Have you ever had a friendship go sideways, and for the life of you, you couldn’t put your finger on exactly what happened? I have an old friendship that fell apart many years ago. No big bomb went off. Just a series of small but related events stacked up on top of each other, damaging trust and frustrating what was once an easy relationship.
My friend was partly to blame and so was I. He did things. I did things. He said things I interpreted to my favor. I said things he interpreted to his. Relationships are complicated. We have an incredible capacity to hurt one another.
From the beginning, the relationship between the twins Jacob and Esau was a hot mess. Esau was an outdoorsman who was favored by his father, Isaac. But Jacob, his mother Rebekah’s favorite, was a quiet kid who liked to stay indoors. The hairy Esau was a hunter: calloused, scuffed, and bloodied from his escapades. The fair-skinned Jacob favored more refined activities like cooking and tending to the homefront. Already, we’re picking favorites.
Neither of these grandsons of Abraham were model citizens. Esau, we’re told, despised his inheritance when he sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew. Jacob, we learn, manipulated Esau’s weak will and impulsive appetites to trick him into doing it. We could certainly lay a lot of the blame for this scheme at Jacob’s feet, but Esau was also culpable because he devalued the most valuable thing he had (Genesis 25:34).
Right after Jacob tricked his brother into handing over the birthright, the writer of Genesis adds a layer of drama, noting that Esau’s former birthright was becoming increasingly valuable. Their father Isaac was becoming so rich that his neighbors were asking him to leave because he held too much power (Genesis 26:12-16). The value of that bowl of soup was growing exponentially.
As you read the story of Jacob and Esau, you see a God who is faithful to honor His covenant promise in and through complicated, deceitful, self-centered people who don’t deserve it. Pretty much every relationship we encounter in this stretch of Genesis is messed up. We are no different. We are often less than honest, self-serving, blind to other people’s perspectives, and protective of what we feel is ours. God is faithful, but boy do we need mercy.
Let the complicated nature of the relationships among people in the Bible serve as a light to help us see the complexities of our own relationships now. May God’s faithfulness to a bent people draw from us a prayer for mercy as we read about our forefathers in the faith.
Written by Russ Ramsey