31; De 7:13-14; Ps 128:3-4), and the absence of them was considered a reproach (חֶרפָּה), since it implied divine displeasure (Ge 30:23), and no other earthly blessing could compensate for it (Ge 16:1-5). Moreover, the first-born of newly-married young people (הִנּעוּרִים בּנֵי, Ps 127:4) were believed to represent the prime of human vigor (רֵאשַׁית אוֹן), being born before the strength of the father began to diminish (Ge 43; De 21:17; Ps 78:51; Ps 105:36). It was therefore natural that the first instalment of God's blessing, and the prime of man's strength, should be regarded with peculiar affection, and have special sanctity attached to him, and that by virtue of the claim which God has to what is most loved and held sacred by us, and gratitude on the part of man, the first-born males, both of man and animals, should be consecrated to the Giver of all good things; the one as a priest, representing the family to which he belonged (Ex 19:22,24), and the other as a sacrifice (Ge 4:4), just as the fat of sacrifices was devoted to God because it was regarded as the prime part of the animal. SEE FAT. This explains the fact why the plague of the first-born of the Egyptians was so terribly felt; it was the destruction of the objects most dear and sacred to them, whilst the first-born of the Hebrews, i.e. their priests and sacrifices, were spared. Moreover, it shows the import of the consecration enjoined in Ex 13:1. Hitherto it was optional with the Hebrews whether they would devote the first-born to the Lord, but now God, by virtue of having so signally interposed for their deliverance, claims the public consecration of the first-born of man as his priests, and of the first-born of animals as sacrifices.
2. Origin of the Redemption of the First-born.-This devotion of the first- born was believed to indicate a priesthood belonging to the eldest sons of families, -which being set aside in the case of Reuben, was transferred to the tribe of Levi. This priesthood is said to have lasted till the completion of the tabernacle (Jahn, Bibl. Arch. 10:§ 165, 387; Selden, De Syn. c. 16; Mishna, Zebachins, 14:4, vol. v, 58; comp. Eze 24:5). After the building of the tabernacle and the introduction of the extensive sacrificial service, which required a special priestly order, as well as a separate staff of servants, who could exclusively devote themselves to the ministry of the sanctuary, the offices of the firstborn were superseded by those of the Levites (Numbers iii, 11-13); and it was ordained that the first-born of the other tribes, as well as the first-born of the animals which could not be sacrificed, should henceforth be redeemed (ib. 18:15).
3. Redemption of the First-born of Man.-The redemption of a child is to take place when it is a month old, when the father is to give to the priest five silver shekels of the sanctuary, i.e. about three dollars as the maximum. If it died before the expiration of 30 days, the Jewish doctors held the father excused, but liable to the payment if it outlived that time (Ex 13:12-15; Ex 22:29; Nu 8:17; Le 27:6; Lightfoot, Hor. - Hebr. on Lu 2:22; Philo, De Pr. Sacerd. i, i, 233; Mangey). If the child was sickly, or appeared otherwise to be inferior to children generally, the priest could estimate it at less than this sum (Nu 3:46, etc.; 18:16). The priest had to come to the house of the infant, as the mother could not appear with it in the Temple because her days of purification, according to the law (Le 12:2,4), were not as yet accomplished. No bargaining was allowed, but if the priest saw that the parents were poor, he could, if he chose, return the money when the ceremony was over. When the mother's days of purification were accomplished, and she could appear in the Temple, she then brought the child to the priest to be presented publicly to the Lord (Lu 2:22). The Jews still observe this law of redemption. When the first-born male is thirty days old, the parents invite to their house their friends and a priest (כֹּהֵן) to a meal for the following day. The priest, having invoked God's blessing upon the repast, and offered some introductory prayers, etc., looks at the child and the price of redemption presented before him, and asks the father which he would rather have, the money or the firstborn child. Upon the father's reply that he would rather pay the price of redemption, the priest takes the money, swings it round the head of the infant in token of his vicarious authority, saying, "This is for the firstborn, this is in lieu of it, this redeems it; and let this son be spared for life, for the law of God, and for the fear of Heaven. May it please Thee, that, as he was spared for redemption, so he may be spared for the Law, for matrimony, and for good works. Amen." The priest lays his hand upon the child's head and blesses it, as follows: " The Lord make thee as Ephraim and Manasseh!" etc. It is to this that the apostle Peter refers when he says, "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold," etc. (1Pe 1:18). When the first-born son is thirteen years of age, he fasts the day before the feast of Passover, in commemoration of the sparing of the first-born of the Hebrews in Egypt. SEE FAST.
4. Redemption of the First-born of clean Animals. The male first-born of animals (פֶּטֶר רֶחֶם Sept. διανοῖγον μήτραν; Vulg. quod aperit vulvam) was also devoted to God (Ex 13:2,12-13; Ex 22:29; Ex 34:19-20; Philo, . c., and quis rerum div. hceres. 24, i, 489, Mang.). The first-born of every clean animal (i.e., ox, sheep, goat, etc.), from eight days to twelve months old, had to be taken to Jerusalem every year (De 12:6, etc.), and delivered to the priest, who offered it as a sacrifice to Jehovah, sprinkled its blood upon the altar, burned the fat, and ate the flesh (Ex 13:13; Ex 22:30; Ex 34:20; Nu 18:15-17; Ne 10:6). In the mean time the animal was not to be used for any work, for it belonged to the Lord (De 15:19); but if it had any blemish it was not to be sacrificed, but eaten up at home (ib. 15:21, 22). Various refinements on the subject of blemishes are to be found in Mishna, Bekoroth. (See Mal 1:8. By "firstlings," De 14:23, compared with Nu 18:17, are meant tithe animals: see Reland, Antiq. iii, 10, p. 327.; Jahn, Bibl. Arch. § 387). If, however, the man whose cattle had first-born lived at too great a distance from Jerusalem to carry them thither, he was commanded to sell them, and take the money to the sanctuary :(De 14:24-25).
5. Redemption of the First-born of unclean Animals --.The first-born of unclean animals, not being allowed to be offered as sacrifices, were either to be redeemed according to the valuation of the priest, with the addition of one fifth of the value, and then remain with their owner, or be' sold, and the price given to the priests (Le 27:11-13,27). The first-born of an ass was to be redeemed with a lamb, or, if not redeemed, put to death- (Ex 13:13; Ex 34:20; Nu 18:15). Commentators hold that them first-born of dogs were killed, because they ere unclean; and that nothing was given for them to the priests, because there was no trade or commerce in them. See De 23:18.
6. Literature.-Josephus, Ast. 4:4, 4; Mishna, Bekoaoth; Maimonides, Mishusa Tora, iii, 241; Hilchoth Bechoroth; Ibn Ezra's comments as- the passages cited in this article; Calmet, on Numbers 18 The Hebrew Prayer- Book, by Knopflmacher (Vienna, 1859), entitled Derech Ha-Chajim, p. 407; Der Israelitische Volksleher, 7:41. sq.; 9:138 sq., 212 sq., 248 sq.