What do you mean God speaks?

S3E11: Who does God bless? (Jacob and Esau)

December 15, 2022 Paul Seungoh Chung Season 3 Episode 11
What do you mean God speaks?
S3E11: Who does God bless? (Jacob and Esau)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

We're back with part 1 of the two-episode exploration of Jacob's life.       

What does it mean to be blessed by God? What is it about Jacob and his life that Genesis identifies him as the spiritual ancestor and representative of the people that God personally speaks with--people who journeys with God? After all, Jacob is an unlikely figure for a hero of a story. He lies to his father, tricks his brother, and even his deceptions are not due to his wit, but his mother's. We will find out in the next two episodes.
 0:00   From Abraham to Isaac to Jacob and Esau     
 4:35   What does inquire from the LORD mean?       
 10:22   Jacob and Esau, twins who were very different       
 16:55   The strangeness of Jacob being the hero of this story       
 24:35    The real question that the story asks       
 29:47   Why would God speak through dreams?         

Support the show

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/whatdoyoumeangodspeaks/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Paul_Seungoh
website: https://whatdoyoumeangodspeaks.buzzsprout.com/

* Please review or rate this series on Apple Podcast and other platforms!
* You can financially support this show by clicking the "Support the Show" line above.

“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,” or so says God in Malachi, the last of the prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible. [ To be precise, this is the shortened version that Apostle Paul quotes in his letter to the Romans in the New Testament Bible. ] 

Now, this statement refers to the special relationship between God, and the people of Israel who were the descendants of Jacob—a relationship that was not extended to the people of Edom who inhabited the lands south of Israel, and were the descendants of Esau. But, what about Esau and Jacob themselves, whose lives represent these two groups of people? Here, the question becomes more perplexing. 

Esau and Jacob are twin brothers, sons of Isaac and Rebekah. So, why did God “love” Jacob and “hate” Esau? Well, I think we need to ask this first: what does “love” or “hate” mean here? Because if you read the story of Jacob and Esau, you’ll find that Esau had a pretty good life—so it doesn’t seem like God was particularly against him. If anything, it seems to be Esau who stood out among his peers during his lifetime, while Jacob was… not a character you’d typically expect as a hero of a story. Yes, neither Abraham nor Isaac is a typical heroic figure either, but Jacob is, well, even less so.

Yet, Jacob became the ancestor of the people of Israel, the ancient Hebrews, whose history would become the root of Judaism and Christianity. In fact, the name, Israel, is the very name Jacob would later receive from God. So, what is so special about Jacob that God would “love” him but not Esau? In fact, what does it even mean to be “loved” by God? What does it mean, really, to be blessed by God?

Let’s explore this in the next two episodes of…

[ music / ]

… "What do you mean, God speaks?" where we explore important ideas, insights, and stories in Christianity, for the skeptics who want to understand religion, to the Christians who have questions about their own beliefs, and everyone in between.

I am Paul Seungoh Chung, and this is our eleventh episode of the third season, “What does it mean to be blessed by God? The tale of the two brothers.”

[ / music ]

Isaac’s life story seems uneventful at first glance, but it turns out that he encountered similar kinds of hardship that his father, Abraham, faced during his life: childlessness, famine, strife with his neighbors, fear of being targeted as a foreigner. But, Isaac had witnessed early in his life what it is to have faith that God is with him. He had learned from what his parents went through during their journey with God; he learned what it was like to hear from God, to guess at the meaning of what you heard, to wait for reality to unfold—for God to bring forth—the things God promised, and to trust in that promise, even as time and doubts wore you down. In a sense, he inherited their experiences, so that he was able to traverse through the same kinds of hardships as if it was he himself who had already gone through them before. When famine struck the land where he lived, he did not flee to Egypt like his father did. Instead, he heard God speaking to him, and stayed in that land, becoming exceedingly prosperous there, until the neighboring peoples who had feared his success and harassed him, eventually offered him a treaty of friendship. Like his mother, Sarah, his wife, Rebekah was unable to bear children. But, he prayed to God on her behalf, and she conceived and gave birth to two sons— and it is implied that this was a miracle, since Rebekah was unable to have any other children afterward. And unlike his father, Isaac never took any other women, so there was no strife of the kind that happened between Sarah and Hagar in his father’s lifetime. Yet, a problem Isaac had never experienced during his parents’ lifetime—a problem he thus did not seem to have anticipated—was slowly growing, hidden from his sight. 

Rebekah knew about this from the start, however. When she was pregnant with the twins, she felt them jostling each other within her. Deeply concerned, she went to inquire of the LORD. And God said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other; the elder shall serve the younger.”

Hold up, though. What does, “inquire of the LORD,” mean here, and how does that differ from simply hearing God speak? 

Well, in the Hebrew Bible, the phrase, “inquire of the LORD,” usually denotes visiting someone who speaks on behalf of God—a priest or a prophet—and consulting them about some particular issues. Then, they would in turn ask God, sometimes by casting lots and telling you the results, and other times, by pronouncing an oracle. But, how is that different from, say, going to a fortuneteller? That’s a Good question. The simple answer would be that when you inquire from a fortuneteller, one you’re asking is just a human being, albeit one who can supposedly see the future, whereas when you inquire from the LORD, you are posing your questions to God. But, it turns out that it’s not that simple when you get down to the practical level. That’s because now there’s a human intermediary—a priest or a prophet—who speaks for God. Furthermore, fortunetellers in the past—“seers” and “diviners” as they were often called in the Bible—claimed that they consulted with divine beings for their answers. So, when priests or prophets cast lots or pronounced oracles, how are they doing something that’s really different from these fortunetellers? I mean maybe we can say that fortunetellers are frauds, but how do we know that the people who claim to “hear from God” aren’t frauds either? 

These questions though are really all part of a larger question, which we have been exploring throughout this entire series: what does it mean to hear from God? And again, remember: every truth is God speaking. So, if a fortuneteller tells us some meaningful truth about the future, wouldn’t that mean that they somehow heard from God? How are they different from a prophet who hears from God and tells us the same truth? In fact, there are accounts in the Bible where God speaks to fortunetellers, such as Balaam in the book of Numbers. And this raises a very interesting and important question: in what ways does hearing God speaking to us mean something more than just learning this or that truth—whether about the future or anything else? Unfortunately, we cannot answer that question in this episode—we need to first explore the topic of prophets, which is a very specific way in which God speaks to us by having someone else relay what God is speaking to us. And that’s a very big topic, which we won’t even start exploring until we are well into the life story of Moses. 

For now, what we can say about it is this. It’s worth repeating that for Christianity, all of reality is God speaking. That means, God may speak to people through any process in that reality, including what happens in nature, or how history unfolds, or through our thoughts, feelings, insights, or investigation, and even through things like casting of lots, or other fortunetelling gimmicks. But, just because God can speak through these things does not mean that God is speaking to us through them at any given time. Again, every truth is God speaking, so we first need to ask, is what is being spoken to us, true? How do we know? But, even if it is true, there is another very important question that follows: what kind of truth is it? Here’s what I mean: some “truths” are meant to deceive. Think about the times we’ve lied; we usually mixed some truths with our lies. “I couldn’t keep my promise to celebrate my child’s birthday because I was too busy”—well, it’s true that I was busy, just not so busy that I really couldn’t make time for them. Some “truths” are meant to destroy. “You screwed up, just like you did all the other times, because you are trash, and you might as well give up on yourself”—well, it is true that you failed, and failed a lot, but what is not said here is that there’s something about you and your life that is yet worth fighting for, and in Christianity—God finds you worth dying for. To hear God speak is to hear truth; but to hear God speak to you means something more —it is to hear truth that brings you life. That is what a prophet should speak.  

But, we’ve gone off tangent. What was Rebekah doing when she went to inquire of the LORD? Well, the questions we have been considering would not be addressed in depth until centuries after her time, when the people of Israel confronted the question of what it means to hear from God through a prophet and how to distinguish true prophets from false ones. So, at this point, I think Rebekah was simply consulting with a fortuneteller who hears from God, rather than an actual prophet. I think that wouldn’t be too far off the mark, since as I said, there are examples of such people in the Bible. 

However it happened, she received a message—an oracle—from God: she is pregnant with two sons, who will become the ancestors of two peoples and nations. But, they will struggle with each other for dominance, and the younger son will win. Then, Rebekah gave birth to two boys. The first one to come out had a mat of fine red hair all over his body and was named Esau. But, then the second child came out by grabbing the heel of the first child, and he was named Jacob, which means to “grab the heels.”

[ pendulum ]

The twins had a very different disposition when they grew up. Esau was a skillful hunter, always out in the field, whereas Jacob was a quiet man, preferring to stay in the tents— he was, in today’s terms, a homebody. The thing is, Esau was the son favored by Isaac. According to Genesis, Isaac was very fond of the dishes made from what Esau brought back from his hunts. But, even aside from that, Esau’s skills of a hunter also would’ve marked him as a warrior and a leader in his community. Weapons of a hunter could very easily become weapons of a warrior, and those of us who watched one of those “when animals attack” videos, would know quite well that even animals like gazelles or wild goats can be dangerous to human beings if angered, not to mention that there would have been truly dangerous predatory animals, such as lions, wolves, and bears that hunters back then would have had to face. Hunting was also often done in groups, and that needed someone to coordinate the actions of others and lead them. Esau was all of that. It also seems he was popular with the ladies too; as soon as he was forty— which is again the age that signify full adulthood in these narratives—he takes two women as his wives ( because polygamy was still a thing back then ).

Jacob on the other hand, stayed in the tents. Some of the Jewish rabbinic traditions later interpret this as Jacob being a more studious, peaceful person, who was devoted to studying the teachings of God. But, the story itself gives no indication of something like that. Jacob does seem more reflective and thoughtful than his brother, but nothing in the story mention him studying or reflecting on some religious teachings, nor is he portrayed as particularly wise or pious. He does seem less inclined to physical activity and violence than Esau—as we will soon see later in this story—but, whether that is because he is peaceful, or because he is simply afraid of violence, is unclear.

It isn’t that Jacob had no leadership qualities, or were physically weak, or anything like that—later on, Jacob does a good job in leading his own family and the people around him. But, it seems that Jacob lived under the shadow of his brother. Imagine what it would be like, if you had a sibling, born on the same day, who just seemed to do things better than you. You are fairly strong, but he is stronger. People will listen to what you say respectfully, but they prefer following him. You can take care of livestock that your family owns, but, he is already out there, hunting wild animals for food, and defending your community from predators and raiders. And everyone knows this, even your father, who is obviously very proud of him. Again, it’s not that your father thinks badly of you or anything, but he does think that your brother is better at most things than you are. Now, if you lived your entire life being compared to your sibling like this, so that even you’ve become convinced that whatever you try to do, he can do it better, would you still try? Or would you stay away from him, so that you wouldn’t be compared? 

Yet, the words God spoke to Rebekah when she went to inquire of the LORD before their birth were still in play: “The elder will serve the younger.” There was this one time, when Esau came back from the field, famished. He then saw Jacob cooking some lentil stew for himself, and said to him, “Hey, give me some of that. I’m famished!” And Jacob replied, “Ok. But, in exchange, give me your birthright.”

Now, the birthright here refers to the status of being the primary heir to the family. The firstborn of the family head would become the head of the next generation. They would also inherit the double portion of the family fortune. So, for example, say you have a million dollars, and you had four sons. If you split that million dollars equally among your four sons as inheritance, they’d get two hundred fifty thousand each (1 000 000 / 4). But, back then, the eldest would receive a double portion—so, it’d actually divided as if you had five sons instead of four, and the younger three sons would each get two hundred thousand dollars, while the eldest would get four hundred thousand. 

But, what is far more significant in the Genesis story is that the son with the birthright would inherit God’s original promise and blessing to Abraham. Remember that Ishmael did not inherit this promise because he was not his heir. Ishmael was blessed by God to become great and powerful, but that was blessing specifically for him, and apart from the one bestowed upon his father. Isaac was the one who inherited God’s promise to Abraham—that God will be with him and his descendants, that his descendants would inherit the land he now lived, and that through him, all the peoples of the world will become blessed by God. That promise was Isaac’s birthright, his true inheritance—an inter-generational blessing that would in turn be passed down to his heir. What Jacob asked Esau in exchange for a meal, was all of that. 

That’s a rather expensive dinner price—especially for a bowl of lentil stew—unless, of course, you didn’t believe in that promise at all. But, it does not seem that Esau outright disbelieved the promise from God; as we will see soon enough, he clearly thought that his father, Isaac, was blessed, and really wanted to receive his blessing. It’d be more accurate to say that Esau had a casual disregard for what God had promised—he took it lightly. So, when Jacob presses him, to swear to give him his birthright for a bowl of stew, Esau did so, saying, “I am about to die here! What’s the point of my birthright then?” Except of course, if he had the strength to say that, he probably was not going to starve to death in the few hours it would’ve taken him to make his own food. 

Maybe Esau was so confident of his place and his abilities that he had no reason to be deeply concerned about some past blessing and promise given by God that he never really spoke with. Or, maybe it was just his personality to not think too deeply on things, as it seems he was “act first, think later,” kind of person. Whatever it was, he didn’t take his birthright and all that it implied seriously. But, he would, years later

[ pendulum ]

Isaac favored Esau. I mean, Esau was a very, “alpha-male,” kind of figure. He’s strong, capable, charismatic, popular with ladies—and he apparently was even a good cook, because Isaac really enjoyed the savory meat dishes that he prepared for him from his hunts. So, when Isaac grew old, and lost his eyesight, he was concerned that he would die soon, and called for Esau. “I don’t know how much longer I’ll live,” he told his son. “So, I want to pass on my blessing to you before I die; go hunt a game for me, and prepare me that savory dish I enjoy, and I will bless you.”  

Isaac favored Esau, but, Rebekah favored Jacob. Genesis does not explain why. Was it because she remembered what God spoke to her? Was she able to see something in Jacob that other people missed because of that? Or, did she just favor the son who stayed with her, more than a son who was away all that time? The story does not say. Either way, she heard what Isaac said to Esau, and called for Jacob. 

“Your father is going to bless your brother after eating the game he brings back from the hunt,” she said. “So, here’s what we’re going to do. Bring me two young goats, and with that, I’m going to prepare that meat dish he likes. You’re going to take that food to your father, and pretend to be Esau, so that he will bless you instead.” 

But, Jacob became afraid and protested, “It won’t work! Esau is really hairy, but my skin is smooth! Father can’t see anymore, but what if he touches me? He’ll think that I am tricking him and will curse me instead!”

Undeterred, Rebekah answered Jacob with words that many mothers before her and after, tell their children: “just do what I tell you.” Then, after she prepared the food, she put Esau’s clothes on Jacob, and put some goat skins on his forearms and neck. Then, she handed him the food and sent him off to Isaac. 

So, with some understandable trepidation, Jacob went to his father and said to him, “It’s me, your firstborn son, Esau. I’ve done what you said, so please eat this food and bless me!” But, Isaac is predictably suspicious. “You’re back already? You caught that animal rather quickly!” “Umm, yes, it’s because the LORD your God gave me success.” “Your voice sounds like Jacob. Come near so that I can feel you and see if you really are Esau.” But, Rebekah’s plan worked; Isaac felt the goat skin on Jacob’s arms and the back of his neck, and thought it was his son—on a side note, how hairy was Esau, if you can’t tell the difference between him and a goat? Anyway, Isaac tried to make sure one more time, and asked, “Are you really my son, Esau?” And Jacob replied, “Yes.”

It is this dialogue that cements Jacob as a rather unlikely figure to be memorialized as the ancestor of the people of God. He outright lies to his father, and lies deliberately and repeatedly; even worse, he even brings God into his lies, when his father becomes suspicious. Nor is Jacob even a trickster hero like Odysseus in the Greek epics; it is not some enemy that he deceives, but his own father, and it is not his wit or craftiness that makes his deception successful; it’s his mother who came up with the plan. Jacob even refused to go along with her plan, not because he didn’t want to deceive his father, but because he was afraid that he would be caught and punished. If it was any other story, he would be considered a villain, and not even a respectable one—a petty villain.

And this is what makes this narrative so interesting, if we consider that this is being written down by those who consider themselves his descendants. Why portray your ancestor this way? Even if this was the story that was handed down to you—remember, the book of Genesis that we read today was compiled and written around 500 years before the time of Jesus, and we have no access to the older traditions that the writers of Genesis likely drew upon—why would you include these details of the story? The question becomes even more perplexing when we realize that these writers are also describing the ancestor of one their neighboring people—the people of Edom that they subjugated in the past when the kingdom of Israel was at the height of its power. This history between the two peoples is what Isaac lays out in his blessing to his sons. 

Genesis recounts how Isaac, tricked by his son, Jacob, pronounces the following set of blessing for him. Jacob will receive the good land, fertile and watered by heaven’s dews, producing grain and wine. Peoples of the world will serve him, and he will rule over his brothers. And he will receive that blessing God gave to Abraham: those who curse him are cursed, and those who bless him are blessed. 

Then, soon after, Esau returns from the hunt, prepares food for his father, and goes to receive his blessing. It is then that Isaac realizes with horror that he was deceived, and tells Esau that his blessing has been taken away. Their dialogue that follows seems intended to make the readers feel sorry for Esau. Genesis specifically reports that he lets out a heartrending cry and says to his father, “Bless me, me too, father!” But, Isaac cannot. What Esau does not seem to realize is, Isaac is not the source of the blessing; he is the inheritor, the one was given the blessing by God, was merely passing it along. So, Isaac says forlornly, “Your brother, Jacob, has taken that blessing away.” Esau then weeps and says, “Don’t you have any blessing left for me? Nor even one?” 

Then, Isaac pronounces for Esau this oracle: You will live away from good, fertile land with dews; you will live by the sword, and you will serve your brother. But, one day, you will break loose from his rule.   

According to the biblical records, the kingdoms and Israel and Judah subjugated the kingdom of Edom and made them a vassal. But, eventually Edom successfully revolted against Israel. So, were these words of Isaac prophecies of the future, regarding the descendants of Jacob and Esau? Well, again, the final version of these stories that we read in Genesis were written down when the kingdoms of Israel and Edom were both long since destroyed by the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and so, long after the time when the two nations contested each other. So, people may very well think instead that those who put together the book of Genesis, wrote this story about Isaac’s blessing to Jacob in order to explain their past relationship with one of the neighboring people. 

But, that would ignore a very perplexing and significant question of how the writers of Genesis portray their ancestors. Genesis describes Jacob as deceitful and cowardly, lying to his father and taking the blessing by trickery, and worse, this trickery was planned out by his mother, while he only sat there, worrying about getting caught. If anything, they portray Esau with more sympathy. And none of this is something you’d want to do to if you want to justify why your people subjugated his descendants. So, whether these writers were simply retelling some ancient oracles about their ancestors that were passed down to them, word-for-word, or they were doing something else, we are still confronted with the question of why the individual who inherits God’s blessing of Abraham is described in this way. 

And I think the answer is, this story is not about the content of the blessing. What Isaac pronounced in regard to Jacob or Esau’s lives or their descendants, is just a surface dressing; the key point—the true interest of the readers of Genesis—lies elsewhere. [After all, by the time this version of Genesis was written, the descendants of Esau, called the Idumeans then, were on their way of being integrated into the Jewish people and their religion anyway. ] The real point was this following question. Who does God bless? Why?

[ short pendulum ]

There is no simple answer to that question. This episode began with a quote by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans that God “loved Jacob, but hated Esau.” What does that mean though? Well, apostle Paul follows this with another quote, where God declares, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and compassion for whom I will have compassion.” This seems to be saying that it’s all up to God, and to some extent, that’s what these quotes do suggest. It’s much more complicated than that, though this is a different question we’ll need to return to, in a distant episode. But, for here, we should have noticed something odd about the phrasing of that second quote. It’s not, “I will love who I love, and hate who I hate,” which would make more sense since the first quote is “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” It’s “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and compassion for whom I have compassion.” So, it is up to God, yes, but more precisely, it is up to God to have mercy and compassion. 

So, then the question is: why did God have compassion specifically for Jacob?

For that question, we need to return to his story and see where it leads. Because after Jacob takes his father’s blessing for himself, nothing in his life really changes for the better. It actually becomes a lot worse. Esau is furious, and people hear him saying, “Days of mourning for my father is approaching; then I will kill Jacob.” Translation: I’m gonna let this go while dad’s still alive. But, as soon as he passes away, I’m so gonna kill Jacob!” And he isn’t joking. Rebekah is told what Esau is saying, and she is very alarmed. Obviously, she is afraid for Jacob, but she’s equally afraid for her other son, Esau, who’d be condemned as a murderer. After all, they are both her sons, even if she does favor one over the other. So, she comes up with another plan. 

Remember our previous episode? Yes, the one a month ago! Remember how Abraham sent his servant to his old home in northern Syria—or Aram, as it is called in the Bible— to find a wife for his son, Isaac, from among his relatives because marrying someone from the people who lived around him would cause interpersonal conflicts? Well, Esau had already married not just one, but two women among the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites—specifically from an ethnic group called the Hittites. Whether it was the difference in culture or something else, but these two daughters-in-law apparently upset both Rebekah and Isaac. So, Rebekah uses this to get Jacob away from Esau.

She first tells Jacob to go to her father’s home in the land of Padan-Aram and stay there until his brother Esau calms down—which was going to take a while. Then, she approached her husband and said, “My Hittite daughters-in-law are driving me crazy. If even Jacob marries someone like them, my life won’t be worth living!” Isaac agreed with her, and called for Jacob. [BTW, it seems Esau never noticed how his wives upset his mother, because as soon as he heard about this, he went to his uncle, Ishmael, and married one of his daughters. He really loved his dad, didn’t he? ]

Anyway, Isaac said to Jacob, “Don’t marry one of the people here, but go to the house of your mother’s father, and marry someone from there.” But then, he blesses Jacob. Even though Isaac favored Esau, he recognizes that the bearer of God’s promise for the next generation is Jacob. So, he says, “May God Almighty—El-Shaddai—bless you, so that you will become a great people. May God give you and your descendants the blessing of Abraham, so that you may inherit the land you now live as foreigners.”

And so Jacob began his long trek to his mother’s old home. The blessing of God that he took from Esau cast him out from his home, to journey alone toward a distant land with no possession to call his own. What he got, for all this trouble, were just words: words of blessing that his father, Isaac, and his grandfather, Abraham, heard from the voice of God. I’d say most of us wouldn’t exactly call this a “blessing.” When the night fell, with nowhere to stay, Jacob leaned on a rock and fell asleep. Then, he had a dream. 

[ pendulum ]

What happens when we dream? We still don’t know the answer to that question. And I am not trying to sound mystical here. What I mean is that there are still some significant unanswered scientific questions about we’re doing when we dream. We do know that dreams occur during a stage in our sleep when our eyes, beneath our closed eye-lids, move rapidly—called the REM sleep. We’ve also found that there is an increased brain activity during this stage compared to the other stages, though that shouldn’t really be a surprise. After all, we are experiencing something when we dream—events, feelings, images, or ideas—and often very complicated things, and that means our brains would be quite active. But why do we dream? Why do we have such experiences during our sleep, instead of, well, just sleeping? That’s what we do not know. Sigmund Freud, the founder of Psychoanalysis thought dreams express our hidden desires—usually some repressed sexual urges. Carl Jung thought it expressed something deeper, symbols of some universal human experiences. Contemporary cognitive scientists have theorized that we may be trying to organize our experiences and thoughts in some way while asleep. A 2010 Harvard study, for example, have connected improved learning with dreams—or rather, if you are prevented from dreaming by being woken up whenever you enter the dream-stage in sleep, your learning ability declines in tests. 

Either way, dreams are firstly, unconscious—by which I mean, they are not part of our conscious, intentional thought processes. Yet, secondly, dreams tell us something. It’s just that what that something is, we don’t know. So, what we experience in dreams are our thoughts, kind of, but not our thoughts. Maybe it’s because of its mysteriousness that the ancient peoples across the world have believed that dreams are the means through which we can encounter some deep truths that we otherwise cannot learn—an oracle or message of the gods, or a profound insight that otherwise elude you, and so on. It is also one of the means with which God speaks to people in the Bible.

You can probably predict what I’m going to say next. Every truth is God speaking— every truth from every source, including say, our scientific investigation, or even our own reflections and thoughts. So, what’s so special about dreams? Well, let’s use that metaphor that reality is like a speech, and that it unfolds as a story. In that sense, all of reality is God speaking, unfolding all of history, of the cosmos, humanity, and our own lives, as an infinite story like an Author. Now, anything in a story, including what people in that story think or say, is also the Author speaking it. When Hamlet says to himself, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” in Shakespeare’s story, that really is what Hamlet thinks and says, but it is also what Shakespeare is saying through Hamlet. However, when Hamlet asks himself, “To be or not to be,” this is more consciously his thoughts, than when he dreams of his father, telling him that he was murdered by Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle. Both what Hamlet says to himself and what he dreams are Shakespeare writing them; but, for Hamlet, his dreams are not his conscious thoughts; in an important sense, his dreams are not him, but something that happens to him. And that means Shakespeare does not have to ask, “Well, would Hamlet really think something like this? Doesn’t it go against his character?” Shakespeare has more of a freedom to speak the content of the dream to communicate to Hamlet.  

Every truth, from every source, is God speaking to us, yes, but some are less under our conscious control, and that means if God is personally speaking to us something we’d otherwise never think of ourselves, dreams are one good way to do it. There are other ways too, of course, which we explored: a sudden thought or an insight, or some sign or event that strikes us in a meaningful way, and so on. But, we also dream.   

[ Genesis music ]

And so, Jacob dreamed, and God spoke to him. He saw a stairway stretching from the earth before him to the sky far, far above. There were figures were going and up and down on that stairway—human-like, but more, angels of God. 

Then he heard God, speaking to him: “I am the LORD, God of Abraham your father and God of Isaac.” 

God loved Jacob, and God will have compassion on whom God will have compassion. Here was Jacob, deceitful, cowardly, alone now in the wilderness. All his life, Jacob was overshadowed by his brother, who was more capable, stronger, and favored by their father. But, Jacob wanted to be something more. Even from his birth, when his brother came out before him, he followed, by holding on to his heels. He wrestled his brother’s birthright, his blessing away from him, because he wanted to be more than Esau’s younger, quieter, weaker brother. But, he does not know how to become that.

Other than having a hearing from God that blessed his father, Isaac. 

And God looks at Jacob and finally speaks to him. What happens between them would start yet another journey that continues from where his father, Isaac’s journey closes, and will wrestle with the question: what does it mean to be blessed by God

[ ending music ]

So, please join me next episode later this month as we explore Jacob’s journey with God, which will culminate in that night where he will wrestle with God and win

And please support this series, by following, subscribing, and sharing this series with others, and by rating it on your apple podcast platform. You can also support this series at buymeacoffee.com. The link for that is in the episode description.

From Abraham to Isaac to Jacob and Esau
What does inquire from the LORD mean?
Jacob and Esau, twins who were very different
The strangeness of Jacob being the hero of this story
The real question that the story asks
Why would God speak through dreams?