Jacob and Esau
Jacob was a man blessed by God. He had not always thought so, and indeed had resisted God many times. Or had not trusted Him fully. Anyway. Jacob came from a family who did not easily depend on others, or even have much faith in the ability of others to help in troubled times. Now he sat in a comfortable chair, on the flat roof of his large home, as was the custom on a warm summer evening. He thoughtfully selected a juicy fig from the bowl of fruit that his youngest son Benjamin had placed on the small table beside his chair. “A fine boy, that Benjamin!” he thought contentedly. Jacob was well satisfied, sitting there in the cool of the evening, and his thoughts drifted back to days long gone.
Jacob and his brother Esau had been born to their parents Isaac and Rebekah in the land of Canaan, so although his grandfather Abraham had been a stranger in Canaan, an immigrant, Jacob and Esau were reckoned to be natives of Canaan, even though they had no Canaanite blood in their veins.
Jacob had often thought it strange that God (as Abraham had told him) had promised that Abraham’s seed would become large, even founding a nation for God, yet here they were, still in Canaan. Oh well, what God promised, God provided, so no doubt things would become clearer later on. Jacob thought that he personally had done his best, having sired twelve sons and a daughter, and God had confirmed the Covenant of Abraham when Jacob had that dream on the road to Haran. That had been such a dream! So clear, that he knew it was the Lord God speaking to him. God had said that Jacob’s descendants would be like the dust of the earth, and He would give them the land on which he lay, and He would protect Jacob, and bring him back to this land, as He had promised. Well, so far God had done all that, and more!
When he and his mother had pulled off that great stunt with his father Isaac, getting Isaac to give him, Jacob, the first son’s blessing, he had not known what to think. He had been really excited, and had not expected it to work, but the fine soft goat skin tied on his arm had actually made Isaac believe that he was blessing his other son, Esau. Esau was traditionally the first born, for although he and Jacob were twins, Esau had come from the womb first, with Jacob close behind, clutching his heel. Still, Jacob felt no remorse for the deception. He and Esau were totally different in their ways and thoughts. Both Jacob and Esau were physically strong, but Esau had always been the more dominant of the two. Jacob was more prudent, carefully assessing his actions and the consequences, but Esau was a massive, brooding man who excelled in physical pursuits. From an early age he was an accomplished hunter, much to their father’s delight. Isaac had often been the recipient of Esau’s prowess, enjoying many a good meal of venison, or rabbit, or wild fowl, which arrived slung across Esau’s broad shoulders. Esau had, however, so little concern for his traditional birthright that he had traded it for a mere bowl of lentil stew. Good stew, certainly, but not that good!
Still, it had resulted finally in bad feelings between himself and Esau. When Esau found out about the deception, he was at first disappointed, and had gone home to his Hittite wives, almost in a daze. Soon, though, he was really angry, and Jacob had often thought that his wives might have had something to do with that, and Esau’s decision to kill his brother Jacob. At that time Esau was their father’s favorite son, due in part to his providing Isaac with fresh game (which Isaac was very partial to), but Jacob was their mother Rebekah’s favorite, and when she heard of Esau’s intention of killing Jacob she immediately suggested that Jacob leave for a while and visit the family in Mesopotamia, a good distance away. And while he was there he could find a wife for himself! He was, after all, almost fifty years old, and it was past time that he start his own family.
Rebekah quietly pestered Isaac to send Jacob to get a wife from her own family, not one of the local girls like his brother Esau. As both Isaac and Rebekah strongly disapproved of Esau’s choice in women, it did not take Isaac long to agree, and soon Rebekah had the servants hustling about, preparing food, packing clothing, and choosing two strong, fast camels for Jacob to ride. Normally Jacob would have been accompanied by servants if he traveled, but Rebekah knew Esau’s impulsive nature, and she knew that any delay could prove fatal. The sooner Jacob left and the faster he rode, the better.
That same evening Jacob wished his parents goodbye, and set out to ride hard for at least two days, to put as great a distance between himself and his brother as possible. Late the following day Esau arrived, loudly demanding Jacob present himself so that Esau might have his revenge. When he finally found out that Jacob was long gone, he cursed, leaped on his camel, and set off in headlong pursuit. Hours later he came to a halt, staring into the swiftly-darkening distance. Years of experience in hunting had finally pushed some calm through the cloud of anger in his mind, and he had realized that he stood little chance of catching up with Jacob. One of the servants had told him which camels Jacob had, and he knew their animals well enough to know that the animal he, Esau, was riding was no match for them. Also he was not sure which direction Jacob was heading, so he slowly turned back for home. On the way he brightened considerably when he realized that with Jacob gone, he was totally in charge now, as their father depended on them for the day to day running of the farm. He even smiled savagely to himself, wishing his brother a hard and difficult life; when he reached home he was in a good mood, much to everyone’s surprise, and they all breathed a sigh of relief.
The next few years in Jacob’s life were not what he had originally planned. On the journey he had had a dream, a vision of a ladder between heaven and earth, as he slept. At first he had tried to dismiss it, but he knew that it was God’s message, because it confirmed the promise given to Abraham. The promise that had been passed on to him, Jacob, by his father’s blessing. And in the vision one more thing was added, a promise of God’s protection until the prophecy was fulfilled. After eating a meal of bread and dates that his mother had provided, he used the rock that had been his pillow as the peak of a small altar, blessed it with some of the olive oil he carried, then rode on. Finally he arrived at a well near Haran, where he met Rachel. His eyes brightened as he thought back to that meeting. She was beautiful! The other sheep herders had told him that she was the daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother, and as soon as he saw her he was attracted to her. Soon she ran to call Laban, who came immediately to welcome Jacob to his home. After a month with Laban, Jacob had fallen in love with Rachel, and he agreed to work for Laban for seven years to gain Rachel as his wife. The seven years flew by, but then began a long period of deception by Laban.
Because of the dress and veils that were customary for a bride to wear before and during the ceremony it was impossible to discern who the bride really was, and Laban forced Leah, the older sister, to take Rachel’s place. By the time Jacob found out it was too late, he was married to Leah! Laban, being the smooth talker he was, justified it, but then suggested that after the one week customary wedding celebration he would give Rachel to Jacob as well, as long as he promised to serve another seven years.
And so it was that he had two wives instead of one, and even after the fourteen years were done, Laban still resorted to trickery to keep Jacob employed. Finally it took a command from Almighty God himself to get Jacob moving again. He discussed it with his wives, and they agreed it was the right thing to do. Getting away from Laban, and the journey back, was an epic all on its own. Jacob’s thoughts drifted across the years and events, and he smiled to himself when he thought of the way he had dealt with his brother Esau. It had taken a lot of his flocks of animals as gifts to Esau, but God had blessed him in many ways, and Jacob remained a very wealthy man. Which was as it should be, he thought. God had promised to protect him, and He certainly had done so in every way. Even when he had had to battle that angel next to the river Jabbok, near Penuel. Even though he was very strong and fit, an angel was a bit much. At the end he had suffered a dislocated thigh, which still caused him to walk with a limp, but God was obviously pleased with him. God had renamed him Israel, which meant that he had successfully contended with God, and reconfirmed the promise of the land given to Abraham, then Isaac, and finally bringing him and his family to Hebron, where they now lived. There had been many more adventures, the worst of which was the death of his beloved Rachel at Ephrath, while giving birth to his youngest son Benjamin. Ah, how he had grieved over that.
So he had finally arrived at Hebron with twelve sons. By Leah, his first born Reuben, then Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. Between Judah and Issachar he had produced two sons, Dan and Naphtali, from Rachel’s maidservant Bilhah, and two more, Gad and Asher, from Leah’s maidservant Zilpah. Finally had come the last two sons, Joseph and Benjamin, from Rachel. There had also been a daughter, Dinah, born to Leah after the birth of Zebulun.