Monday, July 31, 2006

Genesis 32

Genesis 32: Jacob prepares himself to meet Esau, and wrestles with God

Synopsis

Jacob has left Laban, and brought his family with him. He’s going to return home. But now he faces another problem: Remember Esau? Jacob’s brother? The brother that threatened to kill Jacob? That Esau? Yeah, that problem still isn’t taken care of.

Luckily, Jacob hasn’t forgotten about this either. He sends his servants ahead, to give Esau a message: “I’ve been staying with Laban, and the LORD has been good to me; he’s given me wives, and children, and flocks. I’m just sending this message ahead, to find favour in your eyes.” (paraphrased; find the real quote in verses 4–5.)

There, that oughta do it. That’s probably all taken care o— sorry, what’s that? Esau got the message, and now he’s coming to meet Jacob? With 400 men? Oh dear.

Jacob hears this, and the first thing he does is split his families up into two groups; maybe if Esau attacks one of the groups, the other group can still escape. The second thing he does is pray:

Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’” (verses 9–12)

His next move is to start buttering Esau up with gifts. Not just one big gift; he creates numerous gifts, which he sends separately:
  • 200 female goats and 20 male goats
  • 200 ewes and 20 rams
  • 30 camels
  • 40 cows and 10 bulls
  • 20 female donkeys and 10 male donkeys
And then, to really drive the point home:

He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’”

He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.

(verses 17–21)


Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until the next chapter to find out what happens, because the brothers won’t meet until then.

That night, Jacob sends his family and his possessions across a river—I don’t know which one, or if it’s important—and is left alone on the other side. And the rest of the chapter is strange enough that I might as well just include it here and let you read it for yourself:

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

(verses 24–32)


If it helps, the name Israel means “he struggles with God”, and “Peniel” means “face of God”.

Thoughts

In an earlier chapter, Jacob described God as “your God” to Isaac—a sure sign that Jacob didn’t know God himself. In this chapter, Jacob is still calling God “God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac” (verse 9), but there is a difference now: It’s not because Jacob doesn’t know God, or doesn’t want to claim Him as his own personal God; it’s a sign of respect. Jacob has definitely changed, when it comes to his relationship with God. Now, his immediate reaction in crises is to pray.

His wrestling with God at the end of the chapter is also significant. Very significant. If you attend church, you’ve probably heard it mentioned in sermons. I’m sure there are millions of Bible commentaries out there that go to great lengths about this episode. Unfortunately, I don’t know what it means. (I read some of the commentaries I could find online, and it’s still not clear, to me.) What I do take away from this is a picture of Jacob wanting God’s blessing so badly that he would not let “the man” go until he had it. We would do well to want God’s blessing that badly.

I don’t know if Biblical scholars understand this, and it’s just my own ignorance that prevents me from getting it, or if it’s one of those things that lots of people don’t get. (At least one of the commentaries I read seemed to also be fuzzy about it, but it also didn’t seem to be written by a real scholar either, so that doesn’t say much.) However, passages like this that we don’t understand—whether it’s something an individual doesn’t get, or something more universal that most people don’t quite understand—still serve an important purpose: They cause us to put some serious thought into our Bible reading.

When you read a passage like this, that you just don’t get, it forces you to stop and think about what you’re reading. You can’t just read through it a mile a minute, like you can with some of the passages that you think you understand. Of course, really, we should read every passage in the Bible like that.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Genesis 31

Genesis 31: Jacob runs, Laban follows

Synopsis

We saw in the last chapter that Jacob’s share of the flock was starting to grow, and Laban’s was starting to dwindle. As a result of this, Laban is getting pretty tired of having Jacob around, and Jacob notices it.

Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.

So Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were. He said to them, “I see that your father’s attitude toward me is not what it was before, but the God of my father has been with me. You know that I’ve worked for your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me. If he said, ‘The speckled ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks gave birth to speckled young; and if he said, ‘The streaked ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked young. So God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me.

Then Rachel and Leah replied, “Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father’s estate? Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us. Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you.”

(verses 1–16)


As you can see, not only does Jacob want to leave, but Rachel and Leah do too, because their father sold them to Jacob. But it’s not just Laban’s dealings with Jacob that make him want to leave; one of the verses I elided from that quote was verse 3:

Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

So, Laban is being a jerk, Jacob doesn’t want to stay, Rachel and Leah don’t want to stay, and God is telling Jacob to leave. It’s not too surprising, then, that they leave. Jacob loads up the wives and kids and possessions, and they head off.

Unfortunately, when they leave, Rachel also steals her father’s household gods. And Jacob decided that he would leave without telling Laban—they just snuck off. When Laban realizes what has happened, he takes off in hot pursuit. But he is visited in a dream, by God, who tells him “not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad” (verse 24). Which leaves him flustered; when he finally catches up to Jacob, all he can say is “Why did you sneak off like that? If you’d told me you were leaving, we could have had a celebration. But, in any event… why did you steal my gods?!?” (That’s obviously paraphrased; read the real speech in verses 25–30.)

Unfortunately, Jacob didn’t know that Rachel had stolen the gods from Laban. So he tells Laban that he can search Jacob’s posessions; if Laban finds the gods, the person who has them won’t live. Luckily, Rachel is a quick thinker. When Laban gets to her tent, she sits on the gods, and tells her father she can’t get up, because she’s on her period.

So now Jacob is angry, because Laban has accused him of stealing the gods. Laban is frustrated, because he knows the gods have been stolen—they’re gone, after all—but he can’t find them, and therefore can’t prove it was Jacob or someone in his household. Wars have started this way, but instead, Jacob and Laban decided to set up a monument. They pile up some stones, and let it serve as a witness between them; neither will cross that heap of stones to harm the other. Laban called the heap “Jegar Sahadutha” and Jacob called it “Galeed”. (Both “Jegar Sahadutha” (Aramaic) and “Galeed” (Hebrew) mean “witness heap”.)

Thoughts

You will notice in the Bible—as in real life—people don’t always get what they deserve in this life. Sometimes good people live hard, cruel lives, and sometimes downright evil people live like kings. (Or are kings.) But sometimes people do get what they deserve in this life. In this chapter, God pays Laban back for all of his double-dealing with Jacob.

Not much was said about it at the time, but apparently Rachel and Leah didn’t like being treated like property. (Being “sold” to Jacob.) Novel idea.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Genesis 30

Genesis 30: More children for Jacob; more flocks for Jacob

Synopsis

In the last chapter, Leah began bearing children for Jacob, but Rachel—whom he loved most—had not yet borne any children. This chapter continues the bearing and naming of children.

Rachel gets jealous, because Leah is bearing children and she isn’t. She tells Jacob to give her children or she will die, and he responds, quite reasonably I think, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” So Rachel gives Jacob her maidservant, she he can bear children through her; children born through the maidservant would be counted as Rachel’s. A child is born, and Rachel feels vindicated, so she names the boy Dan, which means “he has vindicated”.

The servant bears another son, and Rachel feels she has won the struggle against her sister, so she names the boy Naphtali, which means “my struggle”.

Leah steps up the battle, and gives Jacob her maidservant. She bears him a son, and Leah thinks this is good fortune, so she names him Gad, which means “good fortune” (or “a troop”).

Then Leah’s maidservant bears another son; Leah is so happy that she names him Asher, which means “happy”.

Later on, Reuben goes out to pick some mandrakes, and Rachel wants some, but Leah won’t give her any. (“Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?” (verse 15).) So Rachel sells Leah her night with Jacob, for some of the mandrakes. Leah became pregnant again, and had a son; she felt that God was rewarding her for giving Jacob her maidservant, so she named the boy Issachar, which sounds like the Hebrew for “reward”.

Leah became pregnant again, and bore a son. She felt that Jacob would treat her with honour, because she had bore him so many sons, so she named the boy Zebulun, which probably means “honour”.

She became pregnant yet again, and this time bore a daughter, whom she named Dinah. My Bible’s footnotes don’t tell me what “Dinah” means in Hebrew.

Finally, Rachel became pregnant, and bore a son. She named him Joseph, which means “may he add”, and said “May the LORD add to me another son.”

Phew. That’s a lot of babies!

The last part of the chapter is about Jacob asking Laban to let him—and his wives and children—leave, but Laban is unwilling to let Jacob go, because he feels he is being blessed through Jacob. So they strike a deal: Jacob will continue to watch Laban’s flocks, and in payment, he will be allowed to keep all of the speckled or spotted ones. That way he can’t be accuses of stealing from Laban, because it will be plainly obvious whose sheep are whose.

However, what Jacob does is take some branches, and make some white stripes on them, which he puts into the watering troughs, which induces the flocks to have more speckled and spotted young. In fact, what he does is put the branches in the troughs only when the good, strong animals are there, and not when the weaker ones are. In this way, he builds up for himself a good flock, while Laban’s flock starts to dwindle.

Thoughts

The obvious thoughts are that it’s still sad to see the rivalry between the two sisters, in this chapter. Trying desperately to have children, to take away their shame.

Also, don’t bother trying the thing with the branches at home, if you happen to have flocks. This doesn’t actually produce the benefit that happens in this chapter. If Jacob’s flocks increased, he had only God to thank for it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Genesis 29

Genesis 29: Jacob marries Leah and Rachel

Synopsis

In this chapter Jacob goes to live with Laban, as planned, and ends up marrying his daughters, Leah and Rachel.

The first 13 verses aren’t all that interesting; Jacob simply finds Laban, and goes to live with him. He also begins working for him, apparently, and after a month, Laban decides that maybe he should start paying Jacob, for his services. Because Jacob is in love with Rachel, he tells Laban that he will work for him for seven years, in return for which he wants to marry Rachel.

Verses 16–17, though, make clear that Laban has two daughters: Leah (the oldest) and Rachel. Leah had “weak eyes”, but Rachel was “lovely in form, and beautiful”. I’m not really sure what is meant by “weak eyes”; I looked verse 17 up in a few versions, to see if that would shed any light:So… that’s not much help.

In any event, Laban agrees to Jacob’s terms. Jacob serves his seven years with Laban, and verse 20 says that they “seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for [Rachel]”. After the seven years is up, they have a wedding feast, but Laban gives Jacob Leah, instead of Rachel. He must have snuck her into Jacob’s room, after dark, when Jacob couldn’t tell the difference, because he didn’t notice the switch until the next morning (verse 25).

Jacob gets angry, and Laban tells him that it is not the custom, for his people, to give the younger daughter away in marriage before the older. So he tells Jacob to finish Leah’s “bridal week”, and then he will get Rachel as well—in return for another seven years of work.

So Jacob agrees—probably because he doesn’t have any choice—finishes his bridal week with Leah, and is then given Rachel as a second wife. But the seeds of discord are already sown, because it says in verse 30 that he loved Rachel more than Leah.

The LORD sees this, and opens Leah’s womb, so that she starts bearing children for Jacob. Leah recognizes that these children are a gift from God, and also hopes that she will start to win Jacob’s favour, because she has borne him children. So she names the children accordingly:
  • Reuben, which means “see, a son”, and sounds like the Hebrew for “he has seen my misery”—where “He”, in this case, is the LORD
  • Simeon, which probably means “one who hears”—again referring to the LORD
  • Levi, which sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for “attached”—because she says in verse 34 “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.”
  • Judah, which sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for “praise”, because at this point she gives up on Jacob, and simply decides to praise the LORD

Thoughts

Jacob might have been a schemer—along with his mother, Rebekah, let’s not forget—but it definitely ran in the family, because so was Laban.

It’s fairly heart-breaking to read Leah’s story. Her husband obviously doesn’t want her—or, at the very least, wants her less than he wants his other wife—and her only hope of making him love her is to bear him children, which doesn’t work.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Genesis 28

Genesis 28: Jacob is sent to Laban; a real stairway to heaven

Synopsis

This chapter continues the story that was begun in Genesis 27; Rebekah has told Isaac that she doesn’t want Jacob to marry a Canaanite woman, as an excuse to get him out of the area, so that Esau won’t kill him. So now, in this chapter, Isaac repeats the command to not marry a Canaanite to Jacob, and sends him on his way, to Laban, to marry one of his daughters. Laban, you may remember, is Rebekah’s brother, which would make the wife Jacob is to take his cousin.

On his way, Jacob stopped for the night, and had a dream, in which he saw “a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (verse 12). At the top of the stairway is God, who says:

“I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (verses 13–15)

This greatly moves Jacob. He sets up a little altar to God, and says:

“If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” (verses 20–22)

Thoughts

It seems like Jacob feels he’s granting God a favour, by “allowing” Him to be Jacob’s god. “If you do this and this and this for me, then you can be my God.” It seems like a foolhardy way to approach the LORD, but He doesn’t chasten Jacob for it. I’m guessing it’s just because Jacob doesn’t know any better.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Genesis 27

Genesis 27: Jacob takes Esau’s blessing, and flees

Synopsis

In Genesis 25, we read about Esau selling his inheritance to Jacob for a meal. In this chapter, Jacob takes his blessing, too. (With a little help from Rebekah.)

The chapter starts out with Isaac already so old that “his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see” (verse 1). He doesn’t know how long he’s going to live, so he figures he’d better give Esau his blessing now, while he still has the chance. Remember that Esau is still technically the older brother, even though he and Jacob were twins, so he was only the older by a few seconds or minutes.

Because Esau is a hunter, Isaac tells him to go out and hunt for some game, and come back and prepare it just the way Isaac likes it. He will then give Esau his blessing. However, as he is giving Esau these instructions, Rebekah is listening to the conversation; Esau is hardly out the door, to go hunting, before she’s calling to Jacob, with a plan:

…Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘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.’ Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 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. Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.” (verses 6–10)

This way, Jacob and Rebekah will have the food prepared for Isaac before Esau can even return from his hunting. Jacob isn’t fully sold on this plan, though; he’s worried that his father will realize it’s him, not Esau, because Esau is very hairy, and Jacob isn’t. In fact, he’s worried that if his father realizes what has happened, he’ll end up cursing Jacob, instead of blessing him. But Rebekah has it all figured out; Jacob will dress in Esau’s clothes, and cover his hands with goatskins, to make them seem hairy.

So Rebekah prepares the food, Jacob puts in the skins and clothes, and he goes in to his father. His father, however, is a bit cautious; he can’t seem to believe that it’s Esau. In fact, at one point he even asks “How did you find [the game] so quickly, my son?” and Jacob replies blasphemously “The LORD your God gave me success” (verse 20). Finally, Isaac asks him to come closer, and touches him, and is convinced. “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (verse 22).

So Isaac blesses Jacob:

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.

May God give you of heaven’s dew
and of earth’s richness—
an abundance of grain and new wine.

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.”

(verses 27–29)


So Jacob leaves his father, and has “scarcely left his father’s presence” (verse 30) when Esau returns from hunting. He prepares the food, and brings it in to his father, who is perplexed.

His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?”
“I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau.”

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!”

(verses 32–33)


This reduces Esau to tears. He also does a bit of rewriting of history: “He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” (verse 36) It’s true, Jacob has tricked Esau out of his blessing, but Esau has nobody to blame but himself for giving away his birthright.

Isaac tells 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?” (verse 37) But Esau is so intent—and crying so hard—that Isaac does what he can for him:

His father Isaac answered him,
"Your dwelling will be
away from the earth’s richness,
away from the dew of heaven above.

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.”

(verses 39–40)


Doesn’t seem like a great blessing, but you takes what you can gets.

The chapter ends with Jacob fleeing, because Esau holds a grudge against him, and he’s afraid for his life. Rebekah tells him to go to her brother Laban, and that she will send for him when Esau is no longer planning to kill him. The chapter ends with her excuse, as to why Jacob is leaving:

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.” (verse 46)

Thoughts

It’s not fully clear why Rebekah is so intent on getting Jacob the blessing that was supposed to be Esau’s. At least, it’s not clear to me. I’m wondering if Genesis 26:35 had anything to do with it, when Esau married Judith and Basemath, who were “a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah”. Or it could just be as simple as the fact that Jacob is her favourite.

In any event, keep in mind that a “blessing”, in Old Testament times, has more significance than we understand, in modern times. It seems to me that a blessing, in this context, is something closer akin to a prophecy, but I freely admit that I don’t understand it properly. But notice also that Jacob was worried that his father would curse him, instead of blessing him, so “cursing” had more significance as well. (He obviously doesn’t just mean that his father will cuss him out…)

Finally, notice the brutal honesty in verse 20, when Jacob says to Isaac “The LORD your God gave me success”. Jacob knows that he doesn’t have any kind of relationship with God.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Genesis 26

Genesis 26: Isaac

Synopsis

This chapter gives a bit of detail about Isaac’s life, after the death of his father.

The chapter opens with a famine in the land, and Isaac contemplating going to Egypt, to escape it. However, he is visited by the LORD, who tells him not to go there. So Isaac stays.

Unfortunately, Isaac is like his father, in one respect: When someone asks him about Rebekah, he says that she is his sister, instead of his wife. Sound familiar? Luckily, in this case, nothing happens. The king looks out of his window one day, and sees Isaac caressing Rebekah, and realizes what’s going on.

So Abimelech summoned Isaac and said, “She is really your wife! Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’?”

Isaac answered him, “Because I thought I might lose my life on account of her.”

Then Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the men might well have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.”

So Abimelech gave orders to all the people: “Anyone who molests this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”

(verses 9–11)

After this, Isaac plants some crops which do exceptionally well. The men of the land where he is living ask him to leave, because he is too powerful for them. He goes back where his father Abraham used to live, and re-opens all of the wells that Abraham had dug, but ends up quarrelling with the people there, because they’re fighting over the same wells.

Eventually, the people who had asked Isaac to leave, because he was too powerful, come back to him, and ask him to sign a treaty with them.

Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?”

They answered, “We saw clearly that the LORD was with you; so we said, ‘There ought to be a sworn agreement between us’—between us and you. Let us make a treaty with you that you will do us no harm, just as we did not molest you but always treated you well and sent you away in peace. And now you are blessed by the LORD.”

(verses 27–29)


So they made a treaty, and sealed the deal with a meal.

The last two verses mention that Esau married two women, Judith and Basemath, who were “a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah” (verse 35).

Thoughts

I always mention this when it happens, so why break with tradition: Why are the men in the book of Genesis so constantly claiming their wives are their sisters?!? And why are they always rewarded for it, when people discover their dishonesty?!?

Also, if I remember correctly—and I’m not sure that I do—Judith and Basemath don’t become major characters in subsequent books of Genesis. So when this chapter mentions that they were a source of grief to Esau’s parents, it’s not foreshadowing, just another example of Esau making bad decisions.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Genesis 25

Genesis 25: Abraham dies; more genealogy; Jacob and Esau are born

Synopsis

Verses 1–7 recount Abraham’s passing. Before he died, he took another wife, and had more children. However, verses 5–6 say that he gave his other children gifts while he was still alive, and sent them to the land of the east, and when he died, everything that was left went to Isaac. He died at 175, “…at a good old age, an old man and full of years…” (verse 8)

Verses 12–18 simply recount Ishmael’s genealogy—remember Ishmael?—and mention that he died at the age of 137. Verse 18 also tells us that Ishmael’s offspring “lived in hostility toward all their brothers.” Sounds like foreshadowing, to me—except that the NIV footnote says that this verse could also be translated “they lived to the east of all their brothers” (emphasis added).

And finally, verses 19–34 recount the birth of Jacob and Esau, Isaac’s twin sons.

Similar to Isaac’s mother, Sarah, Rebekah was barren. But Isaac prayed to the LORD, who answered his prayer, and so Rebekah became pregnant with twins. She felt them jostling inside her, and inquired of the LORD why this was happening. And His response was:

The LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”
(verse 23)

When they were born, Esau was born first, and was red and covered in hair. (“Esau” means “hairy”; he was also nicknamed “Edom”, which means “red”.) Second came Jacob, who was grasping Esau’s heel. (“Jacob” means “he grasps the heel”, which figuratively means “he deceives”.)

As they grew up, Esau became a hunter, while Jacob “was a quiet man, staying among the tents” (verse 27).

And then comes the famous story where Esau sells Jacob his birthright. (Well, okay, when I say “famous”, I’m using that in a very relative way. Christians talk about this event a lot, and Jews probably do too, but it hasn’t exactly made it into mainstream consciousness, the way the flood story or the creation story did.)

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)

Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So Esau despised his birthright.

(verses 29–34)


Then there is another footnote, saying that “Edom” means “red”. I’m not sure why this nickname is relevant to this particular episode.

Thoughts

As is usual, these days, I don’t have much to say about this chapter; it all seems so straightforward.

The writer of Genesis (tradition says it was Moses) seems to have a pretty low opinion of Esau, for selling his birthright. And so does the writer of Hebrews (a New Testament book); in Hebrews 12:15–17, he says

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.

We’ll be reading about the tears later in Genesis.

I think there is partially a cultural thing going on, that modern-day North Americans might not fully get, but the deeper lesson is that Esau gave up something lasting for something temporary. He gave up his inheritance, which would have lasted the rest of his life, for a meal, when he could have simply waited a bit longer, and made his own food. (How’s that for over-simplifying?)