Cain and Esau: a Lesson in Rebellion, Protection, and Provision

Cain and Esau are the quintessential bad brothers of the Bible.

Cain sets the ill standard right of brotherly love right from the get-go (Genesis 4). In fact, he’s the first brother on Earth. Abel comes along and God shows favoritism towards him, and Cain is pissed. But it’s important to note that Cain is still the firstborn. He’s entitled to all the cool stuff his parents have to offer. But that’s not good enough. So, he kills his brother. God calls him out on it. There’s nowhere for Cain to hide. The LORD of the Universe has caught him red-handed. He sends Cain into exile and Cain now is afraid. But God does not lead him hanging. He slaps the “mark of Cain” on him, not a sign of condemnation, but of protection. No harm is to come of Cain outside the punishment God had prescribed for him. So, Cain loses his birthright, but he goes on to have a big family of very successful offspring. The condemnation of Cain is counterbalanced by the mark.

Esau, who comes generations later, is also a big brother with an attitude problem (Genesis 25:19-34, 27). He sells his birthright to his little brother, Jacob, for a bowl of soup. Once Esau calms down and realizes what he’s done, he threatens to kill Jacob. Jacob flees. Years go by. Esau never gets his birthright back. But he manages to build up a sizable family for himself. When Jacob meets Esau again, Esau is in fact much stronger in numbers than his little brother (Genesis 33). Upon Jacob’s shoulders, the nation of Israel is built. Still, God keeps a place for Esau in His heart. When the Israelites are coming back from Egypt towards Canaan, intent on clearing land for their new home, God tells them to leave the nation of Edom (Cain’s people) alone, for Jacob and Esau were brothers.

I love that God does not just let things slide. He holds us culpable for our actions. But even in our sin, He watches over us, not because we deserve it, but because He is God. He does not forget our past, but neither does He hold it against us. And He calls us to do the same. So, where you have erred, know that it is not forever. Where you have been wronged, know that God sees. Nothing escapes His sight. We are all His children, born into the family of God through Christ, who makes us all one.


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