Summary: For those of us who have or maybe are holding grudges now, I hope you understand how destructive it is for you. It's impossible to love those you hold a grudge against.
Have you ever held a grudge? I have. I was once accused of plagiarizing material I wrote for a small group study. The person who accused me wanted to fire me, but, didn't have the authority himself to do it, so he tried to diminish my character by accusing me of stealing my material. I have to tell you that I really struggled to forgive this guy. But in the scope of life experiences this is a minor thing.
I had a conversation once with a person who was struggling to forgive her dad for years of sexual abuse. How can God expect someone who has been abused as a child to forgive their abuser? Does God expect this person to love the one who hurt them? Most of us can relate to holding a grudge. Just about everyone on the planet has done so.
Today I'm going to tell a story from the Old Testament about the destructive nature of holding a grudge. Isaac had twins named Esau and Jacob. Esau was a hairy guy. Apparently he was a furry baby, because the name Esau means hairy. This little nugget is important a little later in our story. Esau was the older of the twins, even if it was only by a few minutes; this is also important because according to the custom of their day the bulk of the family inheritance was handed down to the oldest son.
For years Isaac and his wife Rebekah tried to have kids. But Rebekah, according to the Bible, was unable to bear children. Isaac pleaded with God and prayed about it and finally God answered his prayer. (Genesis 25:21) During the late term of the pregnancy Esau and Jacob were fairly active. It seemed to Rebekah that they were fighting with each other in her womb. It bothered her so much she decided to ask God about it. (Genesis 25:22-23) What God told her would change the destiny for Jacob and, at least for this family, turn the custom of the oldest son receiving the inheritance from his dad upside down.
Esau became a hunter. Jacob was a momma's boy. Esau was a man's man. He enjoyed being outdoors, he loved to hunt, and he was covered in hair from head to toe. Jacob on the other hand was smooth skinned, an errand boy for his mom, and apparently good in the kitchen. One day Esau came home from one of his hunting expeditions and he was tired and hungry. Jacob was cooking a pot of stew. Esau wanted some, but, Jacob didn't just give him a bowl. He asked Esau for something in return.
In order to understand the rest of the story you need to know what God told Rebekah. Her twin babies seemed to be consistently struggling with each other in her womb. When she asked God why this was happening, He said, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” (Genesis 25:23)
The older son will serve the younger son. This was not the way it was supposed to work. This was against the custom and traditions of the day. It's speculation to suggest that Rebekah favored Jacob because of this insight, but, I believe this to be the case. From the moment her boys were born Rebekah knew that Jacob would be the one who would inherit the family fortune. But, even though she heard this prophecy from God himself, she still took matters into her own hands to insure that what God told her would come true.
So Esau comes in from his hunting trip and he's hungry. He asks Jacob for some stew. But Jacob wants something in return, he wants the birthright of Esau. In this day the birthright consisted of two things. One; the ceremonial process of the family wealth handed down to the oldest son or inheritor and two; a blessing from the father or living patriarch of the family. Almost always this process was public and included much fanfare and ceremony. It was important for everyone to know that the authority of the family had been officially transferred from the father to the son.
There's no doubt that when Esau "sells" his birthright to Jacob he wasn't being serious. The Bible says that Esau showed contempt for his rightful place as the inheritor of his father's wealth. There's no evidence other than this story that suggests how he showed his contempt, but, apparently, Esau didn't take the responsibility of being the oldest one seriously.
But Esau was fully expecting the inheritance anyway. (Genesis 25:34) And Isaac was determined to give it to him. The Bible doesn't tell us if Isaac was aware of the prophecy that Rebekah received from God. But if he did know, it's possible that he forgot about it, or he grew skeptical of Rebekah's word about it. What we are told is that Isaac grew very fond of Esau. In his older days, Isaac relied on Esau for the meat he provided from hunting. We know there was deception occurring at every level in this household.