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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 27

 

 

Introduction

The Blessing of Esau and Jacob (Genesis 26:34 to Genesis 27:45).

This passage was recorded in writing because it records the blessings given to Jacob and Esau which were in the nature of a binding covenant that could not be changed. They thus testified to the will of Isaac as declared in those blessings. Such a solemn blessing, made with death in view, was often looked on as most sacred and irreversible (compare Deuteronomy 23). That is how Isaac clearly saw it (Genesis 27:33).


Verses 1-4

‘And it happened that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his elder son and said to him, “My son.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” And he said, “Look, I am now old, I do not know the day of my death. Now therefore I pray you, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out into the open country and take me venison, and make me savoury meat such as I love and bring it to me that I may eat it, that my soul may bless you before I die.” ’

“When Isaac was old.” We do not know his age at this time but it was before Jacob married. As Esau and Jacob were born when Isaac was ‘sixty’ and Esau married at ‘forty’, and has clearly been married some time, Isaac is well over a hundred years old. But sadly he has gone blind. Yet he certainly oversees the family tribe until Jacob returns, probably through a faithful steward with the help of Rebekah his very capable wife. As we do not know when Jacob married we do not know how long after Esau’s marriages this incident takes place.

But this is a solemn moment. Isaac feels he is near death and determines that he will give his deathbed blessing to Esau. (That he was in fact wrong about being near death comes out subsequently - Genesis 35:27; Genesis 35:29). This is no ordinary event. By it the ancients thought that he would officially determine Esau’s future. The news that this was to happen would quickly circulate round the camp. Deathbed words were considered to be especially effective, and even prophetic, and were treated very seriously. (See Genesis 48:1 etc; Deuteronomy 33:1 etc; 2 Samuel 23:1 etc).

So in order to prepare himself and put himself in the right state of body and mind, and in order to bind Esau to him by receiving gifts from his hand, Isaac asks his son to use his talents to bring him the food that he loves, wild game, possibly venison from the wild deer, properly cooked by Esau himself and ready for eating. This was clearly one of Esau’s recognised talents.

From what follows we will see that this was not only preparatory but part of the process of blessing. The meal will bond them in preparation for the blessing.


Verse 5

‘And Rebekah heard when Isaac spoke to Esau his son. And Esau went into the open country to hunt for venison and to bring it.’

There was no reason why Rebekah should not have been in the tent when Isaac spoke to Esau. The giving of a blessing was not something that had to be done in secret. On the other hand she may have been lingering around outside, knowing what was on hand. As she saw Esau depart to carry out his father’s wishes her mind was racing. She no doubt remembered the promise made at their birth that the elder would serve the younger, and she wanted the blessing for her favourite son.

When we consider her next actions we should also consider that it seems that Isaac has no special blessing for his younger son. Both sons deserved to be blessed, but Isaac apparently thought only of Esau, and he certainly ignored what had been said at their birth. Furthermore the sale of the birthright was a legal fact and it is unlikely that Isaac did not know of it. But he considers he can override it (as his blessing demonstrates). How unfair people can get in old age when they are unable to help themselves and must look to others for everything. Rebekah on the other hand feels she cannot allow this to happen.


Verses 6-10

‘And Rebekah said to Jacob her son, “Look, I heard your father speak to Esau your brother, saying, ‘Bring me venison and make me savoury meat that I may eat, and bless you before Yahweh before my death.’ Now therefore, my son, obey my voice just as I command you. Go now to the flock and fetch me from there two kids of the goats, and I will make them savoury meat for your father such as he loves. And you will bring it to your father that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.” ’

Rebekah’s plan is to replace Esau with Jacob, and she acts accordingly. Note the introduction of ‘before Yahweh’. Isaac had not said that, possibly because he knows Esau will not be impressed by it, but Rebekah knows that Jacob will be impressed by it (compare Genesis 27:20).

The subterfuge cannot be fully justified. Both Rebekah and Jacob should have trusted Yahweh to carry out His plans in His own way. But Jacob certainly feels that the firstborn’s portion is his by right and probably felt that that included the blessing. As the blessing included lordship over the brothers he was probably right. He felt that he was about to be cheated. Rebekah also knew and felt the same. And Jacob was her favourite son. Thus they had at least partial justification and felt they were only doing what was right and preventing an injustice. They would both pay a heavy price in the future as a result of Jacob’s ‘banishment’.

On the other hand no credit is reflected on Isaac and Esau. Esau certainly knew that he had sold leadership in the tribe to Jacob, and even if Isaac did not know (which is unlikely) he should not have shown such blatant favouritism. He knew that what he was about to do was epoch-making, and showed the arrogance of an old man who thinks that because of his age he can do whatever he wants. Everyone comes out of this badly. But the reader of that day would probably come down on the side of Jacob. At least he had a valid oath on his side and was supported by a birth prophecy.


Verses 9-19

The Courtyard of The Tabernacle (Exodus 27:9-19).

Before and around the sanctuary was a large courtyard into which the people themselves could come. They could not enter the sanctuary, only the chosen priests would be able to do that, but they (usually the heads of households except where individual offerings were to be offered) could come before it with their offerings and their prayers knowing that He was there to hear. And here they could offer their worship and their thanksgiving to God.

But it must be appreciated that many would not even enter this court except through their representatives, the fathers of their houses. It was a sacred place and not to be entered lightly. To the vast majority of Israel the area around the courtyard would be the place where they came to meet with Yahweh. This may well be why in Deuteronomy, when speaking to the people as a whole, Moses spoke of ‘the place’ (maqom) which Yahweh had chosen which incorporated the whole. They were not, however forbidden entry when it was necessary, especially for judgment before the door of the Tent (e.g. Numbers 5:16; Numbers 5:18; Numbers 5:25).

We may analyse this passage as follows:

a They were to make the court of the Dwellingplace, and along the south side were to be hangings of fine twined linen one hundred cubits long suspended on twenty pillars seated in twenty sockets of brazen copper. The hooks and connecting rods were to be made of silver (Exodus 27:9-10).

b Along the north side were to be hangings of fine twined linen one hundred cubits long suspended on twenty pillars seated in twenty sockets of brazen copper. The hooks and connecting rods were to be made of silver (Exodus 27:11).

c Along the west side (the rear) there were to be hangings stretching for fifty cubits, with ten pillars and sockets (Exodus 27:12).

d Along the breadth of the court on the East side was to be fifty cubits, but as the entrance had to be there the hangings each side of the entrance on each side were to be fifteen cubits, leaving a gap of twenty cubits for the entrance. Each fifteen cubit hanging would be supported on three pillars and three sockets. (Exodus 27:13-15)

d For the entrance of the court there was to be a screen of twenty cubits, of blue and purple and scarlet, and fine twined linen, the work of the embroiderer, with four pillars and four sockets (Exodus 27:16).

c All the pillars of the court round about were to be filleted with silver (or ‘joined by silver rods’), their hooks of silver and their sockets of brazen copper (Exodus 27:17).

b The length of the court was to be one hundred cubits and the breadth fifty everywhere, and the height five cubits, of fine twined linen, with sockets of brazen copper (Exodus 27:18).

a All the instruments of the Dwellingplace in all its service, and all its pegs and all the pegs of the court were to be of brazen copper (Exodus 27:19).

The patterning must have been difficult in this particular case and yet it was to some extent achieved. In ‘a’ the making of the courtyard of the Dwellingplace is called for and the length of the south side of it described, while in the parallel the instruments to be used in that courtyard are to be of brazen copper. In ‘b’ the north side is one hundred cubits and in the parallel the court is to be one hundred cubits. In ‘c’ the west side (the rear) is to have hangings stretching for fifty cubits, with ten pillars and sockets, while in the parallel the pillars were to be connected with silver rods and to have silver hooks and sockets of brazen copper. In ‘d’ we have the hangings on each side of the entrance, and in the parallel details about the entrance.

Exodus 27:9-11

“And you shall make the court of the Dwellingplace. From the south side southwards (or ‘on the south side on the right’) there shall be hangings for the court of fine twined linen, a hundred cubits long for one side. And its pillars will be twenty, and their sockets twenty of brazen copper. The hooks of the pillars and their fillets (or connecting rods) will be of silver. And in the same way for the north side in length there will be hangings a hundred cubits long, and its pillars twenty, and their sockets twenty, of brazen copper. The hooks of the pillars and their fillets (or connecting rods) of silver.”

The two sides of the courtyard were to be one hundred cubits in length and to be formed by fine twined linen on twenty pillars whose hooks and fillets were of silver. The fillets may in fact have been connecting rods connecting the pillars and supporting the curtains, although some see them as a band running round the base of the pillars.

The twined linen separated the court from the outside world and may well have depicted the idea of purity and righteousness in contrast with the sinfulness of the outside world. Those who would come before God must do so in purity and righteousness. Leaving their sins behind they must enter to obtain atonement and enjoy time in God’s presence. While the pillars could be of brazen copper the actual fittings that held the curtain material must be of silver.

So as we go along we see that gold is used in the sanctuary itself, although silver is used where contact has to be made of the holy with the marginal ground. Silver is also used to connect the holy with what is earthy, such as here, connecting the twined linen with the pillars, and mainly brazen copper for what is outside the sanctuary, again denoting the movement from the most holy to the less holy. The silver hooks on the brazen copper pillars may therefore here depict the linen curtain as being of a holy nature, and therefore not to be treated lightly (but not most holy). But there may also have been another practical purpose in all this. Gold easily available may have been seen by God as too great a temptation to place before men where it could be accessed too easily. They were not likely to enter the sanctuary, but they might well have been prepared to despoil the fencing of the outer court for gold. He knew the hearts of men.

Southwards.” Directions were determined by facing the rising of the sun, so the East was before, the West behind, the South to the right and the North to the left (see Job 23:8-9).

Exodus 27:12-13

“And for the breadth of the court on the west side shall be hangings of fifty cubits. Their pillars ten and their sockets ten. And the breadth of the court on the East side eastwards (or ‘in front’) shall be fifty cubits.”

Looking from the front, the courtyard was fifty cubits wide and thus only required half the number of pillars. The court was thus one hundred cubits by fifty cubits, in proper proportion but without the perfection of the perfect square of the Holy of Holies.

Exodus 27:14-16

“The hangings for the one side shall be fifteen cubits. Their pillars three and their sockets three, and for the other side will be hangings of fifteen cubits. Their pillars three and their sockets three. And for the entrance of the court will be a screen of twenty cubits, of blue and purple and scarlet, and fine twined linen, the work of the embroiderer, their pillar four and their sockets four.”

The entrance to the courtyard was to be on the east side, with the actual entrance twenty cubits wide, with fences of fifteen cubits either side. The entrance curtain was to be multicoloured, and very carefully wrought, in distinction from the fine twined linen of the outer screen, a reminder that they were entering the courtyard of the king.

Here again there are ten (three + four + three) pillars as with the west side. Whether the end pillars of the north and south sides were also utilised for these screens, or doubled up, is an unanswered question.

Various attempts have been made to construct the Tabernacle as described. Some have found difficulty because they have made assumptions that were not stated such as that the pillars were always the same distance apart, or that the entrance screen was necessarily continuous with the other screens on the eastern side, rather than set in a little in order to provide entrances at the side of the entrance screen. Others have been more successful. But all we can say is that this is how it might have been, not that this is how it was. Anyone who has tried to construct something by use of only written guidance will know how difficult it often is to know exactly what was meant. Fortunately Moses had been shown the pattern on the Mount, and much, such as the shape of the Cherubim, might then have been something that was well known.

Exodus 27:17-18

“All the pillars of the court round about shall be filleted with silver (or ‘joined by silver rods’), their hooks of silver and their sockets of brazen copper. The length of the court shall be a hundred cubits and the breadth fifty everywhere, and the height five cubits, of fine twined linen, and their sockets of brazen copper.”

The actual size of the court is now stated with the added information that the white linen screen will be five cubits high. It will be noted how all is, where practicable, in multiples of five, the covenant number. This is the Dwellingplace of their covenant God, and entering it they enter, as it were, within the covenant blessing, and sacrifice at the covenant altar.

Exodus 27:19

“All the instruments of the Dwellingplace in all its service, and all its pegs and all the pegs of the court will be brazen copper.”

All that is used in the outer court will be brazen copper. Inferior to the gold of the sanctuary, and indicative of the fact that the courtyard is not most holy, but still valuable as a metal and indicating its genuine holiness. Such would include the laver of brazen copper, the tent pegs, and many other accoutrements. It was a useful and pliable metal.


Verse 11

‘And Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Look. Esau is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me and I will seem to him as a deceiver. And I will bring a curse on me and not a blessing.” And his mother said to him, “On me be your curse my son, only obey my voice and go and fetch me them.”

Jacob is wary. A deathbed curse was looked on as no light thing. And it would be so easy for Isaac to detect the subterfuge. But his mother assures him that she will stand between him and the curse. Her words suggest that this was looked on as a genuine possibility. But there is in fact only One Who can stand between us and our deserts.

In defence of Jacob we must remember here that he was used to obeying his mother. While his father was the patriarch the practical authority had long since devolved on Rebekah in many things, which was one reason why marrying someone with her background had been so important. And it was she who was urging him in the light of what both thought of as his unfairness and dotage.


Verses 14-17

‘And he went and fetched what was required and brought them to his mother, and his mother made savoury meat such as his father loved. And Rebekah took the fine clothes of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. And she put the skins of the kids of the goats on his hands and on the smooth of his neck, and she gave the savoury meat and the bread which she had prepared into the hands of her son Jacob.’

Rebekah had it all thought out. The hairy skin, the distinctive smell of the hunter, the tasty food and the certainty that blind Isaac’s condition was such that he would not be too discerning. She carries the deception through to the end with the singlemindedness of a mother devoted to her favourite son, aware that legally her position is correct.

Note the mention of ‘her elder son’. Previously Jacob has been described as ‘her son’. There is disapproval in the writer’s tone. Esau was her son as well, and the elder one at that.


Verses 18-24

‘And he came to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you my son?”

Jacob comes, no doubt trembling, to his father, honing the skills of deception that he will use so effectively later on. His father’s reply reflects doubt. This does not sound like Esau. From this point on the writer skilfully builds up the tension for his hearers. Will Isaac see through the deception?

Genesis 27:19

‘And Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau, your firstborn. I have done as you bade me. Get up, I pray you, sit and eat of my venison that your soul may bless me.”

The reply sounds right, but there is something Isaac does not like about the situation.

Genesis 27:20-21

‘And Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you found it so quickly, my son?” And he said, “Because Yahweh your God sent me good speed.” And Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near, I pray you, that I may feel you my son, whether you are truly my son Esau or not.”

Isaac is uneasy. The speed with which the venison has been found adds to his already growing doubts. And the reply makes him even more uneasy. It is not like Esau to speak with such piety. He would have expected that of Jacob. He knows he must use his hands and feel the speaker so as to ensure who it is.

Genesis 27:22

‘And Jacob went near to Isaac his father, and he felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” ’

His son approaches and he feels his hands. There can be no doubt that they are hairy like Esau’s. Certainly not Jacob’s. He does not dream that his younger son would dare to deceive him. And how would Jacob know what he had asked Esau to do? But the voice, and the words spoken, they speak so much of Jacob. Yet in the end the hairiness decides it. That is decisive.

Genesis 27:23

‘And he did not work out who he was because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands. So he blessed him.’

The deception has worked. Isaac has been convinced. If we think he should have suspected we must remember he had no reason to suspect. And with his eyes blind and his illness, with his senses dulled (and he has not yet eaten), he accepts the evidence of the hairiness which can really not have any other explanation. The enormity of what Jacob has done is so great that Isaac probably would not have believed it was possible. Surely a son would not deceive his own father or a tribal member dare to deceive the patriarch? Yahweh Himself would pronounce on the iniquity of the man who deceives the blind (compare Leviticus 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:18 where the principle is in mind).

“So he blessed him.” A summary, speaking of what is to come indicating that he is now convinced. We have noted before this tendency to say briefly what happens before expanding on it, (see Genesis 26:1; Genesis 26:18). We might paraphrase ‘that is the main reason why he now enters the blessing process’.

Genesis 27:24

‘And he said, “Are you truly my son Esau?” And he said, “I am’.

Isaac now moves into the blessing process. The question is formal. He is not now voicing suspicion but simply asking for the recipient to confirm his title.

(The blessing process goes - confirmation of the recipient, partaking of the requested offering, a sealing kiss, the blessing).


Verses 25-29

‘And he said, “Bring it near to me and I will eat of my son’s venison that my soul may bless you.” And he brought it near to him, and he ate, and he brought him wine, and he drank.’

Now he calls on him to do the son’s part, bonding the unity between them. We can only imagine Jacob’s apprehension as he carries through the charade wishing it would end, and probably hating what he was doing, but determined to carry it through so that he could have justice, all the while full of trepidation in case Esau arrives.

Genesis 27:26-27 a

‘And his father Isaac said to him, “Now come near and kiss me, my son.” And he came near and kissed him. And he smelled the smell of his clothing, and blessed him.’

After receiving his offering now the sealing kiss. No longer suspicious he receives his son’s kiss. He then smells his son’s clothes, a further act of bonding. The smelling of the clothing is not done in suspicion but as leading into the blessing. He receives of his son that he may bestow blessing on him connected with the receiving.

Genesis 27:27-29 (27b-29)

‘And said, “See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which Yahweh has blessed. And God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you and blessed be everyone who blesses you.” ’

The blessing is threefold, fruitfulness, power over peoples and authority over his brothers.

“Of the dew of heaven.” The heavy morning dew, largely caused by moist air from the sea, was looked on as a great blessing in a relatively dry country. It was especially abundant in the summer when there was no rain, and was beneficial to summer crops and the vine harvest (corn and wine). It is here looked on as an added blessing, given to the specially favoured (see Zechariah 8:12).

“And of the fatness of the earth.” This will refer to plentiful grazing so that his herds and flocks will prosper, as well as to good crops. Thus the earth is to give all that is needed for his prosperity abundantly.

“And plenty of corn and wine.” Not just food but provision for full enjoyment.

“Let people serve you and nations bow down to you.” Isaac has not forgotten Yahweh’s promises - ‘Your seed will possess the gate of his enemies’ (Genesis 22:17). But he expands it to include authority over many nations, even those not their enemies. Only thus can they be a blessing to the world as a whole.

“Be lord over your brothers, and let your mother”s sons bow down to you.’ He is to have the pre-eminent place in the family tribe. Perhaps he has in mind the words, ‘Kings shall come from you’ (Genesis 17:6). His son is to be a ‘king’ over his brothers. In other words he is seeking for his son total pre-eminence. Thus Isaac is seeking to restore the damage done by the sale of the birthright, not realising that he is in fact confirming it. It is this perversity that gives some justification to Jacob’s action.

“Your brothers.” This is then defined as ‘your mother’s sons’. This suggests that other sons have been born to Rebekah. Alternately it may be that this was a stereotyped phrase incorporated into the blessing by Isaac (but see Genesis 27:37).

“Cursed be everyone who curses you and blessed be everyone who blesses you.” The pronouncing of curses and blessings was a common feature of covenants. Abraham was promised the same thing in Genesis 12:3. So Isaac is confirming the covenant promises on his son. See also Numbers 24:9; Deuteronomy 27, 28.

It is clear that once the blessing is given it cannot be withdrawn. The authority and promised blessing has been passed on and nothing can change it, ‘yes, and he shall be blessed’ (Genesis 27:33). So did Jacob ensure that he received the full benefit of the purchased birthright.


Verse 30-31

‘And it happened, as soon as Isaac had made an end of blessing Jacob, and Jacob was yet scarce gone out from the presence of his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. And he also made savoury meat, and brought it to his father.’

He left only just in time. Esau, confident of the benefits he is about to receive, arrives back at the camp and prepares the food for his father. Then he confidently strides into his father’s tent. He is not too concerned about the fact that the blessing may counteract the oath he had made to Jacob. Once the blessing is given it cannot be taken away.

Genesis 27:31 b

‘And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s venison, that your soul may bless me.’

Compare the similar words in verse 19. This was clearly the regular formula for opening the blessing procedures.


Verse 32

‘And Isaac his father said to him, “Who are you?” And he said, “I am your son, your firstborn Esau.”

“Who are you?” Isaac’s mind is frozen with shock. He cannot believe what he is hearing. His previous mild suspicions now come back with full force.

Esau, completely unsuspicious makes the reply that he knows his father will expect. He is the firstborn, he is Esau. This gives away the fact that he knows that he is about to receive the firstborn’s blessing, that he knows he is seeking to take something of what he had sold to Jacob. He is conscious that he is about to receive one of the rights of the firstborn, that birthright that he has sold. We do not know how far the two would be seen as officially interconnecting, but we cannot doubt that they do. It may indeed be that Esau’s view is very different from Jacob’s. That what he had meant by the contract was far different from what Jacob had intended. For he had probably dismissed what had happened as some peculiarity of Jacob’s.


Verse 33

‘And Isaac trembled very violently, and said, “Then who is he who has taken venison, and brought it to me, and I have eaten of all before you came, and have blessed him. Yes and he shall be blessed.” ’

Isaac is distraught. He realises that he has been deceived. But he is aware, as all are, that what has been given cannot be taken back. The seal has been made personally with Jacob, and the blessing has been given.

Isaac’s words confirm the close connection between the eating and the blessing. They were all part of the same process, the bonding and then the blessing.

“Yes, and he shall be blessed.” There is no going back from what he has done.


Verse 34

‘When Esau heard the words of his father he cried with an extremely loud and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, oh my father.”

Esau too is distraught. All he had hoped for has come to naught. Surely his father can do something to remedy the situation. Can he not have the blessing as well?


Verse 35

‘And he said, “Your brother came with guile and has taken away your blessing.”

The answer is basically, ‘no’. What he has given he has given. He cannot take it back or change it in spite of the way in which it had been obtained.


Verse 36

‘And he said, “Is he not rightly called Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright, and see, now he has taken away my blessing.”

Esau makes a bitter play on words. The root idea behind the word ‘Jacob’ is protection. Jacob-el (the el is assumed) means ‘may God protect’. But a secondary root which indicates supplanting can also be read into the consonants (see on Genesis 25:26).

Esau claims to see birthright and blessing as two separate things, but had he thought it through he would have recognised that he was wrong. For as the wording of Isaac’s blessing made abundantly clear, in the firstborn’s case they are really two parts of the one privilege. While it is true that the birthright centred more on property and official position over the tribe, and the blessing concentrated more on the giving of something personal, in the case of the firstborn both were interconnected.

The blessing was specially directed in the light of the birthright. Had Esau received the blessing and yet yielded to Jacob the birthright both would have been in an impossible position. And Esau would probably have won, because the blessing would have been seen as empowering him in a way the birthright did not. If Esau did not see the implications behind the situation there can be no doubt that Jacob and Rebekah did.

There is therefore poetic justice in the fact that Esau, who was seeking to supplant his brother in spite of his oath, finds himself supplanted. Later he would in fact recognise the justice of it and be reconciled with his brother.


Verse 37

‘And Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold I have made him your lord, and I have given to him all his brothers for servants, and I have sustained him with corn and wine. And what then shall I do for you, my son?”

Isaac too finds himself helpless. Had he not intended such favour to his elder son that he gave him everything there would have been something left. But he had intended to leave nothing for Jacob. So there is nothing left.

It demonstrates what had been the singlemindedness of Isaac’s purpose that he thinks this. He knows what he had intended. Jacob was to be left out of the reckoning.

“All his brothers for servants.” This would seem to confirm that there were other brothers. Alternately it may signify the whole tribe as ‘brothers’ (consider Genesis 19:7 where it means fellow-citizens; 24:27 where it means kinsfolk; 31:46 where it means servant companions).


Verse 38

‘And Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing my father. Bless me, even me also, oh my father.” And Esau raised his voice and wept.

In his disappointment and anguish Esau seeks for some crumb of comfort. Is there nothing that his father can give him? We must recognise that it is some official benefit that he seeks. His father could easily give him a general blessing.


Verse 39-40

‘And Isaac his father answered and said to him, “Behold, from the fatness of the earth will be your dwelling, and from the dew of heaven from above. And by your sword you will live, and you will serve your brother. And it will happen, when you will break loose, that you will shake his yoke from off your neck.” ’

Isaac grants him one favour. Independence. He will release him from his debt of servitude to Jacob.

“From the fatness of the earth will be your dwelling, and from the dew of heaven from above.” ‘From’ here probably means ‘away from’. The fatness of the earth and the dew of heaven is to be given by God to Jacob (Genesis 27:28). But Esau is released from enjoying it. He may go away from his brother, away from God’s provision. The land he will go to will not enjoy the same dewfall, and will not be as productive.

“And by your sword you will live and you will serve your brother.” His future will be in warfare and booty. He will be a raider at the head of warriors. ‘You will serve your brother.’ This may be partly ironic meaning try to give him his deserts. But in the end it is prophetic and will be fulfilled when Edom becomes subject to Israel (2 Samuel 8:14; Obadiah 1:18-20).

“And it will be that when you will break loose, that you will shake his yoke from your neck.” The submission will not be permanent and in the end Edom will be free of Israel’s yoke.

Esau does indeed leave home in accordance with the blessing and establishes himself in the mountainous country of Seir where the dew is scarcer and the land not so productive. But he gathers a band of warriors (Genesis 32:6; Genesis 33:1), builds up his own tribe, becomes wealthy in possessions (Genesis 33:9) and is free to do whatever he wants.

He was a free spirit and he would never have been satisfied leading the family tribe and being beholden to the inhabitants of Canaan. The family tribe of Abraham might well have been turned into a band of brigands. So in fact he found a future which satisfied him and this helps to account for his willingness to forgive Jacob and treat him as a beloved brother (33:4). It also explains why God, Who foresaw the situation from his birth, allowed what He did.

But that is in the future. For the present things begin to look ugly.


Verse 41

‘And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which 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.” ’

As we have seen earlier, Isaac thought he was near death, and it is clear Esau thought likewise. ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand’ means exactly this. (Probably no one thought that Isaac would linger on another twenty years or more. But he did, and by the time he died all the differences had been settled).

Thus Esau decides to wait until then before carrying out his plan to kill Jacob. He does not want to distress his father. But he clearly lets his thoughts be known, for word gets back to Rebekah and she decides to send Jacob to a place of safety.


Verses 42-45

‘And the words of Esau her elder son were told to Rebekah, and she sent and called Jacob her younger son and said to him, “Look, your brother Esau consoles himself about you with the thought of killing you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise. Flee to my brother Laban, to Haran. And wait with him a few days until your brother’s hot fury turns away, until your brother’s anger turns from you and he forgets what you have done to him. Then I will send for you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?”

When Rebekah realises what Esau intends to do she decides to send Jacob to a place of safety. With her son she is honest. He must flee to her brother in Haran until Esau’s anger has abated. ‘A few days’ is wishful thinking. Even in the best of circumstances it would take quite some time. Haran is not just round the corner. But she is trying to make it sound temporary. Neither she nor Jacob realise that they will never meet again.

The repetition of the phrase, with slight differences, about Esau’s hot fury stresses how great a threat it is. But she is confident that the hot fury that has gripped him will subside, and that eventually even his anger against Jacob will die down and what has happened will be unimportant. She knows her son and knows that both will happen. She knows his heart is on other things. (Repetitions such as we find here, almost word for word, are a constant feature of ancient literature).

“Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?” If Esau murders Jacob then he too will become liable to death for fratricide, especially as Jacob is now the heir apparent. She still has love in her heart for Esau.

However Isaac must be told a different story. No one wants him upset by what is happening and he must not learn of his elder son’s evil intent. It is clear that he is in his dotage and not up with things. He does not realise the storm that is growing around him. So Rebekah takes a different tack with him. She wants the initiative for Jacob’s departure to seem to come from him.

And here we really come to the end of the Isaac stories. All that remains is his sending Jacob to Haran (Genesis 28:1), twenty years of silence, and his welcoming back of Jacob at Mamre (Genesis 35:27), followed immediately by his death (Genesis 35:29).

Thus if we ignore the stories describing his childhood, the seeking of Rebekah and the birth and blessing of his sons, the only account of any length about Isaac is his activity at Gerar and Beersheba. And this out of one hundred and eighty years of life. And why is this? Because there were no covenant records.

Isaac passed a peaceable life, first at Beer-lahai-roi (Genesis 25:11), then at Gerar and Beersheba (Genesis 26), and finally at Mamre (Genesis 35:27). He experienced few theophanies and made few covenants worth recording. Thus the silence about his life.

This demonstrates that the idea that Genesis contains camp fire stories passed down, with anecdotes about the lives of the patriarchs, just is not true.


Verse 46

JACOB (Genesis 27:46 to Genesis 37:2 a)

Jacob Flees to Haran to Find a Wife of His Own Kin And Remains There Over Twenty Years Establishing His Own Sub-Tribe Before Returning Home (Genesis 27:46 to Genesis 37:2 a).

Jacob’s Departure (Genesis 27:46 to Genesis 28:9)

Genesis 27:46

‘And Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth such as these, of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do to me?” ’

It was always the intention of Isaac and herself to obtain a wife for Jacob from their kinsfolk. The way in which this is the constant aim of the family demonstrates a sense in which they felt themselves to be exclusive. They were like royalty in past days, but even more exclusive.

The purpose behind this was presumably the maintenance of the exclusiveness of the family tribe itself, and of its leadership within the tribe. To marry outside the family would be to introduce foreign elements. Canaanite daughters would introduce religious practises that were seen as evil, for Canaanite religion was debased. To marry within the commonality of their own tribe could damage the recognition of their own patriarchal status in the eyes of the tribe.

There is a lesson for all Christians here to ensure that they marry those who will deepen rather than challenge their faith. Marrying a non-believer is condemned in Scripture (2 Corinthians 6:14).

There had been no hurry in bringing this about, but events have now precipitated matters. For his own safety from a revengeful brother Jacob must be got to a place of safety. Yet Isaac must be kept unawares of the strains within the family, and Rebekah knew that he would probably dismiss the threat to Jacob out of hand. He would say he should be able to stand up for himself. And he certainly would not like the suggestion that they were all waiting for him to die (Genesis 27:41). So she goes to Isaac with the suggestion that now is the time to consider a wife for Isaac. However, like any wise diplomat she wants him to think that the suggestion is his.

So she satisfies herself with telling him how distressed she is to think of Jacob marrying a Canaanite woman. ‘Such as these’ may even suggest that some have been showing interest in Jacob and have been visiting the tribe. And her plan succeeds. She knew she had only to plant the seed and he would act on it.

But she had no conception of the fact that Jacob would be away for so long.

Thus Genesis 27:46 is the opening introduction to the new covenant narrative which continues in Genesis 28. But it is also important as a connecting link. The compiler clearly wanted it to be seen as connecting directly with the previous narrative. Yet it is equally the commencement of the following narrative.

Jacob Seeks a Wife in Haran and Marries Leah and Rachel (Genesis 27:46 to Genesis 30:24)

This covenant narrative is based around Yahweh’s covenant with Jacob in Genesis 28:13-15. He obtains wives and is abundantly fruitful, bearing many children. The initial covenant record was possibly Genesis 28:1-22 recorded by Jacob as solemn evidence of Yahweh’s covenant with him. The second, which records the fulfilment of the promise of fruitfulness, may have been added subsequently as a postscript, or may have been a separate record resulting from the vivid awareness by his wives of Yahweh’s intervention in the birth of their children.

Genesis 28:1-2

‘And Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him and said to him, “You shall not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Paddan-Aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take for yourself a wife from there from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.” ’

Having been prompted by Rebekah’s words Isaac, unaware of the undercurrents around him, calls for Jacob and sends him to his wife’s family, the family of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, to find a suitable wife. The fact that he knows that Laban has daughters serves to demonstrate that the families kept in touch. (Compare for the detail Genesis 25:20).

But noteworthy is the fact that in contrast to the servant who went to Paddan-aram for Rebekah on Isaac’s behalf Jacob bears no expensive wedding gifts. Isaac is clearly not pleased with him. He must make his own way. Alternately it may be that the family tribe was going through hard times and such gifts were not possible. In those days catastrophe, disease and human enemies could soon devastate the fortunes of wealthy semi-nomads as Job 1 demonstrates.

Genesis 28:3-4

“And God Almighty (El Shaddai) bless you and make you fruitful, and multiply you that you may be a company of peoples. And give you the blessing of Abraham to you, and to your seed with you, that you may inherit the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.”

This charge now recognises that Jacob is to receive authority over the family tribe after Isaac has gone, not only the immediate tribe but over the wider family (‘the company of peoples’), and has become the recipient of the blessings of the covenant. The mention of El Shaddai (the Almighty God) as in Genesis 17, where the ‘multitude of nations’ is also mentioned, links it with the wider covenant given there. Compare also Genesis 35:11 where God reveals Himself to Jacob as El Shaddai and ‘a company of nations’ is mentioned. The term El Shaddai is thus used when ‘many nations’ are in view in contrast with the more personal name of Yahweh which is more closely connected with the national covenant. Yahweh is the name of God, but He is given many titles in relation to His activities.

Jacob is to become a company of peoples, and is to receive the blessing of Abraham, which includes inheritance of the land in which they at present ‘sojourn’ (that is, live without a settled place to call their own). This anticipates the fact that future Israel will be made up of many nations. We can consider the mixed multitude who united with Israel at the Exodus 12:38 and the nations later conquered and absorbed through history.

Genesis 28:5

‘And Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother.’

The continual emphasis of the detail confirms the importance put on the family connection. The repetition is typical of Ancient Near Eastern literature.

Genesis 28:6-7

‘Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take for himself a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge saying, “You shall not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan, and that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother and was gone to Paddan-aram.’

Up to this point Esau had not considered the question of the provenance of his wives. He appears to have acted independently in his marriages and with little thought to the covenant community. Now the actions of Isaac bring him up short.

The writer is deliberately bringing out the contrast to establish the worthiness of Jacob to take over his father’s position. Jacob does that which is right by the family and the covenant, Esau did not. It is to Jacob, by his actions, that the inheritance truly belongs. With all his failings Jacob was true to the covenant.

“That Jacob obeyed his father and his mother.” The writer lays great stress on Jacob’s obedience in the marriage field. It demonstrates what a central feature it was in his thoughts. He sees Esau’s failure in this a crucial factor.

Genesis 28:8-9

‘And Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan did not please Isaac, his father, and Esau went to Ishmael, and added to the wives that he had Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife.’

This verse demonstrates the close connection kept with the wider family. Esau is welcomed by Ishmael’s family as a suitable husband for their daughter, and clearly knows fairly quickly where to find them in order to pursue his suit.

Esau’s love for his father constantly comes over. He desires to please him and the feeling is reciprocated. Yet he did so in independence and not like Jacob in filial obedience. Here he seeks to remedy, rather belatedly, his error in marrying Canaanite women. This brings out how independently he had acted when he married the latter. But even here he acts independently.

This union explains why we next see Esau as leader of a band of men in Seir. He has found the independent lifestyle of the Ishmaelites to his liking. And he is aware that he has no future with the family tribe, thus fulfilling Isaac’s words (Genesis 27:40).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 27:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/genesis-27.html. 2013.

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