As the twin boys grew, Esau became Isaac’s dream son – strong, courageous and even hairy – greatly favored by Isaac for his aggressiveness and his active and adventurous spirit.
Jacob clung to his mother and when not in the company of the women, he preferred to be alone. Rebekah loved Jacob’s kind and gentle spirit and showed him a lot of preference.
Meanwhile, God continued to make it plain that his love was focused on Jacob.
Nonetheless, the family did all they could to manipulate circumstances. Esau worked to please his father, which really made little difference given the fact that Isaac loved Esau without question and had no inclination to honor his “weak” son, Jacob. And Rebekah worked along with Jacob tirelessly to improve Jacob’s stock in Isaac’s mind.
Under his mother’s tutelage, Jacob grew to be a cunning manipulator – actually the meaning of his name – while his brother was a bit of a braggart and a fool. One example of this was the day Esau came in hungry from the fields. Jacob had made himself a pot of stew. Esau said, “Give me some of your stew right now or I will die of starvation.” Jacob responded, “Give me your birthright and you can have my stew!” Esau brashly said, “What good is a birthright if I die of hunger!” So Esau saw no value in being the firstborn and the honor and rights he had been given. He literally sold all of his rights away for a bowl of stew.
As time passed, Isaac grew older and his eyesight dimmed. He began to feel he should take the time to bestow the blessings on his sons. The blessings were part encouragement and part prophecy, sort of a last will and testament of what will happen in the family in the future. He called Esau to his side and said, “I’m old and sick and blind. I won’t live much longer. It’s time to pronounce my blessing on you. Go hunt some game and make me that meal that I like so much and bring it to me. After I have eaten, I will give you the blessing.”
Esau left for the hunt, but Rebekah had been eavesdropping near by. She knew Isaac could not tell the boys apart but for their smell and their skin. While Esau was hunting, Rebekah instructed Jacob to pretend to be Esau. She prepared the meal Isaac loved and sent it in to Isaac in the hands of Jacob. Jacob wore some of his brother’s clothes to carry Esau’s smell and covered his hands with fir to mimic Esau’s hairiness.
The ruse worked. Despite feeling something wasn’t quite right, Isaac accepted that the man before him was indeed Esau. He mistakenly gave Jacob the blessing he intended to go to Esau. When Esau returned and found out what had taken place, he cried out, “He already took my birthright and now he gets my blessing too?” He was so angry he vowed to kill Jacob. Wasting no time, Rebekah sent Jacob away to protect him from Esau telling Isaac she wanted Jacob to find a wife from her tribe vs. the local girls from among whom Esau had chosen a wife.
Despite being God’s chosen men, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were all three flawed men with troubling relationship patterns. Jacob learned the art of deception from his mother and from his father he learned to show merciless favoritism. Jacob thought he was a good manipulator until he met his uncle, Laban. Laban had a daughter, named Rachel whom Jacob loved the moment he met her. Jacob agreed to work for Laban for seven years to earn Rachel as his bride. But after the seven years were up and the marriage was consummated – surprise, surprise – the woman in bed with Jacob was not Rachel but Leah, Laban’s older daughter. While Rachel was beautiful, Leah was not, and Jacob despised her. Nonetheless, he found himself married to Leah and was forced to work another seven years to make Rachel his bride. Jacob’s love for Rachel and displeasure with Leah would lead to generational family strife.
Through a combination of his two wives and their two handmaids, Jacob fathered thirteen children – twelve boys and one girl. Jacob lavished Rachel with unabashed love and continued to publically despise Leah. He did the same with Leah’s children and those he fathered through the handmaids. But he showed obvious favoritism toward Rachel’s older son, Joseph.
From very early on in life, Joseph was shown preferential love by his father, and as a result he was deeply hated by his ten older brothers. Also from early age, Joseph began to hear from God. He dreamed strange dreams in which he ranked above his brothers and even his parents. For this, his brothers hated him all the more. Jacob began to wonder if the visions Joseph was having might not be from God. He began to expect great things from Joseph and treated him with greater and greater preference, even gifting him a sacred symbol of tribe leadership, a Regent’s Coat of Colors. This gift incensed his brothers to the boiling point and they began to plot how they might get rid of “the dreamer.” As they saw Joseph crossing the field one day on his way to deliver a message for their father, they plotted together to kill him.
At that moment in time, God’s will for the family took a turn that no one had anticipated or would fully comprehend for many years. Slave traders came through the area just as the brothers were debating how they might kill Joseph. The brothers saw a way to rid themselves of Joseph while not actually being responsible for his murder. They sold Joseph to the traders and returned to camp telling their father, “He must have been torn to pieces by a lion or bear. Look! Is this not his blood-soaked Regent’s Coat of Colors?” Jacob mourned deeply for his lost son and could not be consoled.
Meanwhile, Joseph was sold as a slave to important men in Egypt. Despite all appearances, God was with Joseph and blessed all he did. He quickly became a leader in the household of Potiphar who entrusted everything he had into Joseph’s care. But trouble came again to Joseph when Potiphar’s wife relentlessly sought to draw him into a sexual relationship. Joseph steadfastly refused saying, “My master has trusted me with everything that is his. How can I show him such disloyalty and act out against my God?” The woman did not stop pursuing Joseph, but when she realized he would not be persuaded, she took revenge on him by accusing him of attempted rape. Potiphar immediately sent Joseph to prison. Nonetheless, even in prison, God was with Joseph and blessed everything he did and he entrusted by the guards to lead prison affairs.
While in prison, Joseph continued to dream dreams and through them to predict the future. His deliverance came when he was able to interpret a perplexing dream of Pharaoh, the King of Egypt. The God-given interpretation not only prepared Egypt to set aside food for themselves for a time of great famine, but it also made Egypt rich, as starving people from all over came to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph became beloved in Egypt and Pharaoh raised him to position of Regent of all Egypt. Only the Pharaoh himself was more powerful in Egypt than Joseph.
Joseph’s own brothers came to Egypt to buy grain for their suffering families. They bowed before the mighty Regent of Egypt, and begged for his mercy, not realizing the man was Joseph and that this was a fulfillment of Joseph’s earliest dreams. After some time of testing them, Joseph tearfully revealed his true identity to his broken brothers, saying, “You meant all of this for evil, but God intended it for our good!” He invited them to live under Egypt’s protection and so God’s chosen family was preserved and grew in strength under the protection of Egypt.
This Story is a paraphrase. Details & references found in Genesis 25-50. Romans 9:13; Hebrews 11