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1 Chronicles 5:2

yet Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came a ruler, although the birthright was Joseph’s-

My understanding is the birthright goes to the firstborn of the first wife, and if something happens where that cannot occur, it passes to the next eldest or the firstborn of the next wife in case of polygamy.

If that understanding is correct, my question is why and where did this happen in Scripture? Why did God allow Judah to inherit over Joseph?

6 Answers 6

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The birthright had several provisions that would normally have been inherited by Reuben; however, Reuben disqualified himself by his incestuous actions from the birthright, Gen 49:4. Therefore, the birthright provisions were distributed among the other tribes as follows:

  • Priesthood went to Levi
  • family leader and ancestor of Messiah went to Judah - the royal line came & began with David who was from Judah
  • Double portion of land went to Joseph, ie, Manasseh and Ephraim each became a "tribe"

This explains the text in 1 Chronicles 5:2.

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There is no verse in the OT that indicates that the firstborn birthright, the bachorah (בכורה), was given to, or will be given to Judah. A very weak case for Judah receiving the firstborn birthright is often attempted from Genesis 49:8. The verses in question in the OP, I Chronicles 5:1-2 make the case that the birthright belongs to Joseph.

I Chronicles 5:1-10 is the genealogy of Reuben. These verses form a full ("open") parashah. Verses 5:1-2 are a preface to the full story of the sons of Reuben that are delineated from the following eight verses in a partial ("closed") parashah.

The purpose of preface verse 1 is to say that Reuben was the first (בכור) son of Israel, and although Reuben lost the rights of the firstborn (בכורה) after the incident with Bilhah, nevertheless the genealogies are written according to the order of birth.

The purpose of preface verse 2 is to say that even though (כי) Judah prevailed over his brothers historically and a leader came from him, the birthright is still Joseph's. (IMHO the translation "yet" for כי instead of "even though" is slightly misleading.)

Verse 2 is in fact an aside to verse 1 on the subject of the conditions for transferring a birthright. The same is true in a simple family situation. Even though a younger son might become wealthy and famous and lead the family, this fact by itself does not mean that the firstborn birthright is transferred to him. That is, committing adultery was cause to transfer the birthright from the first born of the first wife to the firstborn of the second wife, in accordance with standard late bronze age practice, but the mere historical fact that Judah prevailed over his brothers is not in itself a reason to take the birthright from Joseph.

Verse 2 is clearly northern tribe (Israelite kingdom) political argument against any Judean assertion that at the time of writing of I Chronicles the right of the firstborn had transferred to Judah by mere force of history rather than by some compelling moral force. Together with verse 1, verse 2 is saying, "Just like we don't change the order of the genealogy when the birthright changes (to which everyone agrees), we don't change the birthright when historical conditions change". This is perhaps as clever as propaganda gets and is a clear indication of the author's side in the internal Israelite vs Judean polemic.

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The answer is: The promise of God goes to the chosen one. It does not follow man's practice.

For example, Ishmael was the firstborn of Abraham, but the promise went to Isaac

Gen 21:12 - But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.

Esau was the firstborn of Isaac, but the promise went to Jacob

Malachi 1:2b - “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob,

Back to the scene when Jacob on his dead-bed, Joseph brought his two sons whom Jacob had never met. Jacob wanted to adopt Joseph's sons as his own and gave them blessings. Joseph put his firstborn Manasseh on his left, standing in front of Jacob's right-hand, and Ephraim on the other side. To Joseph surprise, Jacob cross his arms to give the blessing. Surely there was God's spirit inspiring Jacob. Manasseh and Ephraim each inherited one share of land, resembled Joseph got a double share, a practice as if Joseph was the firstborn.

The scripture did not tell further. But I have a theory, that Joseph was the firstborn of Rachel, who was the reason Jacob stayed and worked for Laban. Consider Ishmael who borne from Hagar, a marriage arranged by Sarah, did not taken as legitimate, and Isaac owned the title of firstborn. Similarly, Leah and the two concubines, the marriages were result of personal dispute, also lost its legitimacy.

However, God's promise does not bound by human factor. God has His sovereignty to make His choice. Paul had this words about Esau and Jacob

11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand:

12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”

So the chosen one not necessary pre-qualified with a status, such as the firstborn. And therefore the promise of the King that goes to Judah tribe is not relevant to the practice of the firstborn.

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  • Not as good an answer as some of the others here. Could have been "fleshed out" a little more and by that I mean could have had more material content. + 1. Oct 25, 2023 at 13:48
  • @OldeEnglish - thanks anyway. I would come back to edit it when I learn more. Oct 25, 2023 at 17:49
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Jacob had been tricked into marrying Leah, and it was his second wife Rachel that he had wanted to marry all along. Her first child was Joseph, and Joseph became Jacob's blatantly favourite child, as described in Genesis 37:23:

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.

In Genesis 48, Joseph presents his two sons to Jacob:

3 And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, 4 And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession. 5 And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine. 6 And thy issue, which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance.

14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh's head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn. 15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, 16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth. 17 And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father's hand, to remove it from Ephraim's head unto Manasseh's head. 18 And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head. 19 And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations. 20 And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. 21 And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.

Jacob has effectively adopted Joseph's two sons as his own, giving each one his own tribe. And by saying "let my name be named on them" he lets them bear the name "Israel".

There's no question that Jacob sees Joseph and his two sons as his true legacy, the firstborn son of his firstloved wife.

Continuing in Genesis 49, Jacob addresses each of his twelve sons, in particular Reuben, Judah, and Joseph:

1 And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.

3 Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power: 4 Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.

8 Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee. … 10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

22 Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: … 25 Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb: 26 The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.

28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them.

Notice that:

  • Reuben lost his first-born right when he "lay with Bilhah his father's concubine" (Genesis 35:22)
  • Reuben's brother, Judah, receives the "sceptre" promise, which symbolizes kingship and the eventual appearance of a messiah.
  • Their half-brother Joseph receives the "birthright" promise, which includes the name "Israel" and the physical blessings of prosperity promised to Abraham.

Centuries later, in Deuteronomy 33, Moses also blessed the individual tribes, confirming that Joseph's land would be especially blessed by God:

1 And this is the blessing, wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death. 13 And of Joseph he said, Blessed of the LORD be his land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath, 14 And for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the moon, 15 And for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the lasting hills, 16 And for the precious things of the earth and fulness thereof, and for the good will of him that dwelt in the bush: let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the top of the head of him that was separated from his brethren. 17 His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.

1 Chronicles 5 confirms the inheritance:

1 Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but, forasmuch as he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright. 2 For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph's

The scepter of royalty (including the eventual "king of kings") was given to Judah, son of Abraham's first wife Leah.

But Jacob gave to Joseph the name "Israel" and the birthright of physical blessings that God had originally promised to his grandfather Abraham.

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Thesis: "And the birthright was Joseph's"--Joseph's birthright--Inherited by his two sons; Ephraim, and Manasseh. Additionally--The name "Israel" became the legal name bestowed upon them, and to their descendants. "The angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys, and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac" (Genesis 48:16a, ESV).

The proof of inheritance is in its outworking through history; to the present. Judah; as promised in their blessing--became the royal tribe and held the crown and scepter. Stated implicitly/explicitly in Judah's blessing; A line of kings--and the promised Messiah--The Lion of Judah--Would come through them. (Genesis 49:10.)

Ephraim, and Manasseh: Joseph's two sons received a clear; unambiguous promise. Specifically; during the "last days;" the descendants of each son would be beyond numbering. "Let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth: (Genesis 48:16b). The birthright included a great number of tangible--and spiritual--promises. The birthright blessings of all twelve tribes would reach fruition during the latter days. ("last days"--See Genesis 49:1, KJV, and others.)) The "last days"? "[God] has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds" (Hebrews 1:2, NKJV).

Ephraim's latter-day descendants would form a latter-day "Great Nation, and Multitude (commonwealth) of Nations." Sometime later; Manasseh would form a single nation of "great people." Biblical text: "[Manasseh] 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" (Genesis 19b, ESV). Ephraim's last days descendants would ascend to prominence first. Before his eldest brother. Why? Under the direction of God's Spirit; Jacob crossed his hands; his right-hand blessing the youngest son. Joseph protested; Jacob said "I know it my son; I know it."

The following (latter-day) list can be drawn from the birthright blessings made to Joseph, and the other non-Judahite tribes. Judah would be a "lion's cub" (young); whose hands would be on the "neck of her enemies" Genesis 49-8-9a). This fairly describes the remnant of Judah; in the relatively tiny 1948 nation. Judah; a lion's cub, and has/had her hand on the neck of her enemies. (Eg: The 1967 Arab-Israeli war.)

Joseph's sons birthright blessing--Enjoyed also by the tribes that live/lived among them--has been realized by: Great wealth. World prominence. Military, and naval; power. They would be both feared and envied. They were promised "treasure beneath the hills." (Minerals; oil; etc.) "Treasures beneath the sea." (North Sea oil?) Their countries would be bounded by oceans; providing geographical protection. They would be highly blessed. They would be known (as were their ancestors) as God's "servant people." (Isaiah 41:8.) Despite their flagrant idolatry; This would be true throughout the generations.

Be honest: Which of God's two houses has been serving him for the past two thousand years? "Serving God?" How? Answer: By serving as a missionary people. Doing what? "[God] has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, [How?] whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds" (Hebrews 11:2, NKJV). Disobedient Judah has not done this, and (the majority) continues to reject the Messiah. They would sing the praises of their God. Supporting verses: "This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise" (Isaiah 43:21). Which related; multitudinous nations sing God's praises/express worship to God's Son? Psalm 149:2: "Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: let the children of Zion be joyful in their King." Psalm 149:6: "Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand." Has God's word been suspended for the past two thousand years? No. Is Judah singing the praises of their King? Sadly; They are against the king of Kings.

The descendants of the ten tribes would possess the "gates (military chokepoints) of their enemies." “They blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, Become the mother of thousands of ten thousands, [innumerable multitudes] And may your descendants possess The gate of those who hate them” (Genesis 24:60). This blessing is almost identical to the one God gave to Abraham after he offered Isaac; in Genesis 22:16-17.

16 By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.

Recall the latter-day blessing prophecy made to Ephraim, and Manasseh; Joseph's two non-Judahite sons. "Let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth" (Genesis 48:16b). Not a single; small nation; with relatively few people. Rather; a "sand of the seashore" [Genetically related] people. A promised; prophesied "Great Nation, and Company of Nations." Manasseh would sometime later found/settle a nation of "great people." That part of the last days birthright blessing most certainly excludes Judah. They did not have a nation for almost two millennia. They are not populous. They are not "great." Neither do they "possess the gates of those who hate them." Only two; related "great" nations have controlled world-wide; strategic military choke-points. Judah? No.

The Bible makes it abundantly clear: The people of these ten "lost" nations are the latter-day descendants of the exiled ten tribes of the house of Israel. In Hosea; Yahweh divorced and exiled them. However: In the same breath; he promised that he would greatly multiply them. In the original language; he would multiply them "like fish." Neither were they "lost." Josephus; (A contemporary first-century Jewish historian) wrote: "Wherefore; There are but two tribes in Europe and Asia subject to the Romans. The ten tribes are beyond the Euphrates [River], an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by number." Antiquities of the Jews 11:133.

Today; Modern Christians confuse the smaller house of Judah--With the ten tribes of the house of Israel. God divided the twelve tribes into two houses. Actually; Ephraim and Manasseh subsumed the tribe of their father Joseph; increasing the number of tribes to thirteen.

Only descendants of Jacob's son Judah were Judahites; who later became known as Jews. This included Benjamin and some Levites. However; the latter two were Jews (by nationality;) not by birth. The ten tribes; modern misidentification aside--were not Judahites, and therefore not Jews. The term Judahite denoted tribal identity. Period. Christians will reflexively repeat that "All of the tribes were Jews." On what grounds? The Bible never referred to the ten tribes as Jews. Students of the Old Testament can ascertain this for themselves. Joseph's descendants were Hebrew. They were Israelites. They too--Although non-Judahite/Jewish--Were Semitic. (Descended from Shem.) They were also known as the house of Isaac--Remember the birthright: Ephraim; the head tribe--and Manasseh; his elder brother--Had the non-transferable; legal right to the names of Isaac, and Abraham. As a matter of interest; God also referred to the ten tribes as "Ephraim."

A child born into the tribe of Dan was a Danite. Not a Judahite. Therefore; with full biblical support--His tribal descendants were Danites, and could not be Jews. The appellation of Judah--later shortened to Jew--Repeat: Only denotes tribal (and genetic) identity. A ridiculous thought: Did Jacob name all of his twelve sons "Judah"? No. Only one son, and one son alone; were Judahites--Later shortened to Jews. Only one son--not all twelve--answered to the family call of "Judah!"

"And the birthright was Joseph's." All of God's words are like silver; tried seven times.

Two key birthright points--(1) Judah is not Israel; a God-given fact supported by multiple Old Testament passages. The second point correlates with the first: The tribe(s) possessing Joseph's birthright [Ten tribes=Israel]; not Judah] will outwardly manifest these blessings. The birthright consisted of multiple; tangible promises; not just spiritual.

Postscript: There are many good; varied historical sources for the material in this writer's (Brian's) comment. The multi-disciplinary subject matter has been investigated since the time of King Alfred the Great. Interested readers are encouraged to read Pastor Ted Weiland's book The Mystery of the Gentiles: Who Are They, and Where Are They Now? The work is biblically; academically sound, and copiously referenced. Author Steven M. Collins' book The "Lost" Ten Tribes of Israel: Found!; Is a comprehensive; careful historical introduction. A stirring read, and heavily sourced. The latter work is out-of-print; but available on Amazon. (E-format.)

Modern Christian skepticism aside aside; The "Israel equals Judah" claim collapses under the heavy weight of Old Testament biblical proof and the accumulated historical evidence. Israel/the ten tribes do not equal Judah/the Jews; any more than being born into a native Irish family equals being born into a native Welsh one.

Conclusion: "And the birthright was Joseph's" (1 Chronicles 5:2b). In these last days; May the God of Jacob cause the scales to fall from our unseeing eyes.

Do we have any DNA proof to support the identity of the latter-day people of the "Great Nation, and Company of Nations"? Yes. Readers may enjoy the scientifically documented article The Biblical DNA of the British Isles.

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  • Addendum: There are many good; varied sources for the material in this writers' (Brian's) comment. The multi-disciplinary subject matter has been investigated since the time of King Alfred the Great. Interested readers are encouraged to read Pastor Ted Weiland's book The Mystery of the Gentiles: Who Are They, and Where Are They Now? Biblically; academically sound, and copiously referenced. Steven M. Collins The "Lost" Ten Tribes of Israel: Found!; Is an historical introduction. A fascinating read, and heavily sourced. The latter work is out-of-print; but available on Amazon. (E-format.)
    – Brian D.
    Oct 22, 2023 at 20:19
  • Thanks for the "Biblical DNA" reference. ¶ I suspect this answer won't be liked, because it goes on to talk about far more than was asked for in the question (something I'm occasionally guilty of too). ¶ Also, be aware that on Stack Exchange sites, comments are not considered sacred, they can and do get deleted without warning. Anything important to the answer should be included in the answer itself. Oct 23, 2023 at 14:32
  • Hi Ray. You're welcome. And; you raised a good point--The DNA link went beyond the subject matter. (Joseph's birthright.) I had hoped that it would bolster the latter-days; "Great Nation, and Company/Commonwealth of Nations" identity--The promised multitude of Joseph's highly blessed; non-Judahite descendants. A fair inquiry will reveal a wealth of fulfilled; tangible birthright promises. They're quite notable. Interestingly; these related nations have/still have the heraldry of the ten tribes. In total; there are about seventy-five markers. Only one "company" of nations fits the fingerprint.
    – Brian D.
    Oct 25, 2023 at 2:24
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Let's read it again from the perspective of the Chronicler, who saw the northern tribes, centering on Ephraim and Manasseh [Joseph's sons], as having lost their blessing to Judah. In this perspective, the reason God transferred the birthright to Judah's descendants was that the northern tribes fell into the "sin of Jeroboam" [1 Kings 14:16] by worshiping at Bethel rather than Jerusalem and tolerating idolatry. Jeroboam I was an Ephraimite and thus a descendant of Joseph. So again:

[Reuben] was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel, so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright; yet [or so] Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came a ruler, although the birthright was Joseph’s.

The word translated as "yet" here is כִּי (ki). It has many meanings, one of which is "moreover" or "so." I suggest either of these would be a better translation. "Yet" draws a distinction with the preceding phrase, implying that the two are not parallel. "So" implies a likeness between the two. The author wants to say, essentially, that just as Reuben's birthright was given to Joseph because of Reuben's sin, so the tribe of Joseph's birthright was given to the tribe of Judah because of the sin of Jeroboam and his followers.

“The Lord will strike Israel [centering on the tribes of Joseph] as a reed is shaken in the water; he will root up Israel out of this good land that he gave to their ancestors and scatter them beyond the Euphrates, because they have made their sacred poles, provoking the Lord to anger. He will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, which he sinned and which he caused Israel to commit.” (1 Kings 14:15-16)

Why did God allow Judah to inherit over Joseph? Because the two names here are not meant individually but as tribes. In the Chronicler's historical outlook, the kingdom of Judah inherited God's blessing because the tribes of Joseph, which dominated the northern kingdom, fell into sin.

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  • Couldn't help noticing this Q., here Dan, when scrolling down the home page. It would seem like you are the "outlier" here, among the answers, all of which I can go along with except yours, which saddens me, when considering our recent connections. I now understand why you have been reluctant to - so much as comment on my recent, somewhat mammoth, expose on the "Two Witnesses". It has been my understanding that the House of Judah, comprising of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin & Levi, received and held on to the "Sceptre Lineage" ...ctd... Oct 25, 2023 at 13:27
  • ...Continuing on... whereas, the other ten tribes (now 11 in all, when including Ephraim & Manasseh) received and, despite everything, were able to hold onto the "Birthright Lineage". Hopefully this does not now get in the way of our recent (mutual) respect. Sometimes we may have to agree to disagree but that doesn't mean to say that we can't still be friends ..... Oct 25, 2023 at 13:38

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