To Esau, these things are of little value and meaning: “Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles, and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright” (Gen 25:34).
This is the divine verdict concerning Esau, that he despised the gift of God and held it as of little value. Perhaps therein lies the explanation of the seemingly arbitrary and harsh words of God: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom 9:13). Their Creator knew better than anybody else what was in each one of them.
Jacob may at times seem crafty and subtle and in comparison with the natural and simple-minded Esau even appear unfavorably. Yet with all this Esau was an earthbound being, where the Spirit of God finds no entrance. Only Jacob could dream of angels and God, for his deepest waking yearnings were spiritual.
Jacob is affectionate, his love for Rachel tender and constant. He is a devoted son. In his love for his children, especially for Joseph and Benjamin, there is pathos and passion, causing him, as her expressed himself, to go down “with sorrow to the sheol” (Gen 42:38). Such a character is not to be scoffed at. Its tragic complexity commands our sincere respect. Like in all profound characters, there seem to be in him irreconcilable contradictions. His twofold name, Jacob-Israel, is in itself indicative of that. Through toil and suffering, Jacob, the supplanter, is gradually transformed into “Israel-the prince with God.” With the passing of the years, the cruder features of youth become softened and purified, and his character crowned with the grace of humility expressed in that lovely passage of Jacob’s confession before God: “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant” (32:10).
When considering the relationship between Jacob and Laban, we must bear in mind the fact that it was Laban in the first place who took advantage of and exploited his son-in-law. Jacob only matched the unscrupulous cunning of Laban with a little guile of his own. Hard as the bargain was, Jacob adhered strictly to the terms of the contract. It was Laban who proved himself to be the crafty and unscrupulous employer, causing Jacob to complain bitterly: “Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times” (31:41).
Jacob’s experience with Laban seems to be prophetic of the experience of his children the Jews. They too often were given an unfair and raw deal. They were often forced into a position in which their only weapons against injustice and brute force were shrewdness and an ability to outwit those who would rob them, if they were to survive at all in a hostile world. Yet when treated with equity and fairness, they are as honorable and straightforward as any people in the world.
In the seemingly mercenary and self-seeking Jacob there is the dormant Israel, which means “a prince with God.” The world does not see it or realize it, yet Christ did. Zacchaeus, in the eyes of his contemporaries, was just a little, mean, sordid publican; but Christ, who could look into the soul of the man, discerned in him a hunger after righteousness, in whom there was the making of a great disciple (Lk 19:9-10).
The magic of love in conjunction with the magic of faith performed a miracle of grace. These miracles still happen today, and the tribe of the Zacchaeuses is more numerous than ever.