|Judah's Septere and Joseph's Birthright
Chapter 3 - The Birthright or the Promise of Many Nations to Abraham
The Sceptre and The Birthright Simply to show the fact that there is in Biblical history that which is styled the Sceptre, and also that there is a something which is designated as the Birthright, we quote the following:
"The Sceptre shall not depart from Judah, etc." (Genesis 49:10).
"For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him comes the chief ruler [prince]; but the Birthright is Joseph's," (1Chronicles 5:2).
That the Sceptre blessings, privileges, and promises pertain to Judah, from whom comes the royal family of Israel's race, is well known, and its import somewhat fully comprehended in the realm of light and knowledge as disseminated through Christendom. But that which is called the Birthright has not, in the past, been understood at all, and as yet is understood but by the few. And the very few who have written on themes which involved the Birthright have assumed that their readers were as wise as they, and have written concerning the Birthright without explaining what it was; hence, the reader is compelled to receive their use and application of the word without knowing it to be correct.
When we say that the word Birthright implies that which comes by right of birth, or as an inheritance, all will agree with us; but just what special inheritance is referred to as that which is declared, in the above text, to be the right of Joseph, few will understand until the matter is explained. Hence we give the following:
In the first covenant which the Lord made with Abraham, there are two distinct features, in so far as concerns his children; first, a multiplicity of seed, as involved in the following:
"I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee;" (Genesis 17:6)
Second, a royal line, the promise of which is given as follows:
"Kings shall come out of thee." (v. 6)
Hence these covenant promises and blessings, which had been given him direct from the Lord, became the lawful heritage of Abraham.
This heritage which was given from God to a human being seems to have in it both a human and a divine right; the human right being that a son of the heritage-holder may succeed the father and become the lawful possessor of the inheritance; the divine right being that of choice among the legal posterity of the heritage-holder.
After this heritage was given, Isaac was the first heir in the line of succession, and he was also the one whom the Lord had chosen as the inheritor of that which had been given to his father. At the time of Abraham's death he was the father, not only of Isaac, but of six other lawful sons, who were the children of Keturah, his second wife. Notwithstanding this fact, the divine record declares that he gave all his possessions to Isaac, the son of Sarah. "Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac," (Genesis 25:5).
Isaac became the heir because he was the first born among the lawful sons of Abraham; hence those possessions came to him as the right of tile first-born, or by right of birth, i.e., as a Birthright. And, if Isaac was heir to all that Abraham had, then, aside from all else which may have come into his possession, he was most certainly heir of that God-given heritage, the covenants of promise which contained these two distinct features — a multitude of people and a royal line.
Esau, the son of Isaac and brother of Jacob, having been born first, for he was the elder of twins, was next in the line of succession, and being the elder or firstborn, came in to possession of the Birthright. Thus he had a birthright at his disposal, but instead of keeping it, and allowing it, in turn, to become the property of his first-born son, he undervalued it, and sold it to his brother Jacob, who, being the younger, could not have acquired it by right of birth.
The right of Esau to sell the birthright has never been questioned; his wisdom in selling it may well be questioned. The fact that Jacob, who became anxious to obtain that birthright, felt that he must not only make the purchase from Esau, its lawful owner, but also knew that he must deceive their father in order that he might secure from him the accompanying blessing, is proof positive that the Birthright was the lawful inheritance of Esau.
Moreover, when Jacob went in unto Isaac in the disguise which he and his mother had devised, he went with a lie on his lips, and said to his father, "I am Esau thy first born" (Genesis 27:19). But Isaac was distrustful; the hands felt all right, but the voice aroused suspicion. So the blind father asked, "Art thou my very son Esau?" (v. 24). Again Jacob answered in the affirmative.
What was he after? That which belonged to the firstborn.
What did he get? That which belonged to the firstborn.
He had not only bought it from the first-born himself, but also had deluded the father into bestowing upon him the blessing which made the purchase secure from the human side; for when Isaac found that Jacob had secured the blessing from him by subtility, he could not revoke it.
That word "blessing" seems to be the word which attaches itself to the receiver and inheritor of even these covenant promises which pertain wholly to earthly things. For God had said to Abraham:
"In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thee." (Genesis 22:17)
It is also recorded that:
"God blessed Isaac...saying I wilt bless thee...and I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars." (Genesis 26:3-4)
Esau's sad cry was exceedingly bitter over his disappointment when he found that Jacob had supplanted him, but Isaac was compelled to say to him:
"I have blessed him [Jacob] and he shall be blessed." (Genesis 27:33)
So it is recorded:
"And Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padan-aram, to the house of Bethuel, thy mother's father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban, thy mother's brother. And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayst be a multitude of people; and I will give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee and to thy seed with thee," (Genesis 28:1-4)
Thus we see that this blessing, as given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, carries with it the promise of a numerous posterity; also, that the "blessing of Abraham" was given to Jacob by his father Isaac, who was the direct inheritor of the Abrahamic heritage; and that, while Isaac in fact gave it to Jacob, he intended it for Esau, his first-born son, to whom it belonged by right of birth. If it belonged to him because he was the first-born, then it was his "birthright." And since he sold his birthright to Jacob, who thus became its possessor, Jacob and not Esau must become the father of that promised multitude of people which is contained in the Birthright; i.e., the covenant promise to Abraham.
In truth Esau could justly say:
"Is he not rightly named Jacob? [supplanter] for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold now he hath taken away my blessing." (Genesis 27:36)
Although Jacob had received from his father the much coveted blessing, which carried with it the inheritance of the Birthright promises, he was dissatisfied, and seemed to hold those blessings as insecure until they had been ratified to him directly by the blessing of God. Having secured them by fraud, he knew that he was holding them under the protest of both his father and his outraged brother.
So much from the human side. On the divine side, God intended that Jacob should have the birthright, for, as we have already shown, he chose Jacob in preference to Esau before they were born. Had Jacob trusted God, he would have placed him in possession of the birthright in a perfectly honorable way; but he, in distrust, took matters into his own hands, and gained possession of it by wicked conniving.
It was because of this that he had more trouble to secure the blessing of God upon his possession of this inheritance than had his predecessors, and though he wrestled for it with the angel all the night long, he did not secure it until he had first confessed his name — which was expressive of his character — to be Jacob, i.e., supplanter. Then it was that God bestowed the blessing, took away that reproachful name, and gave him a new and unstained one, even Israel: the meaning of which is: "As a prince thou hast prevailed with God." (see Genesis 32:28)
The next legal inheritor of the Birthright was Reuben, the first-born son of Jacob and Leah, his first wife; but he, like Esau, lost it; and Joseph, the first-born son of Rachel, the second and best loved wife of Jacob, succeeded his father in the possession of it. But that we are right in saying that the first-born is the legal inheritor, is evident from the fact that Reuben, the first born son of Jacob, is declared to have been heir to the birthright. This is made clear in the Biblical account of the entertainment which was given by Joseph to his brethren, when they came into Egypt the second time to buy food and brought Benjamin with them; for when the feast was ready, and Joseph — who had not yet revealed to them the fact that he was their brother — gave the word, "Set on bread," it is said of the servants, who, it seems, had previously been instructed, that,
"They sat before him the first-born according to his Birthright, and the youngest according to his youth: and the men marveled one at another," (Genesis 43:33).
The fact that Reuben was the first born and possessor of the Birthright, and the cause of his losing it, are set forth in connection with the declaration that the Birthright had been given to Joseph, as follows:
"Now the sons of Reuben, (for he was the first-born; but forasmuch as he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy [of Reuben's sons] is not to be reckoned after the Birthright. For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him is the chief ruler; but the birthright is Joseph's.) The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel were, etc.," (1Chronicles 5:1-3).
If our readers would know just why this act should have caused Reuben to forfeit his birthright, they must be able to read between the lines. We are only at liberty to say that, after that act, if either Reuben or his probable first-born had come into possession of the Israelitish birthright, the Lord could not have declared, as he did concerning Israel, "I planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed." (Jeremiah 2:21)
To Isaac and to Israel God had confirmed the covenants of promise in their entirety, including in the confirmation the promise of the land, a multiplicity of seed, the one seed, or the Messianic covenant, and a royal line; but you will note from the Scripture just quoted, that the promise of a royal line, which, as the sacred story proceeds, is clearly shown to contain the Messianic covenant, had been separated from the birthright, and given to Judah, the fourth son of Jacob and Leah, while the birthright fell to Joseph.
This individual separation of the Sceptre and the Birthright took place just previous to the death of Jacob, who had these blessings at his disposal. Not, however, as his own selfwill or human judgment might suggest, but only as God should direct; for the history of the people involved is a divine work from start to finish, and its ultimate object is the glory of God in the vindication of his word.
The call of Abraham and the giving of the promises to him were supernatural; for God had appeared unto and talked with him. The production of Isaac was also supernatural. No human possibility was there. But the possibility of faith was there, and it prevailed. The conception, and the birth of Jacob and Esau were also supernatural, for there were "two nations," two distinct races — a white child and a red one — Caucasian and Arabic, in one womb; and the manner of their birth was so supernaturally manipulated, that, as they struggled in the womb, Jacob held Esau's heel, and thus they were born: the very manner of which, as we hope to show, is one of the most striking types in all the Word of God. And yet, none of these events are any more supernatural, nor attended with any greater manifest power of God, nor is his will any more clearly manifest in them, than is the transfer of the Sceptre, and the Birthright, by dying Jacob, to Judah and to Joseph.
At the time of Jacob's death, all Israel was in Egypt living in the land of Goshen. When it was reported to Joseph that his father was dying, he took with him his two sons, and hastened to the bedside of the dying patriarch. But when Joseph and his sons were ushered into the presence of the dying man, it appears that supernatural strength, from the one who had given him the name of Israel, was given him, for, although dying, it is recorded, that "He strengthened himself and sat up in the bed." (Genesis 48:2). Then discovering that Joseph was not alone he asked, "Who are these?" (v. 8) to which Joseph replied, saying, "They are my sons, whom God hath given me in this place," (v. 9) i.e., Egypt.
After Joseph had explained to Jacob, concerning his half-blood Egyptian boys — Joseph had married an Egyptian woman — then Jacob proceeded to adopt them as his own legal sons; at which time he said:
"And now thy two sons Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine," (Genesis 48:5).
But after the adoption was completed he said to Joseph, concerning the issue which should be begotten of him after them, "They shall be thine," (v. 5) but they "shall be called after their brethren in their inheritance." (v. 6). So it is that the tribal names of all the posterity of Joseph are dealt with, both from a historic and a prophetic standpoint, as Ephraim and Manasseh. Do not forget that, for upon it depends much of interest in that which is to follow
It would appear that, at the time of the adoption or prior to it, the Holy Ghost had told Jacob that Ephraim was the one which had been chosen by the Lord as the inheritor of the birthright, or the blessing of the first born. For at that time, the name of Ephraim, the younger, was mentioned before Manasseh, the older; as also the name of Reuben, who was the real first born, is mentioned first when his name is coupled with that of Simeon. But the transfer of the birthright from his eldest to his younger son was not made known to Joseph until after he had presented his sons before Israel for the promised blessing.
Jacob had said, "I will bless them." So when Joseph brought them to him, and bowed himself with his face to the earth, he held Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left, and Manasseh in his left hand to the right hand of Jacob. Joseph in his human calculation, was managing so as to have Manasseh his first born get that promised "blessing" which was in Jacob's right hand. His thought was, "If I take Manasseh in my left hand, that will bring him to the right of my father, so that, even if he is blind, when he stretches forth his hands to give the blessing, his right hand will rest on the head of my firstborn son."
But no! Look! As Jacob reaches out his hands to lay them in blessing upon those two heads, he being under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, is "guiding his hands wittingly," i.e., knowingly, crosses them and lets his right hand rest upon the head of Ephraim, the younger brother. They were in this position when
"he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name [Israel] be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth." (Genesis 48:15-16)
These were the collective blessings which those two received; together they inherited the names of the racial fathers; together they are to grow into a multitude of people.
At this juncture Joseph noticed that Jacob's right hand was not resting on Manasseh's head, and wanted to remove it, but Jacob refused, saying "Not so."
"But," says the anxious Joseph, "You have your right hand on my younger son's head."
To this, Jacob replied, "I know it, my son, I know it."
How does Jacob know it? He is in a dying condition and blind. Ah, the Spirit — the Spirit of Prophecy — is upon him!
See what follows. Jacob does not remove his hands, nor change their position; but with his left hand still on Manasseh's head, and his right hand on Ephraim's head, he continues to prophesy; still the prophecies are no longer collective, but special and individual. Of Manasseh he declares, .
"He shall also become a people [nation] and he shall also be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations. And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying: God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh; and he set Ephraim before Manasseh," (Genesis 48:19-20)
So Ephraim was set before Manasseh, both nationally and tribally; but they were to grow together until they became a multitude of people in the midst of the earth. Eventually Manasseh was to become a separate nation, and as such was to be a great nation. But Ephraim was to become a multitude of nations, or as some translate it, "a company of nations"; in either case this is a reiteration and confirmation of the promise made to Abraham.
In his tribal relations, also, Ephraim was placed before his elder brother, because he was elevated to the inheritance which was forfeited by Reuben, the first-born of Israel. This is why God declares:
"I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born," (Jeremiah 31:9).
While the spirit of prophecy was still upon Jacob, he called all his sons together to tell them what their posterity should become "in the last days." (Genesis 49:1). Among other prophetic utterances, of which we shall speak later, was the following concerning Judah and the Sceptre:
"The Sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be," (Genesis 49:10).
Whatever else the Birthright may have contained, or if God ever did count those other blessings and promises as belonging to the Birthright, one thing is certain; that is, that when the Birthright passed into the possession of Joseph and his sons, it was stripped bare of all else, save the oft-repeated promises which pertain to a multiplicity of seed for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Hence, when it was recorded in the Chronicles that the Birthright was Joseph's, it was understood that from the loins of Joseph's sons must come seed, posterity, people. Yea, multitudes, nations — "many nations," even races of people.
This is the crucial test. Since the promise of the fatherhood of many nations, which was given successively to Abraham and Jacob, was inherited and sold by Esau, then inherited and forfeited by Reuben, but finally given to Joseph and his two sons, and never revoked — then, we say, that the crucial test, not only for the faithfulness of God, but also for the integrity of his Word, is that Joseph, through Ephraim and Manasseh, must of necessity become the father of those many nations which were promised to the fathers of Israel.
But the fact that Joseph must become the father of those promised nations is not only the crucial test of God and his Word, but it is also a test of the power and worth of FAITH;
"By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph," (Hebrews 11:21).
What was that for which Jacob put forth faith when he blessed the sons of Joseph? It was that they should grow to be a multitude in the midst of the earth and eventually become that which the Birthright demanded: that is, a multitude of nations. It was this Birthright, the fatherhood of many nations, that Esau sold.