Reflection: Genesis 25: 19 – 34; 27: 1 – 28: 9
The dysfunctionality of a number of Old Testament families are legend, but God’s salvific intervention at various stages of their family life are evidence of His care and concern resulting from the ravages of sin over the imago Dei. One such story involves the familial dynamics that seemed to have brought out the worst in the household of Isaac and Rebekah. There is very little information available of their growing up years, apart from their birth as fraternal twins, but the intriguing tale of Esau and Jacob sends an initial chill down our spine as it unfolds.
The brother’s growing animosities (beyond plain sibling rivalries) toward each other were the outcome of years of parental preferences and prejudices over them. Blatantly, the Scripture tells us that Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating wild game (fancy that), while Rebekah loved Jacob (25:28). Imagine growing up with a conclusive realization that you will never get the support of one parent whatever you do or say, while the other will do anything for you literally; even emboldening you to lie to your father in order to secure your older brother’s birthright. It certainly would have damaged Esau and Jacob’s psyche at the point of their own self-worth. For in a moment of folly, it made Esau even think that his birthright is inconsequential compared to lentil stew, since his father’s love was qualified! Crass favouritism, under any guise, conditions and skews us in the direction of endlessly trying to please the one who has the power of granting favours, and invariably subverting our own priorities in preference to that other. Its toxicity will ultimately destroy our integrity and warp our moral judgment.
Rebekah knew from God the outcome of her sons’ futures (25:21-23), but instead of allowing Him to do His work in His time and way, she plunged headlong into manipulating Jacob in fulfilling that prophecy. And what a mess she made of it! This treachery was birthed over years of seeding Jacob’s mind against his older brother’s natural inheritance of all his father’s wealth, eventually concluded with a compact over food between the brothers (25:29-34). It is amazing how the testimony of her own extraordinary Divinely-appointed marriage to Isaac is so soon overtaken by her fears and expectations of a God who may not be able to keep His promises! In the constant battle over our faith, the critical element is to keep a living faith in our God – a freshly exercised faith throughout life.
The deception of Isaac over his favourite venison meal played out like a tragicomedy, but its execution was relationally catastrophic for Esau and Jacob, and it fractured the family, almost permanently; as Esau began to scheme to kill his brother once his father passed on (27:41).
It was to be 7 years later that Jacob experienced a similar deception by Laban over Leah, which was probably quite distressing, and I believe for the first time in his life, he knew what it was like at the receiving end of such a betrayal of trust. He had another 13 years of soul-searching, before he felt it was time to make amends with Esau. It took 20 years (31:38) before the brothers were prepared for reconciliation, but not without God’s intervention as His destiny for Jacob has yet to be fulfilled. The brokenness of Jacob had to be accomplished, both in terms of the acutely entrenched schemer-opportunist that he was, and his suspicion of others, before he would be ready to trust God and grow his faith in Him (32:22-30). God’s personal encounter with Jacob was His initiative to transform Jacob into Israel; the new name indicated that ‘God will fight for him’ from now on. This must be such an encouragement to Jacob after years of imbibing his mother’s and Laban’s duplicity as the model and norm for his life.
It is notable that in this passage in Romans, where “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28), Paul does not say all things are good, but that they work together for good in the heart of God. Thankfully, we do not live in a world governed by chance or anarchy, as our Father began with a purpose in the Alpha (His Son), is sustained with a purpose in redemption, and He has an ultimate purpose in Christ as His Omega. Hence, our expectations, whether it is in our children, others, or ourselves, ought to be laid on Jesus. We know enough about God to appreciate that His intentions are noble and His purpose for all things is finally good.