Rights of the Firstborn


Genesis 25:
The Hebrew term bet av (paternal household) reflects the fact that in ancient Israel the family was patrilineal: Inheritances were passed through the male line. The patariarch had authority over the entire household, including sons, daughters-in-law, unmarried daughters and grandchildren. Upon the patriarch’s death the firstborn son became the new head of the family, and the paternal lineage of the extended family continued through him. This firstborn son, therefore, exercised both special privileges and unique responsibilities.

Several biblical texts stipulate that the firstborn belonged to the Lord and needed to be redeemed (since all firstborn sons belonged to God after the plague on the firstborn in Egypt, Israelites had to symbolically buy them back with animal sacrifices, according to (Ex 13:2,12-16;22-29; Num 3:13). The firstborn took precedence over his younger brothers (Gen 43:33) and received a double portion of the inheritance, as well as a special blessing (ch 27:48:14ff.).

The patriarch/father was not free to arbitrarily assign the first son’s birthright to a younger sibling (Deut 21:15-17), although the birthright could pass to another son in exceptional circumstances (e.g., Reuben lost his birthright because he had defiled his father’s bed; (cf 1Ch5:1-2)… The nation of Israel enjoyed a special relationshio with the Lord as his firstborn (Ex 4:22ff.) But Psalm 89:27 indicates that Christ is the Lord’s firstborn…

From Archaeological Study Bible, NIV, Zondervan, p.83.

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