This Week’s Reading: Genesis 27 to 37
The scene is called The Deception.
(Esau is called to his father’s tent.)
Isaac: My son.
Esau: Yes, Dad?
Isaac: Esau, I am old. I do not know the day of my death. Now, please take your weapons, your bow and arrow and go out to the field and hunt game for me. And make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die. (Genesis 27: 1-4)
Esau: Sure, Dad. Happy to. (Out he heads.)
(Rebekah has overheard her husband and quickly calls her son, Jacob into action.)
Rebekah: Jacob, get over here, NOW!
Jacob: Yah, Ma?
Rebekah: I just heard your father send Esau to the fields to catch some game. He is going to give him the blessing, the Big One!
Jacob: But, Ma!
Rebekah: Now you listen to me. Go kill two of the best goats and I will cook that man a stew he will never forget! Then you take the stew and bring it to your father, and he will give you the blessing he’s planning for Esau.
Jacob: Ma, Esau is a hairy guy! Dad will know the minute he touches me that I’m not him. Then instead of blessings, he’ll chuck curses at me for tricking him!
Rebekah: Never you mind about that! Any curses coming your way, I will take. Now go get that goat meat!
(Jacob did as he was told. His mother took Esau’s best clothes and put them on Jacob. She tied the goat skin around Jacob’s arms and neck, put her stew and fresh bread into his hands and pushed him out the door.) Cut!
You know the story. Life was never the same for that family again.
Jacob trudged into Isaac’s tent and lied, saying, “I am Esau, your firstborn.” When his blind father questioned the voice, saying, “Are you really my son, Esau?” again, Jacob lied and said he was. After devouring the stew, Isaac reached for his son to kiss him. Smelling Esau’s clothes, Jacob began to prophesy:
Surely, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field Which the LORD has blessed. Therefore may God give you of the dew of heaven, of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brethren, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be those who bless you!”(27:27-29)
Before the last word was uttered, Esau arrived to the camp. Jacob had barely made his exit when Esau came into the tent, stew in hand. Isaac shook all over as his son exploded in grief that the blessing he had anticipated for years had been handed to his twin. Esau cried bitterly for his father to bless him so Isaac complied, blessing Esau with servitude to his brother, prophesying that one day his tribe would rise up against Jacob’s (this happened in the days of King Joram, centuries later).
Esau was furious with Jacob and vowed to kill him as soon as Isaac died. Rebekah, hearing of Esau’s wrath, urged Jacob to head out of town on the guise of finding a wife from her family. It is surprising that Isaac blessed Jacob as he left, though perhaps he knew it would be more than a few days before his son returned. Isaac decreed:
May God Almighty bless you, and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may be an assembly of peoples; and give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and your descendants with you, that you may inherit the land in which you are a stranger, which God gave to Abraham.
Isaac charged Jacob to remember who he was and Whose he was, reminding his son, “ You are of Abraham, and you carry his blessing, for you and your descendants. May God’s blessing make you fruitful and give you the land he gave to Abraham. “
Jacob headed out from Beersheba towards Haran, retracing the path his mother had taken as a young betrothed. No heavily laden camels carried this young man, and caught in sudden darkness on the plains, Jacob took a stone for a pillow and camped on the ground for the night:
Jacob dreamed and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said: “I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” (28:12-15)
Oh the compensation package of being one of God’s kids! There, in familial poverty and broken relationships, penniless and poor in heart, God encountered Jacob with blessing. He promised Jacob the best news that God Himself would be with him and protect Jacob wherever he was, and bring him back home to this land. That word keep, shawmar, means to hedge, protect, preserve.[i] God promised not just blessing but a future, protection, children and land for Jacob and his generations after, a genuine blessing from Father God to a most desperate son.
When Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” (28:16-17)
Just as Abraham and his father, Isaac, had done before him, Jacob consecrated the land where he had encountered God. He took the stone he had used as a pillow, erected it as a pillar and poured oil, naming the land Bethel, meaning God’s house. Then Jacob the Supplanter, he who had stolen his own brother’s blessing vowed before God:
If God stands by me and protects me on this journey on which I’m setting out, keeps me in food and clothing, and brings me back in one piece to my father’s house, this GOD will be my God. This stone that have set up as a memorial pillar will mark this as a place where God lives. And everything you give me, I’ll return a tenth to you.” (28:20-22, MSG).
Perhaps you know the story, how Jacob met Rachel and loved her at first sight. The bride price was seven years wages, which passed quickly for the lovestruck couple, but on their wedding night, Laban did the cruelest trick. Just as Jacob has disguised himself as Esau, Laban disguised his older daughter Leah as the actual bride.
Poor Leah. One can’t imagine the shame and disgrace she felt, when after the wedding night, Jacob stormed up to Laban’s house and demanded the sister he really wanted. Don’t you cringe as these men discuss Jacob’s obligation to complete the bride week with her, that Jacob could have Rachel also, for another seven years wages?
Jacob ended up with two brides within the week, one whom he adored and the other whom he tolerated. The Bible is clear about Leah:
Then Jacob also went in to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah. And he served with Laban still another seven years. When the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. So Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben; for she said, “The LORD has surely looked on my affliction. Now therefore, my husband will love me.” (29:30-32)
What terrible times for that family! Rachel and Leah entered a fierce contest for their husbands’ affections, even giving their maids to Jacob as concubines in an all-out baby war. By fourteen years, Jacob had been swindled and denied wages by his scheming father-in-law plenty. There was tension between Jacob and Laban’s sons, and between Laban’s daughters and babies everywhere. Both concubines bore two sons. Leah had born seven sons and a daughter. Finally, God heard Rachel and opened her womb and Rachel gave birth to Joseph.
Jacob was done with Haran. He went to Laban to say his goodbyes but Laban negotiated another work contract with Jacob based on sheep production. Jacob was blessed by God with divine strategy and labored hard to build a strong flock. The efforts boomeranged, as jealousy consumed Laban’s house, and after six long years, God confirmed to Jacob to head home.
While Laban was away shearing the sheep, Jacob packed up and pulled out. Rachel stole the household gods, perhaps in spite or idolatry. When Laban returned, he and his sons set out in hot pursuit, intent on avenging the robbery of their prize possessions. God again intervened, and came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, warning, “Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.”(Gen 31:24).
The avengers met up with Jacob in the mountains of Gilead. Laban rebuked Jacob for fleeing in the night, saying his daughters were not to be treated as spoils of war, that Jacob had erred in his cowardly escape from Laban’s house, by not giving Laban a chance to say goodbye to his children and grandchildren.
Jacob admitted fear had drove his decisions and rashly promised that whomever had stolen Laban’s property would die. Laban searched for the idols in each of the women’s tent and came up empty. (Rachel had stashed the gods in her camel saddle and pretended she couldn’t get up due to a heavy menstrual cycle.)
When Laban returned empty-handed, Jacob lost his cool. With a forceful rant, Jacob accused Laban of changing his wages ten times in the past twenty years, concluding, “Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.”(Gen 31: 42).
The men agreed to part ways and made a covenant not to return to each other ever again. The two groups piled together some rocks and called it the heap of testimony in both Hebrew and Chaldean. Jacob offered a sacrifice to God at the rock pile. After a meal in the mountain and goodbyes, Laban and his sons departed with the promise to never pass that heap again and Jacob promised the same.
Twenty years earlier, Jacob had left his home in disgrace. As he neared the borders of Canaan, the angels of God met him, which in Hebrew is described as the armies of heavenly hosts. Jacob named it Mahanaim, “two camps”[ii], God’s and Jacob’s.
As Jacob neared Edom, he heard that Esau was coming with three or four hundred men. Fearing great retribution, Jacob divided his camp into two, and fervently begged for God’s help.
“O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”( 32:9-13)
Jacob had changed. No longer was he bargaining with God, that if you bless me and keep me, you can be my God. Humbled, Jacob acknowledged he was not worthy of the mercies and truth by which God had guarded Jacob, and begged God to protect him from Esau.
Jacob in crisis was a mess of distress. First he sent hundreds of goat, sheep and gifts of camels and donkeys in installments to slow down and appease his brother. Then he divided took his family across the stream and camped alone at Penial, desperate for God to deliver him.
A supernatural wrestling match of mammoth proportions ensued:
Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”( 32:24-30)
Thus Israel was named.
Let’s pray: Father, you know our hearts. You know our stories. You know our future. As we wrestle with difficult circumstances, Father change us! Lord Jesus, may your blessing, the gift of sonship, purchased by your blood ransom, change us forever. May we live certain of our inheritance, as co-heirs with You. May we cease our swindling, clutching and pawing for legitimacy, when we are crowned as Yours, fully loved, fully forgiven, fully named as children of God. Holy Spirit, as we walk out our journey, be with us as You were with Jacob. Watch over us and hedge us in. May we be quick, like Jacob, to recognize when God is in this place. May we walk holy and live righteous as true daughters and sons, blessed by loving Father, Lord of heaven and earth. Amen.
- Have you tried manipulating people, like Jacob, to get your way? How did that work out for you? Did you reap broken relationships like Jacob? Have you made peace?
- Jacob longed to be blessed by his father, even tricking his dad into giving him his legitimacy. How did God reach Jacob’s deepest need? Can you see God’s blessing in your life?
- Jacob left emotionally wounded from home and returned physically wounded to Canaan. Are you limping from your walk with God? Do you feel Jacob walked in strength or weakness as he returned to face Esaus?
- How did Jacob emerge as Israel? Did it happen in just one night of wrestling with God?
- God met Jacob at his terms and then walked with Jacob until Jacob could meet God at His terms. Have you encountered God, like Jacob? Are you still dictating your terms of worship to God?
Next Week’s Reading: Genesis 38 – 47
[i] Strong, James. Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, 1890, #H8104
[ii] Ibdi, #H4266