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.
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.
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!
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