There is a lot of trickery going on between wives and wives, Jacob and his father-in-law/uncle and just in general. We find Rachel and Leah both take on the practice of their grandmother-in-law Sarah by offering their slave women to their husband in order to produce children. The difference, though, is that these children who are produced are counted in as part of the twelve tribes of Israel. For me it is completely fascinating that we know that many of these women probably came from Egypt, which was a region then, as it is now, of people who have very dark skin compared to our European ancestry. So these children of Jacob would have been the color of the rainbow and it must have been a beautiful sight to see as they represented all the people of the world. But it also reminds us that the Jewish people represent not just those from European descent, but most of whom come from African descent.
The story of the mandrakes is one of my favorite non-sequitur events in all of Scripture, especially how Leah comes out to Jacob and explains it. So here is Jacob who has been hard at work all day and is coming home for his dinner when his wife comes out to him and states: “You must come in to me for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” It worked, he went in with her and lay with her, so I guess she won that round. But that is what is depicted, this competition between wives so that the husband would be more pleased with them than the other one.
Then we find the competition between Jacob and Laban. Laban is shifty, I told you liked him, and he takes away all of the livestock that were supposed to go to Jacob. But Jacob was not about to be outdone so he arranges it so that all of the livestock would become his. He especially arranged it so that the strongest and the best of the livestock would become his. He also ends up winning this round and becomes extraordinarily wealthy. We do not hear that it is at the expense of Laban, I think he also has become wealthy by then.
What a great story! I love Laban, I really do. He is pretty shifty and was able to get both of his daughters married off to a man that he knew would become something. What is there not to like in someone whom God has blessed and promised progeny that boggles the mind and land further than can be seen? He knew that when Jacob came into town this guy was not leaving. So let’s see what happens in this story.
Jacob is on his journey and stops at the local bar…, I mean, well. There he finds Rachel, his first cousin. Rachel runs back home and tells her dad of her cousin who is in town, and gave her sheep water, and then kissed her, then wept aloud after he kissed her. It may have freaked her and creeped her out a bit, but Laban jumps up to greet Jacob and a happy reunion occurs. Jacob is at his destination point, it was where he wanted to end up. So he stays with his uncle for a month before his uncle says: Here you are and I am enjoying all of this free labor, but what can I pay for your time with me? I can’t let you serve me for nothing, or just for room and board. Jacob already has had an idea and so he responds, what if I work for you seven more years and then I get to marry your daughter, your youngest daughter, Rachel? The plan is set in motion.
When the wedding night comes Laban pulls the classic bait and switch. He puts his oldest daughter, Leah, in the wedding bed instead of Rachel. So, Jacob ends up marrying Leah instead of Rachel. That was a problem for Jacob and so he asks Laban who gives him some cultural excuses but says let your week of honeymoon pass then you can marry Rachel and then you can serve me for another seven years. What’s Jacob going to say? Jacob agrees.
Then the children start to come. You should start counting as you read about these children because pretty soon Jacob is going to change his name to Israel and do you remember how many tribes of Israel there are? That’s right, there are twelve, which means that Jacob between his wives should have twelve male children. So start counting. Rachel remains barren up to now and Leah enjoys the presence of her husband and wishes her husband would notice her more. It is obvious that Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah. There seems to be a constant theme in this family of playing favorites either with kids or with wives.
We find another blessing of Jacob by Isaac, now that it seems that the waters have calmed somewhat. Things are a bit more tranquil and maybe the Lord has spoken to both Rebekah and Isaac as to the role and the place that Jacob is going to take. Some see two different stories written by different authors here. I don’t, I see two different blessings, each one in its own unique context. Interesting how the major request that Isaac makes of his son is that he marry someone within the family. This is specifically in regards to religious background. We spoke to this point already earlier. Jacob does that, he heads towards his uncle’s house, Laban. Esau overheard this request and is probably sick of Isaac and Rebekah being really unhappy with his foreign wives, so he goes and marries someone at least within the extended family by going out to Ishmael’s kids. It works and it shows some penitence for the former marriages which were not pleasing at all to mom and pop.
In these Scriptures you find the classic tale of Jacob’s ladder.
It has traditionally been used as song for those who are persecuted in their society and culture. The approach is taken that Jacob is fleeing Esau and yet is a chosen one of the Lord. This attribute of being the chosen one, the chosen people, has been used throughout the generations. The earliest pilgrims saw themselves as the New Israel, the people of God who were driven from Europe to settle in the US as the chosen ones because of the persecution that they received back “home”. The whole black gospel genre came out of the understanding of a people chosen by God and blessed by God but who currently were in captivity but would soon be liberated. Their captivity did not diminish their choseness, actually in many ways it validated it. Jacob running from Esau, is a like to Jesus being persecuted by the religious leaders, and so would be a like to believers in the face of persecution and violence against them seeing themselves as the people of God.
Back to Jacob. He uses a rock as a pillow and has a dream of this ladder and the top of it reached into heaven and there were angels ascending and descending. It is in the midst of this dream that God reiterates Abraham’s promise to Jacob. I have given you this land. You will spread out from this land. Your family shall be blessed and all the families of the earth shall be blessed because of you. That’s pretty encompassing.
Jacob realizes that something pretty important has happened. Have you ever had something really important happen and you just kind of miss the meaning behind the message? Not so for Jacob here. In fact he says, God if you do all of this, then this very place will be the place for your temple. It will be a place where people will worship you for generations to come. He calls it Bethel which means house of God. This promise by Jacob is carried out.
We find ourselves at the climax of the story where Isaac is deceived into blessing his youngest son, Jacob. Remember, it is his wife, and the mother of both of these children, who really takes the lead on deceiving her husband so that the youngest son will get the blessing. One aspect of it which caught my attention this time is that when Jacob balks and says: I don’t really want to do this because if I am found out I may receive a curse instead of a blessing, mom jumps right in and says: don’t worry, the curse will be on me if that happens.
It doesn’t happen, everything goes as they planned it, Isaac blesses Jacob, Esau is distraught and as a result plans on killing his younger brother. Okay, that last part was not a part of the plan. It is important that we see that this is the stage where they leave each other. Esau is enraged and wants to kill Jacob. Jacob is told to leave the compound and runs away to his Uncle Laban’s house to get away from Esau who wants to kill him. Once we transition to focusing on Jacob, this part of the story will be important because we see another side of Esau come out. He hasn’t left just yet, and we see an interesting twist to the story in the next chapter before he leaves. The mother-in-law complains again to her husband about the daughters-in-law. I wonder if husband Isaac knows the role that wife played in the deception.
We see that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Isaac moves because of a famine and he tells the king of the land that his wife is in fact his sister. Why do they repeat this mistake? The king happens to see Isaac “fondling” Rebekah and so as a result discovers that she is his wife after all, and not his sister. As a result he commands that no one is to touch or to bring harm upon either Isaac or Rebekah. As a result of that they not only live in peace but they prosper. They prosper so much that they are seen as a threat so they are “asked” to move away.
They move away, and in the midst of this bringing us up to date we hear that after Abraham dies then those in the land had covered up his wells. This would have had a direct affect on Isaac. It is also interesting that while Abraham was exceedingly rich, we don’t read that about Isaac, until now when his crops grow 100 fold and he becomes wealthy. What happened to all of the wealth that his father had? I think the fact that we are told that all of his father’s wells were filled in tells us also that with Isaac things had started to go downhill.
We are introduced to Beer-Sheba and we see that this is where Isaac resides. We then catch a glimpse into the lives of the children post-selling of the birthright. Their eldest had married a wife or two with which they were not pleased. Parents not liking the wives that their children marry might be pretty common, but here it is just kind of tossed out there. As a result of this marriage we don’t hear that Esau’s life was miserable, but rather that Isaac and Rebekah’s lives were miserable.
There are quite a few verses in this chapter but let’s follow along and break it down piece by piece. First of all, Abraham was not finished having children. He was already quite old, but he had other children with his concubines. I’m just repeating what Scripture said. But notice what he does with these other children. Just like Ishmael he sends them out of the camp once they are born, even without Sarah around, just so that it would be Isaac who would benefit from Abraham’s presence and wealth. Isaac remains the son of the promise and the son of the covenant.
Notice who comes and buries Abraham when he dies. It is not only Isaac, which you would expect, but Ishmael makes an appearance as well and buries his father. The Scripture then goes on to list his children and his descendants giving him a place of honor among Abraham’s children, which he actually deserves. Remember, the Lord promised that a great kingdom would come from Ishmael.
From there we find the birth of twins to Isaac and Rebekah, Esau and Jacob. Rebekah is one of a long list of women protagonists who are barren, but then over time are blessed by the Lord to have children. It is quite interesting that in that society and culture if you were a woman and you were barren you really served no purpose. And yet it is exactly those women whom the Lord chooses in order to carry out His purposes. I have always found that empowering and very revealing about God’s love, and special love, for those whom society considers worthless.
From the start we have trouble with Esau and Jacob. We find first that mom likes Jacob and dad likes Esau. Just that it would be stated out from the beginning builds the stage for trouble. This is absolutely a dysfunctional family. But it is from this family that our Lord comes. But keep in mind that this family is the textbook example of a dysfunctional family. Jacob is cooking a stew when his brother comes in from hunting and he is pretty hungry. It really isn’t that he was so hungry that he was willing to sell his birthright, it was simply that he didn’t respect or think much of his birthright. I don’t see Jacob as the villain or the opportunist, but rather Esau as the one who really didn’t care. But then again, I’m the youngest in my family.
It is pretty clear that Isaac is a momma’s boy, but that is okay, that isn’t a problem. Abraham realizes that he is old and that the end of his life is about to come to a close, so he commissions one of his servants to go and find a wife for his son. We read in the last verse of this chapter that Isaac was still very much grieving the death of his mother. But his marriage helped to soften the blow. Remember where Abraham is living. He is in the promised land, Canaan, but he is the only one of God’s people who is in the promised land. The rest of his family is back in the land of Ur or Haran from where he began his journey.
For our 21st century sensibilities it doesn’t seem to make sense that Abraham is looking for his son to marry a relative. That whole incest thing is a real deal breaker. Similarly it is difficult to make a connection and say that it is somewhat justified because it is as if it is finding someone of the same race. No, that doesn’t fly here either because God does not make a distinction between people or races. There is no problem with marriage between races. So, for us, where do we find a common line? I would draw a line in marrying between religions. I find absolutely no fault in looking for a spouse who holds the same religious beliefs as you do. I know from premarital counseling that when people are unequally yoked in their belief systems then it will cause real difficulties, especially once kids come around. So, as a result, looking for a spouse who holds similar religious convictions is not only normal, it is actually wise.
We see that Rebekah is actually Isaac’s first cousin, her father and Abraham are brothers. The details of how she is found are entertaining, we actually get the story twice. Once when it happens, and then twice when the servant recounts the story back to Laban, Rebekah’s brother. Don’t lose sight of Laban, he comes up later on and is an important part of the story of the people of God.
What you are witnessing in this Scripture is a very subtle land deal that takes place without either side wanting anyone to think that they really want it done. Abraham insists that he pay for the land to bury his wife Sarah. This makes sense because he never wants people to think that it was a result of their favor that Abraham increased in wealth, but rather that it was a result of God’ favor that Abraham increases. Well, the Hittite is placed in a difficult position because Abraham is well liked and is grieving the death of his wife so no one would want to be seen as taking advantage of him in his time of grief. He offers the land for free. Abraham refuses. Notice what happens next, the Hittite sets a price by saying: “What is land worth 44 sheckels of silver between the two of us?” He again encourages him to take it for free. After having said that, it is clear that the price was set for 400 pieces of silver.
The fact that Sarah dies gets somewhat lost in the whole story of this land deal. My guess is that this Scripture is so clear that Abraham bought this land from the Hittites that in later years when the land would be contested, and it was always contested, they could point back to this deal which was done in the presence of all the people in the principal square of the land. This Scripture serves to inform us of Sarah’s death, but serves primarily to set a marker in history for that piece of land.
We begin with some fairly dark words. Whenever a chapter starts with: “And God tested…”, you know that things are going to get tough. It gets really tough with Abraham. If you wanted to follow along and see the similarities between the sacrifice of Isaac and the crucifixion of Jesus, or at least how a father has sacrificed his son and how a Father sacrificed his Son, it is always pretty impressive. One of my favorite paintings is the one by Caravaggio of this scene. If you have followed my blog at all in the past you know that Caravaggio, a baroque painter, is my absolute favorite of all time. Here is his rendition.
You have it all here, the goat, the binding of Isaac, the knife, the angel, but not the terror in Isaac’s face, not the anguish in Abraham’s face. It seems a bit dispassionate for me. Can you imagine this test? Take your son out and kill him…okay God. What about that whole promise of a progeny from this same son, you know the one that I love? I’ll let you figure that out.
But that happens, doesn’t it sometimes? We don’t understand how in the world something can be a part of God’s plan, until we look back and say: Oh, I see now how it all works together for good for those who trust in the Lord. Read this chapter and remember it. If you look at vs.22 it is from where the term: Jehova Jireh comes. That is how you say “the Lord will provide” in Hebrew.
This is Abraham’s well in Beersheba which we visited. John Faltin took this picture and it shows what might have been. But the well is the secondary story to chapter 21. The primary story is the birth of Isaac, and the banishment of Ishmael.
God is faithful and follows through on his promises. We find that Sarah has a child and names him Isaac, which was the name that God said he should be called, but it also means laughter and she says, somewhat insecurely, that everyone will laugh at her when they hear that she in her old age, and Abraham in his old age, have born a son. They have a huge baptismal party, but it was actually a circumcision party which is called a brit milah or in yiddish a bris. But it was a huge party and it gathered everyone in for a celebration, including Isaac’s big brother, Ishmael. He was a good big brother. He played with the 8 day old and enjoyed not being the only child (I’m totally reading into this).
But his stepmom, whom we already saw was somewhat insecure, sees him playing with his brother and begins to connect some dots that didn’t necessarily need to be connected. She could see this child, who was his idea, taking away some of her son’s inheritance, and that could never happen. It is time that only one son be in the family, the other has to go. So she insists with Abraham that he sends Ishmael outside of the house. Abraham is troubled by the request and you get a sense that he was going to fight it until the Lord comes and says: Don’t worry about it, it is all part of my plan.
Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away, but not without a flask of water. That was nice of him. It is interesting how it seems that Ishmael is a child in this depiction. But we know that he was pretty close to a grown man. Even though it says that she threw him under a bush so that she would not see him die. But the Lord comes and rescues them and he trains in the wilderness to become a great hunter. She finds him a wife from Egypt, so it seems that they are pretty set. I love how Scripture gives us details even of those who were to be forgotten. God is faithful, because this is still Abraham’s son.