A new chapter in the history of our faith begins with this introduction of yet another set of brothers – Jacob and Esau. They are introduced to us in the midst of a wrestling match – yet in the womb of their mother, Rebekah.
Why has the author chosen for us to be introduced to these two brothers, in this way? Not by name or by promise but by their struggle with each other. Even their names are about the current moment, not their future hope.
The battle in the womb is the precursor of two lives enmeshed in fighting and discord. Even beyond that of two lives to two peoples – Edom and Israel. These brothers (as it seems with most brothers in the Text) find themselves at odds from day one (or in this case – earlier).
What do we find in this portion? What we do find is the beginnings of the echoes we will encounter in the Text in the coming weeks. Mistaken identity, eye problems and wrestling matches are but a few of the reverberations we will hear.
We also hear some echoes from previous portions: Wives as sisters, famines and Egypt, barrenness, siblings fighting, and hunters. Why were these important to the author? What story is God telling behind the story? What do these connections have to do with what God is doing within His creation?
In addition there are some strange happenings with Rebekah: God reveals His plans to Rebekah not Isaac, Rebekah, like Sarah,tries to make God’s promise come to fruition through her own doing, and Rebekah is ultimately the one who finds a bride(s) for Jacob. Why?
Sarah has passed. Isaac is unmarried. Abraham is still a “sojourner and foreigner among” the inhabitants of Canaan.
Where is the promise?
God had made a promise to Abraham that he would be the father of all nations, that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky. God also promised Abraham that He would give him the land of Canaan.
Would God “remember Abraham” now?
This moment is heightened because of the death of Sarah; after all she is whom the promise was to come through…with her passing there is now only Isaac. Still there is no land. Abraham is wealthy but still living in a tent – but Sarah provides for her love one more time. A field to be buried in! In her death, Sarah, becomes the first Hebrew resident of Canaan. A plot of land is purchased and Sarah is laid to rest deep within the comfort of the LORD’s promise of land and descendant(s).
With time closing its eyes on Abraham a bride is needed for Isaac. Though, this time, it is the prayer of his servant and not Abraham’s that the LORD hears. A woman of great hospitality and generosity is found. She will now be the hope of the promise for Abraham.
God remembered His promise to Abraham, and as Abraham’s life comes to an end, the LORD allows him to glimpse the fulfillment – a piece of land, and a wife for Isaac.
Abraham is sitting in the entrance to his tent when the LORD appears to him. We often read this into the LORD being a part of the three strangers – but they wouldn’t be strangers if Abraham knew one of them was the LORD. Instead it has been suggested that Abraham was in the midst of a meeting with God – a personal worship service if you will – when the three strangers caught his attention.
It is almost shocking that Abraham would ask God to wait while he tended to the strangers…but that is just what Abraham did! Abraham – freshly circumcised – runs out to greet the wanderers. He is insistent, persistent, maybe even somewhat demanding that they allow him to fix them a morsel to eat…then running to Sarah he creates a feast – fatted calf and three seahs of flour – enough for a small invasion.
An invasion. That is what the strangers are about to do: invade the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, dispatch of the residents for a lack of hospitality, a lack of care for the sojourner, the poor and the widow (Ez. 16.49). This lack of hospitality is something that would be unimaginable for Abraham – the one that put The One on hold while he demonstrated extraordinary hospitality and generosity to the sojourner in the land!
A punishment that would surely meet the approval of the hospitable Abraham – not quite! God with great trepidation approaches the man through whom all nations would be blessed to confide in him what is about to transpire. Heavens No! Abraham will not allow it – was it not enough that one man’s unrighteousness brought down all of creation – should the LORD not consider allowing the righteous to triumph instead? If fifty? If forty-five? Forty? Thirty? Twenty? Ten?
After all ten is the number determined for a synagogue – if one house of worship exists, will you not preserve all of the people? Two of the strangers move on to Sodom to find Lot sitting in the entrance to his city. There were not ten – but the LORD remembered Abraham and so He rescued Lot and his family – and the righteousness of one (Abraham) triumphed – bringing salvation to another.