After a brief interlude, we turn from the traumatized Isaac, unable to contribute anything to the story except for the next generation, we meet Jacob, ready to tangle, on the make, a trader with a keen eye for the main chance. We will follow his story now for several weeks – a hinge on which the whole narrative shuts on Esau and opens on Jacob, on Joseph and his descendants, on bondage and then freedom, on Moses, Aaron and Miriam, then Joshua and the Judges, the Kings and the Prophets.
Jacob comes out of the womb ready to rumble. At birth, he fights to be first, holding Esau by the heel and, presumably trying to pull in front of him. What fails at birth he eventually wins by exploitation and deception. Every classroom, every workplace, every soccer team, every extended family has one of these characters, ready to knock anybody off the ladder in order to get ahead.
It will take Jacob years to learn what “ahead” looks like. On July 31, he will come up against an adversary more than worthy of his skill, his strength, and his determination. Like many of us, he will win some and lose some along the way, take his lumps, and move on to the next contest.
Later on, he will favour the child of his heart’s desire, with disastrous results for Joseph. And yet…
There is a character on the loose in this story, a Character as determined as Joseph. As our ancestors tell us these ancient stories, that Character begins to take shape, to emerge from the shadows, to illuminate our human history. Future scripture will refer to “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”, in what is meant to be, I think, a kind of crescendo, a rising, growing, ever more powerful sense of who God is and of what God intends. Today, we begin to follow a central note in that crescendo, a note who, at the outset, shows little evidence of what we might think of as “godly”.
The story cries out to be read continuously, from the call of Abram in Genesis 12 to the death of Joseph at the end of the book. This story of the founding family of faith will surprise you, appall you, delight you. Love story, political intrigue, and the endless oscillation of human hearts turned to dignity and then lowered into moral squalor. And always the beat laid down, sometimes lost in the tangle of sounds, sometimes rising to call them back into song, of God’s presence and purpose and practices.
But today, we simply meet Jacob, whose unlikely self will become Israel as he wrestles a crippling blessing from a Stranger. Jacob, on the make, Jacob pressing a momentary advantage over his carelessly hungry twin, Jacob in the end limping home to the heart of the matter, and along the way introducing us to the ways of God.
Watch this space. And keep one eye on Jacob. He doesn’t look all that promising, but in this story it’s God who does the promising, and changes everything, and everyone.