Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Let's first mention several verses of the Book of Genesis:

Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. (Gen. 25:28)

When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. (Gen. 26:34-35)

Then Genesis 27 describes how Jacob took the blessing of Esau.

I have already made him your lord, ... What then can I do for you, my son?" Esau said to his father, "Have you only one blessing, father?" (Gen. 27:37-38)

So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. (Gen. 28:1)

So, my questions are:

  1. Was Isaac so fond of game that he wanted to bless Esau at any cost, even when Esau's marriage made life bitter for him and Rebekah? Or, was it customary at that time to bless the oldest son, regardless of his merits?
  2. The concept of "blessing" troubles me. It seems that blessing is treated as something physically transferable, which, once transferred, cannot be taken back. How come Jacob can cheat Isaac over the blessing and get away with it? Couldn't Isaac simply "get back" his blessing? Would it trouble the LORD not to give the blessing to the brother whom Isaac really intended?
  3. Why does Isaac bless Jacob twice, while he seemingly couldn't think of a "new" blessing for Esau in the first place?
share|improve this question
2  
Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics.SE! These are great questions. Could I encourage you to focus on the first three (which all center on the Jacob/Esau blessing)? Genesis 27:27 would probably be a separate question. But I've had these questions too. (+1) –  Jon Ericson Apr 26 '12 at 16:06
    
@JonEricson: Thank you very much for the encouragement. :) –  Sadeq Dousti Apr 27 '12 at 8:06
2  
@Sadeq - this is a great question (+1), that I've taken the liberty of editing out part of for the reasons mentioned by Jon - feel free to pose those as a separate question if you would like to. –  Jack Douglas Apr 27 '12 at 14:07
add comment

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted
  1. It was a doctrine in the ancient world that the firstborn son inherently had a special role, without regard to his particular merits, except in extreme cases, and accordingly it was understood that the the firstborn son was worthy of both a unique blessing and a double portion of the inheritance. See for example Deut. 21:15.

  2. At the time that this story originated, blessings, curses and vows were special categories of expression that were believed have the power to determine reality. Once spoken, they could not be changed or repudiated. In particular, the blessings of the forefathers were regarded as prophetic for the sons. (For an extreme example of how far commitment to the spoken word could be taken see the story of Jephtah of the Gilad in Judges 11:30-40.)

  3. Isaac gives Jacob two blessing, as befits a firstborn: the servitude of nations and his brother (27:28-29) and the transfer of the promise of the land and of descendants originally given to Abraham (28:3).

Isaac does what he thinks he has to do according to the traditional rules, despite his suspicions, but Rebekah intervenes in accordance with the contra-traditional prophecy that she was given (25:23). This is the way that the Biblical narrative, as sacred history, explains the historical fact that Jacob, and not the firstborn Esau, was chosen for the leading role in fathering the twelve tribes.


The word "blessing" in this passage has at least three different meanings, two of which are not familiar to us.

Issac'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.

share|improve this answer
1  
Will add regarding 28:1 in +25hrs. –  Eli Rosencruft Apr 27 '12 at 15:56
    
+1. Very informative. I'd like to indicate several points: If you search the Genesis for "bless" from the beginning to this story, you'll find something interesting: All results are instances of God blessing something! The only exception is the blessing of Rebekah's family for here, when she's leaving (parting). So, we don't have any similar blessing, neither by Adam, nor by Noah, nor by Abraham, etc. Moreover, the idea of firstborn's double portion of the inheritance has never been mentioned before, and neither in this story. (Cont'd) –  Sadeq Dousti Apr 29 '12 at 17:12
    
So, all of these might be the tradition of those days, and not laws imposed by God. <*> The bitterness of life of Isaac & Rebekah is left out from the story. <*> Isaac has every reason for being suspicious: Jacob comes too soon, and his voice is different from that of Esau. <*> So, I developed a theory, which might or might not be consistent with Bible. It goes like this: (Cont'd) –  Sadeq Dousti Apr 29 '12 at 17:18
    
At first, Isaac liked Esau over Jacob (because of the game!) But Esau proved very incompetent, and made the life of his parents bitter. Isaac is now motivated enough to give his bests to Jacob, but he didn't want to go directly against the tradition (or maybe the laws, or maybe he didn't want to show unkindness to Esau). So, he intentionally (or maybe unintentionally) sent out Esau, and now Rebekah played her role. And while Isaac had suspicion (or was sure), he used the opportunity and gave Jacob everything. This way, he could easily pretend innocent, in front of people, Easu, and even God! –  Sadeq Dousti Apr 29 '12 at 17:26
    
The theory of the Isaac's collusion in the ruse is found in some of the Midrashic traditions. It's not mainstream interpretation, but the drafting of the story leaves the possibility open. It does paint Isaac in a better light, and that helps solve one of the central problems of the story, what was it that Issac was thinking in 25:28? –  Eli Rosencruft Apr 29 '12 at 18:56
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.