“I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” -Genesis 26:24
As I grew older, my eyesight began to fail me until finally I could barely see. Believing the time of my death was drawing close, I called my oldest son Esau near so I could bless him as was the custom of the day. Rebekah overheard us talking and when I sent Esau out hunting so he could kill and prepare some of my favorite wild game for dinner, she went into action. Summoning Jacob, she got him to kill a couple of young goats so she could make me a dinner like the one I had requested from Esau, and then dressed him in Esau’s clothes and tied animal skins to his hands and arms so he would smell and feel like Esau to me. When the food was ready, she sent him in to see me and though the voice I heard was Jacob’s, the meal he brought me, and his smell and the feel of the hairy skins on his arms fooled me into thinking he was Esau. So I blessed him.
I asked God to give him Heaven’s dew and Earth’s abundance, and told him that nations would serve him and even his own brother would bow down to him. I repeated the words that God had spoken to Abraham; that whoever cursed him would be cursed, and whoever blessed him would be blessed.
When Esau returned a little while later and brought me the wild game he had prepared and asked for his blessing, I realized that Rebekah and Jacob had tricked me. But since the blessing I had mistakenly given Jacob was consistent with the promise the LORD had made to Rebekah before the twins were born, and since Esau had in effect sold his rights to Jacob, I let it stand. Then I spoke a prophecy over Esau that reflected his bitterness at having been tricked out of both his birthright and his blessing. I told him his descendants would live by the sword in the parched desert and would for a time serve his brother’s people, but in later years when they grew tired of servitude would rebel.
As you might suspect, Esau was bitter and swore vengeance on Jacob, but decided to wait until after I died before getting even. Rebekah was afraid for Jacob and got me to send him away to her brother’s people in Aram under the guise of finding himself a wife from among her people so he wouldn’t marry into a Canaanite family like Esau had done. Before he left, I blessed him for real this time, asking that the LORD would transfer the promise first given to Abraham then me regarding the land of Canaan to him.
When Esau learned that Jacob had left, and that his two foreign wives were a problem for Rebekah and me, he tried to remedy the situation by taking a third wife, one of the daughters of my half brother Ishmael. I guess his intent was good, but his action had the effect of adding the festering animosity between Ishmael and me to the already volatile mixture of bitterness and rage he felt toward Jacob. No wonder his descendants were so dead set against the Israelites coming through their territory on the way up to the Promised Land under Moses, refusing them even a drink of water. And no wonder they fought so frequently against the Israelites after they got there until King David finally defeated and subjugated them, and then joined up with the Babylonians against them when Nebuchadnezzar came to conquer Israel centuries later. It’s true that revenge is a dish best served cold, but Esau’s people kept their hatred of Jacob alive for over 1000 years until the LORD had Nebuchadnezzar destroy them all. Sad to say, it turns out my prophecy for Esau was right on the mark.
Jacob left for the plains of Aram, going up the Jordan River Valley in the direction of Haran, where Abraham had stayed. Nearing the city of Luz, he stopped to camp for the night. In a dream he saw a ladder going up into heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. At the top stood the LORD Himself, and He repeated to my son Jacob the very promises He had made first to Abraham and then to me. The next morning Jacob built an altar there, re-named the place Bethel, which means House of God, and promised to accept the LORD as his God just as my father and I had done before him. And so my prayer that the LORD would transfer the covenant to Jacob was answered. From then on the LORD would call Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I was now certain that the land of Canaan would be given to Jacob’s descendants.
As it turned out (to borrow a line from Mark Twain) rumors of my death were greatly exaggerated, and I wound up living through all the 20 years Jacob stayed with Rebekah’s brother Laban. During that time Jacob married two of Laban’s daughters and acquired their two handmaids as well. These four women bore him the12 sons whose descendants would inherit the land, plus one daughter. The LORD blessed him in other ways as well and soon they had large flocks and many possessions. In an interesting twist on the rights of the firstborn, soon after his arrival Jacob had fallen in love with Laban’s younger daughter Rachael and agreed to work for seven years for the right to marry her. On their wedding night Laban pulled a switch on him and the next morning Jacob awoke to find Rachael’s older sister Leah in bed with him! Laban explained that it was their custom to marry off the oldest daughter first, but that if he worked for another seven years he could have Rachael too. (Maybe this is where the saying, “What goes around comes around” originated.) Realizing he’d been had, and that maybe it was poetic justice for the way he and Rebekah had tricked me, Jacob agreed and as I said wound up with both daughters and their handmaids.
After 20 years, during which time Jacob and Laban seemed to be engaged in a perpetual contest to see who could be the most deceptive, the LORD told Jacob to pack up and return to Canaan where Rebekah and I still lived. So he gathered his family, his flocks and all their possessions and headed out, not telling Laban they were leaving. To make things worse, Rachael took Laban’s terraphim, his household gods. This was equivalent to taking the title to his property. Laban was away when they left, but after three days found out and chased Jacob all the way to Gilead, where he confronted him.
“You left with out saying goodbye, and I didn’t even get to kiss my grandchildren one last time, and on top of that you stole my personal possessions,” Laban complained.
Jacob explained that he was afraid Laban would not let him go. He then reminded Laban that during the 20 years he had worked to prosper him, Laban had treated him unfairly, making him personally bear losses and living expenses that should have been shared, and reducing his compensation 10 times.
Laban countered by reminding Jacob that he didn’t have a legal right to take anything when he left, not the daughters, not the children, and not the flocks. But in a dream the previous night, the LORD had told Laban to let him go and so he would if Jacob would agree to a truce between them. This truce would assure Laban that Jacob would remain true to his daughters and not let any of the wealth he had acquired leave the family.
Laban reminded Jacob that the LORD would be watching to make sure Jacob didn’t try to deceive him again. In the manner of covenant ceremonies of our day, the two men built a commemorative pillar and an altar and with a confirming oath offered a sacrifice to the LORD as evidence of their agreement. Then they shared a meal to signify that everything was settled between them, and the next morning Laban kissed his daughters and his grand children goodbye and returned home, having satisfied himself that at least their future was secure.
As for Jacob, he had another big confrontation ahead of him. Before he could get home he had to pass through lands belonging to his brother Esau, and who knew what kind of trouble that would stir up? We’ll find out next time.