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Jacob was born to be a deceiver. He came out of Rebekah's womb "grasping the heel" of his older brother Esau, setting the pattern of deception his life would soon take. But he was also born of God's promise, born to be the father of Nations and revered by his people. How can a trickster inherit such a high place of esteem without earning God's approval through pious prayer and obedience? Elijah the prophet was also special to God; but it was not his patronage that was highly valued, it was his heart after God that won His favor. God rewarded Elijah's obedience with the rare and holy gift of eternal life- but where was his covenant, his descendants that would live "eternally"? Jacob and Elijah are as different as night is to day; one is a trickster, the other a prophet. One relies on his wits, the other is totally dependant upon God's guidance. Yet, they are both highly rewarded by God. How can this apparent contradiction in the degree of reverence and obedience required in a sincere relationship with God be explained?
When Rebekah, wife of Issac, was pregnant with twins she asked the Lord why they jostled her so much. The Lord answered by foretelling that both children would sire a nation, and the elder child would serve the younger. When Rebekah was in labor, the second child came out grasping the heel of the first, so they named him Jacob- which means "he grasps the heel" and figuratively means "he deceives".
When we first come upon the grown figure of Jacob, he hardly seems a pious or God-fearing man. On the contrary, he is a self-absorbed and self-reliant guy, one who trusts mainly in his own cleverness. True, unlike Esau, who treats it with contempt, Jacob is keenly interested in the birthright: the rights and privileges belonging to the first-born as future replacement for his father Isaac as head of the family. But, though for this reason clearly superior to his older brother, Jacob is not yet fit for the covenant, and it seems likely that he is interested more in the privileges that attach to the birthright (gain and honor) than in its obligations (spiritual and moral leadership).
Jacob believes that he can solve the birth-order problem by himself, and that he can do so without his father's knowledge by his cleverness alone (the sale of the birthright for a bowl of stew). But if one has no reverence for one's father, how can one feel reverence for God? And how can one be a true heir of the way of Abraham if one relies solely on one's own cleverness? Even after Reb
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