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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 3: Harmony of the Law, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Another Supplement
(to the First Commandment)

respecting the Sanctifying
of the First-born

Exodus 13

Exod. 13:1, 2, 11-16

1. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

1. Et loquutus est Jehova ad Mosen, dicendo:

2. Sanctify unto me all the first-born, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.

2. Sanctifica mihi primogenitum: quicquid apetit vulvam in filiis Israel, tam in hominibus quaIn in jumentis, meum est.

11. And it shall be, when the Lord shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, as he sware unto thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it thee,

11. Quumque introduxerit to Jehova in terram Chananaeorum, quemadmodum juravit tibi et patribus tuis, et dederit eam tibi.

12. That thou shalt set apart unto the Lord all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the Lord’s.

12. Tunc transferes omnem apertionem vulvae ad Jehovam: omnem apertionem, emissionem (vel, foetum, vel, primogenitum) jumenti quod tuum erit: mascula, Jehovae erunt.

13. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the first-born of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.

13. Omne autem primogenitum asini redimes hoedo: quod si non redemeris, cervicem franges ei: omne quoque primogenitum hominis in filiis tuis redimes.

14. And it shall be, when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage:

14. Quum autem interrogaverit to filius tuus eras, dicendo, Quid hoc? Tum dices ad eum, in fortitudine marius eduxit nos Jehova ex Aegypto e domo servorum.

15. And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man, and the first-born of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the first-born of my children I redeem.

15. Et fuit quum indurasset se Pharao quominus dimitteret nos, occidit Jehova omne primogeniture in terra Aegypti, a primogenito hominis usque ad primogenitum animalis: idcirco ego sacrifico Jehovae omnem apertionem vulvae sexus masculini, omne autem primogeniture filiorum meorum redimo.

16. And it shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt.

16. Et erit in signum super manum tuam, et in frontalia inter oculos tuos: quid in fortitndine manus eduxit nos Dominns ex Aegypto.

Exodus 22

Exod. 22:29, 30

29. The first-born of thy sons shalt thou give unto me.

29. Primogeniture filiorum tuorum dabis mihi.

30. Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep: seven days it shall be with his dam; on the eighth day thou shalt give it me.

30. Sic facies de bore tuo, et de pecude tua: septem diebus erit cum matre sua, die autem octavo dabis eum mihi.

2. Sanctify unto me all the first-born. This also refers to the First Commandment, because God asserts His right over the first-born, lest the recollection of their redemption should ever be lost. For thus were the Israelites admonished that they must honor that God by whose grace they had escaped in safety from the common destruction of Egypt, and, moreover, that they were rescued by His special blessing, in order that they should consecrate themselves to God their Deliverer. For the offering which He here requires, was a mark of separation between them and the heathen nations.  328 The first-born is called the opening of the womb, because it is the beginning of generation. The expression, “among the children of Israel,” when he is speaking of brutes, as well as of their own offspring and children, is meant to distinguish the wild beasts from the tame and domestic animals. But although He commands only the first-born of the race of Abraham to be offered to Him, still this must undoubtedly be extended to the sanctification of the whole people; for whilst He says, that the first-born were His, because they especially owed their preservation to His mercy, yet for the same reason he signifies that all were His own.

11. And it shall be when the Lord shall bring thee. He proceeds with what had been glanced at in the beginning of the chapter with respect to the consecration of the first-born, that in this way they should bear witness to the special blessing of God which preserved them when He destroyed the first-born of the Egyptians. But He commands the animals to  329 be brought to Him, in order that they should be slain in the tabernacle. It is a common figure of speech to say, that the faithful and their gifts were placed in God’s sight when they entered the tabernacle. I conceive that they were ordered, in Ex 22:30, to keep the first-born seven days, in order to prevent deceptions, because if the young had been earlier torn from the teats of their dams, and immediately delivered to the priests, the offering would have been useless. Yet I doubt not that the eighth day was chosen because it was the one prescribed for circumcision. An exception is added, that a price should be paid for an ass, the offering of which would have been unclean. With regard to their children, it was requisite that they should be redeemed, because they could not be offered in sacrifice, nor made priests.

Exodus 34

Exod. 34:19, 20

19. All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.

19. Quicquid aperit vulvam, meum est, et omne pecus tuum quod memorabitur inter primogenita boum et ovium.

20. But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the first-born of thy sons thou shalt redeem; and none shall appear before me empty.

20. At primogenitum asini redimes ove: quod si non redemeris, tunc cervicem praecides illi: omne primogenitum filiorum redimes.

19. All that openeth the matrix is mine. He here defines what the offering was to be, viz., that they should redeem their children as well as the unclean animals at a price; but that they should bring into the tabernacle whatsoever could be offered in sacrifice. But God would not have their own sons consecrated to Him, because He had chosen the tribe of Levi, as we shall see elsewhere; they were therefore to remain free and in their own power after a pecuniary compensation. In the same way, unclean animals might be applied to domestic purposes, viz., after God’s price had been paid, since to Him they belonged, and He claimed them for Himself. But if any should not put so high a value on an ass or other unclean animal, the Law commanded that its neck should be broken; for otherwise it would have been sacrilege to reap profit from God’s property, or, what is the same, to transfer to their private use what God had adjudged to Himself.

Leviticus 27

Leviticus 27:26

26. Only the firstling of the beasts, which should be the Lord’s firstling, no man shall sanctify it: whether it be ox or sheep, it is the Lord’s.

26. Veruntamen primogeniture quod jure primogeniturae debetur Jehovae inter animalia, nemo consecrabit: sive bos, sive ovis, Jehovae est.

26. Only the firstling of the beasts. Here a caution is interposed, that none should offer what is already the property of God. For since men are so greatly given to ostentation, and therefore in testifying their piety whitewash two walls, as the saying is, out of the same pot, God provides against this sin by forbidding the first-born to be offered to Him, since that would be to present stolen goods to Him. The sum is, that they should not, by consecrating to God what is already due to Him, steal from Him in their fictitious liberality what is consecrated and not their own. Nor let us be surprised at this law, because this ambition is almost natural to us all, to desire to lay God under obligation by the empty appearance of liberality, and therefore to seek for various grounds of boasting of religious duties, which, after all, are nought. And, undoubtedly, if this restraint had not been put upon the Jews, they would have aimed at the reputation of double zeal by this deceitful oblation, nor would they have scrupled, under the pretext of offering, to deprive God of what was His own.

Deuteronomy 15

Deut. 15:19, 20

19. All the firstling males that come of thy herd, and of thy flock, thou shalt sanctify unto the Lord thy God: thou shalt do no work with the firstling of thy bullock, nor shear the firstling of thy sheep:

19. Omne primogenitum quod nascetur in armento, aut in grege tuo, masculum sanctificabis Jehovae Deo tuo: non uteris opera primogeniti bovis tui, neque tondebis primogenita gregis tui.

20. Thou shalt eat it before the Lord thy God year by year, in the place which the Lord shall choose, thou and thy household.

20. Coram Jehova Deo tuo comedes eum annuatim in loco quem elegerit Jehova, tu et familia tua.

19. All the firstling males. Another caution is added, that they should make no profit of the first-born; for they might have used the labor of the ox in plowing, or as a beast of burden; they might also have sheared the lambs, and have afterwards brought a deteriorated animal into the tabernacle. God commands, therefore, that what was due to Him should be honestly and absolutely paid. But, if good laws sprang from evil habits, it hence appears with what audacious greediness men have ever been led away to wicked gains, since it was necessary that they should be prohibited by an express edict from seeking to enrich themselves at God’s expense. Wherefore, it is not to be wondered at that men are acute and sagacious in cheating each other, since they by no means hesitate to deceive God by wicked artifices.



Omitted in Fr.


Observe A. V., “thou shalt set apart;” margin, “cause to pass over;” Lat., “transferes.”

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