Throughout Genesis, God has consistently chosen not to bless the firstborn son to the degree of a later-born son. Seth was preferred over Cain; Isaac was preferred over Ishmael; Jacob was preferred over Esau; Perez over Zerah; and Joseph was preferred over all his older brothers. Fathers often resisted or objected to God’s selection, but God’s sovereign will was always accomplished.
Therefore, one is not totally surprised when Israel (Jacob) chooses to bless Ephraim over Manasseh:
Genesis 48:12-14, 17-19 Then Joseph removed them from his knees and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn) … When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, Not his way, my father, since 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 also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.”
As one walks through the Old Testament, one continues to see God preferring later-born sons. Moses is preferred over Aaron; Samuel is preferred over Hophni and Phineas; David is preferred over his siblings; and Solomon over his. Consistently, God gives firstborn rites to later-born sons. One might even apply this to Israel and the Church. Israel received the prophets and the promises, but Israel rejected their Messiah and God blessed the “Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16) Christians – Jew or Gentile – were now the chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, and people belonging to God. (1 Peter 2:9) Numerous times, Jesus spoke on this reality. Perhaps his most specific utterance was towards the end of his earth ministry:
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet. And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” ’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. (Matthew 21:43-22:10)
Clearly, God’s legislative law presents his ownership and preference of firstborn children. However, continually throughout Scripture, God bypasses his natural order and blesses later-born descendants. Why is this important? God is presenting the Gospel to biblical theologians. Jesus Christ is the firstborn Son. He is the one with all the rights and privileges. He is the one beloved by the Father. But according to the sovereign love and intent of God, the blessings of Jesus Christ are transferred to later-born children. Due to the grace and mercy of God, they are treated as firstborn sons. They are made co-heirs with Jesus Christ.