When in survival mode, you have to compete against anything that could hinder your survival. Strong competitors, like professional athletes, often can’t explain their almost inhuman acts under pressure; adrenaline takes over. The same thing that the ancients used to escape from wild animals is what makes us win. Yet, for all the good that comes from a competitive survival instinct, it can result in ostracizing others. Esau and Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah, reminds us of this.
From the prophecy of Yahweh forward, we know that they will be rivals: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23). Yahweh didn’t necessarily desire that the two would feud. A division doesn’t always mean a strained relationship, and the word “divided” in Hebrew doesn’t imply derision.
Those of us with siblings know how frustrating the relationship can be, but we also know that when siblings learn to appreciate each other, they can be a great support system and a comfort in times of need.
Like many siblings, Jacob and Esau are opposites: the older red and hairy when born—per his name (Esau)—and the younger, Jacob, grabbing his brother’s heel—like his name, “He who takes by the heel,” or idiomatically, “an ankle biter.” Indeed, the ankle biter rules his brother, but his brother makes the choice for it to be so (Genesis 25:29–34). Esau, when exhausted (and likely near death), gives into his survival instincts, allowing his competitive brother to take charge.
There is no doubt that Jacob is a swindler. But aside from the scandal, this story teaches us something about Yahweh: when given something by Him, no amount of competitiveness makes it worth forfeiting. We never know the results of the poor decisions we make in times of destitution. Esau was unaware that his impulsive, perhaps angry actions would mean forfeiting His descendants’ place later in God’s kingdom. And Jacob didn’t know that his zeal for winning and financial certainty would plague him for the remainder of his life. He may have been rich, for a while, but he wasn’t happy or joyful.