So I haven’t been posting regularly, and you might not know this…..but over the past few weeks, the Lectionary for the Daily Office has been going through the Abraham cycle…that is, the story of Judaism’s founding patriarchs.

In light of my laziness…..let me bring you up to speed in where we are. 🙂

Last week, we heard the story of Jacob gaining the birthright of his older brother Esau which basically runs like this:

  Stew good, inheritance bad *NOM NOM NOM*

  Issac: I can’t see so good, is that you Esau???

Jacob:  Uh…….. yeah dad….. it’s me….feel my arms….hairy eh?

Issac: God bless you my son! You will have many sons and form a great nation!

  Issac: I can’t see so good….is that you Jacob?

Esau: No dad….it’s me your eldest son Esau….
Issac: What?!? Then who brought me lunch?
Esau: Jacob, I think….the little snot took my birthright!! Can I still have a blessing?

Issac: Nope

Esau: Can I please have a blessing?

Issac: Nope.

Esau: Pretty please with a cherry on top?!?

Issac: Alright, fine! You will be at the head of many great armies and shall win lots of battles, happy now?!?

Of course, I’m trivializing a bit, but this is essentially how the narrative runs. For an elder brother to lose his inheritance–especially through deception–was a big deal in the Ancient Middle East. It meant not only that he had less property, but also that he no longer had any authority in the family to make decisions about farming, migration, and settling in a new place. Essentially, it was to lose one’s voice in the family unit.

The severity of this drama is not to be overlooked….I believe this is what Dr. Phil would refer to as a deal-breaker….and in all likelihood meant that these two brothers were now bitter enemies for life; even as their own father predicts with his promise to Esau.

It should be noted too that Jacob knows that he has been sinful….check out the way he reacts when his brother is coming for him.

[Jacob] himself went on ahead of [his whole household and possessions], bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother. (Gen 33:3)

These actions are not simply ones performed out of fear…..but repentance. In being at the head of the caravan, Jacob both takes responsibility for his actions, and allows his brother to strike him dead in plain sight….rather than hiding in the vanguard and allowing his household to protect him.

Jacob–along with the reader–fully expect for the elder brother to exact his revenge…to claim what is rightfully his, and do so with righteous violence. Jacob was expecting to get slaughtered:

Instead…..something crazy happens…..Esau opens his arms weeping…..not with tears of anger and resentment, but with tears of joy and love.

Jacob….who by all logic should be punished is forgiven. Two brothers who should be killing each other, instead find themselves in an embrace of reconciliation.

As I reflect on this passage, I can’t help but be struck at how often this theme comes up at the very beginning of God’s Word. At the Flood, God is remorseful and makes the decision to make all things new, in spite of humanity’s hatred and sinful behaviour.

Abraham..who goes out of his way to deceive the king of Egypt is blessed and deception is rewarded with prosperity. Issac…who is supposed to be sacrificed according to God’s command is spared at the last possible moment, and Jacob…the despicable younger son who lies to his family…is forgiven.

All too often, I think there is a tendency to believe that the Old Testament is harsh, unrelenting and rigid. That all crime and sin are punished to the utmost, and that there is no room for humans who cannot live up to YHWH’s holy standard.

And yet…the more I read these stories, the more I am convinced of something. Even here…as we read about and witness God’s action in the world from the beginning….there is room for Grace…there is room for surprise….and yes, there is a message of hope that the LORD can do marvelous things with even the most shady characters. +