July 16, 2017
This story from Genesis is actually not a story about two brothers.
Or I should say It’s not just a story about the two brothers Jacob and Esau.
The reason that this story was told over and over again.
The reason that it became part of Scripture,
Is that it is also a story about God
and God choice between two nations:
Jacob represents the nation of Israel;
And Esau represents Edom.
(Review maps showing where Israel and Edom are.)
4000 years ago when these stories were told around the fire at night,
you can picture someone saying…
Tell us the story of how Jacob tricked Esau – how we got the best of Edom.
And then some wise old storyteller would begin…
Rebekah prayed to the Lord about the children struggling within her.
And the Lord said to her,
‘Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.’
And how Israel enjoyed that story!
Who doesn’t love to hear a story about how the underdog wins.
According to Jewish law, the oldest brother would receive a double share of the inheritance.
This is the birthright.
By law, Esau would receive 2/3 of the inheritance from his father Isaac,
And Jacob one third.
Jacob Is able to get Esau to give it up –
To give it to him – for the sake of a bowl of lentil soup and some bread.
In the book we know as Genesis,
Israel tells its story of how it came to be as a nation.
Of course they tell if from their own perspective.
The Edomites likely told a different story…
Just as Native Americans tell different stories about the founding of our nation
Than ones we learned from older textbooks.
For our ancestors in faith, for Israel (Jacob)
The story they told was of a God who sided with the powerless, the weak,
the younger brother, the barren woman.
God who sided with tiny Israel,
surrounded by much stronger nations (including Edom).
Israel’s side of the story wasn’t that it was perfect as a nation…
Jacob’s name comes from the word ‘heel’ –
And it conveys a sense of cheating, of trickery.
Israel acknowledged the flaws in its heritage,
but the stories became even more powerful
because despite these flaws, God chose them.
There’s actually some scientific evidence that younger siblings are often like Jacob.
My cousin shared an article this week that second borns are more rebellious –
They tend to misbehave and get in trouble with the law more than first-borns.[i]
The theory is that first borns have their parents as role models.
Second-borns also have role models –
but they happen to be their slightly-irrational 2 year old siblings!
The conflict between these two siblings –
Between Jacob and Esau/Israel and Edom –
Doesn’t end here.
Not long afterwards, Jacob connives with his mother to trick Esau
out of the blessing from their father.
Israel, the weaker, the smaller, the younger sibling
is blessed over the stronger nation Edom.
Many of these stories from Genesis just don’t seem fair.
God plays favorites.
Jacob receives the blessing, not Esau.
Israel receives the blessing and not Edom.
Well once again, we could consider that this story is told from the perspective of Israel
and her descendents including us.
But also, we could consider the awkward fact that for reasons beyond our deserving,
We live in a nation that is blessed too.
I don’t know about you,
When you realized what a blessing it is to live in the United States,
but I remember when it first came into my consciousness.
I think I was probably 9 or 10 years old,
And my best friend Sue who lived across the street,
Asked me if I ever wished I had different parents.
I don’t really know what was going on in Sue’s life at the time,
But I remember answering, “Ummm…no.”
Actually I had never thought about it before.
Life was pretty good,
so I had just taken it for granted that I had the family I did.
But her question got me thinking.
Why did I have the family I did?
Why did I have a house and a yard and food and safety
When even then I knew of other kids who didn’t.
Some who lived in my town;
And some who lived in villages far far away that I saw on the pages of National Geographic.
It didn’t seem fair.
Of course I hadn’t chosen my family or my community,
but I hadn’t done anything to deserve them either.
The nation of Israel knew that it had been blessed.
At times it didn’t seem fair.
They hadn’t done anything to deserve special blessing from God.
In fact they told stories over and over again of how they deliberately went against God.
But here’s an important of the stories they told as well:
As a people, we have been blessed by God, they said.
We didn’t deserve it.
(That’s the concept the grace by the way.)
But that blessing comes with responsibility.
We have been blessed not just for the sake of ourselves,
But for the sake all the nations.
They told these stories around the campfire
because they wanted to remind each other of what became known as
the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam….
They are blessed to be a blessing to others – all others.
Not just Israelites, but Edomites and Midianites, Ammonites and Moabites….
God had a mission in mind for Israel,
And it was always – always – for the sake of all families – not just their own.
Genesis 12:3 says: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”;
Genesis 28:14 says: “and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring”
God had a mission , a purpose in blessing Israel –
And the orientation of that mission was outward, beyond their borders.
We too have been blessed.
It’s not fair.
But there is a purpose in our blessing too.
As a nation, as a faith community, as families and individuals,
the mission is outward, beyond our borders,
to bless all the families of the earth through us.