One of the major themes in the Bible is how God fulfills his covenant to and for His people through His chosen lineage. At the beginning of the world, God had a perfect and sinless relationship with Adam and Eve. But when sin entered the world, everything went into a downward spiral. There’s a seemingly hopeless situation in the world. However, God chose a specific group of people to carry out His purposes in the world. It was His covenant to this group of people that made Him show His perfect love and faithfulness to them. Here’s the story of Isaac’s sons.
God displays his covenant faithfulness by keeping his promises to His people all throughout the course of time. The covenant promises fall under two categories that is the ones that are already fulfilled and the ones awaiting for consummation or fulfillment. Most of the promises have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The life, works, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus correspond to a specific covenant promise of God.
One of the ways to have a deeper appreciation of God’s covenant faithfulness is to look back at the important figures in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is filled with significant characters from common people to royalties. People who served as prophets and shepherds also contributed to the fulfillment of God’s promises. Aside from these groups, there are people called “Patriarchs”. The male lineage that God employed to build the country of Israel is represented by the patriarchs in the Bible. Abraham is perhaps the most well-known patriarch in the Bible because he is the ancestor of all Israelites. Abraham was promised in a covenant by God that he would become “the father of many nations”. God actually changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “father of many.”
Next to Abraham was His son, Isaac. He is another key figure in the redemptive story of the world. When God instructed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22 and when Isaac’s father’s servant chose Rebekah as his bride, Isaac was already a man of tremendous faith (Genesis 24). Isaac tried to depart from God’s instructions and favor the elder when his wife became pregnant with twins and was warned that the older (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob). However, according to God’s plan, Jacob was to come after the patriarchs, which is exactly what transpired.
A Tale of Two Brothers
The earliest twins mentioned in the Bible were Jacob and Esau, sons of Isaac and Rebekah. They were battling one another in their mother’s womb even before they were born, a precursor to the future tensions between the brothers.
The twins had radically different upbringings which was even highlighted by their own parents. The favorite son of his mother, Jacob was “a shy man, keeping among the tents.” Esau and Jacob were both the fathers of countries. Jacob became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel after God changed his name from Jacob to Israel (Genesis 32:28). The Edomites were the ancestors of Esau (Genesis 36). Edom was a nation that subsequently troubled Israel and was ultimately punished by God (Obadiah 1:1-21).
Jacob had a difficult start to life. He and Esau jostled for position as twins in the womb, and as a result, he was born clutching his brother’s heel. The translation of Jacob is “he deceives” (Genesis 25:26). When Rebekah, his mother, questioned God about what was going on with her while she was expecting him, God responded that there were two countries developing inside her that would eventually split. The elder person would assist the younger because they are both stronger than each other (Genesis 25:23).
On the other hand, because of his prowess as a hunter (Genesis 25:27), Esau won his father’s love. Esau took hunting very seriously; one day he returned from a hunt so exhausted and hungry that he believed he was going to pass away. When Jacob begged for his birthright, his hunger and the alluring aroma of the red lentil stew his brother was cooking persuaded him to do so (verses 29–34).
A Bowl for a Birthright
Esau was Isaac’s favorite and was described as “a superb hunter, a man of the open country.” When Esau came home after a hunting trip, he expressed a desire for some of the lentil stew that Jacob was preparing. In exchange for Esau’s birthright, which granted him the particular distinction of being the oldest son and the right to a double portion of his father’s inheritance, Jacob promised to give his brother some stew. Esau gave his birthright to Jacob in order to satisfy his short-term physical demands rather than his God-given blessing (Genesis 25:27-34).
When Esau delivered his meal and Isaac realized Jacob had duped him, Isaac was horrified (Genesis 27:33). Esau began to complain, pleading with his father for a blessing. Isaac could not think of anything to say except that Esau would “throw [Jacob’s] yoke from off your neck” one day. When Esau’s descendants revolted against Jacob’s descendants, this prophecy was fulfilled (2 Kings 8:20). After their father died, Esau became bitter and vowed to kill Jacob (verse 41). When Rebekah learned of the plan, she intervened, telling Jacob to leave.
Many years after the twist and turns in the lives of Jacob and Esau, they found themselves at another crossroads. After living with his in-laws, Jacob decided to return back to his homeland because his relationship with his father-in-law became sour. He then had to face his brother after many years of running away from him. But Jacob was wrong about his brother wanting to kill him for revenge. It says in Genesis 33:4 “Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.” But because God had blessed both men with children, possessions, and livestock, the men could not continue to live in the same area, so Esau had to move to the hill country of Seir, south of the Dead Sea.
Blessings and Burdens
The story of Isaac’s sons holds a lot of Biblical teachings on theology, relationship, God’s Will and many other aspects of Christian life. One of the key takeaways from their story is the power of the decisions that people make and how it could affect the lives of the next generation. Both Esau and Jacob’s decision-making reflects the tendencies of people whenever they are faced with difficult situations.
Esau’s decision to sell his birthright is cited in the New Testament as an illustration of ungodliness—a “godless” person will prioritize material pleasures before spiritual ones. Esau teaches us to hold fast to what is genuinely important even if it means ignoring our fleshly appetites by setting a bad example for us.
Jacob and Esau’s tale serves as an example of God’s calling and election in both the Old and New Testaments. Just as God’s call of a person is irrevocable, so is His purpose to bless a person according to his purpose. While it has been widely accepted that calling is only for those who are actively engaged in the ministry, the truth is that every believer has a calling from the Lord that they are to fulfill. Just as God called Jacob to carry the lineage by which He will fulfill His promises, He has powerfully and wisely ordained events in our lives that would bring Him the highest glory.
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