Genesis: Roots, Relationship, Redemption
A Sibling Rivalry
Genesis 25: 19-35
There is a middle school in Lincolnshire, England, that has a record-breaking 20 sets of twins in attendance. Just last September (at the beginning of the school year), they welcomed in 6 new sets of identical twins. And… seeing as the school has a dress code of blue and white matching uniforms, the twin situation had become an interesting problem for the teachers to manage.
Last fall, a few of the teachers were interviewed by a local newspaper about their student situation, and when they were asked why they though there were so many twins… one replied that “their must just be something in the water.” and that from then on all the twins had to wear name tags.
This sounds like a recipe for disaster, if you ask me!
Because, if Hollywood has taught us anything about identical twins it is that they are schemers– look at the Parent Trap. That they can be mischievous– look at Fred and George Wesley in the Harry Potter series. They can even be creepy – see the Grady Sisters from the Shining…
I could only imagine the adventures these teachers had with 20 sets of identical 12 to14-year-old this past school year.
Personally, I always kind of wanted a twin.
Someone to share a secret language with.
Someone to swap clothes with.
Someone to have that special twin bond with.
There are stories of female identical twins that have given birth to children on the same day within just hours of each other. Stories of twins breaking an arm and the other being able to feel it. Twins can be so in sync, or attuned, with one another!
Well our Genesis passage, tells us of a pair of twins. But, as it turns out, these particular twins are most certainly not identical in any way. They don’t share that special bond of secret languages or unique devotion.
Their bond is quiet the opposite. Jacob and Esau are bound in enmity. Even in the womb they were at war with one another.
Lets look at where they came from for a moment. Jacob and Esau are the children of Isaac and Rebekah. And we learned about Rebekah last week.
Right after Isaac married Rebekah… A couple of big problems come their way. First, Abraham dies, at the young age of 175. So the pressure is on for Isaac and Rebekah to carry on the promise of God, by producing the next generation of the covenant people. They have to have some kids, and fast. And to make this task even more urgent, Ishmael (if you can remember him, the other son of Abraham that he has with the servant girl Hagar)… well, he has had twelve children, by this time! I imagine that this would really have weighed on Isaac… perhaps making him doubt that God had picked the right son to carry on the covenant.
But then came an even bigger problem – Rebekah was unable to have children.
You may have noticed that this is a common story in Scripture. The Bible is filled with strong female figures that have struggled with infertility, had problem pregnancies, or difficult births. There is Sarah’s before Rebekah, and Rachel after her. Later on the same struggle would be shared by Hannah, mother of Samuel. And Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist.
By the time that Isaac is pushing 60 years old, the biology of this situation is not looking good. It is at that point that Isaac takes a spiritual risk and he prays.
You might be thinking, of course he prayed, where is the risk in that! He was raised in a household that knew God… of course he prayed, he probably prayed all along.
But the language here, tells us that Isaac came to plead before God.
Isaac came to a point where he handed the whole situation over to God. He let go of any control…
A few weeks back we talked about how Abraham and Sarah messed with God’s plans – they tried forcing the issue of starting the next generation, but they had to learn the long-hard way that fulfilling God’s promises is not something that we (mere humans) can rush.
So, Isaac and Rebekah are learning this same lesson. When it comes to God’s work, we have to get out of the way. Hand it all up to God, release control, and accept that all would unfold in God’s own timing
This lesson is an important and sometimes terrifying one for us today. How many of us have stressed about not knowing God’s direction for our life? Worried over family issues? How many of us have had to wait for God’s timing?
Isaac and Rebekah remind us that we are in good company.
We all have to learn that hard lesson of trusting in God’s timing and purpose.
But when finally Rebekah become pregnant, they are blessed to know that these children are part of God’s plan… rather than simply the product of biology.
Genesis says, “The Lord was moved by [Isaac’s] prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. But the boys pushed against each other inside of her, and she said, “If this is what it’s like, why did it happen to me?”
Rather than being thrilled at the prospect of having children after so many years… we hear this strong woman shouting “why me?”
And when God answers her question… the answer is the opposite of comforting.
“And the Lord said to her, two nations are in your womb; two different peoples will emerge from your body. One will be stronger than the other; the older will serve the younger.”
This isn’t just twins wiggling around in her womb trying to get comfortable… Even as babies Jacob and Esau were pushing/ war-ing against each other. This wording in the Hebrew pops up again in the Book of Judges when there is talk of skulls being smashed (Judg 9:53; Ps 74:14), or in Isaiah referring to reeds being broken (Isa 36:6). There was a violent struggle going on inside Rebekah’s body.
When the children are finally born. The first child comes out red and hairy. Then second comes out hanging on to his brother’s heel.
If anyone of you wrestled back in school, you may know that there are wrestling moves that involve grabbing on to a person’s ankle or heel to make them unstable/unbalanced. That’s what this is.
They named the first Esau, which means “Hairy One”. Which leads to the obvious question: just how hairy was this kid? Well, know that later on his brother would later impersonate Esau by wearing goatskin on his hands and neck. This is one hairy dude. And the second child is named Jacob, meaning, “Heel.” And would come to be known as trickster.
The events of their birth, really characterizes the rest of their young lives. Filled with divisiveness, and trickery.
The story tells us that Esau would grow up to be a skilled hunter and an outdoorsman.
One commentator that I read this week said, “I think if Esau were around today, he’d be driving a 4 x4 with massive tires on it and a gun rack in the back window! … And if you went to his house, he’d have a magazine rack filled with Field and Stream type of magazines.”
Esau is more brawn than brain.
But lucky for Esau, his father really liked him. Isaac had a taste for wild game, and Esau (with his hunting skills) kept him well supplied.
As they say, “The quickest way to a man’s heart…” (is what?)
But unlucky for Esau, his brother Jacob had a brain and knew how to use it!
The birthright is naturally passed on to the eldest son. So this was intended for Esau. The son of the birthright received a double portion of the inheritance, but more importantly he also became the head of the family and the spiritual leader upon the passing of the father.
Jacob was not okay with Esau being the intended recipient of the birthright.
So when Jacob (this natural born trickster, and the underdog in this story) saw his chance, he took it!
After a long hot day of hunting, Esau comes back to the tents and sees Jacob cooking up his favorite stew. And Esau demands to be served, implying that he is inches from death, that he is starving (even though this is a man that was out hunting… he knows how to put food on the table).
And here Jacob sees his opportunity. Again, “The quickest way to a man’s heart…” (is what?)
Well, it turns out that the quickest way to a man’s birthright is through his stomach as well.
Jacob bargains with Esau.
“Sell me your birthright.” Jacob says.
And Esau consents! Hands over his birthright for what, I’m sure, was one very delicious bowl of lentil stew.
“He ate, drank, got up, and left, showing just how little he thought of his birthright.”(CEB Genesis 25:34)
This story of Jacob and Esau is more than a cautionary tale, warning us of rivalries and tricky siblings. This is, again, a story about letting God lead the way.
Back in the late 1800s, in Mayfield County, KY. There were two deacons at a small Baptist church. These two deacons hated each other! And always tried to get in each other way. On a particular Sunday, one deacon put up a small wooden peg on the back wall of the church near the door so that the minister had a place where he could hang his hat. When the other deacon discovered the peg, he was outraged! Absolutely furious that he was not consulted. The congregation was forced to take sides and eventually the congregation split. And to this day in that county, there are Peg Baptists and Anti-Peg Baptists.
This congregation is a little like the twins. The deacons and this congregation had one task, to let God lead. But they let their rivalry get in the way, which tore the family apart. That congregation is a prime example of a modern day selling of a birthright.
But rather than sell their birthright for a bowl of stew… the sold out to arrogance, they sold out to their rivalry.
Know that we are the receivers of God’s grace. There is nothing that we can do to earn it, there is nothing that we can do to stop it… God gives grace anyway.
When it comes to God’s work… what we can do (if we are not careful) is delay it, confuse it, get in its way.
Despite Jacob and Esau’s feud, and despite neither of them being a model for Godly conduct… God’s will is still in motion. God chose Jacob as the next link in the chain, even before his birth. A choice that was not made based on either sibling’s merit or achievements… But because God is good and made a way.
Conflict is often viewed as something to be avoided, ignored, or quickly resolved. But the story of Esau and Jacob challenges us to accept that sometimes rivalry is just part of life. But thankfully in the midst of those struggles, God is there. God is extending blessing to all people. God is making a way for grace.
Let us pray,
Lord of tricksters, fools, and hard heads. Lord, of all. We pray to you. We pray that the message woven into this story of Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Rebekah stays with us. Lord, may we grow to trust in your timing. Lord, me we grow to be a strong people- one that is able to hand up our burdens to you. Lord, continue to led us towards a life a peace, one free of rivalry.
In Christ’s name we pray,Amen.