The Theme of the Second Born
The Theme of the Second Born
by Gail Zeitler
Are you an only child like me? Are you the oldest brother or sister? Does your younger brother or sister get all the attention and the best presents? Did you get jealous and plot revenge when you got in trouble and your brother didn’t? Imagine holding that grudge for centuries.
God’s choice of the second born is a recurring theme in the Hebrew Scriptures. The eldest is passed over for the father’s blessing and inheritance, leaving his or her descendants filled with resentment and hatred.
God chose Abel over Cain; Isaac over Ishmael; and Jacob over Esau, to name a few.
What was the inheritance that went to the second-born? It wasn’t really money, although money was part of it. The issue was the birthright, the place in those genealogical passages that we gloss over and groan about reading! The second born was chosen to be in the Lineage from Adam to the Messiah.
ABEL, NOT CAIN (Genesis 4)
The first second-born story was about the very first brothers! Adam and Eve had Cain first, then Abel. Cain was a farmer, so he brought some produce to offer up to God. Abel raised livestock and sacrificed his best animal, probably a sheep or a goat.
Why did God favor Abel’s offering and not Cain’s? Cain had no animal to offer!
Before the Flood, people did not eat meat, but they did wear wool and animal skins and consumed milk and butter. All the protein and iron they needed was in the fruits and vegetables, which were huge! The atmospheric pressure and the soil changed after the Flood, depleting nutrients from the produce.
Since people did eat produce and not meat, it might seem that Cain’s offering was the better one! What was wrong with it?
God was not concerned with what they brought. The short description of Cain’s offering compared to Abel’s showed that Cain was just trying to appease God, while Abel gave God his best as an act of love and worship. Cain then revealed his jealousy and disrespect toward God.
Cain killed Abel, so neither of their descendants appear in the Lineage. The geneology to Messiah comes through Adam’s third-born son, Seth. Cain’s behavior set the pace for the future first-born’s to forfeit the Promise.
ISAAC, NOT ISHMAEL
Ishmael is the fruit of not waiting for God’s promise. He was Abraham’s first-born, the son of Sarah’s maid Hagar. When Sarah finally bore the promised son, Isaac, Ishmael mocked and belittled him. Although Abraham loved Ishmael and pleaded with God to bless him, God stuck to His plan:
Gen 17: 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” 19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.
God promised to multiply Ishmael’s descendants and make them wild and argumentative. He kept that promise! The Arabs fight with each other and carry out the ancient grudge against the sons of Isaac over the question: Who is the promised child of God?
HAGAR, NOT SARAH
Men were not alone in the second-born theme. Hagar was the first to have Abraham’s child, but she was rejected and sent away as Sarah intervened to protect Isaac’s inheritance. It wasn’t Hagar’s fault that Sarah appointed her to have Abraham’s child, but Hagar taunted and mocked Sarah just as Ishmael later did to Isaac. God chose Sarah as the mother of the promised child.
JACOB, NOT ESAU (Gen 25)
Ps 135: 4 For the LORD has chosen Jacob to be his own,
Israel to be his treasured possession.
Twin brothers Esau and Jacob were already fighting in the womb over who would come out first! Esau pushed himself out first, but Jacob got the Promise!
Esau gave up his birthright for a bowl of stew. Did he think that Jacob was joking? Probably, because he was furious later! Out of spite, Esau married Ishmael’s daughter as well as a few Canaanite women. Esau wanted vengeance but seemed to reconcile with Jacob eventually
Esau had a grandson named Amalek. The Amalekites were Israel’s enemies for centuries. Israel just could not kill them all off! Even Haman, the Purim villain in the Book of Esther, was an Amalekite!
The blood feud of the first son continued through both Ishmael’s and Esau’s descendants.
In Genesis 36, Esau is called “Edom.” The nation of Edom later became Rome, according to the Sages (the ancient Rabbi’s who wrote the Talmud.) If that is true, and since Rome spread all over Europe, that would mean that most Europeans are descendants of Esau. It would make Esau the Father of all European anti-Semitism, from the Catholic Church to the Holocaust!
Esau continues to torment his younger brother!
RACHEL OVER LEAH
Jacob met Rachel at a well and fell in love! However, Rachel was the second-born daughter, so her father Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah, his eldest. Poor Leah spent her life married and bearing children to a man who loved her younger sister.
Rachel was barren while Leah and her maids had many sons. Rachel finally bore Joseph but then died in childbirth with Benjamin.
Rachel’s sons were preferred by Isaac, because he loved Rachel, not Leah. Joseph became a hero, saving the world from starvation.
JOSEPH OVER HIS BROTHERS
In a way, Joseph was a second-born son, since he was from the favored second-born wife, Rachel.
The “richly ornamented robe” that their father gave to Joseph was proof to his brothers that he was the favorite. Joseph’s told his brothers of his dream that they would all bow down to him (how could he have been so stupid?) They seized the opportunity to get rid of Joseph, first by trying to kill him, but selling him instead to their cousins, the grandsons of Ishmael!
Joseph did not die, but went on to become the second most powerful man in Egypt, which was the most powerful country on earth! His brothers did bow down to him, several times, as he forgave them and invited them to live in safety, in nearby Goshen.
Joseph is listed as a Hero of Faith in Hebrew 11. However, as much as his father loved him, he was not in the Lineage. That honor fell to his brother, Judah.
JUDAH OVER REUBEN, SIMEON AND LEVI
Reuben, Simeon, and Levi were Jacob’s first three sons, born to Leah. Although Reuben tried to prevent his brothers from killing Joseph, he was rejected from the Lineage after he slept with his father’s concubine, Bilhah. Reuben was angry at Isaac for preferring Rachel over his mother Leah.
Simeon and Levi displeased their father at Shechem. In Genesis 34, they killed all the men in that town to avenge the rape of their sister, Dinah.
Judah won his place in the Lineage in Gen 44: 33, when he offered himself to Joseph as a slave in place of Benjamin. That was a foreshadow of his future Descendant who would offer himself as a sacrifice instead of us! That is why verse 14 says, “Judah and his brothers went in” to see Joseph, mentioning Judah first!
PEREZ AND ZERAH (Genesis 38)
Judah chose Tamar as a wife for his oldest son Er. She was to conceive a son to carry on the Lineage. Er died childless, so Tamar married Judah’s second son, Onan, according to Torah (Deut 25:5). God caused both Er and Onan to die because of their sins. They were not worthy to be ancestors of the Messiah.
Judah promised Tamar that she would marry his third son, Shelah, but when she realized that Judah was preventing the marriage, she tricked Judah by pretending to be a prostitute. God caused Judah to see her and to sleep with her. He later discovered that they had conceived twins.
Just as with Esau and Jacob, the twin babies battled to be born first. Zerah stuck out his hand, which the midwife tied with a scarlet thread, but Perez came out first. Since Zerah was really the first-born, Perez took his place as yet another second-born son in Messiah’s lineage.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO US?
History is filled with Jewish suffering caused by the descendants of the firstborn sons. Persecution, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the pogroms, and the Holocaust were all birthed in the spiteful hearts of Ishmael and Esau. Today’s conflict in the Middle East is still the fruit of sibling rivalry!
The second-born sons became the Patriarchs. They were imperfect; they made mistakes; but they pleased God by their faith and obedience to Him. God told us their stories as examples of how He wants us to live.
Are we first or second sons? As Abraham’s descendants, Israel was the first group of people chosen by God to carry out His plans. Gentile believers in Yeshua could be called second-born, but what about all the Jewish believers who only came to faith in the past few decades? Who inherits God’s promises now?
1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
God is clear: As born again believers, we are all His favorite sons! Yeshua is our Firstfruit (1 Cor 15:20) and we are royal priests, the first-born sons and daughters of the King!
(c) 2007 Gail Zeitler all rights reserved
Rabbi Michael and Gail Zeitler
God is stirring more and more believers to embrace the Jewish background of their faith in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. Messianic Rabbi Michael & Gail Zeitler travel to churches and conferences to restore to the Body of Messiah what was stolen from them over the centuries: their Jewish roots!
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.