SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS)-Week 16 Genesis 26:34-Genesis 28:9

Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Genesis 26:34-Genesis 28:9 . Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:

  1. These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.

  2. While it is up to the individual to choose to believe or disbelieve any portion, that is not to be the discussion of the thread. If you must, please choose to witness/anti-witness in Great Debates.

  3. The intention is to go through the Bible from front to back in order. While different books are needed to be referred to in order to understand context, please try and keep the focus on the thread’s selected chapter(s)/verse(s).

  4. Since different religions have chosen which books to include or omit, the threads will use the Catholic version of 46 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament Books. It’s encouraged to discuss why a book was included/omitted during the applicable threads only. BibleHub, as far as I know, is a good resource that compiles many different versions of the verses into one page.(Also the SDMB Staff Reports on Who Wrote the Bible). Please feel free to use whatever source you want, including-and even more helpfully-the original language.

  5. Hopefully we can get through these threads with little to no moderation. A gentle reminder that if a poster comes in and ignores these rules, please use the “report post” function instead of responding.

Links to previous threads:
Genesis 1:1 to 2:25
Genesis 3
Genesis 4
Genesis 5-6
Genesis 7-9:17
Genesis 9:18-10:32
Genesis 11
Genesis 12-13
Genesis 14-15
Genesis 16
Genesis 17
Genesis 18-19
Genesis 20-22
Genesis 23-24
Genesis 25
Genesis 26:1-33

Genesis 26:34-35
Jacob Takes Esau’s Blessing

34 When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.

Genesis 27

27 When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, “My son.”

“Here I am,” he answered.

2 Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. 3 Now then, get your equipment—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. 4 Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.”

5 Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the Lord before I die.’ 8 Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 9 Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. 10 Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.”

11 Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. 12 What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.”

13 His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.”

14 So he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it. 15 Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. 16 She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. 17 Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made.

18 He went to his father and said, “My father.”

“Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?”

19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”

20 Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”

“The Lord your God gave me success,” he replied.

21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.”

22 Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him. 24 “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked.

“I am,” he replied.

25 Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.”

Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.”

27 So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said,

“Ah, the smell of my son
is like the smell of a field
that the Lord has blessed.
28 May God give you heaven’s dew
and earth’s richness—
an abundance of grain and new wine.
29 May nations serve you
and peoples bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.
May those who curse you be cursed
and those who bless you be blessed.”

30 After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. 31 He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, “My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”

32 His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?”

“I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau.”

33 Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!”

34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!”

35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”

36 Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?”

37 Isaac answered Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?”

38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud.

39 His father Isaac answered him,

“Your dwelling will be
away from the earth’s richness,
away from the dew of heaven above.
40 You will live by the sword
and you will serve your brother.
But when you grow restless,
you will throw his yoke
from off your neck.”

41 Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”

42 When Rebekah was told what her older son Esau had said, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is planning to avenge himself by killing you. 43 Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran. 44 Stay with him for a while until your brother’s fury subsides. 45 When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I’ll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?”

46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.”

Genesis 28:1-9
28 So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: “Do not marry a Canaanite woman. 2 Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. 4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” 5 Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau.

6 Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman,” 7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. 8 Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; 9 so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.
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According to the classic Jewish texts, Jacob, as the third and last patriarch, lives a life that parallels the descent of his offspring, the Jewish people, into the darkness of exile. In contrast to Abraham, who illuminates the world with knowledge of God and earns the respect of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan and Isaac, who continues his father’s teachings and also lives in relative harmony with his neighbors, Jacob experiences many personal struggles both in the land and out of it - including the hatred of his brother, Esau; the deception of his father-in-law, Laban; the rape of his daughter, Dinah; the death of his favorite wife, Rachel; and the sale of his son, Joseph. For this reason, many Jewish commentators interpret many elements of his story as being symbolic of the future difficulties and struggles the Jewish people would undergo. This is intensified by the Israel being the name of both the patriach and the nation.

The word “blessing” in this passage has at least three different meanings, two of which are not familiar to us. The first blessing, given to a disguised Jacob, focuses on material belongings: “dew of heaven”, “fatness of the earth”, “plenty of grain and wine”. The second blessing, given to a revealed Jacob, focuses on his role as God’s chosen patriarch of Israel.

Isaac’s first blessing of Jacob (27:28-29) is presented as a will, or unconditional last testament. This is indicated by the usage “I do not know the day of my death” (27:2), that Rebekah repeats in (27:7). It is clear to all of the participants in the drama that the point of this first blessing is to settle, once and for all, the question of succession, the right of the firstborn. Since the story hints that there was a conflict between Issac and Rebekah in addition to the conflict between Jacob and Esau, it might have been Isaac’s belief that by making his testament known he could end the family strife, and this would indeed be a blessing in the sense that we understand. Since the testament was witnessed (at least by Rebekah and Jacob, if not by the servants) it was binding, despite the trickery.

Isaac’s second blessing of Jacob (28:3) is a blessing given in parting and is the type of blessing that we are comfortable with. Even though Jacob is leaving the land promised to Abraham, Issac makes it clear that the promise of the land and of descendants now belongs to Jacob. In context, this blessing indicates to the reader that Isaac is reconciled with the outcome of the events that have transpired.

Isaac’s blessing to Esau (27:39-40) is a prophetic blessing similar to the “blessings” that Jacob gives his sons in Genesis 49. This type of blessing is not easy for us to understand. In addition to the promise of release from his brother’s yoke and the “fat of the land and the dew of the heavens”, this blessing also includes “you shall live by the sword”, which hardly sounds good at all, but forewarned is forearmed, so this gift of prophetic insight is also considered a blessing. There is a hint of Edom’s recovery of its independence in the days of Solomon (I Kings 11:21–22, 25) and Jehoram (II Kings 8:20–22).

and from

Isaac intended to bless Jacob all along.
In this story Isaac gives three blessings. First, he blesses Jacob, though he thinks that it is Esau in front of him. (Genesis 27:28-29) The second blessing is after Jacob has left the tent and Esau comes in with the meal for his father. (Genesis 27:39-40)

Both Isaac and Esau are upset that Jacob has obtained a blessing by deceit and Esau demands a blessing from his father, which is given. Afterwards, Esau announces that he will kill Jacob after Isaac dies. Rebecca goes to Isaac and tells him that she wishes Jacob to return to the home country of Babylon (where she had been born and where Isaac’s father had been born) and for Jacob to find a wife from there. (Out of consideration for Isaac’s feelings, she does not tell him of Esau’s deadly intentions towards his brother.) Isaac asks for Jacob to come to him in order to give Jacob another blessing before he leaves. (Genesis 28:3-4) This will be the first time that Isaac has Jacob in front of him with Isaac knowing that it is Jacob in front of him.

As noted at the outset, this story poses serious problems. We must question what appears to be the attitude of the text towards the stealing of the blessings by Jacob. There seems to have a strictly formalistic conception of law in which a deception is sanctioned. It is difficult to believe that the deception by Jacob can affect who will receive Isaac’s blessing. It does not seem right that a blessing obtained by Jacob through deceit should be upheld. This is especially true when one considers what is at stake. The blessing at issue is the right to be God’s representative on earth. Who will bear God’s banner? Can it really be that this moral right can be obtained by stealth?

Philo (First Century B.C.E and First Century C.E., Egyptian) tries to offer a justification for the deception, by commenting on the fact that (as noted in verse 15) Rebecca took Esau’s best clothing and gave them to Jacob. He asks why Rebecca did this? Here is his answer:
The literal meaning is clear and conspicuous: it seemed that through the robe he who was not there was present. But as for the deeper meaning, the wicked man has another robe and many garments by which he conceals and covers himself, inasmuch as he cunningly contrives many matters of wrongdoing.

Philo often allegorizes biblical texts and he portrays the robe of Esau as symbolic of Esau’s concealment of his wickedness, implying that Jacob and Rebecca had the right to do what they did.

Philo also deals with the quandary of how Jacob can be rewarded for an act of deceitfulness:
Now if he received [the blessing] through deceit, perhaps some may say that he is not praiseworthy; how, then, can [Isaac] also say “The blessing will remain his” [27:33] thereby affirming the blessing attained by deceit? But he seems to indicate by this statement that not every deceit is blameworthy. Thus it is that night-watchers are unable to seize and overcome robbers without deceit, and army commanders to defeat the enemy in war; but by ambushing them they seem to achieve their end. And those acts which are called stratagems have a similar principle and so do the contests of athletes for in these deceit and trickery are considered honorable, and those who by trickery overcome their adversaries are thought worthy of prizes and wreathes. So that no falsehood and blame attach to “with deceit” [27:35] but rather praise, as it is equivalent to “with art” for the virtuous man does nothing without art.

Philo has expressed a classical view of the story. Sometimes, for the good to triumph, deception must be used, the way a night-watchman overcomes robbers. In other words, the ends justify the means. Nonetheless, we are still left with our original questions. The blessing is Isaac’s to give. It does not seem fit that the blessing can be obtained other than with the consent of the giver, namely, Isaac. If ownership to property cannot be obtained by stealth, how much more so should a blessing to be God’s representative on earth which is obtained by deceit be void?

The answer is discernible after a close review of the three blessings that were given. The first blessing is given when Isaac believes he has Esau in front of him, although it is really Jacob. The blessing that is given is a materialistic one: “May God grant you the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, much grain and wine. Nations will serve you and governments will bow down to you.” (Genesis 27:28-29) The second blessing is given by Isaac to Esau, with Isaac knowing that it is truly Esau in front of him and again the blessing is one of materialism: “The fat places of the earth can still be your dwelling and [you can still have] the dew of heaven.” (The problem that Esau will face, however, is that he will “live by the sword and you [Esau] will have to serve your brother.”) (Genesis 27:39-40) Both blessings deal with wealth.

It is the third blessing which reveals that Isaac truly understood the difference between his two sons and that Jacob is to be his spiritual heir. The scene opens after Esau has received his blessing, but he is furious that Jacob had sneaked in ahead of him to steal the blessings. (Genesis 27:41) Esau is furious and intends to kill Jacob (Verse 42). Rebecca learns of this and counsels Jacob to flee, while telling Isaac that Jacob wants to visit his Uncle Laban (Verses 43-46). While she does not tell her husband of Esau’s murderous intentions, she tells him that Jacob is going to Mesopotamia to find a wife—not a Hittite, as Esau had married (Verse 46).

Knowing his son is heading for a long journey, Isaac summons Jacob to bless him. And in the opening of Chapter 28, for the first time, Jacob appears before Isaac with Isaac knowing that it is Jacob before him and Isaac’s blessing is for him to “become an assembly of peoples. He [God] will grant Abraham’s blessing to you and your descendants, so that you will take over the land which God gave to Abraham.” (Genesis 28:3-4) Esau is furious and intends to kill Jacob (Verse 42). Rebecca learns of this and commands Jacob to flee, but before leaving she arranges for him to receive yet another blessing from his father.

Twice before Isaac had the opportunity to give blessings. The first time Isaac blessed Jacob thinking it was Esau; at that time Isaac only gave a materialistic blessing. The second blessing is given by Isaac to Esau, this time with Isaac knowing that it is Esau (for sure). Again, Isaac deals with the material aspects of life. It is only in the third encounter, when Isaac knows that he has Jacob before him, that the spiritual blessing, “Abraham’s blessing,” is given—the mantle of Abraham and of his special relationship with God. Jacob receives this blessing not because of any deception. It is the first blessing by Isaac of Jacob that involved deception and in it Isaac only refers to materialistic gains.

Remember that immediately before the second blessing by Isaac, Esau plead with his father, asking whether there was a blessing left over for him. Isaac comes up with a half-hearted formulation and promises Esau the “fat places of the earth,” but the bad news is that he shall “live by the sword” (Verses 39 and 40). Yet there was a blessing remaining, the one Jacob will receive from Isaac ten verses later, Abraham’s blessing. This, however, is not to go to Esau, but only to Jacob. All along it had been Isaac’s intention to give this blessing to Jacob a little later.

Funny how these commentary posts are all long. I’m not going to break tradition.

So this story is the transition in the line of succession, from Isaac to Jacob. The very name Jacob (remember Gen 25:26) is a pun on heel-grabber, referring to his birth but also to his later activities. He plays dirty tricks, he grabs from behind. An assault on the heel is not a heroic face-to-face confrontation, but cowardly and sneaky. (That’s not just biblical, think of Paris killing Achilles by attacking his heel in Greek myth.) Anyhow, that’s Jacob. And there will be a poetic justice, because he will also be tricked (into marrying Leah, into believing Joseph is dead, etc.)

The story from 27:1 – 28:5 occurs in seven scenes. (I got this from Sarna’s commentary on Genesis, JPS, and I think it’s very insightful.) All four members of the family participate, in pairs – the four do not appear together in any scene. The twins Jacob and Esau don’t appear together in any scene. If we didn’t know already, the literary structure tells us that this is a very dysfunctional family. Each pair has two scenes, but mother/father have only one (brief) scene. Seven, of course, is not a coincidental number.

Scene 1: Isaac and Esau (vv 1-4) – Isaac is old, asks for food from the hunt
Scene 2: Rebekah and Jacob (vv 5 – 17) – Rebekah prepares the dish for Jacob
Scene 3: Isaac and Jacob (vv 18 – 29) – Jacob give Isaac food, fools him, gets blessing
Scene 4: Isaac and Esau (vv 30 – 41) – Esau is bitter over being tricked
Scene 5: Rebekah and Jacob (vv 42 – 45) – Rebekah tells Jacob to flee
Scene 6: Rebekah and Isaac (v 46) – Rebekah hides the reason for Jacob’s flight
Scene 7: Isaac and Jacob (28: 1 – 5) – Isaac confirms the birthright and blessing on Jacob

At the beginning of the story, we learn of Isaac’s blindness. This implies more than just his eyes, he’s also pretty much blind to the situation around him, in the sense of not understanding, being oblivious. In the critical “scene 3”, Isaac both knows and doesn’t know what’s going on. He asks three questions to determine the identity of the son before him, and his conclusions are all based on the senses – taste, touch, hearing. Isaac is old and dying, and so losing perception (more than just vision.)

The Hebrew in verse 8 and verse 13 is the same, literally, “hear my voice” with the implication “hear my prophetic voice” and occurs later in verse 43 (spoken by Rebekah.)

Rebekah selects Jacob over Esau, just as Sarah had selected Isaac over Ishmael.

Note the parallels between this story and Gen 25 (the red stew.) (My apologies, I don’t know how to do a table to compare):
Gen 25: Jacob is in the tent; Gen 27: Isaac is in the tent
Gen 25: Esau comes in and asks for food; Gen 27: Jacob comes in, Isaac asks for food
Gen 25: Esau is served domestic food (lentils); he was out hunting; Gen 27: Isaac is served domestic food, but he asked for food from the hunt.
The motif of coming indoors/outdoors and the comparison of farming/shepherding/domestic food vs hunting makes an interesting study. Coming indoors seems to set up a dramatic tension: see also drunken Noah, Abraham’s three visitors, Lot and his daughters, Jacob/Esau and the birthright (Gen 25), Jacob/Esau and Joseph and Mrs Potiphar.

The blessing of v 25 is the blessing the covenant, as elucidated by Prof P above. Getting that blessing (Hebrew: berakhah) is the whole point of this story. The word appears seven times in this section as a noun, and 21 times as a verb. (I argue that’s not coincidence, seven is an important number of completion in the biblical text, as is 3, so 7 x 3 had dramatic literary symbolism.)

At the beginning of his career, Jacob receives three blessings: the birthright (Gen 25:33), the patriarchal blessing (here at 27:28) and the covenant of the land (coming in Gen 28:4) Apparently the birthright and the patriarchal blessing were distinct – Esau expected to get the patriarchal blessing even though he admitted he had given up the birthright.

Verse 34 is the only? or one of the very few, verses in the Hebrew bible that implies that one human being can bless (or curse) another, efficaciously.

Rebekah is a fascinating character, in my view. Consider v 43ff when Rebekah tells Jacob to flee. Two points I want to make about Rebekah:
(1) She’s almost always described as walking (going, moving.) Here, she’s not doing the walking herself but telling Jacob to flee. the verb for walking/moving/going was frequently used with Abraham. I think there’s a subtle literary suggestion that that Rebekah (contrasted to sedentary Isaac) is the carrier of the covenant, linked to Abraham by the motion verb.

(2) In verse 45, she says “…what YOU have done to him.” Not “we,” although she was clearly the instigator. Rebekah is the strong-willed one, who manipulates behind the scenes. She decided Jacob should inherit, and she managed it. (BTW, she says she will fetch Jacob, but that doesn’t happen, instead God will call Jacob back.)

Then Gen 28:5 reminds us that Rebekah is the mother of both Jacob and Esau (mentioning the younger first!), who chose the one to succeed to the blessing. As I say, an interesting character (far more so than Isaac.)

PS - Much later rabbinic literature usually portrays Esau as wicked, his descendents the Edomites as ditto (the term “Edom” was used by rabbis during the Roman period to conceal that they were talking about Rome.) The biblical text does not, on the face of it, support this except for Esau being a hunter and seemingly cavalier about his birthright.

New thread Genesis 28:10-30:24

CK Dexter Haven:

Not entirely true. Certainly in the Biblical narrative, Rebecca and Jacob both see Esau as capable of murder (Esau himself says he will kill Jacob, though I suppose that could be thought of as idle venting of anger, but Rebecca and Jacob both react as if the threat is genuine), and later, when the Israelites ask to pass through Edom en route to Canaan, Edom refuses them passage (though does not attack aggressively). So there’s definitely implications of wickedness early on.

Fair enough, cmkeller. I always took the “I could kill you” as hyperbole, and there’s no doubt that later Edom is nasty, but that’s not Esau himself. Esau is certainly not seen as a worthy successor. I just always found it interesting that the rabbis used Edom as a mataphor for Rome during a period of severe persecution.