Deuteronomy 15:19-23 – Tiger Paws, Firstborn Male Animals and the Cross: Symbols That Point to Something Else

Posted: February 9, 2017 in 05-Deuteronomy
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Deuteronomy 15:19-23

Sacrificing Firstborn Male Animals

Back in 1970, my favorite college was looking to revitalize its brand as long-time Clemson football coach, Frank Howard (coach of the Tiger footballers from 1940-1969), retired and new coach, Hootie Ingram, was coming in. The school was looking for something that would make the Clemson Tigers distinctive from other teams named the Tigers and from all teams in general. The school enlisted the services of the Henderson Advertising Agency in Greenville, SC to come up with the design and complete the transition to a new logo. The owner of the company, James M. Henderson, was a 1944 Clemson graduate who took the job despite the understanding that compensation would be minimal. He and his vice president, Fred Walker, took the lead in making sure the situation was handled with the utmost care and urgency.


After discussing several options, it was decided that the Tiger Paw would be considered for the new logo. The agency turned the project over to creative designer and artist John Antonio in June of 1970 to begin the drafting process, which took several days. He contacted the Smithsonian Institute for a photo of a tiger’s paw and the National History Museum in Chicago, IL for a cast of a tiger paw. He used both items in forming his final version of the Clemson Tiger Paw. When he was finished, Antonio presented the completed project to a group of athletic department personnel, who were largely receptive to the Tiger Paw design. Apparently, the key to the presentation of the project was Antonio showing the Tiger Paw on a football helmet. Howard thought it looked sharp and he was on board with the overall idea. Then the Paw was successfully pitched to Dr. R.C. Edwards, who was president of Clemson at the time, and it was also presented to the Board of Trustees. Some of the intricacies of the Paw that contribute to its aura were implemented by design at the behest of Antonio. The 30-degree angle at which the official Paw sits is there to designate a 1:00 kickoff time for football games, which was a normal occurrence in those days. The indention at the bottom is due to a scar that the tiger who had been chosen as the subject for the logo had received before the cast was made.


Now, the Tiger Paw is synonymous with Clemson University not just the athletic programs. One of the quips used by Clemson students, faculty, and fans of the athletic teams is that “The Paw Says It All!” Whenever you see the tiger paw, you think of Clemson University. You do not have to see the words just the paw. The paw is unique in the landscape of logos out there and as any fan or graduate of the university will tell, there is “something in those hills” that makes the spirit of the university unique, just like its logo.


The symbols and logos of companies and universities that when you see them make you immediately think of the company or the university show how effective such things can be. Just think of a logo that makes you immediately think of the institution that it represents. A blue five point star with white and blue boundaries around it makes you immediately think of the Dallas Cowboys. A white lower-case “f” on a blue background makes you immediately think of Facebook, the social media giant. These are just a few examples of powerful nature of symbols that will just one look points you to something else. That idea of one thing pointing to another (as the Tiger Paw points to Clemson University) is what I thought of when I read the passage, Deuteronomy 15:19-23, this morning. Let’s read it together now:


19 Set apart for the Lord your God every firstborn male of your herds and flocks. Do not put the firstborn of your cows to work, and do not shear the firstborn of your sheep. 20 Each year you and your family are to eat them in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose. 21 If an animal has a defect, is lame or blind, or has any serious flaw, you must not sacrifice it to the Lord your God. 22 You are to eat it in your own towns. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it, as if it were gazelle or deer. 23 But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water.

God, as you can see here in this passage, gives special status to firsts. He commands that the firstfruits of our labors (our crops, our wages, etc.) be given to Him right off the top. He commanded that the firstborn male of each family be given a double portion of inheritance. Here, He commands that the firstborn of animals of our flocks be given to and dedicated to the Lord. The sanctity of the firstborn was meant, in part, to commemorate the deliverance God brought about for the people of Israel by taking the firstborn of Egypt (see Exodus 13:14-16). Note that the firstborn that are set aside to God are, specifically, “males that come from your heard and your flock”. This draws our attention to Jesus Christ, the firstborn Son of Mary, who was declared to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). God said that this firstborn was to be “sanctified” (that is, set apart) “to the Lord your God”—just as was our Lord.


The firstborn of the flocks were to be set aside for a special purpose. They were not to be used for normal everyday purposes. Although they lived among their others of the flock that were used for the mundane every day uses of animals, they were set apart as unique. It is symbolic of the fact that Jesus was not of this world even though He lived among us as a man. It is symbolic of His unique nature and His unique missions that is set apart from all men. He is the Unique One – fully human and fully divine set apart for a holy purpose.


Jesus was sacrificed on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins. He was the completion of the Old Testament sacrificial system. The offering up of unblemished firstborn animals was a symbol to us of the atoning sacrifice that was Jesus Christ. The Old Testament sacrificial system was practice for the real thing, the permanent, for all time, sacrificial system ending sacrifice in Jesus. Jesus was without sin just as the animals were unblemished. The family of the animal shared in the food of the sacrifice and so benefited and became one with the animal that was sacrificed. It is symbolic of the union that we have in Christ when we accept His sacrifice on the cross as the saving grace for our sins. We become united with Christ through His sacrifice. He imputes His perfection upon and we benefit from His sacrifice on our behalf.


So, one thing points to the other. Just like a logo points to an organization that it represents. The Old Testament sacrificial system using unblemished, firstborn animals was a type of logo, a symbol, for what was to come in Jesus Christ. Just as the cross itself is the logo of Christianity, the sacrificial system was pointing to the cross. The cross now symbolizes Jesus’ church because that is the message of the church, its logo, the cross. It points to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. It is symbolic of His taking on our punishment for our sins that we deserve so as to redeem us and make us right with God. The symbol of the cross now takes away the original horrid meaning of death that the cross symbolized in the Roman Empire and has replaced it the fact that it now represents the gateway to our eternal life in heaven. It is the most recognizable logo in the world, the Christian cross. It points us to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world who offers grace and redemption to all those who will recognize what the cross means.

See the cross. Think of Jesus Christ. Think of what He has done for you even before you were born. Think of your sin. Think of the redemption that came at great cost at the cross. Ask Jesus to be your Savior. You know what the cross stands for. Now live in the benefits of the cross. The greatest symbol. The greatest logo of all time.


Amen and Amen.

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