Israel lifted his tent flap back when he heard scuffling outside. The sight of his eleventh son pleased him. “Joseph, why are you back in such a rush? Where are your brothers and the flock?”
Joseph slid to a stop in front of his tent. “Oh, hi Abba. I, um…we must talk.” He glanced at the women mulling about. “But, not now. Can we talk in private?”
Israel smiled. “Of course. Come here after you wash up and change. I have something for you.”
Joseph’s hair was still damp when he pulled Israel’s tent flap back. The elder man had his back to him at that moment.
Joseph’s mouth dropped open at the sight of the brightest cloak he’d ever seen when Israel turned around.
Israel used his cane to hold the collar as he pulled the cloak open to display the design. “What do you think?”
“It’s beautiful, Abba.”
“Come here, my son.”
Joseph’s gaze never left the cloak as he approached. He gingerly stroked the fine linen. He stood up as, to his amazement, his abba placed the cloak across his shoulders.
“Whenever you are seen in this cloak all will know that you have the undisputed rights of the firstborn son of Israel.”
Joseph swallowed. “But, I’m number eleven.”
Israel’s hands rested on Joseph’s shoulders. “Your mother…” Tears filled Israel’s eyes. He blinked them off. “Oh, how I still miss Rachel. She was to be my only wife. Laban tricked Leah to be my wife also. You were to be my firstborn all along by God’s will.”
Joseph wiped his eyes. “But, Reuben is your firstborn, not me.”
Israel turned and limped away. He spun around. “There are certain responsibilities that come with the rights of the firstborn. Do you know why I tell you the family stories?”
Joseph shrugged. “So I can tell my sons?”
Israel hobbled back to Joseph and placed his hand on his shoulder. “I, too, am not a true firstborn son. Yet, I have the rights because Esau despised his rights for…”
“…a bowl of lentils.”
Israel shook Joseph’s shoulder. “One of the responsibilities of the firstborn is to pass the family stories down to the next generation. When I am gone I must be remembered, as are Isaac and Father Abraham before him. You must learn from our mistakes.”
Israel walked away. “The firstborn must be upright and God-fearing. Reuben despised his rights when he and…” Israel collapsed into a chair.
Joseph swallowed hard. “When he had sex with Bilhah. That’s why I’m here, alone.”
Israel’s eyes widened. Joseph slid his arms into the cloak’s sleeves and strode to his abba. He dropped to one knee, placing a hand on the armrest.
“I was with Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher watching some of the sheep. They were saying they don’t feel like they’re real sons because you didn’t marry their mothers.”
Israel sat forward. “Did you say anything?”
“I told them that was nonsense. We’re all sons of Israel regardless of the origin of our mothers. Then five women came out from a nearby village. They were very familiar to the others…too familiar. If you know what I mean. One of the women came to me and started loosening her clothes.”
“What did you do, my son?”
“I ran away from there as fast as I could. I didn’t stop until I got home.”
Israel smiled as he pulled the front of the cloak together around Joseph. “This cloak looks good on you, Joseph. You wear it well.”
Today’s societies hold few generational rituals as sacred. Some rights-of-passage still exist, but very few. The right of the firstborn son was huge in Joseph’s day, especially in a family with twelve sons.
The firstborn would inherit half of the father’s estate upon his death. The remaining half would be divided between the remaining eleven brothers. This still held true in Jesus’ day. Remember the parable of the Prodigal Son?
Many of life’s circumstances are out of our control. Our attitude toward those circumstances determines our character.
Reuben had the rights of the firstborn son all to himself. All he had to do is live up to those expectations. In a moment of weakness and/or passion he threw it all away. Those rights were now Joseph’s to be had.
Israel chose to give those important rights to the first son of who was supposed to be his only wife. Rachel begged and pleaded for a child. God came through in His timing. The eleventh son of Jacob obtained the firstborn rights of Israel by default.
Joseph would prove worthy of the title even during separation from the family. The family stories Joseph carried in his head never traveled far from his heart. That’s why he lived such a God-honoring life.
Israel had no clue as to what the future held for this son of his. This brush with the feeling of royalty would come in handy in its time.
The coat of many colors is a favorite childhood story. This symbol of the family fortune would prove a heavy burden to bear. The hatred of the ten elder siblings grew every time they saw Joseph in it. He wore it anyway.
He wore it to please his father.
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As a child of God you have the rights of the firstborn, too. Jesus is called the firstborn over all creation and the firstborn from the dead in Colossians 1:15,18. Galatians 4:7 calls us heirs of God because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
These two letters of Paul go on to explain how we’re to live lives pleasing to God because we have been freed from the bondage of sin.
Our robes of sonship aren’t colorful at all. They’re pure white because they’ve been washed in Jesus’ blood.
I know that sounds like a paradox to some of you. That’s the way God explains it.
Do your best to keep your robe spotless.
Let’s please our heavenly Father as best we can.
I’ll see you later. Wade