Exodus 13:13. Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.
As the Israelites prepared to exit Egypt God put in place a system whereby they would be reminded that they belong to him. He was not just rescuing them, he was redeeming them. He was bringing them out of Egypt in order to make them his own people, his nation, his son (Exodus 4:22).
Israel was God’s firstborn son. And so the firstborn son of every living thing in Israel would belong to God. Human or animal. It would either be sacrificed to him, or redeemed by the sacrifice of a lamb in its place. This would remind the people that they all belong to him. The firstborn represented the whole family. If the son belongs to God, all of the nation belongs to God.
The redemption of the firstborn included donkeys. Donkeys were unclean animals. But they were also very helpful and valuable animals. You can’t sacrifice a donkey to God (unclean), but you also don’t want to just break its neck. So God in mercy allowed the donkey to be redeemed by the blood of the lamb.
The people of Israel were in the same category as the donkeys. You can’t sacrifice your human firstborn sons to God. Why not? Because, like donkeys, they are both unclean and at the same time they are valuable image bearers of God and therefore their lives are to be protected (Gen. 9:6). And so, like donkeys, the firstborn sons could be redeemed by the blood of the lamb – Redeem every firstborn among your sons.
It is an unfathomable thing to consider how many lambs were killed in the Advent, the waiting for the Messiah. From Moses to Jesus, 1500 years, how many lambs died? How many donkeys were redeemed? We will never know. Maybe millions. All to remind the people of their redemption. Every time they saw a living donkey, a donkey that didn’t have its neck broken, they could remember that a lamb saved its life.
We are the donkeys. Christ is our lamb. The Lamb who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to redeem us. To purchase us. To claim us as his own. To save us from a broken neck.
Christian tradition places Mary on a donkey journeying to Bethlehem. Our songs put donkeys at the manger. Who knows if that’s actually correct. But we do know that people in need of redemption were at the manger that day. That is what Christ was born to do – to redeem us. He did this by being BOTH the lamb and the donkey. That’s what the apocalyptic incarnation is – Jesus coming to us as both clean and unclean. At the cross the clean Lamb of God died to save the unclean donkeys (you and me). How? By incarnating and becoming the unclean donkey in our place. The donkeys in our nativity scenes and in our songs can remind us of the great price Jesus paid and the great redemption he secured for us.
“To live is Christ” is to be redeemed. Our necks have been saved. We have been purchased by God as his own possession. We belong to him. We are not our own. We are bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your life. Living as the serving donkey and the sacrificial lamb.
What does your redemption mean to you? How does knowing that you were not just rescued but also redeemed aid you in your waiting for Christ’s return?