The Tale of Hairy and Grabby, Part 1

‘Former Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan tells the story of being on Air Force One.  He was in the back compartment of the jet while President Reagan was in the front of the compartment. ‘The phone rang in the back compartment and the voice said, “Mr. Donovan, the president would like for you to join him for lunch.”  Secretary Donovan straightened his tie and thought to himself how important he was to have the president ask him to lunch.

‘Just as Donovan walked through the doorway into the president’s compartment, the red phone rang, the Presidential Hot Line.  Wow — what a moment to be present!  Reagan picked up the phone and said, “Yes…uh-huh.  Yes…what are my options?”  Donovan’s heart almost stopped.  His mind raced.  Then President Reagan continued, “OK.  I’ll have the iced tea!”  Donovan’s ego was [suddenly] deflated.’ 

surprise and promise

This tale of Hairy and Grabby is one of surprise and promise. It’s strange to me that the child of God’s promise, Isaac, and the bride of God’s faithfulness, Rebekah, would have two children like Esau and Jacob. We might think that two so obviously blessed people might do better for themselves than these two rascals.

The story builds to this wonderful point of pregnancy and expectation. Isaac prays for Rebekah because she’s barren, and she conceives. You see, we’re still looking for God to fulfill his promises to Abraham. We’re still looking for how Abraham, even though he has “died in a good old age, an old man full of years, and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25.8) — we’re still looking for how Abraham will receive all God’s promises. We’re still looking!

So, “…the Lord granted [Isaac’s] prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived,” (Genesis 25.21), and there’s this sigh of relief because now we can see how God might do some more work on his promises. But these two rascals couldn’t get along, even in the womb, and it hardly seems fair. Why can’t anyone just live “happily ever after” in Genesis?

Through the twists and turns of the Genesis narratives, little is been predictable — save for God’s divine will being accomplished through, well, these sometimes less than sparkling people. So, here we go again.

These two fighting rascals were so unpleasant in the womb, Rebekah wondered why she should even live. Rebekah has “[t]wo nations in [her] womb, and two peoples born of [her] shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25.23). That’s what the Lord told her. How’s that for a sonogram report?

The time comes for them to be born, and the first boy comes out red and hairy, and “so they named him Esau.” The second brother came out “with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob” (Genesis 25.25-26). As you can gather, Esau’s name means “hairy,” but Jacob’s name means “he takes by the heel” or “he supplants.” Let me make a one word translation of Jacob’s name for us. His name means “grabby.”  Thus we come to the tale of “Hairy and Grabby.”

Hairy and Grabby

Now Hairy was a man’s man. We might expect him to appear on the Outdoor Channel. He was a great hunter, a poster child for Field and Stream. Of course, it’s not surprising — he’s hairy like the animals. No wonder he hunts so well – he looks like an animal and he smells like one, too. Hairy “was a skillful hunter;” he had great knowledge about how to hunt and live in the field. (Genesis 25.27a).

Grabby was not like his brother; he was not-so-manly. The text reads that “Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents” (Genesis 25.27b). We might be tempted to read that Grabby might appear on the Home and Garden Network or the Food Channel, but we’d misread the text.

The Hebrew word tam for “quiet” or “plain” (per the KJV) also means “simple, perfect, complete, ordinary, one who lacks nothing in physical strength or beauty, one who is morally innocent, one who has integrity.” We see this word used of David, and we see this word used of Job: “There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless (tam) and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1.1).

Let’s be honest: we know Grabby, and he’s anything but “simple, perfect, complete, ordinary, or morally innocent.” We know that because we know the rest of his story, how he was sometimes less than honest, tricky, and greedy; people also treated him less than honestly, trickily, and greedily (cf. Genesis 29-31). Let’s pretend, for a moment though, that we don’t know the rest of his story.

Please join me next week for the rest of the tale of Hairy and Grabby.

A text for the table: Genesis 25.19-43.

Air Force One story from James Hewitt, Illustrations Unlimited, p. 297.

Graphic Credit: