Article of Faith: God’s preference for the last above the first (2), By Femi Aribisala


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Jesus is the firstborn among many brothers.

God rejects everything that is first in this world. He is even opposed to every firstborn child.

When God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, He killed all the firstborn of the Egyptians, including the firstborn of their livestock. But He saved the firstborn of the Israelites.

Thereafter, He commanded that all the firstborn males of Israel should be sacrificed to Him. (Exodus 22:29). To avoid death, he later said they had to be redeemed with money. (Numbers 18:15-16).

Jacob and Esau

With the children of Isaac, God preferred the younger Jacob to Esau, the firstborn, even before they were born.

When Rebecca, Isaac’s wife, was pregnant with the twins, the babies struggled within her. God then told her: “Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23).

God later elaborates on this strange preference for the younger over the older: “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? ‘Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated, and laid waste his mountains and his heritage for the jackals of the wilderness.’” (Malachi 1:2-3).

In a moment of weakness, Esau then sold his birthright to Jacob. Therefore, Malachi describes the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, as: “The people against whom the Lord will have indignation forever.” (Malachi 1:4).

Judah and Reuben

With Jacob’s children, God preferred the younger Judah to Reuben, the firstborn. In a classical synchronicity between divine providence and seemingly independent human action, Reuben offended his father, Jacob, by sleeping with his concubine. Thereby, he forfeited his firstborn status.

On his deathbed, Jacob denounced Reuben: “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my strength, the child of my vigorous youth. You are first in rank and first in power. But you are as unruly as a flood, and you will be first no longer. For you went to bed with my wife; you defiled my marriage couch.”

(Genesis 49:3-4).

Judah then became first. He was not even next in line but the fourth child. However, Simeon and Levi, the second and third, also offended Jacob because they avenged Shechem’s rape of their sister Dinah by killing his entire family.

God ratified Judah’s new premier status. When the Israelites asked God which tribe should lead their fight against the Benjamites, God replied: “Judah shall go first.” (Judges 20:18).

Judah new pre-eminence is evident in its being the tribe that produced Jesus. Judah means praise, appropriately the divinely prescribed starting point of godly worship: “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise.” (Psalm 100:4).

Ephraim and Manasseh

God preferred Ephraim, the younger son of Joseph, to Manasseh, the firstborn. When Jacob was blessing Joseph’s children, he placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head. Joseph objected, saying it should be on Manasseh: “No, my father, this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.”

But Jacob refused and said: “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.’ He blessed them that day and said, ‘In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’ So, he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.” (Genesis 48: 18-20).  

Similarly, Aaron was the firstborn son of Amram, but God chose his younger brother, Moses, to deliver Israel from Egypt. (Exodus 7:7). Eliab was the firstborn son of Jesse, but God chose David, the eighth child, to be the ruler of Israel after Saul. (1 Samuel 16:6-7).

Furthermore, Amnon was the firstborn son of David. But by divine providence, Absalom, his half-brother, killed him because he raped his sister, Dinah. Absalom himself was killed while trying to usurp his father’s throne. Thereafter, God chose the younger Solomon as king instead of his older brother, Adonijah.

Prodigal son

In Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, the father celebrated the unfaithful younger son, who left home and squandered his inheritance on riotous living, when he finally returned home; to the annoyance of the older brother who stayed faithfully behind.

Although the father tried to comfort the older brother by pointing out that he could have thrown a party for his friends anytime he wanted, it was clear even that option would still have been inferior to the party the father threw for the younger prodigal son. If he took that initiative, he would not have had the audacity to kill the fatted calf, which is reserved for special occasions. But the fatted calf was killed for the younger prodigal son.

Accordingly, Jesus affirms the principle of God’s rejection of the firstborn, saying: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matthew 19:30). Paul also points out that: “God chooses people according to His own purposes; He calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.” (Romans 9:11-12).

God gives us what we do not deserve and not what we think we deserve. The younger prodigal son who wasted his inheritance did not deserve the father’s grace and forgiveness. Therefore, he received it. The older faithful son who thought he deserved it did not receive it. That is kingdom dynamics.

Firstborn Jesus

This divine providence whereby the firstborn is rejected assumes even greater resonance when we recognise that Jesus Himself is the firstborn son of Mary and Joseph. Spiritually, He is described as: “The firstborn over all creation.” (Colossians 1:15). “The firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29).

Therefore, what is most remarkable about the parable of the Prodigal Son is that the story is told by Jesus, our older brother in the family of God. Jesus is the firstborn; we are His younger brothers. He is the older brother who did not get what He deserved, while we are his younger brothers who get what we do not deserve.

Jesus is the proverbial older brother, and believers are collectively the Prodigal Son. Jesus is the Son that was always with the Father, the Son that never transgressed the Father’s laws in any way. He is the brother that watches as the Father and His angels rejoice over every repentant sinner.

But unlike the brother of the prodigal son, Jesus rejoices when we return to the Father. In fact, we are the joy that was set before Him whereby He: “endured the cross, despising the shame.” (Hebrews 12:2).

“(Jesus) was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).

Thanks to Jesus, despite squandering our inheritance through our sins, we are nevertheless: “Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:17). “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). 









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