These chapters give us the story of Isaac marrying Rebekah, and then of the contentions between their sons Esau and Jacob. Notice the repetitions: first, in the narrative style, for example where the story of the servant going to seek a wife and meeting Rebekah is then repeated nearly verbatim in the servant's telling of the story to Rebekah's family; and second, in the ways Isaac's story repeats thematic elements of Abraham's, particularly in Rebekah's barrenness and in Isaac's deception regarding his wife with Abimelech, the same king with whom Abraham had this trouble! Now see how these elements regarding identity, truthfulness and trickery, and familial relationships become expanded and complicated in Jacob's case. Don't get lost in the details, but do attend to the twists and turns of the plot – these entanglements make a good story, and lead us to new insights into how ancient Israel saw their relationships with each other and with this God character.
Questions to ponder while reading:
- Barrenness and fertility were obviously of great significance in a world that depended on familial connections for stability and potential wealth – but of what significance are they to God's involvement in this story?
- Jacob has two extraordinary encounters with God - the vision of the ladder, and wrestling with an angel - what are we to make of them? Can we see them metaphorically, or does their supernatural nature put us off too much?
- Why couldn't God have picked a nicer guy than Jacob? Or at least one more honest? What do the twists and turns in these tales of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob say about the idea that God has a plan, and that humanity has a role in seeing the plan fulfilled?