The biblical story of Jacob and Esau tells of twin brothers who fought each other for much of their lives. When they were both young, the younger Jacob tricked Esau out of his inheritance as the firstborn child. Afraid that Esau would kill him, Jacob fled to a far country and the two men were not reconciled until 20 years later. It is a story full of regret, heartache and ultimately redemption that offers some poignant lessons for people of all ages.

Lesson on Making the Right Choices

Emphasize the importance of making right choices when adapting the story for a preschool audience. Begin the lesson by giving each child a ball of clay; ask them to make a soup bowl from it as you tell them the story. Tell them how Esau came to his brother one day begging for a bowl of soup because he was so hungry. But Jacob would only give Esau the food if Esau surrendered his special rights as the firstborn child to Jacob, which included their father's blessing and a larger share of the family inheritance. Esau gave up his rights because he wanted the soup so much. Share with the children how each brother made a very poor choice, one by giving up his birth rights and the other by choosing to use trickery. Let the students know how the brothers' lives would have been much easier if they had both chosen to do the right thing.

Treating Others with Kindness

Gather elementary students in a circle. Show them the ball that you plan to throw to different people in the circle and tell them the rules of the game. As you throw the ball, describe a situation in which someone does a mean thing like jumping in front of another person at the water fountain. The person who catches the ball must think of a kind response to the rudeness within five seconds and throw the ball back to the teacher, who tosses it to someone else in the circle. Once the game is over, tell them the story of Jacob and Esau’s family and the effects of not treating others with respect and kindness. Rebekah, the boys' mother, showed her favorite and younger son Jacob how to trick Esau; Jacob was mean to Esau and their father Issac seemed more concerned with his own needs than those of his family. Use the story as an example that friendships and families can be torn apart when people are not kind to one another.

Mistakes and Regrets

Begin a lesson for high-school students by asking volunteers to name a time in their lives when they made a choice they ended up regretting. Share a personal story from your life when you made a mistake that hurt someone else. Explain that the story of Jacob and Esau presents a situation in which these twin brothers lost 20 years in their relationship as a result of poor choices they made when they were young. Let students know that the choices they make have the power to shape their relationships for good or ill. For example, when a person hurts another with mean words or comments, the words can never be taken back and can often cause a lifetime of regret. But the end of Jacob and Esau’s story shows that unconditional love has the power to reconcile and restore relationships -- even those that seemed permanently broken.

Parenting with Wisdom

In an adult Bible class, describe the tragic consequences of the favoritism played by both parents in tearing the family apart. Rebekah favored Jacob and conspired with him to steal his older brother's firstborn inheritance, while father Isaac preferred the elder Esau. Explain how sometimes acting out of selfish desires rather than for the good of others can hurt both parties in ways that are irreversible. Emphasize the despair that Rebekah expressed as Jacob prepared to leave in fear of his brother's threats to kill him. Jacob and his mother Rebekah wanted a position of preeminence, but instead their scheming brought heartache, enmity and exile.