Scripture can be found here…
We meet Jacob this week, and that in itself is a bit of a surprise. Though last week we were immersed in the drama of Isaac—the long awaited child of promise, whose life was suddenly in jeopardy because of the test God imposed on Abraham—Isaac recedes into the background as Jacob grabs center stage via the utterly despicable and yet somehow oddly impressive feat of stealing his brother’s blessing.
Jacob thus lives into his name, which means “heel-puller,” a euphemism for “scoundrel” (grounded here in a fanciful birth narrative in which the competition between the brothers gets off to a rip-roaring start in the womb and shows itself in the aforementioned heel-pulling during the birth, Genesis 25).
We enter the story just as Isaac, described as old and practically blind, sends his firstborn Esau to hunt up some of his favorite food, it is implied, for a kind of final celebratory meal before he expires (Genesis 27:1-4). The Narrative Lectionary leaves out the rather fascinating dialogue that follows, in which the idea to trick Isaac originates with his wife, the mother of his twin sons, Rebekah; and in which the younger son Jacob shows some misgivings about the plan, as he realizes he might not succeed in impersonating his brother, (parents, close your eyes: can you still distinguish one child from another? Besides, “Esau” means “hairy” or “rough”); he worries that his father may think he is mocking him (Genesis 27:6-12). Our passage describes a deception that is evidently good enough, as Isaac notes the voice to be Jacob’s, but trusts the hairiness of the hands to be Esau’s. The blessing is given to the younger son.
The notion of “blessing” in this story bears some consideration. The blessing conferred in Genesis 27:27-28 (again, not a part of our passage) settles once and for all the issue of succession, giving Jacob all the rights and privileges of the first born, including the inheritance of the covenant promises first given by God to Abraham. The blessing functions as a last will and testament. In this sense, the answer to Esau’s plaintive, heartbroken question in Genesis 27:28 (“Have you only one blessing Father?”) is, Yes: Isaac has only one blessing—only one of this kind, anyway.
After the drama of the stolen blessing comes another kind of drama, one that takes place in Jacob’s dreamscape. On the run from his furious elder brother, Jacob comes to “a certain place” where he will rest for the night. Lying on the ground with a stone pillow, he dreams of a ladder set on the earth that reaches to heaven, and which has angels ascending and descending. He dreams, too, of God’s reiteration of the covenant promise to him. Upon waking, Jacob recognizes the power and presence of God in the dreamscape, and marvels. “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it!” That gorgeous sentence is my first suggestion for a possible preacher’s path.
On a “Frequently Asked Questions” page about the Narrative Lectionary, the creators emphasized four main themes that might be lifted up as preachers move through the readings:
- Scripture as a story of creation and re-creation.
- Scripture as a story of belonging.
- Scripture as a story of God working through unlikely people and institutions.
- The importance of the Hebrew Scriptures for Christian Faith.
Though all these themes could probably be traced in the story of Jacob, he who pulled a fast one in his smelly-pelt costume has to be the consummate “unlikely person” through whom God will accomplish God’s plans. This is a second possible path.
A third and perhaps more “off-road” direction for preaching is suggested by Noam Zion in “Sibling Rivalry Redux: Jacob and Esau”:
Truth be told, in Genesis, Jacob the younger brother never rules Esau the older. The stolen blessing of supremacy won by Rebekah and Jacob’s deception is never consummated. Rather, it inaugurates twenty years of flight, exile, and servitude for Jacob and loneliness for Rebekah, who never again sees her favorite son: The clear lesson is that those who live by deception suffer by deception…
And finally, the crowd-sourced preaching direction:
“There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold,
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven…”
According to composer Robert Plant (who co-wrote “Stairway to Heaven” with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page), the lyric “was some cynical aside about a woman getting everything she wanted all the time without giving back any thought or consideration. The first line begins with that cynical sweep of the hand…” Or, as Kathryn Zucker Johnson pointed out, “… there was a wealthy woman who thought she could buy her way into heaven… or trick her father Jacob into giving her what was really Esau’s.”
What about you? What path are you taking with this rich family saga? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments.