I wonder which of the parents among us, who have more than one child, would be brave enough to say they had a favourite and name which one it was?
In last week’s reading (Genesis 25:19-34) we were told that the parents, Isaac and Rebekah, had favourites. “Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Genesis 25: 28) One wonders when did Rebekah decide who was her favourite? Was it at the time of their birth given that God had told her: “Two nations are in your womb… one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”
(Genesis 25: 23) Or was it through watching her sons and witnessing Esau sell his birthright, his inheritance, for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25:33) and then take foreign women as his wives? (Genesis 26:34)
I wonder if the boys knew that their parents played favourites and if affected their relationship with each other?
In chapter 27, which the lectionary skips over, we find out that Jacob not only gets Esau’s inheritance but also gets Esau’s blessing. This section which has various titles from “Isaac blesses Jacob” to “Jacob steals Esau’s blessing” tells how Jacob deceives/tricks Isaac into blessing him instead of Esau.
Although many commentaries speak of Rebekah “helping” Jacob trick his elderly father it is probably fair to say that Rebekah is the instigator of this deception. Rebekah overheard Isaac telling Esau to go and “hunt game… and prepare… some food… so that I may bless you before I die.” (Genesis 27:3-4) It is not clear why Esau is to receive the blessing, it could be because he is the first born or it could be because he is his father’s favourite.
Blessing is more than mere words, it has real power. The blessing concerns, fertility, well-being, prosperity – wholeness. It is shalom. Rebekah, who does not have the authority to bestow the blessing herself, may see herself as God’s partner and takes the steps to ensures the right son, the younger son, is blessed. She makes the decision and carries out plans without hesitation telling Jacob to obey her command.
“Go to the flock, and get me two choice kids, so that I may prepare from them savory food for your father, such as he likes; and you shall take it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” (Genesis 27:9-10)
Jacob does not seem opposed to the idea but points out that Esau is a hairy man, and he has smooth skin and expresses his concern that his father may touch him and think that he is “mocking him, and bring a curse” upon him rather than a blessing (Genesis 27: 12). Rebekah says: “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my word, and go, get them for me.” (Genesis 27:13).
Jacob obeys, he gets the goats but it is Rebekah who does most of the work, she prepares the food, takes the best garments of Esau and put them on Jacob; puts the skins of the goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck and hands the food, and bread that she had prepared, to Jacob (Genesis 27:15-17).
It is now up to Jacob as he goes to his father and poses as Esau. Isaac questions how he could have found the game and prepared the meal so quickly. Jacob answers “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” (Genesis 27:20). Here this patriarch who is to have his name changed to Israel by God in the coming chapters not only lies but also evokes the name of God in his lying. Jacob takes the Lord’s name in vain. Rather than the common understanding of saying “Oh my God” as taking God’s name in vain maybe we would do better to understand taking the Lord’s name in vain as using the name of God to lie – God made me do it or God gave me a particular privilege.
Isaac continues to question Jacob saying “Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” (Genesis 27:21). Touching him he thinks he feels Esau’s hands but says the voice is Jacob’s and again he asks “Are you really my son Esau?” to Which Jacob answered, “I am.” Isaac eats the meal that has been prepared and then says “Come near and kiss me, my son.” Jacob goes and kisses him. Isaac smells the garments and bestows the blessing.
Esau returns to find his father has blessed his younger brother and he hated Jacob and plotted to kill him. Again Rebekah hears of the plan and tells Jacob “obey my voice; flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away”. Rebekah also tell Isaac how much the Hittite women distress her so that he in turn also tells Jacob to go to Paddan-aram and to get a woman from the daughters of Laban and gives the divine blessing of descendants and land.
Although Isaac is the one who bestows the blessing and is one of the honoured patriarchs of the Jewish/Israelite faith Rebekah orchestrates it. We see in Rebekah that behind every great man there is a great woman.
And so that brings us to the reading for this week. Jacob is alone, running away from his past and uncertain of what lies before him. And it is at this his most vulnerable moment, that God speaks to Jacob for the first time:
“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.” (Genesis 28:13)
God gives Jacob God’s name, YHWH (translated as “the Lord”). God also describes himself as the God of Jacob’s grandfather and father. This God has a history with Jacob’s family and is known through those relationships. The Lord goes on to give Jacob the promise that Jacob already received from his father Isaac, the promise given first to Abraham: land, offspring, and blessing. And then God goes on to promise Jacob even more:
“Know that 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 promised you” (Genesis 28:15).
Jacob’s reaction to such a gracious promise is mixed. He acknowledges the holiness of the moment and place: “Surely the Lord is in this place — and I did not know it.… How awesome is this place!” (Genesis 28:17).
Jacob then sets up a pillar of rock, and names the place Beth-El: the house of God. But it is worth reading a little further to see what Jacob does next. After God’s gracious, unconditional promise to be with Jacob and to bring him home again, Jacob — ever the schemer — bargains with God:
“If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you” (Genesis 28:20-22).
God promises, without condition, that God will be with Jacob and will bring him home again, but Jacob says, “If you are with me and bring me home again…then you will be my God.”
This story is primarily about God and God’s gracious unconditional promises in contrast to Jacob. How God fulfills the promise and how Jacob is changed we will see as we continue this story in the coming weeks.
Rev Tammy Hollands