Monday, June 8, 2009

Circumcision and Redemption

In Margaret Barker's book Christmas: The Original Story there is an interesting insight about the life of the Savior from the time when he was an infant. This post is a quick summary of this insight which I thought might be interesting to anyone reading this blog.

For any male infant born in ancient Israel the well known rite of circumcision was performed eight days following the birth as commanded by the Lord. As far as we know this ordinance was first practiced by Abraham when Jehovah established his covenant with him. We read about this in Genesis 17:9-13 :

9 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.
13 He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.

For every firstborn son born into an Israelite family another important but less well known ordinance was performed. This was the redemption of the child performed by the parents with a payment of five shekels of silver. In the Law of Moses the Lord claimed the firstborn of every animal and the first fruits of each harvest to be used as a sacrifice. Likewise he also claimed every firstborn male infant as a sacrifice. However, the parents could make a payment of five shekels to the temple priests in order to redeem their child from the sacrifice. This practice is set forth in Numbers 18:8-19. Below are verses fifteen and sixteen which tell of the provision allowing redemption of each firstborn male son:

15 Every thing that openeth the matrix in all flesh, which they bring unto the Lord, whether it be of men or beasts, shall be thine: nevertheless the firstborn of man shalt thou surely redeem, and the firstling of unclean beasts shalt thou redeem.
16 And those that are to be redeemed from a month old shalt thou redeem, according to thine estimation, for the money of five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs.

Luke in chapter two of his gospel gives an account of the birth of the Savior and mentions Jesus Christ being circumcised at eight days old, as required by the Lord, in verse 21:

And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Even though the circumcision of Jesus is mentioned there is no mention of his being redeemed by the five shekels of silver. This is a very conspicuous omission. Any Jew of Jesus' day reading this most likely would have noticed right away because this was such a major component of their religious practices. Why the omission? Margaret Barker suggests that perhaps this is because Luke was trying to teach an important principle. Whether or not Mary and Joseph made the payment is irrelevant. Luke left out this important detail because, unlike every other firstborn male Israelite, Jesus Christ was not redeemed. He was sacrificed on behalf of all mankind so everyone could be redeemed from sin and death. He made it possible for every man, woman and child to become the redeemed firstborn and this is what Luke was trying to teach his readers.