Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
27 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, 4 and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”
In chapter 26, we have an old Isaac but he is still quite active. Here though we find an Isaac who is old, blind, and preparing for his own death.
This section is a source of confusion for those trying to determine Isaac’s age in this moment. The Pulpit Commentaries explains:
And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old,—according to the generally accepted calculation, in his one hundred and thirty-seventh year. Joseph, having been introduced to Pharaoh in his thirtieth year (Genesis 41:46), and having been thirty-nine years of age (Genesis 45:6) when his father, aged one hundred and thirty (Genesis 47:9), came down to Egypt, must have been born before Jacob was ninety-one; consequently, as his birth occurred in the fourteenth year of Jacob’s sojourn in Mesopotamia (cf. Genesis 30:25 with Genesis 29:18, Genesis 29:21, Genesis 29:27), Jacob’s flight must have taken place when he was seventy-seven. But Jacob was born in Isaac’s sixtieth year (Genesis 25:26); hence Isaac was now one hundred and thirty-seven. There are, however, difficulties connected with this reckoning which lay it open to suspicion. For one thing, it postpones Jacob’s marriage to an extremely late period. Then it takes for granted that the term of Jacob’s service in Padan-aram was only twenty years (Genesis 31:41), whereas it is not certain whether it was not forty, made up, according to the computation of Kennicott, of fourteen years’ service, twenty years’ assistance as a neighbor, and six years of work for wages. And, lastly, it necessitates the birth of Jacob’s eleven children in the short space of six years, a thing which appears to some, it not impossible, at least highly improbable. Adopting the larger number as the term of Jacob’s sojourn in Mesopotamia, Isaac would at this time be only one hundred and seventeen (vide ‘Chronologer of Jacob’s Life,’ 31.41)—and his eyes were dim,—literally, were failing in strength, hence becoming dim (1 Samuel 3:2). In describing Jacob’s decaying vision a different verb is employed (Genesis 48:10)—so that he could not see,—literally, from seeing; מִן with the inf. constr, conveying the idea of receding from the state of perfect vision—he called Esau his eldest son,—Esau was born before his twin brother Jacob (Genesis 25:25)—and said unto him, My son:—i.e. my special son, my beloved son, the language indicating fondness and partiality (Genesis 25:28)—and he (Esau) said unto him, Behold, here am I.
At the link, the author explains that the difficulty in constructing a timeline for Jacob is that the text does not provide timeline markers until near the end of his life.
To construct Jacob’s life in the chronology is a bit more difficult. We are not given any dates until towards the end of his life, so to an extent we need to work backwards. We find in Genesis 47:9 that Jacob was 130 when he arrived in Egypt. Verse 28 of that same chapter tells us that Jacob lived a total of 147 years, the last seventeen being in Egypt. By using the dates we are given for Joseph, we can fit in a bit more of Jacob’s life. We first find a date marker for Joseph when he was 17 years old (37:2) and sold into slavery in Egypt. He was 30 when he became the first minister of Egypt (41:46). There were seven good years of crops in Egypt (41:53). Two of the years of famine passed before he revealed himself to his brothers and the family of Israel moved to Egypt (45:6). Putting all of this together, Joseph would have been 39 at the time that Israel moved to Egypt. This would mean that Jacob was 91 when Joseph was born.
It is thus interesting that this conversation with Isaac and Esau happens many decades before he dies. Abraham indicates that he is old at 100. We even read about Abraham’s passing long before we know he actually dies. Abraham overlaps Jacob and Esau for enough years that they theoretically have an opportunity to know him. We see the same thing eventually happen here with Isaac. Though the text stops mentioning his presence, Isaac appears to still be alive when all of Jacob’s sons are born and when Joseph is sold by his brothers into Egypt.
The Pulpit Cometary comments on Isaac’s belief in his own old age:
And he (i.e. Isaac) said, Behold now, I am old, and know not the day of my death. Isaac had manifestly become apprehensive of the near approach of dissolution. His failing sight, and probably the recollection that Ishmael, his half-brother, had died at 137 (if that was Isaac’s age at this time; wide supra), occasioned the suspicion that his own end could not be remote, though he lived forty-three or sixty-three years longer, according to the calculation adopted, expiring at the ripe age of 180 (vide Genesis 30:28).
Isaac asks Esau to go and hunt game and prepare a meal.
Genesis 25:28 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Genesis 26:34 34 When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, 35 and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.
However bitter Esau’s wives made life for Isaac, it appears that Esau’s game was still a source of pleasure for Isaac.
Ellicott’s Bible Commentary points out some unknowns as to the underlying language of verse 3:
(3) Thy quiver.—This word does not occur elsewhere, and is rendered in the Targum and Syriac a sword. As it is derived from a root signifying to hang, it probably means, like our word hanger, a sort of knife; but all that we can say for certain is that it was some sort of hunting implement.
Take me some venison.—The Heb. is hunt me a hunting. “Venison,” the Latin venatio, means anything taken by hunting.
quiver = תְּלִי tᵉlîy, tel-ee’; probably from H8518; a quiver (as slung):—quiver.; תָּלָה tâlâh, taw-law’; a primitive root; to suspend (especially to gibbet):—hang (up).
game / venison = צֵידָה tsêydâh, tsay-daw’; or צֵדָה tsêdâh; feminine of H6718; food:—meat, provision, venison, victuals.
“venison” itself has an interesting history in the English language. While it is almost exclusively associated with deer meat in current times, its earlier meaning was broader.
c. 1300, from Old French venesoun “meat of large game,” especially deer or boar, also “a hunt,” from Latin venationem (nominative venatio) “a hunt, hunting, the chase,” also “game as the product of the hunt,” from venatus, past participle of venari “to hunt, pursue,” probably from PIE *wen-a-, from root *wen- (1) “to desire, strive for.”
Examples like this are useful when thinking about the study of language and translation. If we fail to consider the way a word was used, by the writer of a word in the time that the or she lived, we can sometimes end up with an outcome that is different than the one intended. Boar and deer are not the same animal.
Picking back up with verse 4 and the note from The Pulpit Commentaries:
And make me savory meat,—”delicious food,” from a root whose primary idea is to taste, or try the flavor, of a thing. Schultens observes that the corresponding Arabic term is specially applied to dishes made of flesh taken in hunting, and highly esteemed by nomad tribes—such as I love (cf. Genesis 25:28, the ground of his partiality for Esau), and bring it to me, that I may eat;—”Though Isaac was blind and weak in his eyes, yet it seem-eth his body was of a strong constitution, seeing he was able to eat of wild flesh, which is of harder digestion” (Willet)—that—the conjunction בַּעֲבוּר followed by a future commonly expresses a purpose (cf. Exodus 9:14)—my soul may bless thee—notwithstanding the oracle (Genesis 25:23) uttered so many (fifty-seven or seventy-seven) years ago, Isaac appears to have clung to the belief that Esau was the destined heir of the covenant blessing; quoedam fuit coecitatis species, quae illi magis obstitit quam externa oeulorum caligo (Calvin)—before I die.
Ellicott also comments on verse 4:
(4) Savoury meat.—On the rare occasions on which an Arab sheik tastes flesh, it is flavoured with almonds, pistachio nuts, and raisins. It would thus not be easy for Isaac to distinguish the taste of the flesh of a kid from that of an antelope. As the Arabs always spare their own flocks and herds, the capture of a wild animal gives them the greater pleasure, and a feast thus provided seemed to the patriarch a proper occasion for the solemn decision which son should inherit the promises made to Abraham.
That my soul may bless thee.—We gather from the solemn blessing given to his sons by Jacob (Genesis 49:0) that this was a prophetic act, by which the patriarchs, under the influence of the Spirit, and in expectation of death, decided to which son should belong the birthright. Jacob when dying bestowed it on Judah (Genesis 27:8-12). But here Isaac resisted the Spirit; for the clear warning had been given that “the elder should serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23). Isaac may have been moved to this act by indignation at the manner in which Esau had been induced to sell the birthright, and in annulling that sale he would have been within his rights; but he was not justified in disregarding the voice of prophecy, nor in his indifference to Esau’s violation of the Abrahamic law in marrying heathen women. And thus he becomes the victim of craft and treachery, while Jacob is led on to a deed which was the cause of endless grief to him and Rebekah, and has stained his character for ever. But had Jacob possessed the same high standard of honour as distinguished David afterwards, he would equally have received the blessing, but without the sin of deception
Both comments refer to Genesis 25:23.
23 And the Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger.”
Isaac appears to either be ignoring or forgetting this prior decree from the Lord, he might consider it already accomplished through Esau’s surrender of his own birthright, or he is assuming that the Lord will see to fulfilling His earlier words regardless of Isaac’s own actions.
Now we have Isaac believing he is about to die despite not being particularly close to death, planning to bless Esau – the wrong son to receive the blessing.