The Name's Been Changed
How many of you have a brother or a sister? How many of you have never disagreed, argued, or fought with your brother or sister? Our story today from Genesis is about two brothers who did not get along very well. In fact, Jacob made Esau so angry, Esau threatened to kill his brother. Jacob took him so seriously that he fled to a foreign country and lived there many years where he married twice and had lots of children. When he decided to return home, he took his wives Leah and Rachel, 11 sons (the youngest, Benjamin, had not yet been born), I don't know how many daughters, and herds of cattle, donkeys, sheep, goats, camels, and servants.
Our story opens with messengers riding furiously up to Jacob and saying, "Your brother, Esau, is on his way to meet you with 400 men!" Jacob was petrified--400 men, a regular army! He had sent the messengers ahead to announce his arrival to Esau, and to ask for his favor. Now, Esau was coming with 400 men. What did that mean?
Quickly Jacob devised a plan. He selected hundreds of goats, sheep, camels, cows and donkeys. Then he divided them into herds, and put a servant in charge of each herd. He told the servants to take their herds and line up along the road, leaving a space between them. He told them when Esau comes along and asks who they are and where they are going, tell Esau, "We have come from your brother, Jacob, who sends all these animals to you as a gift." Then when Esau rides again and meets the next servant with another herd, that servant should tell him the same thing; namely, his brother Jacob has sent all these animals as a gift.
That night, the night before Esau would arrive, Jacob had a difficult time sleeping. He knew when he decided to return home, he would have to meet Esau and make peace with him. He knew it would be difficult for the two brothers to forgive the past, but he didn't expect Esau to be coming with 400 men!
Jacob must have experienced several emotions that night: fear of Esau, yet loneliness, homesickness, he must have missed his brother. Missing his brother, missing his family was probably a major reason Jacob decided to go home. So, he felt fear, lonely, apprehensive, and lots of guilt.
Esau and Jacob were twins. Esau was born first so he was the first born and in that place at that time, the first born son received rights and privileges. The first born inherited the father's property. Jacob was born soon after Esau; in fact, when the boys were born, Jacob followed Esau immediately and was holding on tightly to the heel of Esau. It bothered Jacob to be the second. It didn't seem fair to him that someone born a few seconds before him should be given special treatment. So, Jacob did something about his resentment, and played two dirty tricks on his brother.
As the twins grew up they, like so many brothers, developed different interests. Esau liked the outdoors, and especially liked to hunt. He became a skilled hunter. Jacob, on the other hand, was a quiet man who stayed at home. He preferred eating the animals rather than hunting and killing them. He liked to cook.
One day while Jacob was cooking some bean soup, Esau came in from hunting. He was famished, and said to Jacob, "I'm starving; give me some of that soup." Jacob said, "I will give you some soup if you will give me your rights as the first-born son." Esau was a carefree kind of guy. Because he was the first-born and took his preferred place for granted, he rarely thought about it. He didn't dwell on it like Jacob did, so he nonchalantly said, "Sure. I'm about to die anyway unless I get something to eat." Only later did Esau realize what he had done.
Jacob continued to plan, and he had his mother's help. His father, Isaac, obviously preferred Esau to Jacob; and Rebecca, their mother, preferred Jacob. One day Rebecca heard Isaac, who was now old and blind, call Esau to him and say, "Esau, I am getting old and may die soon. I want to give you my final blessing before I die. Take your bow and arrows, go out into the fields, and kill an animal for me. Prepare me one of my favorite feasts, and then I will give you my blessing."
Rebecca quickly went to Jacob and told him what she had overheard. She told him, "Quick, Jacob. Go out into our field, pick out to fat young goats, and I will prepare a feast for your father. You can take it to him to eat, and he will give you the blessing." "But, mother," replied Jacob, "you know that Esau is hairy and I have smooth skin. What if father touches me and realizes I am not Esau?" Rebecca, like most mothers said, "Don't ask questions; just do what I say!" So Jacob did as he was told and brought her the goats. After she had prepared Isaac's dinner, she told Jacob to put on Esau's clothes. Then she took some of the goat hair and put it on Jacob's arms and on the back of his neck.
Jacob took the food and went in. "Father," he said. "Yes, son," Isaac said, "Which son are you?" "I am Esau," Jacob said. "Here is your dinner. Eat some of the meat I have prepared and then give me your blessing." Isaac said, "How did you find it so quickly, son?" "The Lord helped me," said Jacob. Even then it was easy to lie, and blame God!
Isaac said, "Come closer so I can touch you. Are you really Esau? Your voice sounds like Jacob, but your arms feel like Esau's." After he ate, he told him to come and kiss him. When Jacob kissed him, Isaac smelled Esau's clothes which smelled of the out-of-doors. Isaac was then satisfied and blessed Jacob. It was a powerful blessing. Isaac said, "May God give you plenty of grain and wine. May nations be your servants, and may peoples bow down before you. May you rule over all your relatives. May those who curse you be cursed, and may those who bless you be blessed."
Then Esau came home, cooked his meal, took it into his father, and his father asked, "Who are you?" "Your older son, Esau," Esau replied. Isaac trembled and shook all over when he realized he had been tricked. Esau begged for his blessing. "I can't give you the blessing; I've already given it to your brother." Esau was angry. "This is the second time he has cheated me. He took my rights as the first-born son and now he has taken away my blessing. Father, can't you give me a blessing?" "No," said Isaac. "I have already made him master over you, and given him my grain and wine. There is nothing left for you."
Esau was angry. He was so angry he vowed that after his father died, he would kill Jacob. Their mother Rebecca overheard this vow. Like many mothers, she had ears and eyes in the back of her head. She said to Jacob, "Your brother Esau is planning to get even with you and kill you. Go now to my brother Laban in another country. Stay with him until your brother's anger cools down."
Jacob obeyed. He escaped to his uncle Laban's home. It was Laban's daughters he married. It was with Laban Jacob had his family and grew wealthy.
Now he was going to meet Esau the next day, coming with 400 men. With fear, loneliness, apprehension, and guilt Jacob tried to sleep. His sleep turned into a wrestling match. All night long he wrestled, he wrestled with his feelings; he wrestled with his conscience; he wrestled with God. A man appeared and wrestled with him, so long and hard that Jacob threw his hip out of joint. At daybreak the man said, "Let me go; daylight is coming." "I won't let you go," said Jacob, "unless you bless me." "What is your name?" asked the wrestler. "Jacob." The man said, "You are no longer Jacob. Your name's been changed. You have struggled with God and you have won; so your name will be Israel (which means "one who struggles with God").
Jacob, now Israel, a new man, with a new name, arose to greet Esau who soon after arrived with 400 men.
© 1992 Douglas I. Norris