Thoughts on 1 Chronicles 5

 •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 8
“ Now the sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel.” (chap. 5) As such he had a prominent place. For the firstborn, or he who stands in that place, takes precedence of the whole family, and through him the principal ancestral line is ordinarily traced. But Reuben is set aside, and the natural prominency of the birthright only sank him the lower when he lost it. When did the natural order ever maintain itself according to the righteous government of God? For so it is that the order of nature is not God's order, and nothing can meet the aberrance of nature but the sovereign mercy of God. And so it ever was since man fell. This mercy is seen in God's governmental ways; how much more in His ways of grace where as a fundamental principle, it is first “that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual”! God gave the birthright to Joseph. Yet even here, showing the sovereignty of grace, the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright. Whose genealogy? Who so glorious, so exalted, as to set aside the honored line of him that had the birthright from God, and to choose another? Thus seemingly contempt is poured upon the things that men value, but, really, carrying out His own purpose.
It is the genealogy of the Chief Ruler. In the wisdom of God the birthright and the chief rule are for a brief space separated. And necessarily so for the purposes of redemption. The birthright was Christ's when He came into the world, it belongs to Him personally. But if He had assumed the chief rule then, which then could only have been in judgment—if the Lord Jesus had taken the supremacy then, which is His officially, where would be the cross? where the glory of God, the highest glory, the glory of His grace? where redemption? He came at the first to be cut off and have nothing, and withal to be hated and rejected by His own, and not to take the kingdom for when the people would have taken and carnally have made Him king, He departed from them. There was a prior, if not a deeper, question ere He could appear as Chief Ruler according to the counsels of God. It required a distinct type, such as Joseph is, to set forth the truth that the Chief Ruler, Whose was the birthright, should appear as One Whose birthright was denied. To three chosen witnesses He gave a glimpse of His own personal glory as the Only Begotten; and they have borne testimony, “and we beheld His glory, glory as of an Only-Begotten with Father” (John 1:1414And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)). But He the First Born, possessing every right in heaven and on earth, veiled His glory, for the fulfilling of the counsels of grace, and was cast out, rejected by His own people, as Joseph by his brethren.
These are the purposings of God's love and are shadowed forth from the beginning. This infinite love shines bright in the eternal counsels of God before the beginning when the Eternal Son said, “Lo I come to do Thy will, O God”. And since sin came in, God in all His dealings and ways of old declares how great is His love, and how it could be righteously manifested to sinners.
Sacrifice and blood-shedding from the earliest time and all that was commanded under the law point to and have a link with the cross, without which nothing was possible for man but everlasting perdition. So necessary was the cross for the unlimited preaching of God's love to the world that even Jesus the Lord whose heart was overflowing with infinite and divine love—even He said before He suffered, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished?” (Luke 12:5050But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! (Luke 12:50))—till the righteous foundation be laid.
Joseph as the ruler of Egypt is typical of the future rule and reign of Christ: how faint the type when compared with the glories revealed for the future! The power and might of the Chief Ruler and Conqueror was foretold in the same word that announced His sufferings; in Eden the Lord God said to the serpent, the great enemy, “He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel “; and before the hour of suffering came what instances of divine almighty power were seen! The triumph at the Red Sea, the victories of Joshua, of David; and the glory of Solomon, crowning all the previous triumphs and victories, present a vivid though brief picture of the future reign and dominion of the Chief Ruler, and how the serpent's head will be bruised.
But the final victory, thus assured and pledged by all these, must come after the suffering. The bruising of the heel of the Seed comes before the crushing of the Serpent's head. The cross is before the crown; the throne is set up in the shadow of the cross, and the glories of each shine out all the more. Yea, they cannot be separated, together so blended that they are one glory; even as the cherubim upon the mercy-seat gazing upon the blood-besprinkled cover were with it beaten out of the same piece of gold (Ex. 37:77And he made two cherubims of gold, beaten out of one piece made he them, on the two ends of the mercy seat; (Exodus 37:7)). The truth is that all in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation have for their object the sufferings and glories of Christ, the rejected One but yet the Chief Ruler. And all these pictures and types are only shadows, not the very image of that divine and fullest love which had its most perfect expression in the cross, and in the glories that must follow. For all these taken separately could but faintly declare the grace and love (yea and the righteousness), which are now blended together and concentered in the person of Christ, the crucified One. We can trace their then shadowy, but now well defined, outlines in the bright light of accomplished redemption, in the cross, the staple truth of the N. T., and of the O. T. also; and with clearer eye behold the coming glory.
The first mention of birthright is in connection with one that despised it; and to his contempt for it the apostle alludes as a warning to believers “lest any man fail of the grace of God,” etc., etc. (Heb. 12:15, 1615Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; 16Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. (Hebrews 12:15‑16)). For all in the church of God are firstborn ones, and the privileges of our birthright are inalienable, though we may if worldly minded here lose the joy, even the knowledge of them. Esau selling his birthright for a mess of pottage is called profane; it is as if a Christian would barter his heavenly position and character for some fancied earthly good, for present ease in this world, or to escape the reproach of Christ. Our privileges are for the present time joined with the reproach of the world; for “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:1212Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)).
“ Birthright” was one of God's landmarks for the support and maintenance of due authority and order amongst men. But the radical spirit of the present age is laboring to set this aside, as well as all else that God has given for government in this world. Esau despised and sold it. Reuben lost it. Jacob obtained it by taking advantage of Esau's necessities; but though he had given all the treasures of the world for it, something more was needed than buying it. That purchase was an empty form and of no value (did Esau know this?). Isaac was the depository of the birthright, not to do with it as he pleased, but according to God's will. All our gifts are deposits from God only to be held and used according to His will. By mean trickery and lying Jacob deceived his father, for he said “I am Esau thy firstborn”. Isaac was not deceived as to God's word; he knew that the elder was to serve the younger; but his will blinded him as to the personality of Jacob, though not without misgiving. There is no more striking instance than this of the over-ruling hand of God: man's will seemingly successful, but God accomplishing His. To Joseph the birthright is a gift immediate from God, with no unrighteous attempt to obtain it. In dreams it was foreshadowed to him though he knew not their significance, and with a lad's wonder related them to his father and brethren. Jacob, whose experience (for he had had his dream at Bethel) saw deeper into the meaning of Joseph's dreams; yet like Isaac not obedient in heart, forgetting perhaps his own case, he, astonished, rebuked the lad but could not help pondering on them. His brethren, too, surmised the meaning and hated him. They resented the idea of Joseph being their chief. The birthright should not be his if they could prevent it; so they sold him as a slave into Egypt. It was there that the privileges and authority of the birthright were seen in him. The means they took to prevent were God's means to accomplish. Their sheaves stood round about and made obeisance to his sheaf (Gen. 42:66And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph's brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth. (Genesis 42:6), etc.). Yet another dream foretells a wider sphere of dominion, for “the sun and the moon and the eleven stars” bowed to him.
So it will be in the coming day. Joseph takes rank in the family as firstborn, though not naturally so. And our Joseph is not the first man but the Second, not the first Adam but the Last. Yet is He the Firstborn, and when He appears, Israel as the sheaves of corn, the first-fruits of the earth, will make obeisance to Him.
Jacob's view of the prophetic dream seems limited to his own family. When he heard the sun and moon and eleven stars paid homage to Joseph, he said, “Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee on the earth”? The sun and the moon were, to Jacob, father and mother. But this dream goes far beyond Jacob's family, or the nation of Israel. In that bright day, Israel as the first of the nations on the earth will be to the subject Gentiles, whose honor it will be to serve the Israelites—Israel will be to them as the sun and moon and stars, the sources of power and authority. For Christ will rule from Zion, and Israel the chosen nation shall be princes in the earth, the channels of its millennial blessings.
Joseph was in actual possession of the honors of birthright when his brethren bowed to him, and when he superintended his father's burial. But his glory and honor extended beyond this, for Pharaoh commanded the Egyptians to bow the knee before him “Thou shalt be over my house, and according to thy word shall all my people be ruled: only on the throne will I be greater than thou” (Gen. 41:4040Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou. (Genesis 41:40)).
What wondrous truths are wrapped up in Joseph's dreams! For their fulfillment in his own person is but the type of a still more wonderful but blessed fulfillment in Him in Whom all the honors and glories of birthright and chief rule will be united. It was the will of God then to give the birthright to Joseph and the royalty to Judah. Therefore we read, “Judah prevailed above his brethren and of him came the chief ruler”. For a brief space both are seen in Joseph.
“ Judah prevailed.” What a gracious way of declaring God's pre-determined purpose! Historically, in what did Judah prevail so as to obtain this honor? He was one with his brethren in their hatred of Joseph. If he shrank from shedding his brother's blood, it was he who suggested his sale to the slave-dealing Midianites after Reuben had interposed to save his life. As to plotting against his birthright, they were all equally guilty, with perhaps the exception of Reuben who well knew the birthright was lost for him, and therefore would not consent to Joseph's death. Judah's prevailing is simply the will of God. Hence he prevailed, not by his goodness. The Holy Spirit has given a sketch from his domestic, or private, life; and his character and sin are plainly told. (Gen. 38) No other of Jacob's sons is so brought out into the light. Moreover, from his evil connection sprang Pharez through whom the genealogy is traced.
Between Joseph's dreams and their fulfillment there was a period of suffering; cast out, hated by his brethren, sold as a slave to Gentiles, yet ruling over them before his brethren bow to him. There passes before our hearts One greater than Joseph; Who endured greater hatred from His own, and was by them delivered to Gentiles to be crucified; Who now is bowed to and worshipped by the called out Gentile (Acts 15:1414Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. (Acts 15:14)), while the Jew is yet in the land of famine.