In the Old Testament, the first-born were all marked by disgrace, by curses and by death. Cain, the first-born of Adam, brought an offering to Jehovah, and it was rejected. Cain got angry, since the offering of his brother Abel was accepted. When they were on the field, Cain killed him, and became accursed of Jehovah and a wanderer (Gen.4:1-5; 4:8-14).
The first-born of Abraham was Ishmael, son of Hagar, the Egyptian woman, who was born fourteen years before Isaac. As Sarai was barren, she gave her Egyptian servant to Abraham, saying: “I shall obtain children through her” (Gen.16:2). Hagar conceived and Sarai, jealous, sent her away. The angel of Jehovah found her in the desert, determined that the child’s name be Ishmael, which translated means, “Whom God listens”, and told her to return to the house. Hagar obeyed and was submitted to the dislike of Sarai for fourteen years (Gen.16:5-11).
The angel of Jehovah revealed to Hagar that Ishmael, that is, the Arabs, would be adversaries of the Jews, that is, Isaac (Gen.16:12). After the fourteen years, when Isaac was born, Sarah (for this is her new name, Gen.17:15), demanded that Hagar, the Egyptian, and her son Ishmael, were banished from the home. Abraham did not like it and went to ask of Jehovah, who told him: “Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her” (Gen.21:1-12). Ishmael did not inherit the blessing of Abraham, and he is outside the promise—a dismissed first-born.
The third first-born was Esau, son of Isaac, was rejected from the womb, for he was Jacob’s twin brother, but was the first to be born. “For though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls” (Rom.9:11; Gen.25:24-26). The truth is that he was rejected before he could practice any evil, which he did later.
The fourth first-born dismissed was named Reuben, the son of Jacob and Leah (Gen.29:32; Ex.6:14). Rachel, Jacob’s beloved, was barren, and as Leah was on her fourth child, Rachel, desperate to become a mother, gave her servant Bilah to Jacob. She bore two sons to Jacob: Dan and Naphtali (Gen.29:32; 30:1-8). Reuben seduced Bilah and practiced incest (Gen.35:22). For this reason his birthright went to the sons of Joseph. “Now the sons of Reuben the first-born of Israel (for he was the first-born, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph)” (1 Chr.5:1; Gen.41:51-52).
The fifth first-born to fall in disgrace in the eyes of Jehovah was Manasseh, son of Joseph; Ephraim his younger brother received the birthright, and became the bearer of the blessing of Abraham (Gen.48:14-20).
The sixth first-born to loose the blessing of Jehovah was Gerson, son of Moses and Zipporah. The very name GERSON means, “banishing.” We may say that Gerson was banished from the house of Moses, but since Moses was always good, gentle and righteous, the evil was in Gerson (Num.12:3). We read in the book of Exodus that Jehovah wished to kill Gerson, which was still a baby. “Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that Jehovah met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut her son’s foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet” (Ex.4:24-25). Joshua was Moses’ successor, and not Gerson. Joshua received the spirit that was upon Moses, and took his place in leading the people into the Promised Land. “So Jehovah said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him” (Num.27:18).
Let us see what happened to Aaron’s first-born, the high priest: “These then are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab the first-born, and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar” (Num.3:2). “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective fire-pans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before Jehovah, which He had no commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of Jehovah and consumed them, and they died before Jehovah” (Lev.10:1-2).
David was the beloved of Jehovah. His first-born was called Amnon (1 Chr.3:1). David committed adultery with Bathsheba and ordered the death of her husband Uriah, the Hittite. Jehovah, in order to punish David, promised to bring curses upon his house. Under this curse, the first son of Bathsheba died. Amnon, David’s first-born, commits incest with his sister Tamar, Absalom’s sister. Absalom, in order to avenge Tamar, prepares a banquet, and the first-born of David was murdered there. The royal lineage was interrupted and the strength of David dried up (Deut.1:15-17). The disgraces and curses did not stop coming over the house of David.
It is easy to observe that Jehovah had the objective of killing and destroying the first-born in Egypt, when the Exodus took place: The tenth plague was the death of all the first-born of Egypt, both men and animals (Ex.12:29).
Closing in great style, Jehovah killed his own first-born. He sent Moses to tell Pharaoh: “Thus says Jehovah, ‘Israel is My son, My first-born’” (Ex.4:22). When this child who was the strength of Jehovah would sin, instead of receiving instruction and help, he was sold as slave to the idolater and corrupt nations. “Thou dost sell Thy people cheaply, and hast not profited by their sale” (Ps.44:12). This was the complaint of the psalmist about the destruction of Israel: “And Jehovah rejected all the descendants of Israel, and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them out of His sight. When He had torn Israel from the house of David” (2 Kings 17:20-21).
The true God, the Father of Jesus Christ, the God who is love and wants to save everyone, seeing such disgrace upon the first-born, in order to show that he was different from the god of the Old Testament, built the church of the first-born, that is, Jesus, the first-born of the dead (Col.1:18) and makes us the first-born with him by the identification in sufferings, afflictions, persecutions, martyrdom, crucifixion. “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal.5:24).
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the sprits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel” (Heb.12:22-24).
By Pastor Olavo Silveira Pereira