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Jacob's Stolen Blessing
OVER-RULING PROVIDENCE OF GOD is written in large letters throughout this story,
– even though –
Abraham's provision of a god-fearing wife for his son had not been followed-through by Isaac in turn,
and Isaac's first-born Esau had been allowed to choose a wife from the pagan people of the land.
But, God ...!  
Yes, in spite of compromise, conspiracy and conflict, the grace of God brings forth His kind purpose!
Out of the distress of deception and fear, Jacob (grandson of Abraham) is shepherded by God to become the bearer of God's unique covenant with his grandfather Abraham.
The humanity of this story is real and portrays the weak and compromised character of humanity. But God, not by arbitrary imposition, but through His kind persistence and the faithfulness of His grace, fulfils His promise to those who believe.
The Culture of Canaan  
Canaan was a mixture of many peoples, peoples whose iniquity – God had warned – was set to become worse in the future!
Genesis 15:16.
The identity of the Hittites into which Esau married is still a difficulty to many scholars. Although archaeologists have pieced together much detail of the rise and fall of the Hittite kingdoms of Anatolia and Northern Syria, no firm evidence exists for the establishment of Hittite settlements, colonies or trading posts in Palestine, but archaeology still has much to discover.
Although Esau's father and grandfather were both monogamous and, in the family traditions polygamy seems represented as arising among the rebellious (Cain's line, Gen.4:19,23), Esau took two wives, and that from among the Hittites. This may indicate prominence and perhaps a threatening infusion of their pagan ways into this covenant family. The danger of intermarriage, with its inevitable integration of the family into the corrupted and culturally dominant peoples of Palestine with the consequent loss of the covenant calling was a real danger even to Abraham as had been shown in his special instruction to his senior servant Eliezer (Gen.15:2; 24:1-4).
Genesis 15:20.
The Family  
family was Hebrew (Gen.14:13, descendants of Eber), and from Abraham's time (and perhaps Terah's, for the pilgrimage had begun under him from Ur, Gen.15:7) it carried a sense of spiritual calling. To Abraham was added the promise of Canaan as the future tribal property, with circumcision of all his males as its sign (Gen.17:1-14). Of the eight sons of Abraham, it is Isaac, his second son and only child by Sarah, that is singled out as bearing this covenant and calling. Isaac receives his cousin's daughter, Rebekah, as wife; a marriage relationship that is presented as very loving. It is the sacred oral tradition of this family that is probably the major source later for Moses' writing.
Genesis 24:67; 26:8.

As a family, and perhaps as Hebrews, they had an attitude to the spoken word which we today do not have. In particular, the words of final blessing spoken by the family-head are viewed in the text as being beyond recall or countermand. Thompson's observation that the dispositions of a dying man had binding force in the culture of the day is probably correct (Payne 1962:154). Even today death-bed wishes are highly respected for the simple reason that a dead man cannot retract his final words. But here, though the authority of the speaker as head of the family and the apparent finality of his presumed death-bed would be reasons enough to absolutize his statement as far as others were concerned, it does not explain Isaac's understanding of his own words after discovering the fraud.
Firstly, he had been deceived, and secondly, as the decades subsequently rolled by he was clearly mistaken as to the finality of any statements he had made in expectation of death. That this is more than the final disposition of a dying man is shown in Isaac's attitude to his own words of blessing immediately after having spoken them. It was a prophetic utterance, no matter how human the psychological point of departure – whether from the smell of Esau's garments (Gen.27:27), or the gathering of the sons of Jacob years later (Gen.49:2) – the word had been spoken and was irrevocable. (Gen.27:33).
Isaac died more than 40-years
later (Gen.35:28).
The Land Promised  
addition to the sacred tradition of the family, God had directly affirmed the covenant of the land to Isaac (Gen.26:3). That inheritance was certain; the future was always to be brighter for them than the present. Yet there seems to have been a loss of vision with Isaac that was more than physical.
His darling first-born, Esau, is allowed to choose mothers for Isaac's covenant-bearing grandchildren (Gen.26:3) for whom this expectation would be nothing less than the disinheritance of their own people.
27:1-4. The sad weakness of Isaac that had shown itself concerning Esau's marriages is now exposed as simply part of self indulgence which he now allows to be a factor even in conferring the blessing on his first-born.
  "...hunt game ...prepare a savoury dish ...that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you..."  
Isaac's love for Esau seems based on his love of venison and Esau's ability to provide it ("Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game", 25:28).
Isaac thinks that he is soon to die – hence Esau's savoury meat is an hors d'oeuvre to Isaac pronouncing the blessing on his first-born. But Isaac lives on for at least another twenty years! This premature expectation is perhaps also indicative of his self-concern and indulgence, so contrastive with his father Abraham's self-denying lifestyle and faith. Years later, Jacob's memory of his father's faith or concept of God is reflected so significantly in the epithet – "the Fear of Isaac" (Gen.31:42,53). Perhaps it is only those who have turned away from themselves who can really begin to appreciate the great and all-glorious Lord.
Kidner sees a magical outlook in Isaac in his attempt to bless Esau with the blessing of the first-born; an attempt to manipulate God's blessing – even though he probably knew of God's word to Rebekah that the people of the younger (Jacob) would rule the people of the older son (Esau, Gen.25:23), and of Esau's sale of his birthright to satisfy his stomach (1974:155). This however, looses sight of the manner in which the text treats these spoken blessings (see margin). That they are irrevocable, and even beyond the will of the speaker to change, is assumed (Gen.27:37).
Genesis 27:27-29, 39-40;
Numbers 23:7-10, 18-24; 24:3-9, 15-24.
Therefore, in the light of the general non-magical viewpoint of the text we should understand that the inspiration of God in this final blessing by the family-head is presumed by the writer and reflected in Isaac's reported attitude. If so, it would be improper for us to read an attempt at magical manipulation in Isaac's readiness to speak the blessing over Esau. Rather, it shows a simple inability or unwillingness to accept that his favourite was not the Lord's favourite.
27:5-17. Rebekah now becomes the key figure. Whereas Isaac preferred Esau because he provided venison, no reason had been given for Rebekah's preference of Jacob (Gen.25:28), except that 25:27 describes Jacob, in contrast to Esau, as being תּם 'tam' (translated as "peaceful" in the NAS, and as "quiet" in the RSV versions). But Rabbi Rashi renders this Hebrew word as "integrity" (Soncino Chumash), and Kidner understands it as "toughly dependable" (1974:152). Whatever the translation, it seems to be a biblical approval of Jacob's lifestyle as opposed to Esau's. Thus their mother – the woman who prayed and whom God addressed directly (Gen.25:22-23) – is Jacob's supporter in the face of his father's prejudice.
Kidner seems to reproach her for her partisan attitude and speculates that she may have "smarted" under her husband's preference for Esau's venison when she could prepare food quicker than Esau could hunt it and of such quality that he mistake it for his favourite "savoury dish" (1974:156). I think this is unfair to Rebekah in the light of the textual evidences mentioned above.
Jacob is shown as unwilling to risk the wrath of his father (Gen.27:12). His mother appears sacrificially insistent on Jacob's obedience to her ("upon me be your curse, ...only obey"), in order to obtain the blessing by this deception.
  "he went, and fetched, and brought to his mother" Genesis 27:14.
obeys. Rebekah clothes him in Esau's best clothes and disguises him. From verses 13 to 17 it is Rebekah who is shown master-minding and overseeing the deception to trick Isaac into doing what she probably felt he had a real moral obligation to do in spite of his personal and cultural favouring of their first-born.
Many commentators seem to have understood the moral aspects of this fraud more from Esau's viewpoint than from the culpability presented in the text of Holy Scripture. Yet, the desperation of Rebekah's act is not for personal gain nor simply vindictiveness against her disappointing son Esau. God had promised her the pre-eminence of her younger son when the twins first began to cause her trouble (Gen.25:22-23) and now, after her disappointment with Esau's wives (Gen.26:35), Jacob all the more carries her hope.
Rebekah's sin is merely a grosser form of that self-will which had moved Sarah and persuaded Abraham to, themselves, arrange the manner in which the promise of God would be fulfilled (Ishmael) which later brought such grief to them (Hagar, Ishmael).
As justified as Rebekah may have felt, her method was her way in contrast to God's way – which way is always the way of faith!
27:18-29. Now Jacob's culpability comes to its full in the deception. He lies directly to his father repeatedly and uses references to the Lord to cover the gaps in his camouflage (Gen.27:20). Isaac, doubting, still seeks reassurance through feel and smell, because of his disabling blindness. He pronounces the blessing on Jacob – economic prosperity through agricultural abundance, and political dominion, particularly over related peoples. Then, the Abrahamic-covenant's affirmation of God's commitment (Gen.12:3) is also given to Jacob (Gen.27:29).
Jacob paid a long and tragic price for the deception and the deprivation of his aged father of his presence during the last years of Isaac's life. He himself is later deceived by his sons, deprived of his beloved Joseph, and ends his days outside the land that God had promised to him (the land from which Abraham would not allow Isaac to be taken, Gen.24:6). The millstones of God's judgment grind slow but fine.
Yet, Jacob seems to have learned from his past that God's ways do not need to follow the expectation of man (he crossed his hands as he blessed Joseph's sons, reversing the cultural order of precedence, such as God had ratified with him).
27:30-45. Hebrews 12 makes it clear that the sale of the birthright meant the loss of the first-born blessing, yet Esau complains as though he has been robbed twice. Strangely, Payne also seems to see the two as distinct, the one being the first-born share of the father's property, the other being the testamentary blessing (1962:154). How one distinguishes between these two I do not know, for surely the second is simply the means of the first, and our New Testament in Hebrews treats the two as directly linked.
Hebrews 12:16-17
Esau's grief is great and bitter! He pleads for the first-born blessing, but, though he is his father's favourite, his blessing remains that of the lesser. What has been spoken cannot be unsaid! Hebrews attributes this to Esau's lack of repentance over his earlier despising of his birthright by its sale-for-soup (Heb.12:16-17).
This was certainly not Isaac's attitude, who did his best to favour Esau, and one must then conclude that it was the Lord's attitude also, which Isaac had sensed by the prophetic anointing upon him when he pronounced the blessing unknowingly on Jacob and now understands. Esau receives a blessing however. Perhaps, like Ishmael, he is blessed for his father's sake, but in a land of barrenness to a lifestyle or warfare or strife ("sword") and subjection to Jacob's people, yet with the promise that if he tries hard enough he will free himself from this subjection.
Hostility now characterises the twins' relationship and Esau awaits his father's death as a day of vengeance against Jacob. Again, Rebekah becomes aware of the danger of murder in the family and instructs Jacob to take refuge with her brother in Haran far to the North until she recalls him, which she was sadly never to do.
27:46. Rebekah presents the necessity of Jacob's departure as a marital need to avoid a repetition of their disappointment in Esau. This was true in the light of 26:35, but it was simply not the whole truth. The strain in the relationship between Isaac and Rebekah is not focused upon at all in the text of Scripture but it was undoubtedly there, not as conflict, but as a sad erosion of the oneness of love that had been theirs in the beginning (Gen.24:67). It is perhaps a warning that compromise by the family-head will contaminate the domestic climate all the way through.
variety and subtleness of pressures to compromise and loose spiritual direction are more intense today than in many centuries past. The inevitable consequences are a vivid warning to us in this chapter. Yet, our failures and past compromise are no excuse for despair, for the God of Jacob is able to bring good out of all that is put into His hand.
said –
"My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness."
2 Corinthians 12:9.
  Yes, truly "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God" Romans 8:28.
in spite of his weakness and compromise, valued the blessing of God and the covenant privilege. God is stronger than our weaknesses and works His wonders by His gracious love!

CUSTANCE, Arthur C. 1975 Genesis and Early Man. Grand Rapids, USA: Zondervan.
GRAY, John 1962 Archaeology and the Old Testament World. London, UK: Thomas Nelson.
KIDNER, Derek 1974 Genesis. London, UK: Inter-Varsity Press.
MORRIS, Henry M. 1976 The Genesis Record. Grand Rapids, USA: Baker Book House.
PAYNE, J Barton 1962 The Theology of the Older Testament Grand Rapids, USA: Zondervan.
VOS, Gerhardus 1948 Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids, USA: Eerdmans.
WISEMAN, D.J. & YAMAUCHI E. 1980 Archaeology and the Bible. Glasgow, UK: Pickering & Inglis.

The Genesis Prologue When Shame Becomes Glory Israel's Right to Canaan/Palestine God's Election of Israel

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