The story of Jacob and Esau has always bothered me. Now, I understand that the Old Testament is history more than prescription, and the point of the Old Testament isn’t man, but God and His promise to send the Messiah. Still, the story of Jacob “stealing his brother’s blessing” has always bothered me. Thanks to an episode of Fighting for the Faith (F4F), I no longer have a problem with this passage. F4F is usually a 2 hour program, so I don’t expect you to take time to listen to the whole broadcast for this point, so I thought I’d take some time to share the major points I got from the program, but I will also be exploring some additional Biblical research.
First of all, the story of Jacob tricking his father Isaac into blessing him rather than Esau is found in Genesis 27. However, rightly understanding what is taking place in Chapter 27 needs to begin in Chapter 25.
Genesis 25:19-28 (ESV)
19 These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger.”
24 When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Remember that we’ve spent a great amount of time looking at God’s promise to Abraham, the promise of his Descendent (Jesus Christ) that would be a blessing to all nations. The biggest problem with the Jacob and Esau story is that if you only read chapter 27, you might walk away with a twisted notion that in some instances God might bless acts of deception. But that is a lie of the enemy. Notice above, that when Rebekah inquired of the Lord, He told her that the older shall serve the younger. God had already clearly chosen Jacob for the lineage of the Messiah, not Esau. He chose Jacob before the twins were born. Now, scripture does not say how Rebekah inquired of the Lord. She could have gone to Melchizedek or someone of his order (this predates the Tabernacle and the Law of Moses, and the tribe of Levi), or she could have asked Isaac to seek counsel on her behalf, or it could have been direct communication… we just don’t know, because it isn’t written. Any attempt to explain this gap is conjecture. But that she received this answer from the Lord would have been made known to Isaac. It would not have remained a secret between God and Rebekah, because we are talking about the covenant of Abraham and the line of his descendents. That the Lord God would choose the younger over the older would have been a largely significant decree and extremely unorthodox. I don’t know if they would have shared this prophecy with their children. But what we do know is that despite the Word of the Lord, Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. Isaac favored Esau.
Genesis 25:29-34 (ESV) 29 Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Okay, so there is room to surmise from this passage that in her love for Jacob, Rebekah probably shared with Jacob the Word of the Lord concerning them. We don’t know if this was the first time Jacob went after the birthright, or if it was the first time Esau accepted an unreasonable deal for a bowl of food, we simply know that in this instance, Esau despised his birthright. This isn’t a mere mention of a simple mistake, nor of an honest man being duped by a con artist… this speaks to a character problem with Esau. In normal cases of the day, the first born son grew to take over all of his father’s possessions and lands, as ruler over the household. Over all of the livestock, the tents, the women, children, slaves, everything. That is his birthright. Additionally, Esau was third generation from Abraham. God’s promise to Abraham, His intervention in sparing the life of Isaac as a sacrifice, all recent history and part of Esau’s birthright. And he traded it all to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew and some bread. I highlighted “Edom” as a reminder for you whenever you read later about the Edomites, that you would remember they are of Esau.
Now, interestingly enough chapter 26 for the most part makes no mention of Jacob, and only a single comment about Esau. So what is the focus of the chapter? God reminds Isaac of His promise to Abraham and subsequently to Isaac, but also we see God’s mighty hand on Isaac such that the Philistines envy and fear him and ask him to make an oath with them to do them no harm. That’s huge… and it is all part of the birthright that Esau despised earlier. Has Esau’s character improved? Well, lets look at the closing comment of the chapter…
Genesis 26:34-35 (ESV) When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.
Esau marries 2 Hittites and they make life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. Skipping ahead briefly we see Rebekah expand on the bitterness brought by these women:
Genesis 27:46 (ESV) 46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I loathe my life because of the Hittite women.[a] If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women like these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?”
[a] Genesis 27:46 Hebrew daughters of Heth
Who are the Hittites? Normally, I exclude the footnotes in the ESV in these posts, but this footnote is relevant for this post. Searching for Hittites alone doesn’t give a full picture of what is at play here.
Genesis 15:18-21 (ESV) 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”
God promised Abraham that his descendents would endure captivity for 400 years in a foreign land, but be delivered and given these lands. But why these lands? For that, we need to look at the name “Heth”.
Genesis 10:1 (ESV) These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood.
Genesis 10:6 (ESV) The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan.
Genesis 10:15-20 (ESV) 15 Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn and Heth, 16 and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, 17 the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, 18 the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the clans of the Canaanites dispersed. 19 And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon in the direction of Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. 20 These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.
Quite the list of tribes. Recognize these names? Let’s go back one more chapter to see Noah’s response to the sin of Ham..
Genesis 9:24-27 (ESV) 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,
“Cursed be Canaan;
a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
26 He also said,
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem;
and let Canaan be his servant.
27 May God enlarge Japheth,
and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
and let Canaan be his servant.”
This has been a bit of an aside, but all of this is important to understand in light of the Promise of God to Abraham. Esau had no business taking wives from the daughters of Heth/Canaan/Ham. So, Esau’s character issues have worsened. Let us continue now to Chapter 27:
Genesis 27 (ESV) 1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, 4 and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”
Despite having sold his birthright, married two daughters of Heth, made the lives of Isaac and Rebekah bitter, and most importantly despite the Word of the Lord God to Rebekah that the older shall serve the younger, Isaac was determined to give Esau his blessing. We are not talking about a “bless you” you give when someone sneezes (odd that we do that, by the way) because Isaac is clearly connecting this even to the fact that he is growing old and might die soon. Therefore, Isaac wants to give his blessing (inheritance) before he dies. But Isaac is planning to give his blessing to the wrong son. Wrong not by custom, but according to the Word of the Lord.
Genesis 27:5-13 (ESV) 5 Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord before I die.’ 8 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. 9 Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. 10 And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” 11 But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. 12 Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” 13 His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me.”
Okay, so Rebekah overheard Isaac speaking to Esau. She heard that Isaac was about to bless Esau contrary to the Word of the Lord regarding Jacob and Esau. Does she act honorably? No, she engage in deception. The historical passages of the Old Testament are not always prescription for how we are to live our lives, they are to show God’s Greatness and that He keeps His Word. Forgive me a bit of armchair quarterbacking, but reminding Isaac of the Word of the Lord, or that Esau had already sold his birthright or both might have been better routes. However, the perfection in the Old Testament is God, not man. The biggest point here is that God doesn’t honor the blessing on Jacob because of this deception; rather, God had already chosen Jacob before he was born. The deception does not go unpunished… Jacob has to flee the wrath of Esau, and Rebekah has to deal with the pain of her sin of deception. Jacob has a long road ahead of him to grow into maturity.
It is my sincere prayer that if you’ve ever struggled with this story of Jacob and Esau and the blessing of Isaac, that perhaps this has shed some light on the subject. Even if you’ve never had an issue with the story, I hope that this has at least been an interesting look at how we strive to allow the Scriptures to define and explain Scriptures.
May the Lord Bless you and keep you,