Jacob and Esau
When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. —Genesis 25: 24-27
What is your story? Asked this question, most of us would probably stammer a bit and then recite a litany of the places we’ve lived and the jobs we’ve held. This would be a start, but it wouldn’t be enough. Our stories run much deeper than that.
In Patterns of Renewal, in which he looks at the importance of story in the lives of the Kalahari Bushmen, Laurens Van Der Post writes, “The supreme expression of his spirit was in his stories . . . . These people knew what we do not: that without a story you have not got a nation, or a culture, or a civilization. Without a story of your own to live, you haven’t got a life of your own.”
The Bible is many things, but most noticeably it is a collection of stories—not simply of a people on their journey toward God, but also of families and individuals trying to make sense of their lives. In the story of Jacob and Esau, for example, we learn the consequences of sibling rivalry and greed. Because Isaac preferred Esau, the more physical of his twin sons, and Rebekah loved Jacob, the more genteel of the two, conflict between the brothers was inevitable. It surfaced first when Jacob took advantage of Esau’s hunger and traded him a bowl of soup for his birthright. Their enmity became even clearer when Jacob tricked his dying father into believing he was Esau and giving him the blessing reserved for the first-born son. Not surprisingly, when Esau later married two local Hittite women, neither of whom pleased his parents, we are told “they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.”
So what value does such a story have for people of faith today? Among other things, we learn the price of resentment and the results of competitiveness, especially between people who are close to each other. We see how favoritism can hurt relationships, as well as how defiance—Esau’s marriages, for example—creates further alienation. Most important of all, perhaps, we discover that despite all of Jacob’s flaws, God was still able to use him.
O God, when I see failure and weakness in my own story, help me to remember that through your grace, all my shortcomings can be transformed into sources of blessing for myself and those people who move in and out of my life.