The twin sons of Isaac, Esau and Jacob, had some of their most significant theological events in Jordan. The events leading up to them though, are very interesting. The three primary characters, Jacob, Esau, and Laban seem to be cheats, con men and ne’er-do-wells who are out to put a fast one over on each other.
Back when they were younger, Jacob cheated his twin brother, Esau, out of his birthright. As the older brother, he should have inherited his father’s wealth. He did give it up rather willingly for a bowl of red pottage, but it still rankled with him.
Later, as the old man was preparing for his imminent death, he called for Esau to receive the blessing that was rightfully his. Rebekah, who had always favored her younger son, called Jacob instead. She helped him, with an elaborate costume, to trick the blind and ailing father into believing he was bestowing the leadership of the family on Esau.
When Esau learned what had happened, he was naturally furious and promised he would kill Jacob. Rebekah prodded Jacob to run for his life. Jacob took off and ended up with his uncle Laban, in Mesopotamia.
Laban didn’t have any sons at the time, so he took a shine to Jacob and offered him one of his daughters as his wife. Since Jacob didn’t have any dowry money, he agreed to work for Laban for seven years in exchange for his daughter, Rachel. At the end of the agreed upon term, crafty ol’ Laban pulled a switcheroo on the wedding night and slipped Leah into the wedding tent.
Angry, but still hopeful for the hand of Rachel, Jacob agreed to work for another seven years for Rachel’s hand. So, after fourteen years Jacob has two wives, some kids but no money or property. He and Laban put their heads together and hatch another plan. For the next six years, Jacob will continue working for Laban, but now he will receive wages. His pay will be in the form of livestock. Any sheep or goat born black, with spots, or speckled will belong to Jacob. All the others will be Laban’s.
Jacob worked hard with country “spells” and “hocus-pocus” to cause more black, spotted, and speckled goats and lambs to be born. After six years, Jacob had a very nice flock of goats and sheep, not to mention a camel or two, two wives, two concubines, and a tent-full of kids. Laban now has sons, and the lot of them are getting pretty upset because they’re sure Jacob is outwitting them somehow and taking their inheritance. Relations are getting colder and colder, and Jacob decided it was time to fold his tents and head back down to Isaac’s house and hopefully, make up with his brother. That’s where Jordan comes into the picture.
Jacob said his goodbyes and he his flock started moving south. After they’d been gone for some days, Laban decided to chase them down. He finally caught up with them at Mizpah in Gilead, in the hills above the Jordan Valley. They kissed and made up and swore a pact between them; “May the Lord watch between you and me while we are absent one from the other” (Genesis 31:49)
That takes care of the in-laws, but Jacob still had to be worried about Esau. His brother had sworn to kill him on sight after the shenanigans he pulled with his birthright. So, there in the wilderness of Mahanaim, between Jerash and the Dead Sea, Jacob made the very first prayer cited in the Bible in which a man asked God for personal protection. “…O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst unto me, return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou has shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children. And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.” (Genesis 32:9-12)
Jacob’s knees were knocking with fear as he sent out flocks of sheep and goats as gifts to his brother in hopes of reconciling with him. When they started arriving at his house, he took off to meet Jacob and when he arrived Jacob started bowing to the ground, but Esau wasn’t having any of that. He grabbed his brother, hugged him and kissed him as they both cried tears of joy. So, all was forgiven and Esau went back home after visiting for awhile.
Jacob stayed on the eastern side of the Jordan and built himself a fine house in Succoth, which is now known as Tell Dier ’lla. (Genesis 33:17) Esau went into southern Jordan to Mount Seir, in Edom. (Genesis 36:6-8)