Saturday, February 2, 2013

Genesis 27 and Early Church Writings [Polycarp to Philippians] 12-14

Genesis 27 - Here is the heart of the Jacob-Esau story. Isaac [Yitzak] “was old and turning blind” (27:1).  He calls for his older son, Esau to make him some of the stew Esau cooks so well; he sends him off, planning to reward him with “the blessing that belongs to his firstborn son” (27:4). The Tanakh calls it his “innermost” blessing. 

But Rebekah overhears her husband’s plan and gets Jacob working on the deception she has planned for a while.  She tells Jacob to go and bring her “two fine young goats. I’ll use them to prepare your father’s favorite dish. Then take the food to your father so he can eat it and bless you before he dies’” (27:9-10). Jacob can’t believe that his father will not notice the deception even though he can’t see. Esau is so much hairier than he is. Rebekah has thought of this already; she will cover her son’s arms with the “skin of the young goats” so that her husband will not recognize Jacob. And she agrees to accept any curse that falls on them because of the lie.

They put the plan to work. The Schocken version emphasizes the sensuousness of the encounter between Isaac and his son Jacob and its importance. Isaac hears Jacob, feels him, smells him but he cannot “see” him.  So he rewards Jacob mistakenly (in his blindness) with the wrong blessing—with Esau’s blessing, entitling him to honor and a double share of all of his possessions.

It is interesting to note that the story seems to imply that Isaac’s blessing of Jacob is irrevocable.  Like a quote from Isaiah 55:11, when his "word” goes out, it cannot be return without “fruit.” I think I remember reading something once about the ancient culture that existed at this time, that what you declared was somehow irrevocable; it made you take very seriously what you promised.

When Esau returns, he approaches his father and gives him the meal he promised. He learns of the double-cross, he lets out “a loud and bitter cry. ‘Oh my father, what about me? Bless me, too!’ he begged” (27:34). His father does give him a blessing, but not the same one. “’You will live away from the richness of the earth, and away from the dew of the heaven above. You will live by your sword, and you will serve your brother. But when you decide to break free, you will shake his yoke from your neck’” (27:39-40).

Esau vows to kill Jacob. Rebekah hears him plotting to do this and steps in again to save her son and assure the proper outcome of the story.  She says three times over the course of the deception and escape “listen to my voice” (27:8, 13, and 43) and Jacob, of course, does.  I feel there is a New Testament “echo” of this story in Jesus’ miracle at Cana in the Gospel of John, when his mother assumes that Jesus will “listen to her voice” even though he does not think it is quite time to begin his ministry?

Because of the deception and the understandable anger of his brother Esau, Jacob must flee to Haran where her brother Laban (Lavan) lives.  Like his father, Jacob too will find a wife there; he may not marry a Hittite wife as Esau has chosen to do.

The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians [c. mid-2nd century)

Chapter 12 – Polycarp is humble about his own command of the Scriptures; he says he knows the Philippian addressees all know more about its secrets than he does. But he quotes 2 Corinthians 3:2: Do not be angry to the point of sin; do not let the sun go down on your indignation.

“Pray for all God’s people. Pray too for our sovereign lords, and for all governors and rulers; for any who ill-use you or dislike you; and for the enemies of the Cross. Thus the fruits of your faith will be plain for all to see, and you will be perfect in Him” (123).

Chapter 13 – He says that they and Ignatius have written to him asking if anyone will be going into Syria, so that letters they have may also be brought there. He assures them he will see that it is done. He sends them Ignatius’ letters in response to their request; and he asks them to send him any news they might have concerning Ignatius or his companions.

Chapter 14 – He commends the man who is carrying his letter to Philippi. “And you shall have a commendation for his sister too, when she reaches you” (124).

No comments:

Post a Comment