The voice of Jacob, hands of Esau!

I’m back again with the story of Jacob … probably some catching up time for me with stories I thought I understood having heard them already in Sunday School, yet continuing to finding new meaning in them.

Good Monday Morning to this week 40 of 2019

The voice of Jacob and the hands of Esau! Isaac takes a both/and approach.
Let’s have a look at it:

One verse in particular is fascinating. In Genesis 27, Jacob takes food and bread from Rebekah to his aged, blind father. “I am Esau your firstborn”, he says, as he hands Isaac the meal, asking for his patriarchal blessing, an act more assuredly political and symbolic than personal and intimate. At first, Isaac is surprised at how quickly the hunter had succeeded at his task and, perhaps because he is a bit suspicious, he asks his son to come close so that he can feel him, to determine whether or not he is really Esau. Then comes the crucial verse 22: “So Jacob drew close to his father, Isaac, who felt him and wondered, ‘The voice is the voice of Jacob, yet the hands are the hands of Esau.'”

Is the assumption right that Isaac does not realize that it is Jacob standing before him, and so Isaac blesses him? Yet what does this peculiar remark “The voice is the voice of Jacob, yet the hands are the hands of Esau” mean?

Here is one obvious possibility: Isaac uses his other senses to compensate for his blindness. When Jacob speaks to him, Jacob says that he is Esau. But Isaac is incredulous because the voice sounds like Jacob’s. So he feels his son’s arms and neck, which Rebekah had covered with the skins of kids, and they feel like Esau’s. Now Isaac is confused, and he utters the above statement expressing his puzzlement: Who stands before me? Who has brought me my favorite meal? Who seeks my parental blessing? The text says: “Isaac did not recognize him” but gives him the blessing nonetheless. Why? Does Isaac weigh the evidence? Does he choose to credit his sense of touch more than his hearing and his memory? Or does he decide to trust what his son has told him, namely, that he is Esau? We do not know. Isaac blesses even though he is confused: The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.

Who is this before me? Do I trust myself, my senses? Or do I trust my son? How about vocalizing the conflict: The voice, listen to the voice, its tone, and timbre; but the hands are the hands of Esau-this is what they tell me, indeed this is what he says to me. But I am his father. Would he lie to me?

What went through Jacobs mind;  … as I decked out in these skins to fool my old, blind father, hungry for his blessing, his power. A minute ago, I knew he was suspicious, but now, I think that I have persuaded him. He has stroked my arms and felt my neck; he is fooled.  He cannot trust his grasp of who I really am but must trust how I seem to be. My deception has worked. He blesses me because I deserve to receive his blessing.

To the storyteller; are the stakes greater, neither personal, nor familial, nor even political, but rather mythic? Here are two dimensions of human existence, culture and nature, speech and violence. Which shall receive the blessing of the future? Which shall flourish and rule? Which shall be the master and govern the ways of human life and the ways of nations? Or might it be that there is no alternative, no either/or? Isaac blessed the one who stood before him. He was worried but resolute. The decision would not be wholly rational and cultivated nor wholly violent and driven by passion. It would be both, for the voice is the voice of Jacob, and the hands are the hands of Esau.

Jacob may have thought that Isaac was fooled, yet this was not the same for Isaak. Feeling Jacob’s arms and neck did not resolve Isaac’s suspicions but deepened them. As verse 23 says, because of those hairy arms, Isaac “did not recognize him.” Why? Because the sons he had known were either/or, while the man who stood before him was both/and. Isaac was surprised by what it was going to be because his senses were confined to the past. But he did bless this man. Why? Because he accepted the past for what it was and the future for what it would be: All of his offspring would have the voice of Jacob and the hands of Esau.

Is it possible that this approach both/and, was an alternative version of the story that eventually found its way into the text. If so, Isaac did not ask the question once again, looking for confirmation but in doing so accepted their verdict. Rather, Isaac never recognized the man as either Esau or Jacob because he was both-a symbol of human existence as a struggle between culture and nature. He blessed him nonetheless, with the words ringing in his ears and ours: “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” This passage was inpired by texts of M. L. Morgan.

The God of the Old was not invisible or an abstraction. He appeared to people – often when not expected or sought out and sometimes he was not recognized. Many of these moments often perceived as confusion in which an encounter, a special encounter was first mistaken as the confusion of ordinary people, was much more an encounter with God, purposely orchestrated by God! God was always there, but standing just behind the curtain of ordinary reality!

I wish you a blessed week as you keep discovering an awesome God, even in parts your mundane, ordinary life!


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