Firstborn Among Many

Parashat Toldot (Offspring)
Beresheet (Genesis) 25:19-28:9
Haftarah Malachi 1:1-2:7

During the past couple of weeks, I have been thinking quite a bit about the mystery of the role of the firstborn. In the book of Genesis, we read numerous times about the firstborn not receiving the inheritance, and the question raised in my heart was, why? 

Before we get to what I believe is the reason, I would like to refer to this week’s reading. Our Parashah opens with God reaffirming His choice through whom He would continue the promise of blessing made to Abraham. As we can see in Scripture, God foretold Rebecca that one of her sons would rule over the other:

Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac; and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him, and his wife Rebekah conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body;
and one people will be stronger than the other; and the older will serve the younger.”

When her days leading to the delivery were at an end, behold, there were twins in her womb. Now the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so he was named Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.
Genesis 25:19-26

The Scripture portion continues with the well-known story of Jacob tricking Esau into giving the birthright to him, and the ensuing strife that resulted. In fact, Isaac's blessing actually reaffirms what God spoke to Rebecca: 

Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and an abundance of grain and new wine; May peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; be master of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you.
Genesis 27:28-29

Let's keep this in mind as we look at the Haftarah portion, which once again affirms that God chose Jacob to continue the promise of blessing: 

The pronouncement of the word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi: “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was Esau not Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob;but I have hated (שָׂנֵ֑אתִי) Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and given his inheritance to the jackals of the wilderness.”
Malachi 1:1-3 (emphasis mine)

As I wrote in previous commentaries, most Bible translations translate the Hebrew word “שָׂנֵ֑אתִי” (saneti) as "I hated".  However, in a deeper search of that word, I found that it can also mean "to change" or "not to choose". This sheds light on what can be a difficult scripture verse for many people. Instead of hating Esau, it is entirely possible that God simply changed the right of the firstborn and did not choose Esau to fulfill this role, but instead chose Jacob to receive the inheritance, both literally and figuratively.

The story of Jacob & Esau is but one example in Genesis of the firstborn not inheriting the blessing or birthright. Another example that we read last week was of Ishmael and Isaac, Ishmael being the firstborn and Isaac receiving the blessing to continue Abraham’s line.

While the significance of the firstborn son is found in many cultures today, I don’t believe many people understand that this idea of the role of the firstborn is a biblical one. In Exodus 13:1-2 we read:

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the firstborn of every womb among the sons of Israel, among people and animals alike; it belongs to Me.”

I believe that Numbers 3:13 clarifies that, for God, there is a special place for the firstborn:

For all the firstborn are Mine; on the day that I fatally struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, from the human firstborn to animals. They shall be Mine; I am the LORD.

This verse has a very special connection to Yeshua, as we read in Luke 2:22-32:

And when the days for their purification according to the Law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord: “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what has been stated in the Law of the Lord: “A pair of turtledoves or two young doves.” And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. And he came by the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Yeshua, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law,  then he took Him in his arms, and blessed God, and said,“Now, Lord, You are letting Your bond-servant depart in peace, according to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all the peoples: A light for revelation for the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”

I personally believe that here we find the answer to the question I raised at the beginning of this commentary; God ultimately saved the place of the firstborn for Yeshua our Messiah. He is the one who would receive the inheritance of the firstborn, which is what Rav Sha’ul (the Apostle Paul) refers to in Romans 8:29 (TLV):

For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

In closing, I believe Malachi 1:5 refers to the firstborn of many, our Messiah:

And your eyes will see this, and you will say, “The LORD be exalted beyond the border of Israel!

Because of the work of Yeshua, the LORD is indeed being exalted beyond the border of Israel!

Shabbat Shalom,

Check out previous blogs on this parashah!

Did you know? — Lone Soldier

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6 Comments on “Firstborn Among Many”

  1. The religious leaders seem to have many different opinions about Jacob and Esau and often they question the motives of Jacob’s and Rebecca’s actions.
    God showed me about His election many years ago and he did so by teaching me about Jacob and Esau, and his revelation to Rebecca.
    It has always amazed me ( and still does to this very day) that He would choose to preserve my life and guide me on this journey, when I am the least deserving. The one thing that always comes to mind is, as the scripture says , it is not him who wills nor is it he who runs but of God who shows mercy.
    If we really believe God, it cannot be denied that it was He and not Rebecca or Jacob that orchestrated and implemented all of the events in their lives that produced the outcome of that fateful watershed event in history.
    It is also amazing to think of how God’s election truly is extended to anyone out of many nations who have the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

  2. I’m wondering if you at Hope for Israel have read the book Copernicus and the Jews by Dan Gruber. I attended his Torah study for many years and learned an awful lot from him. I am grateful that our family was blessed to learn from him.

    This blog reminded me of Dan’s teaching and writings because he talks about how G-d chooses different people for different purposes. It doesn’t mean they are better than others; just that they are given more responsibility than others in some certain area. Sometimes those not chosen for some task resent those who ARE chosen for it, yet many times those who ARE chosen resent the consequences (resentment toward them of others) and the added responsibility.

    The “hating” of G-d sure is problematic for many, including me. I appreciate this explanation (and hope it is true). It doesn’t make sense that G-d would hate Esau or anyone else, at least not in the English definition of the word used to translate the Hebrew.

    Thank you for sharing your insights, Moran. I look forward to reading your posts each Shabbat.

  3. Whenever I read this portion, I can’t help but wonder how G-d would have brought about His plan if Rebecca and Yaakov hadn’t meddled and manipulated. G-d had already told Rebecca how it would be and He would have brought it about without the lying, deception, trouble, and turmoil that their actions brought. Yes, G-d’s plan prevailed this way, but how much more beautiful and honorable would it have been without the finagling? I am very curious to know what would have happened, how G-d would have worked it out. We know He would have done it anyway. The manipulation and deceit was unnecessary. G-d would have intervened and interrupted Yitzak’s intentions that day. Maybe some day we will find out…

  4. Does Jacob “trick” Easu out of his firstborn birthright if this was all orchestrated by God. In reading Genesis 25:29-34, Jacob asked for the birthright and Easu willingly gave it up; “Thus Easu showed how little he valued his birthright.”

  5. The question of the firstborn is certainly worth bringing up. I have wondered about it quite a bit since such a point is made of it when G-d commands that a man is not to give the right of the firstborn to the son of a better-loved wife if he is not the man’s actual firstborn son, which is what Abraham had done with Yitzak, Yitzak had done with Yaakov (unintentionally, but it was what G-d had said would happen), and Yaakov had done with Yosef (before the command was given) and Yehudah. There are others who did similar things after the command (David – Solomon).

    I am interested in learning more about this. There is definitely a lot to think about on this topic.

  6. With our natural mind , we as humans might question Rebecca and Jacob’s motives . It’s only natural to look at it that way from a human perspective. We think we know how it should have gone down, but we don’t.
    If Rebecca had failed to carry out God’s plan the way God ordained , he would have rebuked her actions at some point. He did not do any such thing …throughout the Old Testament or the New Testament.
    In Isaiah God says his ways and thoughts are far superior to ours.
    Unless we receive God’s Spirit and submit to his spirit we are hopelessly controlled by our human spirit , what seems right to us.
    Hellenic thought is alive and well today and it has caused the whole world to use reasoning and logic to determine what the human mind (apart from being guided by Gods Spirit ) thinks is right and fair. That is why the scripture says the devil deceives the whole world.
    If it were not for Abraham’s perfect faith and obedience to Gods word, one might wonder what would have happened. If Rebecca and Jacob would have acted differently what would have happened? If Adam and Eve had not disobeyed the voice of God in favor of their reasoning and logic per the evil one what would life be like for all of us today? …… But Gods perfect plan of recovery for us has moved forward and has been revealed to us through the Hebrew bloodline of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, because He so loved the world.

    God said ,” Esau have I hated “. The human spirit might think of that statement in terms of human hatred, but God was making a very clear statement, that He chose to supplant Esau with Jacob.
    Esau despised his birthright. This was an evil thing on Esau’s part. God does not hate people . He hates evil.
    We must make a choice. To believe in our human reasoning and logic (natural) or to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ( supernatural)
    Rebecca believed God by faith. Jacob obeyed his mothers voice by faith. When the time came , by perfect faith in Gods word both of them knew what to do. Jacob was not competing with his brother for the birthright. In obedience to his mother’s voice he was being obedient to God.

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