Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
24 When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Twenty years after they are married, at the ripe old age of sixty, Isaac has a son. We do not know Rebekah’s age at this time. From JewishEncyclopedia:
The Rabbis disagree as to the age of Rebekah at the time of her marriage to Isaac. The statement of the Seder ‘Olam Rabbah (i.) and Gen. R. (lvii. 1) that Abraham was informed of Rebekah’s birth when he ascended Mount Moriah for the ‘Aḳedah, is interpreted by some as meaning that Rebekah was born at that time, and that consequently she was only three years old at the time of her marriage. Other rabbis, however, conclude from calculations that she was fourteen years old, and that therefore she was born eleven years before the ‘Aḳedah, both numbers being found in different manuscripts of the Seder ‘Olam Rabbah (comp. Tos. to Yeb. 61b). The “Sefer ha-Yashar” (section “Ḥayye Sarah,” p. 38a, Leghorn, 1870) gives Rebekah’s age at her marriage as ten years.
It seems hard to imagine that a three year old could water the camels of Abraham’s servant. But perhaps modern day toddlers are not as hearty as they once were. If she was three, it certainly paints the scene of her declared willingness to go with Abraham’s servant quite differently. (If it’s not clear, I am not a proponent of the Rebekah was married at age 3 hypothesis.)
twins = תָּאוֹם tâʼôwm, taw-ome’; or תָּאֹם tâʼôm; from H8382; a twin (in plural only), literally or figuratively:—twins.
womb = בֶּטֶן beṭen, beh’-ten; from an unused root probably meaning to be hollow; the belly, especially the womb; also the bosom or body of anything:—belly, body, as they be born, within, womb.
Esau and Jacob are the first twins we meet in Genesis. Is there any significance to that? Some argue yes. Here is an excerpt from an article at Chabad.org by Yehuda Shurpin, titled appropriately “Twins in the Bible.”
Although the Torah doesn’t spell out any special characteristics of twins, some rabbis say that twins are generally slightly weaker than others1 and have a predilection towards words of truth.2
Jacob and Esau: The Quintessential Twins
The first, and perhaps the most famous, twins in the Bible are Jacob and Esau. The two could not be more different. As the verse sums it up, “Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Jacob was an innocent man, dwelling in tents.”3
As the biblical narrative unfolds, elucidated by the various commentaries, Esau turns out to be a deceiving murderer and idol worshiper who tries to kill his twin brother.
Some say that Jacob and Esau are the origins of the “evil twin” legends found in various cultures, where one twin will turn out righteous and the other evil.
There is extra-Biblical belief in twins from earlier in the text.
According to the Midrash, Cain was born with a twin sister and Abel was born with two sisters.7 In fact, according to some traditions, Cain and Abel each married a woman born with them, and their lethal quarrel was over who would marry Abel’s remaining triplet.8
Alternatively, Cain and Abel were themselves twins. One opinion in the Midrash sees evidence for this in Scripture itself. Regarding Cain’s birth, we read, “And [Eve] conceived and bore Cain.”9 The next verse simply states, “And she continued to bear his brother Abel,” implying that the births followed a single conception.10
Since it has been a while since I have mentioned, this, let me give anyone reading a reminder about what Midrash is. From MyJewishLearning.com, an article by MJL.
Midrash (מדרשׁ) is an interpretive act, seeking the answers to religious questions (both practical and theological) by plumbing the meaning of the words of the Torah. (In the Bible, the root d-r-sh [דרשׁ] is used to mean inquiring into any matter, including occasionally to seek out God’s word.) Midrash responds to contemporary problems and crafts new stories, making connections between new Jewish realities and the unchanging biblical text.
Midrash falls into two categories.When the subject is law and religious practice (halacha ), it is called midrash halacha. Midrash aggadah, on the other hand, interprets biblical narrative, exploring questions of ethics or theology, or creating homilies and parables based on the text. (Aggadah means”telling”; any midrash which is not halakhic falls into this category.)
Getting into the text, let’s look at some commentaries: From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And the first came out red,—Adhmoni, πυῤῥάκης (LXX.), rufus (Vulgate), red-haired (Gesenius), of a reddish color (Lange), containing an allusion to Adham, the red earth—all over like an hairy garment. Literally, all of him as a cloak of hair (not, as the LXX; Vulgate, et alii, all of him hairy, like a cloak); the fur cloak, or hair mantle, forming one notion (Gesenius). The appearance of the child’s body, covered with an unusual quantity of red hair, was “a sign of excessive sensual vigor and wildness” (Keil), “a foreboding of the animal violence of his character” (Kalisch), “the indication of a passionate and precocious nature” (Murphy). And they called his name Esau—”the hairy one,” from an unused root signifying to be covered with hair (Gesenius).
From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(25) Red.—Heb., admoni, a secondary reason for the name Edom. (See Genesis 25:30,)
All over like an hairy garment.—Heb., all of him—that is, completely—like a garment of hair: words rendered “a rough garment” in Zechariah 13:4, where it is used of the jacket of sheepskin worn by the prophets. It appears, therefore, that Esau’s body was entirely covered with red down, which developed in time into hair as coarse as that of a kid (Genesis 27:16), and betokened a strong and vigorous, but sensual nature.
Esau.—The Jewish commentators form this name from the verb to make, and render it well-made; but the usual explanation is hairy, from a word now extant only in Arabic.
red = אַדְמֹנִי ʼadmônîy, ad-mo-nee’; or (fully) אַדְמוֹנִי ʼadmôwnîy ; from H119; reddish (of the hair or the complexion):—red, ruddy.
hairy = שֵׂעָר sêʻâr, say-awr’; or שַׂעַר saʻar; (Isaiah 7:20), from H8175 in the sense of dishevelling; hair (as if tossed or bristling):—hair(-y), × rough
Esau = עֵשָׂו ʻÊsâv, ay-sawv’; apparently a form of the passive participle of H6213 in the original sense of handling; rough (i.e. sensibly felt); Esav, a son of Isaac, including his posterity:—Esau.; עָשָׂה ʻâsâh, aw-saw’; a primitive root; to do or make, in the broadest sense and widest application:—accomplish, advance, appoint, apt, be at, become, bear, bestow, bring forth, bruise, be busy, × certainly, have the charge of, commit, deal (with), deck, displease, do, (ready) dress(-ed), (put in) execute(-ion), exercise, fashion, feast, (fight-) ing man, finish, fit, fly, follow, fulfill, furnish, gather, get, go about, govern, grant, great, hinder, hold (a feast), × indeed, be industrious, journey, keep, labour, maintain, make, be meet, observe, be occupied, offer, officer, pare, bring (come) to pass, perform, pracise, prepare, procure, provide, put, requite, × sacrifice, serve, set, shew, × sin, spend, × surely, take, × thoroughly, trim, × very, vex, be (warr-) ior, work(-man), yield, use.
Esau was a red, hairy, baby. That’s… strange. Red hair among Semitic people is odd. Hairiness on a baby is quite odd. Is this supposed to make the reader think of something? Perhaps. As anyone following along has probably noticed, Genesis spends a lot of time discussing giants. Nephilim. Rephaim. Anakim. Etc. Is there a link between giantism and red hair?
As far as I can tell, there is not a textual link. (Giants are linked textually with extra fingers and toes, both in the Bible and in the surrounding regions.)
2 Samuel 21:20: And there was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number, and he also was descended from the giants.
HERE is a link with several pictures of statues (and people) with six fingers. Notably some of the statues are ancient and seem to connect the extra digits with giantism.
But what about the red hair?
There is an extra-Biblical association between red hair and giantism and not all of it originating in the Middle East:
- Red-haired giants of Lovelock Cave, in Nevada USA
- Red-haired sea-faring giants of the Pacific
- Red-haired people on the coast of Peru (arguably related to the red-haired Pacific sea folks)
- Red-haired mummies of China
It goes on. It is a scientific certainty that red hair pops up in strange places during the Bronze Age. There is often a perceived link between red hair, giantism, and elongated skulls in many of these and other cultures.
Tangent aside, we do not have to completely assume that Esau even has red hair. Looking at the definition of the word above, it’s possible that we should interpret the verse to mean that Esau has a ruddy complexion… and is also hairy. David is also described as red/ruddy. (1 Sam 16:12) However, Esau is generally and historically as depicted as having had red hair.
Back on topic, then, would someone reading Genesis at the time it was written have believed that Esau’s hair links him with the often mentioned giant clans of Genesis? I do not know and I will see if I can dig up an association between those things. But it is worth considering (and I will add more to this thought-thread when we get to the verses about Esau’s adult years.)
Continuing with the text at verse 26 and Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(26) His hand took hold on Esau’s heel.—Usually there is a considerable interval—an hour or more—between the birth of twins; but here Jacob appeared without delay, following immediately upon his brother. This is expressed by the metaphorical phrase that his hand had hold on Esau’s heel—that is, there was absolutely no interval between them. Though very rare, yet similar cases have been chronicled from time to time.
His name was called Jacob.—The name signifies one who follows at another’s heels. It was Esau who first put upon it a bad meaning (Genesis 27:36), and this bad sense has been riveted to it by Jacob’s own unworthy conduct. It is constantly so used even in the Bible. Thus in Hosea 12:3—a passage quoted in defence of a literal explanation of the metaphor in this verse by those who are acquainted only with the English Version—the Hebrew has, he Jacobed, literally, heeled—that is, overreached, got the better by cunning of—his brother in the womb. This is the very meaning put upon the name by Esau, and in Jeremiah 9:4 and elsewhere; but it is not well rendered by our word supplant, which contains a different metaphor, the planta being the sole of the foot; whereas to be at a person’s heel is to be his determined pursuer, and one who on overtaking throws him down.
Jacob = יַעֲקֹב Yaʻăqôb, yah-ak-obe’; from H6117; heel-catcher (i.e. supplanter); Jaakob, the Israelitish patriarch:—Jacob.; עָקַב ʻâqab, aw-kab’; a primitive root; properly, to swell out or up; used only as denominative from H6119, to seize by the heel; figuratively, to circumvent (as if tripping up the heels); also to restrain (as if holding by the heel):—take by the heel, stay, supplant, × utterly.
From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel. The inf. constr, standing for the finite verb. Not simply followed close upon the heels of Esau (Kalisch), but seized Esau’s heel, as if he would trip him up (Keil, Murphy). It has been contended (De Wette, Schumann, Knobel) that such an act was impossible, a work on obstetrics by Busch maintaining that an hour commonly intervenes between the birth of twins; but practitioners of eminence who have been consulted declare the act to be distinctly possible, and indeed it is well known that “a multitude of surprising phenomena are connected with births” (Havernick), some of which are not greatly dissimilar to that which is here recorded. Delitzsch interprets the language as meaning only that the hand of Jacob reached out in the direction of his brother’s heel, as if to grasp it; but Hosea 12:3 explicitly asserts that he had his brother’s heel by the hand while yet in his mother’s womb. And his name was called—literally, and he (i.e. one) called his name; καὶ ἐκάλεσε τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ (LXX.); id circo appellavit eum (Vulgate; cf. Genesis 16:14; Genesis 27:36)—Jacob. Not “Successor,” like the Latin secundus, from sequor (Knobel, Kalisch); but “Heel-catcher” (Rosenmüller, Gesenius, Keil, Lange, Murphy), hence Supplanter (cf. Genesis 37:36). And Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them. Literally, in the bearing of them, the inf. constr, taking the case of its verb—when she (the mother) bare them; ὄτε ἔτεκεν αὐτοὺς Ῥεβέκκα (LXX.); quum nati sunt parvuli (Vulgate); though, as Rebekah’s name does not occur in the immediate context, and ילד is applied to the father (Genesis 4:18; Genesis 10:8, Genesis 10:13) as well as to the mother, the clause may be rendered when he (Isaac) begat them (Kalisch, Afford).
After telling us of the two as newborns, the texts jumps straight-away into their adulthoods and gives us a description of who each becomes. Esau is a hunter and a man of the field. He has the love of Isaac. Jacob is a quiet man and a tent dweller. He has the love of Rebekah. Since we know the outcome, does this indicate a failure in Isaac?
From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(27) The “boys grew.—With advancing years came also the formation of their characters. Esau became a skilful hunter, a “man of the field”: not a husbandman, but one who roamed over the open uncultivated wilderness (see Genesis 4:8) in search of game; but “Jacob was a plain man.” This is a most inadequate rendering of a word translated perfect in Job 1:1; Job 1:8; Psalms 37:37, &c, though this rendering is as much too strong as that in this verse is too weak. On Genesis 6:9, we have shown that the word conveys no idea of perfection or blamelessness, but only of general integrity. Both the word there and in Genesis 17:1, and the slightly different form of it used here, should in all places be translated upright.
Dwelling in tents.—Esau equally had a tent for his abode, but Jacob stayed at home, following domestic occupations, and busied about the flocks and cattle. Hence he was the mother’s darling, while Isaac preferred his more enterprising son. Thus the struggle between the twins led also to a divergence of feeling on the part of the parents. Throughout his history Jacob maintains this character, and appears as a man whose interests and happiness were centred in his home.
(28) Because he did eat of his venison.—Literally, because the venison—that is, the produce of Esau’s hunting—was in his mouth; in our phrase, was to his taste—was what he liked. The diet of an Arab sheik is very simple (see Note on Genesis 18:6); and Isaac, a man wanting in physical vigour and adventurousness—as is usually the case with the children of people far advanced in years—both admired the energy which Esau had inherited from Rebekah, and relished the fruits of it.
Ellicott speculates that Isaac’s preference is born from a personal lack of vigor and thus an admiration of that quality in his son. We cannot really know that for sure, though. It may be that Isaac simply loved venison. It is interesting to me, though, that Rebekah ends up steering the ship of destiny for her two sons to a great degree. She is not raised by Abraham. You might expect that Isaac would be the parent more in tune with God’s direction. However, though the text does not tell us directly, she does live with Abraham for some years before he dies. Perhaps Isaac grew away from his father as Rebekah grew toward him. (That’s merely speculative on my part.) Read more about the timeline from the link HERE from BritishBibleSchool.com but I will include a chart from said link below.
Just to prime you for what is coming, we will spend some time with extra-Biblical texts concerning Esau the Hunter in conjunction with the next set of verses. A lot of it is fascinating and strange.
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