By servants whose masters were childless:
But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” – NIV Genesis 15:2-3
Eliezer was Abram’s most trusted servant, acting as household administrator (“chief servant”), see Genesis 24). According to custom, if Abram were to die without a son, his eldest servant would become his heir. Although Abram loved his servant, he wanted a son to carry on the family line.
Role of the birthright in:
Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” – NIV Genesis 25:31
A birthright was a special honour given to the firstborn son. It included a double portion of the family inheritance along with the honour of one day becoming the family’s leader. The oldest son could sell his birthright or give it away if he chose, but in so doing, he would lose both material goods and his leadership position. By trading his birthright, Esau showed complete disregard for the spiritual blessings that would have come his way if he had kept it. In effect, Esau “despised” his birthright (25:34).
Cannot inherit a relationship with God:
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. – NIV Genesis 28:10-15
God’s covenant promise to Abraham and Isaac was offered to Jacob as well. But it was not enough to be Abraham’s grandson; Jacob had to establish his own personal relationship with God. God has no grandchildren; each of us must have a personal relationship with him. It is not enough to hear wonderful stories about Christians in your family. You need to become part of the story yourself (see Galatians 3:6, 7).
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not being to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. – NIV Luke 3:8
Many of John’s hearers were shocked when he said that being Abraham’s descendants was not enough for God. The religious leaders relied more on their family lines than on their faith for their standing with God. For them, religion was inherited. But a personal relationship with God is not handed down from parents to children. Everyone has to make his or her own commitment. Don’t rely on someone else’s faith for your salvation. Put your own faith in Jesus, and then exercise it every day.
Confession of sins and a changed life are inseparable. Faith without deeds is dead (James 2:14-26). Jesus’ harshest words were to the respectable religious leaders who lacked the desire for real change. They wanted to be known as religious authorities, but they didn’t want to change their hearts and minds. Thus their lives were unproductive. Repentance must be tied to action, or it isn’t real. Following Jesus means more than saying the right words; it means acting on what he says.
Reuben lost most of his:
While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it. – NIV Genesis 35:22
Reuben’s sin was costly, although not right away. As the oldest son, he stood to receive a double portion of the family inheritance and a place of leadership among his people. Reuben may have thought he had got away with his sin. No more is mentioned of it until Jacob, on his deathbed, assembled his family for the final blessing. Suddenly Jacob took away Reuben’s double portion and gave it to someone else. The reason? “You went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it” (49:4).
Sin’s consequences can plague us long after the sin is committed. When we do something wrong, we may think we can escape unnoticed, only to discover later that the sin has been quietly breeding serious consequences.
Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it. – NIV Genesis 49:4
The oldest son was supposed to receive a double inheritance, but Reuben lost his special honour. Unstable and untrustworthy, especially in his younger days, he had gone so far as to sleep with one of his father’s concubines. Jacob could not give the birthright blessing to such a dishonourable son.
For widows with no children:
Then Judah said to Onan, “Lie with your brother’s wife and fulfil your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so he put him to death also. – NIV Genesis 38:8-10
This law about marrying a widow in the family is explained in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Its purpose was to ensure that a childless widow would have a son who would receive her late husband’s inheritance and who, in turn, would care for her. Because Judah’s son (Tamar’s husband) had no children, there was no family line through which the inheritance and the blessing of the covenant could continue. God killed Onan because he refused to fulfil his obligation to his brother and to Tamar.
Daughters of Zelophehad ask for:
“Our father died in the desert. He was not among Korah’s followers, who banded together against the LORD, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.” – NIV Numbers 27:3-4
Up to this point, the Hebrew law gave sons alone the right to inherit. The daughters of Zelophehad, having no brothers, came to Moses to ask for their father’s possessions. God told Moses that if a man died without sons, his inheritance would go to his daughters (27:8). But the daughters could keep it only if they married within their own tribe, probably so the territorial lines would remain intact (36:5-12).
©Kingsway International 1973.