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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Genesis 27

 

 

Introduction

Beginning with this chapter and throughout the rest of Genesis, the life, posterity, and activities of Jacob are the invariable theme. In this emphasis, he takes his place as "The Israel" of God; he was the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and remained at the head of the chosen race until they were favorably settled in Egypt, and where they would, in time, become the mighty nation that God had foretold in his promises to Abraham and Isaac.

The almost monotonous detail of this section is a strange mingling of righteousness and wickedness, of successes and disasters, of heroism and knavery, of strength and weakness, and of doubt and faith. The purpose of this detailed account would appear to be that of providing a window of observation, from which the clear and inevitable consequences of sin are manifested in the lives of Israel, with the necessary deduction that whatever happened to them provides a safe prophecy of what always happens when sin is indulged. Indeed, the N.T. flatly affirms this to be true:

"Now these things happened unto them by way of example; and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Corinthians 10:11).

"For whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4).

The uniqueness and inspiration of this amazing narrative are inherent in the variety and completeness of the revelation. What men spoke in their own hearts, the true basis of their motivation, the secrets of their intentions, what they did in the loneliness of the field, or upon their beds with their wives or concubines, what they did when they were away from home, how they reacted to temptation, and why they acted as they did, how they cheated and deceived each other, what they dreamed, the vows they made, the sorrows they bore, the hardships they endured - on and on, the sacred record tells it all, without dwelling long either upon their heroic deeds of faith or upon their shameful acts of jealousy, envy or fraud. Where on earth has there ever been another history like this one about real people?

Fiction indeed relates many intimate and private actions of its subjects, but the design is never that of fairness in presenting a total picture; here in Genesis we have both private and intimate deeds, but also fairness and continuity which never appear in fiction. This priceless record of the Old Israel is a sacred and precious source book, loaded with everlasting benefit for the children of the New Israel, who, if they apply themselves, and are wise, may be able to emulate what was desirable and avoid what was shameful in the lives of the children of the Old.


Verses 1-4

ATTEMPTED THEFT OF THE BIRTHRIGHT FRUSTRATED

"And it came to pass that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, that he could not see, he called Esau his elder son, and said unto him, My son: and he said unto him, Here am I. And he said Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death. Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me venison; and make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die."

Note the heading we have given this paragraph. It contrasts vividly with that found in many commentaries. Peake entitled it, "Jacob Cheats Esau of His Father's Blessing";[1] and Robinson entitled it, "Jacob Steals Esau's Blessing!"[2] Such views cannot be correct. What is in view here is a plot - initiated by Esau, concurred in by Isaac, and long nurtured by the flattering deeds of Esau - which was designed to take back the birthright and the blessing which conveyed it, from Jacob to whom he had sold it and confirmed the sale with a solemn oath.

The birthright and blessing in view here did not belong to Esau. They were the property of Jacob, by right of divine prophecy (Genesis 25:33f), a right which Esau despised and which he had solemnly renounced, "selling it" for one mess of red beans! Whence then are all these bold denunciations of Jacob for "cheating," "stealing," and "defrauding his brother"? We concur in the opinion of Morris that such distortions are the result, as well as the continuing cause, "of tremendous waves of anti-Semitism and persecutions visited against the Jews through the centuries."[3] Morris gave that opinion in protest of such titles as "The Stolen Blessing" in Scofield's Reference Bible.

It is a matter of extreme doubt and disobedience that Isaac would have deliberately decided to give the birthright and blessing to Esau. He knew better, and that he attempted to do so without the knowledge or consent of Rebekah proves it. Note in the text, that "such as I love" reveals that Esau had long pampered his father by bringing those tasty morsels of the hunt. And it is not amiss to understand his doing so by design to frustrate the will of God and his own ratification of it by an oath.

Perhaps there was some attempt to rationalize his disobedience by Isaac, a thing Esau had no doubt aided. One device would have been that of making a distinction between "birthright" and "blessing," as noted by Esau in Genesis 27:36; but there was no distinction! The birthright automatically carried with it the right of the patriarchal blessing also. This right, "encompassed headship over Isaac's household, the paradise land, nationhood with dominion, and mediatorship of divine judgment."[4] It also included the "double portion" of the father's wealth, and the right of priesthood on behalf of the Chosen People. Note that this "blessing" which Isaac thought he was transferring to Esau included exactly those things pertaining to the birthright. We can discern in the narrative Esau's false interpretation of his shameful "sale" of the birthright, making it a partial and incomplete thing, which it was not.

These things are not presented as an approval or justification of the deceitful and sinful things Rebekah and Jacob did in order to frustrate Isaac and Esau's evil purpose, but an explanation of why they did so, and also a rebuttal of those over-zealous remarks about what an unqualified scoundrel Jacob was. As a matter of fact, there is not a word of rebuke from the Lord against any of the wicked deeds visible in this chapter. Nevertheless, it is clear that, "The sin of Isaac and Esau was infinitely more grievous."[5]

"I know not the day of my death ..." Speiser remarked that this is meaningless, because "nobody could be said to know that!"[6] That kind of thinking has led some to interpret the passage as meaning, "I know that I shall die soon." Despite his remark, however, Speiser rendered the passage thus: "There's no telling when I may die." That Isaac indeed acted in the contemplation of death is certain (Genesis 27:4). In this connection, the age of Isaac should be considered. "Isaac was then in his 137th year, at which age his half-brother Ishmael had died fourteen years previously."[7]

"My son ..." (Genesis 27:1). Leupold commented on the use of "my son," in this passage and by Rebekah in Genesis 27:8, noting that they carry the particular connotation of, "the son which each particularly loved."[8] The shameful and sinful partiality of both Isaac for Esau and Rebekah for Jacob provide a horrible example of the evil of such injustice on the part of parents. Papa's Boy and Mama's Boy! Millennial hatreds between great races of people began right here in this senseless favoritism.

We remarked earlier that God expressed neither approval or disapproval of the wickedness concentrated here in this chapter, where even Isaac sought to convey the headship of the Chosen Race to Esau, the profane fornicator with two pagan wives, who despised all the promises, and whose sensual and inconstant life rendered him totally unfit for such responsibilities. Whatever view one takes of the consequences of what the Lord related here, it is crystal clear that God disapproves of all sin, and that "the wages of sin is death."

Note the sequel to these events:

  1. "Isaac suffered for his preference for Esau, which was not determined by the will of God, but by his weak affection."[9] Also, his foolish and rebellious intention of by-passing the will of God with reference to the Messianic line might be identified as the reason that the Bible virtually closed any further reference to him in the Scriptures.

  2. Esau suffered for his despising the blessings of the birthright.

  3. Rebekah suffered for her part in the deception by being deprived of both her sons. Jacob left home, and Rebekah, as far as the record says, never saw him anymore. Esau was further estranged.

  4. Jacob suffered many years of hardship, deception, and injustice at the hands of Laban. As a keeper of Laban's cattle his status was that of the lowest slaves known in that day. Hosea made mention of this humiliation of Jacob in Hosea 12:12 as a deterrent to the pride of Ephraim. See my comment at Hosea 12:12.

  5. The unity of Isaac's family was irrevocably shattered.


Verses 5-17

"And Rebekah heard when Isaac spake to Esau his son. And Esau went to the field to hunt for venison, and to bring it. And Rebekah spake unto Jacob her son, saying, Behold, I heard thy father speak unto Esau thy brother, saying, Bring me venison, and make me savory food, that I may eat, and bless thee before Jehovah before my death. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice according to that which I command thee. Go now to the flock, and fetch me from thence two good kids from the goats; and I will make them savory food for thy father, such as he loveth: and thou shalt bring it to thy father, that he may eat, so that he may bless thee before his death. And Jacob said unto Rebekah is mother, Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. My father peradventure may feel me, and I shall seem to him as a deceiver; and I shall bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing. And his mother said unto him, Upon me be thy curse, my son; only obey my voice, and go fetch me them. And he went, and fetched, and brought them to his mother: and his mother made savory food, such as his father loved. And Rebekah took the goodly garments of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son; and she put the skins of the kids of the goats upon his hands, and upon the smooth of his neck: and she gave him the savory food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hands of her son Jacob."

"Rebekah heard when Isaac spake ..." "Like Sarah (Genesis 18:10), Rebekah was eavesdropping on the conversation between Isaac and Esau."[10]

Esau is consistently called "his son," and Jacob is called "my son" by Rebekah. Although Isaac evidently thought he might die soon, he lived, in fact, some forty more years afterward. The temporary blindness (?) and disability that came upon him could very well have been providential as a means of frustrating his evil purpose.

The skill of Rebekah who could prepare little goats to taste like venison has often been mentioned, but this should be understood in the light of Isaac's state of health and debilitation.

"I shall seem to him as a deceiver ..." Jacob did not object to the deception they planned, but only to the possibility of detection.

"Upon me be thy curse ..." Along with the rash prayer of Rachel (Genesis 30:1), this impromptu prayer of Rebekah was a disaster, for she did indeed that day suffer the loss of her beloved Jacob and never saw him anymore. "Little did she realize that her death would come before he could return. Indeed the curse did fall upon her."[11]

"The skins of the kids of the goats ..." "These were the Oriental camel-goats, whose wool is black, silky, and of a fine texture, sometimes used as a substitute for human hair."[12]

This bold and unscrupulous plan of deception was executed with skill and efficiency. It succeeded because of its very daring.

"The goodly garments of Esau ... which were with her in the house ..." This should probably not be read as indicating that Esau and his two pagan wives were living in the same house with Isaac and Rebekah. If that was the case, it might indicate that this chapter is related out of chronological sequence, which after all, is not unusual. However, perhaps Morris was correct in the view that:

"The goodly garments might have been special garments associated with the priestly function of the head of the house. If so, it would appear that Rebekah had kept these in her own house for this purpose."[13]

If that was the case, it should be noted that Esau had gone hunting in them, hence the smell mentioned by Isaac, and such disrespect for the sacred garments would have been thoroughly in keeping with Esau's character.


Verses 18-29

"And he came unto his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I; who art thou, my son? And Jacob said unto his father, I am Esau thy first born; I have done according as thou badest me; arise, I pray thee and sit, and eat of my venison, that thy soul may bless me. And Isaac said unto his son, How is it that thou hast found it so quickly, my son? And he said, Because Jehovah thy God sent me good speed. And Isaac said unto Jacob, Come near, I pray thee, that I may feel thee, my son, whether thou be my very son Esau or not. And Jacob went near unto Isaac his father; and he felt him, and said, The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau. And he discerned him not, because his hands were hairy, as his brother Esau's hands: so he blessed him. And he said, Art thou my very son Esau? And he said I am. And he said, Bring it near to me, and I will eat of my son's venison, that my soul may bless thee. And he brought it near to him, and he did eat: and he brought him wine, and he drank. And his father Isaac said unto him, Come near, now, and kiss me, my son. And he came near, and kissed him: and he smelled the smell of his raiment, and blessed him, and said:

See, the smell of my son
Is as the smell of a field which Jehovah hath blessed:
And God give thee of the dew of heaven.
And of the fatness of the earth,
And plenty of grain and new wine:
Let peoples serve thee,
And nations bow down to thee:
Be lord over thy brethren,
And let thy mother's sons bow down to thee:
Cursed be every one that curseth thee.
And blessed be every one that blesseth thee."

Of interest here are the number of falsehoods attributable to Jacob:

  1. He said, "I am your first-born."

  2. "I have brought the venison, as you commanded."

  3. "I did it so quickly because `your God' gave me good speed."

  4. He wore Esau's clothes.

  5. He wore goat hair on his neck and hands.

  6. He answered his father's specific question, "Art thou Esau," by saying, "I am."

  7. He feigned the irreligion of Esau.

It is curious that Jacob referred to Jehovah in this episode as "your God," thus answering the question after the manner of the irreligious Esau, who from this appears as one who had renounced all faith in God for himself.

"So he blessed him ..." should be rendered, "Still, as he was about to bless him."[14] "This is the denotation of the Hebrew imperfect."[15] The source-splitting critics, not knowing this, suppose two sources!

Rebekah's cunning plan of deception addressed all of Isaac's four remaining senses except hearing. Hearing should have been enough for Isaac to discern the truth, but, as he had turned away from hearing God's Word with reference to his two sons, it was fitting indeed that he should have ignored hearing as it also concerned the words of Jacob. He was a man who lived according to taste, smell, and feeling. His eyesight had faded. Marshall Keeble used to warn people against going by "their feelings" in religion, saying, "If Isaac had stuck to hearing and ignored his feelings, he would not have been deceived."

"The kiss ..." (Genesis 27:26) "The kiss appears here for the first time as the token of true love and deep affection."[16]

"Give thee of the dew of heaven ..." Our version translates this expression by an identical rendition in Isaac's blessing of Esau (Genesis 27:29), but later versions render the words in Esau's blessing as "away from the dew of heaven." "The expression has a double meaning."[17] "It means either: (1) of the dew of heaven (as in Jacob's blessing); or (2) away from the dew of heaven (as in Esau's blessing).[18] Thus, the context and theological considerations must determine which is meant. The scholars are correct in rendering it differently in the two places. This characteristic of the Bible extends throughout; and, just as this word has two different meanings in a single chapter, just so the word "seed" must be interpreted according to the context.

"And nations (shall) bow down to thee ..." All of the thirty-two kingdoms of Canaan were conquered, subdued, and driven out of Palestine by the posterity of Jacob, as prophesied here; but there is a remote and greater fulfillment also which took place in Christ the Second Israel as manifested on earth in his Church. The ancient prophets expanded on this prophecy by affirming that, "The nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish ... (they) shall come bending low to you" (Isaiah 60:12,14). The fulfillment of this came when the Gentiles bowed before the feet of Christ, the true Israel. There is no promise here that racial Jews shall eventually rule the earth.


Verses 30-40

"And it came to pass, as soon as Isaac had made an end of blessing Jacob, and Jacob had scarce gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. And he also made savory food, and brought it unto his father; and he said unto his father, Let my father arise, and eat of his son's venison, that thy soul may bless me. And Isaac his father said unto him, Who art thou? And he said, I am thy son, thy first-born, Esau. And Isaac trembled exceedingly, and said, Who then is he that hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him, yea, and he shall be blessed. When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with an exceeding great and bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father. And he said, Thy brother came with guile, and hath taken away thy blessing. And he said, Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and behold, now he hath taken away my blessing. And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me? And Isaac answered and said unto Esau, Behold, I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with grain and new wine have I sustained him: and what then shall I do for thee, my son? And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father, And Esau lifted up his voice and wept. And his father answered and said unto him, Behold, of the fatness of the earth shall be thy dwelling. And of the dew of heaven from above; And by thy sword shalt thou live, and thou shalt serve thy brother, when thou shalt break loose, Thou shalt shake his yoke from off thy neck."

This blessing was not even a pale copy of the one given to Jacob; even in the mention of "dew from heaven," etc., there was a double meaning, and in its use concerning Esau, it meant that he would dwell far away from such blessings. One may have nothing but pity for the weeping Esau and the bitterness that filled his heart. Nothing breaks men's hearts like being compelled, at last, to accept the consequences of their actions. See Revelation 6:15-17.

"This verse (Genesis 27:36) skillfully places the words for birthright and blessing side by side,"[19] showing with what diligence Esau had attempted to contrive a difference in the two in the mind of his father, in which he had apparently succeeded. It was the height of wickedness for Esau to suppose that with the "sale" of his birthright he did not also convey the patriarchal blessing that went with it. We believe those scholars are in error who assert, "The first loss had been largely his own (Esau's) fault, but this time, he was indeed supplanted."[20] This episode reveals how, "A higher hand prevailed above the acts of sinful men, bringing the counsel and will of Jehovah to eventual triumph, in opposition to human thought and will."[21]

The blessing of Esau did allow one small hope, that, on occasions, Edom would be able to throw off the yoke of Israel. "An example of this was in the reign of Joram, king of Judah (2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chronicles 21:8-10)."[22] Another occasion is mentioned in the Book of Obadiah (Obadiah 1:1:10). Still another, perhaps, is seen in the fact that Herod the Great was descended from Esau; and he was ruling Israel ruthlessly in the days of Christ.


Verses 41-45

"And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, the days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob. And the words of Esau her elder son were told to Rebekah; and she sent and called Jacob her younger son, and said unto him, behold, thy brother Esau, as touching thee, doth comfort himself, purposing to kill thee. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother, to Haran: and tarry with him a few days, until thy brother's fury turn away; until thy brother's anger turn away from thee, and he forget that which thou hast done unto him: then will I send, and fetch thee from thence: why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?"

Genesis 27:46 will be studied with the next chapter.

Rebekah's mention of being bereaved of both her sons in one day was an imminent danger. If Esau had slain his brother, then the avenger of blood would have slain Esau. Poor Rebekah, however, said good-bye to Jacob for ever in the event of the next few verses.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 27:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/genesis-27.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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