As with most women in the Bible, Rebekah is barren into her late years. For twenty years after their marriage there are no children, Isaac is now 60 when he asks the Lord for help, and the Lord grants his request. Rebekah becomes pregnant with not one, but two children. The pregnancy is not an easy one with, as we are told, the two children battling each other in her womb. Rebekah asks God why this is happening, and God tells her that the two children will be the leaders of two nations, nations that will be continuously at war with each other. I am sure that this news saddened both Rebekah and Isaac, but conflict does seem to be the way of God’s people, even today the conflict between the children of God (Jew, Christian, Muslim) seems to know no end.
And here the family troubles begin. We are told that Esau was the first born, but that Jacob had hold of Easu’s foot when Jacob came out. This is to present us with an image that even to the time of birth there was a battle between the two, both wanting to be the all-important “first born”, with Jacob still trying to pull Esau back so that he would come out first.
Sibling rivalry is nothing new in the Old Testament (Cain & Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, yet to come Joseph and his brothers), but here we have a new twist – the parents have taken sides. Esau is an outdoorsman, a hunter and farmer…daddy’s pride and joy; if this were modern times he would be readying for a career in the NFL. Jacob is a mamma’s boy, at home in the kitchen doing the cooking; again, in modern times he would be the bookworm, a grade-A 100% dyed-in-the-wool member of the Big Bang Theory. Issac and Rebekah make no secret of their preferences: Isaac loved Esau because of his skills as a hunter, while Rebekah loved Jacob. Can’t you just envision the fomenting rivalry between the two youths as they grew up? Is it no wonder what happens next?
Esau has just spent a long, hard day in the field, working under the hot desert sun, and is beyond famished. Anyone who has spent a hard day outside can relate to this, I know I can. Last year my son and I were hiking in the Arizona sun at Picacho Peak, the climb to the top is so steep that they have cables at one point to help you up and down. We had packed water, and a couple granola bars for lunch when we reached the peak. Then we had to head back down. When we reached the bottom we were starving, we drove a few miles to a DQ restaurant and downed a combo with barely a breath. Starving, though still nothing like what Esau must have felt. He was born-and-raised in the area, used to hard work. But this time was different, he was so hungry that he felt ready to pass out, afraid of not coming out of it. If I were to guess I would say he wasn’t just hungry but severely dehydrated as well. I have tended to people in this condition, and they seriously feel like they are at the point of dying. Esau comes in from the field and smells Jacob’s cooking, a soup/stew made of red lentils, heightening the sense of hunger. At this point Jacob decided to take advantage of his brother’s weakened condition and lack of clarity by denying Easu any food or drink unless Esau signs over his birthright. Given the choice of his birthright or death Esau agrees. Face it, this is a win-win for Jacob, if Esau didn’t sign it over then he might have died and Jacob would have inherited everything anyway. Is it any wonder that the tribe of Esau (Edomites) were at constant war with Israel?
Next, famine enters the land, and we will have a look into just what famine means in those times.