I’d Rather Be Esau

Sibling rivalry.

What a familiar story that is.

With four sisters to choose from, I had plenty of sisters with whom to compete as a child.

We all had our distinct roles in the family.

My older sister Maggie was the rebel.

I was the goody two-shoes.

My little sister Merideth was the consummate middle child, and the twins, Ginny and Kitty, lived in a secret twin society of their own.

Over the years there were many alliances and counter-alliances, trade negotiations for toys, peace talks over games, and so on.

Jacob and Esau had clearly defined roles as well.

The scripture says that “Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents.”

Genesis makes no bones of the fact that there were distinct favorites as well: “Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.”

In a patriarchal society, a father’s approval was everything, and like any young boy Jacob would have longed for his father’s attention and favor.

But it was not to be.

A couple of weeks ago we went through Isaac’s horrific ordeal as a young boy when his father Abraham tried to make him a child sacrifice to God.

I wonder how much that traumatizing experience affected how fractured his own family in his adult life.

This morning we come to one of the most famous parts of the family saga: “Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!”…Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.”

Esau despised his birthright.

That’s certainly the way it’s been traditionally read.

Everyone thinks Esau is an idiot to give up an entire inheritance for one bowl of stew.

But I’ve started to question this interpretation of the incident.

Was Jacob really the winner in this encounter?

Jacob is ambitious and manipulative, qualities the scripture credits as coming straight from his mother Rebekah.

But what did he really gain from stealing Esau’s birthright?

What was the great and wonderful benefit that came to him from being first in line and taking the inheritance?

Well, material wealth.

He got the greater share of flocks, tents, goods, etc.

But other than that, I read nothing but heartbreak for Jacob.

No matter their seeming enmity, he ends up broken apart from his twin brother, and as a sibling to twins myself, I’ve seen how deep the twin bond goes.

He must live with the shame of his own unethical actions.

And Jacob reaps a bitter harvest for his own adult family.

His wives, themselves siblings, Rachel and Leah, are lifelong enemies within the same household.

No matter how much it hurt him as a child to not be his father’s favorite, he openly and blatantly favors his own son Joseph above his other eleven sons, declaring him to be the most beloved.

And then Jacob must face the utter heartbreak of knowing that the seeds of sin he sowed went so deep that his own children, the sons that he raised, turned on one of their own and would have murdered him but for one cooler head.

As it was they sold him into what should have been a lifetime of slavery.

So I’m not so sure Jacob got the better deal.

Like I said, I think this interpretation of the scripture came to me because of the spirit of these churches that I have been getting to know.

This is not a congregation of people who come to church because they want to domineer over others.

This is not a community of people who live here because they want a fast-paced, high-powered lifestyle.

Living here and being a part of this church is about living intentionally.

Many people here live a dedicated, simplified life.

Many of us lived in the rat race at earlier times in our lives, and perhaps found it soulless and draining.

We live here because we value nature and the earth, and we come to this church because we value an honest community that truly strives to live into the will of God.

I don’t think of our church as a Jacob kind of community, battling and grasping for power and influence.

I think our church is an Esau kind of community, valuing a good dinner after a day outdoors more than piles of wealth and a hollow title.

What did Esau get after all?

He went off on his own and founded his own nation.

He escaped the madness of his family’s tangled and warped intrigues and embraced the bounties of God’s wild natural places.

Doesn’t sound so bad to me.

Now let me make a point.

I’m not preaching this sermon to have us all pat ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves on how holy we are compared to those big city churches.

That’s tacky and rude and none of us were brought up that way.

I just want us to value our own strengths and give thanks for our many blessings.

After all, as Paul says in our epistle today, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

We don’t condemn other people for their life choices but embrace and celebrate them as our brothers and sisters.

And we don’t compare ourselves to those who may conform to the world’s standards of success better than we do because we have a unique value and a place in the kingdom that no one else can fill.

Esau was himself to the fullest extent, appreciating the simple blessings of God that surrounded him.

Let us go and do likewise.