Lesson and Read: Genesis 25.19-34
The children struggled together within her; and [Rebekah] said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”
Genesis 25.22-23 (NRSV)
The story of Jacob and Esau is the very definition of “Sibling Rivalry.” Genesis 25.22 says they began their fighting in Rebekah’s womb! Esau won that tussle and emerged first, but Jacob was born grasping his brother’s heel, signaling that the battle was not over.
Esau and Jacob were fraternal, not identical, twins. Esau, the first born, was a skillful hunter and a man of the open country. Jacob preferred life around the tents—pastoral, i.e., cattle and sheep and agricultural, i.e., crops and vegetables. It seemed that Esau was wild and Jacob was quiet. Isaac favored Esau because he loved fresh game. Rebekah loved Jacob but the text does not give a reason (Genesis 25.28). It is reasonable to think that Rebekah believed what God said to her during her difficult pregnancy, two nations are in your womb . . . one shall be stronger that the other (v. 23). Esau was obviously physically strong but Jacob was no weakling (he will later lift a huge rock to water Rachel’s sheep, 29.2-10). However, Jacob’s strength was his mind; he was obviously more clever than Esau. He easily tricked his brother into selling his birthright for a bowl of lentils (25.29-34). Rebekah remembered that God also said the elder son shall serve the younger (v. 23). Rachel’s favorite son was the one that God favored (and it is not clear that Rebekah ever shared this prophesy with Isaac).
Believers must confess that we are confused, at first, about what to think about Jacob. We know he is God’s chosen successor to Abraham and Isaac but we also can see that he is a villain. Jacob is tricky, manipulative and merciless. Esau is unarmed in a match of wits with Jacob. We may even feel sorry for the elder brother. Yet, we cannot ignore that Esau does not understand the value of his birthright. He thought more of an immediate satisfaction than a future asset. And Jacob, though a “heel grabber,” knew the worth of both birthright and Isaac’s blessing and, eventually, ends up with both.
Reverend Steven B. Lawrence