Rebekah gave birth to twins. Whilst still in the womb she felt them fighting each other, so she asked the Lord, ‘What does this mean?’ (Genesis 25:22) Rebekah was sensible enough to know that there was a reason for this other than a natural cause. It also tells us that Rebekah was on speaking terms with God and expected God to answer her. She was also sensible that God was in her offspring through his covenant with Abraham and Isaac, hence the birth of her children were determined by the Lord.
The Lord answered Rebekah in this wise: ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.’ (Genesis 25:23) The child born first had hairy red skin, so they named him Esau. The second child was born holding the heel of the first so he was called Jacob.
Was it not strange that the Lord should foresee and determine that the child born first should serve the younger, for it went against the tradition of elders? Nevertheless, it was not by tradition that the offspring of Abraham was determined but by God’s choice and grace. Jacob was chosen because like Abraham, he believed in God and that was the righteousness God required of his chosen children. Also God foresaw the destiny of both these children, the one taking after Ishmael and Laban and the other following in the footsteps of Abraham.
Thus the covenant was based on ‘righteousness of Abraham’s faith’ which in the absence of a sacrifice for sins was God’s gift of love and his choice entirely. Besides this, unlike traditional thinking, God foresaw the future. He saw that Esau, the firstborn, was a wild sacrilegious man, despising his birthright, his grandfather’s faith, and marrying two Hittite women who were a trial and grief to his mother.
THE CHARACTERS OF ESAU AND JACOB
Thus Rebekah loved Jacob who stayed at home with her, whilst Isaac loved Esau, who was a hunter and often brought and prepared delicious dishes of meat for his father to eat. The character of Esau soon became evident when coming home famished from the fields he sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of pottage. Jacob demanded these terms because of Esau’s extremity. The brothers were obviously adversaries and neither Esau’s willingness to sell his birthright, nor Jacob’s terms vindicated their actions. The one despised what the other had no right to covet. At this point in time the faith of Abraham, their grandfather, meant little more than a legend of which there were thousands in the ancient world.
Rebekah’s life was made miserable and wretched by the two daughters of Heth (Genesis 27:46) that Esau married. They were women of the land, a land God had promised, although not exclusively, to Abraham. The land was inhabited by the Hittites who were not enemies of Abraham. Rebekah was like an alien and an outsider whose God and family were foreign to Esau’s wives. She was grieved and bitter by what Esau had done in choosing his wives from the Hittites. It irked and burdened her beyond her patience and tolerance. Whilst Isaac lived she was able to bear the pain of being a mother whose son had transgressed her faith in One God, one covenant, separated from all other peoples by circumcision, the visible mark in the flesh of God’s chosen people. But the time came when Isaac became old and feeble and he wanted to bless his son Esau, he being the eldest, before he died.
Rebekah overheard Isaac ask Esau to fetch him venison from the fields to eat before he blessed his eldest son whom he loved. It was thus that she acted upon a plan to thwart Isaac’s blessing and Esau’s prospects of becoming head of the family. Whether right or wrong it had to be done. She could not bear to be under the rule of one who had despised all that was sacred and true. She saw no alternative but to prevent Esau claiming his rightful place as head of the family and nation by tradition, or from Isaac bestowing this upon him. This was not from the Lord. Rebekah knew that. Her plan was to deceive Isaac into thinking that Jacob was Esau. She unfolded this plan to Jacob who objected from fear of being discovered and incuring a curse upon himself from his father. Jacob said to his mother, ‘Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man:My father peradventure will feel me, and I shall seem to him as a deceiver; and I shall bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing’ (Genesis 27:12)
She replied, ‘Let your curse be on me, my son,’ so desperate was she to achieve her purpose. She sent Jacob to the field to fetch two kids from the flock which she then cooked in the way she knew Isaac loved. She then clothed Jacob with one of Esau’s garments and covered his smooth hands and neck with the goat kids skins. She then gave the savoury dish and some bread to Jacob to take to his father.
Isaac’s eyes were dim and he was not able to discern the difference between his two sons except when they spoke or when he smelled their garments and touched their skin. Isaac was however surprised at how quick Esau had been in capturing and cooking the venison.
‘How is it that you have brought it so quickly, my son?’
‘Because,’ Jacob replied, ‘the Lord thy God brought it to me.’ (Genesis 27:20)
Isaac was not to be deceived so easily. There was a real doubt in his mind that the son in front of him was not Esau but Jacob.
Isaac said unto Jacob, ‘Come near, I pray thee, that I may feel thee, my son, whether thou be my very son Esau or not.’
The voice he knew was not the voice of Esau so Isaac determined to examine the son in front of him.
And Jacob went near unto Isaac his father; and he felt him, and said, The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.
‘Are you really my son Esau?’ he asked.
Jacob answered, ‘I am.’
‘Then bring me the venison, and I will eat it and bless you with all my heart,’ Isaac said.
After he had eaten the meal, Isaac said, ‘Come near now and kiss me,’
And Jacob came near, and kissed him: and Isaac smelled the smell of his raiment, and blessed him, and said, See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the LORD hath blessed.’ (Genesis 27:27 KJV)
‘May God always give you plenty of rain for your crops, and good harvests and grapes. May many nations be your slaves. Be the master of your brothers. May all your relatives bow low before you. Cursed are all who curse you, and blessed are all who bless you.’ (Genesis 27:28-29 TLB)
THE OUTCOME OF REBEKAH’S DECEIT
Thus Jacob stole Esau’s blessing and Rebekah achieved her purpose, for once given, the blessing could not be given to another. But the outcome was not as Rebekah had wished for Esau determined to murder his brother Jacob. This was made known to Rebekah upon which she warned Jacob of her elder sons intent, and sent him away for a few days to her brother Laban in Haran. The few days however extended into years for Isaac did not die directly and it was not safe for Jacob to return to his father’s house.
The prophecy made by the Lord to Rebekah that the elder son would serve the younger, was not fulfilled in the way she had wanted or expected. It merely opened a gap between her sons that would take many years to close. The prophecy itself nevertheless was fulfilled, not by the rule of the sword, or by the eldest son but by God’s choice of Jacob and his offspring, the children of Israel. God gave to Jacob the gift of faith by which, as with Abraham, was counted as righteousness. This is the true origin of God’s chosen people, the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their offspring, the children of Israel.
In Jacob all families of the earth were to be blessed because, like Abraham and Isaac, God was with Jacob and not with Esau. He was stronger than Esau even whilst he was weaker in strength and physical fitness, as God had said, ‘The elder shall server the younger.’ We shall see how this unfolds in the next article, ‘The House of God.’ God’s choice of Jacob to fulfill his promise to Abraham and Isaac was not on account of his good character or his being the son of Isaac but because God loved him and chose him and his offspring to bring God’s love and justice to the world.