Genesis 27 – The Big Grift

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Today’s PassageGenesis 27

Here it is: the Second Big Grift. We already saw the First Big Grift back in Genesis 25:27-34, in which Jacob takes advantage of his brother Esau’s hunger to trade a bowl of stew for the right of primogeniture. The Second Big Grift also involves food: as Isaac’s eyesight fails in his old age, Rebecca convinces Jacob to pose as Esau and deliver a savory meal to his father in order to secure the firstborn’s blessing as well. Living up to his name, Jacob once again plays the heel by grabbing the heel. And here’s the big question for today: is God getting behind all this chicanery?

You may have noticed that the patriarchs aren’t exactly Kings of Telling the Truth All the Time, or even of Good Behavior in General. I can understand that God’s blessing them doesn’t mean that he approves of their actions; I’m down with God being better to them than they deserve. But Jacob snags the blessing and birthright at Esau’s expense! Abraham’s initial windfall of wealth is a gift from Pharaoh, which he only manages to keep because Pharaoh’s in such a dang hurry to get Abraham out of Egypt (12:17-20). At the end of the day, Pharaoh’s out a hot buck because he was generous while Abraham was a craven liar.

So often, the blessing comes at someone’s expense. It’s one thing for God to forgive and to give from his own goods; it’s another for God to let Jacob get away with the Two Big Grifts. Honestly, the best shot at exonerating God in this bizarre courtroom I’ve concocted (and I’m aware of the absurdity of, in effect, a stuffed animal putting on trial before a jury of its stuffed-animal peers the being that sewed together every single one of them) is Plato. In Plato’s Gorgias dialogue, Socrates maintains at length that “It is better to suffer evil than to do it.” In Jacob’s deceptive transaction, Jacob is the real loser. He may have the birthright and the blessing, but now he also has to live with himself. Esau doesn’t have to suffer through that.

Have you ever read St. Augustine’s Confessions? There’s this story in there about a young Augustine and his friends stealing pears from some guy’s pear tree just for kicks. As he recalls the incident, Augustine is struck by how they were doing a bad thing just to be doing a bad thing. It was far worse not to get caught, because with no correction, Augustine became the sort of horrible person who steals pears just for kicks. Independent of any change in fortunes, the punishment for doing evil is having done evil.

On the other hand, at the risk of undermining my own hypothesis, I observe that Jacob’s deception drives a hard wedge between him and his older brother. Esau goes so far as to make homicidal, Cainish plans: “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob” (27:41). Jacob not only gets his hands dirty robbing his brother of the blessing, he also loses any semblance of a positive relationship with his brother.

It’s not so great to be Jacob. And yet, as his story goes on, I think we’ll see that it is great to be Jacob after all, because how do you live with yourself when you’re the Jacob that it’s not so great to be? Maybe, just maybe, you find forgiveness, and maybe you even learn how to give instead of take.

3 thoughts on “Genesis 27 – The Big Grift

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