Saturday, 5 December 2015


There are some characters in Holy Scripture who are difficult to like, I find Jacob and his favourite son Joseph fall into this category.  For various reasons I’ve been meditating a lot on Jacob and Esau lately and feel I am coming to some sort of understanding of Jacob that I’d like to share with you. Joseph will have to wait.

It is all about trying to see God’s ways, not ours, and it isn’t easy.

Isaac’s wife Rebekah has twins struggling in her womb and it certainly seems like an unpleasant pregnancy.

And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two people, born of you, shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”

God sets the scene, God is in charge and I have no doubt that as young children whist Esau was doing manly stuff with his dad, Rebekah would dandle Jacob on her knee and tell him of God’s plans for him.  Jacob isn’t slow at coming forward and realising his brother’s weakness so that the elder sells his birthright to the younger “for a plate of mess”. The two nations warring in Rebekah’s womb are nature and grace and nature will always be weaker and succumb to its lusts.  This doesn’t make nature any less lovable, and at this stage grace seems to be somewhat devious, unpleasant and downright unfair. And there is Rebekah, who so may ancient writers see as a prototype of Our Lady, making absolutely sure Jacob gets his due and his father’s blessing, even if it means deceit.

It is too easy to read the story as if it ended there, as if Isaac’s blessing of Jacob was to be some sort of triumph, and if we read it like that, then it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.  Almost as if Rebekah is the handmaid of a cruel and uncaring God who approves of deceit and trickery to get His way.

What struck me when I read this recently is what Jacob says to his father as he is busy fooling him into thinking that he is his brother Esau
Isaac said: “Are you really my son Esau?” Jacob answered “I am”.

He doesn’t say “yes”, he says “I am”, which is far more potent. In a sense, as twins, “he is” Esau, as Esau is Jacob, there is a unity in twins that defies explanation. In another sense he is about to become his brother, indeed, the life he is about to embark on will sanctify the pair of them.  Jacob has to become as worldly as Esau (wives, children, livestock, that kind of thing) and in something that certainly seems to be divine justice, Jacob is deceived and deceived again by his supremely unlikable kinsman Laban.   And it makes Jacob, he is refined in the refiner’s fire of Laban’s household.  Jacob never forgets God and Grace leads and Nature follows.  After Laban’s treatment of him, Jacob must be even more acutely aware of Esau’s hatred of him.  

 So after he has freed himself from Laban, it is no surprise that Jacob, before the eventful meeting with Esau, wrestles with God. Jacob wants his blessing from God, he’s been through a lot and God seems to have forgotten the promise made to his mother.  Jacob wrestles till he gets his blessing.  He wants to survive his brother’s wrath. The grace in Jacob is made more magnificent in his anger and sense of justice.  Jacob has become a hunter and he knows his quarry, and his quarry is God. Meanwhile, the elder brother has had to have supernatural strength to forgive the younger so that it is only by the Grace of God that they can meet as equals in all humility and the pair of brothers by the end of those verses are almost indistinguishable in their forgiveness, graciousness and wealth. They are not equal, Jacob (Israel) is God’s chosen (through Israel will the salvation of the world be wrought), but that doesn’t deny Esau his due, his God-given dignity.

Had Rebekah not instigated the action, had Esau not been tricked and learnt to overcome his anger, had Jacob not had to suffer Laban, Jacob would not have been half the man he became and nor would his brother.  The elder would have always been the worldly but amiable fool and the younger, the other-worldly layabout and drifter. Rebekah did the best for both her sons.

God’s ways are not ours and somehow it seems worth reminding ourselves of this when we think He is not doing as we think He should.

The birth of Esau and Jacob,
Master of Jean de Mandeville,
French, Paris, about 1360-1370.


Deo volente said...

Rita, you label your post "pious drivel" and something "nobody will read" which is a great shame! I've read your posts for years and I link to them often in my daily roundups (see today's latest post).

I feel if you had labeled your post "Favouritism of Jacob over Esau", perhaps the subject matter would have been revealed immediately! As a short essay, I found it fascinating and great food for thought! Lectio Divina is always fascinating! Keep your posts coming, please!

Best wishes!
Deo volente

Rita said...

Dear Deo Volente,

It is that English self-deprecation thing...
Thank you for your kind words