I have a family member who love to joke about ripping off his siblings by selling them stuff at prices higher than he purchased the items for. He’s actually a loving brother. But sibling rivalry is so common. How have you experienced it in your family?
As we continue reading the story of Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, we’re about to see them involved in some sibling rivalry. If you want, you can follow along by reading Genesis 25:27-34.
The twins grow up: Esau is a hunter who loves adventure, and Jacob is a quiet man who would rather stay home. In that short description we learn so much about these two. Esau is the character. The extrovert. While Jacob seems to be the introvert. You probably know people like this. People from the same family, but so different. How are your own brothers and sisters like Esau and Jacob? Or how are your children like that? Do you have some that are more adventurous? Some that prefer to stay at home? Some louder? Some quieter? Which are you more like?
The text also tells us that their father Isaac loved Esau, while Rebekah loved Jacob. It seems Esau had interests more in line with his father, and Jacob had interests more in line with his mom. There’s nothing wrong with kids having different interests that make them more relatable to one parent or the other. It happens all the time. But in telling us about the parents’ favorites, we have another foreshadowing, and an omen. Trouble is coming.
We don’t have to wait long for the trouble. Verses 29-34 describe a crucial episode when Jacob and Esau are young men. Esau is hot-blooded, red, and impetuous. Just coming in from a long jaunt in the countryside, Esau wants some of the stew Jacob had been making at home. Remember the foreshadowing from Jacob and Esau’s birth? The younger is about to grab the heel of the older again, but this time they aren’t cute little babies. They are young men, and young men, especially brothers, tend to be very competitive. Jacob refuses to give Esau stew unless Esau will swear an oath to Jacob that Esau will give up his birthright. Essentially Jacob is saying, “Esau sell me your birthright for the stew.”
What is the birthright they are talking about? In ancient cultures like this, there was something called the law of primogeniture, meaning that at least a double share of the father’s property would be given to the firstborn son when the father died. Though Jacob and Esau are twins, because Esau was born maybe only seconds or minutes before Jacob, Esau is due the double share. The older son would get a lot more wealth when their father died. But in a moment of foolishness, Esau sells his birthright for a bowl of stew, and Jacob is more than opportunistic to pounce on it.
Chapter 26 focuses on an episode in Isaac’s life, so let’s move on the chapter 27 to continue the story of Jacob. Basically what happens is a continuation of what we already heard about Jacob in chapter 25. In verses 1-4 Isaac tells Esau that he wants to give Esau, as oldest son, his blessing. But didn’t we just read in chapter 25 that Esau already sold this to Jacob for a bowl of stew?
To answer that we need to talk further about blessing and birthright in ancient cultures. Are they different? It seems one would inevitably lead to the other. When the father died, he would give his blessing to his firstborn son, and with that would also come the birthright, the double portion of inheritance. Perhaps Isaac didn’t know about Esau’s foolishness in selling his birthright for Jacob’s bowl of stew, or maybe he didn’t care. It could be that Isaac knew and just didn’t agree that a bowl of stew would buy an entire birthright. I don’t know about you, but in my family over the years there have been some ridiculous bets or deals that have been made between children, and we parents had to step in and say, “Sorry crew, that’s not happening.” Of course the kids feel we are being totally unjust by not allowing the deal to stand. The one getting the bad deal sometimes has no clue, or they will argue, “It’s fine, I don’t care, I really want it.” But you don’t sell someone a pack of gum for $10. Just like you don’t sell a birthright for a bowl of soup. Maybe something like that is going on in Isaac’s mind. We don’t know. What we do know is that he wants to give his blessing to Esau, his firstborn, his favorite son.
So Esau goes out to get some wild game to prepare a meal for his father before Isaac confers the blessing. Isaac’s wife Rebekah overhears this, goes to Jacob, her favorite son, and concocts a plan for Jacob to steal the blessing. They prepare some food, Jacob puts on Esau’s clothes, they cover Jacob’s smooth arms with goatskins to mimic his brother’s more hairy arms, and then Jacob goes in to his father Isaac’s tent.
Check back in tomorrow to learn what happens next!