During the Chinese New Year (CNY), there is the customary CNY Eve dinner where the family gathers together for reunion. The first-born needs to be present and on the following day, Chinese New Year’s Day, the first-born takes the lead in visiting one’s parents and so on. The first-born is believed to be doubly-blessed: to be born itself is a blessing, and to be the first-born doubly so, especially when there are others also born thereafter. The first is seen as the sign of many more to come. In Chinese, the character for happiness 喜 is repeated twice in marriage invitation cards as 喜喜 is the sign of children yet to be born to the marriage.
Genesis 27:1 records how Isaac told Esau his first-born to give him some of the food from the animals he hunted (“hunt game for me”) so that “I may give you my blessing”. However Jacob, the second-born, received his special blessing because Rebekah his mother helped deceive his father whose “eyes were dim so that he could not see”. Earlier on in Genesis 25:29, we read of how Esau sold his birthright because he wanted the red stew that Jacob had cooking. Jacob made him swear that he do it because Jacob wanted the blessing that goes with being the first-born. So Esau swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Yet after Isaac did bless Jacob who disguised himself as Esau, Esau came in later only to discover that he no longer could receive the blessing reserved for the first-born. Esau then cried out, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” We read in Genesis 27:38 that “Esau lifted up his voice and wept”. The father’s blessing is always to be treasured especially by his children.
The double blessing of the father even more so. Jacob did give Esau a blessing but it was not so rich a blessing as that given to Jacob and so “Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him” and vowed “I will kill my brother Jacob” (Genesis 27:41). When Rebekah heard this, she made Jacob flee to Laban, her brother, far away in Haran.
However, Jacob soon realized that such a blessing was not worth it: though he married and had twelve sons and a daughter, and much riches, he feared Esau when he had to flee from Laban and had to return to his home land. During the journey, there was an occasion when angels of God met him: Jacob said, “This is God’s camp” (Genesis 32:2). He then realized that he had to say sorry to Esau and he sent messengers ahead to Esau, instructing them to say to Esau, “Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants and female servants. I have sent to tell… that I may find favour in your sight” (Genesis 32:5). The messengers returned to say that Esau is coming to meet Jacob with four hundred men.
With that news, Jacob became even more afraid and asked God for forgiveness for what he had done: “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of stedfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant… please deliver me from the hand of my brother” (Genesis 32:9). Jacob held God to His promise and told God, “You said, ‘I will surely do you good…” (Genesis 32:12)
Jacob sent ahead of him to Esau his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven children and everything else that he had. He was in effect giving Esau all the blessings that he had received from God as the first-born. He was left alone.
However we read that a man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. It was God, for Jacob refused to let him go “unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). The angel then asked for his name and Jacob replied “Jacob”. Then the man said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28). Jacob then called that place Peniel for “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered”.
Like Jacob, we crave for human blessing, especially given by our parents. However, the blessings of parents are largely material in nature, like the 200 female goats and 20 male goats, the 200 ewes and 20 rams, 30 milking camels, 20 female donkeys and 10 male donkeys which Jacob told his servants to tell Esau that they are now Esau’s. Jacob gave away these material blessings in the hope of obtaining the forgiveness of Esau.
Who is God’s first-born? Colossians 1:15 says that it is Jesus, “the first-born over all creation”. Yet it is this same Jesus who gave up the privileges of being the first-born of God because of the forgiveness that can be given to us by God: “Christ Jesus who, being in the very nature God…made himself nothing… being found in the appearance of man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross”. Jesus died not for His sins, for He had none, but for your sin and mine.
As a consequence, you and I are now the first-born of God for the writer to the Hebrews in 11:22 says that we “have come to Mount Zion… to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (Hebrews 11:22). We can now be the first-born because Jesus, the Son of God, made a present of Himself to God the Father. As Jacob returned the material blessings of being first-born to Esau, so too we must return the material blessings which our parents may have given to us as being whether as the first-born, second-born or whatever our birth order is. Jacob then struggled with God the whole night. He would not give up that struggle until he obtained the blessing of God for he said “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
Jacob went beyond the blessings of being the first-born of Isaac to claiming the right to be born again of God. So too, we should not rest in our enjoyment of the blessings of Chinese New Year but regard them as nothing in the light of what blessings God can give as His first-born. However, we need to have a face-to-face encounter with God as Jacob did. It can be painful but it is more worth it and much more important. God’s blessings to us as His first-born are many times more bountiful.
Let us use this Chinese New Year to remember what God has in store for us. Paul wrote that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). Truly, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).