It is funny how when we are taught something as a small child, the story gets shot through a colorful prism of imagination and ends up a warped version of what the story should be. For instance, when you look at the first chapter of Matthew in the New Testament, we see the family tree of our Lord and Savior. It's made up of some of the most wretched characters in the bible: liars, cheaters, murders and prostitutes. But that is just at a glimpse. When you dig in and start to peel make back the pages of time and mystery, a much more complex and beautiful story is revealed.
I've never liked Jacob (son of Isaac, brother of Esau). I pictured him as the half-pint brother of strapping, gigantic, hairy Esau. From children's church, I learned Jacob was a cheat: he stole his brother's blessing and tricked his old, blind father. I disliked Jacob so much that I've never been fond of any boy, or man, that I've met in real life named Jacob. I figure they are liars and cheats, too. Gracious sakes, I have issues. ;)
But that's just a glimpse of Jacob.
According to Jewish history, Jacob wasn't half bad. He had his issues (like me, obviously), but he wasn't quite the villain my little girl brain pictured him as.
Jacob loved his father. He grew up learning at his father's feet, studying and soaking up all his father and grandfather, Abraham, had to teach him. He was a young scholar. Meanwhile, Esau had no taste for it; he hunted and stayed outdoors. I now picture Jacob with wire-rimmed glasses, tall and skinny; Esau a towering brute that guzzles wine, eats monstrous turkey legs and wipes his mouth on his hairy arm. Whenever Isaac tried to draw both boys in for lessons, Esau resorted to trickery to get out of it. Perhaps he simply ran out the door, slamming it behind him? My imagination can envision so many scenarios.
Here's where things get (I want to insert 'hairy' or 'tricky' here, but then it would a pun...so insert your own word here):
The birthright was a big deal back in the day. The birthright made the first born the heir and successor to the father, the head of the family. In Isaac's household, the first born happened to be Esau, even though his twin brother arrived just seconds, minutes later, taking his brother by the heel. Something tells me that Esau resulted to trickery in the womb, pushing and fighting his way out first, forcing his smaller brother behind. But whatever the case, Esau was the one to receive the birthright. It must have boiled Jacob's blood. After all, Jacob was the one that devoured every bit of knowledge Isaac and Abraham had to offer. He valued his heritage, their God and way of life. He took the time to learn from them while Esau spent all his time outdoors hunting. The big ape. ;P
On the day he was to receive the birthright, Esau wasn't simply hunting, he was plotting a murder of a family member, Nimrod, the grandson of Noah. It wasn't so much that Nimrod had crossed Esau. He hadn't snuck up and shot a buck Esau was after (for Nimrod was a hunter, as well). It had more to do with what was on Nimrod's back: the clothes of Adam (yes, the FIRST Adam), the most priceless treasure a hunter could dream of owning. And Esau wanted them.
When Esau finally made it back home, Jacob was livid. Didn't he realize how important this day was? He was supposed to receive the most precious commodity a son back then could gain! But Esau was wearing what he valued most. Filthy, muddy, and stained with Nimrod's blood, Esau made fun of his little brother for thinking so much of a silly birthright. Jacob's blood ran cold. It didn't take much convincing to buy the birthright from Esau. A bit of money, a little food, and Jacob was suddenly the heir to Isaac while Esau stuffed his face and sat happily in Adam's old clothes.
Isaac was too old and sick to fully understand the differences in his children. He still adored Esau and saw his heir when he looked upon the big hairy man. But his wife, Rebekah saw clearly all that was going on. She noted when Jacob went to school to study to please his father. She also noted when Esau ridiculed and made fun of his little brother for doing so. Esau lived how Esau wanted to live.
When Isaac grew very frail and it was apparent his time on earth was about to end, he decided to carry on the tradition of his father and bless his eldest son for the last time. So, he sent Esau out on a mission to hunt, prepare the meat and join him for a meal that might very well be his last. With Esau gone, his mother flew into action. She gathered the skins of young sheep and covered her youngest son in them, hoping they would make Jacob feel as hairy and burly as Esau. She prepared a last meal, thrust it into Jacob's hands and told him to go to his father, pretend to be his brother and receive his father's last blessing.
Rebekah, bless her trickster heart (must be a family trait from her side of the family), knew there would be no convincing her husband of which son truly deserved the blessing. Jacob loved and valued the man his father was. Esau did love him, but openly mocked everything Isaac was about. There was a great deal of value over this blessing: a bunch of words that somehow became prophesy. Esau could not be the one that blessed and led the family; it would unravel to ruins...guided by the hands of a careless hunter, murdered, selfish man who did what he wanted when he wanted to do it. And then there was Jacob...
“And may the Lord give you of the dew of the heavens and [of] the fatness of the earth and an abundance of corn and wine. Nations shall serve you and kingdoms shall bow down to you; you shall be a master over your brothers, and your mother's sons shall bow down to you. Those who curse you shall be cursed, and those who bless you shall be blessed!”
That was the blessing Isaac spoke over Jacob. Certainly they were given to the right man. The thought of kingdoms bowing before Esau makes my stomach churn. Gracious sakes, picture it! Big hair Esau in Adam's garments stained with Nimrod's blood, a flask of spirits of some sort, grease dribbling from the corner of his lips from the fat of a leg of lamb clenched in a giant fist.
Okay. Perhaps I am a little unfair in my prediction. But I'm certain he would still be wearing those blood stained garments of Adam's.
I guess my point is that not everything is as crystal clear as it is when you hear the story with the ears of an eight year-old child.
Jacob = misguided youth and thief
Esau = ripped off older brother
Rebekah = underhanded wife
Isaac = clueless old, blind man
Somehow, God orchestrated everything the way it should have been. We forget that God has even this story in HIS hands. Maybe God truly wanted a bit of 'dirty dealing' included in the life of Jacob, knowing Jacob would be the third from the top of His son's family tree. And why? Because He didn't want this whole giant story of His to be perfect. If it was, we wouldn't be able to relate. Because you and I, we're far from perfect. We may not kill for a relatives clothes, but we know what it feels like to want what we do not have. We understand that feeling in the depth of our heart when we see that we are not getting what we so obviously deserve...when we know we're the best man for the job not offered to us. Some of us know what it feels like to live in the shadow of a towering giant like Esau and not be valued in the eyes of those we crave approval from.
So God dirtied of the family tree. He tilted the frame hanging on the wall. He messed up the masterpiece, little by little, for us...on purpose. I imagine it was all done just to prove, "If I will include them, murderers and thieves as they are, what makes you think I won't include you, too?"
And that's good enough for me. From now on, I'm going to hug every real-lfe Jacob that I meet.