I have a question which bugs me a lot. Reading Exodus 4:22-23 has overwhelmed me with doubts. Then say to Pharoah, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, "Let my son go, so he may worship me." But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’ " Here it says that Israel was God’s firstborn son… does this concept of Son differ from Jesus.. John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." So God only has one son.. yet Israel is his firstborn son???
Yes, Israel is called God’s "firstborn" son. This is not the same as being called God’s only-begotten son. Symbolically, Israel is God’s first-born. Consider Hoseah 11:1 "Out of Egypt I called my son." Matthew sees this as a prophecy of the Messiah (Matthew 2:15). The propehcy is fulfilled several ways in the scripture. It is fulled as a type when God called his people out of slavery in Egypt. It was also fulfilled as an antitype when God brought Jesus out of Egypt. It is also fulfilled every time one of God’s children is called out of spiritual slavery in spiritual "Egypt" in baptism.
To understand what is going on here, you need to understand the Jewish concept of being the first-born son. The first-born son received a double portion of the inheritance. He was considered the favored one of God. Israel is never called God’s one and only son, but Israel, like all of us, is adopted as God’s special son, just like God chose Jacob as the first-born over Essau even when he was not naturally the first-born. There is a LOT of symbolism here. Being first-born is not the same as being the one and only son. There is a sense in which all nations are God’s "sons", but because Israel was favored by God and chosen to be his special people, by the Jewish definition, Israel was God’s chosen, first-born son. My book From Shadow to Reality (www.ipibooks.com) discusses all this in detail.