As we see this dysfunctional family move on to the next generation we see Isaac and Rebekah’s children, twin boys, Esau and Jacob emerge from the womb as fierce rivals, so much so that Jacob the second son was born “holding on to his brothers’ foot” (Gen.25.26).
We have already seen sibling rivalry at its worst a few chapters earlier in Genesis with Cain and Abel where their rivalry and jealousy lead to violence and death, and here we see history repeating itself with dangerous family rivalry rearing its head.
As I thought of this story I can recall so many instances of where unhelpful and ungodly rivalries end up causing pain and destruction; I worked in an environment where two colleagues were always running each other down and trying to trip the other up -it made for a truly horrible working environment (made even more sad because it was a Church community), for a while I was a Vicar in a parish where there were two (later three and then five) Churches and one of these was deeply insecure and was incredibly hostile to the other Churches in the team (which not only caused pain within the parish but thwarted the mission and ministry of God within the parish); I knew of two friends who despite being mates for decades were so competitive and putting the other down and sadly now they no longer speak.
God’s created order was to bring the best out of one another, created for interdependence, and with good healthy relationships everyone flourishes, yet we fail for the lie that our success is based upon someone else’s failure, our winning is built on someone else loosing.
The problem with rivalries are they escalate, sometimes -as with Cain and Able- with tragic consequences, as ‘tit for tat’ builds and builds, requiring someone to step away, surrender and break this destructive cycle with grace and generosity.
Rivalry is often based on insecurity -not knowing our worth and value- and trying to gain affirmation in ways that are neither helpful nor Godly. It is often fuelled by envy and jealousy of someone else and can become incredibly destructive.
In the story of Jacob and Esau, or is that Esau and Jacob? This is exasperated by the blatant favouritism of their parents where Isaac favoured his wild and hairy son Esau and Rebekah favoured the bright academic smoothie that was Jacob.
Jacob swindled Esau out of his birth-right for a bowl of stew (Esau had returned from hunting starving hungry and Jacob drove a hard bargin) and Jacob conned his blind Father by dressing in Esau’s clothes and stealing his blessing.
This caused Jacob to go on the run as Esau was planning to kill him, and Esau was not the kind of guy you messed with!
Is there a rivalry that is causing you (or someone else) pain? –Rather than let this jealousy consume you, surrender it at the foot of the cross of Christ.
Is there a negative relationship where conflict is escalating?
Are we gaining pleasure from someone else’s failure? -If so again take it to the cross of Christ.
Are there people like Isaac and Rebekah that are spurring you on -perhaps we need to stop listening to them? -to often we are goaded into staying in behaviours we ought not engage with.
Is there -like Jacob- someone who you have wronged who perhaps you need to turn around and apologise too and be reconciled?
Perhaps too take a moment and ask God to give us grace, generosity and help us find our security in God’s awesome love for us, not in how changeable relationships make us feel.