So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. (Genesis 25:27-28)
Some would say that Esau was a man’s man; he preferred the outdoors, most likely to be found stalking game through the fields and, apparently, quite successfully. His father loved his older son because he enjoyed the reward of his hunting expeditions. His brother, however, preferred to stay with the tents and was, in dramatic contrast, a mild tempered man. Because his nature appealed to Rebekah more, some might even say he was a “Mama’s boy.” A cursory glance at these two can be quite deceiving though because there is a lot more to it than that.
First of all, the Hebrew phrasing translated as “a skillful hunter” literally means “knew trapping.” In other words, Esau was skilled at setting a trap and a snare. On the surface that would mean that he was a good hunter of game but, based on what we know about his nature, it also insinuates that he was good at setting snares for people. That fact is demonstrated later as his descendants continually seek to destroy his brother’s offspring. Consider that Cain, another firstborn, set a snare for his brother Abel, luring him into the field in order to kill him. This is the nature of those who stand in opposition to God’s people.
According to the Bible, Abel was a shepherd. As it turns out, “dwelling in tents” is an idiomatic expression used to describe someone who is a shepherd. Thus Jacob was a shepherd; he was someone who tended to the needs of his animals rather than setting a trap for them. Also he was a temperate man which is to say, he ruled his emotions rather than allowing his emotions to rule him.
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with hunting and especially if your family depends on it for sustenance. But when it comes to what God looks for in those who will lead His people, He tends to look for those who have the heart of a shepherd. Jacob — who will be renamed Israel — was a shepherd. Moses, though raised to be a prince of Egypt, became a shepherd — first shepherding livestock but ultimately shepherding God’s people. When David was anointed as king over Israel, he had to be summoned from the fields where he had been watching over his father’s flock. This is the nature of those that God calls to lead; they have a temperate disposition and a heart to watch over and care for those in their charge.
To some degree, all of us are called to watch over His people. Your flock may be your family; others may be set over a small group of people who look to you for leadership. Some may have larger flocks but the point is, all of us need to emulate the standards set by the patriarch, Jacob. We should look to the needs of others — “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As we strive to do this — “sheep” being what they are — we must always be mindful that one can not let our emotions rule us but we must rule over our emotions. With the help of the Almighty, we will succeed.
Blessings and Shalom,