When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.
When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, ‘My son’; and he answered, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. Then prepare for me savoury food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.’
Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, …” obey my word as I command you. Go to the flock, and get me two choice kids, so that I may prepare from them savoury food for your father, such as he likes; and you shall take it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.’ But Jacob said to his mother Rebekah, ‘Look, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a man of smooth skin. Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him, and bring a curse on myself and not a blessing.’ … Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. Then she handed the savoury food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob. So he went in to his father, and said, ‘My father’; and he said, ‘Here I am; who are you, my son?’ Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.’ …Then Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.’ So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, ‘The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.’ He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him. He said, ‘Are you really my son Esau?’ He answered, ‘I am.’ … Then his father Isaac said to him, ‘Come near and kiss me, my son.’ So he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said,
‘Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!’
As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of his father Isaac, his brother Esau came in from his hunting. He also prepared savoury food, and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, ‘Let my father sit up and eat of his son’s game, so that you may bless me.’ His father Isaac said to him, ‘Who are you?’ He answered, ‘I am your firstborn son, Esau.’ Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, ‘Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him?—yes, and blessed he shall be!’ When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, ‘Bless me, me also, father!’ But he said, ‘Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.’ Esau said, ‘Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright; and look, now he has taken away my blessing.’
I reflect in the middle of Covid-19. Tomorrow schools close, Mother’s Day is cancelled, Easter is off (we never agree on the date anyway). Who knows where we will be in the week between Pentecost and Trinity when this reflection is due? If you are still here, please pardon my present laughter. Genesis 27: “I am a man of smooth skin” The NSV translation spoils the joke. Alan Bennett had the best version: “I am a SMOOTH man”. I had the luck to be at Oxford when “Beyond the Fringe” was being conceived. Alas, only Bennett survives from that group which satirised the very privileges we enjoyed: Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller. Alan preached the satirical sermon in which life was compared to a tin of sardines. “What we need”, Bennett told us, “is the key to peel back the lid and reveal the truth”. All done in that wonderful tone of voice which only years of reciting the Book of Common Prayer can give you. A SMOOTH man meant something particular in an Oxford environment – it meant aristocratic breeding, effortless confidence and the prospect of something in the City. When Alan Bennett said it, it brought the house down, especially on us Grammar School boys. It still convulses me whenever I read Genesis 27. But through the laughter I spy a grain of truth: here’s a cheating brother, a plotting mother, a father deceived in his dotage and a family at war with itself: Jacob the smooth crook. The same Jacob who became reconciled to his cheated brother? Fathered 12 sons who became the 12 tribes ? Is this the same Jacob who changed his name to Israel and inherited Abraham’s covenant with God? Extraordinary!
How little we know, and how lucky we are.
O Lord, Let the healing grace of your love so transform me that I may play my part in the transfiguration of the world from a place of suffering, death, and corruption to a realm of infinite light, joy and love. Make me so obedient to your spirit that my life may become a living prayer and witness to your unfailing presence. Amen
Oxford Book of Prayer
The Rev’d Peter Moth, retired minister, St Andrew’s URC Kenton, Newcastle upon Tyne.
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