For many families Christmas is as much about family feuds as it is family feasts. But there is no greater family feud than that on display at the first Christmas.
As God slipped into town through the ghetto, Satan stirred in the palace. Herod the Great heard someone Greater had been born (Mt 2.2). And in Bethlehem no less, which only added to the Messianic lore (Mt 2.5).
There had been pretenders before. For some 40 years, the ruthless Herod wasted no time “neutralizing” them be they kith or kin. Messiah or not, this kid in Bethlehem would be no different. Herod plotted to handle this threat himself but the plan failed (Mt 2.7-12). The magi dreamed of better days (Mt 2.12). So Heriod sent out his henchman to deal with yet another Messianic upstart. Killing all toddling boys in Greater Bethlehem should do it. Another rival up, another rival down.
Little did Herod know God had already outmaneuvered him the night before. The Greater One slept peacefully in Egypt (Mt 2.13-15).
There was more to this power play than meets the eye. Herod “the Great” was a bit player in an age-old drama. Herod was an Idumean, or an Edomite in Hebrew parlance. Edom was the land of Esau (cf. Gen 36.9). Herod was a son of Esau.
Jesus was a Bethlehemite, from the land of Judah (cf. Micah 5.2). Jesus was a son of Jacob.
The “slaughter of the innocents” was yet another iteration of the feud between Jacob and Esau. The chosen younger son versus the rejected older son. The one whom God loved versus the one he hated (cf. Mal 1.1.-5; Rom 9.10-13). Esau could never kill his brother Jacob, but not for lack of trying (cf. Gen 27.41). Rebekah helped Jacob escape by night then (Gen 27.43-45) and God helped him again now.
But Esau would neither rest nor care about the collateral damage. No wonder Rachel wept (Mt 2.18). Her enraged brother-in-law was at it again and her children in Bethlehem suffered for it. Still Jacob lived and would inherit what was rightfully his–the Father’s eternal inheritance.
The feud between Jacob and Esau was nothing new, either. In fact, it was part the age-old family feud stretching back generations: Isaac vs. Ishmael, Abraham vs. Haran (via Lot), Shem vs. Ham and Abel vs. Cain. It would manifest itself time after time thereafter: Joseph vs. his older brothers, David vs. his better brothers, Amnon vs. Absalom. And so on and so on and so on.
It was always the unlikely younger son that triumphed over the older, rejected son. God always raised up a Seth: “another offspring” to carry on the younger son’s favor and call upon the name of the Lord (Gen 4.25-26). Ultimately, however, this all stretches back to the very first feud: the seed of the woman vs. the seed of the serpent (Gen 3.15). Her son would suffer bruises but the serpent’s son would suffer defeat.
Esau took his best and final shot at the cross where he’d finally gotten rid of his brother. Once a sellout, always a sellout. No more Jacob. The tyranny of God’s sovereign favoritism was over at last. The seed of the woman was buried and her children scattered. Esau would rule with birthright in hand.
Or so he thought. Esau’s brother was a sacrificial lamb, for sure. But he was also the Lion from the tribe of Judah (Rev 5.5). His brothers will praise him because he always wins (Gen 49.8). The Son has risen and the feud is over. The Son of the woman has dealt the serpent its fatal blow (Mt 28.18; Eph 2.19-23). There is a New Jerusalem with a New King: Jacob the Great (Gal 4.21-31). Rachel weeps no more.