The Birth and Youth of Esau and Jacob
19 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac,20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?”[c] So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 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.”
24 When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.[d] Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Esau Sells His Birthright
29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.[e]) 31 Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.”[f] So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Beyond the Struggle to Survive
I struggled quite a bit with this passage, not because this passage is difficult to understand, but because it was difficult to see what the message would be. I mean that story is easy to understand. We understand what is going on in that family, but it is hard to really come up with a message. What message can we get from the story like this? What is morale of this story? What message can we get from Esau or Jacob? What did we learn from a man who would give up his birthright for a bowl of stew? No matter how hungry he might be, and what we learned from a man who would take advantage of the vulnerable situation of his brother. The man sold a bowl of stew to his brother who was dying of hunger for his birthright. I don’t think that was a fair deal. He was taking advantage of Esau. That was a difficulty that I went through in meditating on this passage. What is the message?
Struggle to Survive
But Soon I realized that this story is our stories. These are the stories of survival. People struggle to survive for the sake of survival. They’ll sacrifice almost anything. Survival becomes the priority. Survival becomes everything and people struggle just to survive. Well, Jacob did was the same thing, Survival. Now to Jacob, life never came to him on a silver platter, in everything he had to fight out. He was a competitive man. Even from his birth, he had to hold onto his brother’s heel not to lose. He wanted to come out first. Everything for Jacob, was a struggle. Even from the birth, it was a struggle. Nothing was given to him easily without his struggle. He always had to fight out to get what he wanted. To him, life was a struggle. This story shows well how life was a struggle for Jacob.
Dysfunctional Families Breed Struggle for Power
Jacob grew up in a dysfunctional family. His father loved his brother Esau probably because he was more fun to be with. He was a hunter. He was manly, so the father loved his brother, because he goes out and then hunts the good stuff and so the father loved Esau, but the mother, Rebecca Love Jacob. This tells us a lot about his family. Very dysfunctional family. There was already a division in the family in addition to natural sibling rivalry. There was favoritism of the parents. I don’t think I’ll raise kids that way. Our father love one kid, and the mother loves another kid. What kind of family is that? that is very, very dysfunctional. The children, poor children. They were caught up in this dysfunctional family dynamics and they were caught up in the conflict and power struggle.
It was more difficult to Jacob then to Esau because all the power was given to Esau, not to Jacob. Mother’s love did not have much political power in the ancient society, but these days, mother’s love is all the power. If the mother doesn’t say yes, then nothing gets done. So any family who doesn’t listen to mother, their family will not survive but not like ancient society. All the political power was given to the father and the father was the one who control everything. And father’s love had a tremendous political power and Esau had that power. And also Esau enjoy the privilege as a first born. Even though he was born just few seconds earlier, he had all the privilege and rights as a first son of the birthright Jacob had nothing, as the second son and the Mama boy. He had no privilege, no entitlement, and no real power in his struggle to survive.
The Powerless use Deceit
Jacob had only one way and that only one way was the way to trick Esau. That’s what he learned. He knew the birthright was nothing to Esau. Esau did not care about birthright. The scripture says that Esau despised the birthright as a quiet boy, always staying home. Jacob knew how to cook, so he used his cooking skill to lure Esau. When Esau came home from the field, starved to death. Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau asked for stew, and Jacob, using the opportunity made a deal with Esau. He said, first, sell me your birthright. That was not fair. Esau was so hungry and a little bit foolish, he didn’t care about birthright. I don’t want to die of hunger. Well, why don’t you just take the birthright, and then he took the stew.
Jacob Tricks Esau as a powerless person. He tricked Esau to survive. Often powerless people do that because that was only way that they could survive. And this wasn’t the last time Jacob used his trick to trick Esau. When the Father Isaac was on his deathbed, he pretended that he was Esau and got his father’s last blessing. That blessing only once he could give Esau pretended to be Esau. Then Jacob got the last blessing, this time, the weak mother also was part of that plot. The mother helped Jacob to get that blessing. For the powerless people, the trick is there only weapon. I think Israel, was able to identify with Jacob because Israel was always surrounded by the superpower, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, all this superpower, it was the only way they could survive was to use tricks and pretend to be powerless.
People do that. So I think the the Israelites were able to identify with Jacob a lot. That was how they survived. When you really look at the story very carefully, Jacobs tricked did not do much help for Jacob because the birthright included the power of inheritance. He could get a inheritance from the father, but because Esau was so angry he wanted to kill Jacob, and Jacob had to flee away to his uncle Laban. So he didn’t get any anything by tricking Esau. Actually he had the birthright, I mean verbal agreement, but in practicality, he didn’t get anything all his life. Jacob used tricks to survive. He even tricked his uncle Laban. He was a trickster, but Jacob’s life, when you look at Jacob’s life as a whole, Jacob’s life did not end as the trickster. He had to go beyond the struggle to survive.
At the end of his life, he struggled with a strange man. This time it wasn’t us. It was not a struggle to survive, this time It was a struggle to be blessed by God. He realized that blessing cannot be attained by tricks. And at the end, he saw the angels of God and he met the true living God, and he wanted to truly be blessed by God. He said to the stranger “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”. There he truly met God. So Jacob called the place peniel saying, “for I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved. That is a lesson that I learned.”. Jacob, realize that God’s blessing, you cannot conquer, you cannot take by tricks.
And then at the end he really committed everything to God in our struggle to survive. Sometimes we depend too much on our own power, on our resources, on our wisdom, and when we don’t have those, we even use tricks to get our life going. When we don’t have power, we even manipulate our situations. True blessings cannot come from our manipulations. We have to go beyond our struggle to survive.
Sharing is What Creates Power
We have to put our lives in God’s hands, in to God’s hands we commit our life. We have to let go and let God. Jacob learn this through a hard lesson of his life. When Jacob met Esau for the last time, for many years, they were separated at the east. Jacob had to flee from home for many years. They were separate and when Jacob had to come back home, he had to meet Esau, and Esau brought 400 men. He didn’t come out to be a brother, a friendly brother. He came out to kill Jacob. He came out to start war with Jacob, but somehow he wrestled with God and there he was changed. He didn’t manipulate the situation and in return the blessings that he stole from Esau, was returned back to Esau.
He realized that the blessings of life or not to conquer by tricks, but to share, Jacob went beyond his struggle to survive. Life is more than surviving. Life is to be celebrated by sharing our blessings. Right now in Israel, there is a huge conflict between Gaza Strip and Israel. Hundreds of people are dying. Rockets and bombs they’re going on and the Israel is planning to execute a land invasion, even more casualty. More conflicts. I mean, this message teaches us something, life is not only about fighting to get what you want, the blessing of God is not something you conquer by fighting out, or by tricks, the true lessons of life is to share what we have with others and that is a blessing. Korea is the only country right now which is divided north and south because of ideology, and I hope that even in that land, they may learn the wisdom of sharing their blessings with each other.
You know life’s too. Sometimes we are in our struggle to survive. We even manipulate our situations and we find out, but after we find out so much, what we realize is that cost blessing. It’s not something that you fight to get only when you open your hands, open your fist, and then share life with each other. Then we experience the abundance of life. I hope that we can share while we have with others, if you have material resources you share that if you have a good heart, you share that. If you have love, you share that. By fighting, only thing that we will see is this disaster. So I hope that we learn this lesson from the scripture everyday, live truly progressive life together.