In biblical times, birthright and blessing were always connected to the firstborn son. The birthright included a double portion of the father's estate; and the firstborn son took over as head of the family and its possessions. Jim Spillman wrote, "The blessing was more of a spiritual inheritance, passed down from father to son. The blessing dealt more with sacred relationships and the promise of good things to come." It would be rare for the blessing not to be transferred automatically to the firsborn; however, in the Kingdom of God lots of rare things happen!
We have a God of perfect order; but He is also a living and active God who is daily at work, enacting plans beyond the scope of our human, finite understanding. And he is an upside-down King, who does not always do things the way we expect Him to. How else would it be that within the four consecutive generations of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Ephraim, we see the blessing of the firstborn being given to a younger son instead? As we study these unusual examples of fathers and grandfathers passing on the blessing of the firstborn to younger children, we cannot find any consistent pattern. In each of these situations it occurred differently. Isaac was not the firstborn of Abraham, but he was the child whom God had promised to Abraham and Sarah, the one who would carry on the Covenant and the blessing to become many nations and inherit the Promised Land. Ishmael was conceived outside of the will and plan of God!
Then we see Isaac with his twin sons Jacob and Esau - and although Esau was born first, he squandered his birthright and sold it for a bowl of beans! And if that were not enough, Jacob also tricked his blind father into giving him the blessing upon his death bed. Was this deception outside of God's plan? Apparently not - for in Genesis 25 we hear that when Rebekah inquired of the Lord about the babies in her womb, He answered, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will SERVE the younger" (Genesis 25:23). Things were progressing according to God's sovereign plan in His "upside-down kingdom!"
Then Jacob produces 12 sons, who will become the 12 tribes of Israel, but we do not see Jacob's blessing of the firstborn going to Reuben, do we? No, it is apparent from the beginning of the story that Jacob's heart and blessing will belong to Joseph and flow on to his second-born grandson, Ephraim. Jacob, by then known as Israel, blesses his grandsons by crossing his arms and putting his right hand (the hand for blessing the first-born) on the head of Ephraim, the second-born. Their daddy Joseph is sure the old man is making a grave mistake and cries out, "No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head." But his father knew what he was doing. He refused and said, "I know my son, I know. He [Manassah] too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother [Ephraim] will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations." So he put Ephraim ahead of Manassah." (Genesis 48:17-20).
What does all this mean to us? I meditated upon that all day today, and finally heard the still, small Voice of the Spirit say, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Humble yourself in the sight of the LORD and HE shall lift you up."
In His upside-down Kingdom those who are exalting themselves and building their own kingdoms, seeking fame, wealth, and prosperity from their kingdoms will one day find themselves crying out, "No, my Father, I am a firstborn! Put your hand on MY head!" But the Father may just cross His arms and place His hand of blessing on the head of a younger one - one who acted justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly in His sight (Micah 6:8), one whose name no one in this world ever knew.
He is, after all, King of an Upside-Down Kingdom.