Tag Archives: Firstborn

Family Patterns

Family Patterns (CaD Jos 15) Wayfarer

The allotment for the tribe of Judah, according to its clans, extended down to the territory of Edom, to the Desert of Zin in the extreme south.
Joshua 15:1 (NIV)

I remember as a child beginning to see patterns of relationships in my extended family. Favoritism, sibling rivalry, family feuds, and broken relationships were all present in one form or another. I didn’t always know the source or how these things developed over time, or how far the patterns of relationship went back, but I certainly observed the fruit of their consequences in the present. I’ve always been fascinated by these things.

In today’s chapter, the first of the nine and a half remaining tribes receive their allotment, beginning with the tribe of Judah. It’s always interesting to see who goes first in a family system, and I can’t forget that the Hebrew tribes are a 600-year-old family system. Typically, I would expect things to be arranged by birth order, beginning with the honored firstborn. but Judah was the fourth of the sons of Jacob, and this got me pondering.

I backtracked to Genesis 49, where Jacob is on his deathbed and he gathers his sons to speak a blessing over each one. On that occasion, he did go in birth order, but he didn’t have many good things to say to his eldest three sons.

Reuben slept with his father’s wife, his stepmother and Jacob said that Reuben would “no longer excel.” This made me think about the tribe of Reuben asking Moses for land on the other side of Jordan. Is it possible that they worried that they’d better get an allotment sooner because they feared getting the shaft later?

Likewise, brothers 2 and 3, Simeon and Levi, were told by their father that their violence and arrogance in attacking towns without their father’s permission were a curse. They would be “scattered” in Israel. For Levi’s tribe, this was literally true, since they wouldn’t receive land but would serve the Lord across all of the tribes. Simeon would end up getting territory within Judah.

Judah was the fourth, and his father’s blessing is equally prophetic:

The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
    and the obedience of the nations shall be his.

A scepter was a token of royalty. King David would come from the tribe of Judah, and the Lord would “establish his throne forever.” David would establish his throne in the fortress of Jerusalem, the one fortified city of the Jebusites that the tribe could not conquer (vs 63). It would be from the tribe of Judah that the Messiah, Jesus, would come.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about family systems and how they affect the individuals within that system for generations. There is something tragic in the way things often play out. The descendants of Reuben and Simeon, living 600 years later, had nothing to do with the mistakes their forefathers made, nor did the descendants of Judah do anything to deserve the favor afforded theirs. At the same time, along my life journey, I’ve learned that there are some things that I simply don’t control, and getting my undies in a bunch about it will profit me nothing. I have found it more profitable to seek to understand, to see things for what they are, and learn to flow with it.

That is not how things will play out for Judah I’m afraid. Eventually, all of the other tribes, with the exception of Benjamin, will turn on them in a long, bloody civil war. They will reject the throne of David and set up their own king. That won’t go well for them, I’m afraid. I’ve learned that sometimes there’s wisdom in learning how to live and operate within an unhealthy system and there’s often foolishness in trying to rage against that which I didn’t create, don’t control, and won’t be able to change.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“Effed Up Family”

"Effed Up Family" (CaD Gen 48) Wayfarer

Joseph said to [Israel], “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.”

Genesis 48:18-19 (NIV)

Wendy and I became hooked on Yellowstone in its first season. It’s now in its fourth season. Sunday night has become a weekly watch party with our friends. Wendy and I have often described Yellowstone to family and friends as “The Godfather meets modern day Montana.”

Kevin Costner plays John Dutton, the widowed patriarch of a family who has owned a million-acre ranch of the most beautiful and desirable land in Montana for over a century. Everyone wants the land and they will do literally anything to wrench it from Dutton’s control. Dutton will do literally anything to prevent that from happening. Let’s just say, if he asks one of the ranch hands to drive you “to the train station” you’ve just been given a one-way ticket to the end-of-the-line. Dutton finds himself forced to manipulate and coerce his own adult children to “protect” the family and the ranch. Each of his children is, respectfully and understandably, his or her own form of messed up.

Our daughter and her husband watch Yellowstone every week along with another show about a wealthy, dysfunctional family empire. They’ve dubbed the evening “Effed up family night.”

I couldn’t help but think of it as I read today’s chapter. The book of Genesis is known by many as simply the story of creation and Noah’s ark. The truth is that about 80 percent of Genesis is the story of one man, Abraham, being given a promise that his descendants will become a great nation. It then tells how Abraham builds a wealthy nomadic herding operation and has a son, who expands the family and the family business. By the third generation, they grow to become a wealthy clan that other peoples fear as they wander the land. In the fourth generation, the clan continues to grow into the making of twelve tribes, who will become a people before the book of Exodus in which God makes them into a nation.

I’ve often said that all good stories are a reflection of the Great Story. Families growing into tribes, people, and empires is a common theme in some of the epic stories we love, as is the struggle of flawed human family systems to protect and perpetuate the family legacy. The story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph is the seminal source material.

In today’s chapter, two recurring themes are present. First is the ancient patriarch on his death bed blessing his children. It’s the conduit through which power and privilege are passed down to the subsequent generation. The second recurring theme is the bucking of the embedded cultural tradition of the day in which the firstborn son inherits everything. Israel, the second-born son of Isaac who stole the birthright and deceived his father into receiving the blessing, is now the dying Patriarch. His first move is to call Joseph to him. Joseph was at one time his youngest son and his favorite. Joseph was the firstborn of Rachel, who was the younger sister, whom Israel loved. Two important things happen.

First, Israel raises Joseph’s sons, his grandsons, to the status of sons and heirs of their grandfather. Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, will become the head of their own tribes next to their uncles. In doing this, Joseph’s family is receiving a double-portion of Israel’s overall blessing.

Second, Israel willfully crosses his arms when blessing Manasseh and Ephraim. He places his right hand (the hand of favor) on the younger son’s head. He places his left hand (often the metaphor of disfavor or secondary favor in that culture) on the firstborn son’s head. Joseph is ticked-off at this and tries to reverse it. The tradition of honoring the firstborn son runs deep in family systems to this day. Israel refuses. Like Isaac, like Jacob/Israel, and like Joseph himself, the younger brother Ephraim will be the greater. Hundreds of years later, when the nation of Israel splits into two after Solomon’s reign, the southern kingdom will be called Judah (the fourth-born son who emerges as the leader of the tribes) and the northern kingdom will be often referred to as Ephraim. Prophecy fulfilled.

Along my earthly journey, I’ve observed that one’s place and position within the family system can often have a tremendous impact on how one sees and perceives themselves, their self-worth, and their place in this world. One of the things that Jesus taught, one of the spiritual realities He put into place, was that anyone who follows Him will be lifted into the potion of child of God, heir of God, and co-heir with Christ Jesus Himself. It’s good news for everyone who grew up with real family stories that would fit right in with “Effed up family night.”

While he was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers showed up. They were outside trying to get a message to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are out here, wanting to speak with you.”
Jesus didn’t respond directly, but said, “Who do you think my mother and brothers are?” He then stretched out his hand toward his disciples. “Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Matthew 12:46-48 (MSG)

…in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Galatians 3:26 (NIV)

You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance. Galatians 4:6-7 (MSG)

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance!
Romans 8:15-16 (MSG)

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Thoughts on Birth Order

…for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether human or animal. They are to be mine. I am the Lord.”
Numbers 3:13 (NIV)

A lot has been made of birth order through the ages. In modern society psychologists have famously argued that certain traits seem to commonly accompany children born in a particular place within their family’s birth order. Some of it is attributed to how parents commonly respond to children in each place of the order, while some is attributed to the unique psychological development that happens for children in each place within the order. An only child typically has their own distinctive traits, as does the youngest child in the family (I’m one of those) no matter the number in the order.

In the ancient days of Moses the firstborn was set apart (e.g. “hallowed” or “sanctified”) for God. This is why Mary and Joseph took Jesus, as the first born, to be dedicated according to the law when Simeon and Anna prophesied over Him (Luke 2:22-38). The practice goes back to the events of the Exodus and the Law of Moses, as we read in today’s chapter. Throughout history, the firstborn male has been afforded special significance in many societies, especially when it comes to matters of inheritance.

The differences in birth order are fascinating to observe and discuss. Any parent can tell you stories about how different children are in different places in the birth order, and groups of parents will find that there is commonality in certain traits. Along life’s journey, however, I’ve found that it’s foolish to make too much of such things, just as it’s foolish to dismiss them entirely.

Through the Great Story there are significant characters from different birth orders. Jacob/Israel was the second born and usurped the birthright of his firstborn brother. Joseph and David were both the babies of their respective broods. And, so on.

This morning I’m thinking about birth order. One article I read this morning gave this set of common traits to mark the baby of the family:

  • Fun-loving
  • Uncomplicated
  • Manipulative
  • Outgoing
  • Attention-seeker
  • Self-centered

Ha! I want to embrace a few of the traits on the list and deny the others, though I have to own up to the fact that an argument can be made for every one describing me in some way, especially as a child. It doesn’t make me better or worse then my eldest sibling, just different, and perhaps suited for very different roles in life.

C’est la vie.

While God set the first born apart in ancient days for a particular significance, it doesn’t diminish the unique role each person plays in the story. Psalm 139 says each one of us are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Our place in the birth order doesn’t make us better or worse, though it may uniquely develop us for a particular role. I’ve learned in theatre that a key lesson in life is to fully give myself to, and enjoy the role I’m given, no matter the size of the part. Embracing this is the pathway to a tremendous amount of joy and contentment.