Lesson 9: Jacob (Genesis 28-33)

As I said last week, Jacob was a scoundrel and because of that, he spends a great deal of the biblical accounts running away from the trouble he has created. I wonder why people don’t t ponder what his story says about God. Twice he cheats to steal the birthright that belongs to his brother Esau. Esau was the firstborn and to the end was the favorite of his father Isaac. He should have been the carrier of God’s promise. Yet God goes along with the theft.

Not that Jacob cares a whit about the covenant with God. He is interested in the birthright for the wealth it confers. He takes the money and runs, thinking he can escape from Esau’s revenge and God’s wrath. The dream with angels ascending and descending from heaven indicates this might work with his brother, but not God. God is not confined to a certain land as other religions believe at the time. It also suggests God will keep his promise even though the birthright was stolen.

Of course, it is not long before he is trying to swindle his uncle Lana and Laban. Eventually, he again has to run away from the mess he created, but again he runs with the loot. He now has tremendous wealth.

His problem is somehow keeping Esau from finally getting even. He tries to accomplish that by overwhelming his brother with his wealth and power. He sends all he has before him in a long parade. hoping to impress, or better yet frighten, Esau.

That is the setting for God’s second appearance. Jacob wrestles all night with an angel and wins. That seems a primitive way of saying Jacob has his way with God, but it pretty much is the story. It reminds you of Abraham bargaining with God about how many good people it would take to convince him to change his mind about destroying Sodom. Or Moses reminding God he can’t claim to be merciful if he destroys the Israelites for worshipping a golden calf. All of these are early attempts to understand the relationship between God and humans. Today we know God is loving and would talk about how he takes seriously what we ask in prayer. Interestingly, we still speak of our wrestling with God.

All this is s especially intriguing because Esau exhibits qualities we associate with God more than Jacob does. He is ready to forgive him without all the bravado. The Cain and Abel situation is resolved when one of the brothers forgives the other.

Jacob becomes known as Israel which means “promise.” The Hebrew nation is known as the children of Israel indicating it bears God’s promise. His story shows God is willing to bear with human limitations.

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