Genesis 25-28: Jacob tricks Esau

Abraham takes another wife, Keturah, and has many more descendents before dying at 175.  Isaac becomes pregnant with Jacob and Esau, with Esau being the first-born.  One day, after Esau comes back from hunting, he sells his birthright in exchange for Jacob’s red stew; Esau believes he is at the point of death.  Then, there is a famine in the land, and the family move to Gerar (where Abimelech is king).  Isaac pretends that Rebekah is his sister; when Abimelech discovers the truth after seeing Isaac fondle her, he upbraids Isaac.  Isaac acquires vast wealth, causing Abimelech to feel threatened and expel him.  After some territory disputes, they make a pact and Isaac settles by the well Shibah (“oath”), which would turn into the city Beer-sheba.

When Isaac is old and blind, Jacob pretends to be Esau by wrapping himself in fur, since Esau is hairy.  Isaac is fooled (albeit barely) and blesses Jacob instead of Esau, establishing him as master over his brothers.  When he discovers Jacob’s trickery, it is too late; he can only give Esau an inferior blessing.  Jacob escapes to Rebekah’s household due to Esau’s murderous rage.  Then, Rebekah sends Jacob to her household to find a wife, since she doesn’t want a Canaanite woman to be his wife.  On the way, during a dream, he sees a stairway to heaven; God promises to protect him wherever he goes.  Upon awakening, he sets up the stone he slept on as a pillar to God.

Commentary:

  • 27:1-45 is attributed to J, while 27:46-28:9 is attributed to P.  This is why Jacob is sent away to Rebekah’s relatives twice.  The first time, it is because of Esau’s murderous rage; the second time, it is to find a wife.
  • Esau represents Edom, an enemy of Israel.  The fact that Jacob is given mastery over his brothers (the plural is probably not meant literally) represents Israel’s power over Edom.  Strikingly, Esau is portrayed sympathetically in these chapters, in contrast to later literature where he epitomizes evil (i.e. Psalm 137:7, Jeremiah 49:7-22).
  • Esau has two wives: Judith and Basemath.  Much to the annoyance of Rebekah, they are both Hittites.  Notice that here, the Hittites are a Canaanite people, whereas the Hittites we know from extra-biblical history are a powerful Anatolian people whose empire was one of the Near Eastern superpowers, on par with Egypt and Babylon.
  • The reference to the Philistines (i.e. 26:15) is anachronistic, since the Philistines did not come to Canaan until c. 1200 BC.
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