Summary: People are formed by NATURE and NURTURE, which they cannot control, but also by CHOICES, which they can control. They can choose VALUES, PERSPECTIVE, and ACTIONS. Yet how free to choose are they? Those who receive Christ are "born of God" (John 1:12-13)
“THAT’S JUST THE WAY I AM”—Genesis 25:19-34
(Series on the life of Jacob: “Life is Messy; God Is Faithful”)
“That’s just the way I am.” People say that, and maybe we say it about ourselves: “I’m shy…I’m not very tactful…I’m not assertive…I’m not a sensitive guy…My emotions take over…I’m a people-pleaser…I’m stubborn…I’m really nice, sometimes too nice…I’m spoiled (I admit it)”
“That’s just the way I am. It is my nature.”
We are formed by NATURE.
Parents who have more than one child might observe that their children are, by nature, quite different from each other. They are born with unique personalities, abilities, and inclinations.
Esau was born “red and hairy,” and his personality matched the stereotypes. He was a rugged outdoorsman, wild at heart. By nature, he was passionate, impulsive, and impatient.
When Jacob came out of the womb, he was already grasping the heel of Esau. His name meant, literally, “He grasps the heel,” which was a Hebrew expression for “He deceives.” Quite a name for a boy, and Jacob lived up to his name! He was a quiet young man, staying at home among the tents, but his mind was active, always thinking of new schemes to further his own ambitions.
“That’s just the way I am.”
We are born with inherited traits: attractiveness, intelligence, health or physical challenges, temperament and personality. God made us unique, and that is good. However, as a result of the brokenness of the world, caused by sin, our nature is corrupted. We inherit flaws like color-blindness, arthritis, or a bad back. Our personalities are distorted, perhaps leading to depression, narcissism, or discontent. We are inclined to fall into sin, through selfishness or stupidity. King David said,
“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalms 51:5)
David recognized that he was born with a tendency to sin. Theologians call this original sin, or inherited sin. Our nature is corrupted by sin in the world.
“That’s just the way I am.” We are formed by nature.
We are formed by NURTURE.
For centuries, philosophers and psychologists have debated whether nature or nurture determine human behavior. Is it genetics and DNA, or are people formed by their environment and the people around them? Recent studies have shown that nature and nurture are both important, and that they interact with each other. I think most parents knew that already!
Esau and Jacob were shaped by their sibling rivalry, which began before birth: “The babies jostled each other within Rebekah,” so much that Rebekah prayed to God about why the two boys seemed to be fighting for position all the time. That pattern continued after birth, even into adulthood, and it shaped them both. Relationships between siblings have a significant role in forming personalities—for better or worse.
More than siblings, parents nurture personality and character. Isaac and Rebekah reinforced the natural differences between Esau and Jacob:
“The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Genesis 25:27-28)
The nurturing that Isaac and Rebekah gave to their sons was not always healthy. Each parent had their favorite, and it sounds like they were living out their dreams through their favorite sons. Esau and Jacob were each encouraged to do whatever their heart desired, with a doting parent as a cheerleader, and no coach to confront their weaknesses. It was not a good situation for character development.
The environment that forms us is never perfect. Most of us had good parents, but none of us had perfect parents. Many of us appreciate the influence of our siblings on us, although they may have hurt us in some ways as well. Friends and enemies, communities, teachers, coaches, bullies and abusers may also contribute to our development. Some people tell painful stories of being rejected, abused, misled, or constantly criticized and put down. Others identify key people who brought out the best in them.
The circumstances of life shape us as well. Some people have health problems, or lose a parent, or lack opportunity. Others have everything handed to them, and never need to struggle. Nurture shapes us.
“That’s just the way I am.”
DO NATURE AND NURTURE FULLY DETERMINE WHO WE ARE, AND WHAT WE DO?
Before Esau was born, God saw two different futures for Jacob and Esau, and their descendants!
The LORD said to Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)
It seems that Esau’s life and legacy were set in stone, before he was born. Or perhaps, it was just that God was looking into the future of the nations that would come from them.