Isaac's wife Rebekah gives birth to twin sons, Esau and Jacob. As the first born it should be Esau who inherits God's promise of a land and many descendants, but Esau swaps his birthright for a bowl of stew and Jacob tricks Isaac into giving him the blessing that will put him in charge of the land when his father dies.
Way back near the beginning of Bible times, lived a man called Abraham and his wife Sarah. They were very special people because God had made them two promises. He'd promised to give them a land of their own. Can you imagine having your own country to live in? And he'd promised to give them a family that one day would be so large it would be like the stars in the sky, too many to count. God was quick to keep the promise about the special land – he took them to a beautiful place called Canaan and they settled down to live there. But the promise about the family, well, that took a bit longer! You see, it wasn't until Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah was ninety that she finally gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and they called him Isaac.
Now when Isaac grew up he married a girl called Rebekah and they had to wait a long time to have children too. But when the time came they were fortunate, they had two babies at once – twins. The first little baby boy was born covered from head to foot in hair. Can you imagine having a hairy baby? So they called the little boy Esau, because the name Esau means “hairy”. Think of his first day at school – “What's your name?” the teacher would ask him, “Hairy,” he would reply, “Oh come on! What's your name?” “Hairy!” The second little boy was born straight after the first, he just popped right out because the Bible says he was holding on to his brother's ankle. So they called this boy Jacob, because the name Jacob means “holding the heel”.
As the two boys grew up it soon became obvious that they didn't just look different, they were different kinds of people. Esau was more your outdoors sort of boy, if you'd asked him he would have said,“I like to be in the fields with the animals, I like running and fishing and most of all I like hunting!” But Jacob was more your indoors sort of boy, if you'd asked him he would have said, “I like mathematics and cookery and organising things, but most of all I like to stay at home with mumsy!” Isaac's favourite son was Esau because he loved to hear his stories about hunting and eat the fresh meat that he brought back with him. But Rebekah's favourite son was Jacob because he always stayed at home and kept her company. Everybody knew that when Isaac died Esau would become head of the family and the whole land of Canaan because he had been born first. But everybody also knew that Jacob would be much better at the job. But there was nothing that could be done about it ... or so they thought.
One day, years later, Jacob was in the kitchen making a big pot of stew when along came his brother, Esau. Esau had been away hunting, he'd been gone for days and he was tired and thirsty, but most of all he was hungry. Esau sniffed the air:
“Mmmmm! What's that lovely smell?” he asked.
“I'm making some stew” Jacob replied. “Would you like some?
So Jacob picked up a bowl and he was about to fill it with stew when suddenly he had an idea.
“I say brother, what will you give me in return for this bowl of stew?”
“I don't know, what do you want?”
“I want,” Jacob declared, quick as a flash, “to be head of the family and the land of Canaan when father dies”.
Let's face it, only a complete dummy would swap a whole country for a bowl of stew. But luckily for Jacob, Esau was a complete dummy!
“If I don't eat something soon I'll starve to death and I won't be head of the family and the land then, so I don't suppose it makes any difference. You be in charge, it's fine with me.”
“Do you promise?” asked Jacob.
“You have my word” said Esau and he took his bowl of stew and left.
Jacob hurried off to tell his mother what had happened. But Rebekah understood that it wasn't as simple as that. It wasn't up to Esau who would be the next head of the land of Canaan, it was Isaac's decision. Isaac would give his special blessing to the one he chose – he would put his hands on their shoulders and pray for them, giving them the land, and once it was done there was no going back – and Rebekah knew, Isaac wanted to give the blessing to Esau.
Years and years went by until the day came when Isaac was so old that he knew he didn't have much longer to live, so he called his son Esau to him.
“My son, go hunting and bring me fresh meat and then I will give you my blessing. Off you go!”
Isaac didn't know it, but his wife Rebekah was just outside the tent and she heard everything that he said. She went at once to her other son, Jacob.
“Quickly my son,” she told him, “go to your father now and ask him to give you his special blessing.”
“But mother,” Jacob protested, “Father wants to give his blessing to Esau, he won't give it to me.”
“Don't worry about that,” Rebekah reassured him, “Your father is nearly blind now, he won't realise you're not Esau.”
“But what if he touches me?” Jacob warned, “He'll feel that I'm not all hairy like my brother and then he'll know that I'm not Esau.”
Now that was a problem. Rebekah thought for a minute and then she had an idea. She rushed off and soon returned with armfuls of hairy, smelly goatskins. She wrapped them around Jacob's arms and put one across the back of his neck, and then she dressed him in Esau's finest robe.
“There, that should do the trick,” she said, “Now off you go!”
So Jacob went straight to his father's tent, pushed back the curtain and stepped inside.
“Hello father, I've come for the special blessing.”
“Erm, Esau? Is that you? You sound more like your brother Jacob.”
“Oh, er, no, no, it's definitely me, Esau” Jacob replied, trying his best to sound like his big brother.
“Hmmm,” Isaac muttered, “come closer.”
So trembling with fear, Jacob stepped towards his father who reached out his hands and ran them up and down his son's arms.
“Well, you certainly feel like Esau ... and you definitely smell like him! Alright, kneel down boy and I'll give you my blessing.”
So Jacob knelt down in front of his father who placed his hands on Jacob's shoulders and prayed for him, making him head of the family, giving him the land of Canaan, and once it was done there was no going back.
As soon as it was over, Jacob hurried off to tell his mother what had happened. At that very moment Esau returned from the hunt. He went straight to Isaac's tent and greeted him, “Here I am father! I've brought you fresh meat, now give me your blessing.”
The moment the poor old man heard the voice, his heart began to break.
“Oh my son, your brother came here pretending to be you and I gave him my special blessing!”
“What?” demanded Esau, “Take it back! Give it to me!”
“I can't!” groaned Isaac, “Once the blessing has been given it cannot be taken back.”
“Well what's left for me?”
“Nothing,” the old man murmured.
“JACOB!” Esau roared, “When I get my hands on him I'm going to kill him!”
When Rebekah heard that Esau was threatening to kill his brother she called Jacob to her.
“Gather your things and get out of here,” she commanded him, “head for the town of Haran and when you get there ask for my brother, Laban, he'll take care of you.”
So Jacob packed his bags and without stopping to look back he ran and he didn't return until his brother had calmed down. He was gone for twenty years! While he was away he had the most amazing series of adventures, but that's a story for some other time.