Jacob and Esau:
Jacob and Esau were twins born to Isaac and Rebekah. When Rebekah was pregnant with the twins they “jostled each other so much” that Rebekah consulted with the Lord “what good will it do me.” The Lord answered her:
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples, born of you, shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger. When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came forth red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came forth, and his hand had taken hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob. (Gen. 25:22-26)
When Isaac was about to die he requested Esau, his firstborn son, to come to him so he could offer his deathbed “special blessing” upon him. Previously in Genesis it was only God who blessed humans, now humans can also bless other humans. As Esau goes out in the country to hunt for game to feed his father, Rebekah his mother calls to Jacob. She instructs Jacob to deceive Isaac by covering himself with hairy skins to make Isaac, with his failing eyesight, believe it was the hairy Esau and receive Isaac’s blessing rather than his brother. When Isaac feels the hairy coverings on Jacob, he is convinced it is his firstborn son, Esau, and offers his blessing upon him, that is, Jacob. This act of deception by Jacob and his mother is condemned in other places in the Bible (Hosea 12:4; Jer. 9:3).
Clothed in Christ:
However, there may be another point to the story too. It may be an allusion to the true Firstborn Son of God, Jesus Christ. We, as baptized-disciples of Christ, have, as Saint Paul tells us, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14) or “clothed” ourselves with Christ (Gal. 3:27). We, in effect, are like Jacob. We are clothing ourselves with Christ in order to receive the blessing of God. God is giving us the blessing owed to the Firstborn Son. God does not look at our sins, but sees only His Firstborn Son in our stead, we who have put on Jesus Christ. Like Jacob, we receive the blessing of the Father that was due to the Firstborn Son alone.
No Intermarriage with Canaanites:
Esau lost his birthright and special blessing to Jacob. Some commentators have suggested that this was because Isaac and Rebekah disliked Esau’s Canaanite wives. Esau’s wives (a “Hittite” and a “Hivite”)“became a source of embitterment to Isaac and Rebekah.” (Gen. 26:35) Indeed, later Isaac charges Jacob “You shall not marry a Canaanite woman!” (Gen. 28:1) Later, “Esau realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac, so he went to Ishmael. . . married Mahalath.” (Gen. 28:8-9) Isaac, like his father before him Abraham, did not want their children, sons of the promise of God, to be led astray by a wife from outside the Covenant. There was to be no intermarriage to people outside of God’s people, the people of the Covenant. God sought to preserve His Covenantal people with a strict monotheism and morality by not coopting the idolatry of the pagans around them. It would also preserve the Abrahamic bloodline to the birth of the Messiah to come, Jesus.
This is made explicit in Exodus:
“Be sure to observe what I am commanding you this day: behold, I am going to drive out the Amorite before you, and the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst. But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim —for you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God— otherwise you might make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they would play the harlot with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone might invite you to eat of his sacrifice, and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods.” (Exodus 34:11-16)
and again in Deuteronomy:
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, and when the Lord your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you. But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire. For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deut. 7:1-6)
The Curse of Canaan:
Part of the reason Abraham and Isaac forbid marrying Canaanites was that they were considered to be under the curse of Noah, as recorded earlier in Genesis when Ham, one of Noah’s three sons “saw his father’s nakedness.” (Gen. 9:22) Some commentators have theorized that there is more than meets the eye. Perhaps Ham had masturbated his inebriated father, or raped him, or even slept with Noah’s wife, his mother. These types of incestuous acts sometimes happened in the Old Testament in an interfamilial power struggle seen as a means to usurp the authority of the father. (see Jacob’s son Reuben or King David’s son Absalom). Or, in the case of incest with Lot’s daughter’s they perhaps did a similar thing of getting their father drunk and sleeping with him. As it reads, their two children produced the Moabites and the Ammonites:
“Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father. The firstborn bore a son, and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day. As for the younger, she also bore a son, and called his name Ben-ammi; he is the father of the sons of Ammon to this day.” (Gen. 19:36-38)
“Saw nakedness” or “uncover nakedness” is an idiomatic phrase used in the Bible to mean have intercourse with. (See Lev. 17-18; Ez. 16:35-37, 22, etc.). Thus, Ham had sexual intercourse with his mother, Noah’s wife, as Noah lay incapacitated. Ham was intent on usurping the leadership role in the family and taking control through his own lineage, that is, Canaan is the illegitimate son of Ham and his mother/Noah’s wife. This is why Noah levels the curse not against Ham, but against the illegitimate son of the incestuous union, Canaan. Noah will not let Ham take control of the family through Canaan, especially through this despicable deed. So, Noah issues a curse upon Canaan:
So he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants, He shall be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. “May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.” (Gen. 9:25-27)
The curse Noah placed on Canaan, Ham’s son/Noah’s grandson, is filtered down to the descendants of Canaan:
“Canaan became the father of Sidon, his firstborn, and Heth and the Jebusite and the Amorite and the Girgashite and the Hivite and the Arkite and the Sinite and the Arvadite and the Zemarite and the Hamathite; and afterward the families of the Canaanite were spread abroad. The territory of the Canaanite extended from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; as you go toward Sodom and Gomorrah and Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. These are the sons of Ham, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, by their nations.” (Gen. 10:15-20)
The Hebrews, and later, the Israelites are not to intermarry or intermingle in any way with the sons of the cursed, idol-worshipping Canaanites.
Jesus and the Canaanite Woman:
It is because of this, centuries later Jesus has an interesting interaction with a Canaanite woman. As read in Matthew:
“And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.” (Mt. 15:21-28)
Jacob’s Dream / Jacob’s Ladder / Stairway to Heaven:
Jacob sets out from Beer-sheba for Haran in Paddan-Aram (Mesopotamia). On his way for this journey, he has a vision at Bethel (“House of God” he later calls it):
“He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Gen. 28:12-15)
God renews his Covenantal promises to Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham. Jacob awakes from this amazing dream declaring this is “abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven!” (Gen. 28:17) Jacob sets up a memorial stone there to mark the spot of his vision of God’s abode, and promises to give 1/10 of everything back to God.
Jacob, Laban, Rachel and Leah:
When Jacob finally arrived in Haran, he met Rachel at a well. He stayed in Haran with his uncle Laban. He agreed to serve him for seven years if he could marry his daughter Rachel. They agreed. However, when the seven years was up, Laban brought Leah to him to consummate the marriage. In the morning, after figuring out he was duped, Jacob demanded to know why. Laban agrees then for him to marry is elder daughter Rachel, but only after serving him for another seven years. Somewhat surprisingly, Jacob agrees again. It is Leah, however, who then births him four sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah.
Jacob’s Children and the birth of Joseph:
Rachel, however, was still barren, so she provided her maidservant Bilhah as a consort for Jacob to birth him children. Bilhah then birthed him the sons, Dan and Naphtali. When Leah became barren, she too gave Jacob her maidservant Zilpah as a consort. Zilpah provided Jacob two sons as well, Gad and Asher. Jacob then had some more children to them: Issachar, Zebulum, and a daughter, Dinah. God finally heard Rachel’s prayer for a child, and then, she bore Jacob another son, Joseph. Eventually, with Jacob and Laban falling out of favor, Jacob gathered his wives and family and set out to return to Isaac and the land of Canaan.
Esau forgives Jacob:
Later, Jacob sees Esau coming towards him with 400 men. Jacob feared Esau’s revenge and bowed to the ground seven times before his brother. Esau, however, had forgiven him and wanted to be reconciled with him. “Esau ran to meet him, embraced him, and flinging himself on his neck, kissed him as he wept.” (Gen. 33:4) Jacob in return offers Esau generous gifts from his wealth, which Esau accepted. This is an on-going narrative through Genesis of family and sibling rivalry at first and reconciliation later. Genesis stories develop this theme of forgiveness.
Succoth / Booths:
As Jacob and Esau depart from each other, Jacob journeys to the town of Succoth. “There he built a home for himself and made booths for his livestock. That is why the place was called Succoth.” (Gen. 33:17-18) Succoth would later become the place of the first encampment of the Israelites after fleeing Ramses and Egypt (Ex. 12:37). Esau for his part settled in Seir. “Esau is Edom. These are the descendants of Esau, ancestors of the Edomites.” (Gen. 36:8-9)
Jacob Wrestles an Angel / Changes Name to “Israel”:
“Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip.” (Gen. 32:24-33)
Later, God confirms the Covenant with Jacob and his name change to Israel. With the Angel’s blessing on Jacob, he receives a new corresponding name, “Isra-El,” or he who prevails with God.” And so, God speaks to Israel:
“And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So his name was called Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you. The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your descendants after you.” (Gen. 35:10-12)