Story as Antidote to Dogma

Posted: April 20, 2014 in Humor, Morality, Philosophy, Religion
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Story as Antidote to Dogma

The following story has been shared with numerous clergy.  The general reaction is “That was interesting, but …”.  Generally the “but” relates to the fact that it does not follow traditional dogma about the story.  Originally, this idea was spawned when I learned that the Hebrew that refers to Jacob’s opponent is best interpreted as “a man”, not as an angel or God as many translations use– I think because, once again, dogma from many generations of scholars simply accepted the standard interpretation of the meaning of this story.  So, I present the story, first faithful to the scriptural record and then with another alternative ending not in contradiction to the scriptures.  For what it is worth…

Another Interpretation of the Jacob and Esau Story – Esau’s Trick

By Cecil Denney

The story of Jacob and Esau recorded in Genesis is a story with intrigue and irony. Jacob, who received the undeserved blessing, who had to flee for his life, and who was himself tricked by his uncle Laben finally wins the bribe of his eye. Yet, there may be more to this story than has traditionally understood. We read that Esau was twice tricked by his brother. First Esau is tricked out of his birthright by Jacob, then Jacob steals Issac’s blessing of the first born intended for Esau. In rage Esau swears “…I will kill my brother Jacob” (Gen 27:41) and Jacob must flee for his life. Although Issac did not give his blessing to Esau, he did promise “but when you break loose, you shall break his yoke from your neck.” (Gen 27:40) I think he remembered this promise! So we find the “blessed” Jacob fleeing, in mortal fear to his uncle Laben. There he falls in love with Rachel, the younger of Laben’s two daughters. Laben exacts a price of seven years work for the hand of Rachel. But now it is Jacob’s turn to be tricked and he ends up with the elder Leah. Laben then exacts another seven years of work for Rachel’s hand. Jacob appears to prosper with many sons, and he aspires to return to his home country. When Laben objects, Jacob works his own trick with Laben’s flocks. His wives, Laben’s daughters steal their father’s gold and Jacob once again flees, but this time back to Caanen from whence he came. When Laben catches up with him, Rachel manages to hide the stolen gods (gold) and Jacob throws a “hissy fit” and shames Laben into making a peace pack. Now he had to face another possible problem, Esau. So, he sends a delegation ahead to Esau with cattle to assuage and soften Esau. But when the delegation returns, he learns that Esau is personally coming to meet Jacob with four hundred men. In fear of his life, Jacob splits up his band so that if one is destroyed, the other might survive. Having once believed that God had told him to return, he now questions his safety and becomes humble in the face of his impending disaster. He prays for safety reminding God of his promises. He devises a scheme to appease Esau sending successive waves of servants ahead with cattle as presents for Esau. Meanwhile, Jacob stays in the camp sending his wives, maids, and children away, leaving himself utterly alone to contemplate his fate. So far, what is written is reflected in this story. At this point, I will interject my own speculation of the meaning of the rest of the story. Esau, who many, many years earlier was willing to kill Jacob has himself prospered. His anger has diminished, but his sibling rivalry is still active as is reflected in coming with four hundred men. He will not be tricked again. But as the waves of servants and cattle meet him with presents, he realizes that Jacob still fears for his life and he decides Jacob deserves a little trick from his older brother. His spies learn that Jacob is alone, so in the cover of a moonless night, Esau, always the more rugged of the two sneaks into Jacobs camp and wrestles with him. Esau is at advantage since he knows Jacob, but Jacob has no idea that his brother as approached him, thinking he is with the four hundred men. To Esau’s surprise, Jacob has grown strong too, so they struggle through the night until finally, Esau manages to dislocate Jacob’s hip. He now has struck mortal fear and escapes before daylight and without identifying himself leaving Jacob to believe he has struggled with an Angel of God. He is injured, but he feels he won the battle. God has spared him. He has been humbled once again. The next day, Jacob approached Esau realizing it could be his last. He bows and scrapes before Esau and his four hundred men. Esau’s heart melts on seeing his long forgiven little brother humble himself and he is ashamed of his little trick and never tells Jacob. What is there to make of this new possible (not negated by scripture) story line? I think this is the old testament story of the prodigal son, but with a twist. While a father might accept his son without reservation, this is a story of a sibling who in all rights might have rejected his brother for his ill deeds. He did not seek revenge. He did not even accept Jacob’s offer of gifts. He only exacted a small harmless trick that turned out God used to strengthen Jacob’s faith. No doubt, Jacob had to explain his limp to his brother when they met and seeing Jacob’s faith in God, Esau chose not to destroy it with the truth.

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