Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 2 (KJV)
God Chooses the Younger Twin
Devotional Reading: Psalm 75
Background Scripture: Genesis 25:19–34 Genesis 25:19b–34
19b Abraham begat Isaac:
20 And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian.
21 And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.
22 And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. 23 And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
24 And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.
25 And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau.
26 And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them.
27 And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.
28 And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: 30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.
31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.
32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?
33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.
Key Text The LORD
The Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.—Genesis 25:23
God’s Exceptional Choice
Unit 1: God Calls Abraham’s Family
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Summarize the account and result of Rebekah’s pregnancy.
2. Contrast the motives of Jacob and Esau.
3. Identify a character quality to demonstrate this week in handling a conflict. Lesson Outline
How to Say It
A. Unhappy in Its Own Way
A popular English translation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina begins with the following observation: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The statement highlights an important concept for the novel: numerous factors might affect a family’s relationship and well-being. Any of these factors might go awry and lead to a family’s dysfunction.
From my experience ministering to families, I have seen Tolstoy’s generalization lived out. I have seen that a family’s happiness correlates to its levels of commitment, love, and respect for one another.
Conversely, I have seen that unhappy families experience turmoil in a variety of ways: bad attitudes, unfaithfulness, favoritism, anger, and addiction. Regardless of what may have caused the families to experience these things, the negative effects were noticeable.
God is at work, even in unhappy families. This week’s lesson introduces us to a family that experienced strife and conflict. As a result, the direction of whole nations would forever be affected. B.
The second half of Genesis introduces audiences to Abraham (originally known as Abram) and his family line. God promised that this family would be the way by which He would bless the world (Genesis 12:1–3; see lesson 1). Despite Abraham and Sarah’s fertility issues and their advanced age (11:30; 12:4), God provided them with a son, Isaac (21:1–7).
However, Abraham would have other sons by other women. Hagar, a servant of wife Sarah, gave birth to Ishmael (Genesis 16:1–4, 15–16). After Sarah died, Abraham took another wife, Keturah, who bore him other sons (25:1–2).
However, Abraham held Isaac in the highest regard (25:5–6). Isaac eventually married Rebekah (24:67). Together they settled in the southern part of Canaan, near the Sinai Peninsula (25:11; see 16:14).
Throughout Genesis, family lines and the concept of generations serve as transition points in the text. For original audiences, these served as markers for moments of great significance, and each marked a new focus in the narrative (see Genesis 5; 6:9–10; 11:10–27; 25:12–18).
The underlying Hebrew word translated as “generations” (Genesis 5:1; 6:9; 10:1, 32; 11:10; etc.) reminds audiences to focus their attention on the upcoming narrative and the individuals depicted. This lesson focuses on “the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son” (25:19a).
I. Unexpected Declaration
A. Two Generations (vv. 19b–22)
19b. Abraham begat Isaac.
God had promised Abraham that he would become “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2) with numerous descendants (15:5). The fulfillment of this promise seemed impossible. However, God was gracious to the couple, and He fulfilled His promise: Sarah gave birth to Isaac (21:2–3).
20. And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian.
Abraham sent a servant to his ancestral homeland, Mesopotamia, to find a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:1–10). At forty years old, Isaac might be considered an elderly bachelor. However, considering the marriage practices of the era (compare 26:34) and his eventual length of life (35:28), his seemingly advanced marital age was likely not uncommon.
Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham’s nephew Bethuel (Genesis 22:20–23; 24:15), was chosen to marry Isaac. Her family—especially her brother Laban—would be important for Abraham’s descendants (see 29:10–12; 30:25–31:55).
The region of Padanaram was in northwest Mesopotamia. One of the principal cities of the region was Haran, the place where Abraham (as Abram) began his journey (Genesis 12:4; see lesson 1). As this was the patriarch’s ancestral homeland, Padanaram serves as a critical location in the family’s narrative (see 28:1–7; 31:18; 35:9).
The repetition of the title Syrian differentiated Rebekah’s family from neighboring Canaanite families (see also Genesis 31:20, 24; compare Deuteronomy 26:5).
Abraham considered Canaanite women inappropriate for Isaac to marry (Genesis 24:1–4; compare 27:46–28:2).
21a. And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren.
Although a suitable wife for Isaac was found, that was no guarantee regarding the continuation of the family line. Infertility had also affected Isaac’s mother, Sarah (Genesis 11:30). Both generations had to depend on God’s power in order to conceive.
Just as his father had done years before (see Genesis 15:1–4), Isaac intreated the Lord through prayer. Unlike other women in the Old Testament, there is no record of Rebekah’s approaching the Lord in prayer regarding her infertility (compare 30:22; 1 Samuel 1:10–11).
All That’s Humanly Possible
My heart broke as a I heard my friends describe their trials. They desired children of their own, but they were unable to conceive. They conferred with doctors and specialists, costing the couple time and money. After many failed attempts to conceive, the couple determined that they had done all that was humanly possible. They placed their struggle in God’s hands and would await His answer.
This couple is not alone in their struggles to conceive. You probably know several couples who are facing struggles regarding fertility and conception, whether you realize their struggles or not!
When Rebekah faced fertility challenges, Isaac approached God in prayer. Do you pray for the couples in your life who face fertility struggles? More broadly, how do you pray for the invisible struggles that others experience? —C. R. B.
What Do You Think?
How can churches support families who may be dealing with infertility?
How can your church be sensitive to the experiences of childless adults among your congregation?
21b. And the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.
However, Isaac’s prayers were answered as the Lord was intreated of him (compare Judges 13:8–9). That Rebekah … conceived highlighted God’s work in doing what people might consider impossible.
22. And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD.
The underlying Hebrew word translated struggled is fairly common in the Old Testament, but its rare construction in this verse alludes to conflict that is more intense than ordinarily expected. Rebekah’s physical distress was more than would be anticipated by a pregnant woman; something deeper and more serious was at hand.
Hagar experienced a divine interaction during her pregnancy (see Genesis 16:7–14). That interaction provided her with hope and encouragement. Perhaps Rebekah was trying to enquire of the Lord and experience the same kind of comfort that Hagar received.
B. Two Nations (v. 23)
23a. And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people.
The Lord’s response set up future conflict between Rebekah’s children (see Genesis 27). The internal conflict she experienced would someday continue outside her womb as her children would become two nations. God was not necessarily addressing the conflict that would immediately occur, but conflict between the people of their descendants (see commentary on 25:30, below).
The text does not immediately describe how the two people groups would come from her two unborn children. The Lord was not directing Rebekah regarding her future parenting practices. Further, the text is not describing a form of divine predeterminism by which people have no role and responsibility. Instead, God was describing the future realities of generations and thereby reinforcing the promise that Abraham would “be a father of many nations” (Genesis 17:4).
23b. And the elder shall serve the younger.
Primogeniture—the right or inheritance of the firstborn—was a crucial element of the ancient Near East’s social and legal systems (see Genesis 27:19; Deuteronomy 21:15–17). Rebekah, along with the text’s original audience, would have anticipated that her first child would receive greater status and acclaim than the second child.
However, the Lord overturned those expectations. Rebekah’s elder child would not receive the expected firstborn blessing. Instead, the blessing would be given to (actually, taken by) the younger child (compare Genesis 17:18–21; 49:3–4).
God did not provide details regarding the younger child’s acquisition of power. God’s intentions will come to pass, regardless of human structures (see 1 Corinthians 1:27–31). He transforms broken situations because His ways are superior to ours (see Isaiah 55:8–9). As a result, humans are to respond to Him in love and faith (see Deuteronomy 7:7–9; John 3:16–18; Ephesians 1:3–14).
The apostle Paul elaborates on today’s text in Romans 9:10–12. The significance of this text for Paul was that God chose the younger child (Jacob) before he was even born. God’s purpose for the world resulted in His call of Jacob as the individual through whom God’s promises would be fulfilled.
What Do You Think?
What prayers are appropriate for a parent to say for their quarreling children?
What prayers are appropriate for a believer to say for parents who may be dealing with quarrelsome children?
II. Undeniable Differences
A. Physically (vv. 24–26)
24–25. And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name Esau.
Scripture describes instances when a child’s name indicated something about the parents’ relationship with God (see 1 Samuel 1:20; 4:21) or the circumstances surrounding the child’s birth (see Genesis 35:18). The naming of Rebekah’s twins reflected similar practice.
The name Esau reflected a physical attribute of the first child: his skin, hair, or both appeared red. The pronunciation of this underlying Hebrew word sounds similar to another name given to Esau (see commentary on Genesis 25:30, below). This Hebrew word was also used to describe David’s “ruddy” health (1 Samuel 16:12; see lesson 9). Esau’s hairy physique would become key in how he would lose his firstborn blessing (see Genesis 27:11).
26a. And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob.
The name of Esau’s brother also demonstrates wordplay and foreshadowing. The underlying Hebrew word for Jacob has multiple connections. It is related to a verb concerning the act of grasping—either for protection or restraining movement, like using a hand to take hold of something (see Hosea 12:3). Another similar sounding Hebrew verb describes fraud or trickery (see Jeremiah 9:4). Later texts would describe how Jacob demonstrated the latter sense (see Genesis 27:35–36).
Further, Jacob’s name has similarities to the Hebrew word for “heel,” thus relating his name to his actions during his birth. Jacob’s act of grabbing Esau’s heel during birth foreshadows future dealings between the brothers and Jacob’s interactions with others—Jacob would be shrewd and cunning as he took what he desired.
26b. And Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them.
That Isaac was threescore years old (that is, age 60) highlights the 20 year period that the couple had to wait before having children (see Genesis 25:20). This time was reminiscent of the long wait Isaac’s parents endured before his own birth (see 21:5). God was faithful to this family, even if His timing was not what they desired or expected.
B. Personality (vv. 27–28)
27a. And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field.
The brothers’ differences became apparent as the boys grew up. In a nomadic culture, having a family member serve as a hunter was important for the family’s livelihood (compare Genesis 10:8–9). That he was cunning alluded to his knowledge of the land: the surrounding field and its resources (see 27:3, 5). Considering his perception, pulling a fast one on Esau would be difficult—or so one might think. 27b. And Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.
One meaning of the Hebrew word translated here as plain describes a guiltless and upright person who was not liable for wrongdoing (see references to Job in Job 1:1, 8; 2:3). Its usage regarding Jacob was an ironic descriptor, considering that his future actions were anything but guiltless.
In contrast to his outdoorsman brother, Jacob preferred to live a life dwelling in the tents of the home camp. As a result, he may have had a propensity for administration, an aptitude later demonstrated by his son Joseph (see Genesis 39:4, 22–23; 41:33–40, 46–49).
28. And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.
The favoritism demonstrated in that each parent loved a particular son would be repeated years later by Jacob (renamed Israel; Genesis 37:3–4). Isaac’s love for Esau and his hunting would be a factor in how Jacob and Rebekah plotted against Esau and Isaac regarding the father’s blessing (see 27:2–13).
What Do You Think?
How can parents avoid showing favoritism toward one of their children?
What practices ensure that believers do not show favoritism in their congregations?
When you think of the title above, the first image that may come to mind is that of the long-running TV game show of the same name. And while that show is all in good fun, some bitter rivalries between families, such as that of the Hatfields and the McCoys in the nineteenth century, exist. Those two families spent decades in violent conflict.
But that was an interfamily feud, while the text at hand presents us with an intrafamily rivalry. The distinction is important because causes, effects, and dynamics are often quite different. As an example, feuds between families are usually overt—highly visible. Feuds within families, on the other hand, are often hidden from public view as individuals maneuver against one another in subtle ways to form or destroy alliances. Parental favoritism magnifies the problem.
Do you see yourself in any of this? If your answer is no, would you be willing to check for blind spots by asking others if they agree with your self-assessment? —C. R. B.
III. Unruly Disregard
A. Desperate (vv. 29–32)
29. And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint.
That Jacob sod pottage implied that he was preparing a stew. The stew might have consisted of herbs, vegetables, and lentils (see Genesis 25:34, below; compare 2 Kings 4:38–40).
This encounter might have occurred at a shepherding camp where the brothers tended livestock. That Esau was an outdoorsman made it natural for him to go out into the field. This left Jacob to manage the chores around camp, including meal preparation. As a result of Esau’s hard work, he felt faint with exhaustion (compare Judges 8:5).
30. And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.
Esau’s pleading made him appear impulsive as he focused on immediate physical concerns. His request to feed me, I pray could be read as exasperated begging. Instead of making a level-headed request, Esau sounded like a beggar.
The Hebrew word translated here as red was used to describe Esau at his birth (see commentary on Genesis 25:25, above). An alternative name for Esau sounded similar: Edom (see 36:1, 8, 19).
Esau’s descendants were the Edomites (Genesis 36:9, 43). They would eventually settle in the region of Seir (Deuteronomy 2:22), southeast of the Dead Sea. During the era when kings ruled Israel, a constant state of tension and frequent warfare existed between the Edomites and the Israelites (see 1 Samuel 14:47; 1 Kings 11:14). As a result, God’s promise to Rebekah regarding her sons (Genesis 25:23b, above) came to pass. The descendants of her older son would serve the descendants of her younger son (see 2 Samuel 8:14; 2 Kings 14:1, 7).
31. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.
In contrast to Esau’s desperate pleading, Jacob is portrayed as opportunistic and manipulative. It is unknown whether Rebekah revealed to him the nature of God’s promises. But what is certain is that Jacob drove a hard bargain. This was an expensive bowl of soup—it would cost Esau the rights that only a firstborn would enjoy.
The firstborn’s birthright would include a double portion of the father’s estate (Deuteronomy 21:15–17). Isaac was a wealthy man (Genesis 26:12–14), therefore the birthright would have been sizable.
What Do You Think?
What things might believers consider to be their “birthright” that may instead hinder their relationship with God?
How might these things affect relationships among believers?
32. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?
Esau was driven by his physical urges. It is doubtful that he was at the point to die. Surely someone known as “a cunning hunter” (Genesis 25:27) would have been better prepared for hunger! His desire for immediate gratification led him to disregard the most important earthly thing that was his to lose: his birthright.
The writer of Hebrews depicts Esau’s attitude and action here as “profane” (Hebrews 12:16–17). Esau was so focused on immediate profit and pleasure that he gave up lifelong blessing.
B. Despised (vv. 33–34) 33. And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.
Jacob made the deal permanent by having Esau swear an oath. Esau risked divine judgment, should he later try to deny or break the agreement.
The act of swearing an oath or vow was not uncommon. Abraham swore that he would deal truthfully and kindly with Abimelech and his descendants (Genesis 21:22–24). Additionally, Abraham’s servant swore that he would not procure a wife for Isaac from among the Canaanites (24:3–9). These vows were irrevocable and would result in a curse if broken (see Nehemiah 10:29). While God allowed for His people to take oaths and vows, He had certain stipulations (see Numbers 30).
What Do You Think?
How should believers consider the practice of swearing an oath?
How might Leviticus 19:12; Matthew 5:33–37; James 5:12; and Revelation 10:5–6 inform your answer?
34. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.
Following the oath, the exasperated Esau received his temporary relief—bread and pottage of lentiles. However, the shrewd Jacob received permanent blessing—the transferred birthright. The older brother would continue to be at the mercy of his younger brother (see Genesis 27).
A. Unworthy but Chosen
Readers should be unimpressed with the attitudes and actions of the individuals described in this lesson. Isaac and Rebekah each favored one of their sons over the other. Esau desired immediate relief over long-term benefits. Jacob schemed and manipulated his brother for personal gain. A story that began with God’s love and power transitions into a story of people pursuing selfish interests.
However, we need not idealize any one human character, because the Lord is the protagonist of this story. He alone can make good out of less than ideal circumstances and less than ideal people (see Romans 8:28; compare Genesis 50:20).
God worked through this deeply flawed family, and He will work in the lives of all people whom He has called. People of God should not strive to force His hand. Instead, we should trust that His plans and purposes will be fulfilled, regardless of any attempts to circumvent or force those plans.
Father, we celebrate that You have chosen to work through us. Thank You for Your faithfulness to us, even when we fail to live holy lives. Prepare us so that we can live out Your purposes. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
God’s plans will be fulfilled, either through or despite your efforts.