“Please stay with us a while longer, my brother,” Ishmael coaxed as Isaac made preparations to depart, “We have just come to know each other and we may never again see each other.”
“The God of our father, Abraham, may decree otherwise, Ishmael. Perhaps he may move you to visit with us. Would you then visit?”
“This God of Abraham is your God, Isaac; he is not my God. Long ago, at your birth, He made this clear when He told Abraham to drive my mother, Hagar, and me into the desert. There I almost perished from thirst. This is the God you serve, Isaac. He is the God who cheated me from my rightful inheritance and bestowed it to you, at the whim of a jealous woman. I understand that my subjects also worship the God of our father, Abraham under a different name. I permit them to do so because they need a god to worship. I do not, especially one such as yours who hated me and Hagar, my mother, but loved, Sara, your jealous, hate-filled, vengeful mother. There are no gods for me, especially the God of Abraham.”
Isaac gazed intently at his brother. Then he said, “Tell me again how you and your mother, Hagar, were saved from death in the desert.”
Ishmael gestured with impatience. He appeared mildly agitated. “Do we not have better things to discuss at your departure than a thing that happened so long ago? I have told you that I no loner bear have hatred in me what was done to my mother and me. Why would you would you have me repeat them now? These things are best left in forgetfulness, now that we have seen each other.”
“For my sake, please indulge me in this that I ask, Ishmael, my brother. I have a purpose in asking it of you,” Isaac said.
Still somewhat angry, Ishmael complied. “After your mother forced us into exile in this desert, we no longer had water. My mother, Hagar, had saved most of the little water Abraham gave to us for me to drink, but it was not very much and was soon gone. I was dying of thirst and could no longer walk and even stand. After I fell to the sand, Hagar could not bear to see my death, so she laid me under a bush, moved away a little distance from me. She began weeping. She afterward told me that an angel of God spoke to her . . . ”
When Isaac lifted a hand to indicate that he wanted to speak, Ishmael ceased speaking and gestured for him to do so.
“Whose God sent the angel to your mother and you, my brother?” he inquired, “Was it the God of our father Abraham, or one of the gods whom even you say do not exist?” Ishmael stared, dumfounded. He understood now why his brother asked for him to tell the story of his and Hagar’s deliverance from death.
“I await your answer, Ishmael. Whose God sent the angel who deliver you from death?”
Ishmael’s composure returned, and he began to laugh uproariously and the others joined in. “So, Isaac,” he acknowledged, “You have ensnared me with my own words. We all know it was the God of Abraham who sent the angel. It was he who saved me and my mother from death.”
“And did this angel sent by the God of our father, Abraham, say anything else?” Isaac asked.
Ishmael again went silent, before answering. This time his silence was a long one, but no one dared breech it, not even Isaac. When he finally did speak, his features were thoughtful, and his tone held a seriousness quality hitherto not manifested during his account.
“Yes, my brother, the angel told my mother he would make me into a great nation.”
“And has that not already begun? The God of our father Abraham has blessed you with twelve brave sons. Each is a mighty warrior; so mighty that the armies of Egypt fear them. Each rules from a castle that belongs to him alone. Together, they rule the desert tribes. Even my people have heard of The Ishmaelite Confederacy. Some speak of it with fear, knowing how you were exiled by our father.”
“They need not fear me or my sons. I would never attack you and your people. Neither I nor my sons would ever commit fratricide and do as Cain did to his brother, Able, ” Ishmael categorically responded.
“I know this, for I now know you and your sons, my brother. But, my people have yet to meet you. For this reason I entreat you to visit with us, that my people may see that we love each other as a family should love. Again, I entreat you to visit my people with your sons and their families,” Isaac pleaded.
Ishmael surveyed the faces surrounding him. One by one, as his eyes took inventory of his sons, each son nodded assent.
“Yes, I have now decided; we shall go with you, to visit your family, Isaac,” he stated, “But before we leave, I must make preparations for the protection of my people. My sons and I must give orders to our warriors who remain behind. Then we shall depart with you.”
Isaac’s sons, Jacob and Esau, were twins, but a person wouldn’t suspect it by looking at them. From his puberty, Esau was hairy and rugged. The tribal history chroniclers alleged that Esau’s name was derived from the word “Seir,” claiming that the word meant “hairy.” Tribal seers and prognosticators predicted that Seir was a territory Esau would one day claim as his own.
An outdoorsman, camp life bored Esau. Instead he delighted in the chase of the hunt, often returning to the encampment with an antelope, a wild goat, or a bighorn mountain sheep he had slain slung over his broad, hairy shoulders. On his return with game from a successful hunt, Esau always simmered a stew from the meat of his kill, sharing it with his father. Isaac relished these stews; he looked forward to them. It was well known among Isaac’s tribes that Esau was his favorite son.
Jacob, who was born a second or so after Esau, entered life clutching onto his brother’s heel. Tribal chroniclers were at odds regarding the meaning of his name. Some claimed it meant, “heel-catcher,” while others asserted that the name meant, “supplanter.”
Unlike Esau, Jacob was a man-about-camp, a homebody who enjoyed the activities associated with domestic life, especially that of cooking. Perhaps it was for this reason that he became the son favored by his mother, Rebecca. The favoritism displayed by both parents engendered a scorn for each other within the twins. Jacob considered Esau an ignorant lout, often implying that his twin’s shagginess indicated that he should live among the wild animals. He also vilified Esau as an oaf who brought disgrace to the family.
Esau, on the other hand, heaped insults on Jacob. Now into his adolescence, Esau was enormously popular among the tribesmen. He once laughingly stated to his numerous camp cronies, “My brother, Jacob, is still our mother’s infant. He continues to suckle at her breasts. I believe he shall do so even when he attains his manhood – if one can call that which he attains a manhood.”
Another time, after they had a scuffle in which Rebecca, as always, intervened on the side of Jacob, Esau referred to his twin as a “cowardly camp puppy that fears to defend itself when other puppies steal a bone it is chewing on. Like a cowardly puppy, he whimpers and whines until his mother comes to defend him.”
Rebecca slapped Esau hard across his cheek for making the statement. He only chuckled and said, “Jacob, my brother, our mother has courageously defended you. Now follow after her like an obedient camp dog.”
Esau had just returned from a hunt with an antelope and a large mountain sheep slung across the back of a packhorse he lead behind his own stallion. Dismounting, he thoughtfully unloaded his kills some distance from the cooking fires. He did not want to disturb those who attended the fires, where Jacob assisted Rebecca in supervised the camp cooks; they were readying bread dough for baking on the flat hot stones placed over the cooking fires. Having been notified by an advance rider of the soon arrival of Isaac and his brother Ishmael, the entire camp was in a state of anxious anticipation.
“Jacob, come, help me skin these animals,” Esau called out, “If we cut them up quickly, there shall be meat for our father and those who come with him. Come help me.”
“Can you not see that my son, Jacob, is too busy that which you ask of him,” Rebecca sharply remonstrated, “Unlike you who, in your laziness, do nothing but ride horses and chase after animals, Jacob works hard here at the fire.”
Before Esau could respond, the blast of a ram’s horn sounded, and a camp sentry shouted, “The caravan approaches; the caravan approaches! The caravan of our Supreme Chief is still distant, but it is drawing closer! The caravan of our supreme chief approaches!”
Hearing the urgent summons, each of Isaac’s chieftains mounted their camels to ride out and meet the caravan. Esau dropped what he was doing, jumped on his horse and raced after them. As his speedily passed the camels, it left a cloud of dusty sand that forced the chieftains to cover their faces. Speeding on, his mount taking tortured breaths in the blistering heat, Esau soon arrived at the his destination, reigning up next to his father.
“I am happy to see you, my father. I greet you in the name of the God of Abraham,” he said.
“And I greet you in the name of my father’s God, my son.” Isaac stared intently at his son. “But why are you thus attired? Your garments are stained with blood. Have you suffered injury?”
“I have no injury, my father. I have just returned from a hunt. I was beginning to skin the animals I slew, when the report of your coming sounded. I left all to ride out to greet you. Please forgive my soiled garments. I thought only of meeting you.”
“I understand, my son,” Isaac assured him, motioning to Ishmael. “This is my brother, your Uncle Ishmael.”
Esau bowed his head in a gesture of humility. “I greet you in the name of the God of Abraham, my uncle,” Esau said in a tone of meekness, “Please forgive the rudeness for having greeted you in garments such as these. I mean no disrespect.”
“I thank you for your welcome, Esau, my nephew. I take no offence at your appearance, for I understand the hunt. I also am a hunter.”
Isaac summoned one of his outriders. “Halt the caravan,” he ordered, “I would have my son meet his cousins before my chieftains arrive.”
For the first few days of Ishmael’s stay, all appeared to go well. He and Esau went hunting together and the nephew marveled at his uncle’s prowess with the bow. Nonetheless, it wasn’t long until the visit was shattered by a complaint made by Ishmael to Isaac.
With a stony expression and spasms of anger flexing his brow, his dark eyes flashing with deep indignation, and his voice ominous with threat, Ishmael stated, “Isaac, my brother, your son, Jacob, has grievously slandered me and my sons; so much so that, though he has not yet reached his full maturity, if he were not your son, I would have slain him where he stood! ”
Isaac gawked in disbelief. When he recovered, he asked, “Ishmael, how has Jacob done such injury to you and your sons? What did my son say, that so grievously slandered you?”
“Jacob said to many of your chieftains, in the presence of me and my sons, that I and all those who came with me are as wild, savage boars. He said that, even as such boars, we are not fit dwell among civilized tribes.”
During the exchange, Isaac had been sitting just outside the door of his tent. Now he stood to his feet, his expression one of anguish. With a gesture, he waved to the chief steward of his household to him.
“Yusaf, send three of your strongest menservants to find my son, Jacob. Order them to bring him to me. If he ignores their summons, have bring him here in bonds,” he commanded.
“At once, master,” the flabbergasted Yusaf replied and hurried to obey.
In Isaac’s tent, Jacob stood apprehensively before his father. His uncle sat across the tent from them. Jacob had never seen his normally placid father appear so angry. Just as Isaac was about to speak, Rebecca rushed into the tent and stood next to her son.
“Why have you come, Rebecca?” her husband asked.
“It was reported to me that Jacob is here and the lies you have been told about him. I come to defend him,” she replied.
“You will leave here now, Rebecca! This is a matter for which Jacob must answer for himself,” Isaac ordered.
“I shall not leave without my son!” she stated.
Isaac stood and walked to the entrance and called, “Yusaf, please enter!”
After his chief steward entered, Isaac instructed him, “Yusaf, have the same servants who brought Jacob to me escort your mistress from this tent. If she resists, have them gently carry her out. No one is to enter here until I say otherwise.
“Yes, my Supreme Chief, Isaac,” Yusaf replied with a respectful bow of his head.
Furious, but unresisting and herself apprehensive, Rebecca permitted herself to be led away. This was a side of her husband she had never seen. Before this episode, she always felt able to get her way with him. And, like Jacob, she also had never seen Isaac so angry.
“Now, Jacob,” Isaac began when the three were alone, “Your Uncle Ishmael has told me of your slander against him.”
“My father, I did not slander Uncle Ishmael,” Jacob whined.
“You did not tell our chieftains that your uncle and those who came with him are as wild boars?” Ishmael asked.
“And you did not say that my brother Ishmael and his sons are not fit to dwell among civilized tribes?”
“No, I did not say these things, my father,” Jacob affirmed.
Isaac continued his interrogation of Jacob. “Then, are you saying to me that your uncle has lied in reporting that you did say these things?”
Jacob went silent, understanding that if he affirmed that his uncle had lied, and that he himself was telling the truth, there were witness among the chieftains who would back up Ishmael’s report.
“I await your answer, Jacob,” Isaac prompted, his tone harsh.
“I have no answer, my father. My uncle did not lie. I know there are chieftains who can witness that I did say these things. I beg my uncle’s forgiveness.”
“Hear me, Jacob. Understand what I say now, for you are no longer a child. Had a stranger said the thing you said about your uncle, the stranger would have slain been executed by him. You live now only because you are my son.
“Hear my sentence upon!” Isaac decreed, “Each day until they depart, you shall wash the feet of your uncle and your cousins each time they ask it of you. I shall ask them if you have done so. You shall feed and water their camels and horses, as well as our own. You shall trim the hooves of their animals and our own. You shall milk the sheep and goats, bake the bread, make the cheese and churn the butter.
“No servants shall assist you in these tasks; neither shall your mother do so. You shall remain apart from her, until I say otherwise. If either you or she refuses to remain apart, I shall extend your punishment. If you refuse to fulfill this sentence, I shall disown you as a son, and you shall be driven from the camp. Hitherto you have been an indolent, lazy and have refused to do the work of the encampment. Now you shall know what it is to work. Should you abandon this camp and go elsewhere to escape my sentence, do not attempt to return. Your sentence begins immediately! Do you have more word to speak to me?”
His eyes lowered, Jacob replied, “No my father.”
“Then leave us and ask Yusaf to return. He must be made aware of your sentence.”
The next three months passed quickly. Ishmael, his sons and their caravan were about to depart for home. Isaac, Esau and the chieftains had gathered to bid the travelers farewell. Rebecca also was present, but reluctantly, and at Isaac’s explicit command. Isaac, however, had excluded Jacob, whose sentence had not been lifted.
Each of Ishmael’s sons gave Isaac a kiss of departure. Isaac kissed his brother on both cheeks, saying, “Farewell, my dear brother Ishmael. May the God of our father, Abraham, guide you safely to your home.”
Ishmael returned the kisses. “And may your God bless and keep you, Isaac,” he replied.
He took both of Rebecca’s hands in his and kissed them. “I and my sons leave you now, my lady. We thank you for your hospitality to us. Would you’re your God had permitted my spouse Aseneth, the mother of my sons, to live. She would have loved you as a sister, he stated. Rebecca nodded, but remain silent.
Ishmael drew his brother aside. “Isaac, for my sake, please pardon the young man, Jacob. Lift your sentence from upon him. Please, do this as a farewell gift to me. And send for him now, that I also may bid him farewell. Remember how you forgave Massa, my son, when he spoke disrespectfully of you?”
“I remember,” Isaac responded. “Bring my son, Jacob, to me, immediately.” he said to a servant.
“Yes master,” the man replied.
It wasn’t long before Jacob arrived, appearing tired, disheveled and disheartened. “I am here, my father. What do you wish of me?”
“I have sent for you at the request of your uncle. As you know, he and his sons are now departing for home. Your uncle Ishmael desires to bid you farewell.”
Embracing his nephew, Ishmael kissed him on both cheeks, and then said, “Come my nephew, kiss me farewell, also. I have asked your father to release you from your sentence. I desire that we part from each other with love.”
Jacob began to weep. Though his sobs, he said. “Forgive me for my foolish word, Uncle Ishmael. It was right for my father to punish me, for my speech against you was worthy of my execution. Forgive me my uncle.”
“I gladly forgive you, Jacob. Stop weeping now and kiss your cousins farewell.”
As Jacob did so, Ishmael walked over to Esau. Facing him, he grasped his favorite nephew by both shoulders. “Esau, my hunting companion,” he loudly exclaimed, “you must come to visit me and we shall again hunt together. There are vast herds of wild oxen near our castles in the land of the Egyptians. When you visit us, we shall hunt them together. It shall be great sport. And should the Egyptians attempt to prevent us, we shall do battle against them. That too shall be great sport! What say you?”
Esau was about to respond, but Isaac intervened, saying, “It is my prayer that I also shall again be able to visit with you in your land, Esau. At that time, I shall have all of my family with me.”
“And at that time, shall you and Jacob battle the Egyptians along with Esau and me, if the need arises?” Ishmael teased, “I venture to you will not, for you and Jacob are a lovers of peace. I again bid you farewell, Isaac.”
As the caravan moved out, Esau asked, “My father, please permit me to ride with them for a until they arrive at the Oasis of Medi; it is only a short ride. I shall then return.”
Receiving a nod from his father, Esau mounted his horse and followed the caravan. When it reached the oasis, he again waved goodbye to his uncles and cousins, waited until the caravan blended into the horizon, then spurred his horse homeward toward the encampment.
Josprel welcomes reader comments regarding this story. Readers may contact him at: email@example.com