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Jacob the Patriarch:

Pope Shenouda III | 6 March 2011

 God chose Jacob before his birth, and gave him blessing and authority while still in his mother's womb, for God said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger." (Gen 25: 23) The older is Esau, and the younger Jacob.

   St. Paul the Apostle says in this context, "The children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls, it was said to her, 'The older shall serve the younger.'  As it is written, 'Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.'" (Rom 9: 11- 13) The story of Jacob reveals how God chooses the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty (1 Cor 1: 27).
 
   Jacob was weak and afraid of his strong and mighty brother Esau, the man of hunting and arrows. He was greatly afraid and distressed (Gen 32: 7), and prayed God, saying, "Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children." (Gen 32: 11) Jacob actually was always weak before Esau, but the only time he could prevail over him was when Esau was tired and weak and said, "Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?" (Gen 25: 32)
 
   God always supports the weak and humble but leaves the powerful and self-conceited to their power, though for a while, until they recognize that their power will avail them nothing and cry out in weakness seeking power from God.
 
   God often chooses the weak; He chose the weak Jacob as He afterwards chose young David from among the sons of Jesse by the hand of Samuel the Prophet. David kept this in his mind, and chanted, "I was smaller than my brothers, youngest of my father's sons," "My brothers are big and smart, greater than me, but God was not pleased with them." On the contrary, people usually choose the strong; when they wanted a king they rejoiced at choosing Saul, because he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward (1 Sam 10: 23)!
 
   Strange indeed that although Jacob had his weaknesses and wrongdoings, God's Spirit worked in him and turned him into such a saint whose intercession we seek in our prayers! One of his faults was relying on human arm and worldly wiles to settle his problems. He for instance seized the opportunity of seeing his brother hungry and tired to take his birthright for some food he gave him, saying, "Sell me your birthright as of this day." "Swear to me as of this day." (Gen 25: 31, 33) This is not an indication of love, besides, the birthright is not something to sell or purchase. He did other wrong things as, for instance, deceiving his father Isaac to receive his blessing, encouraged by his mother Rebekah. She was a holy woman, but she encouraged him to lie and to use human wiles wrongly. Jacob was afraid lest he receive curse, but she said to him, "Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice." (Gen 27: 13)
 
   Once again he tried to make up for the losses caused by his uncle Laban, by deceit (Gen 30: 37- 43). His uncle was about to do him evil but for God's intervention to protect him (Gen 31: 27). However, in spite of all this I wonder that the divine inspiration says, "Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents." (Gen 25: 27) Certainly he was good in other things, at least with respect to faith (Heb 11: 21), to honoring his parents as far as he could, not taking a wife from the daughters of Canaan as they wished (Gen 28: 1). He did not do like his brother Esau who took two wives from the Hittites, and they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah (Gen 26: 35). Jacob also was decent, unlike his brother who was a profane and cruel person (Heb 12: 16).
 
   His faults were out of weakness rather than out of corrupted nature, so God cleansed him of his faults, and he became as white as snow and the spirit of prophecy worked in him. God also blessed Ephraim and Manasseh, and his other children (Gen 48: 14- 19; 49). As he said it happened, according to God's foreknowledge. God chose Jacob rather than Esau, before they were born or did good or evil, for, "Whom He foreknew, He also predestined …these He also called … He also justified … He also glorified." (Rom 8: 29, 30) God knows everything before it takes place, so we read with amazement that Rebekah conceived, but the children struggled together within her (Gen 25: 22)! People struggle in life, but it is strange that they struggle before being born! Esau won the first round, for he came out red like a hairy garment all over. So they called his name Esau (Gen 25: 25). By birth, he was the firstborn and the elder, but God's will was different: "The older shall serve the younger." (Gen 25: 23) Because he was profane, he despised his birthright and sold it for lentils (Gen 25: 34). Although firstborn, but according to God, "Many who are first will be last, and the last first." (Mk 10: 31)
 
   If God puts you last, do not grieve or be depressed, for this maybe for a certain purpose, for He says, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." (Mk 9: 35; 10: 44; Mt 20: 27)
   God could have made Jacob come first from his mother's womb, but He wanted him to be the younger, so that he might be humbled and might seek God's help. For the same reason God willed that Jacob be physically weaker than Esau, although Esau's physical strength benefited him nothing except raising fear within Jacob! Esau was a hunter, a man of the field who can subjugate wild animals (Gen 25: 27), and dart arrows. Hunting perhaps implanted much cruelty within him, so he said afterwards, "I will kill my brother Jacob" (Gen 27: 41), but God does not like cruelty or violence, and those who use these means divert themselves from God. Many of those whom God fought were violent, and the Scripture says, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (Jas 4: 6)
 
   Jacob struggled in his mother's womb but could not succeed.
   Esau, the stronger embryo, came out first. Neither Jacob nor Esau benefited from the struggle, because God had another dispensation, which He had declared, a divine wisdom, a divine will that should be done.    The struggle continued between the brothers after their birth, concerning the birthright, then concerning the blessing from their old father Isaac, and finally between their offspring. This perhaps was what God meant by saying, "Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other." (Gen 25: 23) Jacob's offspring are the people of Israel, whereas Esau's offspring are the people of Edom, after the name of Esau, who was called Edom (Gen 25: 30).
 
   History tells about the wars between the people of Israel and the people of Edom, and the Psalm says, "Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem, who said, 'Raze it, raze it, to its very foundation!'" (Ps 137: 7)
   The struggle continued even between the tow sisters the wives of Jacob, to the extent of wrestling to bear children to Jacob, even from their handmaids! Rachel therefore said, "With great wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister." (Gen 30: 8) They also wrestled concerning Jacob's love for each of them. So, when Leah bore Reuben, she said, "My husband will love me," (Gen 29: 32) and when she bore Levi, she said, "Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons." (Gen 29: 34) In this way, Jacob's offspring became a nation, and likewise Esau's. Here we recall God's words to Rebekah, "Two nations …"
 
   Indeed, a son may become a whole nation, as Jacob and his brother, and an individual likewise may become many nations, as our father Abraham the Patriarch, and our father Noah the father of all humans after the great flood. This teaches us a lesson concerning the duty of the parents towards their children. Parents ought to be aware that each of their sons will be a family branching into more families. Not only the sons, but also the daughters will be families. That is why it was said to Rebekah when she was going to get married to our father Isaac, "May you become the mother of thousands of ten thousands." (Gen 24: 60) However, the father and the mother of Jacob and Esau differed concerning them, for Isaac loved Esau, while Rebekah loved Jacob (Gen 25: 28). 
What was the impact of this on the life of each? This we shall explain next week – God willing.

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