Failure of the Firstborn
This incredible theme of the underlying harmony of the
Scriptures was unearthed by a remarkable Christian man who lived
in Wales and was known to all as "Brother Joe."
He was a man who lacked any education whatsoever and was
employed as a manual labourer in a steel works. However he had an
intense love of the Bible and his friends used to say that he
knew the Bible better than anyone else in the world. It was this
love for the Word of God and the time he spent reading it that
led him to discover many interesting things and one of the most
gripping is the story of the failure of the firstborn.
FIRSTBORN HAD PRIVILEGE
In the Jewish culture, but also in other Eastern cultures, the
first born was ranked highly, being given special recognition and
privilege over his brothers. Under Jewish law he was entitled to
receive a ‘double portion’ at the time of
inheritance. The importance of his position was not to be taken
lightly and God Himself placed great store in the concept of a
first born because of His words regarding His chosen nation - He
said in Exodus 4:22 – "Israel is my son, my
Despite all the honour and the importance however, not one of
the Bible heroes in the Old Testament is mentioned as being a
first born! In fact every first born who had position in the Old
Testament was a failure and a disappointment to God, and was
passed over in favour of a younger son.
The first born son of the first man, Adam, was a failure,
becoming a murderer by killing his brother Abel. Because of this
he was rejected by God and the line of descent to the Messiah
passed to a younger son whose name was Seth.
We read in Genesis that Noah had three sons who are always
listed in the following order - Shem, Ham and Japheth. It would
be easy to assume therefore that Shem, the first mentioned son
was also the eldest son.
However if we dig into the Scriptures and do some arithmetic
we find a different answer. Genesis 5:32 tells us that Noah was
500 years old when his first son was born. By comparing Genesis 8:13
with Genesis 11:10 we can tell that Shem was born when Noah
was 503. As Ham is spoken of as the younger son in Genesis 9:24
we can deduce that Japheth must have been Noah’s first
The Bible doesn’t tell us in this case why Japheth was
passed over but we do know through the genealogies that the
chosen line of descent passed to Shem, the younger brother. A
small clue lies in the story of Noah’s nakedness as he lay
drunk in his tent. When Ham saw him and told his brothers they
walked backwards into the tent with a garment to cover him.
When Noah awoke, he knew what had happened, and cursed the
line of Ham saying that they would be servants of servants. He
then blessed Shem and in turn said that God would prosper
Japheth. In doing so he said that Japheth would dwell in the
tents of Shem.
This seems to show that the lineage was chosen and put into
place at this time with Shem carrying the mantle of the family
lineage. Perhaps Shem was the one who suggested walking backwards
to cover their father’s nakedness. Nevertheless, the
revealed facts speak for themselves.
Genesis 11:27 lists Abram, Nahor and Haran as brothers. Abram,
who was to become known as Abraham, is listed first, and the
chosen line rested with him, but he was not the first born of his
family. The Bible does not specifically state that Abraham was
not the first born, but by comparing Genesis 11:26, Genesis 11:32 and
Genesis 12:4 we can calculate that this is so.
The interesting thing is that many of the good Kings and
leaders in the Old Testament may well have been first born, but
they are simply not recorded as having been so. This leaves then
a perfect and harmonious theme that no acknowledged first born is
ever a success in God’s sight.
One might ask then why is this such an important issue? God
was showing us that in the sight of God the very best of humanity
is a failure. It was pointing to the fact of two tremendous
GOD’S FIRSTBORN SON
Psalm 89:27 prophesies about Jesus. "Also I will make him
my first-born, The highest of the Kings of the Earth."
John 3:16 says.. "For God so loved the world that He gave
His only begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in Him
should not perish but have everlasting life."
The lesson God wanted us to learn was that we had to wait for
the birth of Jesus, God’s first born son, to see a
successful first born.
GOD’S FIRST BORN NATION
God also had a first born Nation. In Exodus 4:22 we find these
words recorded... "Thus says the Lord: Israel is my son my
Israel, like all the recorded first born individuals, was
destined to be a failure. They missed the time of their
visitation and had to be replaced by a younger Nation. Matthew 21:43
records Jesus speaking these words... "Therefore I say
to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a
Nation bearing the fruits of it."
Galatians 6:16 speaks of this younger Nation as being...
"The Israel of God."
This is the New Testament name for all those who are followers
of Jesus Christ, whether they be Jew or Gentile. God was showing
us that these followers were a younger Nation, the chosen or
elder Nation being a failure in God’s eyes. Of course God
has a plan for natural Israel to bring them back into blessing,
but that is another story.
How else could the writers of the Old Testament have written
in combination to produce such an instructive, harmonious theme,
unless their hands were guided under the inspiration of the Holy
Spirit. Remember that in the cases of Abraham and Shem, the fact
they were younger brothers was found out only through
calculations and comparisons of several verses.
Hidden deep in the Scriptures yet again is more proof of a
truly amazing God!