Sibling Rivalry

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God's will and plan will be accomplished even in the midst of our struggles.

Genesis(73) (Part of the Origins(71) series)
by Marc Webb(53) on May 29, 2022 (Sunday Morning(268))

God's Will(8), Patience(4), Prayer(15)

Sibling Rivalry

Since the beginning of human history there have been sibling rivalries. Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, the first siblings on earth didn’t get along. Since then, sibling rivalries have dotted history in many shapes and forms. Some sibling rivalries are purely playful, competitive one-upmanship, while some siblings sue each other over money or defamation. Some take the form of constant bickering and arguing while others live out their days amid a frigid silent treatment. Siblings have even gone to war against their brothers and sisters in the pursuit of wealth and power, not stopping even until the other was dead. These stories of sibling rivalries prove that it's impossible to expect brothers and sisters to get along all the time. Just because you're related to your brother or sister doesn't mean you will like them. I found the following examples of famous sibling rivalries.

Edwin and John Wilkes Booth. Long before the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 by John Wilkes Booth, he and his older brother Edwin were locked in a brutal sibling rivalry. The brothers were both aspiring actors and fought for the attention of their father, a famous Shakespearean performer at the time. When John began supporting the Confederates, Edwin had him thrown out of their home for treason. Though Edwin was very famous for his acting talent at the time, his legacy has been overshadowed throughout history by his brother’s heinous crime.

Eppie Lederer and Pauline Phillips. These sisters are better known as Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren. They were twin sisters who wrote competing high-profile advice columns starting in the 1950s. In 1958, Life magazine published an exposé entitled “Twin Lovelorn Advisers Torn Asunder by Success,” which featured “bitter exchanges” between the two. It seems the feud began in the mid-1950s when Pauline allegedly offered to write "Dear Abby" for their hometown newspaper for less pay if it promised not to print "Ask Ann." The twins were never the same after that. It is said that this sibling rivalry has been passed down even through the sisters’ children.

Adolph and Rudolph Dassler. In the 1920s, they created a shoe company in Germany together in their mother’s laundry room. As business boomed, so did the tension between them. The actual feud allegedly stemmed from a mere miscommunication during a WWII air raid but barely five years later, the brothers were dividing the company into two separate shoe brands Adi's Adidas and Rudi's Puma. The rivalry continued for more than 60 years, as the Dasslers' companies earned the loyalties of different athletes, celebrities, and even their fellow German townsfolk.

Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine. They were sisters and actresses during Hollywood’s Golden Age and were known rivals. As they rose to fame, both were nominated for Best Actress during the 1942 Academy Awards. Olivia was assumed to be the winner by many, but Joan famously went home with the Oscar. In a 1978 interview, Joan said, "You can divorce your sister as well as your husbands. I don’t see her at all and I don’t intend to…I got married first, got an Academy Award first, had a child first. If I die, she’ll be furious, because again I’ll have got there first!"

How many here today have siblings? I have a brother, Christian, and a sister, Laurie. They are twins like the subjects in the message today. My brother, Christian, is older than Laurie by a whole three minutes. From my perspective I wouldn’t say there was sibling rivalry between us growing up. There may have been between Chris and Laurie since they were only born three minutes apart. But there were definitely times in the past that my brother and I wouldn’t let her forget who was born first. What about you? Did you and your siblings experience any sibling rivalry? Maybe it was grades in school or vying for attention from the same friends or vying for the love and attention of parents that caused the rivalry. Maybe the rivalry was in sports or in the same job or field.

This morning we are going to delve into the story of a sibling rivalry that started before birth. In fact it pretty much started at conception. There was a war of sorts going on in their mother’s womb that would be the beginning of a sibling rivalry that would last many years. The brothers would eventually make up and be able to coexist but their descendants would not end up on the same happy terms. We are going to see that the characters in this narrative go through struggles just like the generation before them. All their struggles had the capability to derail God’s will and plan for their lives. But they never did because God is sovereign and in control of all things. Which brings us to our big idea this morning that God’s will and plan is accomplished even in the midst of our struggles. It doesn’t matter what we are struggling with. Maybe it’s in our relationships with family at home or with friends at work or in the church. Our struggles may come due to our sin and trying to do things our own way. No matter what we are struggling through our struggles cannot stop or thwart or change God’s will and plan for our lives or for the world. God’s will and plan will always be accomplished even in the midst of our struggles.

Before we dive in to our scripture let’s bow our heads and commit ourselves and the study of God’s word to the Lord this morning. Dear Heavenly Father, give us ears to hear and eyes to see what truths you have for us this morning. Open our hearts and minds to your Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

We are in Genesis 25:19-26 and there are three points to the message this morning. The first point is Devoted and we see this in Genesis 25:19-21. Follow along as I read. This is what God’s Word says, “This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.”

Last week we heard about the account of Abraham’s son, Ishmael and today we begin the tolodot or the account of Abraham’s son, Isaac. There are a couple of differences in the two accounts that we notice. One, Abraham is mentioned twice here but only once last week. This repetition stresses the connection of Isaac to Abraham, who was the one who received the promise. Two, we notice here that Isaac’s mother, Sarah is not mentioned but last week Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, was. ​​ Also, here it doesn’t state that Isaac fathered Esau and Jacob but last week it stated that Abraham fathered Ishmael. Three, last week what followed was the names of the sons of Ishmael but here Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, where she is from and who her father and brother are, is highlighted. This tolodot links the following story back to how Rebekah came to be married to Isaac and forward to the struggles that Jacob will have with Rebekah’s brother later on.

As we look at the patriarchs, Abraham and Jacob seem much more prominent than Isaac. Even in this passage that begins the tolodot of Isaac, he seems to be overshadowed by his father, Abraham, and his wife, Rebekah. As Pastor Stuart said last week, Isaac seems to be a transitional character, but Isaac is an important link in the chosen line that would lead to Jesus. God used the traits and personalities of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to call his people out of paganism and into a relationship with himself and to make them into his chosen people and a royal nation. Take away Abraham’s obedience to the call, Isaac’s obedient faith or Jacob’s tenacity and the nation of Israel probably doesn’t survived the exiles to be a nation today. God was able to take all those different traits and personalities and mold them together in order to fulfill his plan and purpose for the world. Those traits and personalities caused many struggles but God’s will and plan was still accomplished. (Big Idea)

In verse 21 we see the first struggle that could have derailed God’s plan: Rebekah was childless; she was barren so was not able to have children. So far we haven’t been told how long she has been barren but in verse 20 we see that they were married when Isaac was forty and in verse 26 we are told that Isaac is sixty when Rebekah gives birth to the twins. So Rebekah has been barren for twenty years. Sarah was barren for 39 years and it took nine chapters in Genesis for Sarah’s barrenness to be resolved but only took one verse to resolve Rebekah’s. Rebekah’s barrenness is like a “ditto” reminding us of Sarah’s barrenness and God’s provision of Isaac. We can presume that Rebekah had all the anxiety, concern and uncertainty of Sarah’s barrenness.

We notice a contrast in the way Isaac and Abraham handled their wives’ barrenness. When confronted and struggling with Rebekah’s barrenness, Isaac and Rebekah did two noteworthy things. One, they were patient for twenty years and waited on the Lord’s timing to be revealed. They didn’t try to figure it out on their own. They didn’t try to do in their own strength. They held onto their faith in the Lord’s promises to them. This brings us to our first principle this morning: God is pleased when his people are patient and wait on his timing. On the other hand, instead of waiting on the Lord’s timing, Sarah finds a surrogate wife for Abraham in Hagar and he agrees to Sarah’s plan for a son. They didn’t trust the Lord to take care of Sarah’s barrenness and they didn’t wait patiently on the Lord to fulfill his promises to them of a son. Abraham and Sarah’s struggles and taking things into their own hands had the potential to derail God’s will and plan but it didn’t. God did the miraculous and Sarah conceived Isaac in her old age.

The entire book of Genesis emphasizes God’s sovereignty and the wisdom of his timing. Psalm 31:14 -15a says, “But I trust in you, Lord; I say “You are my God.” My times are in your hands.” Baldwin says, “Trusting in the Lord means having faith in his way and his timing and demands patience. We can learn a lesson here that we need these same attributes to navigate the tests that are sure to come in our Christian walk. Every believer needs to hold on to their faith no matter what comes. That is spiritual maturity to hold on instead of taking the easy road to just let go of their faith.” That brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card which is to be patient and wait on the Lord’s timing in the midst of my struggles.

Two, Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of Rebekah but we never see Abraham praying to the Lord on behalf of Sarah. Isaac was devoted to Rebekah. He cared for and loved her so as the NLT says he pleaded and interceded to the Lord on her behalf. This would not have been the first time in twenty years that he prayed for her to become pregnant. The Hebrew word “entreated” means Isaac kept pleading and kept praying on Rebekah’s behalf until God answered his prayer. This brings us to our second principle this morning: God is pleased when we intercede for others. Weirsbe says, “It has been said that the purpose of prayer is not to get our will done in heaven but to get God’s will done on earth. Isaac wasn’t praying selfishly but he was concerned about God’s plan for fulfilling his covenant. True prayer is being concerned about God’s will, not our own wants, and claiming God’s promises in the Word.”

The Lord answers Isaac’s prayer and Rebekah becomes pregnant. This answer to prayer shows the importance and effectiveness of intercessory prayer and God’s response to it. It also shows that the seed was provided by God and Rebekah was able to conceive by the direct action of the Lord. The first two mothers of the promise were able to conceive because God provided the miracle of conception. Ross says in his commentary, “Isaac was the son of Abraham, the heir of the promise and Rebekah was of good stock and carefully chosen to be the bride but these facts are not sufficient to produce the next heir of the promised blessing; it will still take divine intervention.”

Our second point this morning is Distressed and we see this in Genesis 25:22-23. This is what God’s Word says, “But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why am I in this condition?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people will be stronger than the other; And the older will serve the younger.”

Isaac and Rebekah are confronted with the second struggle that could derail God’s plan: Rebekah is having a hard and difficult pregnancy. The narrator tells us there are twins in her womb that are “struggling” with each other. But Rebekah doesn’t know that she is carrying twins and doesn’t understand what is happening inside of her. ​​ All she knows is she is troubled and in distress. It is so difficult that she questions whether her pregnancy is even worth it. It’s worse because the struggle in her womb was an answer to prayer. The Hebrew word for “struggle” means to “abuse,” “crush” or “oppress.” It implies a violent collision as the children were “smashing” against each other inside her. These words were used to depict the oppression of the poor and to describe skulls being “smashed” together. It was not a mild discomfort and suggested that what was going on was not normal.

In the ancient world events during pregnancy and birth were considered ominous. Rebekah realizing there was something going on inside her that she couldn’t explain thought that possibly God was trying to speak to her in some way. It seems she wanted to understand God’s will for her life and for the life inside her. So, instead of following in her mother-in-laws shoes, trying to take things into her own hands in some way, Rebekah makes a correct choice. In her distress she goes and inquires of the Lord. She realizes that her pregnancy was because the Lord had willed it in the first place and he would have the answers. This brings us to our third principle this morning that God is pleased when we seek his counsel. There were other avenues she could have sought but probably because of the influence of Isaac in their marriage she inquired and sought the counsel of the Lord. When we are suffering or struggling physically, emotionally and or spiritually or in any other ways we also should inquire of the Lord. God is pleased when we seek him in the midst of our struggles.

We are told that the Lord answered her. The Hebrew word used implies she got her answer from the Lord in the form of an oracle. An oracle was a divine utterance delivered to a person usually by another person, in answer to a request for guidance. They could also be indications of favor or disfavor communicated through designated mechanisms such as with Gideon and the fleece. Later in Israel a divine response was given by means of the Urim and Thummim in the breastplate on the high priest's ephod, or by casting lots or given by the prophets. We are not told how Rebekah received the oracle but if we take it on face value we can believe she received it directly from the Lord. The oracle answered her question of what was happening to her and why. The Lord tells her that there are two nations in her womb and the two peoples will be separated or divided. This means that she will be the mother of twins but it also means their descendants will be incompatible and not able to coexist together. This dividing was going on even now in her womb. This dividing reminds us of the tensions between Abraham and Lot and Isaac and Ishmael in which separation was the best resolution to the struggles between them. This same resolution will be played out later with Jacob and Esau.

The Lord goes on to tell her that one of the peoples will be stronger than the other and that the older would serve the younger. This expressed God’s sovereign choice of the younger son getting the blessing instead of the older one. Before the twins were ever born the Lord was predicting what would happen in their later lives. The struggle within Rebekah’s womb foreshadowed the competition that would come later resulting in the older brother serving the younger one. Later in Genesis the nation of Edom that came from Esau will be enemies with and under the subjection of the nation of Israel that came from Jacob. This was all part of the sovereign will and plan of God for his chosen people. This story makes us acutely aware that the Lord is aware of, concerned about and involved in the very existence of the unborn. It also suggests that human personality is well on the way to being formed even in the womb. God’s answer probably didn’t bring Rebekah much comfort but she seems content and is able to endure the pain of her pregnancy. Both Isaac and Rebekah sought after the counsel of the Lord in prayer for the struggles of barrenness and a difficult pregnancy. That brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card which is to seek the Lord’s counsel in continual prayer in the midst of my struggles.

The third point is Divided and is found in Genesis 25:24-26. This is what God’s Word says, “When her days leading to the delivery were at an end, behold, there were twins in her womb. Now the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so he was named Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.

When the time came for Rebekah to give birth she had twins proving the truth of the oracle from God. Only time would tell who the stronger one would be and what would happen when the older one ended up serving the younger one. The narrator wants us to take notice of the unusual birth of these two boys. With the birth of the firstborn we are take notice of his appearance. He came out “red” and his whole body was like a hairy garment and his parents named his Esau. Names in the ancient world were important and often made statements about deity or the circumstances surrounding the child’s birth. Esau is described using only adjectives and his name came from three plays on the sounds of words. Esau (esaw) means “hairy” (se’ar). The Hebrew word for “hairy” (se’ar) sounds like “Se’ir” which will be the place that Esau settles. The Hebrew word for “red” (admoni) sounds like “Edom” (edom) which was Esau’s nickname relating to his red skin or hair and later to the red stew which he sold his birthright for.

The second born came out with his hand grasping the heel of his brother so they named him Jacob. Jacob is described in action from the very beginning. His name made statements both about deity (God) and the circumstances surrounding his birth. Jacob (ya aqob) means “may God protect” and sounds like the word for “heel” (aqeb), or “watch behind” or “to follow closely.” It has the idea of God watching our “six” like in the military, protecting and guarding our rear flank. We can see that God was already protecting Jacob in the womb and would surely protect him in the future. Heel (aqeb) sounds like the word for deceived (aqab). So because of the way Jacob stole Esau’s birthright, as we will see next week, the name Jacob came to mean someone who had the tendency to supplant, to trip, or to cheat. Jacob latching onto Esau’s heel conveys the ideas of deception, betrayal, and opportunism. Hamilton in his commentary states, “Even the infantile Jacob is acting out the oracle of Yahweh. From the very moment of birth the divine plan is in evident operation.” The parents observed the unusual circumstances of the births in view of God’s oracle and commemorated them in the naming. This commemorative naming was recognition that God’s oracle was the answer to their prayers.

Lastly, we are told that Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to her sons. Our narrative is bookmarked by how old Isaac was when he married Rebekah and how old he was when Rebekah gave birth to Jacob and Esau. Isaac and Rebekah waited on the Lord for the continuation of the promise to be realized for twenty years confirming the faith of Isaac and the faithfulness of the Lord’s promise. God in his sovereignty did not allow their struggles of barrenness and difficult pregnancy to get in the way of his will and plan. (Big Idea)

Brothers, Clifton and William Prentiss, were born near Baltimore, Maryland. When the Civil War began, Clifton enlisted in the Union Army and rose through the ranks to major. William enlisted in the First Maryland Infantry of the Confederate States. On April 2, 1865, after the Union and Confederate armies had been stalemated at Petersburg, Va for almost ten months, General Grant ordered a full assault to break the Rebel lines. Major Clifton Prentiss led the 6th Maryland as they attacked the Rebels and was reported to be the first officer to enter the enemy's line. Almost immediately, he was shot in the chest. William, defending the Confederate trenches against his brother's regiment, was struck by a shell fragment above his right knee. ​​ 

An account given in 1920 by J.R. King in the National Tribune recorded this "pathetic incident": "Two of the 6th Md. men like many others were going over the field ministering to the wounded without regard to the uniform they wore, came upon a wounded Confederate, who after receiving some water, asked if the 6th Md. was any way near there. The reply was, "We belong to that regiment. Why do you ask?" The Confederate replied that he had a brother in that regiment. "Who is he?" he was asked. The Confederate said, "Captain Clifton K. Prentiss." Our boys said, "Yes, he is our Major now and is lying over yonder wounded." The Confederate said, "I would like to see him." Word was at once carried to Maj. Prentiss. He declined to see him saying, "I want to see no man who fired on my country's flag." Colonel Hill, after giving directions to have the wounded Confederate brought over, knelt down beside the Major and pleaded with him to see his brother. When the wayward brother was laid beside him our Major for a moment glared at him. The Confederate brother smiled; that was the one touch of nature; out went both hands and with tears streaming down their cheeks these two brothers, who had met on many bloody fields on opposite sides for three years, were once more brought together." William died on June 24, 1865 and his brother died on August 18 less than two months after his brother. Clifton was buried next to his brother William, and they have lain side by side for more than a century.

We will see later in Genesis that Esau and Jacob were reconciled just like Clifton and William Prentiss were. If you are going through a sibling rivalry today, it is not too late for you to be reconciled to them, either. It will take patience, it will take prayer, and it may take you being the bigger person. This is true in sibling rivalry conflicts and with conflicts with other human beings. With the help of the Holy Spirit, if we will humble ourselves to the other party, sibling or not, reconciliation can take place. So, I want to encourage us with that this morning.

As the praise team comes forward to lead us in a final song, let pray: Dear Heavenly Father, let us be people of reconciliation. You are our supreme example of wanting reconciliation with us by sending your son to die on a cross for our sin. I pray Lord that we would in the midst of our struggles wait upon your timing and not try to fix it on our own. I pray that we would seek your counsel through prayer in the midst of our struggles as well. Take us from this place and give us divine appointments with those who need to be reconciled to you and allow us to proclaim your salvation to them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.