Authors: Gilbert Morris
Tags: #FIC042030, #FIC042000, #FIC026000
Rebekah awoke in the darkness, the babies within her stirring as if they were fighting to find their exit. Isaac was gone, for he sometimes went to check on the flocks at night. Fearful at being alone, she began to pray, remembering her father-in-law's many encouragements to call on God often.
“Keep praying, daughter, and one day God Most High will speak to you.”
Rebekah did pray often, but she had never experienced the presence of Godâat least not like the personal encounters Abraham described. “Oh, God, why do I feel like this? Something terrible is happening, and I am afraid! Please, God Most High, give me peace!”
Even as she prayed Rebekah became aware of a presence in her tent. It was so strong she thought at first Isaac had returned, but then she knew that could not be. The tent was no longer dark; a light was glowing directly in front of her. Unlike the light of a candle or of an oil lamp, it was pure, strong, and steady. Intense fear paralyzed her. She lay absolutely still as the light grew stronger, and finally she whispered, “O God Most High, is it you?”
Then a voice spoke to herâso gentle she could not be sure whether she heard it with her ears or discerned it in her heart. It was tender, yet strong. Powerful words filled her, words she knew she would never forget:
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”
Then the voice grew fainter and repeated the last part of the prophecy:
“The older will serve the younger. Do not forgetâ¦.”
Rebekah's vision blurred as her eyes filled with tears. She wiped them away and stared into the darkness. The strange light had dimmed, leaving her alone once again. She lay perfectly still, hardly daring to breathe, repeating what she had heard word for word, over and over, until the message was burned in her heart forever. Even though she did not understand the prophecy, she was filled with joy, for now she had met the God of Abraham, the One who was all-powerful!
She laid her hands on her stomach and smiled. The children in her womb were peaceful and still. When her husband returned and lay down beside her, she whispered, “Isaac?”
“Iâ¦a strange thing has happened.”
“What is it, wife?” Isaac listened as she spoke, and finally, when she fell silent, he said, “It must have been a dream, Rebekah.”
Rebekah did not argue, but she
it was no dream! She had been wide awake, and the words were etched on her spirit and her mind. She put out her hand, and Isaac held it. Firmly she said, “It was no dream, husbandâand the older will serve the younger.”
Old Bethez was the best midwife in the tribe and had witnessed hundreds of births. But she had never seen anything like this one! They had called her in the middle of the night, but she was used to that. It was often the time that little ones chose to make their entrance into the world. She did not hurry on her way to Isaac and Rebekah's tent. After all, this was the woman's first birth, and it would be long and difficult, especially as she was having twins. When Bethez and her assistant, Naomi, arrived at Rebekah's tent, they were shocked to find that the labor had progressed so rapidly that the first infant was already emerging. The midwives rushed to assist, ushering the panicked father out of the tent as quickly as possible. Bethez soothed the mother, encouraging her to push and help the baby make its way out. As Rebekah strained with the effort, Bethez grabbed ahold of the baby's shoulders and expertly guided the baby out fully. Both midwives gasped at the strange sight. The boy infant was covered with reddish hair! As they started to remove the child, they noticed something even stranger.
As the second baby emerged, Naomi whispered, “Why, the second is holding on to his brother's heel!”
“I have never seen the like!” Bethez exclaimed, breathless. “It must mean something, but I surely do not know what.”
After the two women had cleaned and swaddled the babies and tended to Rebekah, Bethez said to Naomi, “Go bring the master in.”
At the midwife's invitation, Isaac rushed to his wife's side, taking her limp hand in his own and kissing it tenderly. Even though the birth had been quick, he had suffered through his own fear of the midwives not showing up in time and the heart-wrenching helplessness of hearing his wife's cries of pain. Now Isaac gently smoothed back her hair, damp and matted from the agonizing ordeal, and whispered, “Are you all right, my love?”
Rebekah tried to raise her head to see what the midwives were doing but did not have the strength. “My babiesâ¦my babiesâ¦” she answered weakly. “Where are my babies?”
Bethez turned and came to her side, holding a baby in each arm and smiling broadly. “You have two fine sons.” She helped Rebekah cradle the infants in her own arms, and the new mother's eyes shone with joy and wonder at the tiny miracles snuggled against her. Bethez laid a hand on one infant and turned to Isaac. “This one with red hair was the firstborn, master.”
Bethez watched as Rebekah held them gently, and then she added, “I don't know what it means, but the second baby, the smaller one, held the heel of his brother as he came from the womb.”
Rebekah stared at the old woman. Then she looked down at the two babies, the one red-faced, his body already covered with hair, the other smaller and paler. “You name the firstborn, husband.”
“We will call him Esau.”
Rebekah smiled and nodded. The name, meaning “hairy,” was appropriate.
Isaac stroked Rebekah's hair and said, “Now you name his brother.”
“We will call him Jacob.”
“Jacob!?” Isaac started. “âUsurper'? What a strange name to put on a baby!”
Despite Isaac's objections, Rebekah was sure of the choice. “His name is Jacob,” she whispered sleepily, pulling the two infants closer and shutting her eyes. “His name is Jacob.”
Ten-year-old Jacob's most prized possession was an ancient game from Egypt called Hounds and Jackals. His brother had one called Senet. They had been gifts from their grandfather Abraham, who had acquired both games during his sojourn in Egypt decades earlier. Jacob had paid close attention to his grandfather's instructions on how to play and, as a result, had become adept at both games. They were intricate and required intense concentration, but Jacob had an inherent ability to work puzzles and loved any game that required skill and cleverness.
Esau, on the other hand, cared not a whit for either game, and he had finally traded his to Jacob for a bronze knife. Jacob cared little for weapons, so both boys were content with the bargain. Esau proudly carried the knife in a soft leather sheath, keeping the blade sharp enough to shave a man.
On one particularly hot morning, Jacob had persuaded Esau to play Hounds and Jackals with him and had handily beaten him three times in a row. Unfortunately, Jacob was too preoccupied with his own success to notice that his brother was getting angry. “There, I win again!” Jacob crowed, whereupon Esau leaped to his feet.
Esau was a head taller than Jacob and considerably stronger. He had defeated every other boy their age at games involving physical strength or agility. In a rage over losing, he kicked the board, shattering it and sending game pieces high into the air. Tiny sticks carved with jackal heads rained down around them. “I hate this stupid game!” Esau screamed.
“You've broken my board!” Jacob wailed. Ordinarily he would not have dared to fight Esau, but the game from his grandfather was irreplaceable. Now the polished wood with delicate ivory-and-gold insets lay splintered in pieces around them. Without thinking, Jacob threw himself at the larger boy and began pummeling him.
Esau was taken off guard by Jacob's unexpected ferocity and fell backward under the assault. He quickly recovered, however, jumping up and shoving his brother to the ground. “Your stupid old games aren't anything!” he yelled. “I'll tear up both of them!”
Pinned under Esau, Jacob was helpless to fend off the blows.
Rebekah heard Jacob's shrieks and came running. She grabbed Esau's hair and one arm and dragged him off, shouting, “What are you doing, Esau? Shame on you for hurting your brother!”
Esau jerked his arm out of his mother's grasp, ignoring the pain as she still held tight to his hair. “You always take his side, Mother!”
“Because you're always taking advantage of him. What's this all about?”
“He smashed my game!” Jacob cried out, struggling to his feet. With tears running down his cheeks, he picked up several of the pieces and held them out. “Look, it's all broken.”
“We'll get it fixed, son. Don't worry about it. Now, aren't you ashamed, Esau?”
“No, I'm not!”
“Well, you should be!” Rebekah said, anger scoring her face. “You know how much he loves both of his games.”
“Well, he cheated me out of one of them!”
“I did not!” Jacob shouted. “We traded. You wanted the knife, and I wanted the game!”
“That's right,” Rebekah said, nodded and releasing her hold on Esau's hair. “Now you'll have to be punished, Esau.”
“Me! What about him? He hit me first!”
“But you broke his game, and he didn't break anything of yours,” Rebekah said. “Now leave us. I'll have your father deal with you later.”
Esau gave his mother a wounded glance, then glared at Jacob before whirling and running away, his back rigid with anger.
“Don't worry about your game, Jacob,” Rebekah said, putting her arms out to the boy. “Your father can fix it. He's clever with things like that.”
Jacob collapsed against his mother's breast and whined, “I don't see why Esau has to be so mean.”
Rebekah bit her lip as she enfolded the boy in her arms. She tried not to favor Jacob, but her heart was soft toward her younger son. Finding the courage to hold him away from her, she looked him in the eye and said firmly, “Your brother is not as smart as you are, Jacob. He can't win at mind games as easily as you do.”
“Well, I can't run as fast as he can, but I don't hit him because of it.”
“Your father will have to speak to him. Now, come along and I'll give you something you like.”
Jacob and his mother picked up the broken game, then went inside the family tent. Jacob carefully tucked the pieces away in his wooden chest, hoping his father or grandfather would be able to put them together again, then went to his mother, who was holding out a dish. “Here, Jacob, have some of these fresh dates.”
“Can I have some honey to dip them in, Mother?”
“Yes, but we're almost out.”
Jacob greedily grabbed the dish and began to dip the dates in what was left of the honey. While he was eating his favorite treat, he listened to his mother. In a way, she was Jacob's best friend. He did at times play with other children his age, but he preferred his mother's quiet company. He spent little time with his father, who was more taken up with Esau. Perhaps it was natural for his mother to favor Jacob, for he was like her in so many ways.
Esau, on the other hand, was so unlike either of his parents that he seemed like a stranger in the family. His skin was tanned a deep bronze from staying outdoors constantly. Neither heat nor cold would keep him in their tent. His hair was bright red, and his young body was hairy, with forearms already covered with a furlike mat. It was difficult for those who met the boys for the first time to believe that they were brothersâthey were so different physically and in every other way.
Finally Rebekah looked up and said, “Here comes your grandfather.”
“Good. Maybe he'll play a game with me,” Jacob said, brightening. When his grandfather stepped inside the tent, the boy ran to him and hugged his legs. “Grandfather, will you play with me?”
Abraham patted him on the back and said kindly, “Perhaps later, Jacob. I am busy with the flock just now.” At Jacob's disappointed sigh, he stooped down and put his arm around him. “Actually, I came home just now to take you to see the new lambs.”
“Oh, I'd like that, Grandfather!” Jacob said, running to his sleeping corner to grab his staff.
“Will you have something to eat before you go?” Rebekah asked Abraham quickly. “I'm fixing your favorite stew.”
“Later, daughter. This young man and I have a lot to do just now. Come along, Jacob.”
Giving his mother a kiss, Jacob happily left with his grandfather. Skipping alongside the old man and kicking pebbles out of the way as they made their way out of the camp, Jacob told Abraham about his fight with Esau. “I wasn't doing anything, Grandfather, and he just got up and smashed the board all to pieces!”
“Did you beat him at the game?” Abraham raised a knowing eyebrow at his grandson.
“Yesâthree times!” Jacob crowed proudly.
“Well, then, you made him feel bad, Jacob.”