The tale of Jacob spans a large portion of the Book of Genesis, beginning at the death of Abraham in chapter twenty-five and technically ends with his death at the end of Genesis in chapter fifty. For the purpose of this post we will concentrate on stories specifically related to his personal journey which extends from chapter twenty-five through chapter thirty-three.
What we begin to see and what we will look for in these tales are common markers indicative of the mystic journey that became established in the story of Abraham. Admittedly, I am being selective in whose tale I am examining. There are mystic elements to most every personal story in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. My intent in this discussion of the mystic journey is to look at those tales that provide insights into the patterns found in them and in the collective journey we share with them.
ISAAC AND REBECCA
The tale of Jacob is one of the most important stories of the mystic journey. Jacob's entire life story is cast in a mystic light. Like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca finds having children difficult. Jacob's birth comes wrapped in a prophecy that was given to Rebecca. He is portrayed as the product of a divine vision, a traveler on the path to Paradise Regained and the father of nation that furthers the fulfillment of God's covenant with Abraham.
Jacob is the second-born of twins; his brother Esau being the first. By ancient tradition, Esau is Isaac's heir by birthright. Through Jacob and Esau, the writers of Genesis present two principles that shape human perception and guides human interaction; the feminine and masculine principles.
Esau and Jacob are not identical twins. They don't look alike, sound alike, or think alike. They don't even smell alike. They are dichotomous and are portrayed as polar opposites. Esau presents the masculine principle, which reflects an instinct-based intellect. On the other hand, Jacob presents the feminine principle which reflects an intuition-based intellect. To further highlight these two principles, Isaac is said to favor Esau and Rebecca is said to favor Jacob.
In terms of mysticism, the feminine principle appears more operative. This, of course, has nothing to do with gender identification or preference, but rather a way of perceiving and processing life. Esau lives in and only for the moment; so much so, that he lacks appreciation for consequences of his actions and has little time for subtleties as these tend to interfere with an instinctual response his he relies on at any given moment. This is how he is able to survive in the wilderness amongst the wild game he hunts. Tomorrow is nothing more than another today. His world is the world of the hunter and the hunted. He sees himself as a rugged individualist, a manly-man, an adventurer, self-assured, and comfortable with his place in the world because he knows he is favored by Isaac. As such, he demonstrates certitude and an impetuous demeanor that leads him to disregard what others are thinking and doing. After all, when he receives Isaac's blessing (so he believes) they will be his servants.
Jacob, on the other hand, appears content with the moment, but Jacob possesses a subtle nature, one that is almost serpentine. The writers of Genesis go out of their way to portray Jacob as being a somewhat effeminate boy, having soft smooth skin, soft-spoken, a homebody doing what most would have considered woman's work in his day.
ESAU IN A STEW
Jacob is a making a lentil stew when Esau returns from a particularly rough hunt which leaves him famished. Seeing the stew that Jacob had made, Esau demands that he is given some. Jacob intuitively sees and seizes an opportunity to set the stage for obtaining Isaac's blessing and responds that he will give Esau some stew on the condition that Esau gives him his birthright. Jacob not only gives him the stew but also bread to go along with it. This is what a good servant would be expected to do.
Esau doesn't bat an eye at the request and being hungry agrees to get what he wants at the moment. He doesn't take Jacob seriously and does not consider that others are listening to this exchange. In fact, Genesis does not mention any witnesses to this event. What it says is that "Esau despised his birthright."
Few today would take Esau's selling of his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew seriously. Surely, he must have been kidding. To make it a more damning case, Jacob deceives and lies to his father, Isaac in order to receive his blessing. Jacob impersonated Esau. And true to his serpentine nature, sheds his own persona and covered his skin with wool to make Isaac, who was blind, believe Jacob was Esau.
The writers of Genesis ensure that there is a strong case against Jacob that would span the ages. There is no justification for his behavior. The fact that Rebecca received a prophecy indicating the ascendancy of Jacob is no justification for the means by which he ascended. The writers intent is to demonstrate that God's good will is worked even in less then stellar incidents.
Isaac plays a relatively small role in Genesis, but a significant one. The deception of Jacob reveals Isaac's integrity. The most important moment in this twisted tale of family dysfunction is when Isaac refuses to give his blessing to Esau once Jacob's deception is revealed. By any standard, ancient or modern, Isaac would have been justified in condemning and cursing Jacob, but he doesn't. In fact when Jacob flees the scene, it isn't because he fears Isaac. It's because he understandably fears Esau, a fear that will follow him along his journey to transfiguration.
Isaac loves both his sons, but his blessing is not something he gives willy-nilly because it is a blessing of God he is only transferring - something given to him - an act of grace that cannot be requested nor denied once given. It is a sacred, holy act. As saddened and as disappointed as he may have felt, Isaac knew that a course had been set that could not be changed. Isaac's integrity reflects God's integrity - a willingness to live with and work through the serpentine twists and turns of the human experience.
Jacob is sent to seek a wife from his amongst his uncle Laban's daughters. It is on his journey there that he is awakened in a dream to the reality that he has embarked on a mystical journey to fulfill the covenant made between God and his grandfather, Abraham.
Dreams are one of the means by which one personally becomes aware of being on a mystical journey. It is possible that we all have mystical dreams; that is, the dream or dreams that stick with us, that we don't - can't forget - dreams that guide us in some way or another - become touchstones that give meaning to certain events in our lives when they occur or after we sit down and try to make sense of something that feels oddly familiar, yet unexplained. We may not know what these dreams mean at the time, but we sense a meaning to them that sometimes becomes clear decades later. Most of us, like Peter, James, and John in the story of the Transfiguration found in the synoptic gospels, don't share them because, like their vision of the transfigured Christ, our dreams frequently do not make a lot of sense at the time.
Jacob's dream at Bethel, however, has an obvious meaning. It is making it clear that he is on a journey that was started by his grandfather, Abraham, and continuing with him. Jacob's ladder or staircase is a clear reference to his being on path that ends in paradise regained. The dream serves to embolden him with a sense of purpose that will see him through the twist and turns of life as he encounters them. In fact, I think it safe to say all dreams of mystical nature keep us engaged with life as its pathways unfold.
Jacob's dream has two purposes - a personal one for Jacob in fathering the tribes of Israel and a cosmic one. Paradise regained sees fulfillment in the idea of Israel becoming a nation - and it is retained in the idea of all nations becoming blessed through it. In other words, Jacob's dream is meant for all of us. We are all caught up in the dream - the idea - of becoming that was given to Jacob at Bethel. The mystical journey on this side of life is always about becoming, always about the journey.
In every tale of the mystic journey, we encounter what I have termed pause - a period of time - sometimes a long period of time when the journey is put on hold. Sometimes pause is a matter of seconds, as in the case of Isaac. In Isaac's case, pause occurred when he was about to be sacrificed. It is the moment just before transfiguration. Isaac was transfigured from victim to one restored.
For Jacob, pause occurs when he seeks a wife, finds Rachel, and then is deceived by his uncle and soon to be father-in-law, Laban, into marrying Leah. Jacob works for Laban seven years, on the basis that he will marry Rachel. When he is deceived into marrying Leah, Jacob ends up working another seven years after marrying Rachel.
Much can be said about the apparent dysfunctional relationships that are threaded through these stories. The point, I believe, in telling them is to say that they can become tools that shape us along the way. In Jacob's case he becomes a man of integrity- a man of his word. Even though he loves Rachel more than Leah he has children by Leah and her servant as well as Rachel's servant and Rachel. Jacob prospers in his twenty years of service to Laban. Laban becomes increasingly jealous with Jacob's success and it is time for Jacob to leave. True to form, it is a dream in which an angel of God informs Jacob to move on with Laban in hot pursuit because Jacob takes what was owed him and it was plenty.
Laban, himself, is warned in a dream not to say anything to Jacob. They meet and make a covenant with each other, then leave and live in peace. The pause has ended and Jacob journeys towards transfiguration.
Jacob returns to his home turf where Esau and his tribe also live. He wishes to live in peace in with his twin, but he knows that Esau has every right to seek revenge on him for stealing his birthright. It is interesting that Genesis mentions in chapter thirty-two that Jacob is met on the way by angels of God. There is nothing said about what took place in that encounter. What we are led to think is that the place where they met (called the Camp of God) is the place where Jacob will meet God. Was Jacob being prepped for what was about to take place?
In reading these accounts there are repetitive themes and events in all of the tales involving Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Isaac lies about Rebecca being his sister to avoid being killed, just like Abraham lied about Sarah being his sister on two occasions. Abraham meets angels and so does Jacob. Their similarities are like experiencing a repetitive dream and perhaps that's the point the writers are making - there is something large and mystical taking place here - that are shaping events – markers - telling the reader this is all one journey, just different pieces and players, but it is a collective journey – a shared journey – our journey towards transfiguration.
Jacob's transfiguration occurs in the darkness of night - a metaphor, perhaps, for the dark place he feels he is at. When his servants return to tell him that Esau is coming his way with four hundred men, Jacob sends servant with copious gifts to give to his brother Esau in the hope of assuaging any anger or resentment he may have towards Jacob. Jacob is in a state of panic and fears for the safety of his family. Jacob separates himself from his family and Genesis says he was "left alone... ." In the same sentence. Genesis says, "... and a man wrestled with him till daybreak."
What are we to make of such an inconsistent statement? Was Jacob alone? Who was the man wrestling with him? Where did he come from?
The fact that there are no good answers to any of those questions lead us to the visionary - the waking dream - the mystical. This was a personal moment for Jacob - a moment of transition, reconfiguration - a moment of transfiguration. In some sense one can see this moment as Jacob wrestling with himself - his doubts, his deceit, his faith in God, and in his own ability. He is weakened by the "man" who touches and wounds his hip, but Jacob finds the strength not let go of the man.
Suddenly we find ourselves in an intuitive situation - that becomes inquisitive. The man asks Jacob to identify himself and when Jacob tells him his name, the man says, "You will no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." Jacob tells this unknown man in the dark, "I will not let you go until you bless me?"
This is such a heavy moment that one is tempted to psychoanalyze it, but there is a deeper mystical agenda being played out here because Jacob insists that the man he is struggling himself reveal his name and the man replies, "Why do you ask?" The question that awakens Jacob's intuition to the situation.
Then the man blesses Israel (Jacob) and Jacob recognizes the man as God - "I saw God face to face and lived." I would like to think that the face, Jacob ultimately saw in the dark was his own - the divine image of God as himself.
It is noteworthy that the writers continue to refer to Jacob as both Israel and Jacob. Transfiguration does not change us outwardly, but inwardly. Transfiguration changes how we see the world and in seeing the world and those around us in a new reconfigured light - a transfigured light in which the transfigured appear altered also.
The meeting between Esau and Jacob turns out to be a true loving reunion between twin brothers who ultimately are bonded by love and by recognition of their common journey through life. Israel sees Esau in a different light. Esau has been on his own mystical journey after losing his birthright and appear to have done well for himself. In the end, Esau, like Ishmael is blessed by God. Their lives are caught up in the mystic journey that we all are on. The writers brilliantly include them as a side narrative to ensure that the we understand that Abraham's, Isaac's, and Jacob's journey is not an exclusive tale, but one that includes everyone. Truly, everyone is blessed through the telling of their journey to paradise regained.
Jacob’s tale will continue, but the focus in Genesis will turn on Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph.
Until next time, stay faithful.
 I see in Jacob the serpentine because the serpent is associated with the feminine principle, not as an evil force but one that is wise. Wisdom is subtle. Genesis refers to the serpent in the Garden of Eden as being more subtle (code for wise) than all the other creatures. The serpent approaches Eve because Eve, being the feminine principle archetype proceeding from the one unified creation of mankind, is approachable and intuitive – Adam, the archetypal masculine principle is less approachable and more concrete – not wishing to struggle or take issue with God. Jacob is serpentine – seeing opportunity when to strike and when to bide his time. He possesses an intuitive wisdom that will assist him in his struggle with God and man.
 Genesis 25:34. To say that Esau despised his birthright offers some insight into the possibility that Esau saw his birthright as burden he didn’t really want. In fact, as this story plays out, one is given the sense that Esau, even though feeling cheated, is relieved when Isaac gives his blessing to Jacob.
 There is a subtext to this story. Esau takes Hittite wives who prove to be troublesome to both Isaac and Rebecca. Eventually Esau chooses a wife from one of Ishmael’s daughters to make things better. There is a sense in this side narrative that Esau does not want to fail either Isaac or Rebecca and therefore is relieved of the thought that he could disappoint them by not living up to the high expectations – Isaac’s blessing would entail.