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3. Isaac Blesses Jacob (27:1-45)
This chapter offers one of the most singular instances of God's overruling providence controlling the affairs of sinful men and so disposing of them that the interests of God's kingdom be safeguarded. Usually the guilt of Jacob is overemphasized, and Esau Is regarded as relatively or entirely the innocent party in the transaction. This traditional view requires modification and correction.
1-4. And it came to pass when Isaac was old and his eyes had grown dim so that he could not see, that he called Esau, his elder son, and said to him: My son; and he said to him: Here I am. And be said: See, now, I have become old and know not the day of my death. So now, take up thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, go out into the field and hunt some game for me, and prepare tasty things, as I love them, and bring them to me to eat, in order that my soul may bless thee before I die.
Luther's computations on the age of Isaac appear to be correct, when he sets his age at 137 years. For this figure compare the following passages: 47:9; 41:46; 31:38; 25:26. So it also appears that Jacob himself was about 77 years old. Ishmael, Isaac's half-brother, had lived to be only 137 years (25:17), having died fourteen years before this. It may have been this fact that led Isaac to surmise that his own end was near. Some particular sickness may besides have befallen him at this time. Yet it almost seems like a touch of helplessness, or at least a lack of aggressiveness when he takes to bed more than forty years before his death and actually makes preparations for his end. In this account it is essential to the understanding of what follows to know that Isaac's eyes had already grown so dim "that he could not see," mere'oth, involving a min with and infinitve, used as an equivalent of a negative clause of result (G. K. 119x; K. S. 406n).
That the father actually calls Esau and makes preparations to bestow the outstanding blessing upon him, has always proved perplexing. This cannot have been done because he had never heard the divine word to Rebekah (25:23); for the relation between Isaac and Rebekah was too intimate to allow for such a supposition. Nor did Isaac fail to understand the word aright: the word was too clear to allow for misunderstanding. Nor could Isaac have forgotten this notable word; it was too significant ever to forget it. Nor was it rash and bold presumption on Isaac's part or an attempt simply to fly in the face of God's revealed will: it was not Isaac's nature to behave thus. It seems psychologically most probable that Isaac purposely forgot what God had determined; and at the same time by clever little sophistries he led himself to believe that if he bestowed the blessing on Esau, the divine word uttered long before would not be crossed. He that knows the duplicity and treachery of the human heart will not find it difficult to understand how a man will circumvent a word of God, no matter how clear it be, if his heart is really set on what is at variance with that word.
2. Isaac gives his son to understand that the matter to be attended to is suggested by the thought that the father's days upon earth may be numbered. If a particular sickness had befallen Isaac, it would seem that that fact would have been mentioned. So we seem to be left to the conclusion that the infirmity of old age had seized upon the patriarch in a very pronounced way.
3. In part Isaac's love for game prompts this suggestion. Equally prominent is the fact that certain important occasions call for a festive meal in order to lend to them due solemnity and the spirit of festivity. Telî (from talah, "to hang up") is the "quiver" and arrows, not the "sword" (Targ.).
4. Mat'ammim, from ta'am, "to taste," is any thing that tastes good, "a delicacy," in the plural, "tasty things," more than ein Essen (Luther). The whole tenor of Isaac's words indicates that this preparation of "tasty things," chief among which was the game taken by the hunter, was not a new thing. Esau, knowing his father's love for game, had no doubt shown this token of love many a time before this and had noted what pleasure it afforded his father. In this instance the momentous thing is that the father purposes "to bless" his son. Esau well understood what this involved. This was a custom, apparently well established at this time, that godly men before their end bestowed their parting blessing upon their children. Such a blessing, had it been merely a pious wish of a pious man, would have had its worth and value. In it would have been concentrated the substance of all his prayers for his children. Any godly son would already on this score alone have valued such a blessing highly. However, the blessings of godly men, especially of the patriarchs, had another valuable element in them: they were prophetic in character. Before his end many a patriarch was taught by God's Spirit to speak words of great moment, that indicated to a large extent the future destiny of the one blessed. In other words, the elements of benediction and prediction blended in the final blessing. It appears from the brief nature of Isaac's statement that this higher character of the blessing was so well understood as to require no explanation. From all this one sees that the crude ideas of magic were far removed from these blessings. The truth of our above claims is evinced by the instances of such blessings recorded in Scriptures: 48:10 ff.; 50:24f.; Deut. 33; Josh. 23; 2 Sam. 23:1 ff.; 1 Kings 2:1 ff.; 2 Kings 13:14 ff.
Perhaps it is true, as Keil claims, that Isaac "wished to raise his spirits for imparting the blessing by a dish of venison prepared according to his taste." But more likely it is merely a case like so many others in life, where a festive meal expresses the dignity and importance of an occasion. We do not believe that it was a sacrificial meal, as Luther and others surmise, for as the later Mosaic Law did not allow for sacrifices by the use of game, so the principle there involved will, no doubt, have been understood at this earlier date by the patriarchs. The expression "that my soul may bless thee" does involve a bit more than the bare fact that the word soul is used as a substitute for the personal pronoun. The expression actually indicates the participation of one's inmost being in the activity involved. But the soul does not "require strengthening through meat and drink to be enabled to give a strongblessing" (Prockach)
5-10. But Rebekah on her part was listening as Isaac spoke to Esau, his son. And Esau went into the field to hunt game and to bring it. Now Rebekah on her part spoke unto Jacob, her son, saying: Behold, I heard thy father speaking to Esau, thy brother, and saying: Bring me game and prepare for me tasty things, that I may eat and bless thee before Yahweh before I die. Now, my son, give heed to my voice exactly as I am now giving thee orders. Go now to the flock and take from it for me two good kids (of the goats) and I shall make them up into tasty dishes for thy father as he loves them. Then thou shalt go to thy father and he shall eat in order that he may bless thee before he die.
The noun standing first becomes emphatic: "Rebekah on her part" — to mark a contrast with what the others were doing. The participle, durative, (shoma'ath) indicates that she "was listening" all the while that Isaac was speaking and so heard all. Esau at once gets under way into "the field" or open field, not into the woods or the mountains. Verse 5a may be regarded as a kind of parenthetical remark, for attention has already begun to settle upon Rebekah.
6. Here criticism gives an example of its strange mode of procedure. Procksch, yielding to the seeming ingenuity of those who have separated the narrative into portions from J and E, assigns v. 6-14 to E. The queer result of this comes to be the utterly unthinkable situation freely admitted by Procksch, that then J's account would have had no record of a conversation between mother and son. In other words, we are to accept the possibility that J's account let Rebekah act at once after hearing Isaac, and that Jacob was automaton enough to carry out her wishes without a question or an objection — an unthinkable situation! The rest of the analysis of portions assigned to J and Ε results in equally unbelievable absurdities if closely examined — matters too trivial to discuss in detail.
Again the noun is placed first to show how promptly "Rebekah on her part" acted. "Her son" (benah) here carries the particular connotation of: the one whom she particularly loved. The report of what Isaac bade Esau do can be given, very briefly, because mother and son stand alike on the question involved and thoroughly understand one another's sentiments.
7. This verse gives the kernel of the matter: "that I may bless thee." However, it contains an addition to the original in that it says: "before Yahweh." One might dispose of the addition by saying that it merely unfolds what Isaac naturally implied, namely that he would give his blessing as before Yahweh, the witness who would both enable him to give a true blessing and would also render the blessing efficacious. But it is very doubtful if Isaac implied anything of the sort, because with the sophistries he had employed to persuade himself that he might with impunity bless his favorite, he would hardly have God before his mind. Apparently, by these words Rebekah reveals how she regards the situation: this will be an act in which covenant issues are involved, issues so momentous that whether Isaac believes it or not, Yahweh will be present to direct and control all, as He, Yahweh, does always regulate all that bears upon the development of the kingdom and the promises upon which the kingdom is built. Or as Hengstenberg (Whitelaw) puts it: Rebekah regarded Isaac simply "as the instrument of the living and personal God, who directed the affairs of the chosen race." Of course, the phrase "before Yahweh" does not have a purely local meaning, as though a Yahweh image were present in the home. It can be spiritual in its character as the "before me" in 17:1 certainly is.
8. Rebekah's plan was apparently formulated very quickly, for here it is complete in detail. She is a woman of quick decision, as she was from the moment of her first meeting with Abraham's servant as well as on the occasion of her assent to the proposition to go back to Isaac at once. The Hebrew idiom has: "listen to my voice" for our "listen to me." Metsawweh points to the future, as the participle often does: as I am now "going to give thee orders." We have rendered la'asher, which literally = "according as," by the more American: "exactly as."
9. The imperative "go" (lekh) is here made more urgent by na'. "The flock" is near at hand and time is precious, Esau may have good fortune in encountering game. The killing of the kids was a man's work. "Two kids" are chosen, because both together might make it possible to present on Isaac's platter bigger portions of meat such as might come from venison. "Kids of the goats" is an expression used in Hebrew to specify what with us is self-evident: kids are young goats. Rebekah must have had rare culinary gifts to presume to make a mess of kid's meat taste like game. Here the word "tasty dishes" is made to refer to the meat because the chief dish was without doubt to be the game.
10. Here the bold daring of Rebekah's plan stands forth in stark outlines: "thou shalt go in . . . that he may bless thee." One would hardly have thought such an undertaking possible. The strength of the plan lies in its daring.
11-13. And Jacob said unto Rebekah, his mother: Look here, Esau, my brother, is a hairy man, but I am a smooth-skinned man. Perhaps my father will feel of me, and I will count in hit esteem as a mocker, and so I shall bring upon myself a curse instead of a blessing. But his mother said to him: Upon me let fall any curse intended for thee, my son. Only give heed to my voice, and go and get (them) for me.
Both seem agreed that since Yahweh has destined the pre-eminence to Jacob, the efforts they may make to secure what is rightfully Jaeob's own are entirely in place. It must have been the case that there was a natural similarity between the voices of the twins. Anyone who has observed how pronounced such a similarity may be, will not think it strange that Jacob did not worry about this point. But another point of pronounced dissimilarity may be detected by the father. The introductory hen is used like our "look here," not a formal "behold." Esau's hairiness was noted earlier (25:25). Jacob is chalaq, "smooth" or "smooth-skinned."
12. The possibility that Jacob suggests is by no means remote. The father may detect the difference in voice. Then after further test Jacob would surely be accounted "a mocker" (metha'tea'), one who was making sport of an old blind man, not a mocker in the sense of mocking at holy things; "deceiver" (A.V.) embodies an idea that does not really lie in the word. The upshot of that discovery would be a curse instead of a blessing. But the manner the father would in that case have employed to determine his son's identity would have been to "feel" of him, looking for the well-known characteristics of hairiness. Yemush, shénî, is to be derived from mashash.
Apparently, at this point Rebekah has not yet determined how to cope with this new difficulty; that problem seems to have been solved for her when she began the work of skinning the kids. For the present she is bold enough and so thoroughly convinced of the justice of the cause which she espouses as to be ready to assume any curse that may grow out of an eventual discovery. Qillathekha, "thy curse," involves a kind of eventual use of the possessive pronoun in the sense of "any curse intended for thee." Strack cites a parallel use in the expression "mine iniquity" Ps. 18:23, used in the sense of: "the iniquity into which I might have fallen." The boldness of Rebekah's reply appears reflected in its elliptical form: "Upon me thy curse." While she devises a solution of the difficulty, Jacob is to "give heed to her voice and go and get" for her. Her firm command gains in curtness when the verb "get" (qach) is used without an object. In English we have supplied a "them" (referring to the kids) in order to avoid unseemly harshness of expression.
And he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and his mother made tatsy things as his father loved them. And Rebekah took the garments of Esau, her elder son, the choice ones, which were with her in the home and she clad Jacob, her younger son, in them. And she put the skins of the goats upon his hands and upon the smooth part of the neck. And she gave the tasty things and the bread which she had made into the hand of Jacob, her son.
Jacob's chief difficulty was removed. He had been more afraid of detection than of duplicity. His mother, however, proved more resolute than he in carrying through the plan. Jacob provides the materials, Rebekah prepares them. After more than ninety years of married life she must have known pretty well what "his father loved."
15. Every eventuality has been considered: the sense of sight is out of the question. By the sense of hearing Isaac may be brought to have misgivings. The sense of taste will be appealed to by cunningly devised dishes. The sense of smell will point definitely to Esau if Jacob wears "the garments" of the elder, the "choice" ones (chamudhoth, feminine to agree with the feminine construction of the word bégedh which is also found). These are not by anything in the text indicated to have been priestly garments, as the Jews surmised. They are simply the better ones that men, especially men of means reserve for special occasions. But these, too, had been worn by their owner roving through the fields and woods and so had acquired an attractive odor all their own, which the father may have come to associate more and more with the presence of Esau in the room, especially as the father's eyes grew more and more dim. Undue conclusions should not be drawn from the fact that the mother had these garments "with her in the house." This does not take us back in point of time to the days before Esau had married but is quite adequately covered by the assumption that Esau after his marriage still dwelt in the same house with his parents. Criticism here tries to prove the text guilty of incongruity. "House" (báyith) points to the fact that a more substantial dwelling may have been in use by the family just at this time; yet, bearing in mind the avowed nomadic character of life in patriarchal days, "house" may simply be used in the sense of our "home," a use found perhaps also in Gen. 33:17.
16. Now the difficulty arising from possible detection by the father’s sense of touch, Jacob’s chief difficulty (v. 11), is met. The skins, still very soft and pliable and readily moulded to any surface, and besides of a much finer quality than the skins of young goats as we know them, are applied to the hands and the neck. Yadh will in this case cover more than the mere "hand," for since garments were for the most part sleeveless, the whole forearm might protrude and is therefore enveloped in goatskin. All these additional precautions might well have been disposed of while the meat was roasting. No unseemly jokes about the hairy Esau are attempted by this account, rough like a goatskin (!).
17. The scene grows vividly dramatic as the "tasty things" prepared are put into Jacob’s hands and he prepares to enter the father’s room. "Bread" is mentioned because the thin loaves were broken into pieces, by the use of which meat and other viands were conveniently taken in hand without soiling the fingers, the thin bread being folded around the meat.
At this point criticism assumes too much by claiming that Gunkel has proved that the "garments" are mentioned by J, the "goatskins" by E. Such contentions cannot be proved; they are subjective opinions which are unconvincing but which seem to impress the unlearned and the unwary because they are advanced by learned writers.
18-20. And he came in to his father and he said: My father. And he said: Here am I. Who art thou, my son? And Jacob said to his father: I am Esau, thy first-born. I have done as thou didst bid me. Arise, now, take thy seat and eat, I pray, of my game in order that thy soul may bless me. And Isaac said to his son: How is it, then, that thou didst find so very quickly? And he said: Yahweh, thy God, did bring it before me.
Perhaps a trace of suspicion may be detected in Isaac’s first question: "Who art thou, my son?" He expects Esau; he seems to have heard Jacob’s voice, though Jacob certainly will have been trying to imitate Esau’s voice and mode of speech.
19. Jacob recognizes that hesitation or curt responses will arouse further suspicion and prove fatal to his enterprise, and so somewhat volubly he talks right on. He claims to be the first-born, to have carried out all instructions, and now he summons his father to "arise" from his bed and "take his seat" (shebhah —lengthened imperative—for shebh —"to sit down") and to eat. The double cohortative lends an urgency to his words, that make it appear that he is eager to receive the blessing. When Jacob calls the kid’s meat "game," Whitelaw observes that this is the "third lie" in his words.
20. One surprising factor surely requires explanation: how did Esau find what he sought so very quickly? The boldness of Jacob’s explanation certainly disposed of the question very effectively, but it is at the same time almost the most flagrant instance of abuse of the divine name recorded anywhere in the Scriptures. This is "lying and deceiving by God’s name." By making the utterance doubly solemn, "Yahweh, thy God," the hypocritical pretense is made the more odious. Jacob’s tricky device is decked out as an outstanding instance of divine providence: "Yahweh did bring it (hiqrah —cause to meet) before me." Kî merely introduces the direct discourse and is not to be translated.
21-23. And Isaac said to Jacob: Come near, please, and let me feel of thee, my son, whether thou indeed be Esau, my son, or not. And Jacob came near to Isaac, his father, and he felt of him and said: The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau. And he did not discover him, for his hands were like Esau, his brother’s, hands, hairy—and so he blessed him.
But the father’s doubt still persists. For the blind man the sense of touch must help to remedy the loss of sight. So Jacob is asked to step up that Isaac might feel of him. How correct had been Jacob’s suspicion that he might be detected on this score. Luther, who entered quite successfully into the tenseness of this situation, said that had he been Jacob under scrutiny as here narrated, he would have dropped the dish and run away.
22. Though with trepidation, no doubt, Jacob steps up for closer examination. One sees the old father reach for his son with groping hand and feel of his hands and arms. Jacob will certainly have used all possible caution to prevent the father’s hands from touching those parts where the kidskin was bound in place. The father’s utterance reflects his perplexity: "The voice is the voice of Jacob," etc. The voice, by the way, is the only count on which misgivings arise.
23. Those who have not noticed the similarity of voice and manner of speech on the part of sons of one and the same family will think it strange that Isaac allowed the sense of touch and of smell to overrule the objections of the ear. But those who have assailed by new misgivings. So, then, Isaac’s vacillation is effectively brought to our notice by this style of the narrative.
24-27 a. And he said: Art thou really my son Esau? and he said: I am. And he said: Bring it near to me that I may eat of the game, my son, in order that my soul may bless thee. So he brought it to him and he ate, and he brought him wine and he drank. And Isaac, his father, said to him: Come here, now, and kiss me, my son. And he came near and kissed him, and he smelled the smell of his garments and he blessed him, saying:
We have just shown how the first question indicates new misgivings on Isaac’s and a new lie on Jacob’s part. But Jacob’s answer is so positive, and, surely, Isaac was accustomed to truthfulness on the part of his sons. Jacob’s persistence in his wrong course is to be accounted for, first, by the fact that he firmly believed in the justice of his cause, and then, secondly, by the fact that his mother so staunchly supported him in the enterprise. There may have been on the part of both of these an erroneous conception of the validity of a wrong blessing. For just as the curse causeless falls to the ground (Prov. 26:2), so the blessing granted in disobedience would have been futile.
25. The ending ah on the imperative and the imperfect make the hortative form help to express how Isaac is strengthening himself in his resolution to go through with the undertaking. When Isaac is said to have drunk wine at this point, the critics in a number of instances are greatly perturbed. They had not known that the patriarchs drank wine at this early date, consequently the text must be in error. Certainly a non sequitur.
26. The kiss appears here for the first time as the token of true love and deep affection. Isaac asks for this token from his son. The treachery of the act cannot be condoned on Jacob’s part on any score: the token of the true love is debased to a means of deception. The Old Testament parallel (2 Sam. 20:9) as well as that of the New Testament (Matt. 26:49 and parallels) comes to one’s mind involuntarily. The emphatic imperatives with ah ("do come here and do kiss me") show how strongly Isaac enters heart and soul into his task. "My son" here implies: "my favourite."
27a. Here Rebekah’s clever foresight is further vindicated as having coped with the situation. The smell of Esau’s garments recalls vividly to the father the daily pursuits of his son and gives the immediate ground for the blessing to be uttered. This smell seems to have kindled Isaac’s imagination.
27 b-29. Behold, the smell of my son is as the
smell of a field which Yahweh has blessed,
May the true God give thee of the dew of
heaven and of the fertile places of the
earth, and much of grain and wine.
Let peoples serve thee, and nations bow down
Be master over thy brethren, and may thy
mother’s son bow down to thee.
Cursed be they that curse thee, and blessed be
they that bless thee.
Isaac’s blessing is poetic, being, in an exalted strain of noble feeling. On the formal side this poetic character is marked by parallelism and the use of poetic words like re’eh for hinneh and hawah for hayah.
Starting with a reminiscence of the odoriferous herbs whose smell clings to Esau’s garments, Isaac rightly interprets this smell as a token of things blessed by Yahweh. The sweet smell of the fields is, in reality, a reminder of the good Lord who displays His goodness by many an attractive grace. Since, then, God’s grace is under consideration, He is rightly spoken of as "Yahweh," at least at first. Besides, the use of this name suggests that Isaac may originally have intended to bestow upon Esau the full covenant blessing. But the change to ha’elohîm (v. 28), "the true God," seems to indicate that the patriarch’s purpose wavered in the midst of the blessing, and so he bestowed little more than a material blessing. Of course, the expression ha’elohîm would more naturally cover the case of blessings like dew and fertile soil. These two would result in the total of good crops. For the heavy Palestinian dews almost make up for the lack of rain during the dry season. Such "dew of heaven" is heaven’s gift; whereas shemannîm are not merely "fat things" but fat "fertile places." "Dew" and’"fertile places" as a cause should yield the result of "grain" and "new wine," the essentials of food and of drink. So much for the blessings relative to daily bread.
29. Now for the political blessings that involve relations to others and the question of rule and superiority. "Peoples" and "nations" can hardly be distinguished as to their relative import. To have such "serve" and "bow down" to one implies a position of rule and authority, not the position of a servile nation. In particular, the relation to the brother now comes under consideration. When Isaac says: "be master over thy brethren" he means to let Esau’s descendants dominate Jacob’s; and so he was by these words trying to annul and invalidate God’s original verdict in reference to the relationship of these children (25:23). Certainly, then, from this point of view the word was bold and presumptuous, even a defiance of the Almighty. "Brethren" and "sons," used in the plural, do not involve an incongruity. The father is looking forward to those who shall yet spring from both. In reference to Jacob they will be "brethren" in so far as they are descended from Esau. In reference to Rebekah all Esau’s descendants are "sons." The closing line is an echo of 12:3 a, not of 3b. This is very significant. In 12:3 b is found the essence of the Messianic element in Abraham’s blessing. This Isaac does not dare to bestow upon his favourite. That is too sacred an element to be tampered with. In 28:4 he finally bestows it upon Jacob intentionally. Still the blessing: "Cursed be they that curse thee, and blessed be they that bless thee" is a very substantial one. It fends off harm and bestows tokens of goodwill. The unusual sequence of plural and singular conveys a shade of meaning about as follows: "Thy cursers, may each one of them be cursed; thy blessers, may each one of them be blessed," (K. S. 348 t to a).
On the whole, who would not covet such a blessing? Bestowed by a godly father upon a godly and a deserving son in accordance with the will and purpose of God, it surely would constitute a precious heritage.
30, 31. And it came to pass when Isaac had finished blessing Jacob and Jacob had yet just about gone out from the presence of Isaac, his father, that Esau, his brother, came in from the field. And he too prepared some tasty things and came in to his father, and said to his father: May my father arise and may he eat of the game of his son in order that thy soul may bless me.
The ‘akh ("yet" or "only") marks how very nearly Jacob was detected. He had just about closed the door, divested himself of the borrowed garments and the kidskin disguise, when his brother appears on the scene.
31. Quite unsuspecting he prepares what he has caught and in due course of time steps into his father’s presence, using practically the same words Jacob had used. For one thing, that shows at least how carefully Jacob had planned his deception; he knew about what Esau would say when stepping into his father’s presence. The jussives yaqûm and yo’khal are, it would seem, a bit more "deferential" ("may he rise and may he eat") than Jacob’s imperative ("arise, take thy seat and eat"). But then Jacob acted under greater strain, which may, indeed, have been reflected in an attempt at bolder utterance. From all this no conclusion may legitimately be drawn as to which of the sons actually reverenced his father the more. In all likelihood it was Jacob.
32-35. And Isaac his father said unto him: Who art thou? And he said I am thy son, thy first-born, Esau. And Isaac trembled most excessively and said: Who, then, is he who caught game, and brought it to me, and I ate of it all before thou camest in, and I have blessed him? Yea, blessed shall he be. When Esau heard the words of his father Isaac, he gave vent to an exceedingly loud and bitter outcry and said to his father: Bless me, me too, my father! And he said: Thy brother entered in treacherously and took thy blessing.
One can hear with what startled emphasis the cry breaks from Isaac’s lips, mî’attah, "who thou?" So, too, one can feel the surprise expressed in the tone of Esau’s answer, as much as to say: "Why should you be surprised that I am come with my tasty things, seeing you made me prepare them for the blessing?"
33. What Esau witnessed immediately after he had given his answer was enough to startle any man. The Hebrew employs three devices to convey the desired emphasis, piling one upon the other: the cognate object, the modifying adjective, the adverbial phrase, "lie trembled a trembling, a great, unto excesss." Our rendering: "he trembled most excessively" is still too weak. What a pitiful sight to. see the venerable patriarch under the stress of so violent an emotion. It is almost unbelievable that one brother should thus have impersonated the other to secure the blessing designed for the other and that he should have done it so successfully. The pained perplexity stands out in the father’s question: "Who, then, is he who caught game," etc.? But by the time the question has been formulated the problem has been solved. The vague "who is he?" has narrowed down to the one and only possibility that could be involved in this case. Isaac knows it was Jacob. Isaac sees how God’s providence checked him in his unwise and wicked enterprise. From this point onward there is no longer any unclearness as to what God wanted in reference to the two sons. Therefore the brief but conclusive, "yea, blessed shall he be." But his trembling was caused by seeing the hand of God in what had transpired.
34. Esau’s conduct in the case does not impress us favourably. His unmanly tears are quite unworthy of him. His "exceedingly loud and bitter outcry" is further evidence of lack of self-control. He who never aspired after higher things now wants this blessing as though his future hopes depended all and only on the paternal blessing. We cannot help but feel that a superstitious overvaluation of the blessing is involved. In fact, he now wants, as though it were his own, that which he had wilfully resigned under oath. The right to the blessing which Esau now desires was lost long ago. In fact, up to this point there was a double conspiracy afoot. Isaac and Esau, though not admitting that it was so, were conspiring to deflect to Esau a blessing both knew he had forfeited, in fact, was never destined to have. But at the same time Rebekah and Jacob were consciously conspiring to obtain what God had destined for Jacob and what Jacob had also secured from Esau. The pronoun in the nominative (gam ‘anî) stands in apposition with the objective (G. K. 135 e).
35. The father refused to be moved. He admits Jacob’s treachery (mirmah, primarily "deceit"), but he knows the case cannot be altered. Esau "found no place for repentance" (Heb. 12:17) in the sense of the more correct rendering: "he found no place for a change of mind (in his father)" (A.R.V.). Perhaps Isaac too now saw for the first time that in reality Esau did not stand on the level of the ideals of the patriarchs. Isaac’s refusal to alter the blessing is not to be explained by calling upon the idea of something like a fetish character of the blessing. The true patriarchal religion was not encumbered by such trash. Nor are we to claim that the blessing "works in purely objective fashion and cannot be retracted, and so we have here a fate-tragedy of antiquity" (Procksch). The true patriarchal religion nowhere gives indications of a belief in fate.
36-38. And he said: Is he not rightly called Jacob, for he has twice overreached me: my birthright he took and, lo, now he has also gotten my blessing. And he said: Hast thou not laid a blessing aside for me? Isaac answered and said to Esau: Behold, I have made him thy master and all his brethren I have made his servants; with grain and wine have I supplied him, and as for thee, what shall I now do for thee, my son? And Esau said unto his father: Hast thou only one blessing, my father? Bless me, me too, my father! And he lifted up his voice and wept.
The thought expressed with so much bitterness by Esau becomes entirely clear when we remember that "Jacob" practically means "Overreacher" —he is rightly called "Overreacher" because he has twice "overreached" me. A strange but emphatic paronomasia is also involved in the second part of his bitter outbreak: first he took my bekhorah (birthright), now he takes my berakhah (blessing). Though there is truth in what Esau says, he does not do well to play the part of injured innocence. His birthright he sold right cheerfully, and was far more at fault in the selling of it than Jacob in the buying. The blessing, on the other hand, had been destined for Jacob by God long ago, and Esau knew it. The verb ‘atsálta very distinctly means "lay aside" and so "reserve" (A.V.).
37. A blessing in the sense in which Esau wants it cannot be bestowed, for that would require the cancellation of the blessing just bestowed. Jacob’s blessing Isaac cannot revoke because he clearly sees that God so disposed of events that Isaac finally did what God had originally appointed. This startling instance of God’s overruling providence fills Isaac’s thoughts completely. He is not like a man who has run out of ammunition and so has nothing more to say. This is not the spirit of his answer but rather the thought: we cannot alter Jacob’s blessing for it has God’s sanction: "I have made him your master and all his brethren I have made his servants." Material wants have also been provided for. Really, what is there left for Esau? Daghan and tîrôsh are adverbial accusatives, "with grain and wine" (G. K. 117 ff).
38. Poor Esau’s grief is pathetic, a startling case of seeking a good thing too late. The blessing of the father seems to be the one thing of the whole spiritual heritage that has impressed Esau. Unfortunately, it is not the chief thing.
39, 40. And Isaac, his father, answered and said unto him:
Behold, away from the fertile places of the
earth shall thy dwelling be
And away from the dew of heaven from above.
By the sword shalt thou live
And thy brother thou shalt serve.
And it shall come to pass when thou shalt shake
Thou shalt tear off the yoke from the neck.
At this point prophetic utterance came upon Isaac and he foretold what the distinctive lot and fortunes of his son Esau would be. It is not said that he blessed him, for this is not a blessing but a prophecy. Nor could it rightly be called a curse. But the inferior lot of Esau is made very apparent by this word. Misunderstanding has arisen from the fact that in point of form both blessings use the preposition "from" (min), especially in the two phrases "from the dew" and "from the fertile places." If the min of source (B D B p. 579 b) be assumed for both cases (so Luther and A.V.), then we are confronted by the impossible situation that, whereas Isaac had insisted that Jacob’s blessing must stand, distinct from what Esau may attain to, in the end Isaac reverses his decision and gives Esau a blessing almost as good as Jacob’s, and so Esau would have lost little, only the pre-eminence. Consequently, modern commentators, positive and negative, are practically unanimous in construing the preposition in the case that applies to Esau as a "min separative" (B D B p. 578 a): "away from the fertile places . . . away from the dew." With this interpretation agrees the predominant impression conveyed by the land of Edom. In spite of fertile spots it is mostly very bleak, rocky and barren, allowing scant opportunities of cultivation, especially the western part, of which travellers have claimed that they have seen no region to equal it for barrenness.
40. To "live by the sword" (this use of ‘al in Deut. 8:3) implies violence and continual conflict. But yet for all that he is to be in continual subjection to his brother. Attempts at liberation from this yoke shall be many. In fact, whenever he "shall shake himself,", then will he. succeed in "tearing off the yoke from the neck," but he could not keep shaking himself forever. These words describe attempted freedom rather than achieved freedom. So from David’s time onward Edom was kept subject to Israel. Though rebelling frequently, they were always being subjugated again, until finally John Hyrcanus (126 B. C.) completely subdued them and compelled them to accept circumcision. The rather common interpretation of this statement, that it implied that ultimately Edom would "have dominion" (A. V., also Luther) is based upon a misunderstanding of the verb rûdh. In any case, the rule of Herod the Edomite over Israel can hardly be called the dominion of Edom, the nation, over Israel, for Edom had ceased to be a nation by this time, and, in any case, Herod’s rule did not involve Edom’s rule. Herod ruled alone as an individual. However, the meaning of rûdh, "to shake," or "to shake thyself," or, as Keil puts it, "to shake, namely the yoke," is pretty well established. So this becomes the one part of Isaac’s word in which some success is promised to Esau. His people shall at least occasionally be rid of Israel’s yoke. In so far, then, this statement involved an interruption in Jacob’s blessing. For Jacob’s wrong in deceiving his father the blessing bestowed was to be curtailed in part.
After all this examination of what Isaac did the verdict of Heb 11:20 may still seem a bit strange: "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even concerning things to come." But this word will be felt to be entirely true if we but bear in mind that the erring saint had been corrected by God in the midst of his attempt to transfer the blessing. He had accepted the correction and repented, and so in the end what he did was an act of faith after all. Both words told "concerning things to come" and were spoken in faith and in the strength of God’s Spirit.
The ethics of the case should be scrutinized a bit more closely. That Jacob was in part at fault has not been denied. That Esau was far more at fault has been pointed out. This contrast is usually overlooked. Jacob is criticized quite roundly, and the greater sinner, Esau, is pitied and represented as quite within his rights. That the whole is a most regrettable domestic tangle cannot be denied, and, as is usually the case in such tangles, every member involved bore his share of the guilt. But if it be overlooked that Jacob’s aspirations were high and good and in every sense commendable and besides based on a sure promise of God, a distorted view of the case must result.
They that insist on distorting the incident claim that the account practically indicates that Jacob was rewarded with a blessing for his treachery. The following facts should be held over against such a claim to show how just retribution is visited upon Jacob for his treachery: 1. Rebekah and Jacob apparently never saw one another again after the separation that grew out of this deceit—an experience painful for both; 2. Jacob, deceiver of his father, was more cruelly deceived by his own sons in the case of the sale of Joseph and the torn coat of many colours; 3. from having been a man of means and influence Jacob is demoted to a position of hard rigorous service for twenty years.
41. And Esau harboured enmity against Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father had blessed him, and Esau said in his heart: The days of mourning for my father are not far off; then will I kill my brother Jacob.
Good-natured, easy-going Esau is changed in his attitude toward Jacob. Bitter enmity takes up residence in his heart. All his thinking still seems to centre about the lost blessing. This confirms our interpretation of v. 39, 40, because if Esau had construed these words as a substantial blessing, he could hardly have cherished animosity. But one thing restrains Esau: he does not want to cause his aged father further grief. He does, however, believe that his father will not live long. This is the meaning of the word: "the days of mourning for my father are not far off." He expects to wait till his father is dead; then will he kill Jacob. Esau does not mean: I will kill my brother, and in that sense days when my father must mourn are coming upon him. But it is strange that he who so readily parted with the birthright now so firmly resolves to commit murder, even fratricide. ‘Ebhel ‘abhî is "mourning for my father" not "of my father" —therefore objective genitive like Amos 8:10; Jer. 6:26. The expression "said in his heart" means "to himself" or "in his own circle," because v. 42 Rebekah hears the report of it.
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 unto him: See, Esau, thy brother, is about to take vengeance upon thee by killing thee. Now, my son, give heed to my instruction: up, flee thou to Laban, my brother, to Haran, and live with him for a while until the fury of thy brother turn away, until thy brother’s anger turn away from thee and he forget that which thou hast done to him. Then will I send and get thee from thence. Why should I be bereft of both of you in one day?
Esau’s intention somehow comes to the ear of one who is friendly disposed toward Rebekah, perhaps one of the feminine members of the establishment. With her customary alacrity of decision Rebekah acts and calls Jacob in order to dismiss him at once. The participle mithnach (ch) em from nacham, "to comfort," could be rendered "comforteth himself" (A.V.) or "eases himself" (B D B) but very likely the comfort that one of Esau’s mind administers to himself is vengeance. The participle then expresses the durative "is planning vengeance" or "is about to take vengeance." Then the infinitive must be rendered "by killing thee" —a kind of gerundive use.
43. Rebekah’s attempt to make her warnings emphatic show how sure she is of the need of immediate action: now, my son, give heed to my instruction. Flight to Laban to Haran offers sure asylum.
44. Her desires colour her thoughts. She hopes it may be only "for awhile," yamîm ‘achadhîm —"a few days." Men of Esau’s disposition often let their native, good-naturedness dissipate their "fury" (chamah —from yacham ＝ "burning" "hot anger").
45. The repetition of the thought—until thy brother’s anger turn away from thee—shows how eagerly her thoughts hope that this may come to pass. This parting must have been hard for both. So Rebekah tries to make herself believe that it will be but for a short time and Esau will "forget that which thou hast done to him." Her thoughts run to what she regards as perhaps an early prospect: I will send and get thee from thence. When Rebekah expresses the thought of the possibility of being bereft of both her sons in one day, she means at one time. Of course, she refers to the possibility of Esau’s slaying Jacob. Then at once someone would take it upon himself to play the part of the "avenger of blood" and so slay Esau, perhaps very shortly thereafter.
4) Jacob’s Dismissal from Home and His First Vision (27:46-28:22)
The Jewish custom of choosing a more or less weighty utterance to be the initial word of a new chapter led to the addition of v. 46 to chapter 27, in order that 28:1 might make a seemly beginning. Yet, without a doubt, v. 46 has to do with the matter of Jacob’s dismissal from home. K. C. penetrates a bit more deeply into the essence of the situation when he gives as a title for this section, "The Beginning of the Exile and of the Training (Erziehung) of Jacob." But the second half of this title is defective, for Jacob’s "training" did not begin at this point, though at this point it becomes more intensive.
For once let an analysis of the critical contentions be made on the section 27:46-28:9, which is with great unanimity ascribed to P.
The argument seems quite imposing when we are told that the following terms, which are said to be characteristic of P, are found in the passage: ‘el Shadday ("God Almighty") v. 3, ’elohîm ("God") v. 4; ha’arammî ("the Aramaean, or the Syrian") v. 5; paddan ‘aramv. 2, 5, 6, 7; ’érets meghurîm ("land of sojournings") v. 4; benôth kena’an ("daughters of Canaan") v. 1, 6, 8; qehal ‘ammîm. ("company of peoples") v. 3. But note how very flimsy all this becomes on closer investigation.
Take ’el Shadday. This term does occur besides in 17:1; 35:11; 48:3; Exod. 6:3. But in 17:1 "God Almighty" appears to Abraham and assures him of His strength to carry out His promise. This is not a stylistic peculiarity; this is a designation God employed to describe Himself. Similar is the situation in 35:11 where Jacob is addressed, where God’s comfort will mean so much more to Jacob if it is couched in terms long familiar from Abraham’s time. Why then in 48:3, where Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons, should he not use the very terms God used for Him? And most particularly Exod. 3, where God reappears after a long interval to Moses, why should He not employ names familiar from patriarchal times to describe Himself? This use of a specific divine name here is not a peculiarity of style on the part of one author. This name most appropriately grows out of a given situation. It is used also 43:14, which some critics assign to a priestly redactor and not to P. There, surely, is little convincing proof in the use of this term.
On the use of ’Elohîm (v. 4) little can here be said; we shall dwell on the propriety of the term later in this connection.
The word ha’arammî ("the Syrian") v. 5 is supposed to belong to the vocabulary of P. It appears twice in 25:20. But why not in a formal beginning of a new section as 25:19 ff. use fuller titles, "Bethuel, the Syrian," "Laban, the Syrian"? Aside from our passage, Gen. 28:5, appear the two instances of its use 31:20, 24, which, however, Strack ascribes to E. Surely, nothing like proof for a peculiarity of style has been offered.
Paddan ‘aram is next. True, it appears in 48:7; 25:20; 28:2, 5-7; 31:18; 33:18; 35:9, 26; 46:15. This point is supposed to build up on the divergent use found in J, who in 24:10 used for Syria the name Aram Naharaim. Note the invalidity of trying to prove J’s style by a single instance. We know too little about the use of these names to build arguments on them. But the inconclusive methods employed to make the argument appear impressive come to light when we notice that in 31:18; 33:18 critics label just this one verse in a supposedly different source as belonging to P merely on the strength of the appearance in it of the word "Paddan Aram." After it is first consigned to a supposed P, it is quoted as a P passage to prove that P uses the word—a perfect argument in a circle. The same use is made of 25:20, where v. 19 and 20 are alone ascribed to P. Since now the likelihood is that "Paddan Aram" was the usual designation of the country, what else could P say? This is not a peculiarity of style on his part.
Now ’érets meghurîm, used 17:8; 28:4; 36:7; 37:1. First of all, the nature of God’s remarks requires that it be emphasized both in the case of Abraham (17:8) and of Jacob (28:4) that for the present they are dwelling in a "land of sojournings." Two passages of such a character do not suffice as evidence to build up a peculiarity of style. Critics admit that they are not sure to which source 36:7 is to be ascribed. But on the strength of the first two passages cited above they claim 37:1 for P, ascribing, however, only v. 1 and 2 to P. If this is to be called "proof," we do not know what the word "proof" means.
The case of the critics keeps growing flimsier. The use of the term benôth kena’an ("daughters of Canaan") borders on unmeaning proof. In the passage we are studying the expression occurs three times, in v. 1, 6, 8. Of these three v. 6 quotes v. 1 and v. 8 is a direct reference to the two preceding. Then, as far as peculiarities of style are concerned, there is really only one passage before us in chapter 28. Now the only other instance of the use of the expression is 36:2, whose authorship is doubtful (Strack). What now? On the strength of one passage, then, this expression is said to be a part of
the vocabulary of P. Could any procedure be more unscientific?
The case of qehal ‘ammîm is about as flimsy. The only instances of its use are 28:348:4. Can that suffice as an argument for assigning both passages to P, or even for claiming the expression as peculiarly P’s? So shallow are the critical contentions.
46. And Rebekah said to Isaac: I am disgusted with life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob is going to take a wife of the daughters of Heth like these, of the daughters of the land, what’s the use of living?
First of all this verse throws a side light on 26:34, indicating how great the bitterness of heart caused to Esau’s parents by the unbelieving, ungodly Hittite wives really was. Qátstî —"I abhor," "I am disgusted with." However, Rebekah’s complaint is preparatory to having Jacob sent away before Esau does him harm. What Rebekah says is true: her vexation over these daughters-in-law is excessive, but Rebekah uses this situation as an indirect argument to move Isaac to send Jacob to Mesopotamia. Should Esau, then, hear what Isaac had done, respect for his father would certainly check him from laying hands upon his brother, who would merely have done what his father had bidden him do. The verse thus furnishes a good illustration of the methods employed, perhaps more or less commonly, on Rebekah’s part in dealing with Isaac. Sending Jacob to Mesopotamia to get a wife was a splendid idea. Inducing Isaac to take steps in that direction by her complaints about Esau’s wives was not the most frank procedure in achieving her purpose, but it secured the desired result.
This chapter, at least the major part of it, is so much a unit (v. 1-40) that it would not do to take portions of it; for these would be but fragment texts. Yet, without a doubt, forty verses are too long a text. Too many elements in it cannot receive adequate treatment. Yet, if one should determine to use it, he should primarily emphasize the inadequacy of a faith that builds on human ingenuity. It would still seem that the text as a whole is sufficiently well known through Sunday school instruction so as not to require specific homiletic treatment. The remaining portion of the chapter, v. 41-45, furnishes an illustration of the bitter fruit of duplicity. Yet, if it were desired as a text, it might justly be questioned whether it does not rather tend toward a so-called morality-sermon rather than to broader and bigger themes of the Scriptures.
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