Is God really into tricking people out of their rights?
The story of Jacob and Esau is complicated. They are twins born to Isaac and Rebekah, Esau being the first born. When they are grown they could not be different in temperament, Esau being an outdoor type, a hunter, much to Isaac’s pleasure: Jacob more homely. In those days the inheritance and father’s blessing went to the elder son, so these were due to Esau, but Jacob, colluding with his mother Rebekah, cons his father into giving both the inheritance and blessing to him.
Esau and Isaac are not pleased. Jacob runs away to his Uncle Laban in the north, encountering God in a dream on the way— cue background music of the intro to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven—and is eventually conned himself by Uncle Laban into marrying the wrong daughter, Jacob’s cousin Leah, rather than her sister Rachel, and eventually through things too complicated to go into here, ends up not only with Rachel and Leah as wives, but two other wives as well.
Ever the con man, Jacob swindles Uncle Laban out of the majority of his flocks, and sets of south back to where Esau is now the clan leader. On the way back he meets with God again, but not recognising this wrestles with him, loses and is left walking with a limp. When the brothers meet up again, Esau is no longer angry, but welcome Jacob home.
A nice moral tale, except it is not very moral. The con man does well and it seems that God is complicit in those schemes. Is God really into tricking people out of their rights?
God is not a trickster
The story of Jacob and Esau has everything that would make a soap opera, family feuds, two of them; man finds himself in bed with the wrong woman—cue Eastenders’ drum beats, plenty of cliffhangers here. But as a Christian the thing we need to ask looking at the Bible is “Where is God in the story?”
The Patriarchs, the fathers of the Jewish people, are not the super spiritual people that some suppose them to be, all are deeply flawed. Whilst Jacob is to become the father of the nation, even changing his name to Israel during the story. He does not start the story as a hero but a swindler, conning both his father and his brother. The plan goes sour. Jacob flees for his life and flees north. God is not part of Jacob’s story at this point, God is not involved in the swindling.
Then comes Jacob’s first encounter with God. Whist travelling north Jacob dreams of a stairway to heaven. What you would expect is that this encounter changes Jacob and he puts his life straight, but not even a little, Jacob carries on as he did before.
What about Esau? Whilst Jacob is away we do not hear of Esau, we only see what has happened to the family whilst Jacob is away. Esau, who has been conned out of his inheritance, gets the inheritance. Esau, who has been conned out of the blessing, is blessed. Where is God in the story? With Esau.
Meanwhile things are not going well with Jacob. The con man is being conned first by his uncle and then by each of his wives in turn. Then the tables are turned and Jacob finally gets the upper hand over Laban, and most of the flocks. Then back south, not alone but with family, servants and large. I can’t feel sorry for Laban, the way he treated his daughters as if they had no rights of their own. It may have been the culture of the time, but not everybody was like that.
All the time Jacob was with Laban, God was absent from the story. That is until Jacob has another encounter with God on the way south. This time it has an effect, Jacob is changed, no longer the trickster, now when he meets with Esau again he gives credit to God for the good that has happened to him. What a change.
God does not give up on us
What we can learn is that God did not give up on Jacob, even after Jacob had ignored their first encounter where Jacob had been offered a second chance. God came back again with a third chance. God is like that.
God is like that to us as well, giving us a second chance after we have messed up, then a third chance, fourth, fifth etc. God never gives up on us. It is God’s nature to love us no matter what we have done. Are you running from the transforming love of God? Are you fighting God, wanting yout own way with things? God still loves you, and wants to make you the best form of you that you can be.