The right that naturally belonged to the father’s firstborn son. Under the patriarchal system the oldest son became the head of the family upon the death of the father, with authority over the others as long as they were in the household. He was responsible to care for the members of his father’s household. He also succeeded to the father’s position in representing the family before Jehovah. The firstborn generally received the father’s special blessing. (Gen. 27:4, 36; 48:9, 17, 18) Moreover, he was entitled to two parts of the father’s estate; that is, he received twice as much as each of his brothers. Under the Mosaic law a man with more than one wife could not take the birthright from the oldest son and give it to the son of a specially loved wife.—Deut. 21:15-17.
In patriarchal times the birthright could be transferred by the father to another son for a cause, as in the case of Reuben, who lost his right as firstborn due to fornication with his father’s concubine. (1 Chron. 5:1, 2) The firstborn could sell his birthright to one of his brothers, as did Esau, who despised his birthright and sold it to his brother Jacob in exchange for something to eat. (Gen. 25:30-34; 27:36; Heb. 12:16) There is no record that Jacob asserted his purchased birthright in getting a double share of Isaac’s property (which was movable or personal property, for Isaac owned no land, except the field of Macpelah, in which was a cave for a burial place). Jacob was interested in the passing on of spiritual things to his family, that is, the promise given to Abraham concerning the seed.—Gen. 28:3, 4, 12-15.
With respect to the kings of Israel, the birthright seems to have carried with it the right of succession to the throne. (2 Chron. 21:1-3) However, Jehovah as Israel’s real King and their God, set aside such right when it suited his purposes, as in the example of Solomon.—1 Chron. 28:5.
Jesus Christ, as the “first-born of all creation,” always faithful to his Father Jehovah God, has the birthright through which he has been appointed “heir of all things.”—Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:2; see INHERITANCE.