The Pentateuch: Esau and Jacob, Genesis 25-28
Before Abraham died at the age of 175 he took a woman named Keturah to be his unofficial wife, which was a form of concubine, making Keturah and Hagar the two concubines of Abraham, both of whom gave him children. Keturah gave him 6 sons, who were as follows with their children and grandchildren.
The covenant between God and Abraham passed to Isaac alone, though, and Abraham bestowed other worthy gifts to his other children and sent them away from the land Isaac and his descendants alone would inherit through the covenant. Abraham clearly didn’t want there to be any confusion about who would inherit this great promise, yet showed love and consideration for all of his children.
5 And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. 6 But Abraham gave gifts to the sons of the concubines which Abraham had; and while he was still living he sent them eastward, away from Isaac his son, to the country of the east.Genesis 25:5-6 NKJV
When Abraham died, Isaac would have been about 75 (Abraham was about 100 when Isaac was born Genesis 17-18). Abraham was buried with Sarah on the property he bought from the Hittites as a burial plot for his people. To further establish the covenant passing to Isaac, God blessed Isaac after Abraham’s death.
Genealogy of Ishmael
Ishmael was Abraham’s son by Hagar, who was the slave of Sarah. Sarah had taken it upon herself to propose Abraham have a son through Hagar because Sarah was barren for so long, yet God had promised Abraham a son. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, and Sarah later was blessed with Isaac, and then Ishmael and Hagar were sent away. Ishmael and Hagar eventually settled in across from Egypt in the lands from Havilah to Shur. God blessed (and cursed) Ishmael, and from him came 12 tribes from his 12 sons.
The sons of Ishmael were:
Isaac and Rebekah’s Sons
Isaac and Rebekah had two sons, fraternal twins named Esau and Jacob. After a troublesome birth, Esau came first and Jacob came from the womb holding onto the heel of his brother. This ended up being a sign of how Jacob would live much of his life. God had told Rebekah that the younger son would be served by the older, and Rebekah favored Jacob. Isaac, on the other hand, favored Esau, the oldest son.
21 Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If all is well, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.
23 And the Lord said to her:
“Two nations are in your womb,
Two peoples shall be separated from your body;
One people shall be stronger than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.”
24 So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. 25 And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name [a]Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called [b]Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.Genesis 25:21-26 NKJV
Esau and Jacob
Esau and Jacob are prime examples of why parental favoritism is unhealthy. The Lord had told Rebekah that Jacob would be the leader – not Esau. This would go against tradition, yet it wasn’t so far from what had happened with their father, Isaac. Isaac was the second son, yet he was the one to inherit Abraham’s covenant with God and all that came with it, rather than Ishmael who was born first. Now, it would pass again to the second son, Jacob.
Esau gave away his birthright
In their culture, the birthright of the firstborn was a double portion of the inheritance – the land, slaves, wealth, etc. In this case, it also included the covenant between God and Abraham’s descendants. Esau held his birthright with such contempt that he sold it for a bowl of stew and a piece of bread. In this, he vowed it would be Jacob’s This kind of vow made between Jacob and Esau was a binding and very serious vow, therefore now Jacob was promised to receive the birthright of the firstborn – all for a meager meal.
29 Now Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.” Therefore his name was called [a]Edom.
31 But Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright as of this day.”
32 And Esau said, “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?”
33 Then Jacob said, [b]“Swear to me as of this day.”
So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.Genesis 25:29-34 NKJV
Rebekah plans deceit
While Isaac was dying, he requested Esau hunt some game and make him a special meal, then Isaac would bless Esau. Isaac’s blessing would be to pass the covenant on to him, therefore Rebekah stepped in after hearing her husband and convinced Jacob to trick Isaac and take the blessing, and therefore inheritance, for himself. Now, Esau had already vowed that Jacob could have his birthright, but the way it all panned out was deceptive and caused a great rift in an already tense relationship.
5 Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to Esau his son. And Esau went to the field to hunt game and to bring it.6 So Rebekah spoke to Jacob her son, saying, “Indeed I heard your father speak to Esau your brother, saying, 7 ‘Bring me game and make [a]savory food for me, that I may eat it and bless you in the presence of the Lord before my death.’ 8 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice according to what I command you. 9 Go now to the flock and bring me from there two choice kids of the goats, and I will make savory food from them for your father, such as he loves. 10 Then you shall take it to your father, that he may eat it, and that he may bless you before his death.”Genesis 27:5-10 NKJV
Jacob takes the blessing from Esau
Jacob did as his mother commanded, tricked his father, and took the blessing intended for Esau but that Esau had vowed to give to Jacob for some soup and bread. Esau clearly hadn’t intended to keep his promise, and was so furious that upon discovering that Jacob had taken the blessing and inheritance Esau vowed next to kill his brother.
The relationship between the family members was torn and Jacob fled from his brother to avoid Esau killing him. Rebekah sent Jacob away to find a wife among their relatives in Paddan-aram and Jacob has a vision from the Lord along the way there. In this vision, God confirmed His covenant with Jacob. Jacob’s response is astonishment. He places a marker at the spot he’d had the dream, and names it Bethel. Jacob vows that if God is faithful, he will be as well.
Perfect God of Imperfect People
There are many moving pieces in this story, and no one is really in the right. Isaac showed favoritism to the point Esau had been spoiled rotten and was incredibly ungrateful, Rebekah was deceptive and took matters into her own hands, Esau treated the inheritance of God’s covenant with contempt, and Jacob lied, cheated, and stole. In this story of toxic favoritism, questionable parenting, and ungodly behaviors we see, though, that God uses all things and all people for the good of those who love Him, and to fulfill His divine purposes. In this we can be encouraged that while people are corrupt and sinful, God is holy and perfect.
Jacob lived by deceit and his mother’s favoritism for years, and now he began to learn that God was with him. Just like for Jacob, that first time we trust God can be scary, and uncertain, yet reassuring. Jacob took a big step toward God, yet he wasn’t totally ready to trust Him yet. He committed to God if God would truly follow through with His end of the bargain. He wanted to see God show up.
Is there somewhere in your life you are waiting for God to show up?
Are you waiting for God to move a mountain, heal a hurt, bring comfort, grant peace, or provide in some way?
God is faithful, even when we are not. Those first steps are tough, but when we take those steps of faith, we are able to see God show up more clearly. Faith begins to grow, and over time we learn to trust God more.
2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces [a]patience.James 1:2-3 NKJV
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