Esau was a godless man, who sold his birthright for a single meal (Heb. 12:16). Perhaps, you remember the story first told in Genesis (Gen. 25-33). Esau and Jacob were a set of twins born to Isaac and Rebekah. Because Esau emerged from the womb first, he was designated as the Firstborn. In Jewish culture, the Firstborn was promised certain special blessings of prosperity and dominion.
As later documented in the law of Moses, the Firstborn was a given a double share of the father’s inheritance (Deut. 21:15-17). At Exodus 13:2, we read that all of Israel’s Firstborn were a special possession of the Lord, and they owed certain special duties to the Lord. After the Israelites escape from Egypt, the Lord accepted the tribe of Levi as the Lord’s Firstborn to serve the Lord in a special capacity and be His special possession (Num. 3:40-45). The Levites were assigned to Aaron and his sons to function as Israel’s specialized Priesthood (Num. 3:1-45). Any layman who came near to the Tabernacle or Temple outside the prescribed rules was put to death (Num. 3:10). However, the Firstborn of Israel continued to have a special status to the Israelites, and they were never to forget that the Lord destroyed the Firstborn of Egypt to gain Israel’s freedom from Egypt (Exod. 13:1-16). We also note that sometimes a child other than the Firstborn is given the privilege of the Firstborn. In regard to David (the youngest son of Jesse), the Psalmist wrote: “I have found My servant David; with My holy oil I have anointed him,… I will also make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:20,27).
As to the special blessings of the Firstborn, Isaac pronounced:
Now may God give you the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and an abundance of grain and new wine; May peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; be masters of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you.
When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter and man of the field (Gen. 25:27). On the other hand, Jacob was a gentle man who stayed around the tents (Gen. 25:27). Esau was favored by his father, and Jacob was favored by his mother (Gen. 25:28). Apparently, Jacob was a decent cook. One day, Esau returned from hunting, and he was famished (Gen. 25:29). Esau asked Jacob for a portion of Jacob’s stew. Jacob offered Esau a meal in exchange for Esau’s birthright (Gen. 25:30-31). Because Esau (like the average reader of Scripture) considered his birthright to be a trivial matter, he agreed to the exchange. In fact, like Esau, many Christians willingly sell their birthright to satisfy their appetites.
In Esau’s mind, he already possessed or had the capacity to obtain all that he needed. Like Esau, the average believer does not see the significance of his or her spiritual birthright. The potential blessings mentioned by Isaac above are actually available to every Christian, regardless of birth order. In addition to Jacob’s purchase of Esau’s birthright, Jacob tricked his father into pronouncing the above blessing in favor of Jacob as opposed to Esau (Gen. 27:28-29). In response, Esau threatened to kill Jacob after the death of their father, Isaac (Gen. 27:40-41). Like us, neither Jacob nor Esau were anything close to sinless perfection.
As the reader might recall, in addition to the conflict mentioned above, Isaac and Rebekah did not want Jacob to take a wife from among the Canaanite’s (like Esau had done) (Gen. 28:1). Therefore, Isaac sent Jacob to Padden-aram to find a suitable wife among some relatives living near Haran, which was located in present day Syria (Gen. 28:7). The relatives were related to Jacob’s mother, Rebekah (Gen. 28:2). Specifically, Rebekah’s brother, Laban, had two eligible daughters. In Haran, Jacob met his future wives, Rachel and Leah. During Jacob’s time in Haran, God definitely blessed Jacob. However, twenty years later, when Jacob returned to Palestine, Esau was still much more powerful than Jacob. In fact, Esau had an army of 400 soldiers (Gen. 32:6), and Jacob was fearful of his brother.
To appease Esau, Jacob gave Esau a gift of hundreds of goats and sheep, together with significant numbers of camels, cattle, and donkeys (Gen. 32:12-15). Thankfully, Esau greeted Jacob with hospitality. However, Jacob did not trust his brother, and he did not want to live nearby Esau, so he ultimately settled in the region of Shechem (Gen. 33:1-20). Over the years, the descendants of Jacob (Israel) and the descendants of Esau (Edom) became more and more adversarial to each other. For our purposes, it should be noted that while still alive, Esau appeared to be equally or, perhaps, even more blessed than Jacob. So, what is the significance of being the Firstborn?
Being that we do not live in ancient Israel, do the privileges and blessings of the Firstborn have any significance to us modern day Christians? In reality, the writers of Scripture saw great spiritual significance in the conflict between the two brothers, Esau and Jacob. Writing to Christians, the author of the Book of Hebrews stated:
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that there be no sexually immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a singe meal. For you know even afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.
All of us Christians are in a “brotherhood,” but we place differing levels of importance and significance on our spiritual lives. Like with Jacob and Esau, there may be some degree of hostility and inordinate competition between brothers. Again, none of us are sinless. However, in the long run, the significance that we place on our spiritual lives will be of great importance. Every believer is the potential beneficiary of tremendous blessings from God.
Like Esau, it is easy for us modern Christians to dismiss and disregard the warnings directed to the believers of every generation. Regardless of birth order, every Christian has the potential to receive the blessings of the Firstborn. In his last letter, the Apostle Paul wrote, “If we endure, we will also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He will also deny us” (2 Tim. 2:12). The blessings of the Firstborn include a meaningful participation in the rule of Christ. Speaking of his own spiritual journey, the Apostle Paul wrote,
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is reserved for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but all who have loved His appearing.
(2 Tim. 4:7-8)
At Hebrew 12:23, we read about an assembly “of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.” In my opinion, the Firstborn “who are enrolled in heaven” are the same category of believers who are elsewhere described as being recorded in the Book of Life (Ps. 69:28; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5, 20:12,15) or the Book of Remembrance (Mal. 3:16-18). This same category of believers is also described as being rewarded the Crown of Life (Rev. 2:10; Jas. 1:12) and the Crown of Righteousness (2 Tim. 4:7-8), as mentioned in Paul’s quote above. As seen in the above verses, these unique believers are described as being faithful, righteous, servant believers, who love God and persevere in their walk of faith.
In my opinion these unique believers are also described as the “chosen.” At Matthew 22:14, we read, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” The Greek adjective eklektos is defined as “picked out, select, chosen, or elected.” Every believer has received the call from God, but few are chosen to receive the blessings of the Firstborn. Of course, only God is capable of being our judge. The Apostle Paul wrote, “So as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). This category of believers is not sinless, but they persevere in their spiritual lives, and more and more, they take on the characteristics mentioned above, to include “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). John, the Elder wrote that Jesus said, “Be faithful until death, and I [Jesus Christ] will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). And, in case you did not notice, the blessings to the Firstborn extend into and are not fully realized until the next life.
Finally, it should be noted that the Bible repeatedly refers to Jesus Christ as God’s one, unique Firstborn. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15). “He is also the head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (Col. 1:18). At Hebrews 1:6, we further read, “And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, ‘AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM’” (Heb. 1:6). By applying the title and idea of the Firstborn to Jesus Christ, the writers of Scripture only highlight the significance of the idea when also applied to certain humans. God’s future blessings promised to the humans designated as the Firstborn will not be trivial.
 “G1588 – eklektos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (nasb20).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 2 Oct, 2023. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g1588/nasb20/mgnt/0-1/>.