Exodus 12:12, “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am YHWH.”
I normally don’t dive deep into gematria, but this instance is simply just too true to gloss over. In Hebrew, each letter can stand for a concept as well as a sound. Put those concepts and sounds together and you can both pronounce the word, as well as get an idea of what the word implies. Gematria speaks to the idea that each Hebrew letter is also a number–kind of like “Roman numerals” do on a clock face or on some kinds of legal documents. When each letter stands alone, Hebrew gematria is straight-forward. Here’s a chart, courtesy of Wikipedia.
So there’s your crash course in Gematria. If you were fluent in Hebrew, you could open a Torah and it could potentially look like an endless secret code. (Please, restrain yourself…every secret you’ll find usually just reinforces the plain reading of the text!)
Here’s the thing about the word “Firstborn”, in Hebrew bechor (Strongs H1069). The true root of the word bechor is spelled using three letters: Bet, Kaf, Resh. If we compare each letter in bechor to it’s proceeding letter in the alephbet, we see another principle.
Aleph (1) preceeds Bet (2)–so we see a doubling.
Yod (10) preceeds Kaf (20)–so we see a doubling.
Koof (100) preceeds Resh (200)–so we see a doubling.
In Hebrew culture, the firstborn would receive a double blessing, and that concept is built right into the word.
If you want to go deeper we can see the word “Father” by combining the first 2 letters, Aleph and Bet. When the Bet cleaves from the Aleph (as a metaphorical Bechor) the Bet takes the Father’s 1 and it becomes 2, which multiplies into 20, and finally grows to 200. No matter how we see the gematria, it speaks to the power inherent in a firstborn.
This passage from Exodus 1 does NOT expressly mention firstborn, but you can see the principle that sets the stage for the firstborn at risk in Exodus 12:12.
Exodus 1:8-22, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.
Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”
In the context of Pesach night we have the final showdown of dueling firstborn–Egypt vs Hebrew. Exodus 4:22-23, “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says YHWH, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” Like the Aleph and the Bet, one set of firstborns will take the essence of their respective father and multiply that essence into the world in an unstoppable way. Either Pharaoh’s way (bondage & slavery) or YHWH’s (freedom, mercy, and salvation) will win the day.
Even if we ourselves are not the firstborn of our DNA family, Israel remains YHWH’s firstborn, and on Pesach night we reinforce our identities as Israel. That includes the responsibility of multiplying HIS principles into our sphere of influence. Those principles include inviting others out of Egypt to do the same.