“Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother.” Deuteronomy 23:7
There is a story in the Bible, a story of family dysfunction, tragedy, and sin. This story is fragmented through the pages of Genesis with references in Malachi, Romans, and Hebrews. Reconciliation comes at its end leaving us not to fret about doing word studies of “hate” or attempting to determine whether persons or nations are our main interest. The story breathes its message out from the sometimes ugly thing know as human reality, allowing as per usual the far surpassing beauty of God’s love and grace to shine forth.
Twins Esau and Jacob are bound up in the mystery of God’s election and if we strip the story of its fullness, we find ourselves picking among bare bones. Mystery it may be, but “God’s thoughts and ways are infinitely above our thoughts and ways and His works are wonderfully performed. “ ([Isaiah 55:8; William Cowper) Trying to understand and find divine justice in the hating of Esau by God ironically buys into a narrative of God’s disdain (and follow closely here) of the love of the loved one –“take now your son, your only son Isaac whom you love” - for his eldest son Esau. Isaac the beloved loved Esau whom some understand God hated. But me thinks the story rests not exhaustively but substantially, lit by the face of Christ Jesus our Lord.
As many brothers are, Jacob and Esau were vastly different. Esau was a wild rough bully, vulgar and rugged. Jacob was more passive, thoughtful, refined, and the pet of his mother. Hungry from a hunt, Esau sold his birthright of minutes to his brother Jacob for bread and stew. It was a momentary respite, no big deal to him.
Sometime after, Isaac who was growing old wished to bestow covenant blessing upon his loved hunter son, Esau. Ah, but God had hinted during Rebekah’s labor that His choice was that Jacob be the one to continue the birth line to Christ. But blind Isaac asked for fresh venison to complete his disagreement with God. Jacob and his mother overheard the conversation of impending benediction and conspired together to deceive the patriarch and obtain the coveted ordainment. Such blessing they plundered.
Isaac was heartbroken. Esau wept, then as the deed being done and the covenant blessing irrevocable, he became wroth with murderous intent. Surely the family hearth was strained and estranged and indeed it was that Jacob fled from the presence of Esau and was away some twenty years. Indebted to a sly father-in-law, he now himself endured the injury of deceit and betrayal and so fled again back to the land of his fathers.
Fearful for the reunion with his brother of whom his last memory was fixed hatred, he sent his family and goods ahead of him and shied up limping as the last. Surprisingly, Esau embraced him, kissed him and wept. Surprisingly, reconciliation was the tone of the hour. Esau offered to accompany Jacob farther along, but Jacob declined, even now unable to be honest with his brother. Realizing their combined substance so great that they could not co-inhabit, Esau graciously moved out of the area.
We remember that Jesus most often taught in parables meant to be digested not word studied and so this true account of the family of Isaac tugs at our hearts. Eavesdropping at the birth of the nation Israel, we observe a mistrusting set of parents who bestow favoritism on different sons. One is a deceiver, the other a squandering wastrel, profane and a fornicator. Jacob, brandishing the covenant blessing, was fearful and conscience-stricken. Esau the eldest having traded his birthright for lentils made for him (even though he repented) the covenant blessing irredeemable. Nevertheless, praise to the God who heals, the twins stand together at the burial of their father, Isaac. Brothers still.
“And I gave unto Esau Mount Sier to possess it but Jacob went down to Egypt.” Joshua 24:4.