Romans 9:7: “Being descendants of Abraham doesn’t make them truly Abraham’s children. For the Scriptures say, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted,” though Abraham had other children, too.”

Abraham’s other children – who were they and how many children did Abraham have?

After his wife Sarah passed away Abraham married another wife before he died. Her name is Keturah. Keturah gave Abraham six children. Add Ishmael and Isaac to the equation, and we are looking at eight children with Ishmael being Abraham’s firstborn. These days we call that a blended family.

While all eight children were fathered by Abraham, three different mothers were involved to give birth to his eight children: Sarah, Hagar, and Keturah. Even though all three women gave birth to Abraham’s children they did not have equal status. Sarah was Abraham’s wife, Hagar was Sarah’s servant girl, and Keturah was Abraham’s concubine. Each respective mother’s status deeply impacted their children’s future (Genesis 25:5-6):

“Abraham gave everything he owned to his son Isaac. But before he died, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them off to a land in the east, away from Isaac.”

When Abraham’s firstborn Ishmael was sent away without his rightful inheritance and his Concubines’ sons were sent away with “gifts” trouble was in the making. Over time, Abraham’s children grew into tribes and eventually into nations – nations who, despite their family relations tracing back to their father Abraham, have not been friendly with one another. Lasting family feuds ensued, feuds that have grown into modern day warfare and devastating terrorist attacks. Violation of firstborn rights could be seen as the original conflict.

The firstborn played a crucial role in the events surrounding Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Israel’s exodus was not achieved by nine devastating plagues (which must have left Egypt economically bankrupt). It was achieved through death of the firstborn, celebrated as Passover ever since. 

On the evening of the first Passover ever, God gave the following instructions to Israel (Exodus 13:1-2):

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Dedicate to me every firstborn among the Israelites. The first offspring to be born, of both humans and animals, belongs to me.’”

Firstborn livestock was to be sacrificed to redeem their firstborn children.  The difference between Egypt and Israel on that fateful night is the dedication of their firstborn – or lack thereof.  While the people of Israel saved their children by sacrificing lambs and applying its blood to their door frames the Egyptians lost all of their firstborn – children and livestock alike.

Dedicating the firstborn is one of the many ways our heavenly Father honors His Son. Centuries later, Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that Jesus is the firstborn elder brother of many brothers and sisters to come (Romans 8:29):

“For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”

Surviving that fateful night prior to Israel’s exodus established a sacred role for the firstborn:

  • A firstborn is to be set apart (dedicated to the Lord);
  • A firstborn has redemptive power (as seen in the redeeming story of Exodus);

In the end, everybody benefits from Isaac’s firstborn status. Isaac is Jesus’ ancestor who is set apart to redeem all of humanity. This blessing goes way beyond any material blessing Abraham’s family members could have ever received. In hindsight, it turns out that their jealousy is actually unfounded. God knows no preferential treatment. He loves every single person on this planet and He dedicated His firstborn Son Jesus to pursue an extraordinary mission: saving the world.