Reflections on Scripture, Spiritual Growth, and Personal Transformation
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
A Tale of Two Brothers
Morning Reading - Genesis 27, 28
Evening Reading - Matthew 9:18-38
This morning we reach the climatic moment in the dramatic story of Jacob and Esau, which began in Genesis 25. The enmity between these twin sons of Isaac was evident even while they were still in Rebekah's womb. Beginning with the violent murder of Abel by his brother Cain in Genesis 4, we see conflict between brothers as a continual motif within the Old Testament.
The story of Jacob and Esau is one of deception, anger, and manipulation. However, there is ultimately reconciliation between Jacob and Esau (see chapter 33). In chapter 25, Esau willingly sells Isaac his birthright. Although Jacob may be faulted for taking advantage of Esau's weak position, Esau does not fully recognize and embrace his status as the firstborn son. Instead, we are told that Esau "despised his birthright." The tension between Jacob and Esau climaxes when their father Isaac unwittingly blesses Jacob, rather than Esau, who was the rightful recipient of his father's blessing as the eldest son. Although Rebekah encourages Jacob's deception, this does not release Jacob from his responsibility. Chapter 27 concludes with Esau expressing his intent to kill Jacob, which prompts Rebekah to send Jacob to his uncle's home in Haran.
As we continue our reading of Jacob's story and the subsequent story of his twelve sons, it is imperative that we remember that this is not simply a historical and biographical account, but is a theological commentary reflecting on the question, "How did the people of Israel become God's covenant people?" In other words, the authors of this early history of Israel are attempting to demonstrate that God ultimately fulfilled his promise to Abraham even though the human agents involved were so obviously broken and sinful. What we discover is that God exercises grace among his people in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word hesed means "loving kindness," which cannot be earned or deserved, but is freely given by God. Even in the midst of human brokenness, because of his great love for his people, God is faithful and fulfills his promises. So, as we read these stories of human deception and blatant immorality, it important that we focus on God's faithfulness and graciousness, rather than the fallibility of the human agents involved.