At church this morning, the pastor preached about Luke 2:25-38. Simeon and Anna are at the Temple, and they bless the child Jesus. They believe that Jesus will bring about the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem.
In Luke 2, Mary and Joseph pay the redemption of the firstborn at the
Temple. The pastor was saying that ancient Judaism associated the
firstborn male with the redemption of Israel. The firstborn male was
educated to be literate and studied God’s laws. If the Levites could
not minister at the Temple, the Israelite firstborn males would do so.
Families that had a firstborn male considered themselves blessed.
According to the pastor, Simeon recognized when he saw Jesus that he
was not just dealing with any firstborn male. Rather, he was seeing the
Messiah, the one who would console oppressed Israel. The pastor taught
us the lesson of desiring the well-being of communities, not just
ourselves and our families.
Is my pastor correct on the significance of the firstborn in ancient
Judaism? In the Torah, the Israelite firstborn male was supposed to
belong to God, but Israelite firstborn males were supplanted by the
tribe of Levi for the priestly role after the Golden Calf incident
(Numbers 3:12). Interestingly, wikipedia cites
Sefer Or Torah, Parashas Mikaitz and Sefer Halikutim Beis (page 305),
which state that the firstborn would resume the priestly role in the
future Messianic Temple. Were Israelite firstborn males educated in
God’s laws? Josephus in Against Apion 1.60 and 2.204 says that
Israelite children were taught God’s laws, and he may mean children in
general. Other than inheritance rights, I do not know in what respect
the Israelite male firstborn was considered significant: if he was
believed to bring blessing on the family, or to fulfill some spiritual
role. I remember reading Martin Luther’s commentaries on Genesis, and
Luther seemed to regard the firstborn in the Genesis stories as the
priest of the family. Where Luther was drawing that idea, I do not