Archive for February 8th, 2010

Jacob and Esau, When Twins Go Bad


Our story continues.

Isaac and Rebekah are married, but unfortunately she is sterile.  This seems to happen a lot in the Bible, first Sarah, now Rebekah.  Jacob, being his father’s son, asks God to make her fertile. His prayer is granted, and Rebekah becomes pregnant. To see the rough spots here, let’s view this from the traditional born-again perspective.  In this POV nothing happens without God’s will, so it follows that Yahweh wanted her sterile. Until God is begged, and what else is a prayer but begging a superior being for favors, Rebekah remains infertile.  Now why would he do this?  The only conclusion I can arrive at is that this forces us to need him.  He puts obstacles in our path which he will not remove until we beg him to. It’s like stealing our pants and then showing us what a sweetheart he is by giving them back when we plead just the right way.   He wants to be asked.  He needs to be needed.   He has a pathological compulsion to be the center of everything, as they said of Theodore Roosevelt, the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral.

Anyway Rebekah bears Isaac two strong boys, red haired Esau and smooth skinned Jacob, but not without some meddling.  Yahweh attaches this prophecy to the boys.

But the children in her womb jostled each other so much that she exclaimed, “If this is to be so, what good will it do me!” She went to consult the LORD and he answered her: “Two nations are in your womb, two peoples are quarreling while still within you; But one shall surpass the other, and the older shall serve the younger.”

Let’s pause and consider this.  Anyone who thinks that the Christian God is kind and loving needs to look closely at this passage.  He made both boys.  God chose the genetics here, yet in the very womb, before any environmental influences could mold them, before they could choose, they battled. How many times have we heard what a perfect world it would be if only God were is charge.  Well, here is a fine example of him being in full command. These boys were exactly as God wanted them to be.  He selected their programming.  By Christians own accounts, God designed them.  They did not choose to be contentious. God made them that way.  He wanted the rivalry and the dissension.  By all evidence, he enjoys the conflict.  Must have been pretty dull in the eternity before he decide to create us.  I would have to say we have brightened his days considerably.

Back to our little myth.  Now a lot happens here, but none of it of riveting importance.  The boys grow up with Esau as the rugged outdoorsman, Jacob more of a camp person. Jacob demands Esau’s birthright in exchange for a little food. Esau Complies.  Esau is the honest straight forward one.  Jacob is more devious.

In a side scene, Isaac and Rebekah play that same little game that Abraham and Sarah did.  In the same kingdom of Gerar, with the same named king, Abimelech, Jacob told everyone Rebekah was his sister, so much like his father that it had to have been an inherited trait.  Only this time no one took her to wife so Isaac was unable to extort money from the king like Abraham did. He should have known that those tricks will only work so often.  The king, wiser after his run in with Isaac’s father, found Isaac out and scolded him for his deception. Time passed.

Finally, we come to the deception of Jacob.

Isaac had grown old and blind and knew that death could come to him any day.  It seems that Isaac had a superpower that could only be used once, a kind of fire and forget weapon, if you will.  He called it his Special Blessing and he wanted to bestow this on his eldest boy Esau, the hunter.  The special blessing would set Esau on the path to prosperity forever. Esau would have life made after the Special Blessing was laid on him. He’d be on easy street.  So when Isaac tells Esau hunt him up a good tasting critter and cook it well, he jumps right to it.  Only after this would Esau receive the Special Blessing. Excited, he departs to do his father’s bidding.

Meanwhile, desperate tent-wife Rebekah, girlish love having cooled somewhat, doesn’t want Isaac’s superpower to go to Esau because she favors Jacob. Her devious mind working rapidly, she orders Jacob to kill a goat and wear some of the fur on his hand and neck and to dress in Esau’s clothes.  Rebekah knows just what Isaac likes to eat and cooks him a tasty dish.  Jacob then brings the food into his father’s tent and pretends to be Esau.  Now Isaac wasn’t the brightest bulb God ever had to serve him, and, sure enough, sharp-as-a-marble, he actually believes that Jacob is Esau after just  a few questions and stroking “Esau’s” hairy neck and hands.  So Isaac breaks out the Special Blessing and bestows it on Jacob not Esau. He whispers the magical incantation and poof it is done, never to be taken back or changed.  Why can’t it be rescinded?  Why can’t he just nullify it and give it to the intend target?  No freaking idea!  Perhaps it’s one of those unbreakable universal laws like the speed of light or conservation of energy. All-powerful blessings can only be used once.  We’ll call this The Finiteness of Special Blessings Law.    If defied the universe would crumble. Dogs and cats would start living together. Chaos would ensue.  It could lead to dancing.

The actual formula of this immensely powerful spell is as follows.

“May God give to you of the dew of the heavens And of the fertility of the earth abundance of grain and wine.
“Let peoples serve you, and nations pay you homage; Be master of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you.”

Please don’t try this at home.  It’s obviously frighteningly powerful because, well…  it’s in the Bible!  God only knows what would happen. Well…, maybe he would and maybe he wouldn’t.  Jury’s still out on that one.

Jacob just leaves the tent when Esau strolls in with his tasty dish prepared just the way his father loves.  Excited, he is very ready for the Special blessing that will set him up forever in life.  Isaac, realizing after a bit of confusion that he has been deceived, trembles for he has given the special blessing to the wrong son!  Great Zeus!  How could this have happened?  Esau begs him, pleads with him for a blessing too, and Isaac says  “Your brother came here by a ruse and carried off your blessing,” and “I blessed him. Now he must remain blessed!” What is this?  Jacob hacks into the First Holy Bank of Blessings and steals the big haul and there is nothing that can be done?  How about beating him into a coma?  It’s not like everyone in the Old testament is a pacifist.  Come on! These are people who curse their grandsons into eternal slavery because their son saw them naked.  These are men who will throw their daughters into a crowd of raving rapists to protect their god.  But once a blessing’s given, it is permanent.  I get so damned confused sometimes!

It gets worse.  When Esau pleads with Isaac, “Haven’t you saved a blessing for me?”, his dad replies, “I have already appointed him your master, and I have assigned to him all his kinsmen as his slaves; besides, I have enriched him with grain and wine. What then can I do for you, son?”  Hold on here.  Wait just one stinking minute!  That’s what that meant? Had I been Jacob and known what that blessing was to entail, I would have made every damned effort to steal it too.  This Blessing gave the recipient everything?  It hands his kin into slavery?  Are they serious?  Why would Isaac feel the need to bless one son and curse everyone else to long term servitude?  Well, thanks be to Thor that we got rid of that quaint little custom.  As the third of four boys, life would have been hard.

Needless to say Esau was unhappy with the disposition of the will.  The quote here is “Esau bore Jacob a grudge because of the blessing his father had given him.”  Oh Really?  Say it ain’t so?

After a long while Isaac opted to give Esau a somewhat lesser blessing.

“Ah, far from the fertile earth shall be your dwelling; far from the dew of the heavens above!  By your sword you shall live, and your brother you shall serve; But when you become restive, you shall throw off his yoke from your neck.”

Wow! That’s some blessing.  Allow me to paraphrase.  Esau, you will struggle on barren and dry desert soil.  You will be angry and fight constantly, yet a slave shall you be, and when things get really bad you will rebel and be free.  To sum it up more succinctly: Esau, you’re screwed!

Rebekah, Nominee for Mother of the Year 1590 BCE,  tells Jacob that he must flee to save himself from a very angry Esau, and he does.  Probably a wise choice.  Cowardly, but wise.

Isn’t this just like a soap opera?  Days of our Biblical Lives?  The Young and Remorseless.  As the Camel Turns?  Bold and Beautiful Bastards?  And my personal favorite Desperate Patriarchs.

Let’s look at the moral value of this tale.  Not that there is a lot of ethical behavior in this story.  The lesson here seems to be Thou Shall Not Steal unless, of course, you can get away with it.  Then you will be rewarded with wonderful gifts while everyone else is your slave.  Can anyone truly dispute this interpretation?   How about this one: By fair or foul means, he who gets ahead stays ahead.  The whole idea behind this myth is absurd when faced with reality.  It fits in a Harry Potter type world but not in ours.  A justice system has to be based on trying to keep the right things happening to the right people.  The innocent need to be protected and the guilty need to be punished, yet here is a blatant example of the opposite.  Even now, there are so many who claim that the Bible is the source of all our morality.  Looking at the horrors the news portrays every singe day, I think they may be right, though I quite sure that’s not exactly how they mean it.

How do people read this book and actually find guidance?  It teaches so many contradictory lessons that people can and do find support for what ever they have already decided.  It takes remarkably few twists to make the word of God look exactly like your own opinion, no matter what that opinion is.  You can find anything in this book to justify whatever atrocity you decide to commit.  Of course, this may explain the Bible’s continued popularity.

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