Read Genesis 4:1-5, 17:15-21, and 25:21-26, taking note of the brothers’ names for future reference. The Bible was written in a society that granted unique privileges and responsibilities to a family’s firstborn son. How does God challenge this cultural norm in these Genesis stories?
Read Genesis 4:5-9, 21:8-9, 27:41-42. How do the older siblings in each story and generation react to God overturning their status?
Jacob and Esau’s bitter rivalry spanned generations, and now their children are at war. Note the names in Esau’s bloodline as you read Genesis 28:6-9, 36:1-2, and 36:11-12. See also Exodus 17:9-9 and Joshua 24:11. Discuss how Esau partners with Cain and Ishmael’s bloodlines to attack Jacob’s descendants (Israel).
Let’s look at another family feud in Matthew 20:20-28. Why are the 10 disciples mad at the two brothers? What does Jesus say to those who want the rights and power that come with being “first”?
Jesus is the firstborn of a new bloodline characterized by peacefulness. Read Hebrews 12 out loud as a group. How does Jesus invite us to endure difficult situations? Zoom into verse 24. What does Jesus’ blood “speak” that Abel’s does not?
Take time to discuss other themes, questions, or key takeaways from what you learned together.
Jon: Throughout human history, many societies have been led by some kind of king or ruler. And when that king dies, he passes down his power and inheritance to his firstborn son.
Tim: This is often called the “right of the firstborn” or “the birthright.”
Jon: And this practice wasn’t just for kings but also for families.
Tim: Yeah. Fathers would pass on their authority to the firstborn as the rightful heir of the family estate.
Jon: But what if the firstborn son isn’t the most qualified? What if they’re bad for the job?
Tim: Yeah. History has shown that firstborns often abuse their birthright, using it for personal gain, leading to conflict and violence.
God Subverts the Cultural Norm [00:36-01:53]
Jon: Now, the Bible came into existence in a culture where the right of the firstborn was normal and taken for granted.
Tim: But interestingly, in the story of the Bible, God consistently overturns this cultural norm.
Tim: Yeah. From the beginning, God regularly selects the younger sibling, the latecomer, and gives them the birthright. For example, in the story of the first two brothers, God elevates the second-born, Abel, over Cain, his firstborn brother.1
Jon: Oh right. And later, God says that the blessing and the inheritance will go to Isaac, Abraham’s second born, instead of Ishmael, his first.2
Tim: And then when Isaac has two sons, God promises that the younger one, Jacob, will have authority over his older brother, Esau, and inherit God’s blessing.3
Jon: I’m seeing a clear pattern.
Tim: And it continues! Later, when Israel wants a king of their own, they choose this tall, powerful ruler named Saul, who then has a firstborn son named Jonathan. But God chooses the next king from a low-status family, a boy named David who is the youngest among eight brothers.4
Jon: So for the God of the Bible, the birthright doesn’t necessarily belong to those who are first or most important.
Tim: Right. God consistently challenges human-made systems of power and value that tend towards abuse. And he turns them upside-down.
Subversion Leads to More Violence [01:54-02:36]
Jon: But this doesn’t end all the conflict in the Bible. Often, the older sibling is furious about being passed up.
Tim: True. And just as often, the younger sibling who gets the birthright abuses their power too. In fact, almost all the wars and conflicts in the Bible are framed as sibling rivalries.
Jon: You mean violence between actual brothers, like Cain killing Abel?
Tim: Yes, but also the tribes and nations that descend from these earlier sibling rivals. If you track with all the genealogies in the biblical story, you see that everybody is related. It’s a huge family feud.
Jon: So whether the older or the younger gets the authority, the human family is stuck in a never-ending sibling rivalry over who gets to be first.
God Subverts the Norm Again With Jesus [02:37-04:23]
Tim: And so here we have to turn to the story of Jesus. His earliest followers called him, “the firstborn of all creation.”5
Jon: “The firstborn of creation?” What does that mean?
Tim: It’s a statement that describes his status. In the New Testament, Jesus is portrayed as God-become-human, the eternal Son of God who brought creation into being and has all authority.6
Jon: So if anyone deserves the ultimate birthright, it’s Jesus.
Tim: Yes, and Jesus did claim that God’s royal power was arriving in a new way through himself. But it was power re-defined.7
Jon: Yeah. Jesus said that if you want to be first, you need to become last.8
Tim: And he said that people with real authority are those who serve.9 In fact, this redefinition of power is explored in an early Christian poem about Jesus.
Jon: “While he was in his very nature God, he didn’t exploit his equality with God for self-advantage; rather, he emptied himself of status and power, and became a servant.”10
Tim: Jesus joined the poor and served them. And instead of fighting his rivals, he served them too. Jesus showed that true power is displayed through self-giving love.
Jon: But Jesus did confront those in power.
Tim: Yes. He challenged Israel’s leaders for using their power to benefit themselves at the expense of the many.
Jon: And that’s what got him killed. Like angry firstborn sons, the leaders leveraged their power to have Jesus executed.
Tim: But you can’t really kill the firstborn over creation. He’s the author of life itself! And so Jesus rose from the dead, and he was elevated as ruler over Heaven and Earth.11 And this earned him a new title: the firstborn from among the dead.12
Jesus Establishes a New Way To Rule [04:24-04:59]
Jon: Then Jesus told his followers that all of his authority, his birthright and this blessing, he was sharing it with them as sisters and brothers. 13
Tim: So that they could create communities that are a new kind of family, ordered by a Jesus-style redefinition of power.
Jon: These are families that set aside rivalries and invite everyone to share the responsibility of being sons and daughters in a new royal family.
Tim: And when Jesus’ people discover that real power is love, that’s when they truly become the family of the firstborn.