Previous Chapters: Creation. The Fall. The Flood. Abraham. The Destruction of Sodom. Abraham and Isaac.
JACOB AND ESAU
Isaac married a woman called Rebekah when he was forty years old, and the two remained childless for twenty years, at which point Rebekah became pregnant with twin boys, who struggled in her womb until the moment of their birth. The first to be born was reddish and hairy, and Isaac called him Esau; the second, whom Isaac called Jacob, was born moments later, still clinging to the heel of his brother. As the boys grew, Esau became a skillful hunter, and thus also became his father’s favorite, for Isaac had a taste for wild game; Jacob, on the other hand, became the favorite of his mother, Rebekah, who kept him at home, taught him how to cook, and instilled in him a love for murder investigation shows.
It happened one day that Esau returned home from a long hunt with his guts roiling with hunger, and he found Jacob cooking a thick red stew. And he begged his brother for a portion of the stew, but Jacob, the second born of Isaac and Rebekah, said that Esau could only have a portion of the stew in exchange for his rights as the first born son.
“C’mon!” Esau exclaimed. “I’m dying here!”
“You’ve heard my terms,” Jacob said.
“Fine!” Esau cried. “You’re now first born!”
So Jacob served Esau the thick red stew.
“How is it?” Jacob asked, anxiously.
“Could use a little Lot’s wife, if you know what I mean.”
Jacob crossed his arms indignantly.
“C’mon, I’m pulling your leg,” Esau said. “It’s delicious.”
That made Jacob smile, and he sat down next to Esau.
“You’re not really serious about the birthright thing, right?”
“Aren’t I?” Jacob said.
“What if I had my fingers crossed? What’ll you do about it?”
Jacob began to sob when Esau said that. “I’m telling mom.”
“Why do you have to be such a cunt about everything?”
“Am I or am I not the first born?” Jacob asked.
“If it’s that important to you, then fine, you’re the first born.”
But of course, Esau did not mean that Jacob was the first born of Isaac, and he forgot about selling his birthright for a pot of stew even as the taste of the stew was fresh in his mouth. Jacob did not forget however, and many years later, when Isaac was old and blind, Jacob came to him, pretending to be Esau, and received the blessing that Isaac had reserved for his first born.
This infuriated Esau, who vowed to murder Jacob as soon as their father died. But Esau’s vow became known to Rebekah, and she told Jacob to flee to the home of her brother Laban until Esau’s rage passed.
Jacob did as his mother had instructed. For twenty years, he remained in the land of his uncle Laban, whom he served. During this time, Jacob fell in love with and married Laban’s second daughter Rachel, though not before Laban had hoodwinked him into also marrying his oldest daughter Leah. After twenty years, however, Jacob packed up his wives, children, flocks, and concubines, feral as well as domestic, and journeyed back to his homeland. But he was terrified of what would happen when he came face to face with his brother Esau, whom he’d cheated out of his birthright and father’s blessing. So Jacob sent the rest of his party across the river into Esau’s land, and Jacob remained on the near side of the river.
It was there, beside the river, in the darkling moments after sunset, that Jacob encountered a stranger, and the two of them began to wrestle. On and on they wrestled, into the night and onward toward daybreak, until the stranger saw that he could not overpower Jacob. So he touched Jacob’s hip, and the joint gave way, and his hip was dislocated from its socket, but still Jacob would not let go of the stranger. For at that moment, through the pain, Jacob realized that he was wrestling with his identity. “I am wrestling with Who I Am,” he said to himself. “I will never let go of Who I Am.”
Then the stranger said, “Please, let me go, for daybreak draws near.”
To which Jacob responded, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
The stranger asked, “What is your name?”
Then the stranger said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob but Israel. For you have struggled with your identity and come to know who you are.”
“But who am I?”
“No, I’m asking you who I am.”
“Yes, and I’m telling you.”
“You’re telling me who I am?”
“No, you are Israel.”
“Israel is who I am?”
“Israel will be a great nation.”
“That’s who I am?”
“No, that’s who you will be.”
“I will be who I am?”
“Let’s go back: I am who I am.”
Then the stranger blessed Jacob, now called Israel, and left.
And Jacob blessed the place: “For here I have wrestled with who I am, and yet I am spared.”
Then the sun rose above him, and he limped across the river, and as he came to the far shore, the first face he saw was his brother Esau, and he feared the worst, but Esau rushed forward and embraced Jacob, and he kissed him, and they wept together.