I grew up with 4 younger brothers. If you have siblings, there is a good chance you had at least one fight with them. These are the people you grow up next to, the people who share the same life experiences as you and the people you sometimes can’t stand. Could be you have a younger sibling that just annoys you; or an older sibling that doesn’t want to include you. Sometimes we think our parents like our siblings more than they like us. Perhaps you are like me and your siblings are all just jealous of you because of your good looks.
The problems with your siblings can be small petty things that you laugh about later or they can be huge issues that define your entire familial relationships. A sibling rivalry can push both brothers to success to try to out-do one another or it can push them apart. The Bible is choke full of sibling rivalries; Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ismael, David and his brothers, and of course Jacob and Esau.
Jacob and Esau were twin sons born to Isaac and Rebekah. Esau was the oldest but the bible says Jacob came out holding his heel… so not too far apart. Jacob is the more noted “hero” in the Bible; There’s the whole name change to Israel and all the whole Jewish nation being named after him and all, but both offer a lot to learn from.
The brothers were a bit different. Picture Esau as a big red haired guy; with big hairy arms. He liked to hunt and fish and probably wore a baseball cap with a hook on the bill, owned a John Deere tractor and drove a pick up. Jacob was described as the kind of guy who like to stay at home in the tent. I picture him as more of the guy with a book in his hand; maybe he’s trying the new recipe on Tasty, or maybe he’s binge watching Netflix; not really a care about going hunting.
We see the first sign of a rift between them when the Bible points out that Dad (Isaac) referred Esau but mom (Rebekah) preferred Jacob. Never good when parents are picking favorites. As a matter of tradition the oldest son in their culture was the one who was supposed to receive the father’s blessing and the most inheritance. This is the case even if the brothers are only a few seconds apart. Jacob, however, was a bit of a schemer and a bit ambitious. He did not want the fact he was a few seconds younger stop him.
Esau came home from a long hard hunting trip, tired and starving and there was little bro in the kitchen making some delish stew. Jacob saw an opportunity; he could take advantage of big brother’s hunger. Apparently the stew smelled good; perhaps it was a Jacob specialty, in any case Esau really wanted some. Jacob took this opportunity to persuade Esau to give up his birthright in exchange for a bowl of stew.
Let’s get some perspective here. Isaac was pretty rich; he had inherited everything from Abraham and had added onto the wealth. Esau was in line to get quite the bounty and he traded it all for a bowl of stew. I will make no judgments about Esau’s intelligence; I will say Jacob really outwitted him here.
The boys grew older and we know Esau got married; we also know his parents didn’t approve of his wives. I am sure this made Sunday dinners that much more pleasant. Here’s Esau he has sold his birthright for a bowl of soup and has married 2 women that his parents hated.
This sibling rivalry took an even more serious turn when Isaac got old. He felt like he was at the end of his life and still wanted to give Esau a first son type of blessing. He wanted Esau to go into the woods kill something wild and yummy and bring it back to him and then he would give him his blessing. Getting Isaac’s blessing was a very big deal. It was a status symbol as well as a confirmation of who the leader of the family would be. Ambitious as ever with the help of his mom Jacob swooped in and stole Esau’s blessing. Jacob and mom went all in on this scheme, they prepared a wild game dinner and even put material on Jacob’s arms to trick a blinded Isaac. Jacob even went so far as to credit God ‘s provision for how quickly he had been able to prepare the dish so quickly.
“Isaac said to his son, "How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?" And he said, "Because the LORD your God caused it to happen to me." 21Then Isaac said to Jacob, "Please come close, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not." 22 So Jacob came close to Isaac his father, and he felt him and said, "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau. 23He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands; so he blessed him. 24And he said, "Are you really my son Esau?" And he said, "I am."” Genesis 27:20-24
Seems like dad may have suspected he was being scammed but still fell for it. Scheming Jacob had struck again! In one stroke he had lied to his father, and stolen what rightfully belonged to his brother, again! Esau was obviously irate and was pretty much out to destroy Jacob. So Jacob went into hiding. He moved back to his mom’s homeland with his uncle and tried to lay low.
For 20 years the brothers were apart. They did not see each other the entire time and they weren’t able to follow each other on Facebook. When things went sideways for Jacob at his uncle’s house he decided to go back home. He was afraid the brother he has scammed would still be angry after all these years. Jacob had come to realize he was wrong and he was fearful Esau had held on to his anger for the whole time he was gone. As he got closer to home Jacob didn’t know if Esau would try to kill him. He approached very humbly and sent teams ahead with gifts for his brother hoping to gain his forgiveness.
Esau had every reason to hate Jacob. He had every reason to want harm to come to him. He had stolen his birthright, he had stolen his blessing and now he had disappeared for 20 years while he had tended to their elderly parents.
But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. Genesis 33:4
Esau had been wronged by his brother, but he still had a deep love for him. If you have wronged your brother or your brother has wronged you, Esau and Jacob set a great example. Jacob is humble and seeks forgiveness, Esau forgives.
God blesses both Esau and Jacob with many descendants and with many belongings. Neither lost out on God’s grace because of their mistakes. Esau was rash and impulsive when he traded his birthright for stew; Jacob was dishonest and ambitious when he tricked his father and his brother neither was too far gone for God to use.