Jacob is an unsavory character. I was originally going to call him a jerk, but after some reflection, I decided that the term was probably not appropriate for a sermon, and so I changed it to unsavory character. That might be a little more appropriate, but only because a couple of savory stews factor quite prominently in Jacob’s miserable life.
At the time of our passage this morning Jacob is very busy running away from home, and for very good reason. His brother Esau intends to kill him, and Jacob has no intentions of sticking around to see how that’s gonna work out. Jacob has double-crossed his brother twice now, and Esau is in no mood to accept a third drubbing. And so Jacob is on the lam. And we thought that Jacob was one of the heroes of the bible.
Jacob and his twin brother Esau had the privilege of growing up in a profoundly dysfunctional family. As twins, Esau was actually the first to exit the womb, and that’s partly where the trouble begins. Even as twins, Esau enjoyed the right of being the first born son, which, of course, was exceedingly important during the patriarchal era.
As the boys grew up, however, Esau quickly became his father’s favorite child, and Jacob just as quickly became his mother’s favorite child. Parental favoritism almost always has positive consequences in a family, and if any of us grew up in homes where we suffered parental favoritism, we know just how positive those consequences can be. They’re about as positive as an unfriendly encounter with a skunk, or getting a sharp stick poked into one’s eye.
But as a result of this parental favoritism, Esau grew up to be a manly man. He was an outdoorsman. He was covered with thick, bushy hair, rough and tough, and he was a hunter-gatherer. Jacob, on the other hand, didn’t have to shave much, and he mostly stayed at home doing quilting projects with his mom. But he wasn’t stupid. Mommy Rebekah saw to that. She raised her little boy to be sly and conniving, just as she was sly and conniving.
And one day when the boys were grown, our manly-man Esau came home from a hunting expedition, and he was hungry. As fortune would have it, our mama’s boy Jacob, had just completed the finishing touches on one of his gourmet stews, and I imagine that the aroma of that savory stew was just about driving poor, hungry Esau wild. Man! I’d like to have some of that tasty stew, Esau said. Have at it Jacob replied, but it will cost you. Huh? Yeah, like I said, have all the stew you want, but there’s a price. What’s the price? Your birthright. Sell me your birthright and enjoy the meal. And so, in desperation, Esau agreed. Now that’s the first time that we know about, that Jacob double-crossed his brother Esau. Jacob could easily have shared his stew with his brother, but he didn’t. And that’s because Jacob was sly and conniving and an unsavory character to boot.
The second time that Jacob double-crossed his brother comes late in their father’s life and is the presenting reason that Jacob is so busy running away from home. Isaac, that’s the dad, is very old and very blind, and he is getting ready to die. And it is time to pass on the family blessing to his older son Esau. And Isaac would like to do this in the context of a kind of ceremonial death meal. Isaac doesn’t know exactly when he’s going to die, but he wants to take care of things before he does. And so Isaac calls Esau in and says, “I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. Then 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.”
So Esau went hunting. But as it turned out, old mommy Rebekah overheard the conversation, and because she was sly and conniving, she came up with a grand plan. It was an evil and deceitful plan, but it was a good plan. Jesus said once that evil people are better planners than good people are, and he might have had this story in mind when he said it.
So Rebekah says to Jacob, go get me a couple of baby goats. I’ll make a savory stew for your old man, you take it in to him, and we’ll fool the old geezer into thinking that you are Esau, and not who you really are, and you will receive the blessing instead of Esau. Now Jacob should have had all kinds of moral objections to this plan; he should never have even participated in it, it was so obviously wrong, but he only voiced one minor objection. Uh, mommy, maybe you’re forgetting something. Esau is a very hairy man, and I don’t have to shave much, what if dad feels me? He’s gonna know that I’m not Esau. Silly child, we’ll make you hairy. We’ll put goat hair all over you. We’ll even make you smell like your brother, because I suspect that the old man’s nose has not gone the way of his eyes. And so being well trained in the arts of slyness and deceit and unsavoryness by his own dear mother, Jacob agreed to the plan, and took the savory stew into his father.
You know, I can’t help but wonder, what kind of marriage did Isaac and Rebekah have? Honor and trust don’t seem to be much a part of it.
I want to read to you what happened between Jacob and his dad, because the Scriptures tell it so much better than I can: “So [Jacob] went in to his father and said, ‘My father; and [Isaac] said, ‘Here I am; who are you, my son?’ Jacob 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.’ But 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.’ Then Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.’ So 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.’ He did not recognize him because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him. He said, ‘Are you really my son Esau?’ He answered ‘I am.’ Then he said, ‘Bring it to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.’ So he brought it to him, and he ate, and he brought him wine, and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, ‘Come near and kiss me, my son.’ So he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him, and said, ‘Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.’”
Oh, the lies; Oh, the deception, oh, the conniving! What a horrendous act of evil, premeditated and carried out with determination and with total disregard for the laws and statues of God Almighty. The only bit of humor in this whole sordid episode is that as carefully and as craftily as Jacob and his mother conspired, they forgot one thing. They could make Jacob smell and feel like Esau, but they failed to consider his voice. Isaac picked up on this but Jacob lied so convincingly that Isaac let it pass, and offered the blessing anyway, and evil ultimately prevailed. I don’t think we’re supposed to miss that part of the story, because when we conspire to deceive and connive, and foster lies in order to get our own way, there’s always going to be something that has the potential to trip us up and find us out, and get us busted. Jacob and his mother got away with it this time, but the lesson is clear. It serves as a warning to all who would consider engaging in evil doings for their own benefit. And the good news taught sort of backwardly in this story, is that in God’s good creation, evil does not always prevail. God is busy redeeming his creation, and we have the blessed privilege of being participants in that redemption, when we respond to the clarion call of the Gospel, and begin to do the things that Jesus did while he was present on this earth. his pattern for ministry is unchanged, and is especially needed as our world spirals into further devolution.
But back to the story. When Jacob’s brother Esau discovered that he had been robbed yet again by his no-good, conniving brother, he threatened to kill Jacob. And that’s why Jacob is running away. It seems these fellows have not gotten along for some time now, and Esau plans to take care of the problem in a rather permanent way. But Jacob is already on the lam, and its getting to be nighttime, and Jacob needs to get some sleep.
If there is even the tiniest shred of human dignity left in Jacob, he knows that he is scum. Let us hope that he knows that he has behaved abominably toward his brother, his father, and most shocking, toward his God. Let us hope that he is utterly overwhelmed by guilt and shame and remorse, and that he is filled with despair over what he has done. Or, on the other hand, maybe he’s just glad that he got away with it all, and he’s feeling quite smug.
From time to time, in the Early Bird Bible Study, we’ll come to the end of our time together, and we’ll be just about ready to get into something that’s really exciting, and really gooshy, and so we quit anyway and wait for the next week. As a result, we recently left Daniel in the lion’s den for far longer than God did. And so it is…Well just have to leave Jacob getting ready for bed, and see what happens next week.