Doing Family is hard! I was thinking about the Bible story of Esau and Jacob from a counseling viewpoint. I thought about how these twins were born and the both parents chose to “like or support and bless” one child over the other. Jacob was his mom’s favorite as he was smooth skinned and liked to garden, probably like his mom. Esau on the other hand was hairy and burly and like to hunt and was probably Dad’s favorite and spent time teaching him hunting skills. Parents do this stuff, right. This is not a new story. This is an old story of how families work.
I image, as in most families with boys that these two brothers wrestled together and competed together on a regular basis. We can guess that Esau won and Jacob learned to be sensitive to when he was going to be “attacked” by his brother and to run really fast. Mom wanted to protect Jacob, easily seeing that he needed protection from a larger opponent. She may have taught him the deception tools they both later used in this story. Dad may have said, “Boys will be boys and it will help Jacob to toughen up.” Isn’t that how it typically goes!! Doing family is hard!
Playing Favorites can lead to Disaster!
We know these things most likely happened because the story tells us that Mom and Jacob were so close that together they deceived Isaac, Jacob’s father. Jacob’s mom clothed Jacob with a disguise so that blind Isaac could not tell his first born, Esau, from his second born, Jacob. In that day, the first born received a special blessing from their father when he was about to die. Soon after deceiving Isaac, Jacob ran for his life, and far away from his brother. Remember that he learned to run most likely from a very early age.
Consider the family dynamics we see already in this story. Parents playing favorites and kids learning how to survive. One child learning the deception is permissible and even advisable and the other child learning that brute strength makes right. This is how three major religions, Christianity, Judaism and Muslims start their story of how God works with His people. But it is also a story about families everywhere.
We don’t hear anything about Esau until many years later. Jacob on the other hand goes to his uncle’s home and works fourteen years for two wives. The first wife he was tricked into marrying and the second wife that he loved. The wife Jacob loved was initially unable to conceive and the other he was not so fond of was abundantly fertile. This was not a good time for Jacob who is used to deceiving to control his outcome.
Working through a History of Mistakes
After working many more years, Jacob was traveling to get away from the father-in-law, Laban. Laban knew the character of Jacob. When Laban discovered the household idols missing he chased down the family of Jacob. He found no idols and let him go. Jacob couldn’t stay where he was, but between him and his own country was his brother, Esau and a company of soldiers. Jacob divides his families so that they all won’t be killed and then goes to spend a night wrestling with God or a ‘man.’
I always wondered why Jacob was wrestling God for a blessing because he got his father Isaac’s blessing albeit by deception. But, I think Jacob was in a new place, now. He had been deceived by Laban about his marriage to Laban’s daughters, and shorted wages many times by Laban after that. I think that must have made him consider how he had dealt with his only brother. If you remember, the blessing from his father was not the only time Jacob deceived his brother. There is also a story about a bowl of lentil soup.
What have we come to be associated with and how to gain freedom?
I think Jacob had come to his end. Many of us have come to our end. We cannot figure out our lives any longer and we need new input and a new hope. Like Jacob, many of us grew up with names we would rather not be known by. Jacob was known as the deceiver. We may struggle with names such as, “I am unlovable,” “I am unworthy,” “I am a loser,” “I am incompetent,” “I am ugly” and the list could go on. Like Jacob, I believe it is a wrestling we must go through.
It takes much courage to face the truth about ourselves. Consider that Jacob prepared himself by sending everything he owned to one side of the river while he fought with God on the other side. It takes the intent of setting aside time and space. Often that is hard in our current life styles, but it is also important for resolution. I recommend finding the time and space.
This struggle typically does not end in a night, even though the story tells otherwise. We probably do not know the whole story of how Jacob may have been fighting this fight even while still living with Laban. It also takes dealing with a lot of shame when we realized the name(s) we received. They were usually places on us at a far too young age to be responsible for this assignment, and caused us to hide and deny they existed. Often by the time we are adults we have hid for a long time. It will have to be more like the peeling of layers of an onion to uncover the names we have come to be known by.
A New Beginning for You, Too!
In the end, Jacob got is name and reputation changed. God, the man, the universe renamed him in this fight. He was no longer Jacob the deceiver, he was Israel. His descendants survive to this day as a great nation! His brother no longer wanted him dead but rejoiced at seeing him. We can get a new name. Often the new name is the antithesis of the first name. It can be done! And it is a great reward for the work done by you. A caveat is that often it is helpful to have a counselor/guide to help with this process.