Aug 4 2019
11th August 2019
Deuteronomy 21:15-17, “ If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him sons, if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, 16 then it shall be in the day he wills what he has to his sons, he cannot make the son of the loved the firstborn before the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn. 17 But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstborn.”
Sometimes we read the Old Testament and it’s like wow, what in the world is this story? How do I even begin to cope with what this story is saying or this verse is even saying? We’re going to look at a couple of those. It’s important to understand that back when this was written, they lived in a totally different world than we live in. It’s utterly and completely different. The world then, in the ancient days, in the time when Moses was around and they were writing Deuteronomy, was a patriarchal society. All the world was like that. Our best way to think about this is think of Lord Grantham and Downton Abbey. He’s the owner of all things, the estate, and everything kind of falls under him, only multiply that. Because in this day, the father was lord of the household and all things under the household and the estate were under his domain. That would include not only the property but the family, the children, the in-laws, the daughters-in-law who would also move in, the servants and the slaves. All were under his domain. That’s the way their world worked.
There was another aspect of this, and this is going to lead us to one of these design patterns in the Bible. The second aspect of this is that, and it says it here, when the father died, the domain and the responsibility of that domain fell to the oldest son. He would receive double the inheritance. The younger sons, they would be free to leave or remain under the domain of the older son. There’s a technical name for this. It’s called primogeniture. I could find no direct command or instruction from God on this whole concept of the firstborn in the Bible ‘cause there isn’t one. What we have here is a specific situation that relates to a cultural norm back in the day. What God is doing is he is giving instructions for how to deal with this situation in your culture so that there might be justice and equity and things of that nature. That is important. And, you’re thinking where is this going? What is important about this? It’s ‘because it has a lot to do with the way we look at the Bible. This is very common in the Bible. It has a lot to do with the nature of God and how God has chosen to engage and be involved in this world. We think why is all this going on in the first place? You see throughout scripture, God does not immediately change everything in human society to match his ideal. He just doesn’t. Sometimes he works within the culture, and he changes things incrementally to match his ideal. That’s what he’s doing here. It’s just one little way to begin this change process.
We have a second way it happens here and that’s polygamy. The Old Testament’s filled with polygamy. It’s just there isn’t it? Solomon had 800 wives or whatever it says in there. That’s an awful lot, a little much. But, God doesn’t come out and condemn it or condone it, but it’s not his ideal. Genesis 1 we see that God really just wanted one wife, one husband only, and Jesus says that, makes that very clear. But, God comes in and he just slowly works within the structure of the situation in the culture. Why? I don’t know. Why doesn’t he just come in and change it all? I don’t know the answer to that, but for some reason he chooses not. Then, what you see happening is you get into the New Testament, and we see Jesus saying from the very beginning, go back to Genesis 1. There’s only one. Then in the New Testament, in the church, we find that leaders of the church can only have one wife. There have been plenty of people with more than one wife in the time of Jesus. We see this gradual change, and now we know today, as a church, though I’m sure in parts of the world this is not true, there’s still polygamy going on, but it’s obvious to us that’s not the way it was ever meant to be, and we’ve moved towards that ideal. This happens over and over again in so many circumstances in the Bible. God just works this way.
Debt, God’s intent was for nobody to have debt. That was never the ideal, but we live in a fallen world. So, you can read through the Bible, and there’s all this instruction about borrowing and debt and lending because it’s the reality of the world. And, God gives instruction so that within the realities of a fallen world there can be at least a semblance of justice and equity taking place. Then, we get into the New Testament, and what we see in a small little thing in the church Jerusalem. It says that nobody had any need because they were all sharing with one another all that they had. Then, we see God’s ideal coming out and his desire to see things change. We can go through many things like this, and I just wanted to let you know that. As you read the Bible and you begin to look at things, and we think why did God not just change this? God just has chosen for some reason, at times, to work within the culture as it is and give instruction for us to know how to live within that situation.
Back to the firstborn, there’s another design pattern in the Bible and this is where we’re going to focus our attention. We see this come up through many stories in the Old Testament. It’s the reversal of this cultural norm of the firstborn getting double the portion and the firstborn being next in line. The Old Testament’s filled with God saying nope, it’s not going to be that way. It’s all going to change here. Even though that’s the way it continues, he’s constantly changing it, and it starts with the first two sons ever born, Cain and Abel. Cain is the oldest. Abel is the second son. What happens? Cain’s offering is rejected by God. Abel’s is accepted. God takes and he moves ‘em like this. He switches them around. The second son is the one who’s accepted. In the next story, Isaac and Ishmael, Abraham’s children, Ishmael is the oldest. Isaac is the second born, but Isaac is the one who will receive the blessing and the inheritance because God had chosen him. The most famous, and we’ll look at this one, is Jacob and Esau. Again, Esau’s the oldest and Jacob’s the one who’s going to receive the blessing. We’ll look at that in a second. Leah and Rachel, Jacob’s wives, Leah is the oldest, but she is unloved. Rachel is the youngest, and she is loved. Eliab and David, Eliab is the oldest son of Jesse and David is the youngest son of Jesse. There were seven boys, and all the older brothers were rejected. David was chosen as king.
We’re going to look at Jacob and Esau, and then we’ll see how all this relates. Genesis 25:21-23 “Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”
Here, not only does he change the whole thing, he commands it. He says this is going to be all different. It’s not going to be the older here, but the elder is going to serve the younger. The younger is going to end up being in charge and in control. There are reasons why this takes place as we go through the story, and it’s a pattern that follows throughout the Bible.
Genesis 25:24-26 “ When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
What we have here is the beginning of a contrast between Esau and Jacob. To our untrained un-Hebrewed eyes and for the lack of any of us being an expert in Hebrew, it just seems like a simple explanation of what happened. I’m not a Hebrew expert in any way, shape or form, but I’ve read them and listened to them on this passage. There’s an awful lot going on with the words here, a lot of imagery taking place that we can’t see in English. It begins in verse five where it says that he was red, and that because he was red and all hairy, they called him Esau. The word red and the word Esau here are just slight variations on the word Adam, same word. Red and Adam and Esau are the same word in Hebrew. Kind of like Mike and Michael or Dick and Richard. We know of them as the same thing. What does that mean? What it’s doing here with Esau, it’s connecting Esau and Adam. Just like Adam is the first man, what it’s showing is that with humanity, humanity rejects God. The first man rejected God, and in the same way now, in this story and in Cain’s story and in these other stories, the first son rejects God. The first son is fallen. With Esau, we just kind of get a glimpse of his physical appearance, at least on the surface, but what we’re going to see is that physical appearance has a lot to do with what’s going on in his soul. Then we get to Jacob, and it seems like with Jacob, there is a hint about his character ‘cause he’s holding onto his brother’s foot. The word Jacob simply means one who holds onto his brother’s foot, that’s kind of the long explanation, but it means a schemer, a supplanter. He’s trying to take first place. He’s trying to be first, so we get a little hint into his character.
In the next verse it says, “27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents.” On the surface, it looks like just talking about their personality, but it’s much more than that. We look at Esau, and we think okay, he’s a guy who likes to go hunting and fishing and only shops at Cabela’s. When he goes on vacation, he’s driving a truck and pulling a huge camper, and we think yeah, that’s my kind of man, some of us. Not this one. Then, there’s Jacob. Everybody lived in tents those days, so Jacob, he’s a quiet man who lives in tents. I really relate to Jacob. From our perspective, when he goes on vacation he flies, rents a car and stays in a bed and breakfast. That’s a true vacation. The other thing is nothing like a vacation. But, that’s not really what it’s saying here. When it talks about Esau and being a man of the field, it’s not that he reads Field and Stream and likes to go hunting. It probably means, and they would’ve understood, that it’s portraying Esau as the wild child, uncontrollable, not just a hunter. Then Jacob, when it says he’s a quiet man, that word quiet means a whole lot more than just shy. It speaks of somebody who is whole and complete. Esau will become Edom which will become an enemy of Israel.
It’s contrasting the world with the people of God. This is the way of the world, wild, uncontrollable. This is the way of God. The word shalom is peace, but just like this word quiet, it doesn’t just mean peace. It means whole. It means mature and filled, complete.
Verse 28 says, “ Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game;” Think about that. What a lousy testimony to have for a dad. He loved his son because he liked to eat wild game, and his son killed it and brought it to him. His love for his son was based on his own appetite. Isaac was a man of appetite, and his son Esau took after him because what we’re going to see is Esau was a man controlled by his appetites. He was a man of the world controlled by his lusts. Then it says, “but Rebekah loved Jacob.” It doesn’t tell us why. It maybe gives a hint that she loved him unconditionally. It seems Rebekah understood the whole concept of the blessing that God had promised to her son Jacob. But with Rebekah, we’re going to see that not all is well in her attitudes and relationships. What we’re going to learn is that Rebekah and Jacob are very much the same person. Jacob took after the mom good and bad. Esau took after the dad good and bad, so they were like any other family, happens all the time.
The next verse, “29Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.)” That ends up becoming the name of the nation that Esau establishes. Here we see very clearly, he allows his appetite, his lust to control his behavior, and that’s what we’re always battling. Our temptation is to allow our appetites and lust to control our behavior and actions.
In the next verse, “31 Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.”[f] So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” This whole thing of ate and rose and went his way, you see this when Israel leaves Egypt and Moses is up on the mountain, and so they eat and they play and they engage in sin and idolatry, and it just keeps showing Esau this way through this story. His birthright, his blessing was kind of his spirituality. Then, it’s contrasted with Jacob here. When it talks about him, what Jacob is doing to get this birthright, it gives the sense of him being wise and shrewd and cunning and clever. For the Jewish people in this day, this would have been a very positive side. They would have seen this as a positive thing about Jacob.
The only problem with it is this sense of wisdom, shrewdness and cleverness has a dark shadow side also, and that shadow side will come out as you go through the story. As you read through the story of Jacob, what you see is that shadow side coming out of Jacob. The one thing Jacob had is he valued and understood the value of the blessing, and he appreciated that blessing. We might say that he had a spiritual sense of what matters before God, and he wanted to experience God’s blessing in his life. But as you read the rest of the story of Jacob, really there’s very little difference between him and Esau. Jacob’s life, in many ways, is just as bad as Esau’s life. The only real difference is Jacob is chosen by God and blessed by God. It’s the same for us. The difference between the worldly person and the spiritual person is the spiritual person has been chosen and blessed by God. That’s the difference. We, in every way, can and are at times just like them. We’re chosen and blessed by God.
Paul, in Romans chapter 9, speaks of Jacob and Esau. People tend to take this one little phrase, Esau I hated Jacob I loved, they pull it out of the context, and they have all kinds of explanations about it, but what’s important to remember is Romans chapter 9 comes after Romans chapters 1 through 8. So, it must be understood in light of chapters 1 through 8. After explaining the gospel in chapters 1 through 6, in chapter 7, Paul starts talking about himself and how he is a covetous man and how he struggles with this. He says I don’t want to be this way. What he’s saying is you know, I’m Esau in the story of Jacob and Esau. That’s who I am. I am into my appetites. I don’t want to be this way at all, but I am. I find myself being this way. There’s debate over is he talking about before he’s a Christian or after. I don’t know the answer to that. People have strong arguments on either side. The point of the whole thing though is in chapter 8, he gives the conclusion and what’s really important. After he goes through this talking about how he tries to do this and he fails and he’s upset with himself and he doesn’t understand why he can’t be the man God is calling him to be. All of us experience that in our lives at times. We are not the people that we know God wants us to be. Whether it’s when we’re raising our children or in our relationship with our spouses or wherever it is in our own personal morality, all of us find ourselves, boy, I shouldn’t really be this way. I’m supposed to be a Christian, and Christians shouldn’t act like this or have these kinds of thoughts, but I do, and that’s what Paul is saying about himself. Then, he comes to the conclusion in Romans chapter 8. He says, so what do I do? Then, he says these simple words, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That’s all. Do you believe that? After you’ve had your worst day, do you believe there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? That’s what God wants us to believe. That after our very worst day from the very best of us, there’s no condemnation. We are wholly and completely forgiven by God. When you go through the Old Testament, you see all these people. Why is this happening? How do Esau and Jacob do the things they do? It’s because we may be faithless and unfaithful in every way, but God is faithful and still is able to accomplish his purposes through all of our struggles. They don’t hinder God at all. In fact, it seems to indicate that it’s actually through the struggles that God accomplishes all he’s wanting to accomplish. He’s chosen to work that way.
Let me tell you another even weirder story in the life of Jacob. Jacob has a bunch of kids from a bunch of women, so he’s not the best example in the world as we go through his life. The oldest is called Reuben, but he does something bad, and he loses his oldest status, and it sort of drops to Joseph who’s the good one in the family. But really, it is a guy by the name of Judah who becomes, it’s through Judah that the Messiah will come. It’s called the Lion of Judah. It’s through Judah that the kings of Israel will come. Judah’s the fourth son. Well, Judah’s not the greatest guy in the world either, and he has some sons, and the oldest son marries a woman by the name of Tamar. The oldest son does some evil stuff, and he dies because of it before Tamar is able to have children. In their culture, they had this law that if the oldest son died and there were no children, the second son had to marry his wife so that she could bear children, but then those children would go under the dead oldest son. They would take his name so that this procession could continue of who’s next in line. So, the second son has to marry Tamar, and he does not like the situation at all. He’s very unhappy about this. He doesn’t want to raise kids to his older brother who he probably didn’t like in the first place. So, he takes some actions to prevent Tamar from having children, and that was not a good thing, so he dies. Then, there’s a third son, but he’s only 12, so he can’t do much about the whole situation, so Judah says to Tamar look, why don’t you go and live with your family. Stay away from here because everybody’s dying that you’re around. Then, when the younger son grows up, I’ll come and get you, and you can marry him. Well, the younger son grows up, and Judah does nothing of the sort. One day he has some business that happens to be in Tamar’s hometown. So, he goes to do his business. Tamar knows that the older son has grown up, and she’s still wearing black years later, mourning. Until she gets remarried, she has to wear black. She hears Judah’s coming, so she takes off the black, puts on a veil and dresses up like a harlot. She goes out to the street corner with her face covered. Judah shows up, and he talks to her and inquires about the price of her services. She says I would like a young goat. He says okay, I will have a young goat sent to you later. She said I want proof of that, so why don’t you do this, give me your ring, your seal and your staff, and I’ll just hold those until the goat comes. Judah says okay, here you go. His appetites are stronger than his spirituality at this point. There’s a tremendous amount of symbolism. The staff of Judah will become the scepter of the king and the seal of the king because it is through Judah that the Messiah is promised. So, Judah makes use of her services and he goes off. A little while later, he has to go back, and he hears that Tamar is pregnant and he’s mad. He’s going to have her put to death because she hasn’t been faithful. Remember, she was covered. He had no idea who the prostitute was. While he’s there he brings this young goat with him and asks where’s the prostitute that works on the corner? They say we’ve never had a prostitute work on that corner. He says okay, I’ll keep my goat. Then, he calls Tamar out of the house, and she’s ready to give birth. He condemns her. She steps back in the house and says okay, you can kill me, but I just want to let you know who the father is, and she brings out his staff, his ring and his seal. Judah says, oh, she’s more righteous than I am, and he repents of his sins. Tamar has twins from Judah. Their birth is really bizarre because the one’s arm comes out first, and they take a red ribbon and they tie it around the wrist so you know who the firstborn is. Well, the one behind pulls that one back and then comes out.
The point behind that whole story is this. That one becomes the great, great, great, great grandfather of Jesse who is the father of David. And if you go to the gospel of Matthew, Tamar is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. God takes the most bizarre things humanity can throw at him and brings forth unbelievable blessings as a result.
Why are we talking about this whole thing of the firstborn second born? 1 Corinthians 15:45-49, “So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.”
The first man is Adam, earthy, Esau. Jesus is the last Adam. Jesus is the true second born, but he’s also the true firstborn. He’s the true Jacob which Jacob never was. He’s the true Isaac which Isaac never was. He’s the true David which David never was. In him, we become true humanity. We’re no different than the Jacobs and the Isaacs and the Esaus of the world, but it’s in Christ.
I want to close by looking at a Psalm that I’ve been reading. I’ve been going through the Psalms at night again, and I just noticed this, and I thought well, this is fascinating. This is a Psalm of David, and David was a younger son, and he was chosen. I mentioned that. When we read David’s life, he had some real problems, didn’t he? He did some really bad things, awful things in his life. But, David I think got this one thing, and this Psalm brings it out. This had to be written after one of those bad things as you read through it.
Psalm 25 1-12 “To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.2 O my God, in You I trust,
Do not let me be ashamed; Do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed; Those who deal treacherously without cause will be ashamed.”
David dealt fairly treacherously without cause Bathsheba and Bathsheba’s husband, having him killed so he could take her.
“4 Make me know Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths.
5 Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation;
For You I wait all the day.6 Remember, O Lord, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses, For they have been from of old.”
What we see with David is this is his thing, God’s love and compassion. David understood he needed that.
“7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; According to Your lovingkindness remember me,”
Do you ever pray that? You should. We need to. Remember me from your love, not from what I’ve done.
“For Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.8 Good and upright is the Lord;
Therefore He instructs sinners in the way.9 He leads the humble in justice,
And He teaches the humble His way.10 All the paths of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth To those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.11 For Your name’s sake, O Lord, Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.”
So, he’s saying I’m keeping your covenants and your testimonies, and you better forgive me ‘cause I really sin a lot. Well, that doesn’t work in our minds, but that’s who we are. We are people who can keep God’s covenant and testimony because he forgives us of great sin. Verse 12 is a great little devotion, and someone turned this into a song.
“12 Who is the man who fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way he should choose.13 His soul will abide in [e]prosperity, And his [f]descendants will inherit the [g]land.14 The [h]secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him,[i]And He will make them know His covenant.15 My eyes are continually toward the Lord,For He will [j]pluck my feet out of the net. 16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
For I am lonely and afflicted.17 [k]The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
Bring me out of my distresses.18 Look upon my affliction and my [l]trouble,
And forgive all my sins.19 Look upon my enemies, for they are many,
And they hate me with violent hatred.20 Guard my soul and deliver me;
Do not let me be ashamed, for I take refuge in You.21 Let integrity and uprightness preserve me,For I wait for You.22 Redeem Israel, O God,Out of all his troubles.”
What a prayer. To close this off, we falsely believe if we can reach a certain level of spirituality and righteousness that then we will experience God’s blessing and favor. That’s a false belief. The truth is we only reach any level of spirituality and righteousness when we first receive God’s blessing and favor by his mercy and grace. It begins there. And, the whole point of the firstborn, second born thing is not about firstborn, second born. It’s about the only way we get blessed is God’s grace and mercy. Let’s pray.