A Much Maligned Man

by Joseph Hunting

Among the most notable characters in the Old Testament, Jacob may well take the prize for being the most maligned. Indeed, a shallow and cursory reading of his experiences with his brother Esau and father Isaac would leave one with the impression that he is a rogue.

Did he not rob his brother of his birthright? Did he not deceive his father by pretending to be Esau in order to procure the patriarchal blessing? Before we cast our verdict in the affirmative let us highlight some often overlooked evidence in the Bible that sheds light on his actions.

It all began even before the twins, Esau and Jacob, were born, when they struggled in Rebekah ' s womb. This struggle was the genesis of a battle for supremacy that has spanned more than three and a half thousand years.

As the unborn children moved in her womb Rebekah sought the Lord for an explanation. "And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in your womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people, AND THE ELDER SHALL SERVE THE YOUNGER." (Genesis 25:23).

It is important that we should be alerted to the fact that Rebekah received a direct revelation from the Lord as to the nature of the conflict within her womb, and that the patriarchal system was to be reversed in this case, namely the younger of the twins would have supremacy and the elder would serve him. This accounts for Rebekah ' s instant decision when confronted with an emergency many years later.

The Bible supplies us with further evidence that accounts for Jacob ' s action in procuring the birthright. "And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob." (Genesis 25:27,28).

"Isaac loved Esau ... but Rebekah loved Jacob." Although we are not told as much in Scripture, it is highly probable that Rebekah conveyed to Jacob the revelation she had received from the Lord prior to his birth.

Then came a day when Jacob was preparing a meal and Esau came in from the field exhausted and feeling faint. He desired of Jacob a portion of the meal. "Feed me, I pray you, with that same red pottage; for I am faint ... And Jacob said, Sell me this day your birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and sold his birthright unto Jacob ... thus Esau despised his birthright." (25:30-34).

Jacob knew the eternal value of the birthright and Esau sold it "for a mess of pottage" because he "despised his birthright".

There was no trickery or underhand dealing whatever -- as we would say today, " It was all above board. " Jacob simply desired what Esau despised.

Some years later another drama unfolded in which Jacob is cast as the villain. Certainly there was deception on his part, but before we cast a hasty verdict, let us again examine the facts, bearing in mind that Rebekah had a prior revelation from God regarding the destiny of her two sons.

Firstly, Isaac was old and blind and for some reason seemed unaware of, or chose to disregard, the revelation given to his wife that "the older shall serve the younger." He called Esau and said, "Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death ... go out to the field, and take me some venison; and make me savoury meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; THAT MY SOUL MAY BLESS YOU BEFORE I DIE." And Rebekah heard when Isaac spoke these words to Esau his son.

Knowing what she did she could have remonstrated with her husband. If she had been living in these days of Women ' s Lib no doubt she would have done just that. But she was living in the patriarchal era 3,500 years ago when husbands were lord and master and head of the household.

Rebekah suddenly realized that an emergency had arisen because Isaac was on a collision course with the revealed will of God. And, too, the blessing and the birthright went together.

There was little time to weigh the consequences of her actions -- she called Jacob and told him what Isaac was about to do, adding "Now therefore my son obey my voice according to that which I command you." (27:8).

It is noteworthy that Jacob queried the instructions given him by his mother that he impersonate Esau. "My father will perhaps feel me, and I shall seem to him as a deceiver; and I shall bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing. And his mother said unto him, Upon me be your curse, my son; only obey my voice, and go and fetch me them." (27:12,13).

Rebekah insisted that Jacob obey her, knowing full well what was at stake. So the die was cast and there was no turning back for Jacob whatever the consequences.

Subsequent events and 3,500 years of Jewish history have vindicated Rebekah ' s decision and Jacob ' s actions. Twenty years after the event God reaffirmed the Abrahamic covenant with Jacob and changed his name to Israel, a Prince with God.

Whilst there are some things about the actions of Jacob and Rebekah we may not see eye to eye with, the Scripture puts Divine perspective where human reason gropes for explanations.

" ... when Rebekah had also conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, THAT THE PURPOSE OF GOD ACCORDING TO ELECTION MIGHT STAND ...) IT WAS SAID UNTO HER, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For He says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Romans (9:10-15).

It is a strange paradox that of the two brothers one rarely hears any criticism of Esau. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that "man looks on the outward part, but God looks upon the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7).

The prophet Obadiah had a terrible indictment against Esau and his descendants known as Edom. "For your violence against your brother Jacob shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off for ever. In the day that you stood on the other side, in the day that strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even you were as one of them … neither should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction, neither should you have spoken proudly in the day of distress ... neither should you have stood in the crossway, to cut off those of his that did escape ... as you have done, it shall be done unto you ... and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the Eternal has spoken it."

Time has vindicated Obadiah ' s prophecy. The Edomites as such are no more. On the other hand the descendants of Jacob have survived centuries of persecution and finally the Holocaust to be a witness to the world of the power of the Word of God.

The Divine wrath Esau and his descendants is to be a warning to those who have a similar attitude toward Jacob and his descendants today. There are many and often subtle expressions of anti-Semitism, apart from the more violent forms. It is regrettable that even the pulpit can be used as a platform to magnify out of perspective the drama that was enacted so long ago to get Isaac back on course so that God ' s purpose "according to election might stand."