From Eternity Past


Chapter 16—Jacob and Esau

This chapter is based on Genesis 25:19-34; 27.

Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac, present a striking contrast in character and in life. This unlikeness was foretold by the angel of God before their birth. In answer to Rebekah's troubled prayer, he declared that two sons would be given her. He opened to her their future history, that each would become the head of a mighty nation, but that one would be greater than the other, and the younger would have the pre-eminence. EP 113.1

Esau grew up loving self-gratification, centering all his interest in the present. Impatient of restraint, he delighted in the chase and the life of a hunter. Yet he was the father's favorite. This elder son fearlessly ranged over mountain and desert, returning home with game and exciting accounts of his adventurous life. EP 113.2

Jacob, thoughtful, diligent, ever thinking more of the future than the present, was content to dwell at home, occupied in the care of the flocks and tillage of the soil. His patient perseverance, thrift, and foresight were valued by the mother. His gentle attentions added more to her happiness than the boisterous, occasional kindnesses of Esau. To Rebekah, Jacob was the dearer son. EP 113.3

Esau and Jacob were taught to regard the birthright as a matter of great importance, for it included not only an inheritance of worldly wealth, but spiritual pre-eminence. He who received it was to be the priest of his family, and in the line of his posterity the Redeemer of the world would come. EP 113.4

On the other hand, there were obligations resting upon the possessor of the birthright. He who should inherit its blessings must devote his life to the service of God. In marriage, in his family relations, in public life, he must consult the will of God. EP 114.1

Isaac made known to his sons these privileges and conditions and plainly stated that Esau as the eldest was the one entitled to the birthright. But Esau had no love for devotion, no inclination to a religious life. The requirements that accompanied the spiritual birthright were an unwelcome and even hateful restraint. The law of God, the condition of the divine covenant with Abraham, was regarded by Esau as a yoke of bondage. Bent on self-indulgence, he desired nothing so much as liberty to do as he pleased. To him power and riches, feasting and reveling, were happiness. He gloried in the unrestrained freedom of his wild, roving life. EP 114.2

Rebekah remembered the words of the angel and read with clearer insight than her husband the character of their sons. Convinced that the heritage of divine promise was intended for Jacob, she repeated to Isaac the angel's words. But the father's affections were centered upon the elder son, and he was unshaken in his purpose. EP 114.3

Jacob had learned from his mother that the birthright should fall to him, and he was filled with desire for the privileges it would confer. It was not his father's wealth that he craved; the spiritual birthright was the object of his longing. To commune with God as Abraham, to offer the sacrifice of atonement, to be progenitor of the chosen people of the promised Messiah, to inherit the immortal possessions embraced in the covenant—here were the privileges and honor that kindled his ardent desires. EP 114.4

He listened to all that his father told concerning the spiritual birthright; he carefully treasured what he had learned from his mother. The subject became the absorbing interest of his life. But Jacob had not an experimental knowledge of the God whom he revered. His heart had not been renewed by divine grace. He constantly studied to devise some way whereby he might secure the blessing which his brother held so lightly, but which was so precious to himself. EP 114.5