Read: Genesis 25:19 – 29:30
The whole family knew how to cheat: Jacob cheated his brother and lied to his father; Jacob’s uncle, Laban, deceived both his daughters and Jacob by switching them on the wedding night; Laban also changed Jacob’s wages again and again in trying to gain the advantage; Jacob reciprocated by the careful mating of Laban’s flocks so that Jacob would be enriched, not Laban; Jacob escaped by stealth; Rachel misled her father. This was quite the family.
Discussion Themes and Questions:
- Esau and Jacob, birth and early years (Genesis 25:19-34). According to Genesis 25, God had a direct hand in the conception and birth of Esau and Jacob; furthermore, Rebekah received a direct message about the boys, namely, that the first-born would serve his younger brother. An interesting study plan would be to make a simple character sketch of each of the two boys, based on Genesis narratives. Who of the two is more “likeable” by our standards? Who of the two is more “virtuous”? Is it clear that God’s election is based on good character? Or is the choice of Jacob another example of mysterious “grace” where the chosen one is preserved and blessed by God even when they behave inappropriately toward others?
Note: The names of both brothers are linked to behavior, character, and/or appearance. Jacob means “cheat,” a highly appropriate description of his early life; two of Esau’s names are also linked with his birth: “Edom” (red) and “Seir” (hairy), are names applied to the lands occupied by Esau in later years, but they are both linked to descriptions of his condition at birth, i.e. he was born red and hairy.
- Isaac and Abimelech (Genesis 26). Isaac’s relationship with his neighbors is a curious one. Because of the Lord’s blessings, Isaac prospered so much that relationships with his neighbors were strained. He finally found water and peace with Abimelech, in spite of another incident of family deception, namely, failing to make clear his relationship to Rebekah. Could one make the case that Jacob’s cheating was part genetics and part learned behavior from watching his parents and maybe from hearing the stories of Abraham?
- Blessings and deceptions (Genesis 27). The story of Isaac and Rebekah’s family is marked by favoritism and deception. Esau’s love of good food is simply an echo of his father’s love of good game. What can we learn from this story in terms of human initiative as it relates to divine intention? In a world where God is generally silent, how can we know what the Lord’s will for our children is? Rebekah intervened with deception. Where can one go in Scripture for good examples of people trusting in the Lord to bring about his word rather than in their own wits and cleverness?
Note: The attitude toward the spoken word evident in the story points to the conviction that the spoken word contains an enduring, almost magical power. In our modern world, if a son gained his father’s favor through deception, one would expect the father to declare the blessing null and void when the deception was discovered. But Isaac seemed almost helpless before his spoken word: it could not be changed. Is this attitude mirrored in modern attitudes toward the Bible as a magical “inerrant” Word of God which transcends any aspect of mere humanity?
- Bethel (Genesis 28). Jacob’s departure from his homeland involved a remarkable first-hand experience with God, one which gave its name to the place: “House of God” (Bethel). To what extent is Jacob’s scheming character evident in his bargaining with God? Yet the Lord blessed him in spite of it, another example of unmerited grace.
- Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29). The troubled family dynamics which marked the home of his birth are destined to continue in Jacob’s married life. What kind of behavior might one expect and might one hope for from Jacob in light of Laban’s antics? Is there any biblical example of a polygamous family in which peace, honor, and fairness reigned among the principle parties? There is no explicit moralizing against polygamy. But the narrative implies its own powerful moral.