Twin Brothers (Genesis 32-36)
This week describes the return of the lost son Jacob back to Canaan. He can not avoid meeting his brother Esau, who has been resentful for more than twenty years. He is afraid and preparing for this encounter in the Jordan Valley, and tries to soften the blow: he sends his servants with livestock as a gift to his brother who approaches him with an army of 400 men. On the night before the encounter an angel wrestles with Jacob and Jacob defeats him and demands that he bless him. The angel changes his name from Jacob to Israel. The word “Akov” as from Jacob means mountain, heel and deceiver; poor Jacob indeed deceived his brother and father, was forced to escape to the mountains and almost became a slave at the house of Laban. But no, he gets a new name – Israel, which means plain Valley, ruler and honest – precisely resembling Jacob’s story.
Jacob is an honest man before men and God, he walks in the Jordan valley safely and is now more confident as the father of the tribes of Israel. Not far from Jacob and Esau’s meeting point, John the Baptist began his mission by saying a quote from Isaiah 40:3-4 and Mark 1:3:
“A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain”
When the Messiah will come – the truth will be fully revealed, the mountains will become a plain like the flat Jordan Valley and the evil heart will turn good.
From the east of the Land of Israel, the Jordan Valley, I want to take you this week to the beaches of Israel, to Caesarea. Caesarea was built by King Herod at the end of the first century BCE and named after Emperor Augustus, whom Herod wanted to please. It was a port city built from scratch and became not only a rich and prosperous city but also the capital of the province of Judaea for more than 600 years. In Caesarea you can see the ancient theater, statues and impressive columns, bathhouses and public latrines, the remains of the impressive harbor – but this can be seen in many Roman cities. But, what you can only see here is the temple built by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, the palace of Herod where Paul was kept under arrest (Acts 23:35) and the city of Cornelius, the Roman centurion, who was the first non-Jew to convert to Christianity (Acts 10:24). Caesarea was destroyed by earthquakes and wars several times throughout the middle Ages but today it is an Israeli town as well as an archaeological site.
This week we read about the descendants of Esau, among them Amalek (Genesis 36:12) the people who persecuted Israel in the desert, and Magdiel (Genesis 36:43), who according to the Jewish tradition is the father of Rome. In the eyes of the Jewish rabbis and the fathers of the church, Jacob is the righteous brother, while Esau the hunter, also called “Edom” which means “red”, is the evil brother. But we still have to ask how the connection between Esau and Rome was made. Perhaps it was Herod who was a Jew of Edomite origin, perhaps the red robes of the Roman soldiers, perhaps the brutal bloody gladiatorial battles? Either way, Rome, which was very hostile to the Jews (and, of course, to the early Christians who were considered Jews), considered the offspring of Esau. The struggle and tension between the Jews conquered by Pagan Rome and their conquerors grew until it culminated in severe rebellions that occurred in the first and second centuries CE. The result was catastrophic for the Jews: Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Jews were massacred under the emperors Vespasian and Hadrian. When the Roman Empire converted to Christianity in the fourth century a new and very long chapter of persecution by Christians began, including the Holocaust in Europe during World War II. Only in the 1960s did Pope Paul VI determine that Jews should not be blamed for the death of Christ and that Christianity derives from the Jewish root (and not vice versa) as written in the epistle to Romans 11:18: “do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.”
Thus, the rivalry between the brothers in the Jordan Valley became a rivalry between the Jews and Rome and between the Jews and the Christians. This rivalry is coming to its conclusion. Jews are back in their homeland, more and more Christians acknowledge the Jewish roots of their faith, as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Malachi 1:2-3, Romans 9:13).
Itamar Ben David is a professional tour guide and educator. He is one of the most popular Travelujah guides providing valuable biblical, historical and modern day insight on the land of Israel to Jewish and Christian groups and exclusive private tours. He has guided famous media personalities such as Larry King, congressmen and other VIP clients. He and his wife live in Jerusalem.