Isaac's Jacob-Oriented Journey (25:19–26:33)
The Family: Problems of Birth and Beauty (25:19–26:11)
The Outside World: Problems with Contending Philistines and
The biblical account of Jacob is a form of biography, womb to tomb, and as such it extends clearly as far as Genesis 50 (25:19—chap. 50). But it is not all clear and simple. The narrative is complex in its content and levels. Its content includes other important characters, especially Isaac, Joseph, and Judah. And it has several levels. As a biography it tells the story of just one person. As an account of someone who is corporate, it tells the story of a whole people (Jacob is Israel). And insofar as Jacob's biography is a paradigm of human existence, his story portrays human life as a whole.
While it is useful to discuss the background of the Jacob story, especially the relationship to Hosea 12 (de Pury, 2001; Wahl, 1997), such discussion needs to be set in the context of Jacob's place within Genesis (see Introduction, esp. Chapter 11), and in the context of the virtual impossibility of separating strata from within a finished text (see Appendix 1).
In the Jacob story the focus on life as a whole emerges from the beginning. The diptych account of the journeys of Isaac (25:19–26:33) is unusual: its ultimate function is not to describe Isaac but to set the scene for his son Jacob. Isaac does not receive the attention due to him historically as one of three founding fathers. Rather, in a move which subjects the interests of history to those of theology-oriented literary art, the portrayal of Isaac is subjected to the portrayal of Abraham and Jacob, and thus to the larger portrayal of human life. Hence, while the narrative begins with an Isaac-centered historiographical introduction (“These are the generations of Isaac …, ” 25:19), it promptly switches to the birth of Jacob and to an implicit statement about the difficulties of human birth and existence. The children clash in the womb, and Rebekah's anguished question, “Why go on living?” (or “Why/who am I?” 19:22), is applicable to the larger question of human existence. Aspects of Jacob are like those of Oedipus (Nicol, 1996).
The story recounts the beginning of the life of Jacob. It is a troubled beginning, with barrenness, a difficult pregnancy, and contention between twins. Yet all is