We have here an account of the birth of Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah: their entrance into the world was (which is not usual) one of the most considerable parts of their story; nor is much related concerning Isaac but what had reference to his father while he lived and to his sons afterwards. For Isaac seems not to have been a man of action, nor much tried, but to have spent his days in quietness and silence. Now concerning Jacob and Esau we are here told,
I. That they were prayed for. Their parents, after they had been long childless, obtained them by prayer, Gen. 25:20, 21. Isaac was forty years old when he was married; though he was an only son, and the person from whom the promised seed was to come, yet he made no haste to marry. He was sixty years old when his sons were born (Gen. 25:26), so that, after he was married, he had no child for twenty years. Note, Though the accomplishment of God’s promise is always sure, yet it is often slow, and seems to be crossed and contradicted by Providence, that the faith of believers may be tried, their patience exercised, and mercies long waited for may be the more welcome when they come. While this mercy was delayed, Isaac did not approach to a handmaid’s bed, as Abraham had done, and Jacob afterwards; for he loved Rebekah, Gen. 24:67. But, 1. He prayed: he entreated the Lord for his wife. Though God had promised to multiply his family, he prayed for its increase; for God’s promises must not supersede, but encourage, our prayers, and be improved as the ground of our faith. Though he had prayed for this mercy very often, and had continued his supplication many years, and it was not granted, yet he did not leave off praying for it; for men ought always to pray, and not to faint (Luke 18:1), to pray without ceasing, and knock till the door be opened, He prayed for his wife; some read it with his wife. Note, Husbands and wives should pray together, which is intimated in the apostle’s caution, that their prayers be not hindered, 1 Pet. 3:7. The Jews have a tradition that Isaac, at length, took his wife with him to mount Moriah, where God had promised that he would multiply Abraham’s seed (Gen. 22:17), and there, in his prayer with her and for her, pleaded the promise made in that very place. 2. God heard his prayer, and was entreated of him. Note, Children are the gift of God. Those that continue instant in prayer, as Isaac did, shall find, at last, that they did not seek in vain, Isa. 45:19.
II. That they were prophesied of before they were born, and great mysteries were wrapped up in the prophecies which went before of them, Gen. 25:22, 23. Long had Isaac prayed for a son; and now his wife is with child of two, to recompense him for his long waiting. Thus God often outdoes our prayers, and gives more than we are able to ask or think. Now Rebekah being with child of these two sons, observe here,
1. How she was perplexed in her mind concerning her present case: The children struggled together within her. The commotion she felt was altogether extraordinary and made her very uneasy. Whether she was apprehensive that the birth would be her death, or whether she was weary of the intestine tumult, or whether she suspected it to be an ill omen, it seems she was ready to wish that either she had not been with child or that she might die immediately, and not bring forth such a struggling brood: If it be so, or, since it is so, Why am I thus? Before, the want of children was her trouble, now, the struggle of the children is no less so. Note, (1.) The comforts we are most desirous of are sometimes found to bring along with them more occasion of trouble and uneasiness that we thought of; vanity being written upon all things under the sun, God thus teaches us to read it. (2.) We are too apt to be discontented with our comforts, because of the uneasiness that attends them. We know not when we are pleased; we know neither how to want nor how to abound. This struggle between Jacob and Esau in the womb represents the struggle that is maintained between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, [1.] In the world. The seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent have been contending ever since the enmity was put between them (Gen. 3:15), and this has occasioned a constant uneasiness among men. Christ himself came to send fire on earth, and this division, Luke 12:49, 51. But let not this be offence to us. A holy war is better than the peace of the devil’s palace. [2.] In the hearts of believers. No sooner is Christ formed in the soul than immediately there begins a conflict between the flesh and spirit, Gal. 5:17. The stream is not turned without a mighty struggle, which yet ought not to discourage us. It is better to have a conflict with sin than tamely to submit to it.
2. What course she took for her relief: She went to enquire of the Lord. Some think Melchizedek was now consulted as an oracle, or perhaps some Urim or Teraphim were now used to enquire of God by, as afterwards in the breast-plate of judgment. Note, The word and prayer, by both which we now enquire of the Lord, give great relief to those that are upon any account perplexed. It is a great relief to the mind to spread our case before the Lord, and ask counsel at his mouth. Go into the sanctuary, Ps. 73:17.
3. The information given her, upon her enquiry, which expounded the mystery: Two nations are in thy womb, Gen. 25:23. She was now pregnant, not only with two children, but two nations, which should not only in their manners and dispositions greatly differ from each other, but in their interests clash and contend with each other; and the issue of the contest should be that the elder should serve the younger, which was fulfilled in the subjection of the Edomites, for many ages, to the house of David, till they revolted, 2 Chron. 21:8. Observe here, (1.) God is a free agent in dispensing his grace; it is his prerogative to make a difference between those who have not as yet themselves done either good or evil. This the apostle infers hence, Rom. 9:12. (2.) In the struggle between grace and corruption in the soul, grace, the younger, shall certainly get the upper hand at last.
III. That when they were born there was a great difference between them, which served to confirm what had been foretold (Gen. 25:23), was presage of the accomplishment of it, and served greatly to illustrate the type.
1. There was a great difference in their bodies, Gen. 25:25. Esau, when he was born, was rough and hairy, as if he had been already a grown man, whence he had his name Esau, made, reared already. This was an indication of a very strong constitution, and gave cause to expect that he would be a very robust, daring, active man. But Jacob was smooth and tender as other children. Note, (1.) The difference of men’s capacities, and consequently of their condition in the world, arises very much from the difference of their natural constitution; some are plainly designed by nature for activity and honour, others as manifestly marked for obscurity. This instance of the divine sovereignty in the kingdom of providence may perhaps help to reconcile us to the doctrine of the divine sovereignty in the kingdom of grace. (2.) It is God’s usual way to choose the weak things of the world, and to pass by the mighty, 1 Cor. 1:26, 27.
2. There was a manifest contest in their births. Esau, the stronger, came forth first; but Jacob’s hand took hold of his heel, Gen. 25:26. This signified, (1.) Jacob’s pursuit of the birthright and blessing; from the first, he reached forth to catch hold of it, and, if possible, to prevent his brother. (2.) His prevailing for it at last, that, in process of time, he should undermine his brother, and gain his point. This passage is referred to (Hos. 12:8), and hence he had his name, Jacob, a supplanter.
3. They were very unlike in the temper of their minds, and the way of living they chose, Gen. 25:27. They soon appeared to be of very different dispositions. (1.) Esau was a man for this world. He was a man addicted to his sports, for he was a hunter; and a man who knew how to live by his wits, for he was a cunning hunter. Recreation was his business; he studied the art of it, and spent all his time in it. He never loved a book, nor cared for being within doors; but he was a man of the field, like Nimrod and Ishmael, all for the game, and never well but when he was upon the stretch in pursuit of it: in short, he set up for a gentleman and a soldier. (2.) Jacob was a man for the other world. He was not cut out for a statesman, nor did he affect to look great, but he was a plain man, dwelling in tents, an honest man that always meant well, and dealt fairly, that preferred the true delights of solitude and retirement to all the pretended pleasure of busy noisy sports: he dwelt in tents, [1.] As a shepherd. He was attached to that safe and silent employment of keeping sheep, to which also he bred up his children, Gen. 46:34. Or, [2.] As a student. He frequented the tents of Melchizedek, or Heber, as some understand it, to be taught by them divine things. And this was that son of Isaac on whom the covenant was entailed.
4. Their interest in the affections of their parents was likewise different. They had but these two children, and, it seems, one was the father’s darling and the other the mother’s, Gen. 25:28. (1.) Isaac, though he was not a stirring man himself (for when he went into the fields he went to meditate and pray, not to hunt), yet loved to have his son active. Esau knew how to please him, and showed a great respect for him, by treating him often with venison, which gained him the affections of the good old man, and won upon him more than one would have thought. (2.) Rebekah was mindful of the oracle of God, which had given the preference to Jacob, and therefore she preferred him in her love. And, if it be lawful for parents to make a difference between their children upon any account, doubtless Rebekah was in the right, that loved him whom God loved.