Genesis 27:1-4, 15-23; 28:10-17
(watch here: https://youtu.be/R7E0e1L2kfE)
1When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2He said, “See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. 4Then prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.” 15Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; 16and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17Then she handed the savory food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob.
18So he went in to his father, and said, “My father”; and he said, “Here I am; who are you, my son?” 19Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.” 20But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” 21Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him.
10Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
This morning we encounter yet another key character in scripture, Jacob. And Jacob is quite unlike his grandfather, Abraham. As we heard last week, Abraham was a man of great faith that was continually tested by God. Time and time again, Abraham was asked to do things that few of us would want to do. Few of us want to leave our familiar homes and families and friends and jobs to venture into unknown lands and relationships. I imagine even fewer of us want to sacrifice our children if asked to do so. And yet God asks these things of Abraham. Why? Well, to test Abraham’s faith and trust in God’s ability to provide…to test Abraham’s love of God. Our God loves us and he wants us to love him the same in return. He tests our faith and trust as a way of revealing our love for him. Abraham’s faith and trust was rock solid and we look to him as a guide for our own faith and trust.
Further along in the narrative and we meet Abraham’s two grandsons, Esau and Jacob. Neither of them appear to have the same faith and trust in God’s ability to provide. Esau, the older of the two, was willing to exchange his birthright for a bowl of soup after a long day’s hunt and Jacob was willing to take advantage of their father, Isaac’s, old age to receive his blessing. Neither of them behaved in a faithful, trusting, loving way. Neither of them were concerned with the needs of the other. Neither of them wanted to help the other. No, both were selfish, short-sighted, and unbrotherly towards each other. Neither of them deserved what they received.
Esau’s story in the biblical narrative is put on pause until he meets up with Jacob several years later to repair the broken relationship. But Jacob’s blessing was just the beginning of a rich story. As we heard in our reading for today, Jacob went on to fool his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing that was intended for Esau. In the blessing, Isaac bestows upon Jacob the lands promised to Isaac’s father, Abraham. Isaac then sends Jacob to his brother-in-law’s land to claim the land as his own. Our reading picks up when Jacob was traveling to his uncle’s land. He was on the road and stopped to rest for the evening. Throughout the night, he had a dream in which he saw a ladder to heaven that angels were ascending and descending. God speaks to him and confirms the lands which were promised to Abraham were now his. God said, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Now I appreciate how our reading has combined both the dream and the backstory leading up to the dream. If we were left with just the backstory, we would wonder if Jacob’s blessing was legitimate and supported by God. After all, Jacob stole the blessing from his older brother. He didn’t deserve the lands, at least per the customs of his day. No, all lands were expected to go to the oldest son of the family so Jacob’s clever ruse of disguising himself as his brother was the only way he’d ever receive them. But the dream is important because it legitimizes the theft. It always God to confirm the lands are Jacob’s whether he deserved them or not. And if we were left with just the dream, we wouldn’t wonder about the legitimacy of Jacob’s claim. No, the backstory makes us believe Jacob doesn’t deserve the lands, making God’s words of support all the more shocking. So we’re torn: we want to support Jacob because God supports him but we can’t look past the injustice of his actions. He doesn’t deserve the lands! He broke the rules to get the lands! Why did you legitimize his actions, God?!
Sadly, we live in a world filled with Jacobs. We live in a world filled with people who don’t play by the rules, who don’t honor the needs of others. We live in a world that rewards cleverness and guile. But we also live in a world governed by a God who sees it all, by a God who operates on a completely different understanding of fairness. We live in a world governed by a God who sees beyond what we consider right and wrong, who sees into the hearts of each one of us. Jacob’s story doesn’t end with the blessing and the dream. Jacob went on to lead a faithful life just like his grandfather, Abraham. The dream, as inappropriate as it was, began a deep relationship between God and Jacob…began a relationship that would allow Jacob to later make amends with his angry brother. God could see into Jacob’s heart and see a hunger for deeper relationship. It didn’t matter that Jacob didn’t deserve the lands per the customs of his day. What mattered was that Jacob was receptive to God. What mattered was that Jacob was willing to listen to God, albeit in a dream. What mattered was that God came to Jacob despite his behavior.
Again, another rich character with an equally rich relationship with God. Jacob didn’t deserve what he took nor did he deserve what was given to him. But none of us deserve what we’re given, let alone what we take! Our God’s grace is a gift, pure and simple. Let us give thanks for Jacob’s witness of God’s grace and seek to be similarly receptive and aware. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.