Isaac Blesses Jacob
Isaac Blesses Jacob
The story of Jacob was one of many stories that posed moral problems in biblical times. It is in Genesis 27 1-29, the story of how Jacob deceived his aging father Isaac is told. God blessed Isaac, the son of Abraham, after he married Rebekah. He prayed to the Lord to make his wife fertile for she was unable to bear children. The Lord granted his prayer and his wife Rebekah gave birth to twins, Esau and Jacob (Collins 38). Isaac loved Esau because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. When Isaac grew old and blind, he called to his eldest son Esau to go and hunt game in order for him to prepare his favorite foods. Esau was to prepare the food and thereafter, Isaac was to bless him. However, Rebekah overheard her husband telling Esau to prepare the feast and despising sent the younger son Jacob to trick Isaac into giving him the blessing. When Esau returned and he found out that his younger brother had deceived him and his father, he grew very angry with him and planned to kill him after his fathers’ death.
When first reading this Scripture without any knowledge of Jacob’s motives, one might suspect the following conclusion: Isaac wanted Esau to have the blessing because he was not only the firstborn, but also his favorite. In order for Jacob to be obedient to his mother, and win the blessing of his father, he tricked him into believing that he was Esau. He wanted to receive the blessing so that he could prove that he was capable of completing all of his brother’s tasks. However, this is not what is going on at all in this passage. Even when the twins were in the womb of their mother Rebekah, they clashed (Genesis 25 23-24). When Rebekah asked the Lord why, he replied, “Two nations are in your womb, and two people of you shall be divided; one shall be stronger than the other, and the elder shall serve the younger” (Collins 38). This suggests that the future of Esau and Jacob was foretold before they were even born. At birth, Esau came out red with his body hair like a mantle (Alter 127). This description of Esau at birth is symbolic. Red was Hebrew for Edom, which was Esau’s other name. He was also described as being hairy like a mantle, which in Hebrew meant “Seir,” the place Esau settled. Jacob on the other hand was born gripping the heel of his brother. It was only logical that his parents named him Jacob, which means “heel” in Hebrew.
The passage starts out with Isaac being old and his eyes too dim to see. Isaac, the man of taste and touch (26:8) is deprived of sight in his old age. As the act of deceit takes place, Isaac relies on his sense of taste, touch, and smell, but he completely ignored the evidence of sound to identify Esau. The author suggests that the blessing that Isaac is offering to Esau is construed to mean “absolute blessing,” or “ solemnly blessed.” This interpretation is based on that of the Hebrew, which literally says, “my life-breath may bless you.” (Altrer137)
Rebekah listened in while Isaac spoke with Esau. It was Rebekah’s idea for Jacob to deceive his father. Moreover, it was an even more uncompromising position for Jacob to either disobey his mother, who was a very strong willed person, or to obey his mother and deceive his father. According to the convention of biblical narrative, there can only be two people in a dialogue, even though one of them may be a collective presence (a person addressing a crowd and receiving its collective response)(Alter 132). Ironically, Isaac and Rebekah are kept apart until the departure of both sons. Needless to say, Esau and Jacob had no conversation at all between each other throughout the entire story.
It is clear to see how the task of stealing the blessing was so easily attained. As the passage continues, Isaac states, “ and I shall bless you in the presence of the Lord”(Alter 138). While eavesdropping on this conversation, Rebekah misinterpreted this statement as, “that I may solemnly bless you.” By changing those few words, the sense of the sacred and permanent character of the blessing she wants Jacob to steal is heightened. Spieser points out the fact that Rebekah uses the same introductory term that Isaac used to preface his instructions to Esau. Isaac says to Esau: (210)
“So now, take up, pray, your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt me some game, and make me dish of the kind that I love and bring it to me that I may eat, so that I may solemnly bless you before I die.”(Genesis 27.3)
“ So now, my son, listen to my voice, to what I command you. Go, pray, to the flock, and fetch me from there two choice kids that I may make them into a dish for your father of the kind he loves. And you shall bring it to your father an he shall eat, so that he bless you before he dies.” (Genesis 27.8)
The term “two choice kids” also plays a significant role in Jacob’s web of deception. According to Alter, kids, a term used to describe a young goat, are continuous instruments of deception in Jacobs’ life. A prime example of this is when Jacobs’ sons bring him Joseph’s tunic soaked in kid’s blood. Immediately following this episode in chapter 38, Judah, thought of as the engineer of deception, will promise to send kids as payment to the woman he imagines to be a roadside whore. But much to Judah’s surprise, the woman is was his own daughter-in-law Tamar. Tamar too was committing the act of deception, but she was doing it to obtain what she thought was rightfully hers.
Jacob showed no reluctance when he received instructions from his mother to scam his father. However, he did show the fear of getting caught. Jacob brought to his mother’s attention that Esau was hairy, and he was not. It greatly concerned him that his father would feel his skin and curse him for trying to cheat his brother out of his blessing. Anxious for Jacob to have the blessing, Rebekah told her son to let his curse be on her. This brings up the question of why Rebekah is overwhelmingly obsessed with Jacob receiving the blessing? Could it be because Jacob is her favorite? Or is it because the Lord told her while the twins were in her womb that the elder shall serve the younger? Either way, she went through extreme measures to mislead her husband. Rebekah used the kid skins that Jacob fetched to use as the garments of Esau to make Isaac believe that Jacob was Esau. .
The idea of Spieser’s modern translation to sort out the logic of words in which Isaac spoke when trying to decipher which son was approaching him can only be criticized. Isaac’s question, as Tydale and the King James Version rightly sensed, touches on the identity and moral strength that gives this tale its insight. This passage relates back to the interpretation of the first passage. It is here that Isaac is relying only on his ability to touch, taste, and smell to identify his son. Jacob feels like Esau, he smells like Esau, and the food seemed to be that of which he loved, however, he does not sound like Esau. Isaac decides that it is indeed Esau. This is based solely on the fact that his taste, touch, and smell overruled his hearing.
Spieser attempts to make the point Jacob uses. The crucial term “first born” is key in this story. The narrator carefully avoids identifying Esau as firstborn. He instead refers to Esau as the “elder son.” However, Esau uses the term “firstborn” again when he returns from his hunt. Jacob also uses the term firstborn to make his claim of being Esau easier. During this same passage it says, “ But he did not recognize him for his hands were, like Esau’s hands, hairy, and he blessed him. (Alter 140) This crucial verb of recognition will return to Jacob when he is deceived by his sons and then will also play through Judah and Tamar.
Still after blessing Jacob, Isaac doubts that he is really Esau. He continuously asks him, “Are you my son.” Suspiciousness lingers in Isaac’s mind because of the voice he hears, so he is driven to ask the question again and again. His doubt is revealed when he asks his son to kiss him just before the blessing but that, as Brueggemann observes, is on last attempt to test the son’s identity through the sense of smell. The extent of Rebekah’s cunning is now finally made crystal clear. She anticipated the possibility of Isaac smelling Jacob to see if he had the smell of Esau. Since Jacob did, Isaac was more easily swayed to believe that it was indeed Esau.
Rebekah and Jacob have managed to carry out their scheme just in the nick of time because Esau arrived to his father shortly after Jacob had left. As Esau approached his father with the dish that he had prepared for him he said, “Let my father rise an eat of the game of his son so that you may solemnly bless me.”(Alter 141) It is apparent that Jacob is more nervous and urgent in the way that he presented his question. Esau on the other hand, is more confident that he has brought the requisites for the ritual of blessing and addresses his father in a more ceremonial type of way, beginning with the differential third person. The fact that he started in third person and ended in second person is perfectly natural in biblical Hebrew when approaching someone of authority. However, thinking that he has already blessed Esau, Isaac asks the question again, “Who are you?” This is the same question that he asks Jacob time after time but significantly, “my son” is deleted (Spieser). Isaac refused to believe that a second Esau stood before him so he questioned his son as though he was a stranger. Esau was quick to reply, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” This small divergence from Jacob’s response in verse 18 is slightly more eloquent. Esau begins by identifying himself as Isaac’s son, the very term that Isaac left out of his question. Jacob did not need to state that he was Isaac’s son because it was a part of the question. Esau then announces himself as the firstborn, a condition to which in fact he sold off the legal rights to his brother Jacob. Finally, he pronounces his own name. Jacob on the other hand first got out the lie, “Esau,” and then declared himself “firstborn.”
As the scheme unfolds, Isaac knowingly asks, “Who is it, then, who caught game and brought it to me and I ate everything before you came and blessed him (Alter 142)?” Alter suggests that Isaac pretends not to know who it was that deceived him, finding it easier to let Esau name the suspect himself. Isaac must have known instantly whom it was that took the blessing because he already had his doubts when the voice of his son sounded like Jacob. Esau cried out to his father in a child-like manner for him to bless him also, for he knew that the blessing that his father gave to his brother was irreversible. Esau was clearly defeated. Once approaching his father with poise and confidence, he was now broken down in agony and defeat. He says to his father, “ Was his name called Jacob that he should trip me now twice by the heels? My birth right he took, and look, now he is taking my blessing.” The signicance is great in that Jacob means “heel” and at birth he was holding on to the heel of his brother. Then he took his brothers birthrights for food and now he stole his brothers blessing. One assumes that Jacob has always and always will have Esau by the heel with nothing but devious and deceitful dealings.
The strength in the story is an oracle to Rebekah, who is pregnant with twins. It is not only the center of power of the overture of the Jacob cycle, but also the entire foundation of sections 25-35 persisting as the matrix of Jacob’s energetic aspiration for power and precedence. (Brueggemann 232) Jacob struggles (even during birth) intrigues, and deceives in order to oust Esau from the position of firstborn. The blessing of the deceived Isaac confirms the prenatal oracle. The blessing left for Esau is almost a curse and also revolves on the axis of ruling and serving.
In conclusion, the story of how Jacob deceived his aged father into giving him a blessing meant for Esau shows that God could use even the misdeeds of sinners to accomplish divine purposes. The primal question best suitable for this passage is primal question number six . The question of how is human responsibility given meaning in relation to the divine is clearly represented in this story. This does not mean that God desires for those misdeeds, but that God is able to redirect them to bring about good. In the cases of this story, it would be God’s covenant with Abraham. The one thing that can be learned form this story is that, God can bring good out of misfortune, even from our own past failures, if we turn to God with faith and trust.
Alter, Robert. “Genesis 27: 1-29.” Genesis: Translation and Commentary. New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.
Brueggemann, Walter. “Genesis 27: 1-45.” Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. James Luther Mays, Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Eds. Atlanta, Georgia: John Knox Press, 1973.
Fokkelman. J. P. “Genesis.” The Literary Guide to the Bible. Robert Alter, Frank Kermode, Eds. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987.
Speiser, E. A. “Isaac Deceived.” Genesis: The Anchor Bible. William Foxwell Albright, David Noel Freedman, Eds. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964.