Fun with the Bible: The Theme of the Second Son in Genesis and How God Does What He Wants

The Nifty Theme of Anti-Primogeniture

One interesting theme to note in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is how it’s all about God changing the way that the natural order plays out. One primary example of the way this happens is who the inheritance goes to in the line of the Israelites ancestors. In each instance, it is the older son that tradition and convention and ‘nature’ tell us should get the inheritance – known as primogeniture – but the second son who actually receives it because that is God’s will.

Abraham’s inheritance should actually go to Ishmael as his first born male son. However, it is actually Isaac who receives Abraham’s inheritance. Similarly, Isaac had two twin sons, Esau, who came out first, and Jacob, who came out second. Esau was meant to get his father’s blessing and inheritance, but it was Jacob who received it.

Why Can’t I Have Babies?

This theme presents itself in the case of the matriarchs as well. In each case, Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel are all barren and unable to provide children for their husbands, but God reverses the natural order and allows them all to have children because he will affect the way this line goes.

Applying This to the Torah at Large

This notion sits behind the entire experience of the Israelites as they are given the land of Cana’an by God, and is the point that the Five Books of Moses are making (in the story part, not the laws). God, at creation, has partitioned the land of the earth accordingly, but because it was His land, He was entitled to change His mind later on – something He did – and give certain parts to other people. The Torah is the story of him opting to give an already alloted piece of land to the descendants of Abraham.

In a cynical sense, the Torah is, in essence, an Israelite justification for why they had the right to dispossess the local people and take the land for themselves and live there. Their book says, because God told us it was ours when He changed his mind about the people here! The Torah is an old-ass piece of political propaganda, if you look at it this way.


A. the Torah is A WHOLE lot more than this.

B. this is a cynical view though something to consider

C. Though the attitude may have modern ramifications this understanding is not meant to be applied – nor should it be applied – to the modern circumstances in the state of Israel. That would be foolish and lack consideration for myriad other factors like factual historical circumstances and other purposes of the Torah.

Wrap Up

What do you think of these ideas? What do you find noteworthy around these stories in the book of Genesis?

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4 Responses

  1. However, it is actually Isaac who receives Abraham’s inheritance.

    In the Qur’an, both Isma’il (pbuh) and Ishaq (pbuh) receive the more important inheritance from Ibrahim (pbuh), namely, prophethood.

  2. Yes, I think it’s very important to note that in the Quran, though Ishmael and Isaac are both the sons of Abraham, the things that happen to them happen in different ways than the Bible portrays.

    For example, many people are familiar with the biblical story in Gen. 22 when Abraham almost sacrifices Isaac. In the Quran, the son is not explicitly Isaac and tradition says that the son is actually Ishmael. Moreover, the place that this occurs in Jewish and Christian tradition is where the temples eventually stood (where the Dome of the Rock now stands) and according to Islamic tradition that place is where the Kaaba now stands. (Is there anything to correct or add, JDsg?).

    Interestingly, in the Quran, as has been pointed out, both sons inheritance is prophecy. In the Bible, the inheritance that Isaac gets uniquely is the land that will be his (in the form of Cana’an). What both sons get, however, is a huge amount of progeny and to become nations. All of the offspring of Abraham are supposedly turned into nations, a tactic that the Bible uses to explain why all of the people surrounding the kingdoms of Judah and Israel looked similar and spoke similar languages (Semitic ones).

  3. […] read this week’s Fun with the Bible post, click HERE. To check out the Quran Read-A-Long, click […]

  4. It gets odder than what you described here.

    Dad Oldest Gets Inheritance

    Abraham Ishmael Isaac
    Isaac Esau Jacob
    Jacob Reuben Joseph
    Joseph Manasseh Ephriam
    (jacob blesses)
    Jesse Eliab David
    God Israel Gentiles
    God Jesus All Mankind

    So, while this is somewhat theologically heavy, it’s interesting in that such a ‘first son’ dominated culture would have so many younger sons inheriting (and this is by no means a comprehensive list).

    Fun with the Bible!

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