Twin Brothers In Conflict

“And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field: and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.

And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.”

Gen. 25:27, 28

Election and reprobation were implicit in the prophecy which God gave to Rebekah before the birth of her twin sons. This cannot be questioned because it is clearly stated by Paul in Romans 9. The question nonetheless does arise whether this implication of the prophecy was recognized by Isaac and by his family. 

Insofar as the prophecy related to the two sons personally, it stated, “and the elder shall serve the younger.” Directly stated in this prophecy are two thoughts. The first is that there would be a natural distinction between the two sons which were to be born. The one would be naturally the greater because he would be not only the elder but also the stronger and more mighty. The younger son in turn would be naturally the lesser, weaker, and comparatively less powerful. The second teaching of this prophecy is that, in spite of the, natural superiority of the eldest, he would be subjected in service to the younger. To the minds of Isaac and Rebekah this could mean nothing other than that the right of inheritance which would ordinarily go to the oldest son was in this case to be given by God to the youngest. One of the principal tenets of the birthright blessing in that day was that the son who received it would become the successor of his father as head and ruler of the family. Thus in effect what God revealed to Rebekah was that by His divine appointment the birthright blessing” which ordinarily would fall to the eldest son was in this case given to the youngest. Thus it was that He caused that at birth the youngest son should grasp the heel of the eldest. He was the heel-holder, Jacob, the one who by divine appointment would supplant his eldest brother and receive the birthright blessing. That birthright was assigned by God. It was not Isaac’s to give according to his discretion; it was not Esau’s to sell; it was even before birth given to Jacob by God. 

But for some reason this revelation was unacceptable to Isaac. Undoubtedly Rebekah had told him of it as well as Esau and Jacob when they became older. It seems rather disappointing that the faith of Isaac should falter at this juncture, especially, after he had showed himself to be as strong as he had been at previous occasions. One wonders what reason he gave for dismissing this clear revelation of God. Did he question the accuracy of the report that Rebekah gave? Did he feel that God should have given a revelation such as that to him as head of the family and covenant father? Whatever his reasoning, Isaac evidently felt that it was yet his right to make the final determination as to which of his sons should receive the birthright blessing. He realized, of course, the importance of the decision which he felt himself called to make. The bestowal of the birthright within his family was much more important than it was in other families. With him and with his seed was the covenant of God established. From him and from his heir was the salvation of God to be brought forth. This was much more important than mere earthly possessions and temporal dominion. It was spiritual and eternal. The question of which son should receive this promise could not be a matter of indifference. The birthright had to be given to the one best qualified to maintain it. Nonetheless, Isaac felt himself qualified and able to choose between his sons and to make the proper bestowal. 

Having, therefore, rejected the final determinative value of the revelation made to Rebekah, Isaac from the time of birth observed his sons very closely with a view to the choice which he felt himself called to make. Very soon the distinction between the two sons became apparent. They were by no means identical twins, but as different as two brothers could be. As a baby and a child Esau always was ruddy, healthy, and active. In contrast to him Jacob appeared frail, weak, and reticent. 

Moreover, as the children grew older and approached adulthood, the contrast increased and took on more important aspects. Esau always stood on the fore. He was forward. He was brave. He was imaginative. In popular psychological terms, we would say that Esau was an extrovert. Always in the background was Jacob, quiet, timid, bungling, the introvert. He tried to match and to surpass his brother. He was not beyond resorting to trickery and subterfuge, but it only succeeded in putting Esau in a more favorable light. In result Jacob appeared a covetous, envious, untrustworthy person. This difference in personality resulted in the distinction of occupations which the brothers pursued. Esau took up the challenge of the field. He became a hunter. It was an occupation adapted to his strength, bravery, and cunning. It satisfied his craving for action, thrill, challenge and conquest. But Jacob remained quietly at home. It would have been futile and dangerous for him to attempt to match the bravado of his brother. He didn’t have what it took. And furthermore, he had no interest in that sort of thing. He preferred the quiet and peace of his parents’ home. He was content to follow in the occupation of his father, to watch over the sheep, to spend his time meditating within the peaceful solitude of the pasture. 

Finally, there was the relationship which the sons held toward their father. We read that Isaac ate of Esau’s venison. There might hardly seem to be anything very remarkable about this; yet it implies a great deal. Esau in his roaming hunts took a great many different kinds of delicate and delicious meats. These he did not keep to himself, but after preparing them he shared them with his father. One can well imagine that those were enjoyable hours for Isaac. Coming from his distant wanderings, Esau would show to his father the trophies of the hunt. As together they feasted on the venison, Esau would recount the tales of the woods describing the thrill and excitement of the chase and of the conquest. We need not be surprised that such meals were occasions of great pleasure for Isaac and resulted in a deep affection toward. Esau. In comparison Jacob was rather dull company. The meats that he could offer were no different than what Isaac could himself easily procure. He had no adventures to recount which could even begin to compare with Esau’s. There just was nothing different or exciting about him. 

So we read, “And Isaac loved Esau.” This preference of Isaac for Esau we have seen to be quite natural. The grievous part was, however, that because of his natural love Isaac began to reason that Esau ought to receive the birthright blessing. The mind of man very easily becomes a means by which he finds excuses to fulfill his natural desires. Such excuses were very readily available to Isaac. The covenant seed of God are called to walk in hard and difficult ways; the strength of Esau was quite evident. The covenant seed of God have many and strong enemies; the bravery of Esau was known to all. Esau had all of the desirable characteristics: courage, boldness, confidence, and cleverness. To all appearances he was the one best capable of establishing a nation that would be truly great. Year by year the conviction grew that Esau should receive the birthright. 

In coming to this conclusion, however, there were a few things that Isaac had to ignore. The first, conclusive in itself, was the revelation of God to Rebekah. That in the mind of Isaac had in some way to be declared irrelevant. The second was the superficiality of Esau. With all of Esau’s seemingly admirable characteristics, one thing was lacking, the spirituality of a renewed heart. His words and actions were pleasing, but they studiously avoided all reference to God. Esau lacked the love of God and faith, and “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Sufficient was that to invalidate all of his reasoning. 

Furthermore, what Isaac failed to consider was the one great superiority which Jacob had over Esau. We read, “And Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.” The translation might better read, “And Jacob was an upright man.” Jacob was upright because he had a renewed heart filled with the love of God and love for the covenant of grace. Not that Jacob was without sin. We know from his later life that he often walked in a way that was deceitful and wicked. It is not at all impossible that insofar as appearance was concerned Jacob may often have appeared less upright than Esau. He loved the covenant and its promises. His thoughts during his quiet pastoral meditations were oft times on God and His revelations of grace. The spiritual truth that Esau studiously avoided, he studiously applied himself to learn. In spite of all his weaknesses he did excel. He believed God: he hoped for the promised seed; he loved the birthright assigned to him by God. 

That this was true became evident in the matter of the pottage. When it became evident to Jacob that his father Isaac was intending to give to Esau the birthright that had been before assigned to him by God, he was overwhelmed with a feeling of concern and despair. It had always been an occasion of joy for him to hear his mother speak of the revelation which had been given to her. When his father then evidently ignored that Word of God, showing definite preference for Esau, it caused within him a sorrow close to desperation. He had little influence with his father and saw little hope of prevailing upon him to change his intention. Thus when Esau came in from the field one day tired and hungry from a fruitless day of hunting to beg for food from Jacob, Jacob thought suddenly that the opportunity had come to right the intended wrong. He could not influence his father, but Esau he might. He offered to buy the birthright from Esau for bread and for the pottage he had brewed. To Esau the birthright had never seemed important anyway. He was only too willing to sell just to satisfy his ravenous hunger. 

It was a rather foolish little event, but nevertheless it reflected two very important things. It revealed the heart of Esau as being utterly disdainful of the birthright and the covenant promise which it involved. It was foolish for Jacob to perpetrate such an event. He might better have trusted in God. Yet it revealed the deep set love and desire which he had to receive the promise assigned to him of God. Isaac heard of this event we know. He should have learned from it. 

It was Rebekah who was more discerning in this matter. We read, “But Rebekah loved Jacob.” It is perhaps unlikely that this love of Rebekah was completely free from natural influences. Just as Isaac was attracted by the ambitious nature of Esau, so Rebekah was partial to the quieter nature of Jacob. Nevertheless, we can not believe that this was the only, or even the principal, cause of her love. She had received the revelation of God concerning the two children and believed it with all her heart. From the very beginning she understood that the birthright blessing belonged to Jacob by assignment from God. Believing this Word of God she was able very early in the life of her children to distinguish the spirituality of Jacob in contrast to the carnality of Esau. Soon she understood that the rejection of Esau as the heir to the covenant promise was based on a much deeper rejection of Esau personally. Although it had not been stated in that many words, she discerned the implication of God’s Word to be, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Thus her love for Jacob was based in a true spiritual love for the revealed will of God.

—B.W.