What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Genesis 25:27-29 helps us to zero in on what Esau treasured. Each of these short sentences tells us how much Esau treasured hunting. When a person is known to be skillful in some area, it can be assumed that he spent large amounts of time and energy honing his craft. That Isaac loved to eat the results of Esau's hunts validated the younger man in his love of hunting. Finally, when a man wearies himself by doing a task with all of his might, it points to where his interests lie—what he loves doing.
The Interlinear Bible renders Genesis 25:27 as, "And Esau became a man knowing hunting, a man of the field." "Field" is sadeh, translated as "country," "field," "ground," "land," or "soil." Vine's comments, "This word often represents the 'open field' where the animals roam wild." This verse could be read, "Esau was . . . a man of the wild," indicating where he felt most comfortable. He treasured his time out in the wild, and he had dedicated his life to pursuing the chase. By treasuring this "wild" existence over his birthright, Esau displayed how irresponsible he was toward it.
Would we want to bequeath our wealth to a child who was not preparing himself to govern it? It would be similar to the Prodigal Son taking his inheritance and squandering it (Luke 15:11-13). He, like Esau, was not disciplined and trained to govern it. If most of Esau's time was spent out in the wild, how would he have been able to tackle the responsibilities of governing flocks and herds, gold and silver, male and female servants, donkeys and camels, as well as being his family's head and leader?
Perhaps he should have stayed in the camp like Jacob so he would not have lost the vision of a wonderful time to come contained in his inheritance. Jacob obviously valued it, although he obtained it by trickery and deceit. He also showed himself capable of governing it, as he seemed to know plenty about managing flocks and herds, as Genesis 29-30 bear out. Laban prospered greatly from Jacob's expertise, and Jacob then prospered himself.
In Genesis 25:29, Esau came in from the field "weary." Some versions render it "faint." I can relate to this situation, having grown up hunting and fishing. In younger days, I would rather hunt than eat, and I often did. I remember coming home from a hunting trip on shaky legs, ready to eat anything, even if I did not like it. Esau came home in this condition and did his thinking and reasoning in this weakened state. Instead of reasoning with his head, he let his stomach decide.
His flesh was doing all the "thinking," as we see in his response to Jacob's opening offer: "And Esau said, 'Behold I am going to die; and what good is this birthright to me?'" (verse 32). Was he really so famished that he was going to die? Would he have said this had he been more involved with his inheritance and working with it?
If he had taken just a moment to think about his inheritance and what was involved, he would never have made such a rash decision. This could not have been the only food in the camp of a very wealthy man like Isaac; it was merely the first food he came to. Esau, the favorite of his father, could easily have gone to his father and told him what Jacob had tried to do and received food to satisfy his hunger. But he did not want to wait—he wanted immediate gratification of his fleshly desires. He thought he had to have it right away.
It is worthwhile to note that Esau sold his birthright when he came in from hunting and had his blessing stolen from him when he went out to hunt (Genesis 27:5). He lost his entire inheritance while doing what he liked to do the most—being out in the wilderness hunting. While there is nothing wrong with hunting, there is a lesson in Esau's single-minded pursuit of his physical desires.
What Is Your Lentil Soup?
As the two became young men, their talents and personalities became evident, and it is here that another dimension enters into their rivalry. It seems that their parents played favorites, as unfortunately occurs too often in families. Such favoritism only heightens the competition between siblings.
This is the account of their first significant conflict, and the differences in their personalities come to the fore. Jacob had a nose for opportunity, and once he recognized that Esau was in a position of weakness, he started negotiating. He was very much a businessman and a wheeler-dealer, trying to get the advantage of his rival, but especially in the areas that really matter. Thus, he made a bold stroke, reaching for the birthright, that is, the double portion of inheritance that came to the firstborn.
By his reply, Esau showed that he had little grasp of the worth of the birthright. In fact, he valued his life far above his inheritance. He said to Jacob, in effect, "Look, if I survive, this birthright may be of some profit, but right now I will trade anything to live." In essence, he counted his birthright as worth no more than a meal! Esau's major problem was that he could not properly discern what was truly important. The Bible's portrait of him suggests that his complete attention fell on whatever was before him at the time, and thus he took no thought of the future, whether of blessings or problems or consequences. In wits, then, he was no match for cunning Jacob.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
All About Edom (Part One)
How did Esau come to be of a mind that he could sell his birthright so easily? Can we follow the same path but in a spiritual sense? What must we do to cherish rather than despise our far more glorious inheritance?
What Esau despised was no small thing. Even if we disregard the earlier promises given to Abraham and Isaac of descendants as numerous as the sand of the seashore, the Promised Land of Canaan, royal dynasties, and the gates of their enemies, Esau stood to inherit a literal fortune. As we have learned over the years, the birthright contained a two-fold promise: physical promises and spiritual promises. We can see this in summary in Genesis 12:1-3:
Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
What a wonderful inheritance for Abraham's descendants! God promises a national homeland, national greatness (power and prosperity), and national prestige. Abraham's descendants would ultimately be a force for good on the planet, especially because from Israel would come the Messiah.
If we consider just what Esau would inherit when Isaac died, it still was quite a huge amount of wealth. In Genesis 24:35, Abraham's servant says to Rebekah's family, "The LORD has blessed my master greatly, and he has become great; and He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys." Just a chapter later, Moses records, "And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac," except for "gifts" that he bestowed on his other sons by his concubines (Genesis 25:5-6).
The birthright was customarily passed down from father to eldest son. Being Isaac's eldest son (verse 25), Esau would have stood to gain quite a lot, at least in the way of wealth. A bowl of lentils hardly compares to "flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys"! How could he have despised his awesome inheritance so easily?
What was Esau's problem? He did not treasure his inheritance! Jesus tells us in His Sermon on the Mount, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). People usually only sell something when they value something else more. Esau did not place a high-enough value on the birthright, so he sold it for a pittance.
What Is Your Lentil Soup?
Genesis 27 recounts the story of Jacob's tricking of the elderly, blind Isaac into giving him the patriarchal blessing instead of bestowing it on his older-by-mere-minutes twin brother Esau, who was the rightful heir. The "she" mentioned here is Rebekah, Isaac's wife and the mother of the two young men.
Part of the background of the story is that the two parents played favorites (Genesis 25:28): Isaac preferred Esau and his "manly pursuits," while Rebekah favored Jacob, who is described as "a mild man, dwelling in tents" (Genesis 25:27), suggesting that he was more refined and that his aptitudes were more mental than physical. This favoritism put the couple at odds on at least one score, who would inherit the patriarchy after Isaac's death. Isaac evidently thought Esau the better candidate, since he was the older and stronger. His wife felt Jacob better suited to the position, being more cunning and skillful in business and management. It also spurred rivalry between the sons.
Jacob had revealed his cunning when he had bargained the birthright from Esau some time before (Genesis 25:29-34). He made cynical use of Esau's famished state to finagle the lucrative—even precious—birthright from his brother, who the Bible says did not value it highly enough: "Esau despised his birthright" (Genesis 25:34; see Hebrews 12:16-17). The birthright was the firstborn's double portion of inheritance. (Jacob later passed this birthright on to Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh; see Genesis 48.)
Earlier in Genesis 27, Isaac had sent Esau out to hunt for game to make his favorite stew, after which he would pronounce the blessing on him. Rebekah knew that this gave her time to make her own stew from the meat of young goats to imitate Esau's dish and to prepare Jacob to disguise himself as his hairy brother (see Genesis 25:25). Jacob was a "smooth-skinned man" (Genesis 27:11) by comparison to Esau, so he would need, not only to wear his brother's clothes so that he smelled like him, but also to apply hair to the backs of his hands and neck to make the ruse work.
So, Rebekah evidently adhered the skins of the freshly killed kids to Jacob's hands and neck, perhaps even sewing them to her son's cuffs and collar so that Isaac would never think that the hair he felt was not genuine. With the short time she had to work with, she went to great lengths to ensure that Jacob received the blessing—and even then Isaac nearly guessed the truth when Jacob could not imitate Esau's voice well enough (Genesis 27:22).
Perhaps what God said in Genesis 25:23 motivated Rebekah: "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." She knew that God had ordained Jacob to lead the family (see Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:10-13). However, like Sarah before her, Rebekah took matters into her own hands rather than allowing God to work matters out so that Jacob would receive the blessing in a more ethical way.
Who knows how He would have worked it out—maybe Esau would have despised the blessing too or Isaac would have been warned by God not to bless Esau but to bestow it on Jacob at a later time. It is a moot point now. God included it in His Book so that we can learn lessons from what actually happened—lessons about the use of trickery, favoritism in families, getting ahead of God, making assumptions about what He is doing, priorities, selfish ambition, parental manipulation of their children, how one lie begets another, and so forth. We can mine a wealth of wisdom from the rivalry of Jacob and Esau.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Once Isaac had given his - really God's - blessing, there was nothing left for Esau. The blessing was an "all or nothing" addition to the inheritance; it could not be portioned between Isaac's two sons. In reality, the subsequent "blessing" Esau receives is tantamount to a curse. In the New King James Version, it reads as if Isaac blesses Esau in Genesis 27:39-40, yet it is not a blessing but a prophecy.
As shown here, the two uses of "of" in verse 39 have been mistranslated; in this context, the Hebrew word implies, not "belonging to," but "from" or "away from." On this verse, the Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament observes, "By a play upon the words Isaac uses the same expression as in v. 28, 'from the fat fields of the earth, and from the dew,' but in the opposite sense, min being partitive [imparting] there, and privative [depriving] here, 'from = away from.'" Thus, Isaac prophesies that Esau's descendants would live in an infertile, arid area.
One consequence of this is prophesied in verse 40: There will be continual strife between the "have," Jacob, and the "have-not," Esau; they would engage in a constant, internecine quarrel over "the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven." More often than not, Jacob would be dominant - until Esau would rebel in frustration and anger. Isaac predicts that they will frequently come to blows, and occasionally, Esau's descendants will enjoy the upper hand for a time.
Esau's utterly human reaction upon hearing Isaac's words is consistent with what we know of his personality: "So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, "The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob" (Genesis 27:41). Too late, he realized the value of the blessing, and now his entire attention was focused in hatred against his brother. Hebrews 12:15-16 describes his attitude toward Jacob as a "root of bitterness," a profound and deep-set animosity that ultimately corrupts and defiles one who maintains it.
This reveals the mindset of Esau and his descendants, the Edomites. Everything that should have been theirs was now Jacob's, and they will fight until the bitter end of days to get it back! Yet God says it is not to be. His prophecy in the "blessing" allows Esau only occasional supremacy. Since Jacob's seed possessed both the birthright and the blessing, they would normally prevail and ultimately have the ascendancy.
The birthright made Jacob the recipient of a double portion of the inheritance, and the blessing was a gift of God by which the patriarch passed on the promised family blessings. These blessings included the patriarchy - "Be master over your brethren" (Genesis 27:29) - which was now Jacob's! This meant that, upon Isaac's death, the leadership position in Abraham's family passed not to the elder, Esau, but to the younger, Jacob. Esau was left to form his own house, but without the power, position, and wealth inherent within the birthright and the blessing.
In these prophecies, the Bible shows that dominant family traits are passed down to succeeding generations. Therefore, even today, Israelites generally think and behave much like their father Jacob, while Edomites still retain the attitudes and drives of Esau. Though not every Israelite or Edomite will imitate his ancestor's personality to the letter, these traits will surface as national characteristics, allowing perceptive observers to identify their origins and fit them into Bible prophecy.
For Jacob's thefts of the birthright and blessing, Esau hated his brother enough to begin to plot his death! This burning hatred has been passed on from generation to generation ever since that time, for approximately 3,700 years. This, then, provides us with a basic understanding of the contentious relationship between these two peoples.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
All About Edom (Part One)
Jacob entered this encounter with God as a result of taking the birthright and blessing from his brother Esau through deceitful chicanery. Esau was so indignant, he let it be known that there was a contract on Jacob's life: He was going to kill him.
So Jacob did what anybody would do in that situation—he fled. He decided to go to his mother's relatives, to Laban in Syria. On the way, he stopped at the place described in verses 12-17. Here he encountered God.
Jacob saw a ladder in a dream stretching into heaven, with angels ascending and descending. Verse 13 is very important: "And behold, the LORD stood above it."
"The LORD stood above it" is a mistranslation. The Revised Standard Version, the Revised English Bible, and the New International Version all translate this to say that God stood beside him. God stood by Jacob at the foot of the ladder, not above it.
In other words, God came down the ladder; He revealed Himself as being there. This is why Jacob said, "God is in this place," and why he named it Bethel, meaning "this is God's house." Not that God is in heaven, but that Jacob's God was right there—that was His house. Consequently, Bethel became a shrine in later years.
Jacob did not merely have an encounter with God, but something happened to Jacob himself. He arrived a man with a price on his head and the guilt of many deceitful tricks. He was guilty of stealing, and in one sense of the word, guilty of a sin that was worthy of death. God in no way condoned his actions, yet He had chosen Jacob even before he was born, while he and Esau were still in the womb.
At Bethel, God confirmed that He had chosen Jacob and that He would follow through with him nonetheless. Jacob arrived a man with a price on his head and no future. He was transformed so that he had a future and a hope with which he could live. He was so encouraged that he promised that he would tithe to God all of his days.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Seeking God
Why did God choose to bestow the birthright blessing to Joseph? Deuteronomy 33:16 provides the key to the answer. Moses writes, "Let the blessing come on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers."
God honored Joseph because he "was separate from his brothers." He was separate in that he alone remained faithful to his God. Conspicuous by their absence are the names of Joseph's brothers from the Faith Chapter. Hebrews 11 does not mention Reuben, Judah, Dan, Gad, or any other of Jacob's sons. Verse 22 emphasizes Joseph's faithfulness: "By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones" (Genesis 50:22-26)
Allaying his brothers' fears of retribution and revenge, Joseph explained his understanding that God had placed him in power in Egypt "to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance" (Genesis 45:7). To his dying day, he never broke faith with his brothers: As recorded in Genesis 50:20-21, he reassures them of their well-being after their father's death:
But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.
Nor did he ever break faith with his God. Dying, he reminded his brothers that God would bring their posterity out of Egypt, restoring them "to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob" (Genesis 50:24).
The two sons of Joseph received the birthright blessings because their father was separate, ethically and morally, from his perfidious, scheming brothers. His brothers exhibited few scruples concerning killing Joseph, forswearing murder only when they saw the opportunity to profit from selling him into slavery. Compounding their despicable and abject turpitude, they darkened their father's days by sustaining the ruse of Joseph's death for more than a decade. See Genesis 34 for a fine example of cunning deception, ruthless murder, and rapacious greed on the part of Simeon and Levi in the affair of their sister Dinah with Shechem, a Hivite prince living in Canaan at that time.
What a paradox! Today, Ephraim and Manasseh have used the wealth and influence God gave them because of Joseph's faithfulness to push on Gentile nations a way of life totally contrary to God's way. Rather than separating from the ways of this world, as their father Joseph did, modern-day Ephraim and Manasseh push globalism, another term for the Babylonian system of "get," on the whole world. Sifted among the nations, Joseph subverts those around him rather than serving as an example of godliness to the Gentiles.
Searching for Israel (Part Eleven): Manasseh Found
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