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The Old Testament links Israel with the firstborn's double portion of the inheritance.

Exodus 4:22

Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son."

Deuteronomy 21:17

He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has.

I have read in several places online that the responsibilities of the firstborn included:

  1. represent the father if he was absent or incapacitated, and, if he died,
  2. manage the family inheritance
  3. care for the father's widows
  4. provide for the father's unmarried daughters

But no sources were provided for this information on the websites.

So, two questions:

  1. Is there any biblical or extra biblical evidence for this?
  2. Would an ancient Israelite see their nation's firstborn status as the reason why the prophets were always concerned with the idolatry, and the oppression of orphans and widows?

1 Answer 1

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The firstborn was significant for Hebrew culture because it was associated with the blessing of the birthright (Gen 25:31-34, 27:19, 48:18, 19, Heb 12:16, 17). The birthright had several provisions that would normally have been inherited by Reuben in the case of Jacob's sons; however, Reuben disqualified himself from the birthright by his incestuous actions, Gen 49:4. Therefore, the birthright provisions were distributed among the other sons/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 (Deut 21:15-17) went to Joseph, ie, Manasseh and Ephraim each became a "tribe"

This explains the text in 1 Chronicles 5:2.

I am unaware of Bible material supporting the OP's other assertions; although some may exist in the Talmud.

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