Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Compassionate Brother (part 1)

…Esau ran to meet him, embraced him, hugged his neck, and kissed him. Then they both wept. – Genesis 33:4  (NET)

Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah, were estranged brothers.  Owing to the events recorded in the twenty-seventh chapter of Genesis, in which Jacob (at his mother’s insistence) presented himself before his father, in place of his brother, in order to receive his father’s blessing, Jacob greatly feared Esau.  There, Esau can be heard to exclaim “He has tripped me up two times!  He took away my birthright,” referring to Esau’s “selling” of his birthright to Jacob as recorded in chapter twenty-five, “and now, look, he has taken away my blessing!” (27:36b) 

The record insists that “Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing his father had given to his brother.  Esau said privately, ‘The time of mourning for my father is near; then I will kill my brother Jacob!” (27:41)  Clearly, hostility ran high.  For this reason, having effectively taken everything from his father that was supposed to fall to his brother---or at least all that was truly important (the birthright and the blessing), Jacob left the house of his father and mother, with instructions to do so until his “brother’s rage subsides” (27:44b). 

Of course the story is well known.  To escape his brother’s wrath, Jacob went to live with his uncle, a man by the name of Laban.  Before, during, and after arriving there, Jacob’s story is vivid and entertaining.  Needless to say, he lives quite the interesting life.  On the way to Laban’s place, Jacob has a dream of a “stairway erected on the earth with its top reaching to the heavens” (28:12b).  Undoubtedly, the alert reader (or hearer) will hear in this an echo of the story of the tower of Babel, as recorded in the eleventh chapter of Genesis. 

There, following the great flood (which would almost certainly need to be understood to have served as a motivating factor in their plans), it is said that “The whole earth had a common language and a common vocabulary” (11:1).  Thus, with this unifying factor in play, they said “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves.  Otherwise we will be scattered across the face of the entire earth” (11:4).  Though there shall be a return to it in the course of this study, for now it is necessary to skip past the well-known result of this desire, to find that after a short digression into the genealogy of Shem (11:10-26), the narrative introduces Abram and records the first pronouncement (in a series of pronouncements) that would come to be referred to as the Abrahamic covenant. 

As these words that mark the beginning of the people of the Creator God on earth (the covenant people of Israel and the church), providing information as to the Creator God’s desires and purposes for His people (the divine image-bearers), one does well to hear them often.  The Lord speaks to Abram and says “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you.  Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the families of the earth will bless one another by your name” (12:1-3).  As the story progresses, more will be appended to this declaration. 

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