Three years after Sarah’s death, Isaac married Rebekah. Although the heir of the promise, Isaac and Rebekah still had no children twenty years later. Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his barren wife and God not only heard his prayer, but also answered in a way not anticipated:
GENESIS 25:20-26 (emphasis added)
“Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah as wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian. Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If all is well, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.
And the Lord said to her:
‘Two nations are in your womb,
Two peoples shall be separated from your body;
One people shall be stronger than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.’
So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.”
The brief account of Isaac as the promised heir provides a bridge to the record of his twin sons and the outworking of God’s covenantal plan.
The Birth of the Twins
As a result of Isaac’s intercession, Rebekah was able to conceive, but the discomfort of her pregnancy caused her to seek counsel from the Lord. In her mind, she assumed that her extreme discomfort was a bad omen. She asked, “If all is well, why am I like this?” (Gen. 25:22).
The record does not disclose where or how she proceeded to seek divine revelation. Some suggest she prayed at the family altar. Others believe she actually consulted with 160-year-old Abraham who was the prophetic voice for the family. Either way, the answer was direct and revealing.
God gave her assurance there was nothing wrong with her pregnancy; she was carrying twins! The twins struggling in her womb foreshadowed their postnatal relationship characterized by conflict.
Through specific revelation, Rebekah was informed that the two babies in her womb would not only become great nations, but also that the older of the two would serve the younger.
In ancient culture, the eldest son would assume patriarchal rule over younger siblings.
God, however, made clear that would not be the case with regard to her twin sons. God not only knew how the relationship between the siblings would develop, but had also determined that the oldest would not fulfill the expected role.
Isaac and Rebekah named the first son Esau (Heb. עשָֽׂו׃ Ay-sauv = rough) because he was covered with hair. Because the second twin grasped the heel of the firstborn during birth, he was named Jacob (Heb. יַעֲקֹב Yah-ak-obe = grabbing the heel). Although many assume this name was of a derogatory nature, there is actually a positive rendering of the name that conveys the concept of protection. Historically, a variation of the name expresses the idea that “God has protected.”
The Character of the Twins
The record continues by giving information to help the reader judge the character of each child and gain a broader scope of the ensuing conflict. Esau was a wanderer and hunter with little sense of responsibility. Jacob had more of an administrative nature. He stayed at home and was the more responsible of the two.
As Isaac’s son, Jacob most likely managed the household servants as well as those who cared for the vast flocks and herds in Esau’s frequent absence. In addition to the differing personalities, there was a familial atmosphere of favoritism that fueled strife between the siblings. Isaac loved Esau and Rebekah loved Jacob.
With no interruption, the biblical record moves to an incident later in the lives of the brothers providing additional insight into their character and further explaining God’s revelation to Rebekah.
The Mind-set of the Twins
Esau returned empty-handed from a hunting expedition to find Jacob cooking a pot of stew in his tent. Esau claimed to be at the point of exhaustion due to thirst or extreme hunger.
It seems unlikely that a skilled hunter would return home in such a state, but this situation helps demonstrate Esau’s character. He brusquely demanded that Jacob give him some of the food he was preparing. Jacob, who understood Esau’s character and personality, was concerned about his brother’s suitability to assume the responsibilities entailed in the birthright.
It seems probable that Jacob had anticipated such an opportunity. Jacob offered Esau his aromatic stew in exchange for the covenantal birthright.
Esau had a choice between the provisions of the birthright and immediate self-gratification; he opted to indulge his appetite.
Driven by emotion and physical cravings, Esau dissed the birthright saying, “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?” (v. 32). The only thing on his mind was his hunger.
Jacob on the other hand craved the birthright and all it entailed. The birthright consisted of a double portion of his father’s inheritance, leadership of the family and the blessings inherent in the covenantal promise. Jacob recognized the purposes of God.
Whereas, Esau fixated on the present and immediacy of his need for sustenance, Jacob had vision for the future.
Whatever knowledge they had of God’s covenantal plan, Jacob and Esau possessed diametrically different views of God’s promises to Abraham.
Esau was a profane man who cared for nothing beyond momentary and sensual desire. The Scripture judges his actions with the words,
“And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” (v. 34).
Esau viewed his birthright with contempt and disdain. Jacob did not, in point of fact, trick Esau out of his birthright as many teach. Scripture reveals that Esau had no interest in it and willingly gave it away.
1) Bible opened to Isaiah. By, Ken Horn, [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
2) The Mess of Pottage, (1896-1902). By James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) [PD-US, PD-Art], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.