When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. Genesis 25:27-28
Like my wife and I, our two children have very different personalities. Due to their remarkable differences, treating them identically while they were growing up wouldn’t have been possible or even desirable. They simply had very different needs. I’d like to believe we treated them fairly though, not favoring one or the other. At the time however, if one saw that the other was treated differently, we’d hear about it – That’s not fair! Even at a very young age, children are exquisitely sensitive to injustice and if one child is treated differently, he or she is acutely aware of it. If a parent truly favors one child over another, those children both know it and that injustice breeds perpetual resentment and conflict. I’d like to think that my kids can look back and say that my wife and I didn’t favor one over the other. We love them both intensely. If however, we’d have loved one more than the other, we’d have seeded conflict between them for the rest of their lives.
This was the situation in today’s passage. In the story, Isaac and Rebekah had twins, Esau and Jacob. Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah favored Jacob – and those boys knew it. One could argue that the years of conflict between the two were prophesied by God and therefore weren’t Isaac’s and Rebekah’s fault, but God foretelling a thing doesn’t let the parents off the hook for bad parenting. Isaac and Rebekah treated their kids unequally, and that injustice had very real consequences.
One doesn’t have to have children to learn something from this. Favoritism is natural, but as is often the case, those behaviors which come natural to us are often terribly unhealthy (My drug addiction was a very natural behavior to me). In playing favorites with those whom we’re supposed to treat justly, we surrender to our natural affinity to simply like some people more than others. When that affinity, as natural as it may be, spills over into our behavior, injustice is done, and resentment is born. We may not be responsible for the conflict between others, but we are responsible for acting justly (Micah 6:8) and when we act unjustly, we bear some fault for the consequences.
I love both my kids and I couldn’t imagine picking a favorite. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m always just however. Daily, though they’re adults in college now, I’m still involved in parenting them, so I must continue to strive to treat them, not identically, but fairly.