Although Jacob and Esau were twins, they were nearly opposites. Even in their appearance, one was excessively rugged and hairy while the other had smooth skin. Esau was intemperate, which often caused him to be manipulated by his brother. Jacob was rather a jerk, but he did exhibit some wisdom that set him apart from his brother.
It seems that Jacob hangs around the kitchen with mom while Esau is a hunter. One day, Esau comes in while Jacob is finishing up a lentil soup. Esau is so hungry that he sells his future inheritance to his brother for a bowl of soup! This was a huge indicator of a lack of respect for a very precious commodity. As the elder brother, he was entitled to everything. He literally gave up everything promised to him in the long term for a bowl of soup now.
All of us are tempted by our own lusts. James 1:13 states, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” It is true that Jacob was rather tricky, and maybe unkind, but the real culprit here is the uncontrollable lust of Esau who chased after his own desires.
As parents, we must be sure to teach our children to respect what is important. Just as importantly, we must give them the opportunity to discern between the desires of the flesh (lust) and things that are valuable in the Kingdom.
The New Living Translation says in Romans 7:5, “When we lived to please our bodies, those sinful desires were pulling at us all the time. We always wanted to do what the Law said not to do. Living that kind of life brings death.”
Teaching our children that we are often in a war between what our body and mind want to do and what our spirit and God wants us to do serves them well. If Esau had recognized his desire for a bowl of soup and the temporary satisfaction that this craving fulfilled would bring, he may not have disrespected his birthright.
Jacob, for all his trickery, paid attention to his parents' wisdom on whom he should marry. However, it appears that Esau again follows his passions before gaining counsel. He went out and married two Canaanite women without giving the matter much thought or asking his parents' advice.
Genesis 26-27 suggests that Esau’s wives made life miserable for his parents. And to protect Jacob from Esau's anger, mother Rebekah convinced father Isaac to send Jacob back to their extended family. Perhaps Jacob could find a more appropriate wife with his Uncle Laban's help. Jacob obeyed his parent’s instructions and left his home and everything he knew behind him. He followed their advice to the nth degree.
As parents of young adult children, we can encourage this behavior by rewarding fulfilled instructions. Allowing an “open door” policy to exist in our homes encourages our children to ask for advice. Make yourself available to your children at all times. When your children do want your council, don’t judge them or get upset with them for considering options that don’t please you. If you lose your temper or patience they will be less likely to come to you again for advice. Let them know your opinion, and back it up with scripture when you can.
Ephesians 6:4 instructs, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord."
In all of these situations, Jacob seems more perceptive than Esau. He was more aware of the implications of each situation he found himself in. He saw the bigger picture because he wasn’t being controlled by his own desires. Jacob was a planner, while Esau was more impulsive.
In fact, Esau didn’t seem aware that he had displeased his parents with his choice of spouse until long after the fact. In Genesis 28, Esau knew that his father, Isaac, had blessed Jacob and sent him away to find a wife, and that he had warned Jacob, “You must not marry a Canaanite woman.” He also knew that Jacob had obeyed his parents and gone. Now that it was clear to Esau that his father did not like the local Canaanite women, Esau visited his uncle Ishmael’s family. He married one of Ishmael’s daughters in addition to the wives he already had. His new wife’s name was Mahalath. She was the sister of Nebaioth and the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son.
We can teach our children to see the big picture in little ways every day. We can teach them about saving money for a bigger goal. We can teach them about volunteering to build a resume. Offering opportunities to have patience towards an expected end is a healthy exercise in big-picture and end-results thinking. Of course, encouraging your children to see themselves in God's big story, to think about belonging in God's Kingdom, that's the ultimate big picture pay off! Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you teaching moments when the gospel can be powerfully expressed to your children.
Admittedly, I have often seen Jacob as an unkind trickster. However, upon closer examination I found a young man who at least had control of the desires of his flesh, who thought about the big picture and who in Esau’s own assessment, “obeyed his parents.” And in spite of both Jacob's wicked and good qualities, God used him to call a people to himself, establishing the family of Israel. May we encourage our kids, and also pray that God use our victories and failures to further his Kingdom!