Jacob and Esau: the Show Down. And for Today Only — Angel Mud Wrestling. Stay tuned!

After Jacob’s Iron Man sexual marathon and the birth and survival of eleven children, he wearies of life in this foreign land and wishes to return home.  Laban doesn’t want to lose him because he’s able and cheap. So he asks him what it would take to get him to stay.  Jacob replies that he will take the spotted or striped goats and the dark-colored sheep as a payment.  Any sheep that is odd colored will be Jacob’s.  All the normal livestock will be Laban’s.  Laban thinks this is a swell idea and immediately removes all oddly colored stock as to deprive Jacob of both his first wages and to remove the breeding stock that could produce any in the future.  Cheating little bastard isn’t he?

Jacob then tries a fascinating plan based on the best scientific knowledge of the time, and thereby proving the veracity of biblical science for all time.  He placed striped branches at the watering troughs in the certain knowledge that any goats or sheep in heat that see the stripes would have striped offspring.  As everyone knows, what a mother sees right before conception will shape the child forever.  He did this trick especially with the biggest and strongest stock producing big dark and streaked  stock for himself and feeble normal sheep for Laban.  Soon Jacob grew wealthy as Laban grew poorer.

Need I even say,that as science this is nonsense.  Streaked sticks in front of goats produce streaked offspring? Really?  If I wish to have a tall son, my wife should go out and stare at tall trees before conception? I do find forests rather romantic, but I pretty sure the Modern Synthesis renders this particular theory of inheritance into garbage. Not to mention, it may be somewhat difficult to talk my bride into that.   Now, I don’t make fun of poor Jacob and his tribe, they knew not what they did.  Ignorant shepherds have nothing better to base their actions on. But the young Earth creationists who demand biblical inerrancy need to seriously explain this to me.  Right along with so much else they claim,  the science here is garbage, like it always is with this bronze age work of fiction.  God should have hired a few more fact checkers.  And maybe an editor!

A newly wealthy Jacob decides to flee with his family and leaves while Laban is away, fearful of his response. Laban pursues and they agree after much wrangling to a sort of nonaggression pact.  Jacob is allowed to leave.

There is an odd event here which I do not understand.  Before fleeing and without telling anyone Rachel stole the idols from her father’s home.  Laban used this as one excuse to chase them down and search the tents.  Not understanding much of the morality in this book, I just can’t see why she would do this.  Was stealing his gods a bit like taking his power?  Was she increasing her own power by doing so?  Isn’t this an admission that there are other gods in this universe?  In fact, the last few words of the speech to seal the deal were “May the God of Abraham and the god of Nahor (their ancestral deities) maintain justice between us!”  Yahweh seems to be just one god among many here.  We should look into them.  Maybe they’re a little kinder.  Perhaps even logical.

But I digress. Jacob continues on for home, but with considerable fear.  As we remember, he had stolen his brothers blessing and Esau had vowed revenge.  Jacob knew that as he neared the lands of his brother that time for revenge might be near at hand.  To placate his brother’s anger he began sending messengers forward telling his brother of his coming and of his great wealth.  He becomes afraid when he hears from his messengers that Esau is on his way to Jacob with 400 men.  Will he wipe them out?  It’s not like genocide is unknown in this book.

Jacob is terrified yet still cunning.  He divides his camp into two smaller camps on the theory that if one is massacred the other may get away.  He prays to Yahweh reminding God of his promise to protect him which, you know, God may have forgotten. He gets awfully busy up there destroying cities and flooding worlds.  But most cunningly of all Jacob began sending vast herds of animals forward as gifts for his brother in the hopes it would cool the anger.  There were “two hundred she-goats and twenty he-goats; two hundred ewes and twenty rams; thirty milch camels and their young; forty cows and ten bulls; twenty she-asses and ten he-asses.

For Jacob reasoned, “If I first appease him with gifts that precede me, then later, when I face him, perhaps he will forgive me.”

Finally Jacob and Esau meet, and to his credit Jacob stands in front of his family like any father should. He approaches Esau bowing and fawning until he reaches Esau’s feet.  Esau, apparently a far better person than most of the others in this damned book, runs to Jacob and bear hugs him.  After twenty years the sin is forgotten.  He asks about the gifts of the livestock, refuses them but finally accepts them. Esau and Jacob are brothers again.

This part of the Bible, unlike so many others actually has a happy ending.  Unlike “Oh Damn, Noah’s Drunk and Naked Again” where insignificant crimes cause enslavement,  Here is a spirit of kindness.  Crimes are committed but forgiven, brothers are forsaken but reconciled.  As a Hallmark afternoon movie it wouldn’t be bad.  As God’s holy word to his people it’s a bit weak.  Aside from getting over past grievances, there is little of modern moral values here.  As for the rest, there is oodles of sex and deception, but no real science.  Kind of reminds me of James Bond now that I think about it.

But now I feel the need to mention the oddest and most senseless part of the entire Bible so far.  It seems to be written in here just for the hell of it. Please,dear reader, tell me what you think.   I beg of you!  Jacob has his family cross the river on which they are camped and he stays alone on the opposite side.  To quote directly:

Jacob was left there alone. Then some man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.
WTF?  An angel, presumably in the guise of a man, comes and wrestles with Jacob all night?  Does this make sense to anyone?  Why would this happen?  And please don’t tell me “God works in mysterious ways.” Senseless and completely random ways would be the better phrase!  So Jacob wrestles the angel until dawn and demands his blessing before he releases him.
“What is your name?” the man asked. He answered, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel, because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed.”

The Man/Angel then leaves after refusing to give his name and Jacob now feels holier after wrestling one of God’s own angels for an entire night and whooping his ass.

I have read this passage, and I have read so much commentary on it.  After everything, I have to say that I can make no sense from this claim at all.  It’s a clearly random bit thrown in for undecipherable reasons.  The only excuse that makes any sense is a mental illness or some serious hallucinogenic use.  If someone today claimed these same things, we’d  have them pissing into a cup or locked up for their own safety.  Ever notice how much of the Bible can be simplified down to either persistent drug use or insanity.  The more things change the more they remain the same.

But perhaps a more plausible scenario is thus.  A decently dressed man is walking at night, perhaps trying to make it home before dawn, when he stumbles into a wild eyed Jacob’s camp.  Jacob, still terrified of Esau wrath, lunges up and grapples him to the ground.  The poor Canaanite, obviously in the grip of a lunatic, eventually tries to play along with the insane ramblings of Jacob.  After being pinned to the ground for most of the night, he is quite willing to say anything to get himself out of there. “What?  Um.. Yeah, sure I’m an Angel!  Sure YangNey sent me.  Yahweh?  Yeah, Yahweh! That’s what I said.  Yes, he wants me to bless you, but damn it! Get your hands off my throat.  Can’t friggin’ breathe.  Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.  You contented with God and won, and I  sincerely hope that he “blesses” you the way you truly deserve.  Touch me again and I’ll give you a blessing, alright.  What do you mean you want my name?  So you can follow me home and beat the hell out of me some more.  Stay the hell away from me.  My wife is never going believe this shit. She’ll think I was with the old Halree widow again.  Shit!

Look out you young earth creationists, for I too, can read between the lines.

    • Janet Holmes
    • February 12th, 2010

    Although Esau was obviously a much better man than Jacob (one of the bible’s messages is definitely ‘nice guys finish last’!) I still wonder if the most conciliatory message you could send to someone you swindled out of his inheritance is “Look how mega-rich I am”! I think this would just piss me off more since it should have been mine. Maybe I’m not as nice a person as Esau either …

    • Colin Meier
    • February 13th, 2010

    Why do I suspect ‘wrestled’ is a Biblical euphemism for something more exciting…?

    • Damn! I never thought of that. What a great opportunity missed. It does give “Getting pinned” a whole new meaning.

    • Lisa
    • May 18th, 2010

    I love Rachel’s bitterness. Stealing those idols was the best “screw you” thing she could do to her loathsome father. Sitting atop them while they were under her menstruating mat is even better. Women of the bible – hats off to you! There’s power in the blood!

    • d
    • November 19th, 2010

    The wrestling match is BEFORE Jacob and Esau meet – facing each other with their armies, and magnanimous Esau embraces Jacob. There is no mention that Jacob’s adversary is an angel (perhaps you have to read the original Hebrew).
    This section makes all the sense in the world if you understand Jacob’s adversay to be Esau himself – and there is a proof text for this in the story:
    At the end of the wrestling match – when the mysterious being who renames
    Jacob “Israel” has left and Jacob is left to make sense of the encounter,
    he names the location Peniel – “Face of ‘G-d’ because “I have seen the
    face of ‘Elo[k]im’ and my soul was ‘accepted'”

    When the brothers encounter each other the next morning, despite the kiss,
    they do not melt into fraternal affection – though emotionally disarmed,
    they remain cautious – and as they “negotiate” their gifts and how they
    will leave each other, Jacob says to Esau (in my mind with a wink)
    “I have seen you face as the face of ‘Elo[k]im’ and you have accepted
    me”

  1. thank you

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