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B'Midbar/Numbers 1:20 These were the sons of Re'uven, the first-born of Israel
Re'uven was Ya'akov's oldest son, his first son with Le'ah, his first wife and the eldest daughter of Lavan. Re'uven was the senior among the twelve sons of Ya'akov, the one to inherit the double portion and to lead the family in the following generation. But Re'uven blotted his copybook badly: just after Rachel, Le'ah's sister and Ya'akov's favourite wife, died, "while Isra'el was living in that land ... Re'uven went and slept with Bilhah his father's concubine, and Isra'el heard about it" (B'resheet 35:22, CJB). Then, although his father didn't get to hear much about it at the time, Re'uven messed up saving Yosef from the unwelcome attention of his brothers - although he managed to stop him being killed, he wasn't explicit enough to stop him being sold as a slave to Egypt. Not exactly a shining example of how a first-born should conduct himself - as acknowledged by Ya'akov when he spoke to all his sons just before he died: "Re'uven, you are my first-born, my strength, the firstfruits of my manhood. Though superior in vigour and power you are as unstable as water, so your superiority will end, because you climbed into your father's bed and defiled it" (B'resheet 49:3-4, CJB). Although even then Re'uven kept the title, at a practical level, Y'hudah - the fourth son - became the head of the family.
Nevertheless, the Torah continues to describe Re'uven as the first-born and to list his descendants first whenever the tribes are counted. This shows that there is a certain in-alienable something about the concept of , first-born. Esav was rejected because he despised the privilege, responsibility and blessing of the first-born, selling it to his brother Ya'akov (B'resheet 25:27-34); the first-born belongs to the L-rd and must be redeemed (Shemot 34:20); the first-born always inherits, even if born of less-preferred wife (D'varim 21:15-17); Israel has a unique place among the nations as the first-born (Jeremiah 31:8(9)). Messiah was prophesied to occupy the place of first-born (Psalm 89:28(27)).
Luke takes particular care to show that Yeshua was Miryam's first-born: "While they were there, the time came for her to give birth; and she gave birth to her first child, a son" (Luke 2:6-7, CJB). Luke then goes on to record that Yosef and Miryam "took Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to Adonai (as it is written in the Torah of Adonai, 'Every first-born male is to be consecrated to Adonai')" (v22-23, CJB) and the ceremony of Pidyon haBen - 'redeeming the son' (v 25-35). There is no mistake that Yeshua was a physical first-born. Rav Sha'ul says, "He is the invisible G-d, the first-born of all creation ... He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything" (Colossians 1:15, 18, NASB).
Further Study: Psalm 89:20-30(19-29); Romans 8:26-29
Application: Among all the other facts that we learn as we study G-d's word, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that Yeshua is the first-born, not only of G-d, but among us. He is not our equal, although He is our friend. He is the head of G-d's household, although He is our brother. Do you need an attitude adjustment in this area ?
© Jonathan Allen, 2005
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