“When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see,” Moses tells us, he calls Esau and asks him to go hunting so they can feast together and Isaac can pass on the family blessing, which Isaac had inherited from Abraham, and which the God of Abraham had confirmed.
The moment Esau left, Rebekah hatches a scheme to deceive her husband, and to steal the blessing of God himself from her own son, and she pulls Jacob into it. Let’s be clear. Jacob did this stuff, but it was all Rebekah’s idea.
To be fair, Rebekah wasn’t thrilled with Esau these days. Just before this scene opens, we learn that Esau had married two Hittite women, which, Moses says, “made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.” By the end of the scene, Rebekah hates her life because of these two Hittite women. So maybe – maybe – Rebekah is trying to secure the family blessing (which really seems pretty magical) and keep it out of Hittite hands. Or maybe she’s just a little bit tribal about stuff like that. Maybe – maybe – it’s not as petty and dysfunctional as it seems to 21st century, Western eyes. Maybe. It’s definitely more nuanced than a Sunday School lesson can convey, and it’s that kind of texture that makes events like these – the normal events of life that seem to shape us unawares – so hard to defend ourselves against.
The narrative from here is pretty familiar to anyone who has sat through more than one Sunday School lesson. Jacob kills a goat and Rebekah uses the skin to dress him up like Esau, and the meat to make a facsimile of Isaacs favorite game dish. Jacob enters the dark of the tent, a false son with a false gift, and his father asks him, “Who are you, my son?”
Remember that line. Literarily, it’s everything.
Twice Jacob lies to his father, and Jacob receives his father’s blessing. Esau gets the shaft, and Jacob receives from him a promise of murder.
Word gets to Rebe kah and she finishes her play, telling Jacob to run to her brother Laban, and convincing Isaac it’s his idea. Isaac sends Jacob on his way, giving him the Abrahamic blessing on his way out the door.
His first night in the wild, Jacob has a dream. The famous vision: Jacob’s Stair. It’s likely what he saw looked like a ziggurat, a temple with angels ascending and descending the central stair (hence, he called it “the house of God” and not “God’s ladder”). God appeared to him there, and blessed him. This blessing contains the language from both of God’s prior conversations with Isaac. God, it would appear, is all in.
When Jacob awakes, he sets up a pillar, and makes an offering and a vow. It’s uncanny how similar this is to what he saw his father do with God at Beersheba. As he sets out, he carries with him 24hours of memories that include an ecstatic experience of blessing that followed immediately on the heels of one of the most selfish, manipulative, deceptive moments of deep family dysfunction anywhere in Scripture. What does that do to one’s operating theology?
Who knows why Rebekah did this? Who knows why Jacob never ejected? By this point he seems pretty bent into her, but who can say if he went along because of what was in her heart, or his? And who knows why God chose to confirm his blessing immediately after this debacle?
Regardless of why it happened, what happened inside Jacob is the part we often overlook. That day, Jacob’s operating narrative slid into place – the story he found himself in. His understanding of who he was, of the world, of how people work, and of God, set that day. From that moment on, Jacob’s course was set, and the danger he was fleeing was nothing compared to the danger within.
It’s a familiar danger. We mistake concurrent blessing with consequent blessing. We think that because God is blessing me right now, it’s because of what I just did. But God blesses because he is kind, and he is up to all kinds of good. It may have nothing at all to do with my actions, but that can be so hard to see. We unconsciously take our successes, and God’s blessing on us and our work, as evidence that we are right. Right about God, about religion, about theology, people, ourselves. We take the building blocks of our families of origin, our cultures, and our misunderstandings of God’s actions in real time, and we construct whole operating systems around what looks like cause and effect, but is really God playing a deeper and more generous game than we can know.
If we are wise, somewhere we will begin to doubt our own press, and from there, our own narratives. Maybe we’ll even take a look under the hood of our internal meaning-makers, and we’ll see some reasons why our stories seem to keep repeating themselves. If we are not wise, however, we are not doomed. God will again appear, and that conversation will go quite differently.
Let’s pause and check the map. Jacob appears to have locked in on one part of who he really is -the part that others accept and works the best for him – and that part of him has moved forward and grown all out of proportion. Further, his people have reinforced this self-understanding profoundly, and it has grown to include his understanding of others, and perhaps even of God.
False Self: check.
What remains is to see this False Self in action, and then discover Jacob’s True Self, which is part of the Gift that lies on the other side of the Crisis.
Before we go there, though, let’s take a look at a few other stories that might feel a little closer to home, so we can perhaps find ourselves on the map before we move forward.