Jacob, Esau and the birth right from the Old Testament Study by Rev. Michaël Merle
reported by John-Peter Gernaat
Michaël wants everyone to understand how this story of humankind develops. Genesis begins with the idea of the human being and the experience of life is completely different to what we know. Adam and Eve would have experienced themselves as fiery beings on the earth, according to the description of Rudolf Steiner. They would not have been grounded nor would they have had the physical experience we have today. This is still pre-mythological time. The Fall is a different experience of landing on the earth for humanity. The plan for humanity is God’s plan all along. This plan is not diverted by the original sin of humanity in the Garden of Eden, but the way in which this plan unfolds is influenced by the actions of humanity. The Fall therefore is not a disruption of God’s plan as is sometimes read into the story of Genesis. However, we must come to terms with what these actions bring about. It is part of the experience of being on this earth and only shows to confirm that we are in a relationship with the Divine.
When we arrive at Noah we can know that “thousands and thousands of years” have passed. We are in a different experience, no longer the fiery beings that were the reality of Adam and Eve, but now watery beings starting to sense a densification of life. The last great watery experience moves us from the time we could describe as Atlantean into the post-Atlantean experience of feeling ourselves in our material, mineral, physical reality. We jump directly to the third Post-Atlantean Epoch in the story of Abraham. Abraham is entering historical time although the manner in which the story is told is not yet historical but still mythological or allegorical. The themes that unfold, that to our modern ear appear to be carnal in nature, represent steps in our spiritual development and should be understood as such.
From Abraham, YHWH of the Elohim (often referred to as the Lord God), a powerful being of the Exusiai, is carrying out the will of the Father God, becoming a father-like Divine figure for Abraham, who is all about being a father. One could see that YHWH is called upon to manage the theme of fatherhood in humanity: how to establish a family and an inheritance that will finally bring us to the point where we have a human being who has developed in such a way that this human being bears the Divine in him in a way that no other human being is able to do. This then becomes the door through which we are able to bear the Divine in us. We do not yet bear the fullness of the Divine in the way that this human being did; that is still well into our future. We can experience an aspect of this that allows us to develop further. We find ourselves in a stream where we can say that one of the sources is Abraham and his line of descendants.
The theme of fatherhood was covered in the talk on the three ‘sons’ of Abraham in that we see many nations arise from Abraham’s family. Lot’s grandsons give rise to the Moabite and Ammonite nations, Ishmael gives rise to the peoples who today are referred to as Arabs and Isaac gives rise to the Hebrew nation. It is Isaac and Ishmael who eventually bury their father when he dies even though Abraham has six more children, after the death of Sarah, by another wife. In the scriptures, and in many cultures, it was common for a man to have a ‘chief’ wife and ‘lesser’ wives – also referred to as sister wives, viewed as younger sisters to the ‘chief’ wife – who were viewed as an extension of the ‘chief’ wife to the extent that all the children fathered by the man were viewed as children of the ‘chief’ wife. Family relationships have evolved since then. When Abraham wants to find a wife for his son Isaac, he sends a servant back to the land of his father to find a wife. The servant returns with the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother.
In the writing of Genesis both Abraham and Sarah are seen as the substance out of which something is born and can both be referred to as being “father” to the line of descent and that which is born as being the “son”. These terms are not related to gender but to a quality of their origin. Through this we can relate to the fatherhood of the Divine as we are created of the very substance of God. Isaac inherits the substance of the Divine through inheriting the substance of his parents.
The events of this study refer to Genesis chapters 24 to 27. Rebecca, a cousin once removed to Isaac, is instrumental in Jacob receiving the blessing of his father. Esau and Jacob are twins but Esau is born first. Jacob is proactive and sees what belongs to him and grabs his inheritance. He does not wait for it to be given to him. He negotiates his birth right from his brother and then tricks his father into giving him that blessing that confirms the birth right. He may not be the first born, but he is the first born in being given that which belongs to him. Rebecca participates in Jacob receiving the blessing belonging to his brother.
Isaac is the son of Abraham who is not sacrificed so that the idea of inheritance can continue through him. This gives rise to a bloodline through which the spiritual world can work to refine it. Many very interesting women are brought into this bloodline.
The story of the birth right goes this way: Esau comes back hungry from a hunt and Jacob has prepared a red strew – red as it represents life blood. Esau feels so hungry that he could die. Jacob has the ability to nourish his brother and Esau recognises this. The one who can provide the sustenance required by the sibling is thus in truth “the firstborn”. This is the meaning of this metaphor in which Esau willingly trades his birth right for a bowl of the red stew of Jacob. And Jacob, according to the story was called Edom for making the red strew – Edom is not far removed from Adam; man of redness or blood. The birth right is about life, the life that Jacob can provide in the sustenance he can give his brother. Spiritually Esau could not fulfil the birth right because, as he himself says, he is at death’s door. The bearer of the full birth right is Jesus of Nazareth and in him is the new life. We inherit this life through the resurrection, and we all become the first born.
Esau gains his life by giving away his birth right. The gaining of his livelihood would be confirmed by the blessing of his father, but this Jacob takes away from him through deception. Isaac sends Esau to hunt and with the meat prepare a savoury meal (a meal of hospitality), but Rebecca hears the conversation and prepares a meal from two kids of the flock for Jacob to take to his father and with the skins fools Isaac into believing it is his hairy son who has returned for the blessing. Rebecca, like Eve, can see the future in the potential with which she is confronted and is instrumental in selecting the line through which the covenant of YHWH will find a fulfilment.
The blessing begins with an allusion to the sense of smell and we know from Rudolf Steiner that in our future the sense of smell will be replaced by a sense of morality. This already lives in our idiom in expressions like ‘smelling fishy’ related to an endeavour. “May God give you dew from heaven and the richness of the earth: abundance of grain and wine.” These are the very substances of which the true sacrifice is to be made (see the March article on sacrifice). The rest of the blessing is about others being subservient to him. Jacob receives the blessing to take on the birth right he has bought from his brother. The stew of Jacob was red because he is the source of the bloodline that sustains Esau and will produce the generations to Jesus. Our ‘I-ness’ is held in our blood.
When the blessing has been given to Jacob, Esau asks whether there is anything left to give. Esau’s blessing is that his home will be far removed from the dew of heaven and richness of the earth. He will live by the sword and serve his brother and when he wins his freedom he will shake the yoke of his brother from off his neck.
We may feel that we are the inheritors of Esau’s blessing in that we feel we are always in the service of our ‘brother’ and far from the richness of earth and the dew of heaven. We wait to win our freedom and take charge of ourselves and not be subject to the other. Today we still live in a world where one human being attempts to subjugate another. People feel the yoke of another, their brother, on their neck. We saw this in the emotional connection that arose when one man stopped breathing because another had his knee on his neck, which reignited the Black Lives Matter Movement. People are still asking for the last part of Esau’s blessing which will then open up Jacob’s blessing. The blessing of Jacob is the blessing of the first born and we are now all the first born of the new life through the resurrection. The blessing of Jacob has changed in that we must become master of ourselves, no longer our brother, and recognise the Jacob, the first born, in each other and thereby the same blessing that is due to them. The recognition of the ego of the other is highest of the twelve sense that Rudolf Steiner presented. The ego of the other is the Christ in the other. When we think of ourselves as Jacob and the other as Esau we find ourselves in the struggle of brother against brother which it is for us to overcome. We are asked to see equality in the essence of everyone. We are co-inheritors of the blessing of the first born. This puts to rest the Cain and Abel story of brother pitted against brother which is the inheritance of the Fall. We are people of the New Testament, inheritors of the new life, and not of the Old Testament. We recognise the new in the New Testament through our study of the Old Testament.
So much of the foundation of our human story is based on deeds that we would regard as dishonourable. When we fail to recognise the Christ in us and the Christ in the other, our deeds, to this day, remain dishonourable. It is through the Christ in us that we are able to discern what is honourable behaviour. But very little of the new life through Christ can be seen at work in the world today. The aim of education in the Waldorf sense is to make the person an honourable person in their dealings with others, it is not about the content of the material.
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