“Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, ‘Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have lived with Laban as an alien, and stayed until now; and I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves; and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.:'” The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.’ Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed” – Genesis 33:3-7
Every time I read the story of Jacob and Esau, I’m struck again by how much Jacob. totally. sucks. Like, a lot. Esau, the older brother, is supposed to receive the position of head of the family, plus a special blessing, from their father. Jacob, the younger brother, forces Esau into giving up his birthright by withholding food when he’s starving. Then Jacob tricks their elderly, blind, confused father into giving him the special blessing reserved for elder sons, leaving only a paltry left-over blessing for Esau. These are weighty matters in the world of the story, and Esau is brokenhearted. He vows to kill Jacob.
I’ll admit it: whenever I read this story, I find myself longing for Esau to make good on his promise. Jacob is slimy and nasty, a bad seed. He deserves it. I want the action-movie version of the story.
Luckily, a better Author than I wrote this one.
Jacob runs away to a foreign land, gets his act together, and comes home. Esau forgives him. Everybody survives. And I end up grateful that Esau doesn’t give in to my murderous urges, because it turns out that Jacob is the father of Judah, who’s the father of somebody, who’s the father of somebody (etc.), who’s the father of somebody who turns out to be the Messiah.
Fictional revenge is satisfying. Superhero justice is cathartic. But if Esau had stooped to my calling instead of rising to God’s, the world might never have met its savior.
Esau doesn’t give Jacob what he deserves, so God can give the world what it doesn’t deserve. Jacob and us, we both get something better.
God, when I am full of indignation and long to dole out righteous justice, give me the blessing of Esau, and make me merciful enough to spawn a savior. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.