Jacob and Esau {part 1]

by John Thomas Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Jacob and Esau
Later, given the name Israel, Jacob is regarded as a patriarch of the Israelites and is an important figure in Abrahamic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He had 13 children, 12 boys, one girl, Dinah. The boys became the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel.
Biblical Facts Concerning Jacob
Jacob was the younger twin. He eventually dominated his brother, Esau, and stole Esau's blessing.
Born: 1791 BC
Died: Egypt
Children: Joseph, Judah, Levi, Reuben, Benjamin, Dinah, Simeon, Asher, Naphtali, Issachar, Gad, Zebulun, Dan
Spouses: Leah, Rachel
Siblings: Esau
Parents: Isaac, Rebecca
Grandchildren: Ephraim, Manasseh, Jochebed, Kehath, Onan, MORE

The example of Jacob makes it clear that God does not choose one person over another because of his/her moral virtue." However, Jacob is a perplexing individual since he has several issues that he must deal with; first, he tricks his dying father and steals his brother Esau's birthright and blessing. We can justify being peeved when God chooses Jacob over Esau. Nevertheless, Is this the type of individual that serves to Father a nation? He is no Abraham. There is another question I want to ask, "Why does God hate Esau but love Jacob?" In a bout with cowardice, Jacob also flees from his justifiably upset older brother after robbing him. Later he has a wife who feels so unloved that God must intervene. Modern sensibilities can undoubtedly be troubled by some other details in the narrative. Namely, Jacob's wives, sisters, and cousins have a child-bearing contest to see who can produce more offspring. They even provide him with their servants as additional wives to use as a substitution to increase their respective offspring tallies. We have come a long way from the notion of women being viewed as the possessions of men whose primary purpose is giving them children. Rachel was mortified at first when she was barren. She blamed Jacob as if it was his fault: "Give me children, or I will die." Sterility is a great grief for the Israelite woman; cf. 1 Sam 1:5-8. 3-6. In her dire situation, Rachel acts as Sarah did (Gen 16:2), giving Jacob her maid Bilhah so that a son may be born.
At one point, Leah tells Jacob he must sleep with her that night as she "hired" him with her son's mandrakes in a deal with Rachel. Esau also had his issues. It was clear that Esau was not suitable for establishing a family dynasty. He was a slave of his appetite, swayed by the moment's hunger. His appetite was so ravenous at the time that he could not even pronounce the name of the stew his brother used to get him to give up his birthright. Esau also married two local Hittite women raising complications for his parents. These two brothers began fighting in the womb. What do we make of these characters? Jacob and Esau initially strike us as very odd, and even God initially appears to behave in a manner strange to our moral sensibilities.
A couple of themes you may have noted thus far in our story is peppered throughout Genesis; barren women and two brothers. The barren women are found in Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Rachel/Leah. "The narrative that establishes the origins of Jacob's family begins with barrenness, just as was the case with Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah. He opened Leah's womb but closed the womb of Rachel. The text says very clearly that this was so because "the LORD saw that Leah was unloved" (Gen. 29:31)." There is also a younger Brother motif in the text. Some examples:
• · Cain and Abel
• · Isaac and Ishmael
• · Jacob and Esau
• · Joseph and Brothers
• · Ephraim and Manasseh (to whom Jacob gives the more significant portion of the land)
• · Joseph and Judah (youngest sons) outshine Rueben, Jacob's firstborn.
God has regard for Abel's offering but none for Cain. No explanation is given. God will favor whom He will favor (e.g., Jacob I loved but Esau I hated). God generally shows some love to both brothers in these stories, as even Cain is granted God's protection after the murder of his brother (the mark on his head). The firstborn was granted special privileges, and the younger brother was often more vulnerable. In some sense, these accounts may depict God's concern and love for the weaker members of society. The fragile and vulnerable, the poor. In many societies, the rich and powerful often trample on the rights and freedoms of the poor and weak (David and Uriah, Ahab and Naboth, and the poor and rich in Amos). God may be depicted as showing favor to the younger brother. Is there a "blessed are the poor" vibe from this, or as Psalm 35:10 says: "My whole being will exclaim, "Who is like you, Lord? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them."
The final modification of the material may have even been finalized during the Babylonian exile or at a time when Israel was surrounded by and overshadowed/oppressed by much stronger nations. At that time, being in power and "good" things happening to you were general a sign of divine blessing and vice versa. The weaker brother is Israel and God raises them up to be his true firstborn. All these stories share a common motif and in its simplest terms, it is depicting God's love for Israel despite their status in the world. If status quo and outward appearances were all that really mattered, Israel would still be in bondage in Egypt!

Esau I hated, Jacob I loved:

This OT passage from Malachi is quoted in the New Testament by Paul but it should be obvious from the story that God did not actually hate Esau. He prospered as did his offspring the Edomites. The literal rendering in modern English obscures the true meaning of this fluent phrase. Did Jesus tell us that we should hate our parents? Of course not. We are commanded to honor our parents by the Father and we are told to love our neighbors and even our enemies. How odd if Jesus meant we should faithfully love our enemies but also literally hate our parents. Rather, like Jesus's saying, this is a Hebraism meaning "love less. One commentator wrote, "The phraseology expresses the idea of intensity of feeling in comparison. In other words, "Jacob I loved… Esau I hated" (Mal. 1:2-3) is rendered quite literally in our modern terms. Translated from ancient Hebrew and interpreted into our modern way of speaking it could mean something like "Esau I loved, but Jacob I favored with my great covenantal love." The blessings of being the father of Israel went through Jacob, not because he earned it or God saw that he was a man of high moral character, but simply because God in his sovereignty chose him. Jacob can screw up repeatedly and endanger this blessing but God's will, as expected, triumphs in the end.

What Goes Around Comes Around.

Jacob went from clever manipulator and trickster to being manipulated and tricked. With a dose of cold calculus, he conned his brother out of his inheritance and deceived his father, but the roles were reversed during his exile. His uncle Laban deceived him by giving him Leah, his eldest daughter, instead of Rachel, on whom the bargain was struck. Jacob ended up being cheated after working for 7 years and he needed to work another 7 years for Laban to marry Rachel. He was also tricked later by his sons into thinking Joseph was killed by a wild animal when in fact they had sold him into slavery (Genesis 37).

The Actual Blessings:

I originally missed reading the Jacob story because there appear to be two different blessings altogether. The one meant for Jacob by God (which does come true) and his father's blessing that he stole from his brother (which does not happen). There is some friction in the text if we equivocate the two blessings. The Lord tells Rebekah in Genesis 25:23: "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger." Is God referring to nations or brothers here? It seems the former as that is what the brothers represent, and Esau never serves Jacob. Quite the opposite in fact. Jacob bows before Esau and calls him Lord!
God was blessing Jacob in a covenantal sense. His offspring would be many and would become a great nation. The promise to Abraham was being fulfilled through Jacob's lineage, not Esau's. Isaac's blessing is about getting rich, having things easy and having power over one's siblings. Genesis 27:28-29 reads: May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be Lord over your brothers and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you and blessed be everyone who blesses you!"
Jacob did not have it easy. He was exiled for decades, worked hard as a servant, was tricked by his uncle, wrestled with God, mourned his son Joseph and towards the end of Genesis, when questioned by the Pharaoh, he says, "Few and hard have been the years of my life…" (Gen.47:9). Jacob's struggles also clearly represent the struggles of Israel over time. Large swathes of Israelite history indeed were not easy or glamorous. For times when Israel was in bondage or surrounded by powerful enemies, the story of Jacob could provide hope. A commentator wrote, "None of the stolen blessings came true in the life of Jacob (especially those having to do with power and domination, but more about this later). In the end, it was Jacob who called Esau "his lord" to his face and prostrated before him seven times, thereby acknowledging his fault in stealing his brother's blessing. Contrary to expectations, Esau is blessed with a good and successful life, free of his brother's absolute superiority and domination (Gen. 27:39-40)."

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