Mixed-up Blessings

I saw this picture on Pinterest, and it pretty much sums up how the story of Jacob and Esau was taught to me:

Jacob and Esau sunday school

(From the site:  Teaching Kids the Bible)

There are two twin brothers, Esau and Jacob, who are very different.  Esau, the slightly older son, sells his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup.  Jacob also tricks his blind father into giving him his blessing by dressing in Esau’s clothes and putting the skins of young goats on his hands and the back of his neck so that he would smell and feel like Esau.  (I’ve always wondered how any person could be as hairy as a young goat?)

People have different opinions of Jacob, but I’ve always been a secret admirer of his quiet determination and his intellect.  There’s something familiar and relatable about his ability to use his wits to get ahead.  Jacob sees the value in the life of the spirit, not just the life of the physical realm.

As I returned to this story, I found myself trying to understand it better by writing down all the blessings in Genesis up until Isaac’s blessing.  It took pages!  THERE ARE A LOT OF BLESSINGS IN GENESIS!

I also pulled out one of my favorite books:  To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue just to look for an explanation of blessing.  He puts it this way:

The word blessing evokes a sense of warmth and protection; it suggests that no life is alone or unreachable.  Each life is clothed in raiment of spirit that secretly links it to everything else.  Though suffering and chaos befall us, they can never quench that inner light of providence.

As I reread the blessing that Isaac thought he was offering Esau, I noted how different it is from the other blessings in Genesis.  There is no promise of numerous descendants or of the land shown to Abraham.  Instead Isaac offers Esau the blessings that reflect what Esau desired:  prosperity, power, and protection.  It is a blessing that Isaac clearly intended for Esau (and not the birthright blessing!).  Isaac is at first suspicious of Jacob’s voice, but the aroma of Esau from the clothes that Jacob was wearing temporarily overcomes his reluctance. Somehow, providence allows Jacob to be in the right place and for Isaac’s temporary confusion:


When Isaac realizes his mistake, he is visibly shaken.  He’s probably upset that Rebekah and Jacob did not trust him to give the right blessing to Jacob.  Esau is angry, but even more so he is devastated to the point of tears.  It’s hard to imagine a man like Esau crying.  Only when Isaac hears Esau’s tears does he find within him another blessing.  I think as readers we begin to see Esau in a new light, as a man who does have a spiritual side after all.  I thought of another passage from O’Donohue’s book:

A blessing evokes a privileged intimacy.  It touches that tender membrane where the human heart cries out to its divine ground.  In the ecstasy and loneliness of one’s life, there are certain times when blessing is nearer to us than any other person or thing.  A blessing is not a sentiment or a question; it is a gracious invocation where the human heart pleads with the divine heart.  There is nothing more intimate in life than the secret under-territory where it anchors.  Regardless of our differences in religion, language, or concept, there is no heart that is without this inner divine reference.

Esau receives a blessing of his own to live away from the choicest lands, to live by the sword, and to at last be free from the yoke to his brother.  Basically, he receives a place of his own, a power of his own, and ultimately freedom.

After a time of confusion, Isaac calls Jacob to him and gives him the birthright blessing without any confusion, as if he knew he would give Jacob this blessing all along:


So it seems the birthright that Esau gives up was to walk in the way of Abraham and to continue this tradition.  Maybe this part of the story reminds us that while a life of faith is our birthright, it is also something that we have to seek after as Jacob did.  With regard to Esau’s blessings of prosperity, power, and protection:  How would Esau have used them?  Maybe only for himself?  Perhaps Providence places Jacob in the right place because Jacob understands that the blessings of prosperity, power, and protection are given, not for our own desires, but so that we can live as a blessing to others.

As I was illustrating this passage, I felt the need to read the story of the temptation of Jesus in the dessert.  Taking time to slow down and illustrate a verse always leads to interesting connections!  When Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness, he asks Jesus to turn a rock into bread, seek power, and throw himself off a cliff.  I see the same three themes:  prosperity, power, and protection.  Was this Satan’s way of reminding Jesus of Jacob’s stolen blessing?  Jesus shows his perfection by resisting all three temptations.  Jesus makes himself nothing, takes on the nature of a servant, and is obedient to death on a cross.  Thus, God’s plans are fulfilled apart from all the blessings the world has to offer.  There is no greater blessing than knowing Jesus!

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