Those Disappointing Oldest Sons!
Each of us has good things we trust to make our lives successful and fulfilling. A solid job or promising career track. Education at the right school. Physical and mental abilities. A loving family. Loyal friends. A smile that opens doors.
Whatever it is you trust, I can say with certainty that eventually it will fail you. Your career will blow up or your family will split. Or if not, these things still won’t turn out to be all you had hoped for. And in the end, they may soften the sting of death but they cannot overcome it.
In Bible times, the typical way people found meaning and success in life was through the next generation—their children. In particular, the firstborn son was his parents’ great hope. They invested everything in him. He would inherit the family estate, care for his brothers and sisters, and ensure the family name lived on with honor. He had a duty to lead, protect, and give. He provided life beyond the grave.
Well, much like our hopes, too often this hope in the firstborn ended in disappointment. From the start, the Bible gives us account after account of firstborn sons who failed to measure up:
Cain. After Adam and Eve sinned, God promised that the woman’s offspring would one day crush the devilish serpent. So when her son Cain was born, Eve excitedly announced, “With the Lord’s help, I have produced a man!” (Genesis 4:1, NLT). But Cain ended up killing his younger brother Abel, and was exiled from his family.
Ishmael. God promised Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation. So Abraham had a son with his wife’s servant. That boy was Ishmael, and Abraham asked God, “May Ishmael live under your special blessing!” (Genesis 17:18, NLT). But God gave a second son, Isaac, through Abraham’s wife, and Ishmael became a problem child. He made fun of his younger brother, and he too was sent away.
Esau. Isaac’s oldest son was Esau, an outdoorsman who was his father’s favorite: “Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating the wild game Esau brought home” (Genesis 25:28, NLT). But Esau showed contempt for his rights as the firstborn son, selling them to his brother Jacob for a bowl of soup. He also disobeyed his parents by marrying foreign women against their wishes, and he threatened to kill the more obedient Jacob.
Reuben. Jacob’s firstborn was Reuben, and he showed real promise. Reuben actually tried to protect his despised brother, Joseph, when the rest of the brothers were intent on killing the boy. But Reuben had a sexual affair with his stepmother. So when the time came for Jacob to bless his sons, he told Reuben, “You are as unruly as a flood, and you will be first no longer” (Genesis 49:4, NLT).
What’s going on here? Are firstborn children just naturally troublesome? No, God is teaching us about what not to trust. The things the world invites us to hold onto for success and fulfillment aren’t really trustworthy.
Then what is? Well, not every firstborn son in the Bible was a failure. The unfailing firstborn those ancients hoped for finally came along, born of Mary: “She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7, NLT).
If we belong to Jesus, he is our firstborn brother. The Bible says God chose us “to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:29, NLT).
Jesus is the perfect firstborn, the Son of God himself. Like a firstborn should, he shares all his heavenly estate with us. He cares for us, and he invests us with the honor of being fellow sons and daughters of God. He is the Son and brother who will not disappoint.
Jack Klumpenhower is a writer and children’s ministry worker living in Colorado. He has authored Bible study lessons and family devotional guides.