Sibling Rivalry

Genesis shows the most fraught relationship is sibling rivalry. We have Cain and Abel,  Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Rachel and Leah. In each story we see a pecking order, my sibling stands between me and what I most desire. In each story there appears at first reading to be a accepted one and a rejected one. But let’s look again. In Genesis chapter 21 we see the birth of Isaac,  Sarah sees Ishmael jesting and tells Abraham to send Hagar away. Abraham is reluctant, but in the end sends his son away, into the desert where the water runs out. Ishmael is about to die and an angel appears indicating a well and saying that the voice of the child was heard and that God will make him a great nation. In this story with whom do your sympathies lie? God says that isaac is chosen but our sympathies lie with Hagar and Ishmael. In Genesis 27 Rebekah tells her son Jacob to dress up in the clothes of his brother Esau and take the blessing. In the next scene Esau comes in,  and as Isaac the blind father and Esau his son realise what happened scripture records, a very deep trembling of the father and the son crying out with a bitter cry. You cannot read this without your sympathy going to Isaac and Esau. Underneath the surface of the story is a concealed counternarrative. I believe it is a response to the story of the first two human children. Cain and Abel make God an offering and one is not accepted and Cain murders his brother. Behind sibling rivalry is a logic of scarcity. But we know that God’s tender mercies is on all his creation. God has a place for every single one of us. Let’s look at this counternarrative by looking at the last scene of these stories, Abel is dead, Isaac and Ishmael stand together at their father’s grave.
Jacob and Esau meet, embrace, kiss, and go their separate way. In the story of Joseph and his brothers we see forgiveness and reconciliation. There is an upward curve to the stories. You tried to harm me but God turned it into blessing. A theology of hope rather than a theology of fear. Redeeming the past rather than repeating it. Invite someone to take a closer look at Christ and his church

sibling rivalry