Following up on the last verse of the previous chapter, which highlights the issues that Isaac and Rebecca have with Esau’s wives, we are reintroduced to the drama between Jacob and Esau.
“And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his elder son, and said unto him: ‘My son’; and he said to him ‘Here am I (Genesis 27:1).'” Many commentators question this description of Isaac, and wonder if it literally means that he’s blind, or if it’s a more theoretical term, meant to indicate his blindness to the faults of his beloved son. Regardless, he calls Esau to him for the blessing that he wants to bestow on him before he dies.
“And Rebecca heard when Isaac spoke to Esau his son. And Esau wen to the field to hunt for venison, and to bring it. And Rebecca spoke to Jacob her son, saying ‘Behold, I heard your father speak to Esau your brother, saying: Bring me venison, and make me savory food, that I may eat, and bless you before the Lord before my death. Now therefore, my son, listen to my voice according to that which I command to you (Genesis 27:5-7).'”
I find the pronouns interesting, and saddening, in this exchange. Both Esau and Jacob, respectively, are only referred to as the sons of one of their parents. Neither of them enjoys the full love of both of his parents, and therefore is left wanting more. In this story, the dysfunction comes mainly from Rebecca, who comes off to me as an instigator who is purposely trying to deceive her husband and cheat one of her sons out of the blessing of his father. Jacob already has the birthright – why does the blessing also need to be taken deceitfully?
Jacob is hesitant to go along with the deception, but his mother insists, and so he covers his arms in skins so they feel hairy like his brother’s, and brings his father food. His father asks him who he is, and he replies “I am Esau your first-born; I have done according to how you asked me. Arise, I pray you sit and eat of my venison, that your soul may bless me (Genesis 27:19).” Isaac suspects a trick, and as Jacob predicted, feels his arms to ensure that he is in fact Esau. Jacob repeatedly lies to his father throughout this exchange, promising that he is in fact the older son. So, Isaac blesses Jacob with the blessing meant for Esau.
“God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fat places of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you (Genesis 28-29).”
This is a blessing that seems to sow the seeds of further angst between the sons more than anything else. Why did the blessing need to qualify the relationship between the brothers? Couldn’t Isaac have blessed “Esau” for himself, rather than in terms of his brother? The blessing seems to be a self fulfilling prophecy that will carry out throughout the rest of Jacob and Esau’s lives.
Immediately following Jacob’s reception of the birthright, Esau comes to his father, eager to receive his blessing. When Isaac discovers the deception played upon him by Jacob and tells Esau, Esau “cried with an exceeding great and bitter cry, and said to his father: ‘Bless me, even me also, my father (Genesis 27:34).'” This is a heartbreaking moment in the life of Esau, the son who is misunderstood and not loved by his mother. He begs for something, even a lesser blessing, from his dying father, who seems to have been the only member of his family to love him.
Isaac answers Esau, “Behold, I have made him your master, and all his brothers have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him; and what then shall I do for you, my son (Genesis 27:37).”
Esau continues to beg his father for a blessing, and we are told that he begins to weep. Isaac says, “Behold, of the fat places of the earth shall be your dwelling, and of the dew of heaven from above; and by your sword you will live, and you will serve your brother; and it will come to pass that when you will break loose, that you will shake his yoke from around your neck (Genesis 27:39-40).”
Esau hated his brother because of this. It strikes me as interesting of Esau’s character, that when he lost the material wealth of the birthright we aren’t told that he hated his brother. Rather, now, when he has lost the personal blessing that his father designated for him, he hates his brother for taking it from him. Esau vows in his heart to slay his brother in revenge, and knowing this, Rebecca decides to send Jacob to her brother Laban to protect him from Esau. To justify this action to the blind Isaac, she tells him, “I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these, of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me (Genesis 27:46)?” What a sad moment, a lie of omission from this loving couple towards the end of Isaac’s life. At this point, Rebecca has plotted the deceit, but her role hasn’t been found out yet. Instead, she has managed to foster hate between the next generation of brothers, which will continue to play out throughout the book.