On Jacob and Esau

As I have written elsewhere, scriptures of any sort often can become more meaningful when we view them as an invitation rather than as simple story or lesson. Thus, I have found it helpful, for example, to find myself in the various characters in the story of the Prodigal Son. Currently I find it an interesting exercise to find myself in Jacob and Esau.

This is a story not only about brothers but about achievement vs. contentment. Esau is the older of the two and therefore entitled to the inheritance of his father Isaac’s property and title. Jacob, however, wants this position and so tricks his own father by impersonating Esau! Flash forward several yeas and Jacob is now Israel, leader of the Jewish nation, and is headed for a meeting with Esau. Jacob fears the worst and tries to soften Esau with gifts. But, in a beautiful passage, Esau welcomes Jacob and gives Jacob gifts! What a marvelous story of forgiveness!

Let’s look further at these two men. Esau has long been viewed as a hairy oaf, kind of like a Biblical Bigfoot whose hirsute body provides the basis for Jacob’s trickery. All Esau ends up with is a bowl of lentils. Jacob is the achiever, the one who wants all the power, all the wealth, the most desirable wife and so on. Nothing seems to be enough for Jacob yet his brother Esau seems to have the capacity to be content.

Sadly, I find that I am more like Jacob than  Esau. For me, at times an abundance has not been enough. The lure of power entices. Unlike Esau, I have also at times allowed myself to be consumed with fraternal resentment.

Esau, on the other hand, accepted his lot and built a good life for himself and his family. Clearly, he did not allow his brother’s trickery consume him with bitterness, not an easy accomplishment.

Jacob gets most of the attention. After all, he established the nation of Israel and thus is a spiritual ancestor of both Judaism and Christianity. But somehow I find myself longing to be more like Esau — simple, accepting of what life brings to him, and above all, blessed with a peaceful heart.

Reflection:  Whom do you connect to? Jacob or Esau?

About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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7 Responses to On Jacob and Esau

  1. Winston peters says:

    Dear dr Rich I am getting to want to be like Esau ,God bless

  2. There is certainly and Jacob and Esau in me. Jacob is the ego man (egomaniac?) who as you say is the achiever and is willing to get what he wants by any means necessary. You can hear him rolling his eyes and declaring that he’ll never be a “loser” like his brother. (Gee, does this remind us of a candidate in the current Presidential election?) We look at Jacob’s betrayal of Esau and think that Jacob should get what he deserves, but Esau, the hairy, hippie “loser” forgives his brother and gives him gifts. People who forgive their oppressors are never popular. We tend to regard people like Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King as having some sort of “special” capacity to forgive their oppressors, but we think we could never do that. Yet we CAN do that, but to come to a place of forgiveness is incredibly hard work. It came easier to Esau because he wasn’t as ego-invested as Jacob. Eventually, Jacob is punished by getting ejected from the Promised Land. How the mighty have fallen! And one more thing….could it be that people who spend time closer to the Earth like Esau have a less complicated and perhaps more humble perspective than indoor intellectuals like Jacob?

  3. Susan Bass says:

    Maybe I am oversimplifying but didn’t the psychologists say that people are motivated by three goals – power, pleasure and meaning? The more one is motivated by meaning the less the need for power, or should I say, the meaning provides its own sense of empowerment, contentment, and profound joy. But one needs enough power to sustain a place in a power-driven, power-hungry world.

  4. mitchteemley says:

    I’m more of a Jacob, but I happily watch a football game with Esau.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Why do you sound like being Jacob is bad? I like him because he proved to be better at being a person than Esau. Besides, I like nerds more than jocks.

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