Q: #241. I have noticed in reading the Old Testament that God often chose to use a younger brother over the firstborn. How often did God do this?
A: I could find 8 instances where God chose to do this, although I may be missing a few (if you find another, please let me know). This is interesting because from a Biblical standpoint, the “firstborn” male was generally considered to be the leader of all the other siblings. This was a divine God-given privilege (Ex 13:11-15)(Deut 21:17) (Gen 25:23,31,34)(1 Chr 5:1-2) that came about to commemorate God’s protection of all of the firstborn of Israel during the final plague upon Egypt (Ex 11 & 12). In fact, when the firstborn was born, he was considered to belong to God (Ex 13:2,12). The Bible says the firstborn was to be “sanctified” or “consecrated,” and it appears he was to fulfill the duties of a priest early in the Bible until God transferred His ownership from the firstborn to the Levites (Num 3:11-13,45)(Num 8:14-18), who then took over the priestly duties for Israel.
However, the firstborn or “firstfruits” of all things were still to be dedicated to the Lord. In the case of humans, they had to be “redeemed” by the family within one month of birth, from the priest, for an offering not to exceed five shekels (Num 18:15-16)(Ex 34:20). (This law was also carried on in the New Testament, as Mary did this for Jesus: Lk 2:22-23.) In addition, his birthright included receiving a double portion of his father’s inheritance (Deut 21:17).
Given that God gave the firstborn this position of prominence, I find it interesting (this study came about from my own curiosity) that God chose to bypass the firstborn, and make a younger brother a leader in some HUGELY prominent situations in the Old Testament.
Aaron was 3 years older than Moses (Ex 7:7), but God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Ex 3:1-4:17).
God chose to use Joseph (the 11th of 12 brothers) to be a leader and second in command to Pharaoh in Egypt (Gen 37:5-11).
God chose David to be king rather than one of his 7 older brothers (1 Sam 16:1-13).
God chose to make Jacob (later named Israel) the father of the 12 tribes of Israel (His chosen people) over his brother Esau (Gen 25:22-23)(Rom 9:12). (They were actually twins, but Esau was the first out: Gen 25:24-26.)(Esau also sold his birthright [rights as firstborn] to Jacob for some stew to eat: Gen 25:29-34, Heb 12:16.)
God chose Gideon, who was the youngest in his family, to deliver Israel from the Midianites (Judg 6:11-16).
Solomon was chosen by God to be king instead of older brothers (1 Chr 22:6-10)(1 Chr 28:5).
With God’s guidance, Jacob chose to bless Joseph’s younger son Ephraim, saying God would make a “multitude of nations” from him, and that he would be “greater” than his older brother Manasseh (Gen 48:1-22).
God accepted Abel’s offering over Cain’s (Gen 4:1-7)(Heb 11:4).
In addition, 4 of these men were direct ancestors of Jesus: Abel, Jacob, David, and Solomon.