Sibling Rivalry

Anyone who has more than one child will tell you that there are differences between their children. Perhaps, one is outgoing, one is not. One is athletic, the other is not. One is geared toward the academic the other is geared toward the social. One is musical, one is not. One is compliant the other is strong willed.

If you were talking to Isaac and Rebekah they would tell you that their twin boys were as different as night and day. The firstborn, Esau was a boy who loved the outdoors. He loved to hunt and work with his hands. He was big, strong and hairy. If he lived today he would wear flannel, chew tobacco and drive a big souped up truck. Jacob was smooth-skinned and preferred hanging around home. He would be more comfortable in a tie and working in an office. He’d drive a sensible family car.

Jacob and Esau were brothers that became the heads of families that became nations. Esau’s descendants became the nation of Edom (which eventually disappeared) and Jacob’s family became the nation of Israel. In the text before us we learn how it all began . . . we read the story of their birth. But if we pay attention we find that there is much more to learn.


Isaac and Rebekah had a difficult time getting pregnant. Like any family of their day a marriage was expected to produce children. A woman who did not give her husband a child felt like she was a failure. So when they were several years into their marriage I am sure Isaac and Rebekah became concerned. Perhaps Isaac was comforted by the fact that his parents were close to 100 when he was born. Maybe not.

I suspect there were lots of questions from well meaning family members. “Don’t you think it’s about time to start raising a family?” They probably got more advice than they desired. They were concerned. Maybe they were even worried. God had promised that he would bless the descendants of Abraham. But there weren’t going to be any descendants at this rate.

Isaac and Rebekah did not turn to a fertility clinic or go to a sex therapist. They turned to the Lord. They pled their case before Him and trusted that He would be faithful to His promise and bring blessing to them.

Later when the pregnancy is well underway, Rebekah notices that something is not right. There appears to be a struggle in the womb. She is concerned. And most certainly, she is uncomfortable and anxious. In this anxious time Rebekah does not call her psychic, she turns to the Lord. And the Lord answers and tells her that this struggle is not because something is wrong, it is because there are two “nations” in her womb. There is a rivalry in the womb that will continue through the remainder of the days of these children and their children.

Isaac and Rebekah knew where to turn with the problems of their lives. They turned to the Lord. They believed that God would hear and answer. They knew that God understood and could do great things.

There are lots of problems people face today,

  • financial burdens
  • infertility
  • sickness or other infirmity
  • relationship or family tensions
  • overwhelming feelings of inadequacy or failure
  • feeling unloved or unnoticed
  • struggles in business

Whatever the trouble you face, let me ask this question: Where do you turn for help? Do you turn to a bottle, a substance (legal or illegal), a credit card to distract you for hopefully 30 days, a psychic, a self-help program, a scheme, a new relationship, or are you looking to the Lord?

Isn’t it true that for the most part we view turning to God as a last resort? I must admit that more often than not I will turn to my own schemes and devices BEFORE I turn to the Lord. Why is that? I would contend it is because of our foolish pride. We may say that we don’t want to “bother God”, but in truth, we don’t want to have to depend on God. We want to be independent. We want to run our own lives. If you will, we want to be God in our own lives.

As silly as it sounds we sometimes act likel we can even “save” ourselves and those around us. Sure, we need Christ’s sacrifice . . . but we believe that if we preach well enough or pray hard enough we can bring someone to faith. We think if we work hard enough or do enough right things we can get into Heaven. In the book of Romans Paul points to this same story of Jacob and Esau and uses it to show us that we cannot gain salvation with God first doing something in us.

Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! for he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. (Romans 9:10-16)

Did you catch those last words? “It does not therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” The key to our salvation is not what we do but what God does in us. In Ephesians 2:8,9 “It is by grace that you are saved, through faith — and this (the faith) not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

“But,” someone says, “I tried turning to God and nothing happened.” And I have to admit that there are times when I felt the same way. There are some things that I’ve learned along the way:

  1. God’s timing is different than ours. Don’t mis-read this text. Rebekah was barren for twenty years. I think Isaac and Rebekah began praying about the situation many years previous to this. When we turn to God for help we must trust His timing as well as His ability. Do not give up my friend!
  2. God’s purpose is different than ours. Our purpose is often to eliminate any pain or anxiety. We have a problem and we want God to make it go away. God is less concerned with our comfort and more concerned with our character. There are times when God delays in order to teach us something first.
  3. God’s perspective is different than ours. What we call a tragedy God sometimes sees as a blessing. We see the death of a child as a terrible tragedy. And it is, for us. . . . But if that child is spared the pain of this world and ushered into the presence of Jesus immediately at their death . . . is it a tragedy for them . . . or a blessing?

Tough times come to our lives and Isaac and Rebekah remind us to turn to the Lord in those times.


When God explained about the two boys Rebekah was carrying listen to what he says again,

Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger. (Genesis 25:23)

The boys weren’t even born yet and God was already telling the mother what their lives were going to be like. Even before they were born God has already determined that Jacob (the younger) would be the one that God would work through to fulfill His promise to Abraham. How does God know this?

There are three primary views of God in His relationship to what is happening in our lives.

  1. The first view says that God created the world and set it up to work in a certain way and now maintains a “hands off” attitude. He is going to let things run their course and see what happens. It’s a popular view but anyone who reads the Bible knows it is not the scriptural view.
  2. The second view says that God knows the future and reports it to us. In the movie Back to the Future – Part 2 Marty McFly travels with the Professor Emmit Smith to the future in a time machine. (If I remember correctly, one of the scrolling signs is reporting that the Cubs have won the World Series . . . so we are assured that this is a fantasy). While there, Bif (the villan) in the future smuggles a Sports Almanc to Bif of the past. And because of that, the future is changed. Now in the future Biff is rich and powerful (and corrupt) because he can bet on sporting events without any risk . . . because he already knows how things are going to turn out. This becomes the focus of the movie. . . .undoing what they had done to alter the future. Many see God acting like this . . . He knows what is going to happen so He can tell us what is coming and how to prepare for it with absolute accuracy. God is a being with insider information.
  3. The third view sees God as controlling and leading history. God is not detached but involved and intervening to direct the course of history. I believe this is the clear teaching of Scripture.

Lamentations 3:37-38 “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?


Psalm 147:8,9 He supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.


Daniel 4:35 He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of earth. NO one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”


Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.


Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.


Isaiah 45;7 “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.”

Do you see what this means?

  • It means prayer is more than “wishing upon a star” it is touching the heart of the God who rules the universe. Prayer makes a difference not because of how we pray . . it makes a difference because of who we are praying to.
  • It means circumstances are NOT out of control. The God who brought the world into existence from nothing can certainly change the circumstances of your life.
  • It means that the promises of God are not like sayings in a fortune cookie. They are the promises of the Almighty God who has the power and resources to deliver what He has promised.
  • It means if the desired change does not come . . . it is not because God is not willing or able . . . it means God is doing something different (and better)something that we cannot see or understand.


This story also shows us that little things can be very significant in our lives. You may remember the old proverb,

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
For want of the shoe, the horse was lost;
For want of the horse, the rider was lost;
For want of the rider, the battle was lost;
For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost,
And all from the want of a horseshoe nail.

It has been said that a single grain of sand in the kidney of Oliver Cromwell changed the course of British and world history. A small but fatal bullet ended the dream of an American Camelot. Little things can mean alot.

We see a seemingly minor incident take on major impact in our text. Esau had been out hunting. He may have been gone for days . . . or even weeks. When he returns he is very hungry. (Apparently he had not been very successful). His brother, Jacob, is cooking up what appears to be a stew of some sort and the smell is intoxicating. He begs his twin for something to eat. He tells Jacob that he is “going to die” if he doesn’t get something to eat.

Now it is important to state here that I don’t think Jacob should have used this circumstance to take advantage of his brother . . . but that is what he does. Jacob makes a deal with Esau. Since Esau “is going to die” if he doesn’t eat . . . his birthright won’t be of any use to him. So . . . Jacob says he will give him a meal in exchange for his birthright.

To understand the significance of this bargain you need to know what a “birthright” meant.

  • You would receive double the inheritance of all others
  • You would be the leader of the family
  • You would be the one through whom the promises of God would pass

Esau has a choice: should he take the food and give up the birthright, or should he hold on to this most valuable possession and go and try to find food somewhere else? Esau chooses to live for the moment and swears that the birthright now belongs to Jacob. Esau gives up all these benefits for a bowl of stew! Certainly Esau wasn’t thinking clearly. Surely he didn’t realize the value of what had been promised him.

We shake our heads at his short-sightedness but . . .but haven’t we been known to do the same things?

  • When we choose the pleasures of passion over the purity of marriage
  • When we choose the applause of our friends rather than stand true for the Lord
  • When we choose what is easy over what is right
  • When we indulge our appetite for more stuff over the commands of financial responsibility
  • When we choose the extra time to sleep over worship or our daily time with God
  • When we chose to fill our minds with garbage rather than devote our minds to the Lord
  • When we choose to hoard what we have rather than to reach out to the needy

Esau had to choose between living for the moment and living for eternity. That same choice faces each of us. Every day we must choose between temporary pleasures and holiness before the Lord. Esau reminds us to keep our focus.


So, you see, as we turn the pages of the family scrapbook of Isaac and Rebekah we learn more than details of their family history. This account is meant to call us to address ultimate issues.

Are you trying to make it on your own? Is self-sufficiency your God? Are you trying to get to Heaven by pushing the right buttons. Or are you willing today to stand before the Lord and confess your need of His transformation in your life?

Are you feeling overwhelmed by life? Friend, it’s time to stop running and to turn to the one who holds the world in His hands. God is not distant. You don’t have to search for Him . . .He is as close as your prayer. The Lord will help you . . . but you have to trust Him. You have to hold His hand . . . even when it’s dark and trust that He knows the way home.

This simple story calls us to an important decision – who will you trust? Who will you trust when the walls of life come tumbling in on you? Who will you trust as you make daily decisions in your life? Who will you trust for eternity? Will you continue to rely on yourself? Or will you place all your hope, confidence and energy in following the one who died in your place at Calvary. This is the choice of a lifetime. It’s a choice that affects everything we do. And the choice you make will not only effect your future . . . it will effect your forever. No matter what kind of child you . . . or your brother are.

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