There's a true story about two brothers in the book of Genesis. The older brother was an Alpha male. He was a hunter with a big appetite for food and the outdoors. He was hairy. He was his Dad's favorite son because he kept the pantry well stocked with game. His name was Esau. The younger brother was a more sensitive soul. His skin was smooth and he preferred hanging out with his Mama to hunting out in the fields. His Mama loved him because he was great in the kitchen. He was the proverbial metro-man. His name was Jacob and he was scary smart.
One day Jacob was cooking when Esau came in famished after a day of hunting. He begged his younger brother for some of the stew he was cooking, and knowing that his older brother would get the whole family inheritance, Jacob decided to make an outrageous proposal. "Swear to me that you'll give me your inheritance for this bowl of stew." Esau was too starving to think straight, so he made a short-sighted promise and wolfed down the stew. Scary smart meets crazy stupid.
Jacob never forgot that promise. Like a sleazy lawyer hanging around car crashes to build a business, he waited for his opportune time to cash in. His time came when he heard his father was on his death bed. Dressing himself in skins so that he felt and smelt like Esau, he brought in his father's his death bed meal, pretended to be Esau and stole his brother's birthright. What's more outrageous is that God verified the blessing. Isaac received Jacob's blessing and Esau's birthright from Isaac and ultimately became one of Israel's patriarchs.
Now if we were applying a purely cultural template here, we'd be forgiven for thinking this is the Biblical version of Revenge of the Nerds. Esau the strong, brave, dumb jock gets outsmarted by his weak, smart, nerd brother. Brains triumphs over brawn. Bill Gates wins and O.J. Simpson loses.
At least that's how an older friend of mine sees things going down in American culture when it comes to masculinity. "Our culture has been feminized. We're raising weak, man-scaped, lisp-talking men who don't know how to work a jack hammer, shoot a gun or grow a beard. There's no place for real men these days." I think he may have a point, but when I raise this with another younger friend who loves books, pour-over coffee, jazz and wears skinny jeans, he insists, "The playing field of power still slants towards classic definitions of masculinity. To be a man in our culture still means to be a jock and my generation is kicking against that narrow definition."
So where do we go from here in our quest to act like men?
I suppose we start by admitting that the Jacob and Esau story is not firstly about becoming God's man. It's firstly about knowing God's grace. God sovereignly chose social outcasts to be in Jesus' lineage to demonstrate that He came for the poor in spirit. God chose pagans, adulterers, prostitutes and immigrants to be in the lineage of His Son. Not to mention domesticated Mama's boys. His grace is not just for the the first born with the birthright. It's for the runt of the litter in this world.
That said, I think we can learn something about masculinity from Jacob and Esau. We can learn that God's vision of manhood is not as narrow as ours. Esau's hunting skills and hairiness weren't enough to get him chosen. Jacob's lack of those qualities weren't enough to get him un-chosen. But each man had his own unique strengths with corresponding temptations, and part of acting like a man means that we need to be aware of these in ourselves.
Esau was brave, strong, passionate and short-sighted. He sold his whole birthright for one meal. And it wasn't even meat stew! It was a bowl of lentils! Hebrews 12 warns us of the sin of Esau as sexual temptation. Some of us will be tempted to swap everything we have for one fleeting moment of pleasure. This is not limited to hunters and jocks, but if we have an Esau appetite we need to beware as men. Being an Esau kind of man is to celebrate having a strong, visceral approach to life, but to realize we could lose our inheritance because of it.
Jacob was too shrewd to fall into Esau's temptation. His temptation was relying on his own shrewdness to get ahead. His name meant trickster. And there was a moment when God dealt with his temptation. Jacob wrestled with God, who put his hip out of joint and gave him a limp. God changed his name from trickster to one who wrestles with God. Jacob didn't lose his street smarts. But he learned to lean on God like he leaned on his cane.
Perhaps that's what we can learn from Jacob and Esau. God has made us men with resident strengths and corresponding temptations. All men are in common in this regard. Becoming aware of these strengths and corresponding temptations in order to resist them, may be what it means to act like men by God's grace.
*Southlands men go away on a retreat this coming weak to explore what it means to Act Like Men.