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?
  • 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) Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 16:06
  • @JonEricson: Thank you very much for the encouragement. :) Commented Apr 27, 2012 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. Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 14:07

6 Answers 6

  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.

  • 1
    Will add regarding 28:1 in +25hrs. Commented Apr 27, 2012 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) Commented Apr 29, 2012 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) Commented Apr 29, 2012 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! Commented Apr 29, 2012 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? Commented Apr 29, 2012 at 18:56

Scofield Study Bible re Genesis 25:25 & 31 with footnotes …Esau stands for the mere man of the earth…Destitute of faith, he despised the birthright – a spiritual thing, of value only as there was faith to apprehend it. [Ann: Like the birthright of a Christian also. Colossians 3:2: Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.]

The birthright had three elements:

  1. Until the establishment of the Aaronic priesthood the head of the family exercised priestly right.

  2. The Abrahamic family held the Edenic promise of the Satan-Bruiser (Genesis 3:15) – Abel, Seth, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Esau.

  3. Esau, as the firstborn, was in the direct line of the Abrahamic promise of the Earth-Blesser (Genesis 12:3). He sold this birthright for a momentary fleshly gratification. Esau had only natural priority in the birthright and God never meant that the line of blessing should come through him (Roman 9:11-13; cp. Genesis 25:23). Jacob’s conception of the birthright at that time was, doubtless, carnal and inadequate, but his desire for it evidenced faith. Ann Rheney

  • elcome to Biblical Hermeneutics SE, thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. I am unsure here what are your words and what are from the Scofield Study Bible because you have not followed our recommended guidelines for citing scholarly references (which is a requirement, by the way). If you could edit your answer to clarify, this would be appreciated. Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 20:46

We can see here what kind of family Isaac had. Yes, I also believed that their decision as parents was affected by culture. Though Isaac taught his sons the way of the Lord, Esau didn't follow it. In the first place, Esau shows himself that he is not worthy to receive the blessings from the Lord and is not able to carry the commission of God in bringing the salvation of mankind. Jacob on the other depends only on the leading of the Lord in his life. To receive the blessings is not his duty to get it but it's God's.


Jacob understood the true meaning of the birthright. He knew how important it was. He who owns the birthright has posession of land and all that goes with it. Family, servants, children etc. Rulership was destined to be his. The blessings he got by deception but the birthright was traded without a fuss. Anyone who would swap his inheritance for food was not fit to lead. Joining with the Hittites in marriage displeased Esau's parents. The story did not elaborate on this, but it was enough reason to displease Esau's parents and the God of Abraham. The intervention was arranged spiritually even though some people would have different ideas. The lesson I learnt from this is: traditions may sometimes interfere with a parent doing the right thing. Esau's trivial treatment of his inheritance as a first born son precludes him from leadership role that comes with it. The blessing was an attachment that also has to be removed. I am glad he was able to break the yoke of bondage.


Jacob didn't cheat Esau out of his blessing, because Esau has already sold his birthright and bless to Jacob for bowl of portage, and it was set in motion at birth, because Jacob means supplanter, so it was meant for Jacob to to his brother's birthright from birth. In fact God Almighty hated Esau for selling his birth right to Jacob in the first place, so God Almighty blessed Jacob again at the place where the angels came down on a ladder, to show God Almighty was pleased with Jacob being blessed and aggressively seeking the birthright.

  • The blessing and the birth right are treated as separate things. The birth right brings the double portion inheritance. The blessing brings transfer of family authority and in a way, transfer of God's blessing. From Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Ephraim (Joseph) the blessing primarily transfers Abraham's covenant, or at least part of it (got split up between Judah and Joseph)
    – Joshua
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 11:45

agreed that the lineage of Messiah was purposed to be thru Jacob... But Esau was blessed also... but because of his sin and non pure heart he did not find repentance. The Messiah Jesus birthline could only go thru one of the twins..


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