Focal passage: Genesis
I have three daughters and
they all claim the other is the favorite child. The oldest laments that her
life has been more controlled and that we were stricter with her than the
others. She’s right. The second oldest claims the youngest gets off the easiest
and that the oldest is always put in charge when the parents are gone. She’s right.
The youngest complains that the oldest is put in charge and that the two of
them gang up on her because they can. She’s right. They all claim favoritism
falls on someone else. This gives me a good deal of comfort. It’s like coaches
and fans complaining equally about the quality of the refereeing in the
The story of Jacob and Esau
can be interpreted many ways. For purposes of this commentary we will focus on
the interplay of parental favoritism and the grand purposes of God.
The story begins with a
prayer from Isaac because his wife, Rebekah, is barren.
God answers their prayers
and puts two boys in her womb.
Even in the womb their
movements provide ironic evidence that a long struggle between them and their
offspring lies ahead: “Two nations are in your womb and two peoples within you
will be separated” (25:23).
Esau comes out of the womb
first, red and hairy. He is loved by his father Isaac, supposedly because he’s
an outdoorsman. Jacob, clinging to the heel of Esau, comes out second. He is
loved by his mother because he hangs out in the kitchen and helps around the
house (v. 28).
What we have in this story
is the fascinating interplay between God’s providence and human sin. Jacob, the
heel, is destined to rule over Esau, the first born. His mother is going to
connive and manipulate circumstances to see that Jacob comes out on top. Isaac
is too oblivious to family dynamics to guide his family away from destructive
conflict. Did parental favoritism cause the conflicts in the family or are the
family conflicts the means through which God carries out His will? It’s a
mystery that runs throughout the Bible all the way to the cross of Jesus
Having raised three
wonderful daughters I can attest to the natural gravitation toward certain
children because of personality similarities and common interests.
Yet, this should be a prompt
to be especially mindful of spending time and showing love overtly to our
children with whom our differences are greatest. Love all your children
equally, but love the ones who need extra love more equally than others.