Exodus 12:29 KJV

And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

Numbers 3:13 KJV

Because all the firstborn are mine; for on the day that I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto me all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast: mine shall they be: I am the LORD.

Numbers 8:17 KJV

For all the firstborn of the children of Israel are mine, both man and beast: on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for myself.

Keil-Delitzsch Commentary on the OT, v1 - Num. 3:11-13, p. 20)

When He slew the firstborn of Egypt, He sanctified to Himself all the firstborn of Israel, of man and beast, for His own possession... By virtue of this sanctification,... the nation was required to dedicate to Him its first-born sons for service at the sanctuary and sacrifice all the first-born of its cattle to Him. But now the Levites and their cattle were to be adopted in their place, and the first-born sons of Israel were to be released in return (Numbers 3:40.).

  1. Aaron's line evidently was already adequately pure to be the priestly class.

  2. What made the blood of the Egyptian's at least 'pure enough' to sanctify Israelites (ultimately the Levites) to tend the sanctuary?

  3. What was wrong with the cattle of the Israelites that the first-born cattle of the Egyptians also had to be slain? They didn't even do animal sacrifice in the wilderness for 40 years - they had manna (and a few quail).


Still seeking an answer to this question, I found a verse that confused things even more:

Psalm 78:51 KJV

And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief (first-fruit) of their strength (power/ability) in the tabernacles of Ham:

How would the evil nature of Ham "hallow" the Israelites? Well, tonight I was watching TCT "Word Pictures" on "Pilgrim's Progress" (Paul Bunyan). Up came a verse I didn't recall reading before so grabbed the Bible for context. Two verses below that one was:

Proverbs 21:18 KJV

The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright.

So, the wicked can sanctify? Not possible, for me. Somehow, either Ham (Chm) or Canaan (Knon) had to be the precursor to a Benjamin type. But haven't found the connection yet.

  • 1
    Where is there any mention of the blood of the Egyptians in the text ? The only blood I can find in my concordance relates to the blood of the passover lamb.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 14, 2017 at 12:42
  • Perhaps it's a false assumption. What else about slaying first-borns would be involved in sanctification? .
    – tblue
    Nov 14, 2017 at 14:19
  • Where is the word 'sanctification' used in the text ?
    – Nigel J
    Nov 14, 2017 at 14:21
  • Num. 3:13 - "hallowed" - eqdshthi - H6942.
    – tblue
    Nov 14, 2017 at 15:27
  • The oppressor was vanquished, the oppressed was sanctified.
    – Lucian
    Nov 14, 2017 at 15:46

3 Answers 3


When it says, "on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for myself." it doesn't mean that the act of smiting the first born Egyptians sanctified the Israelites. The previous statement is simply a reference to a point in time. Sanctification in this context is referring to God creating a divide between the two groups, the Egyptians and the Israelites. He created this separation when he instructed the Israelites to sacrifice the Passover lamb and mark their doorways with the blood. Exodus 12:13 says "The blood will serve you as a sign marking the houses where you are; when I see the blood, I will pass over you — when I strike the land of Egypt, the death blow will not strike you." This parallels the crucifixion of Jesus, the event that separated God's children from the people that reject him. So it's just saying, "On that same day, I did this..."

Not sure why you think that the passage in Psalm 78:51 uses Ham to hallow the Israelites. The passage talks about God showing his wrath toward Egypt, destroying everything they had; specifically "the fistfruits of their strength in the tents of Ham." So what the Egyptians would've sacrificed to their idols (the best of their possessions), God took and destroyed. It also talks about how he took Israel away from them, into the desert.

The proverb in Proverbs 21:18 is actually poorly translated. The Greek is "περικάθαρμα δε δικαίου άνομος και αντί ευθέων παράνομος", which loosely translates to "and the rubbish of the just is a lawless man, and for the upright ones, a lawbreaker." I understand the verse as, the wicked will pay the price that we ourselves do not have to pay. The NLT says it pretty well, "The wicked are punished in place of the godly, and traitors in place of the honest."

To summarise, the wicked cannot sanctify. Nothing but the blood of Jesus can make us holy in God's sight. The verse in Numbers is using the event as a marker in time that God separated the Israelites from the Egyptians using the act of the Passover and the Passover lamb as a sacrifice. The verse in Proverbs is poorly translated, but the wicked will experience the sacrifice that the righteous are spared from.

  • 1
    Hi was about to +1, but your comment about Proverbs 21:18 seems quite confused. You say "The Hebrew is..." and then quote the Greek language. The verse in Hebrew seems well translated if you actually reference the Hebrew instead of the Greek. Otherwise good answer.
    – Austin
    Apr 24, 2023 at 5:50
  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics.SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I also recommend going through the Help Center's sections on both asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Apr 24, 2023 at 13:02
  • Ah, yup, my bad that's supposed to be Greek. I'll fix that, thanks. Apr 25, 2023 at 6:22
  • the Greek is actually from another version like Greek orthodox, other than the LXX version of Rahlf and Swete which has a shorter form περικάθαρμα δὲ δικαίου ἄνομος.
    – Michael16
    May 25, 2023 at 9:32

I think these passages can be better understood if we adopt a more fundamental understanding of the key concepts involved.

It may be the case that, at times, we might infuse too much traditional religious meaning in words like hallow or ransom that we might miss the point of what the Bible is trying to say. Sometimes the Bible is better understood by stripping these words and concepts down to their essential meaning and rereading the text.

Numbers 3:13
The word for sanctified or hallowed, in Numbers 3:13, in its most basic meaning, just means to be set apart. God accomplished the setting apart of the Israelites from the Egyptians by slaughtering their firstborn. At this point, Pharoah was content to set the Israelites on their way such that they may be set apart for God being free to serve Him.

Proverbs 21:18 Regarding the word ransom, all it really involves is the price necessary to release a person or people from bondage or legal obligation. So in the case of the Egyptians, the price required to effect the release of God's people from bondage was essentially the destruction of the Egyptian economy, the affliction of their flesh, the slaughtering of their children, and the annihilation of their army, but other than that the cost wasn't too high. Essentially the proverb is saying that the release of the righteous from the oppression of the wicked will be very costly to the wicked, likely resulting in their own destruction. Ultimately on the last day, the righteous will be freed completely from the oppression and influence of the wicked who refuse to obey the Gospel when the wicked are themselves sent off to suffer the punishment of eternal destruction (2 Thes 1:5-10). This is the cost that will be imposed on all the wicked, both of flesh and spirit so that the righteous would be free of them in the kingdom of God and fully free to serve him.


The promised land of Israel was the land of Canaan/Hanaan, a descendant of Ham. By an ancient rule firstborn son inherits the earth. And so since Noah all the earth belonged to descendants of the firstborn son Noa’s - Japeth. By killing every firstborn this inheritance right is at least interrupted.

Yet Israelites are Semites (Sem - second son of Noah) and may not inherit the earth. To resolve this conflict under the Moses’s law they must dedicate their firstborn sons to Yhwe and then buy them back as slaves. This way Israelites/Semites never come into souverän ownership of the land.

This is the slavery and land bondage that Jesus is said to have abolished by wiping the Old Testament by submitting himself to a sacrificial death being the firstborn son and King of Israel.

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