The Heir and the Spare

Reading #2 | July 8, 2024

Don’t we love it when God does something radical and unexpected? Well, yes and no. We love it when that something affirms our feelings, beliefs, or worldview. We get uncomfortable when that something seems in opposition to those things.

Since The Beginning, human beings have tried to bring order to a chaotic world by setting up rules, institutions, and other social constructs. These are neither good nor bad, but they are of human design, which makes them imperfect: tribes, borders, governments, church hierarchies, traditions, family obligations… The list is endless! God, who created us, knows that we sometimes need these structures, but God also loves to shake us up and show us that God is way bigger than any plan or tradition we may come up with on our own.

The story of Jacob and Esau upends one of those human-made traditions: birthright inheritance. Jacob convinces his older twin brother, Esau, to surrender his birthright (money, lands, titles, blessings) in exchange for a bowl of stew. This may seem ridiculous to us, but apparently, Esau’s stomach overrides his brain, and he agrees to the deal. These two have been wrestling since the womb, jockeying for position, scrambling to be the first one out; Esau wins their first race with baby Jacob clinging to his heel! They MUST be the undisputed champs of sibling rivalry in Genesis!

They are also as un-alike as twins can be. Jacob is clever; Esau is impulsive.
Jacob is forward-thinking; Esau is concerned with immediate needs.
Jacob sees the forest; Esau sees one tree.
Jacob is devious; Esau is easily duped. (Spoiler alert!)
This list gets longer and more uncomfortable in later chapters where we can use words like trickster, liar, and thief to describe God’s choice to be the father of a nation! What?

Our modern sense of fairness gets challenged by this story. Why is the younger trickster the one who wins God’s favor? Maybe God knows that Jacob’s value is not determined by the luck of his birth order. Maybe birthright inheritance causes more problems than it solves (ask Princes William and Harry about “heir and a spare” family tension!). Maybe God makes unexpected choices as God moves with us through human history, running after us, reminding us that God’s with us and for us in surprising ways! We are valuable because God says so, not because of what we do, or where, when, and to whom we are born. That’s Good News!

Julie Russell, from Macedonia, Burlington, is a newly-adjusted empty nester whose two children are enjoying their time at NC State. The Tar Heel grad forgives them for joining the Wolfpack and even wears red from time to time! She enjoys reading, gardening, jigsaw puzzles, and long walks with her crazy dog, Charlie and her husband, Chris.

To Consider

What about this story surprises you? Does it comfort you or make you uncomfortable? Why?
On what social constructs or traditions do you rely? Can you set them aside if God has a different plan for you?


Thank you for loving us and choosing us and surprising us every day! Help us to see our value and that of our neighbors through your eyes and not with our eyes. Teach us to set aside the worldly ways we cling to in order to follow your ways. Amen.

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