Thursday, September 08, 2005

Random Stuff from Our Genesis Study, Part 10

[This is the tenth installment of notes based on a study of the book of Genesis I'm doing with members of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Church. This post deals with Genesis 27. At the end of this post, you'll find links to previous installments of the series.]

1. In keeping with the theme of the previous two chapters, the story which takes up chapter 27 deals with the powerful words of a blessing. Blessings, which either overtly or implicitly invoked the Name of God, were seen as being filled with God's power.

2. As the chapter begins, Isaac is dying. He wants to bless Esau, his eldest (and preferred) son. Whether Isaac is aware that Esau has sold his birthright for a bowl of soup, the narrative doesn't tell us. But it seems clear that the blessing which Isaac wishes to give has more to do with the promise of God first given to his own father, Abraham, than with possessions. In other words, Isaac has in mind making Esau the next patriarch of God's people.

Isaac instructs Esau to kill some game and to fix a feast for him. After the feast, Isaac says, he'll give Esau his blessing.

3. Giving expression to the dysfunctionality about which we talked in the last installment, Rebekah overhears Isaac's conversation with Esau and concocts a plan whereby her favorite son, Jacob, the Supplanter, will thwart Isaac's intentions and supplant Esau.

In the incident that follows, Rebekah and Jacob will be guilty of brazen disregard for the sanctity of words, oaths, and pledges. Jacob is at first, wary of his mother's plan. But he acquiesces to it readily enough, thus continuing a pattern of duplicity and of being too clever by half that prevailed through most of his life.

In a nutshell: Jacob is to get two choice kids from the family's flock. Rebekah will prepare them for Isaac. In the meantime, Jacob is to dress in his brother's clothing. Because Jacob is a "smooth" man and his brother "hairy," she even arranges to deceive Isaac by placing goat's hair on some of Jacob's exposed skin, making the blind man think this son really is Esau. Through this ruse, Jacob is to get the blessing meant for Esau.

When Jacob goes to see his father on the latter's deathbed, he lies three times. First, he says that he is Esau. Second, when Isaac expresses surprise that the son he thinks is Esau has returned so quickly and successfully from his hunting expedition, Jacob says that God has given him success in the venture. Finally, when Isaac asks him point-blank if he really is Esau, Jacob says, "I am."

For an ancient Hebrew, this behavior on Jacob's part would have been especially scandalous. Not only was he lying, he was deluding a blind man, which the Old Testament regarded as particularly egregious (Leviticus 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:18...thanks again to von Rad's commentary).

Disturbing too for the Hebrew would have been that Jacob, who had attained his position by deception, was a patriarch of his race and religion. It disturbs modern Jewish and Christian readers as well. But the Bible never portrays people of faith as perfect. In the end, they rely on the mercy of God and without pretense of perfection, trust in Him to forgive them.

4. Ultimately, the old man gives a blessing to Jacob. When Esau returns, Isaac trembles with the realization that he has been deceived by his younger son. Esau learns this and is inconsolable.

The only blessing left for Isaac to give Esau is almost the opposite of the one granted to Jacob. Embittered, Esau vows to kill Jacob once the period of mourning for Isaac has passed. With Rebekah's help, Jacob escapes and like his people throughout much of their history, becomes a wanderer and a refugee.

[Here are links to the previous installments in this series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9]

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