Family Matters

11 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Edom,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because he pursued his brother with the sword
    and cast off all pity,
and his anger tore perpetually,
    and he kept his wrath forever.
12 So I will send a fire upon Teman,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah.” Amos 1:11-12 ESV

Amos now shifts his attention from the Phoenician coastline to the nation of Edom, located at the far southeastern corner of the land of Canaan. But this will prove to be far more than just a change in geographic location. Amos’ decrees of divine judgment are beginning to narrow in on the people of God. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob, making them close relatives of the Israelites.

But these two people groups had a love-hate relationship that began hundreds of years earlier. When Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, had been unable to bear him any children, he took the matter to God, pleading with Yahweh on her behalf.

The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins.  But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked. – Genesis 25:21-22 NLT

And God graciously responded to Rebekah, informing her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son” (Genesis 25:23 NLT).

As divine providence would have it, when the two boys were born, Esau was the first to exit the womb, making him the legal firstborn. Yet, as the story goes, the day came when Esau willingly traded his birthright to his younger brother, Jacob, for a bowl of stew. Driven by his physical appetites, Jacob treated his birthright with disdain and agreed to this ridiculously lopsided arrangement.

Esau swore an oath, thereby selling all his rights as the firstborn to his brother, Jacob.

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew. Esau ate the meal, then got up and left. He showed contempt for his rights as the firstborn. – Genesis 25:33-34 NLT

By essentially “selling” his birthright, Esau was forfeiting his rightful role as the next chief of the tribe and head of the family. At that moment, his present physical needs far outweighed any future promise of power and responsibility. And Esau would continue to live his life driven by his physical appetites. Eventually, he would disobey and disappoint his parents by choosing two wives from among the Hittites. These two women “made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.” (Genesis 26:35 ESV). But Esau would be in for a bitter shock of his own. Years later, as Isaac neared death, he called for Esau and made him a promise.

“Prepare my favorite dish, and bring it here for me to eat. Then I will pronounce the blessing that belongs to you, my firstborn son, before I die.” – Genesis 27:4 NLT

But Rebekah overheard this conversation and devised a plan by which Jacob would deceive his nearly blind father by disguising himself as his Esau and stealing the birthright. Their plan worked and Isaac unwittingly passed on the blessing of the firstborn to Jacob.

“From the dew of heaven
    and the richness of the earth,
may God always give you abundant harvests of grain
    and bountiful new wine.
May many nations become your servants,
    and may they bow down to you.
May you be the master over your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
All who curse you will be cursed,
    and all who bless you will be blessed.” – Genesis 27:28-29 NLT

It seems unclear whether Isaac and Rebekah were aware of the stew-for-birthright trade made between the two brothers. That arrangement may have never been divulged by either Esau or Jacob. But by having sold his birthright, Esau had given up his right to inherit his father’s estate. He would not enjoy “head of household” status at the death of Isaac. Yet, despite his earlier show of contempt for his birthright, Esau still expected to receive the blessing of the firstborn. And when he found out that Jacob had tricked Isaac and stolen the blessing of the firstborn, he was furious. He demanded that Isaac bless him, but his cries were met with a disappointing response from his father.

“I have made Jacob your master and have declared that all his brothers will be his servants. I have guaranteed him an abundance of grain and wine—what is left for me to give you, my son?” – Genesis 27:37 NLT

Eventually, Isaac would pronounce a blessing on Esau, but it would far from encouraging or aspirational.

“You will live away from the richness of the earth,
    and away from the dew of the heaven above.
You will live by your sword,
    and you will serve your brother.
But when you decide to break free,
    you will shake his yoke from your neck.” – Genesis 27:39-40 NLT

It is easy to understand the animosity that Esau held for his brother, Jacob. He even thought seriously about killing him. But eventually, the wound between them was healed. Esau would later settle in the hill country of Seir or Edom (Joshua 24:4). And when the Israelites eventually made their way to the promised land, they had to pass through Edom. God warned Moses and the Israelites to treat the Edomites as brothers.

“You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. – Deuteronomy 23:7 ESV

Yet, over the years, the Edomites would become a constant source of irritation for the Israelites. During the reign of King Saul, there were many battles fought between these two nations. King David would eventually subjugate them, but they remained enemies and not allies. And Amos reveals that God will not let the Edomites go unpunished for their mistreatment of their Israelite brothers.

“They chased down their relatives, the Israelites, with swords,
    showing them no mercy.
In their rage, they slashed them continually
    and were unrelenting in their anger.– Amos 1:11 NLT

While Jacob and Esau had resolved their conflict, the animosity over the birthright and the blessing appears to have remained unabated and manifested itself in the lives of their descendants. As Isaac had predicted, the Edomites ended up serving the Israelites. The descendants of Jacob became the masters of their brothers. And it was all in keeping with the promise that God had made to Isaac.

“I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 26:4 ESV

Despite the deceit employed by Jacob and Rebekah and the contempt displayed by Esau, this had all been according to the will of God. The apostle Paul comments on this matter in his letter to the Romans.

When he [Isaac] married Rebekah, she gave birth to twins. But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.” – Romans 9:10-13 NLT

God had sovereignly chosen Jacob over Esau, and the older had ended up serving the younger. But, as always, there was resistance to the will of God. The Edomites would end up resenting the Israelites. And their ongoing efforts to make life miserable for their relatives would earn them the anger and judgment of God. Through His prophet, Amos, God decreed the nature of His divine retribution for their transgressions.

“So I will send down fire on Teman,
    and the fortresses of Bozrah will be destroyed.” – Amos 1:12 NLT

Underlying Edom’s sin was a heart of pride and arrogance. They had become full of themselves. And God delivered a stinging indictment against them through another one of His prophets.

The Lord says to Edom,
“I will cut you down to size among the nations;
    you will be greatly despised.
You have been deceived by your own pride
    because you live in a rock fortress
    and make your home high in the mountains.
‘Who can ever reach us way up here?’
    you ask boastfully.
But even if you soar as high as eagles
    and build your nest among the stars,
I will bring you crashing down,”
    says the Lord. – Obadiah 2-4 NLT

The Edomites were boastful and proud. They had become arrogant and even apostate, choosing to worship false gods rather than serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God would punish them for the many transgressions.

“Because of the violence you did
    to your close relatives in Israel,
you will be filled with shame
    and destroyed forever.
When they were invaded,
    you stood aloof, refusing to help them.
Foreign invaders carried off their wealth
    and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem,
    but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies.” – Obadiah 10-11 NLT

Despite being descendants of Isaac, the Edomites were seen by God as little more than godless foreigners. Just as Esau had sold his birthright for a bowl of stew, the Edomites had sold their birthright as children of Abraham by compromising with the pagan culture of Canaan. So, God warned them that their future would be filled with curses and not blessings.

“The day is near when I, the Lord,
    will judge all godless nations!
As you have done to Israel,
    so it will be done to you.
All your evil deeds
    will fall back on your own heads. – Obadiah 15 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson