Children are fascinating to me. Especially around the ages of ten, eleven, and twelve, kids are really coming into their own. They’re still fairly innocent, not yet super moody, but they’re exploring their own interests and hobbies. Looking at them, I wonder how their lives will turn out for them as they grow up. Will they hold on to their current dreams? Will their personalities and identities do a complete 180? They’re like new characters in the story of Earth, with so many possibilities ahead of them.
This chapter of the Bible kind of feels like that – at least towards the end. It starts off in the opposite way, taking one last long look at a man who has come to the end of his life, his dreams, and his possibilities. Abraham, our friend from the past twelve chapters, has finished living 175 rich and eventful years. He is buried by his two sons next to his first wife, Sarah.
The lives of Abraham’s two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, continue without him. Ishmael has twelve sons, who go on to rule prosperous tribes. Isaac’s new wife Rebekah gives birth to twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau is the oldest one, but he apparently had to fight for it. Before their birth, the two brothers were jostling around in the womb so much that Rebekah asked God what was going on. He explained to her that her sons would be rivals from birth on up, with the younger brother eventually gaining the upper hand over the eldest. Sure enough, when the boys were born, it was like the end of the first of many battles between Jacob and Esau. The winner of this round was Esau, emerging from the womb just ahead of Jacob, who came out holding onto his brother’s heel, as if he was trying to stop him from being born first!
The twins continue to butt heads as they grow up. Each of their parents is drawn to the personality of one child (verse 28), which probably only exacerbated the tension between the brothers. Their sibling rivalry stretched from the most mundane of issues to the most life-changing. This is displayed when Jacob and Esau have a small exchange over some stew the younger brother was cooking. Esau, starving, wants the stew now. Jacob complies, but only after requiring his brother to give him the birthright. Since the importance of the birthright isn’t explained right now, it almost seems like a pointless trade. Esau gets his lentil stew, probably thinking that he won this round. But did he?
The Treasures Within:
A Fork In The Road
Two very different stages in life are laid bare before us in this chapter – the end of life and the beginning of life. The contrast between these two perspectives is a lot like the one we are all beginning to see as 2017 winds down and 2018 gets closer and closer. We know how we want to end up – fulfilled, prosperous, full of good years, like Abraham. But our present is on the opposite end of the spectrum – much messier, featuring some bad decisions and stupid mistakes, much closer to the state Jacob and Esau are in.
So many of us like to make grand promises about the changes we’ll make in the new year because newness is exciting. It feels like a clean slate. We feel like we’ve been given permission to forgive ourselves for the failures of the previous year, as long as we stay consistent in the new year. And sometimes we are consistent – for about a month or two.
Then things change. Habits resurface. We stop eating right and go back to eating what we want, when we want. Or we skip our designated reading time one day and then the next and then the next. Or we start ignoring our self-imposed time limits on TV and social media because we have to “stay informed”. Just like Jacob’s deceitfulness and tendency to manipulation and Esau’s impatience and thoughtlessness, all our negative personality traits come to the fore. Our clean slates are ruined. We return to life as usual, telling ourselves that we didn’t need to change in the first place.
We do the same thing in our spiritual lives. Changes eagerly begun are not so easily maintained. When we fail, we accept defeat, at least until the next “clean slate” opportunity appears, whether that’s the next time we take communion at church or the next time a sermon touches our hearts. But God doesn’t need a clean slate in order to work in our lives. It doesn’t matter if it’s January 1 or September 28. We could be just getting done with our bad habit, but if we have a willing heart and the desire to change, then God can transform our lives.
Jacob and Esau are not off to the greatest start at the end of this chapter, and soon we’ll get to see how the choices they made affected the lives they lived. We’ll get to see what opportunities they rejected and what mistakes they doubled down on. But our own lives are different. They haven’t been lived yet, which means the possibilities are endless. We can continue down the path of least resistance, giving free rein to all of our bad habits and worst qualities. Or we can invite God to change us – right here and right now. Clean slate or not, God is ready to give us an abundant life, just like He did Abraham.
God’s Message To Us:
“Just imagine the ways I can change your life!” A new generation is born in this chapter. A new walk with God is begun. Jacob and Esau may have gotten off to a rocky start, but all they need is a start. The same is true for us. It doesn’t matter where we are in our lives or what we did yesterday or even five minutes ago, God is willing to step into our hearts right now. Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, the rest of our life begins when we reach out and take His hand.
What do you think? What did you find interesting about the beginning of Esau’s and Jacob’s lives? What do you think God wants you to learn through this chapter of the Bible?