The Bible does not paint a good picture of siblings living in harmony with one another. Of course when there is no conflict, there is little to talk about but there are many stories in the Bible about conflict between brothers. We have observed the conflict of Cain and Abel. You are familiar with the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors. David was looked down upon as the youngest and was considered weak. Even Jesus has conflict with his half brothers who do not believe in Him or His ministry.
The story of Jacob and Esau is unique in that it is a two sided conflict. In other stories of sibling rivalry there appears to be an obvious person who is right and the other is wrong. The story of Jacob and Esau is not as clear cut because both brothers do things that are improper. It is much more true to life, like when two brothers are fighting and both claim that the other started it. The truth is that both parties are to blame.
19 This is the account of Abraham’s son Isaac.
Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.
21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.
23 The LORD said to her,
“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.”
There are a couple of themes to begin in this story. The first is the idea of barrenness. Here we are told that Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah and in a few verses we’ll read that he is 60 when Jacob & Esau are born. This means 20 years of trying to have children. In these times there was no waiting for the right time. There was no birth control. So this is a very long time to go without having children.
There are several characters in the Bible that have difficulty having children. There’s no way of knowing whether this was a normal rate just as we have many couples today who are unable to have children for many different reasons. It does seem to be more than coincidence that this happens three generations in a row however.
We saw that Abraham and Sarah were unable to have children until God blessed them with a child at the respective ages of 100 and 90. Here Isaac and Rebekah are unable to have children after trying for 20 years. We don’t know how old Rebekah is and whether she is beyond the normal years for child bearing but the Bible is clear that this is a work of God. Finally Jacob and Rachel will have difficulty having a child and only after God opens her womb does she give birth to Joseph.
Why does this appear to be a theme in the Bible? For one, it should be a reminder that children are a blessing from God. This is perhaps the greatest sin surrounding the issue of abortion. Children are considered to be a convenience or many times an inconvenience by people. And pregnancies are terminated without a second thought. It is looked upon as a woman’s right to choose. Let me say loud and clear that a woman does have a choice in the matter. She has a choice to take actions or not take actions that involve in getting pregnant. This does not mean that mistakes are not made and I won’t pretend that even modern birth control is 100% foolproof but once a child is present it is no longer a choice.
There are many children conceived in less than ideal conditions. The parents aren’t married or the father is even unknown. The parents are merely kids themselves in their teens. Or at the other end are parents who thought they were done having children or ones who didn’t plan on having a child because of finances or some other reason. Each child should still be considered a blessing from God.
May God bless every parent who doesn’t consider a child a choice and decides to keep the baby or give it up for adoption rather than terminating a pregnancy. I say this with personal feeling because 58 years ago in January my grandparents were married and 58 years ago in May my father was born. It was a less than ideal situation that he was born into but I’m very thankful that my grandmother didn’t consider him an inconvenience.
Children are a blessing from God and that doesn’t start at birth but before that. In the last couple of weeks as Merissa has struggled with being pregnant we’ve both had to ask ourselves if we made the right decision considering the consequences have meant that Merissa has barely left bed some days and I have had little opportunity to get work done. I’ve had to wrestle with priorities as to what comes first. Let me tell all of you up front that if my wife says that she needs me she is my priority and I will offer no apologies for that. I don’t get to determine what she can and can’t handle on her own and neither does anyone else. If I am needed at home I will rearrange my other priorities.
But even with the difficulties I know that our child is a blessing from God. A couple of weeks ago we were already able to hear the baby’s heartbeat. Our baby is no bigger than my thumb today and a couple of weeks ago, at only 7 weeks into the pregnancy this little child had a heartbeat. That is a miracle. That’s not an inconvenience and it’s not a choice because that is very much a life.
There’s another theme that we seen here in this passage. Yes I realize that we haven’t made it very far in the story yet. The last sentence is the older will serve the younger. In the case of twins there obviously isn’t a lot of age difference. But that didn’t matter. In the ancient world the oldest male had a position of significance. He inherited a double portion of the inheritance. Even today the oldest child has significance if for no other reason than they will always be the oldest and often the most trusted with family affairs.
But God does not choose to bless the way the world chooses to bless. Jacob is the greater of the two children even though he is younger. Of Jacob’s children, Joseph is the most significant even though he is number 11 of 12. And when Jacob blesses his grandchildren through Joseph, he chooses to give the greater blessing to the younger child.
This is actually a picture of salvation. If we were to choose the people who are worthy of being saved, we’d pick the significant people. We’d pick the powerful ones. We’d pick the people with the most connections. We’d choose the most attractive ones. But God doesn’t choose by those criteria. It is only the humble that come to God. People who look at their lives and realize that they are sinners in need of forgiveness are the ones that find salvation. Not the ones that the world would choose. God does not operate by the rules of the world.
Now to quickly go through the rest of the story.
24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.
Esau is born first. He arrives as a very hairy red headed child. Esau actually means hairy. He is also referred to as Edom which means red. The people known as the Edomites are descendants of Esau.
Jacob comes out right behind Esau, grasping his heel. This appears to be indicative of a struggle taking place even in the womb. The picture is that these two babies were struggling for position even at the moment of their birth. Jacob means he who grasps the heel. This is an apparent figure of speech used for someone who is a deceiver. Jacob will be a deceiver but he will also feel the pain of deception in his life as the tables are turned on him a few times.
27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom. )
31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.
The two children appear to have very different personalities and it would seem as though one takes after his mother while the other takes after his father. And each parent has their favorite. The playing of favorites is disastrous to the family but is also a trait that is passed along. We know how Jacob favored Joseph and the heartache it led to as his brothers sold him into slavery and deceived their father into believing that Joseph had been killed.
This passage contains the selling of Esau’s birthright. Truthfully I really don’t know if it is something that can be sold. When the time comes to collect the inheritance it doesn’t feel as if this is something that is necessarily legally enforceable. Esau would certainly claim that even though he swore an oath that he didn’t really mean it and he was just hungry.
But this shows Esau’s attitude. He was shortsighted and only had the present in mind. We are often guilty of the same thing. We take out loans to buy things without giving much thought to how we are going to pay them back. In our younger years we eat all kinds of things that may give us health problems years down the road when we are 50 or 70.
But the greatest tragedy is that we don’t think beyond this life. Jesus told us to store up treasures in heaven where moths and rust won’t destroy them. But we spend our time going after earthly gains and earthly pleasures.