Jacob and Esau

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dande48
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Jacob and Esau

Post by dande48 » 11 Mar 2018, 10:17

We had a lesson today on Jacob and Esau; To summarize, Jacob and his mother were heroes for following the desires of God at any costs.

The story goes like this: There were two brothers, Esau the oldest, and Jacob the youngest. Esau had the "birthright", but Jacob was his mother's favorite. Esau was a hunter, and Jacob was a gatherer. Jacob was out hunting one day (back in hunter/gatherer times, the hunters would be out for a week or more without any food), and came back absolutely starving. He asked his brother from some pottage, saying he was dying of hunger. Jacob said he'd only share, if Esau promised him the birthright (100% of the inheritance). Esau responded "What good is a birthright if I'm dead?". So he traded his birthright for a meal; because he was starving to death, and his brother wouldn't share.

Jacob and his mother later trick their father into giving Jacob the birthright, through lies and deception.

Is it just me, or was Jacob kind of a d**k? If feels like Israel twisted and distorted the story, as much as possible, to make their founder seem like a great guy. But even with all the filtering... he seems like a pretty selfish, conniving son of a gun. #NotMyHero
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SamBee
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Re: Jacob and Esau

Post by SamBee » 11 Mar 2018, 10:42

A woman made the exact same point in SS earlier.
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Re: Jacob and Esau

Post by Roy » 11 Mar 2018, 11:40

I believe the birthright entitled you do a double portion of the inheritance but that you would then be responsible for the womenfolk.
dande48 wrote:
11 Mar 2018, 10:17
To summarize, Jacob and his mother were heroes for following the desires of God at any costs.
Sometimes the "will of God" is interpreted to justify what we want to do. Also, the victors write the history.

Reminds me of Manifest Destiny: "the 19th-century doctrine or belief that the expansion of the US throughout the American continents was both justified and inevitable." It was our destiny to take this land from the native inhabitants... the BoM feeds into this idea.
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DarkJedi
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Re: Jacob and Esau

Post by DarkJedi » 11 Mar 2018, 13:39

I have given this some thought, and while I think such things did happen in olden times I don't think they were common nor do I think they are justified. From an LDS theological standpoint, it would seem that if God intended Jacob to be the rightful heir he would have just made Jacob be born first. That is essentially how ascension to the presidency of the church works, is it not? God picks the right guy in the right order according to what most Mormons seem to believe. Birth is probably a little easier for God to manage because no humans get in the way, what with calling your nephew as an apostle or whatnot.

I recognize that many a throne as been usurped in devious ways such as this story, but that doesn't make it right in my mind, no matter how righteous Jacob was. And then we hold this story up as a story of courage or heroism as if the ends justify the means. What if the shoe were on the other foot? For what it's worth I do believe Jacob (and his mother) were jerks, and I likewise believe Nephi, also a younger son, was a jerk.

My understanding of what the older son was entitled to in the birthright is similar to what Roy says. The oldest got the lion's share of the inheritance (double what everybody else got) and became the family patriarch. The prodigal son was also a younger son, thus when he returned the father reminded the older son (who had issues of his own) that he already owned everything there because the prodigal (wasteful) son had already spent his inheritance and none of what was left was his. The latter however is a fictional story (and the story of Jacob/Esau could very well be also, but many Judeo-Christians don't see it as such).
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dande48
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Re: Jacob and Esau

Post by dande48 » 11 Mar 2018, 16:54

Roy wrote:
11 Mar 2018, 11:40
Sometimes the "will of God" is interpreted to justify what we want to do. Also, the victors write the history.
That's what bugs me the most... the victor, "Jacob" and his descentants, wrote the "history" from their perspective. Just like most Judeo-Christians today, it's read and understood in such a way that Jacob is made to be the hero, while Esau is the fool. Yet... even with all that filtering, Jacob seems to me like an awful, selfish, greedy son. Which means, he was most likely even worse.
Last edited by dande48 on 11 Mar 2018, 21:09, edited 1 time in total.
"The whole world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel." - Horace Walpole

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Re: Jacob and Esau

Post by DancingCarrot » 11 Mar 2018, 17:15

Yeah, Jacob sounds like a jerk.

In Hebrew, Jacob means "he grasps the heel" or "supplanter". A quick Google search reminded me of the story of Jacob and Esau's birth, how Jacob grabbed Esau's heel in an attempt to be the firstborn.

Google also told me that Jacob and Esau were the fathers of two nations, so it makes sense to me that the folklore surrounding Jacob, and by association the abilities of his nation, puts him in place as outsmarting others through deception. On Wikipedia's page about Jacob and Esau - "Daniel J. Elazar suggests that the Bible indicates that a bright, calculating person who, at times, is less than honest, is preferable as a founder over a bluff, impulsive one who cannot make discriminating choices."

It's very possible that this story may have some sort of historical background, but it's also very likely that this was used to help establish Israel's identity as a nation. Everyone has to establish their authority somehow, even though I disagree about the authority. I think someone mentioned on here recently, though, that it helps to imagine the circumstances of a people when they choose values that we wouldn't. Trying to understand why people would NEED to believe in a figurehead who deceives other people to get power and autonomy can remind us of the conditions they were working with.
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Re: Jacob and Esau

Post by On Own Now » 13 Mar 2018, 15:07

When it comes to the OT, when you look at any of the many stories that are in there, you have to first ask yourself this simple question: Is this literal or figurative? After that, ask yourself this second question: whether it is real or figurative, is there an implied figurative meaning in the story?

This will help get through some of it without the hangups. For example, the story of Job is impossibly terrible if we take it as a literal history... the Devil convinces God to unjustly test Job... The test is severe... for some reason, Job doesn't abandon God, even though God has abandoned him, etc, etc, etc. But taken figuratively, there's a lot we can learn in self-reflection by pondering the story. PS, Job is written as an epic poem. In other words, it was presented as fiction in its original form. PPS, Job is considered by many to be the oldest work of the OT.

Now the story of Jacob and Esau is quite perplexing on its surface. Even as a literal story, though, it's not quite as bad as you've painted it. Esau married two Hittite (Canaanite) women in Genesis 26, which was explained to have been against his parent's wishes in Genesis 27 and 28. Esau is portrayed as a man who didn't honor his birthright in Genesis 25. Furthermore, there is a not-so-subtle implication that Esau was violent: He plotted to kill Jacob after Isaac's death. So, in a certain way, even as a true history, Jacob (who married in the covenant), was presented as being more aligned with God, something that Isaac wasn't able to perceive in his old age, but even after discovering the deception, recognized that Jacob, rather than Esau, was following God.

But, I will tell you from my own perspective that I don't believe there ever was anyone named Abraham, or Isaac, or Rebekah, or Esau or Jacob; or rather, I suppose there have been lots of people with those names, but the people in Genesis with those names didn't really exist - my viewpoint alone and I don't mean to impose my belief on anyone. With that in mind, the only thing that matters to me is the figurative reason for the story to exist and to be retold.

IMO, this is an apropos story for the founding of the Israelite people. Their progenitor Jacob/Israel in a very obvious way represents the Israelite "little-brother-syndrome". The people of Israel seem, throughout their early history, to have always been a downtrodden people who never measured up to the great empires. They were nomadic at first, enslaved later, nomadic again, disorganized even later, and always at the mercy of neighboring states. But they eventually rose to prominence and power because God didn't abandoned them and they didn't abandon God (fully). During all this time, a neighbor state of ethnic relatives, Edom, was described as being the offspring of Isaac's other son, Esau. It would have been natural to embrace a founding story that included overcoming an unrighteous brother to become favored of God and still favored above the Edomites, because of God's love. (After their empire disintegrated into two competing factions, Judah and Israel, they were both eventually pretty much wiped out, but this was long after the story of Jacob and Esau had been codified).

Thinking of how the ancient cultures would have viewed this story, it's a lot less shocking. Nearly all people lived their lives in subservience to higher earthly powers. This is nothing more than the story of how one good person overcame the indignation of being the servant of his bad brother.

As an exercise, think how you might view the story differently if it detailed a young man who was a slave to an unkind master but somehow turned the tables in the slave records office to become the master and the other the slave. This would feel justified rather than deceitful.
"Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another." --Romans 14:13

Roy
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Re: Jacob and Esau

Post by Roy » 13 Mar 2018, 17:02

Thank you for that context OON.

The Native American tribe I currently work for has a number of origin legends and stories where trickster coyote is the hero. Perhaps there are some similarities there.
"It is not so much the pain and suffering of life which crushes the individual as it is its meaninglessness and hopelessness." C. A. Elwood

“It is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give one courage, through faith, to go on in the face of questions he never finds the answer to in his present status.” TPC: Harold B. Lee 223

"I struggle now with establishing my faith that God may always be there, but may not always need to intervene" Heber13

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Re: Jacob and Esau

Post by AmyJ » 14 Mar 2018, 05:54

On Own Now wrote:
13 Mar 2018, 15:07
As an exercise, think how you might view the story differently if it detailed a young man who was a slave to an unkind master but somehow turned the tables in the slave records office to become the master and the other the slave. This would feel justified rather than deceitful.
To me, that sounds a lot like the story of Joseph of Egypt after he was cast into the Egyptian prison. We get the sense that Joseph made it because a) he was favored of God, b) he was industrious, smart, and resourceful, c) he kept/reset himself to have a good attitude while being in prison, d) he got a lucky break in the dream department, and e) he had "Charisma" (quoting Terry Pratchett's Nightwatch series theme).

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Re: Jacob and Esau

Post by Curt Sunshine » 14 Mar 2018, 17:56

Nephi also was a prick as a brother, but he got to dictate the narrative (looking at the BofM from an orthodox viewpoint). Without Second Nephi 4, he would come across as a completely self-righteous jerk.

Such is life.
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Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

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