This section of Genesis recounts the story of Jacob and Esau, twin boys who struggle for power and blessing.

It concerns the relationship between Israel (Jacob’s descendants) and the neighbouring peoples (Esau’s descendants), and the continuing of God’s covenant promise of land, blessing and descendants.

The Lord answers Isaac’s prayers and blesses his wife, Rebekah with twins. Esau, the eldest, means “hairy”, and Jacob, the younger, means, “caught by the heel, cheater, con-man”, because he is born clinging to Esau’s heel, as though trying to overtake him to be born first.

The boys grow into men, and one day Esau returns hungry from hunting. Jacob has prepared a delicious stew, and the ravenous Esau trades his birthright for a bowl of soup. A birthright was the extra portion of a father’s goods which ancient custom dictated must go to the eldest son. It also promoted him to head of the family, and the spiritual leader for his spouse and children, siblings and their wives and children.

But Jacob and Rebekah circumvent tradition. It’s interesting to consider why God chose Jacob to inherit the Abrahamic covenant, when tradition should have determined Esau to be the beneficiary of the birthright. God’s choice of Jacob over Esau was made before they were born: “The children struggled together within her” (Gen 25:22). These warring babies would become warring nations; one would serve the other. Merit or performance did not determine Jacob as God’s chosen; the choice was simply the Lord’s divine will. Romans 9:11 says: “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad —in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls”.

After Jacob deceives his father and steals Esau’s birthright, he flees to his mother’s relatives to escape his brother’s wrath. Along the journey, he dreams of a stairway from earth to heaven, and the Lord appears to him, extending to Jacob the promises made to his grandfather, Abraham, and inherited by his father, Isaac, of land, blessing and descendants.

 

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