Bible Order: Exodus 17–20
Chronological Order: Genesis 30:25–31:55
New Testament Only: Matthew 15:10–28
Be Like Joseph; Be Fruitful
I noticed several things from our reading today. Jacob was on his deathbed and proceeded to give each son their blessing. Now when you and I give a blessing we mean we are wishing the person we are blessing well. These Old Testament blessings are a bit different. They tend to be a bit of prophecy. As such they are not always a positive thing for those receiving them. As Jacob blesses each of his children we see that he proceeds from eldest to youngest only through the fourth son. He then jumps to the 10th and 9th sons. All six were sons from Leah. You almost get the sense that these men stood around their father grouped by mother.
Reuben, who was the eldest of all twelve sons, should have had the most favorable blessing, and should have received all of the blessings that come with being the first born son. Unfortunately Reuben had sexual relations with one of his father’s four wives, Bilhah. Bilhah, by the way, was the mother of Dan and Naphtali. We learn in Mosaic Law that having relations with the wife of your father is a sin, but just because Moses was the first to right these things down, doesn’t mean these folks didn’t know right from wrong beforehand. What Reuben did was exceedingly sinful; so much so that he lost his birthright. Even so, Reuben had a redemptive moment in that he tried to save Joseph from his other brothers. He had his good side and his bad. He was still loved by his father, but his behavior came with consequences. His descendants would have an inheritance in the Promised Land but his tribe would not be the leading tribe.
So why didn’t the birthright pass down to Simeon the second born or Levi the third born? These two fellows destroyed an entire village because the son of the village ruler raped their sister Dinah. It would have been one thing if they had exacted justice from the perpetrator of the crime, but they killed a lot of men, women, and children in their anger. They did not receive the birthright.
The “birthright” came with several important aspects. The birthright of the first born son entitled him to a double portion of the father’s estate. For example, if there were three sons the estate would be divided into fourths and the first born would receive 2/4 while the other two sons would receive 1/4 each. The first born would also inherit the mantel of “patriarch” of the family. He would be the judge of the family as it were. The first born would also be the family’s one true priest. All of this was part and parcel of the “royal succession” if you will.
Interestingly, it appears that when Reuben lost his birthright, the privileges of the first born were divided up between two other sons. The longest and nicest blessings Jacob bestowed were upon Judah and Joseph. Jacob took on Joseph’s sons as his own which meant that when the tribes finally took their inheritance in the Promised Land, Manasseh and Ephraim would each get a portion. In essence, Joseph received a double portion of his father’s estate. Now it might appear that Joseph also received the title of patriarch as well and perhaps he did but I don’t think so. Judah was told this:
Genesis 49:10 ESV
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”