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.

    • amy o in yokohama
    • May 3rd, 2010

    Seems strange, doesn’t it, that Yahweh doesn’t seems to care about lying and deceiving. In fact, it seems that being the victim of the lying & deceiving is an almost sure-fire way to get yourself punished by the aforementioned diety. Sarah & Abraham lie and deceive Pharoh…..and Pharoh’s the fall guy. Jacob and Rebekkah lie and deceive poor old Isaac…..and Esau suffers. It may not make any actual moral sense, but there does at least seem to be a pattern…:))

    • Lisa
    • May 18th, 2010

    You are absolutely right, my friend. The Bible has and continues to be a source of justification for whatever a person wants to accomplish. This is precisely why I find your work refreshingly honest. I have studied the Bible for years and have seen it used (in current times) to support the views of those who desire to oppress others. It’s a terrible tragedy.

    Thanks for making me laugh as you expose the atrocities of “God’s Word” and for keeping it real. Love the soap opera titles.

  1. This story has always made me angry. I’m going back over the Bible, this time with new eyes after ridding myself of faith.

    A few points:

    Isaac seems to know not to trust Jacob. He has to check his hands and neck to make sure they’re hairy. He says “Hmm, it’s Jacob’s voice, but Esau’s body”. Why doesn’t he trust Jacob?

    Who wouldn’t give his brother a bowl of soup when asked? This is ungenerous, immoral, ignoble behavior.

    Does Yahweh value faithfulness or subtlety. Why does he curse the serpent in Eden, but bless Jacob? Jacob didn’t rile Yahweh’s sense of jealousy. The serpent nearly made gods out of Adam and Eve, and only by sealing off the tree of immortality did they not become gods.

    This is fantastic poetry, mythology, but horrid morals. How poignant and bittersweet is the scene when Esau, the good and faithful son comes back with a meal for his father prepared by his own hands, made with love and a desire to please, and sees he has been decieved by his mother and brother.

    How graceful he is later when he embraces Jacob as a brother.

    Esau is the stuff a man should be made of. Loyalty, generosity, love, and character. To hell with Jacob and his virtue of subtlety.

    • Tim
    • September 13th, 2010

    You seem to think that God is controlled by Isaac. You imply that the blessing of Isaac commits God to that path. As I read the rest of the story, I find that this is not the case. When Jacob returns to meet Esau, Jacob gives everything to Esau, essentially submitting himself to his brother. it is clear that Isaac did not really command God and that his words did not foretell the future. If you extrapolate that out to be the blessing of the decendants of Jacob, I again find that the Jews have not dominated the world for the past 3,000 years.

    As you point out, the myth that the patriarchs were perfect people who did everything in concert with God is clearly not supported by the stories in the bible.

  2. A couple of thoughts,

    First, I disagree that the most qualified to study the Bible are the ones who do not believe it. You have a handful of presuppositions that need to be evaluated.

    Second, The Bible does not approve of all that it records. There is much evil recored in Scripture but that doesn’t mean God is ok with it.

    Third, There are plenty of scholars who are not Christians that do more justice to this passage than you. You have basically read the passage but you haven’t studied it, nor would anyone expect you to spend much time on it, because you don’t really care right?

    Fourth, It seems so obvious that you have honestly tried to learn the culture and language (Hebrew) of the stories in order to accurately understand the story. You must have spent so much time in exegesis.

    Fifth, I personally think the prayer isn’t about whining to God so that he can stay all-powerful in my life. I pray to God because it is best for me. To maintain my relationship and to not fall into sin. Of course you don’t believe in sin or the need for forgiveness. If you did we would be able to have an interesting debate.

    Sixth, this is to TIM who responded to your blog. He says, “As you point out, the myth that the patriarchs were perfect people who did everything in concert with God is clearly not supported by the stories in the bible.” However, I don’t know of any Christian or scholar or pastor who says that the patriarchs were perfect! In fact, they all usually say the opposite. It is how God works through people like us that is beautiful.

    Last, the words “Blessed” and “Atheist” is a contradiction but you probably know this and think it most fitting.

    I would like to discuss these things with you if you honestly want to figure stuff out, if you really have objections and seek answers. However, if you want to be an atheist and are completely happy with that then there is nothing I can say or do. If you want to discuss then write me.

    Peace.

    • Concerning Blessed and Atheist, I meant to say that it is inconsistent but not a contradiction.

      My bad.

      • Dave
      • February 9th, 2012

      *Yawn* Every last thing you’ve just posted has been covered again and again ad nauseum in various comment threads here, so lets just skip the foreplay, alright?

      Here’s the deal. You present, clearly and precisely, your evidence for this most improbable of beings, this “God” fellow. Also clarify which of the many versions of the Judeo-Christian god myths you subscribe to.

      To speed things along, a book written, translated, and edited by men is not evidence. Appeals to incredulity are not evidence. Unsupported assertions are not evidence.

      If you can manage that (and no godbot has done it yet), then maybe we can actually have a discussion.

      To everyone else: Too dismissive? I dunno, just kinda getting tired of seeing the same old song and dance routine from the goddists.

      • Ron
      • February 12th, 2012

      Yeah, I must admit that reading the same lame apologetic excuses gets somewhat tiresome:

      “You’re taking it out of context.”

      “You’re not interpreting it correctly.”

      “You’re not qualified to critique the Bible unless you have a PH.D. in Greek and Hebrew.”

      You’d think that an all-knowing, all-singing, all-dancing creator of the universe would be capable of authoring a guidebook that’s so clear and concise that no one could possibly misconstrue or misinterpret the intended meaning.

      So the only conclusion one can draw is that God is either a complete fuck-wit, or he doesn’t exist.

      • I’m sure you’ve heard this a lot. I must say I respect the fact that you have read the text and taken a shot at it. A lot of people don’t even read it and critique what they have heard. It is true that these principles matter and I’m sorry that no one has taken the time to lay out any of them. I would like to say in response that the Bible was written by humans. Language has its limits and so does mankind. It is difficult trying to interpret things sometimes but Hebrew is so ancient that it is broad in scope, unlike Greek which is all too specific for English. Greek is complex but Hebrew is much more simple. Anyways, I wanted to say the bottom line is that there are a lot of things to consider but the Bible isn’t an easy guide book all the time and stories of old like “Jacob and Esau” can be misunderstood and interpreted in many ways that are negative. There are some principles that are uncomfortable too and hard to accept for some. One lesson is God’s sovereignty which is one strong lesson from this story. Let me know what you think.

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    • aeniph
    • December 16th, 2013

    This was the section that led me to google wtf was wrong with these two. How can a mother pit her children against each other like that? How can a father give one son into the slavery of another? How can brothers think its a good idea to just walk in and screw each other over like that? Screwed morality. Screwed….

    • Aka The ArchAngel Mike
    • August 17th, 2014

    You are blessed. I just enjoyed your version of the story about Jacob and Esau so much I am sure you will find yourself in Heaven. Even if the Angel’s have to drag you there kicking and screaming all the way. Athiest go to Heaven too. I understand that God is fond Richard Dawkins the renowned atheist. Richard will be there too. It’s going to be a big surprise.

    If G-d can dish out misery he should be able to take a little criticism.
    Ishmael and Esau became the fathers of the Arab and Islamic worlds. So G-d created the Israeli and Arab conflict. G-d is also behind 911 and it says so in the Book of Daniel in the story about Nebachadnezzar’s dream . It starts with the dream about the Tree that grew tall and strong. A Tree is a skyscrapper. When the skyscrappers came down so did the empire of Neb and Saddam. Nebachadnezzar and Saddam are twins. The story about both men are identical. Right down to were both mens son’s are killed near the end.

    Melanie Stephan

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