Balaam's curse - Part 3: Intrigues and swindles

Moab grew up, and regular as the four seasons he sired children with his siblings. A third generation boy, Lot’s great grandson, was named Besuel. He in turn had a son named Laban who became Balaam’s grandfather, and passed down the bloodstock of a deviant.  Besuel grew up to be the ruler of a principality called Aram, and lived with his family in the capital, Charan, the city to which Abraham, now near the end of his life, dispatched his right hand man to find a wife for his beloved Isaac. The servant, Eliezer, found the right girl in the daughter of Besuel, a man so taken with young virgins that he decreed a first right to every girl in Aram before her wedding night. His daughter was Rivka and, meeting up with her at the communal well, Abraham’s man picked the twelve year-old right off, there and then slipping heavy gold bangles on her arm. The news reached the family home where the brother, Laban, thinking that his wealthy Uncle Abraham was in town, ran out to kill him and take the valuables he would have travelled with. Behold his shock on seeing the man carrying two camels to the well in his bare arms. Such power was beyond the young colt’s capacity, so he invites Uncle home, intending to kill him there with poison. “Come – you are blessed by God!” he calls out. “And there is room for your camels.”

            Imperious at the dinner table Besuel treated the visitor like a king. Food was brought and Laban, who had tipped a potent but tasteless poison into one portion, itched for the guest to begin. Behold the lad’s unease when the guest pushed his plate aside and announced that he must accomplish what he had come to do before he could think of food. “Say what you will” said Besuel, not unkindly.

“I come from Abraham my master,” the visitor began. Behold the all round shock at these words; and what thrill of expectation: if this was the greatness of the servant, what must the employer be! “God has blessed my master,” the servant went on, realizing that he had to impress upon such people Abraham’s wealth before they’d be agreeable to the match. “He has everything except a wife for a son born to him in old age, who is more to him than all his gold and silver, land and animals. Abraham has bequeathed everything, but everything, to the son.” From a coat pocket Eliezer took the deed and slid it over to Besuel. He then recounted how he had sworn on his master’s circumcised member to take a girl only from the family, and how the God of Abraham had helped him do that. “Now tell me,” Eliezer said, looking hard at his host, “Will you act with kindness and truth, or shall I look for a wife among the daughters of an older son, Ishmael?”

“The match has been preordained,” answered Besuel easily. “Who can prevent it! Take Rivka and bring her to Abraham’s son.” Then Eliezer went out to fetch the real gifts: garments and gold ornaments and all manner of trinkets a girl who marries into a rich family would expect. The meal was now an engagement feast, and they set to. During Eliezer’s brief absence from the table Yahweh had played a game with plates. Eliezer’s poisoned plate went to Besuel, who died in quick agony at the table. How, you will ask, was that poetic justice – or any kind of justice? What had Besuel done to deserve death? A better question would be, what was Besuel going to do? When his subjects heard about the betrothal they said, “Now we will see how he acts in the case of his own daughter! If he will bed her before the wedding night as he beds our daughters, good! If not we will kill him and the entire family, including Rivka.” To prevent a possible tragedy Besuel had to die.

            As if there was not enough melodrama to assimilate, after the period of mourning the family, on the eve of Rivka’s departure, gave her the first tainted blessing in recorded history. Her womb should be fruitful and her offspring gladden the heart of grandfather Abraham. Thanks to the blessing Rivka for twenty years went barren. A jealous Abraham’s god would not allow bad people to claim later that Rivka bore children on account of their blessing. From this came the proverb, “The blessing of the wicked is a curse.” To Balaam’s everlasting shame the proverb would take a nastier turn: “The curse of the wicked is a blessing.”

            If a scoundrel is not enduring he is nothing. Laban would get another stab at the family loot, the family that money chased, and never failed to catch. The mass of people spend their lives chasing money. Abraham and his folk were different. They let money pursue them, and perhaps that was the secret of their wealth-producing power. It was never in their sight to be rich. A keen sense of destiny, of doing instinctively what their god required of them, drove the family, and if that meant riches then it was in the divine scheme of things. For one generation after the other humble endeavors turned to gold, so that tending Lavan’s livestock made a rich man of Jacob, the twin Rifka loved and Isaac blessed half in error. We must credit Laban the great swindler for understanding that wealth was in the chase for the penniless shepherd who came to work for him. And Jacob was easy to exploit because, come what may, destiny locked him into making the youngest daughter his wife. Our crook was no fool.

            It was a bust up between brothers that led to Jacob working for his wily uncle in Charan. Brothers do fight. But this was no common rivalry. They were born in contest and lived in collision. Some men see the big picture and others see the small. Jacob saw big, and this helped him get the better of Esau in contests that would fix the destiny of each. The first big fight was over Esau’s birthright, though it was more a barter deal than a fight. The birthright went to Jacob downright cheaply, considering that Esau bartered it for bean mash. But their father’s deathbed blessing was the prize above all others. With an elaborate deception involving meat and hair the prize earmarked for Esau went to Jacob. When this came to light Jacob’s life was not worth a zuz. Burning with implacable hatred, Esau sought out his twin brother to kill him while their father lay broken-hearted in his last broken days. Sightless Isaac was unable to face the son who had his right stolen. “Your brother took your blessing,” was all he could mutter. The ruddy hunter howled enough to split the world. Blood congealed to poison, poison turned into a mad despairing desperation. “Bless me now as well, my father!” More distraught than before, Isaac was caught in a bind. “What blessing can I give you, son? I made Jacob master over you, therefore any blessing I give will belong to him.” Bitter were the tears that Esau wept. “Have you not reserved even a minor blessing for me, your first born?” This he was not; in a moment of gluttony he had flogged that birthright! For Isaac the situation was untenable. He resorted to the only one, the God of Abraham, who could possibly adjudicate a case like it. It had no like! At every twist and turn toxin seeped from the family wound. Praying, Isaac saw a vision and heard a voice. “Esau shall not weep in vain. “Though he is not worthy, bless him.” So Esau got his minor blessing, for a life of affluence, which did nothing but inflame his murderous intent.

            As soon as their mother got wind of it she told the son she loved to flee to Padan Aram, to her late father’s family. Jacob however would not leave without the consent of his father. But how to tell a dying man that one son wants to kill the other? Tactician that Rivka was, she told her husband half the truth; that Jacob was leaving home to seek a wife from among her family. If the family had provided Isaac a wife, then why not one for Jacob? Had she, a daughter of Besuel, been such a terrible wife? So what could be wrong if their Jacob married a daughter of Besuel’s son and heir? Hearing his Rivka through the filmy curtain of old age, Isaac saw big. And he saw far. The blessing, though tainted and unwholesome and rightfully Esau’s, was really meant for Jacob. So he blessed Jacob anew. Let no one later claim that had he not deceived his father the blessing would have gone to the brother, Esau.     

        Jacob’s arrival in Charan was well-timed. A plague had broken out, decimating the uncle’s flocks. Laban had dismissed the shepherd and his daughter Rachel was tending the few surviving sheep. Again the well provided the fateful meeting place. The moment Jacob set eyes on his cousin Rachel his mind was made; as her mind was made. Not shy I the least, Rachel warned her cousin. “Be careful of my father. He swindles everyone. He will use me against you.” Nonetheless Jacob was quite unprepared for his uncle. Twenty years later he was much the wiser, and rich.