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.
We are not very far into the story when this sobering statement is made. The creation has confused itself with the Creator and now a great cleansing is needed. Man, whom God had formed with His own hands, went from being the caretaker of the altar to the enemy of the Holy One. The earth was searched and there was only one, only one righteous – though God is sure to express, “righteous in his own generation.” This man, Noah, was commanded to create a vessel of salvation – an ark (which we will hear echoed in the Moses story).
Rain begins to fall – for the very first time. The separation between earth and water is seemingly being undone. The breath of life is being taken back. Man’s dominion over nature is beginning to turn and nature wants, and will get revenge. It appears that the very breath of God that calmed the chaos, in Genesis 1, is being swept away in the flood.
Death surrounds this life-preserver, but once again we see something “hovering over the water” – over the void and formless creation flooded with the regrets of God. The creation narrative is happening yet again – the breath (wind) of God, land and water [re]separating, a command to be fruitful and multiply – God, indeed, has not given up on us. The baptism completed – creation has been cleansed, redeemed, and reconciled.