In Biblical times, parents didn’t simply choose a random name for their child. They didn’t go through the list of most popular names in their effort to choose the right one for their baby. Names typically reflected the character of the child or, at times, the promise of God given to a child.
We can see an example of this when we look at the story of Esau and Jacob in Genesis 25. They were twins. However, Esau was born first.
When Esau was born, he was red. His body is described as a hairy cloak. And this is why he was given the name Esau. It means “red.”
Jacob came out of the womb with his hand holding Esau’s heel. It seemed to his parents that he was trying to prevent Esau from being born first. So they gave him his name, which means “he takes by the heel” or “he cheats.”
When we consider their reasoning, we can understand why they chose this name for their second son. He did emerge from the womb grasping the heel of his brother. However, in another sense, this name hardly seems endearing. After all, who would want to name their son “cheater?”
Yet, even though his name may seem far from appealing to us, it reflects a quality in Jacob that’s essential for us to possess. As an infant, it seemed that he desired to be born first. And this was not simply a random occurrence. We see that, as he grew, he desired the benefits of the firstborn.
In their culture, the firstborn child was entitled to the birthright. This meant that he would receive a double portion of the inheritance, and that he would be the leader of the family when their father passed. In the case of Esau and Jacob, it also included the blessing of God which had been given to their grandfather, Abraham, and then passed to their father, Isaac.
We see his desire as he took advantage of Esau. After coming back exhausted from a day of hunting, and finding his brother cooking stew, Esau asked Jacob to share it with him. Jacob, however, demanded Esau’s birthright in exchange for the stew. It seems ridiculous that Esau gave in to Jacob’s demands. But it seems equally absurd that Jacob was unwilling to share the stew with his brother and demanded something so valuable for so little a price.
We see his desire again as Isaac intended to give his blessing to Esau. Jacob, with the help of his mother, deceived Isaac. And, in this way, he received the blessing instead of his brother.
In no way am I suggesting that Jacob’s actions were right. After all, God had told his mother before he was born that he would be greater than his brother. And, for this reason, he should have trusted that God would be faithful to his Word. He should have simply trusted that God would give to him the blessing.
However, that being said, Jacob’s desire is one we should all share. There’s, of course, no way we can scheme to gain possession of God's blessing. There’s no way we can attain it by our own efforts. However, knowing what God has done for us in Jesus, and knowing his promise that’s found in Jesus, we should desire his blessing above all else. We should long for it more than anything this world has to offer.