Summary: Jacob and Esau symbolize two different paths with different ends.
Not Identical Twins
We begin this morning a study on the life of Jacob. Jacob is mentioned as one of a triad of personalities, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As Paul reminds us, all Scripture is profitable for doctrine and example. When Paul was saying this, he was referring primarily to what we call the Old Testament. The Old Testament has been somewhat neglected by Christians which is a tragic mistake. What does the study of the Old Testament have to offer the Christian? Come and see.
The Bible is not a disjointed series or stories and myths as Peter reminds us. Scripture tells us a story from Genesis to Revelation. The Old Testament shows us the progress of this story in what might appear at first to be disjointed snapshots. They are the revelation of the story of God in various times and places and which as Paul in Hebrews states are pointers to the more complete revelation which occurs in Jesus Christ. It is the story of God’s good creation, the fall of humankind, the seeking by God of fallen Adam and Eve, the promise of a child born to Eve being the means of our redemption, the progress towards that child who is Jesus Christ who dies for our sins and rises again and a promise of return and full restoration of God’s good creation.
We are in the part of the story where the selection of who this special child is revealed. It has already been shown that it would not be of Cain’s descendants, but Seth’s. It would be through the descendants of Noah. It would be through the descendants of Shem and not his other brothers. It would be from a descendant of Abraham. The promise would not come through his nephew and apparent heir, Lot. Neither would it be through Eliezer his servant or even Ishmael, but Isaac.
One of the themes of Scripture is the idea of the impossible birth that happens anyway by the intervention of God This all points to the virgin birth of Jesus. Abraham and Sarai could not produce any children. When it was physically impossible for Abraham to be a father and Sarai a mother, God intervened and Isaac was born.
We see that the promised son would come through the line of Isaac. But again, the Scripture tells us that Isaac and Rebekah could not have children either and the biological clock had was about to run out if it had not already. It was enough of a concern that Isaac prays to the Lord, a prayer which the Lord heard.
Rebekah had a very difficult pregnancy. She was so distressed that she asked the Lord in desperation for help. It was revealed to her that she would be the mother of twins. Even in the womb, these twins struggled which was prophetic of which of the two sons would be the ancestor of the promised child. This struggle would continue after the children were born.
There was something strange about the message which Rebekah received. The elder shall serve the younger. This was completely contrary to the popular thought of the day that the firstborn was the favorite son. Isaac certainly understood this as the text reveals. But God is not bound by human wisdom and convention. The special blessing of God would rest upon the younger child. Rebekah believed this and would act upon it.
The birth of the twins show that they were not identical at all. The one who came from the womb first was considered the firstborn. This child was called Esau. He was covered with red hair. His name means ‘red”. The second came grasping the heel of his brother was smooth of skin and was called Jacob which means “supplanter” or “deceiver.” This is not exactly a nice name, but it does describe what he would become.
The text says that Isaac showed special favor on Esau the firstborn and Rebekah on Jacob. This would become the source of strife in the family as we will see. But God had made His choice before the twins would be born. The promised child would come from Jacob and not Esau. Paul quoting Malachi reaffirms this in Romans where he says that God makes choices for Himself for His own purpose independent of human works and opinion. Whereas the statement “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated has caused about as much strife among commentators as the twins had for each other. It would take too much time to dissect this here, but it certainly indicated God’s choice of Jacob to be the ancestor of the Messiah.
The twins were not identical or even similar. One became a hunter and the other a shepherd. Esau would become what some would call a “redneck” or “good old boy.” In many ways he would be seen as a fine example of manhood. There is nothing to indicate that he was anything but a model citizen of his day and time. He would become everything someone would expect of a leader.