Throughout the story of the Bible, God singles out different people, like Jacob, to be the conduit of his blessing to all humanity. But from birth, Jacob consistently acts more like the snake from the garden of Eden than a righteous chosen one of God. He lies his way into blessings that God had intended for him all along. So what will God do? In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss the theme of blessing and curse in the life of Jacob.
The Jacob story is all about a guy who doesn’t believe he’s going to get God’s blessing, so he spends his life hurting everyone around him. He tries to scheme and steal the blessing and abundance for himself, instead of trusting God is going to give it to him.
In part one (00:00-17:30), Tim and Jon discuss the third movement of Genesis, which centers around the lives of Isaac and Jacob. In this movement, we trace the theme of blessing and curse. (For an overview of this theme, check out the previous episode, Great Blessing and Great Responsibility.)
In Genesis, we see God, the producer of life, giving humans the ability to reproduce—to be fruitful and multiply. This is the nature of God’s blessing. But when humans try to manipulate God’s blessing and seize it by their own means, they bring about a curse instead. Humans hurt each other in pursuit of what God has called death and they have decided is life. We see this pattern repeat throughout the story of the Bible when children are conceived via men’s abuse of women. For example, when Abraham fails to trust God’s promised blessing of a son, he and Sarah choose to abuse their servant Hagar, and Abraham has a child with Hagar. Hagar and her son Ishmael are eventually sent away when Sarah receives the son God promised, Isaac.
Instead of acting like God’s chosen one and blessing other people, Abraham brings a curse to others.
In part two (17:30-28:20), Tim and Jon discuss the pattern of God’s chosen ones (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) being conduits of the curse just as frequently as they are conduits of blessing. So why does God continue to give responsibility to people that seem unworthy of his trust?
Abraham is “bad” and occasionally acts like the snake from the garden of Eden, but the grandson of Abraham doesn’t just occasionally act like a snake. It seems like he’s born a treacherous, lying snake. What if lying is his language from the womb? That’s exactly what the story of Jacob is all about.
In part three (28:20-45:30), Tim and Jon turn their attention to the life of Jacob and the third movement of Genesis (Gen. 25:19-37:1).
Jacob and his twin brother Esau wrestle each other even within the womb. Before the birth of her sons, God promises Rebekah that the second-born son (Jacob) will rule over the first-born son (Gen. 25:23). God chooses Jacob—a direct contradiction to the ancient Near Eastern cultural practice of first-born sons inheriting the father’s wealth and estate.
Jacob’s name means “heel-grabber,” and it suits him. From the beginning, Jacob repeatedly tries to usurp his brother. In the first story about the brothers in Genesis 25, Jacob buys Esau’s birthright (bekorah) with a bowl of stew. (There’s something powerful here about how often humans exchange God’s blessing for a quick fix.)
Later, Jacob and Rebekah scheme together to steal Esau’s berakah (the blessing of the first-born) with another meal, this time by deceiving Isaac.
Ironically, the blessing that Jacob steals is one God destined him for all along. Jacob is either unaware of what God said about him or he just can’t believe it, so he spends his energy trying to scheme and seize the very things God promised him. He does not trust God.
In part four (45:30-1:05:5), Tim and Jon discuss the conclusion of the third movement of Genesis.
Again and again, Jacob acts like a snake. After he deceives Isaac with Rebekah, we never hear about Rebekah again. She’s the only patriarch or matriarch in Genesis who doesn’t receive an account of her death. It’s as if she has brought a curse upon herself because of the plan she set in motion. What she thought was good in her eyes brings not blessing but death, as well as separation from her beloved son Jacob, who she never sees again.
After this, Jacob enters a 20-year period of exile, leaving home to stay with his uncle Laban. Jacob and Laban take turns deceiving each other. Jacob’s flocks continue to multiply, and he ends up with four wives and 12 sons—all evidence of God’s blessing. But his wives are rivals, and so are his children. His family is divided and constantly hurts each other, and it all stems from Jacob’s own failure to trust God. He remains determined to seize God’s gifts by force at the expense of others.
At the end of this exile, as Jacob prepares to encounter his brother Esau again, he stays up all night scheming, sending his wives and children ahead of him in reverse order of importance. Then God shows up to wrestle with him and punches Jacob in the groin, the biological source of his fruitfulness. Because Jacob won’t receive God’s blessing, God wounds him in the place that allowed him to generate his own blessings. Jacob wrestles God for the blessing God intended for him all along—a summarizing picture of Jacob’s life.
For the rest of his life, Jacob walks with a limp. He’s a wounded chosen one, not unlike other wounded chosen ones we will meet later in the story of the Bible—notably, the suffering servant of Isaiah. But unlike the suffering servant, Jacob brought about his own pain. The suffering servant is righteous, and his wounds are received on behalf of the sins of others. But the message of Jacob’s story is clear: God never forsakes his chosen ones, even those who are less than righteous.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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