Having grown up as the youngest child, I have some experience with the life of a young sibling. Everyone says the baby has it easier than the older children do, but not too long ago I realized that the Bible has quite a bit to say on this subject. Why is it that the older child often turns out to be a dork, and the younger child winds up inheriting the blessings? We all know the examples of Esau and Jacob, and Ishmael and Isaac before them; but I’m willing to bet there are more examples in the Bible than you’ve noticed. And one in particular. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Deuteronomy 21:15-17 If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.
The firstborn has the right to the greater blessing – a blessing that is exactly twice what the other children have. But there is an unspoken condition on this blessing. If for some reason the firstborn is disobedient, he can be disqualified from his blessing…
Mark 3:35 For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.
The context of this indicates that if you do not do the will of His father, you are not His brother and therefore not a son of His Father, and not in line to receive any inheritance with them. When this happens the secondborn is in line to inherit the double portion. The firstborn also inherited a better blessing than the rest of the children. Again, unless he disqualifies himself.
We all know the story of Jacob and Esau. Esau was the first born, but Jacob had always wanted Esau’s birthright, but there is absolutely no way for a secondborn to get the birthright unless the firstborn is disqualified. So when Esau was extremely hungry one day, he went to Jacob. Jacob agreed to feed him but only if Esau would give him the birthright. Esau swore his acceptance to the deal, and….
Genesis 25:34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.
Despised isn’t the best translation for modern times; cared nothing for his birthright would be a bit better. Esau had been given a precious birthright which no one could take from him, but by not caring for it at all he lost that right to someone who DID want it desperately – Jacob.
Romans 9:13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
From all we can tell, Esau was the better man by our standards; he was a man of the woods, a hunter, a man’s man. His father’s favorite. Jacob was a scrawny city-dweller, and a liar and a cheat. And yet before they were born, God knew which one he liked better. And the main, and perhaps only virtue that Jacob had over Esau was his determination. Jacob is the man, you’ll remember, who later wrestled with God Himself all night and refused to let go.
The moral is that God knew that if Esau was given the promise of eternal life, it would be just another achievement in his successful life, and when push came to shove it he would sell that birthright. Jacob on the other hand, had always been the underdog, and the mama’s boy. He had had to scrape for everything he had gotten, and always had to work extra hard to try and keep up with his brother. And once he set his heart on something, he never gave up until he got it. He is also the man who worked 14 years for a woman he loved. This determination and zeal God was able to detect before they were born, and this made God love Jacob. As opposed to Esau, who remains an example for us today…
Hebrew 12:16 Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
And since for God’s purposes, he didn’t want the birthright and the blessing divided between the two children, it fit into God’s plan that Rebecca convinced Jacob to deceive his father. He did so and Esau was cut out of the firstborn’s inheritance altogether. Which was what he deserved.
That’s the most famous firstborn/secondborn conflict. But we also have the record of Ishmael/Isaac. About Ishmael himself, little is said. Most of the conflict was between his mother and Sarah, which was a type of the old covenant/new covenant conflict according to Paul (Galatians 4:22, etc). Again God made promises before they were born, saying before the birth of Ishmael that he would not inherit the promises in Genesis 15, but that he would dwell in the presence of his brethren and be a massive nation (Genesis 16)
Ishmael (according to Galatians 4, representing those children of the old covenant) was kicked out of the camp by Sarah (the NT church), for mocking her children (the children of the New Covenant). It isn’t a large jump in logic to see that same attitude in the first century church, dealing with the jews and gentile converts. Which happens to be our next subject…
By the time of Christ, the pharisees, who were born into bondage in the old covenant, had become complacent much like Esau had. Their birthright didn’t mean nearly as much to them as money, prestige, and their vanity. So Christ told them a parable…
Luke 14:16-20 Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.
The pharisees were, for the purposes of this article, the firstborn. They, and their church (symbolically, Hagar) had been bidden to the promises, but they had all made excuses for why they couldn’t do it. They had lost any zeal they might have once had and modified the laws of God to make them more appealing.
Luke 14:21-24 So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.
The moral is that the firstborn were uninterested in their birthright, so like Esau, they would not receive the inheritance. But he had to give it to someone, so He opened up the gospel to the gentiles, and created the New Testament church, symbolically Sarah, “mother of us all”, spiritually speaking (Galatians 4:26). For proof that this is really what this scripture was saying, I refer to…
Matthew 8:11 and I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Romans 11:11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
Ephesians 2:11-12 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, … were without Christ, …. and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
These children then, who as Jacob were strangers from the covenant of promise, and were without hope, had to overachieve and show tremendous zeal to try to catch up with these older children who as Esau, cared nothing for their birthright. Another excellent example is Cain and Abel.
Cain was the firstborn, and then Abel; it is likely that they were twins, but even so Cain, as eldest, held the birthright. Genesis 4 reveals that both of them knew the rules for sacrificing at this event, which as I’ve discussed in other articles, was in fact the first passover recorded in the Bible. But Cain, being again the eldest, thought that his sacrifice of vegetables were good enough for God. He, as eldest, felt that he had “saving knowledge” so to speak, and didn’t need to do anything else to make God happy.
Abel on the other hand brought a proper sacrifice, since he didn’t think that he “had arrived”. Another example of this is in the twelve sons of Jacob. Reuben stood to inherit the firstborn blessing. But he disqualified himself and sinned against his father by having… relations… with his father’s concubine.
The right naturally would have fallen to Simeon next and then Levi but both shamed their father by killing Hamor and Shechem. So the birthright of the firstborn, leading his brothers and sisters settled upon the shoulders of Judah. And throughout most of history Judah has ruled his brothers, all the way down to the Queen of England today. And of course, Christ came out of Judah. So in a sense, Judah will always rule. But of all these examples, and there are more, by far the most fascinating example is Adam.
Adam was, according to Luke 3:38, the son of God. The only person besides Christ who was referred to as being the literal, physical, son of God. So in this sense, Christ was the younger brother of Adam. Christ is even called the last Adam, or the most recent one. The second Adam is another way of saying it.
1 Corinthians 15:45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
God first made Adam and gave him dominion over all the earth (Genesis 1:28). And this Adam was to rule earth from the Garden of Eden, which was most likely on the spot where Jerusalem is now, and where the Holy City will be in the future (see my article “Why Was Sinai Holy?”). Adam as the elder brother and the first man to whom this was offered, had only to obey God to inherit this birthright. But Adam sinned and was adopted out, so to speak. And was cut off from birthright of the firstborn. Enter Christ, the second Adam.
He came to do the job that Adam was supposed to do. Adam was offered the birthright and had Adam obeyed God and accepted that birthright, He would have never earned the penalty for sin and would have inherited the position that is now Christ’s. Of course, Adam being carnal didn’t do that. And so Christ had to come and not only live a perfect life to inherit the birthright which was now offered to Him as the secondborn physical son of God, but also to provide a redemption for the other children of God who had sinned and earned the death penalty.
As we all know, Christ was successful at doing this and did inherit the birthright and set down on the right hand of God, for a part that birthright promise which was promised to Adam was to become the FIRSTborn SPIRITUAL son of God. And to rule His Father’s kingdom forever.
So what is the moral to all of this? Esau didn’t value his birthright and sold it. Cain sinned against God (and his father) by killing Abel after bringing the wrong sacrifice.
These all took for granted their place in their father’s “kingdom”. All felt that they had attained already to the goal, and so they naturally searched for other glories. And in so doing, invariably ceased to value their right of the firstborn.
You and I have been offered a place on the ground floor of the government of the universe. A chance to rule side by side with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I don’t know anyone who takes that seriously enough. In fact, everyone I know believes they already “have saving knowledge”. They believe that God’s work “has been finished” and now we are just “preparing the bride of Christ”. Anyone who believes that has, as Esau, sold his birthright for a morsel of meat. Because even Paul, who had been to the third heaven, didn’t feel as they do. He never dared let down his guard, lest, as he said, he should become a castaway. (1 Corinthians 9:27). So the moral is… have you let down YOUR guard?
Philippians 3:13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
Always striving, always seeking to overachieve, knowing that as the second born sons of God, the wild olive branches who were grafted in because of the disobedience of the Old Testament church, we exist only by the grace of God and that only for so long as we continue to please him.
Romans 11:21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.