Peace train

When Jacob had moved to Haran twenty years earlier, Esau had also moved away from his father’s house. He had taken his wives, children, livestock, and possessions, and settled in the hill country of Seir. Now, as Jacob and his entourage drew closer to his brother, he decided to dispatch couriers ahead of them to seek peace with Esau.

When Jacob’s messengers arrived, they said to Esau, “Your servant Jacob has been living with your Uncle Laban until recently. He now has oxen, donkeys, sheep, and slaves, and he sent us in hopes that you’ll receive him on friendly terms.”

“Tell Jacob,” Esau answered, “that I’m coming to meet him with an army of four hundred.”

When they returned and told Jacob what Esau had said, Jacob was terrified. He split his camp into two companies and divided his livestock equally so that half of his estate could still survive the wrath of Esau.

Then he prayed. “O God, O Master, you told me to go back home, and you said you’d be with me. I went to Haran with a shepherd’s crook and a father’s blessing, and now I’m a wealthy man. I’m not worthy of your love and faithfulness, but I ask that you save my family and me from my brother’s anger. You said you’d make my offspring like the countless sands of the shore.”

Jacob continued to pray into the night until he fell asleep. The next morning, he brought out two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, gave them to a servant and said, “Deliver these goats to my brother and say, ‘These are a peace offering from your servant Jacob, and he is coming behind us.’”

Then he took two hundred ewes and twenty rams from his flock. He gave them to another servant and told him the same thing he told the first servant, adding, “Keep space between you and my servant ahead of you.”

Next, he took thirty milking camels and their young, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys, and ten male donkeys. Again he gave each species of animal to a servant and had him form the next drove in a long line of gifts for his brother. “Tell him your servant Jacob comes behind us,” he told each one, “but keep a distance between the drove ahead of you.”

Jacob hoped that by the time he met his brother Esau, his anger would have subsided. In the meantime, he waited for each drove to take its turn toward Esau, and he continued to sleep unsettled for another night.

Inspiration: Genesis 32, 36

Deceptive departure

Laban’s sons moaned incessantly about Jacob gradually taking all their dad’s property and becoming unreasonably wealthy. Jacob overheard them talking and realized why the sudden change in Laban’s usual behavior toward him.

Jacob spent time meditating on what he should do.

Then God showed up. “Enough of this now,” God said. “Go back to your kin, and I’ll be with you as always.”

Jacob called his wives out to the field where he was watching the flocks and said, “You both know I’ve given your dad the best years of my life. He’s tried to embezzle wages from me ten times, but the God of my dad has kept that from happening. If your dad said he’d give me the spotted sheep in the fold, every flock would bear spotted sheep. If he promised me the striped, then suddenly striped sheep would come from the offspring. Little by little, this is how God has taken your dad’s livestock away, and now it’s become clear that I’ve overstayed my welcome.”

Rachel and Leah looked at each other. “Do we have any reason to stay?” Rachel asked.

“We’re considered strangers here since we were sold,” Leah said.

“And what inheritance comes from a man who’s lost everything,” Rachel added.

Then they turned to Jacob and spoke in unison. “Do what God says.”

Rachel returned to the main house, and while her dad was shearing sheep in the outbuilding, she went through each room and stole Laban’s household gods and wrapped them in cloth.

Without telling Laban of his plans to leave, Jacob packed his bags and all his belongings. In the morning, he and his family rode out on camels for the land of Canaan. Unbeknownst to Jacob, Laban’s stolen property lined the underside of Rachel’s saddle, wrapped in cheesecloth.

Inspiration: Genesis 31

Dueling tricksters

By the time Joseph was born, Jacob had had enough of the deceiver, Laban. “It’s time to free me from service and let me go to my own country,” Jacob grumbled. “Let me take my wives and children, whom I purchased with honest, hard work.”

“Allow me to say, if you will,” Laban answered, hoping to persuade him to stay, “you and I both know God has blessed me through you. If you agree to stay, I’ll pay you whatever wages you demand.”

“A familiar offer, Uncle,” Jacob said. “But I wonder, are you capable of a good, clean deal?”

“You have my word.”

Laban’s word was worthless, but Jacob decided this might be his only opportunity to get the better of his employer.

“Do you admit that my service record is impeccable,” Jacob asked, “and that your livestock has fared well under my management?”

“Absolutely,” Laban agreed.

“Honestly, you were nothing before I came along, and now you thrive. God has blessed whatever I’ve touched.”

“Yes, Nephew, yes.”

“But how do you expect me to provide for both you and my growing household?”

“Name your price,” was Laban’s eager reply.

“Okay,” Jacob said. “Pay me nothing.”

“I don’t follow.” Laban was stumped.

“If you agree to my terms, I’ll keep feeding and protecting your flocks.”

“What do you have in mind?” Laban asked, feeling suddenly uneasy.

Jacob said, “Let me take all your blemished sheep and goats, and you can keep all the pure, white sheep. Only the marked animals will be mine. Further, I’ll insist that you inspect my wages with your own eyes so that my integrity isn’t questioned later. If you find among my flocks and herds a single animal without blemish, you can call me a thief.”

Laban was all too eager to agree to the deal, but before Jacob had a chance to sort all the animals, Laban removed every goat and lamb with the slightest mark and placed them in the care of his sons. Then he distanced those blemished flocks from the spotless flocks by a three-day journey. He put the rest in the care of Jacob.

Jacob was accustomed to Laban’s dishonesty through the long years of toil, and he assumed the man would play dirty, but he was also confident that God would be on his side, no matter the outcome.

During mating season, Jacob pulled out all the stops. He would attempt the ambitious feat of modifying the herds in his favor, using selective breeding techniques, a little primitive magic, and a lot of prayers.

One night, Jacob dreamed that only the male goats with spots and blemishes were healthy and active in the pen. The spotless goats were lethargic and weak. Then an angel of God appeared in the dream and said, “I’ve noticed Laban’s dishonesty. Now notice all the healthy goats, leaping atop the weak, are yours. I am the God of Bethel, the same God who appeared where you anointed the rock with wine and oil and made a vow to me. It’s nearly time to go home and leave this place behind.”

For six more years, God blessed Jacob. Not only did the spotless herd gradually turn speckled, spotted, striped, and black, but any unblemished sheep left were sad and frail.

So after a total of twenty years serving Laban, Jacob grew filthy rich on flocks, herds, camels, donkeys, and slaves, and his desire to leave Laban’s household grew to a fevered pitch.

Inspiration: Genesis 30

Selecting wives

Esau hated Jacob for the wholesale robbery of their father’s blessing, and he was often heard mumbling his plan of revenge.

“After Father dies and I’ve mourned his death, I’ll snuff out that thief in the night and take back what’s mine by right.”

Rebekah heard Esau’s venomous pronouncements, so she called for Jacob. “Run to your uncle Laban’s house in Haran,” she said, “and stay there until Esau’s anger has subsided. When your offense is no more than a distant memory, I’ll send a messenger for you. Don’t make me mourn the loss of my husband and my beloved son at the same time.”

Then Rebekah insisted that Isaac have a heart to heart with Jacob about a wife.

“These Hittite women make me want to puke,” she complained. “If Jacob marries one, I see no reason to live.”

So Isaac sat his younger son down and said, “Look, don’t marry a Canaanite. Instead, go to Grandpa Bethuel’s house and find a wife among Laban’s daughters. God’ll give you the family blessing, numberless descendants and all the real estate you could ever want.”

After hearing from both of his parents, and seeing they were in agreement for once, Jacob left for Haran to find his uncle, Laban.

In the meantime, after having overheard the part of the conversation about not marrying a Canaanite, and realizing his wives disgraced his parents, Esau went to visit his uncle, Ishmael. While there, he took Ishmael’s daughter Mahalath, also called Basemath, as a wife in addition to his foreign wives, Judith, Adah, and Oholibamah.

Inspiration: Genesis 27-28

Twice bitten

No sooner had Isaac finished blessing his son Jacob, that Esau returned from hunting game for his father. Jacob slipped out the back way while his older brother prepared a hearty meal of roasted ibex and bread, just the way his father liked it.

Bringing the hot dish to his father’s side table, Esau said, “Sit up, Father, and eat. Afterward, you can give me your blessing.”

Isaac, already sitting up, suddenly had a perplexed look on his face. “Who are you?” he asked.

I’m your firstborn, Esau.”

Isaac began to shake. “To whom did I just give my blessing?” he asked. “To whom offered me a meal of meat, fresh from the field? Who watched me as I ate every bite?”

Isaac bowed his head and sighed. His son stood in confusion. “Whoever he was, he’ll be blessed indeed.”

Esau grabbed his father’s lapel violently and wailed, “Bless me too, Father!”

Isaac’s head remained bowed, unflinching. His words were calm and evenly paced. “Your brother deceived me and has taken away your blessing.”

Esau slowly released his grip from his father’s bedclothes. “My brother is aptly named ‘Jacob’… Supplanter.” Esau grimaced and backed away from the bed. “Twice he has nipped at my heel, taking what is mine. First, my birthright, and now my blessing.”

A lamp flickered in the corner of the room, and Esau could see that his father was just as distressed by Jacob’s betrayal as he was. For a few minutes, neither said a word.

Then Esau asked, “Have you not reserved any blessing for your other son?”

Isaac lifted his head, his eyes in a dead stare at whoever was facing him. “I’ve already given Jacob lordship over you, and all his brothers will be his servants. My granaries, herds, flocks, and vineyard are now his. There’s nothing left.”

“Are you telling me you can only bless one of us?” Esau asked. “Bless me, too!” he said. “Please, Father!” Then Esau began to cry.

Isaac raised a hand and said, “Your existence will be desolate and barren. You’ll live in perpetual conflict, a servant to Jacob. But you’ll eventually break free, destroying the bonds that hold you to your brother.”

Esau left his father and wandered into the dark night.

Inspiration: Genesis 27

Stolen blessing

Esau was forty when he married Judith and Adah. Neither Isaac nor Rebekah were impressed with his taste in women, mainly because they were Hittites.

When Isaac was close to death and had all but lost his vision, he called for Esau. “My time here is short, son,” he said, “and one of the last things on my bucket list is a meal of fresh game from my favorite son’s bow.  Go. I want to give you my blessing before I die.”

Rebekah overheard their conversation, so when Esau took to the field with his quiver and bow, she pulled Jacob aside and said, “Get the best two kids from the flock so I can prepare delicious cutlets for your father. After you serve him the meal pretending to be Esau, he’ll bless you.”

But Jacob answered, “Esau is a hairy fellow, and I’m as slick as an eel. What if Father reaches out and literally feels the betrayal? He’ll curse me as well as my future children.”

“No, he’ll curse me,” his mother assured him. “Now, go.”

Jacob brought in the meats, and his mother made Isaac a meal fit for a king. Then she disguised Jacob in some of Esau’s clothes and attached the hides of the freshly skinned goats to Jacob’s hands and neck.

“Now,” she smiled satisfactorily, handing Jacob a bowl and some bread, “serve your father this food, so he will bless you.”

Jacob went in, and his father asked, “Who are you, my son?”

“I’m Esau,” Jacob rasped, then cleared his throat. “I’m your firstborn. I’ve come back from hunting, and I’ve prepared some food the way you like it. Sit up and eat so you can bless me.”

“That was quick,” his father answered, sitting up and leaning on his banister.

“God brought me success.”

“Come over here, son,” Isaac said, “so I can touch you and confirm that you’re really Esau.”

Jacob approached his father, his heart pounding, and he placed the dish of food onto his father’s side table.

“You are Esau, aren’t you?” he asked, after feeling his son’s arms.

“Yes, Father,” Jacob said with a sigh of relief.

“Bring me my food,” Isaac concluded, so I may eat of your game and bless you.”

Jacob moved the table close to his father’s bed and served him the prepared goat cutlets. Isaac enjoyed every bite of his meal and chased it down with some wine.

Then Isaac said, “Come and give me a kiss, son.”

Jacob came close and kissed his father. Isaac recognized the scent of Esau on the clothes Jacob was wearing, so Isaac blessed him right then and there.

“The scent of my son is like a field blessed of God. May God grant you the best of heaven and earth. Let other nations serve you, and may your brothers submit to you in your dominion. Those who curse you are themselves cursed. Those who bless you are blessed indeed.”

Inspiration: Genesis 26-27

Eternal contract

When Abram was nearly a hundred years old, God appeared and said, “I’m God Almighty. Walk before me and be perfect, and I’ll promise you a kingdom of abundance.”

Abram fell on his face.

God continued, “Here’s the promise: I’m making you the father of many nations. Your name is now changed to “Abraham,” Father Of Nations. Kings and priests will come from you. This promise is established forever through every generation. I’ll give you and your offspring this foreign land, all of Canaan forever, and I will be their God.”

Abraham remained flat on the ground with his forehead jammed into the dirt.

“As for you and your side of the promise,” God said, “you and every male among you, through every generation, will have their foreskin removed. This is the sign of our contract. When each boy is eight days old, including slaves born in your house or any other male purchased with money, they will be circumcised. Why? This is a formal contract, and for it to be irrevocable, it must cut into the most intimate part of the flesh. Anyone who has not had his foreskin cut off will himself be cut off from your people because he will have broken the promise.”

Abraham flinched uncomfortably as the reality of the command set in.

“As for Sarai,” God continued, “she is now Sarah, and she will give you a son. I will bless her, and nations and kings will issue from her womb.”

Abraham laughed and muttered, “We’re too old to have children.” Then he lifted his head toward heaven. “Bring Ishmael into the blessing. He’s my son.”

God answered, “Sarah will bear you a son next year, and you’ll call him Isaac. Through him, my eternal contract will be secured and fulfilled, not with Ishmael. As for Ismael, I will bless him for your sake and give him a large family. He will be a great nation, the father of twelve princes.”

Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the male slaves born or purchased in his house, and he cut off their foreskins. Then he had Eliezer cut off his master’s foreskin.

Ishmael was thirteen years old when his foreskin was removed.

Inspiration: Genesis 17

Salem’s visit

So Lot and his family settled at Sodom, where King Bera, along with the kings of Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela, was growing tired of paying tribute to Chedorlaomer, King of Elam.

Chedorlaomer and his band of loyal kings went down to the Valley of Siddim to quell the rebellion and to force tribute, if only by the tip of the sword.

The valley was peppered with tar pits. As Bera and the other rebel kings fled the imposing wrath of Elam, some fell prey to these holes while the rest found safety in the hills. Chedorlaomer went and claimed the spoils of Sodom and Gomorrah, including Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions.

One of the Sodomite rebels who escaped by the skin of his teeth fled to Mamre Oaks for help. When Abram learned of his nephew’s capture, he rallied all his blood relations together, those who had been trained in the art of war and the fledgling Hebron religion. They totaled 318 Hebrews, an impressive mob but a paltry turnout for a menacing army.

So Abram called on his allies, Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner, and together they pursued the armies of Chedorlaomer as far as Dan. There they hung back and regrouped. At nightfall, Abram ordered the men to divide their ranks and attack Elam at Hobah.

This strategy brought Chedorlaomer and his mighty armies to their knees. Abram rescued Lot and all his possessions. Although he was under no obligation, he liberated the Sodomite captives along with their goods as well.

Abram and his men were camped down at King’s Valley when the king of Sodom came out to meet him. Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High, also came and presented refreshments of bread and wine to Abram and his men.

Melchizedek blessed Abram, saying, “God Most High, maker of all things, blesses you, Abram. May God Most High be blessed for delivering your enemies to you.”

As a token of his gratitude, Abram gave King Melchizedek a tenth of all the spoils of war.

King Bera of Sodom pulled Abram aside and said, “As long as you’re divvying up the spoils, give me the people, and you can have the goods.”

Abram grimaced. In a sharp tone, he answered, “I swore to my Lord, God Most High, maker of all things, that I’d not take a single thread or shoe. I’ll not have it said by anyone, ‘I have made Abram rich.’”

The king slumped, and Abram left him in a blank stare.

Abram concluded the kings’ conference. “I’ll take nothing except what my men have eaten. Let my allies, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.”

When they had finished dividing everything, the men disbursed.

Inspiration: Genesis 14