Jim's Sunday Sermon
Written by Jim Brochu
The late, great anthropologist Joseph Campbell once had an encounter with a man of God in the locker room of the New York Athletic Club. Campbell laughed at the fact that the exchange took place in a room where both men were naked, stripped of the costumes that defined their identity to the world.
THE ISAAC FAMILY PLOTS
The priest was angry that Campbell, a writer of books on primitive myths and a former Catholic, dared to compare the Holy Roman Faith to the religions of ancient tribal pagans.
Campbell responded by saying that the beauty in the comparison was that, not only did they share the same rituals and holidays, both were peoples of deep faith.
The priest said, "Aha! But those religions couldn't prove the existence of God! The Catholic faith can prove it!" Campbell said, "But if you can prove the existence of God, then what is the need of faith?" A profound question indeed.
We all need something to believe in. Something unseen. For if we could see it, taste it or touch it, we wouldn't have to believe, we would know for sure.
But in matters of faith, we can never know for sure, we can only believe.
The need for spirituality in a human being is as inborn as sexuality. Personally, I do believe in the existence of God. I'd be a fool not to believe that something greater than myself brought the world and its complexities into being. I can't look at this planet and see the way it all works together and believe this was an accident. Although I have no proof, there seems to be intelligence behind it all, which makes it a logical belief. But I can't be sure.
So because of man and nature, I believe in a higher power. However, must one put logic aside in order to believe? The world per se, in it's perfect order, makes sense. Nature doesn't contradict itself, but Bible stories - used to enforce moral authority over others - do.
I have taken to reading the Bible because people of deep faith have used these writings to condemn me. Like the warrant issued for my arrest, I want to read the fine print so I can respond.
I'm not at war with anyone. Mostly, I'm at war with myself. I'm struggling on a spiritual battlefield, shattered that people who believe in Jesus, the most non-partisan man that ever lived, are using his name to gain power and relegate me to second class citizenship.
Like the helpless prisoner in pre-Nazi Germany who wrote, "When they came for the Jews, I was not a Jew and so I did not speak. When they came for the Catholics, I was not a Catholic and so I said nothing. When they came for the homosexuals, I was not a homosexual and again, I said nothing. But when they came for me, there was no one left to speak."
I encourage everyone to have faith and believe, but real beliefs will stand the scrutiny of truth. One doesn't need to forego reason to embrace faith. I feel like the big old bear who's been happy living in the back of a cave away from the world, minding his own business. when someone sticks a pole in and takes a few pokes.
I am the bear. I have been poked. And if I don't stand up to speak for myself, who will be left to speak for me?
The truth is that so far in the Bible, the "People Of Faith" have behaved in a manner that today's society would condemn as sinful and immoral. Yet their adultery, slavery, lying, cheating and land grabbing are encouraged, even blessed by the God of their covenant. But since Abraham had several face to face encounters with God, was he really a man of faith? He didn't need faith. He had direct communication - proof!
But isn't the God they made their covenant with the same God we worship today? Isn't what was good for God then, good for God now? If beating a pregnant servant was okay two thousand years before Christ, why isn't slavery and battery all right two thousand years after? Continuity!
A Universal truth can't change with time. It's immutable. When I read the Bible as a child I thought that God spoke out loud to people on a regular basis and as I grew older, I wondered why he had stopped. Had He just walked away disgusted? Why had He left fallible and prejudicial men to interpret his word for him? Couldn't God speak for Himself? If The Big Voice is so big, why can't we hear it over the traffic?
The seeds of today's Middle East tensions, especially the hatred between the Jews and the Arabs over land, have their origins in Genesis; the sons of Ishmael (the Palestinians) are still fighting the sons of Isaac (the Israelis) and it all begins in Genesis, Chapter 24.
Abraham decides to find a decent bride for Isaac and gives his Chief Servant (I'll call him Sam since he is unnamed in scripture) the task of going back to the "old country" to pick a woman from his own family. He tells Sam to swear to do this deed.
THE ISAAC FAMILY PLOTS
Some rituals require that one puts their hand on the Bible in order to to take an oath, but since the Bible hadn't been written at this time, Abraham asks his servant to swear on his genitals. "Put your hand under my thigh and swear," he says in (Gen 24:2). This ritual made people want to swear to everything and the notary public business came into being.
Sam takes ten camels and a caravan of bride hunters and sets off for Nahor, the city of Abraham's brother. They stop at a well where Sam prays, "If a girl comes out and gets me water and then gets water for all the camels without my asking for it, then she's the one for Isaac."
Sure enough, a beautiful girl named Rebeccah comes out and does exactly that. When he finds out that she's Isaac's first cousin, Sam asks her to marry Isaac. No sooner does she say yes when Sam immediately puts bracelets on her wrist and a ring through her nose. Isn't that what they did to slaves?
Rebeccah's brother, Laban, saw her coming home with the ring in her nose and said, "Aha, she must be getting married." Sam gives Rebeccah gifts of gold and jewels and they return to Canaan where she marries Isaac.
After Sarah died, Abraham married a girl name Keturah who bore him six sons. He also had many concubines (Gen 25:6) which, for a man of a hundred and sixty, must have been exhausting. He lived to the age of one hundred and seventy-five years and left everything to Isaac. Ishmael, although he was exiled by his father and given only a loaf of bread, came to Abraham's funeral and even helped to bury him. (Gen 25:9)
Shortly after Isaac marries Rebeccah, a famine breaks out in the land and Isaac decides to move everyone to Gerar, where Abimelech was King. Remember Abimelech? The King of Gerar who fell in love with the ninety year-old Sarah, married her, suffered dire consequences, found out she was Abraham's wife (as well as his sister) and gave them a small fortune to leave.
And now here comes the son! Yikes! I guess the "Pretend You're My Sister" story was the Abraham's family favorite fable, because as they approach the gates of Gerar, Isaac says to Rebeccah, "You are so beautiful that the King will want to marry you and they'll kill me. Pretend your my sister!" Whereas Abraham could say truthfully that Sarah was his half-sister, the fact that Rebeccah was Isaac's cousin made this a bold-faced lie. As Yogi Bera would say, "Deja Vu all over again."
So they go to Abimelech, who is now identified as The King of the Philistines, and history repeats itself. Abimelech falls in love with Rebeccah, they get married, plagues descend on his house and he thinks, "Here we go again."
Isaac spills the beans and Bimmy realizes that this is the son of the man who had the contract with The Big Voice. He gives them gold, silver, jewels and a few more slaves to move to the suburbs and leave him alone. Once again, the scam works.
Isaac and Rebeccah move to the Valley with their family of thousands and prospered. The Philistines were very jealous of them because the Isaacs were doing well, had a great amount of livestock, servants and slaves, plus the protection of The Big Voice. It seems that the abundance or lack of material possessions was a direct correlation to how much The Big Voice liked or disliked you.
In order to keep his livestock alive, Isaac digs open his father's old wells in the Gerar Valley but the Philistines get into a fight with him over who has the water rights and close it up. They do this a second time in another part of the valley, only to meet with the same defiant, cranky Philistines. Already there is tension building in the Middle-East because the most important element to life beside air is water, and in the desert - water is scarce.
Abimelech, hoping to settle the dispute between his people and the Isaacs, goes to see Isaac who says, "You hate me and threw me out of Gerar, why do you come to see me?" This makes him the author of the old addage, "The best defense is a good offense."
Abimelech says it's obvious that the Isaacs have the support of The Big Voice and since he's always treated them well (after being deceived by both Isaac and his father) he wants to sign a peace treaty so everybody can "just get along." Isaac agrees and they have a barbecue.
When Isaac is sixty, Rebeccah (who has been barren until now) conceives twins. The Declaration of Independence declares that all men are created equal under God, but the God of Genesis 25:23 makes it clear that they are not.
Apparently, some are born to be slaves and others to be masters. The Big Voice comes to Rebecah in a dream and says, "You have two nations inside of you who will hate each other. One nation will have mastery over the other and the elder shall serve the younger."
The question then becomes, is one born a slave or can you choose slavery as a lifestyle?
Rebeccah gives birth two two sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau is described as a militantly hairy, red-headed man's man. His brother Jacob is smooth and gentle. Isaac prefers Esau because he's a great hunter and brings daddy back loads of game birds for barbecue; but Jacob is a mama's boy. His mother loved him because he was quiet, liked to cook and stayed in his tent all day. (Gen 25:28)
In tribal times, the most important thing a son could have was his birthright. It was given to the eldest male and meant that upon his father's death, and with his father's blessing, he was the unquestioned head of the family, entitled to all material riches that came with the title of patriarch.
Esau comes home from the field one day and he's starving to death. In Genesis 25:30, Jacob has been busy in the kitchen cooking a red soup (maybe a nice borscht or cream of tomato), when Esau begs for some. Jacob offers to sell his brother a bowl of soup and some bread for Esau's birthright and Esau, who thinks he's going to drop dead momentarily from hunger and would have no use for it anyway, agrees.
Esau survived his hunger attack and when he was forty took two wives, Judith the Hittite and Basemath the Hittite. Isaac and Rebeccah did not approve of this mixed marriage. One could argue that The Big Voice does not condone sex outside of marriage but compensated by not limiting marriage to one partner.
When Isaac was old and dying, he summoned Esau and said, "If you go out and kill me some turkeys or chickens and bring them back and cook them just the way I like them, then I will give you my blessing before I die." Esau fills his quiver and sets off to fulfill his father's last wishes.
Rebeccah, who has been listening to the whole exchange, and who always liked Jacob best, plots to cheat her oldest son out of his due blessing.
She tells Jacob to cook up some lamb the way his father likes, then put on Esau's clothes, give the meal to Isaac and steal Esau's blessing. Jacob is nervous because he's smooth and his brother is hairy and if his father touches him he'll know he's being tricked and then he'll get cursed instead of blessed. Rebeccah says she'll take the curse for him.
I'm not exactly sure what a "curse" is. God puts curses on a lot of people, as people put curses on each other, but there never seems to be any consequences to the curse. The accursed all end up doing very well. The Standard American Dictionary defines a curse as 1) An appeal or prayer for evil or misfortune to befall someone or something. 2) The evil or misfortune that comes in or as if in response to such an appeal.
Since part of the cursing process is prayer and prayer is communication with God, then a curse is a prayer for evil. A person asks God to do something evil to someone else because they have been wronged by the "accursed" party. Can God cause evil to happen?
Although "Thou Shalt Not Steal" has not yet been commanded, Rebeccah and Jacob know innately that they are doing the wrong thing by trying to steal a blessing, but go ahead hoping that they won't get caught.
Rebeccah further enhances the scam by draping Jacob in a sheepskin so that if his father touches him, he'll think it's Esau who, with red hair, covering every inch of his body, must have looked like the Orangutan in "Every Which Way But Loose."
Rebeccah dresses him him Esau's best clothes, cooks up Isaac's favorite dinner and sends him off to pull the sheepskin over his father's blind eyes. Isaac smells the food and says, "Mmmm, the food smells great, but who are you?"
Jacob says, "It's me, Esau - your eldest son. And I shot and cooked the food you asked for."
"Boy, that's was quick," says Isaac. Jacob wrongly implicates The Big Voice in the plot by saying that it was He who put the food in his path when the truth is it was his overbearing mother! But Isaac is suspicious. He thinks he recognizes Jacob's voice and asks him to come close so he can feel his foliage. He says, "Are you really Esau?" and Jacob says, "Yes. I am." (Liar. Liar. Bernoose on fire!) Isaac feels the sheepskin and says, "Okay, I guess you're hairy enough."
Isaac gives Jacob the blessing and no sooner than Jacob leaves, Esau comes in with a savory meal and says, "Here's your dinner, pop. Let's have the blessing."
Isaac realizes what happened and says, "Well, your brother just scammed your blessing out of me and once I give a blessing I can't take it back."
"Haven't you another blessing?" asks Esau.
"Nope," says Isaac. "I only have one good blessing in me but if you really want to be blessed, then I bless you to be your brother's servant and live by the sword and if you can fight your way free, then okay."
Esau, like Sonny in "The Godfather" when he finds out that Michael has gotten Don Corleone's blessing to be the new head of the family, plots to kill Jacob. Rebeccah finds out and sends Jacob away to live with relatives until Esau cools off. (Besides, she hates the Hittite women and threatens to kill herself if her son marries one.) Rebeccah, the first Jewish mother!
On his way to Haran to marry of one his cousins, Jacob has a dream wherein The Big Voice promises to give him the land he's sleeping on, even though somebody else is already there. He tells him that his descendants will be like specks of sand and spread to the four corners of the earth. (Gen 28:15) Jacob calls the place Bethel which, according to my map of the Old Testament, is about seventy miles from Jerusalem. Isn't this as good as being given a deed to the land - a dream? I could just see Golda Meir walking into a room and saying, "Israel is our land because The Big Voice said it was." Oh, come to think of it - she did.
Jacob goes to work as a farm hand for his Uncle Laban and falls in love with the younger of his daughters, Rachel. Jacob agrees to work for Laban for seven years in return for Rachel's hand in marriage. Seven years pass, Jacob takes his veiled bride into their tent, the marriage is consummated and the next day Jacob wakes up to find he's slept with Rachel's older sister, Leah.
Joe Stein, in "Fiddler On The Roof," says the lesson in this passage is: NEVER TRUST AN EMPLOYER!
Jacob protests to Laban who says, "No, the older one has to go first but if you work for me another seven years, you can have Rachel too." So Jacob agreed and a week after the first marriage, Jacob married his true love, Rachel. But The Big Voice didn't like the way Jacob was ignoring Leah and so he made Rachel barren and opened Leah's womb.
Rachel and Jacob have a fight about why she can't have children. She blames him, he blames The Big Voice. She does what every barren wife would do and arranges for her husband to sleep with her maid.
Leah, knowing she can't have any more children, makes Jacob sleep with her maid also. But Leah still feels neglected and pays her sister Rachel seven ducks to let her have sex with Jacob. This is a breakthrough in the battle of the sexes by allowing the wife to pimp for her husband, instead of the other way around.
Between the four women listed in Genesis (Rachel, Leah, Zilpah and Bilhah) Jacob has twelve children. Not only do his sons begin tribes of their own, but his second youngest gains fame being the title character in an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical.
NEXT: JACOB BECOMES RICH AND CHANGES HIS NAME TO ISRAEL.
PART 1: THE ADAM FAMILY
PART 2: CAIN & ABEL
PART 3: NOAH, CAPTAIN OF THE FIRST LOVE BOAT
PART 5: SODOM, SARAH & ISAAC
PART 6: THE ISAAC FAMILY PLOTS
PART 7: JACOB & HIS WILD KIDS
PART 8: I DREAM OF JOSEPH
© 1998, 1999 by Jim Brochu.
All rights of reproduction are reserved by the author.
This book originated at Bonusround.com.