This post is a little longer than my other posts. I couldn’t figure out how to split it into two, so hopefully it’s worth a minute or two more your time.
A Pattern of Usurping
One theme of Genesis is very clear: the firstborn child, who is the natural heir of the family, consistently fails to receive their inheritance. Cain was the firstborn of Adam and Eve, yet he killed his brother and was cursed as a wanderer for the rest of his life. Instead Seth, whom the scriptures clearly state is Abel’s replacement (Gen. 4:25), is the one in whom Adam’s descendant’s are named (Gen. 5:4).
Abraham’s first son was not Isaac, but Ishmael. Granted, he was not the son of Abraham and Sarah, but he was the firstborn nevertheless. He loses his place in the family when Sarah drives him and his mother away for Ishmael’s mocking of Isaac (Gen. 21:9).
God tells Rebekah that Jacob, the younger of his twin Esau, will supplant Esau as the firstborn (Gen. 25:23), and indeed we see Jacob receive both the birthright and the blessing.
Jacob’s family is the last family in Genesis, and his eldest, Reuben, also fails to receive the inheritance of the firstborn (along with Simeon, Levi, and Judah). Joseph not only receives the special coat from his father, but also a double portion of the tribes (Ephraim, Manasseh).
Saul fails as the first king of the Israelites and David replaces him. Although they are not two sons of one man, it is a similar usurping of the first by the second.
The usurping of the firstborn by the second is too much of a theme to be coincidence. There may be multiple messages we can extract from this theme, but let’s just focus on one for this article. What message is God trying to get across with all of these stories of failed firstborn sons?
Two Adams, Two Bodies
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is addressing questions about the resurrection body will be like (v.35). In addressing this issue, he contrasts Adam and Jesus. The answer about what type of bodies we will have are understood through the nature of these “two Adams.” He writes, “So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.” (1 Cor. 15:45-49).
Adam is, of course, the firstborn of all creation. Chronologically, Adam preceded Jesus in living on the earth. Both are sons of God, and neither were born through the seed of fleshly man. The entirety of mankind is firstborn from Adam. Everyone born from the union of a man and a woman are of Adam’s seed, and are “earthy.” Therefore, we have “earthy” bodies. And all who are born from Adam “have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). It takes the “last Adam” (Jesus) to bring life. The second son usurps the first.
The “Earthy” Man
Going back to our Old Testament stories, we can now see what God was pointing to. The firstborn in these stories are usurped because they bear the image of the earthy. They let their physical lusts and desires control them. They are skilled in the ways of the earth both physically and spiritually.
Cain is a “tiller of the earth” (Gen. 4:2). The word for earth in Hebrew is the word “adamah,” which is where the name “Adam” comes from. Cain’s earthy desire rules over him. He is animalistic.
Ishmael “lived in the wilderness and became an archer” (Gen. 21:20). Esau “became a skillful hunter, a man of the field” (Gen. 25:27). Reuben “lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine” (Gen. 35:22) either because he was unable to control his lust, or possibly as a manipulating tactic to keep Jacob from having more children and further dividing his inheritance.
Saul, the “firstborn” king, was “a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people” (1 Sam. 9:2).
It may be of note that all of these men are associated with fields and wilderness in one way or another (see Cain, Esau, and Ishmael above; Reuben – Gen. 30:14; Saul – 1 Sam. 11:5).
All of these men are the ones you want to be with in a doomsday scenario. They are fit to survive on the earth. They are what we would refer to as “manly men,” but the Bible calls the “earthy.” And they are all usurped by people who were inferior to them by earthly standards. They are all usurped by the birth of another man. And this is the lesson God wants us to see.
Usurping Our “Earthy” Selves
Every Christian is a person who has been usurped by their own “second birth.” The first version of ourselves is “earthy,” as Paul says. As much as our parents may have tried to instill Christian values in us, their parenting alone can only lead to an “earthy” person. They cannot give us birth by the Spirit of God. No one born from the union of man and woman can bear the image of the heavenly. It must come by having our “earthy” self usurped by our second birth.
This is why Jesus says of John the Baptist “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt. 11:11).
And Jesus famously tells Nicodemus about this second birth: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” (Jn. 3:3-7).
When Christ comes again, his usurpation of Adam will be complete. Those who have taken part in the second birth will receive the inheritance, just like Seth, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and David. Those who have trained themselves in the cutthroat, “survival of the fittest” tactics of the world will not receive the inheritance.
Earthy vs. Heavenly
For a little while, however, each Christian is a heavenly person in an earthy body. There are always two people struggling for power within us. Even though we may have been born again, the earthy man tries to regain power all the time. The earthy person inside of us listens to nothing but violence and force. This is why he must be crucified daily. Just as we don’t negotiate with terrorists, neither do we negotiate with the earthy man within us. He must be given no quarter. He will presume upon your generosity and then shame you for it.
Jesus’ death on the cross showed us exactly how much it takes to usurp the firstborn. Cain’s descendants overtook the earth before it was destroyed by the flood. Esau’s descendants (Edom) were constantly at war with Israel. Saul tried to kill David over and over. All Christians must therefore learn to take up their cross and usurp the earthy man daily (Lk. 9:23).
There’s much more to be said on this subject, but for now I’ll leave you with more of Paul’s words: “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:17).