His father Isaac said to him, "Who are you?" He answered, "I am your firstborn son, Esau." Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, "Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him?—yes, and blessed he shall be!"
This is one of the most heart-rending stories in Genesis. Esau and Jacob, twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah, have grappled since birth for everything—especially their parents’s love and attention. Esau is simple, direct, and "a real boy"—outdoorsman, hunter, a big, burly, "hairy man." He is his father’s favorite. Jacob is more quiet man, spends more time indoors, and develops into a consummate trickster. He’s the apple of his mother’s eye.
Isaac is the firstborn, so he is slated to receive, through the primogenitor system, the bulk of Isaac’s considerable wealth. Jacob is determined, with his mother’s help, to upset the applecart and grab the major portion for himself. He does exactly that.
First, he teases a famished Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. And then, in the scene this passage describes, he and his mother, by draping Jacob in goatskin, have tricked the blind old Isaac into giving Jacob the irrevocable blessing intended for the older son, the blessing that ensures land, property, and life-long position as head of the family.
When Esau comes to Isaac, expecting this blessing to be given to him, his father cries in alarm, "Who are you?"He realizes, too late, that he has blessed Jacob. And he cannot take it back.
Isaac’s wrenching awareness that he has made a mistake and also that he cannot go back on his word strikes at the heart of anyone who has ever been duped. It is a humiliating experience. But to be tricked by one’s own child, to realize the depth of hostility between siblings puts this scene on a much deeper level.
Why are such stories in the Bible? Because the Bible reflects human life in all its glory and all its pain. God forbid that any of us experience the scene depicted here, but if and when we do question our roles as parents, or as siblings, the family sagas in Genesis help us understand these are age-old sorrows. The good news is that these stories also function as cautionary tales!
O God, shine the light of your healing love into our hearts, and into our families. Amen.
Copyright © 2010 Margaret Jones.