Even jerks can be redeemed

By Jessica Brodie

Have you met guys—or girls—so taken with the here-and-now, with their own needs, with the importance of the moment that they’re just plain dumb? They are utterly absorbed in themselves and can’t see past anything else. They have no wisdom about the future. They seem to have no thought beyond pleasure or satisfying their current needs. In a nutshell: they’re a jerk.

That’s who Esau reminds me of in the Bible. See, Esau was the minutes-older twin brother of Jacob who squandered his birthright for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25:34).

To give you a little context, Jesus is descended from the line of Jacob. Abraham fathered Isaac, who fathered Jacob, who went on to father Judah, who eventually was the great-great-and-then-some-grandfather of King David. Most of us are inclined to be Team Jacob because it is his line that triumphs. Jacob’s line is the one that ultimately fulfills God’s promise to Abraham: that Abraham’s descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 26:4).

Now, some really bad stuff happened between these two brothers, Esau and Jacob. First of all, from the womb we know they opposed each other. They fought so hard inside their mother, Rebekah, that she prayed to God and asked why He was putting her through this (Genesis 25:23).

Throughout their childhood they seemed polar opposites. Jacob, his mom’s favorite, liked to hang out with her and cook, while Esau loved to hunt and was his father’s favorite.

Rebekah wanted her favorite son to get not only the birthright but also the blessing that was traditionally given only to the firstborn son. Maybe she had reason to despise her older son. She saw how Esau acted, saw his lack of wisdom and his inability to think beyond the present. Quite possibly she, too, thought he was a big jerk. Perhaps the Bible leaves out all the issues between this mother and son that we don’t know about—the fights, the disrespect, you name it.

With help from his mom, Jacob—who’d already gotten Esau’s birthright—tricked his father into giving him Esau’s blessing, too.

So on the surface you have two guys—one who’s the big oaf, the jerk, the clear villain in the story who we’re not supposed to like. The other is the hero—thoughtful, caring, and highly favored (even though he certainly wasn’t innocent or above trickery).

Jacob went on to be the clear winner in this dysfunctional family saga. He moved far away, married the girl he loved, and had the kids that ultimately became God’s chosen people.

It would’ve been the end of the story, except guess what? Many years later, Jacob and his entire family went scurrying back to the land he’d grown up in, only there was one big problem. The brother he had wronged, Esau, was still living in that land.

In fact, Esau had earned success in his own right—so much success that Jacob feared his brother’s wrath. Jacob genuinely thought his brother would murder him. He sent gifts, craftily separated his family so if one portion was killed he wouldn’t lose them all, and so forth (Genesis 32).

Yet what did his older brother Esau do? None of that, it seems. Esau actually grew up to be a pretty good guy. Even though he had married women of cultures that greatly troubled his parents, once he realized this was not a favorable thing to do, he tried to correct his wrong by marrying women more favorable to his parents (Genesis 28:8-9). He seemed to have done well for himself and had animals, land, servants, the works. He was respected and feared. But more than that, Esau seemed to have become a decent human being. Jacob went to all these lengths to appease his brother so Esau wouldn’t kill him. And what did Esau do when they finally saw each other? He forgave Jacob! He hugged his brother and was genuinely baffled as to why Jacob would go to such lengths. He generously offered to travel with Jacob and help him (Genesis 33:1-17).

Esau might have started out a jerk, but he didn’t end up that way. And even though his bloodline didn’t turn out to be God’s chosen people, there is ultimate redemption. For God had a master plan through his son Jesus that not only his special people the Jews would be saved but also everyone else in the world! As it says in Ephesians 3:6, “This plan is that the Gentiles would be coheirs and parts of the same body, and that they would share with the Jews in the promises of God in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

No matter our bloodline, no matter the mistakes of our ancestors, no matter our own mistakes, we can change. We can become a new creation in Christ.

Even jerks can surprise us. Even jerks can be redeemed.

Thank God.

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