I will never forget where I was when we found out that my oldest daughter was expecting twins. My husband and I were with our youngest and her husband on a bus that had just broken down at Disney World. (!) We were pulling off to the median when the phone call came in. I knew she was having an ultrasound that afternoon and was I excited to hear about the pregnancy and maybe get a hint of the gender. Then her chin started to quiver and she said, “Mom, we’re expecting twins.”
“Twins!! You’re having twins???” I looked up at the startled passengers around me and yelled, “SHE’S HAVING TWINS!!” Many congratulations followed as we waited for a new bus to arrive, and anyone who had a twin story came over to tell it.
In the book of Genesis, twins are announced with far less fanfare and hopeful expectations. Rebekah discovered that she is carrying twins, but even in the beginning, it is obvious that these twins would not be ordinary babies…
Genesis 25 (The Message)
21-23 Isaac prayed hard to God for his wife because she was barren. God answered his prayer and Rebekah became pregnant. But the children tumbled and kicked inside her so much that she said, “If this is the way it’s going to be, why go on living?” She went to God to find out what was going on. God told her,
Two nations are in your womb,
two peoples butting heads while still in your body.
One people will overpower the other,
and the older will serve the younger.
If you are following your Bible history, you will recognize this as the moment the two nations of the Israelites (Jacob) and the Edomites (Esau) were born. Through deceit and trickery, a birthright was manipulated and indeed, the older ended up serving the younger.
24-26 When her time to give birth came, sure enough, there were twins in her womb. The first came out reddish, as if snugly wrapped in a hairy blanket; they named him Esau (Hairy). His brother followed, his fist clutched tight to Esau’s heel; they named him Jacob (Heel). Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.
27-28 The boys grew up. Esau became an expert hunter, an outdoorsman. Jacob was a quiet man preferring life indoors among the tents. Isaac loved Esau because he loved his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29-30 One day Jacob was cooking a stew. Esau came in from the field, starved. Esau said to Jacob, “Give me some of that red stew—I’m starved!” That’s how he came to be called Edom (Red).
31 Jacob said, “Make me a trade: my stew for your rights as the firstborn.”
32 Esau said, “I’m starving! What good is a birthright if I’m dead?”
33-34 Jacob said, “First, swear to me.” And he did it. On oath Esau traded away his rights as the firstborn. Jacob gave him bread and the stew of lentils. He ate and drank, got up and left. That’s how Esau shrugged off his rights as the firstborn.
I read a Jewish commentary on this passage that suggested that the twins also represent the struggle between the flesh/body urges of Esau and the spiritual/soul urges of Jacob. Esau was a boisterous hunter who was out in the field all day involved in physical activity, while Jacob stayed inside reading and studying. It’s an interesting take on the story.
But this passage is a warning about two things.
First, beware of the force of a temptation so strong that it might entice you to sell your birthright as a follower of Christ. When we indulge in our “fleshly” pursuits, we teeter on the precipice of giving up what we have gained in Christ.
And it is also a story about family deceit and preferential treatment. Rebekah’s preference for Jacob leads her to become a co-conspirator against her other son and her husband. Isaac’s preference for Esau was resented very much by Jacob, who retaliated by manipulating Esau into foregoing his birthright. This brother-against-brother conflict led them all to lie and cheat their own family members.
What can you glean from this story? I think it calls us to confront our own battles with physical temptations, and ask God to help us remain strong in pursuing healthy behaviors. And it calls us to address our family relationships and honestly assess our own behavior to see if we, too, might be guilty of emotional preferences, manipulation, lying to get our own way, or cheating others out of their place.
If Genesis 25 were a mirror, how would you look?