Israel’s Inheritance: Birthright Of The Firstborn Son -- By: Anne K. Davis
CTSJ 13:1 (Spring 2008) p. 79
Israel’s Inheritance: Birthright Of The Firstborn Son
Anne K. Davis received an M.A. in history from San Diego State University and M.A. and Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Trinity College and Seminary with an accreditation from the University of Liverpool. She is a professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Dean of BibleInteract Institute, an international consortium of biblical archaeologists, professors, and scholars who offer interactive educational programs online at www.bibleinteract.com. Dr. Davis has done extensive research on ancient methods of midrash that are evident in the New Testament and has presented papers at international, national, and regional meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). You may reach Anne at [email protected]
This article examines the nature of the inheritance of the birthright and the possible loss of that inheritance. The initial impetus for the investigation was my earlier examination of Galatians 4:21-5:1, which suggested that in this passage Paul employs two ancient literary devices to startle the reader and draw attention to the Hebrew concept of inheritance and its relationship to freedom and slavery.1
The study traces the concept of inheritance in the Hebrew Scriptures2 and identifies ancient literary devices that penetrate behind the surface meaning to expose deeper levels of figurative and prophetic understanding.3 It finds that all children of Israel were born to the birthright as God’s firstborn son, because God declared, “Israel is My son, My firstborn” (Exodus 4:22). The Hebrew Scriptures portray the birthright as bestowing not only a double portion of inheritance but also a special blessing, priestly office, the position and authority of lordship, and procreative power. However, inheritance of the birthright, which is distinct from the inheritance bestowed on other members of the family, requires a commitment to serve and obey God, possibly for a future prophetic role. The narrative portrays individuals losing the birthright because of this failure to serve and obey God. Yet the one who loses the birthright does not lose his status as a son and still receives an inheritance, although not the inheritance of the birthright.
Several concepts invite consideration. For example, the remnant of Israel, prominent in the Hebrew Scriptures, appears to exhibit the characteristics of servants who are worthy to inherit the birthright. Furthermore, Paul’s use of “freedo...
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