They shall come with weeping; and with petitions will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by rivers of waters, in a straight way in which they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. — Jeremiah 31:9, World English.
Jeremiah 31:9 is often quoted as a scripture that is suggested to mean that firstborn means something other than the usual meaning of firstborn in reference to Colossians 1:15.
See Colossians 1:15 – Did Jesus Have a Beginning?
Concerning Jeremiah 31:9, John Gill wrote:
The allusion, perhaps, is to Joseph’s having the birthright, and whose younger son, Ephraim, was preferred to Manasseh the elder, (1 Chronicles 5:2) (Genesis 48:14 Genesis 48:20) . Ephraim intends the same as Israel, the ten tribes, and includes the whole body of the Jewish nation.
Some claim that one of the tribes of the northern kingdom is here called “firstborn”, evidently with the suggestion that this does not mean that there was a beginning related to this usage of firstborn, and thus the same idea should be applied to Colossians 1:15. We should note that Ephraim, as used here, stands for the entire northern kingdom of Israel, and not to the one tribe. (2 Chronicles 25:7; Jeremiah 7:15) Additionally, Israel is used here by extension to the very formation of the entire 12-tribed nation of Israel, whom Yahweh calls his firstborn. Israel was Yahweh’s firstborn son as a covenant nation. (Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1; Romans 9:4) There was a time when Israel did not exist, thus there is no suggestion here that firstborn is being used as without a beginning. Therefore, Israel was “brought forth” as God’s first son as a covenant nation. There is nothing in the language of Jeremiah 31:9 to warrant the conclusion that in Colossians 1:15 firstborn means anything other than the meaning of the word, first to be born or brought forth in the class being referred to.
Nevertheless, if the right of firstborn is taken from one and given to another (Genesis 25:31-34; Hebrews 12:16), this does not mean that the one who has been given the right of firstborn was not brought for into existence in the group being designated. Nor does it mean that the word firstborn itself is to be given the "preeminence". Preeminence in the Bible is given to whoever has the right of the firstborn, whether that person is actual firstborn or has has been designated as firstborn due to the right of firstborn has been taken away from the actual firstborn.
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