Genesis (Part 117)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 27:14-25

14 So he went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved. 15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.

18 So he went in to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” 20 But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands. So he blessed him. 24 He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” 25 Then he said, “Bring it near to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.” So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank.

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The last section of verses was the set-up for the plan to trick Isaac. This section is the plan in action.

The Pulpit Commentaries includes Homiletics over this section of verses. I will quote them below:

The stolen blessing: a domestic drama.

1. Issac and Rebekah, or plotting and counterplotting.

I. THE SCHEME OF ISAAC.

1. Its sinful object. The heavenly oracle having with no uncertain sound proclaimed Jacob the theocratic heir, the bestowment of the patriarchal benediction on Esau was clearly an unholy design. That Isaac, who on Mount Moriah had evinced such meek and ready acquiescence in Jehovah’s will, should in old age, from partiality towards his firstborn, or forgetfulness of Jehovah’s declaration, endeavor to thwart the Divine purpose according to election affords a melancholy illustration of the deceitfulness of sin even in renewed hearts, and of the deep-seated antagonism between the instincts of nature and the designs of grace.

2. Its secret character. The commission assigned to Esau does not appear to have been dictated by any supposed connection between the gratification of the palate, the reinvigoration of the body, or the refreshment of the spirit and the exercise of the prophetic gift, but rather by a desire to divert the attention of Rebekah from supposing that anything unusual was going on, and so to secure the necessary privacy for carrying out the scheme which he had formed. Had Isaac not been doubtful of the righteousness of what he had in contemplation, he would never have resorted to maneuvering and secrecy, but would have courted unveiled publicity. Crooked ways love the dark (John 3:20John 3:21).

3. Its urgent motive. Isaac felt impelled to relieve his soul of the theocratic blessing by a sense of approaching dissolution. If it be the weakness of old men to imagine death nearer, it is the folly of young men to suppose it farther distant than it is. To young and old alike the failure of the senses should be a premonition of the end, and good men should set their houses in order ere they leave the world (Genesis 25:62 Kings 20:1Isaiah 38:1).

4. Its inherent weakness. That Isaac reckoned on Rebekah’s opposition to his scheme seems apparent; it is not so obvious that he calculated on God’s being against him. Those who meditate unholy deeds should first arrange that God will not be able to discover their intentions.

II. THE STRATAGEM OF REBEKAH.

1. The design was legitimate. Instead of her behavior being represented as an attempt to outwit her aged, blind, and bed-ridden husband (for which surely no great cleverness was required), and to stealthily secure the blessing for her favorite, regard for truth demands that it should rather be characterized as an endeavor to prevent its surreptitious appropriation for Esau.

2. The inspiration was religious. Displaying a considerable amount of woman’s wit in its conception and execution, and perhaps largely tainted by maternal jealousy, Rebekah’s stratagem ought in fairness to be traced to her belief in the pre-natal oracle, which had pointed to Jacob as the theocratic heir. That her faith, however mixed with unspiritual alloy, was strong seems a just conclusion from her almost reckless boldness (Genesis 27:13).

3. The wickedness was inexcusable. Good as were its end and motive, the stratagem of Rebekah was deplorably wicked. It was an act of cruel imposition on a husband who had loved her for well-nigh a century; it was a base deed of temptation and seduction, viewed in its relations to Jacob—the prompting of a son to sin against a father; it was a signal offence against God in many ways, but chiefly in the sinful impatience it displayed, and in the foolish supposition that his sovereign designs needed the assistance of, or could be helped by, human craft in the shape of female cunning.

III. THE RIVAL ACCOMPLICES.

1. The confederate of Isaac. The guilt of Esau consisted in seeking to obtain the birthright-when he knew

(1) that it belonged to Jacob by Heaven’s gift,

(2) that he had parted with any imaginary title he ever had to expect it,

(3) that he was utterly unqualified to possess it, and

(4) that he was endeavoring to obtain it by improper means.

2. The tool of Rebekah. That Jacob in acting on his mother’s counsel was not sinless is evinced by the fact that he

(1) perceived its hazardous nature (Genesis 27:11Genesis 27:12),

(2) discerned its criminality, and yet

(3) allowed himself to carry it through.

Lessons:—

1. The wickedness of trying to subvert the will of Heaven—exemplified in Isaac.

2. The sinfulness of doing evil that good may come—illustrated by the conduct of Rebekah.

3. The criminality of following evil counsel, in opposition to the light of conscience and the restraints of Providence—shown by the conduct of both Esau and Jacob.

The comments above indicate simultaneously a belief that both Isaac and Rebekah were in the wrong. Jacob is also named as a guilty party.

Picking up in verse 15 with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(15) Goodly raiment.—It has been supposed that the elder son held a sort of priestly office in the household, and as Isaac’s sight was growing dim, that Esau ministered for him at sacrifices. Evidently the clothing was something special, and such as was peculiar to Esau: for ordinary raiment, however handsome, would not have been kept in the mother’s tent, but in that of Esau or of one of his wives.

goodly = חֶמְדָּה chemdâh, khem-daw’; feminine of H2531; delight:—desire, goodly, pleasant, precious.

raiment = בֶּגֶד beged, behg’-ed; from H898; a covering, i.e. clothing; also treachery or pillage:—apparel, cloth(-es, ing), garment, lap, rag, raiment, robe, × very (treacherously), vesture, wardrobe.

From The Pulpit Commentaries covering verses 16 through 18:

And she put the skins of the kids of the goats—not European, but Oriental camel-goats, whose wool is black, silky, of a much finer texture than that of the former, and sometimes used as a substitute for human hair (cf. So Genesis 4:1); vide on this subject Rosenmüller’s ‘Scholia,’ and commentaries generally—upon his hands, and upon the smooth of his neck—thus cautiously providing against detection, in case, anything occurring to arouse the old man’s suspicions, he should seek, as in reality he did, to test the accuracy of his now dim sight and dull hearing by the sense of touch.

And she gave the savory meat and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob—who forthwith proceeded on his unholy errand.

And he came unto his father,—by this time a bed-ridden invalid (vide Genesis 27:19)—and said, My father. If he attempted to imitate the voice of Esau, he was manifestly unsuccessful; the dull ear of the aged patient was yet acute enough to detect a strangeness in the speaker’s tone. And he said, Here am I who art thou, my son? “He thought be recognized the voice of Jacob; his suspicions were aroused; he knew the crafty disposition of his younger son too well; and he felt the duty of extreme carefulness” (Kalisch).

After putting on Esau’s clothing, Jacob puts goat skins on his arms and neck to conceal from his blind father, in case said father touches him, that it is not indeed Esau in the room with him.

How hairy exactly was Esau for this to be a reasonable plan? We’ll get to that again in just a moment. Verse 18’s comment tells us that Isaac was essentially bed-ridden at this time. Given what we know about Isaac’s life (he continues to live on for several more decades) the picture painted here is quite sad. Isaac was not so much without his wits that he failed to recognize Jacob’s voice.

So is Isaac actually fooled by this plan? An article quoted below from Chabad.org argues that he was aware of the deception as it was occurring and allowed it to proceed.

However, a closer reading of the Torah’s account indicates that Isaac was well aware of the difference between his two children. Jacob almost gave himself away when he said, in reply to his father’s question about how he managed to find game so quickly, “The L-rd your G‑d sent me good speed”; Isaac knew that Esau did not speak that way, and immediately suspected that the son before him was Jacob rather than Esau.

In fact, by the time we reach the end of the story, it is quite clear that Isaac never intended to bequeath the spiritual legacy of Abraham—the Divine promise to make his seed a great nation and to give them the Holy Land as their eternal heritage—to Esau.

If we interpret these events with an aware Isaac, it simultaneously lessens the sense in which Jacob is a thief while also putting into greater question Isaac’s prior statements to Esau. The article attempts to bring an answer to that, too.

So Isaac never intended to make Esau the father of the people of Israel, never thought to bequeath the Holy Land to him, never considered him heir to “the blessing of Abraham.” There were two distinct blessings in Isaac all along (Esau seems to have sensed this when he cried, “Have you only one blessing, my father?!”), intended for his two sons: Jacob was to be given the spiritual legacy of Abraham, while Esau was to be granted the blessings of the material world.

Isaac desired that a partnership should be formed between his two sons: that the scholarly, unworldly Jacob should devote himself to spiritual pursuits, while Esau should apply his cunning and worldliness to the constructive development of the material world, in support of and in harmony with Jacob’s holy endeavors.

I like this interpretation inasmuch as it makes sense of Isaac’s subsequent behavior. Isaac perhaps never intended to give Esau any blessing other than the one which Esau ultimately was given. And perhaps had Rebekah not intervened with Jacob in the way that she did, Esau – blessing in hand – would not have grown as angry at his brother over the subsequent blessing given to Jacob.

On the other hand, verse 23 seems to be pretty clear that the deception worked:

23 And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands. So he blessed him

But this clarity is immediately undone in verse 24:

24 He said, “Are you really my son Esau?”

We of course do not know which of these motivations to be true but it makes a certain amount of sense to me that Isaac was not actually fooled.

Ellicott’s Bible Commentary points out another reason to doubt that Isaac was fooled in verses 20 and 21:

(20) Because the Lord thy God brought it to me.—Jacob does not keep up his acting well here, for it was not in accordance with Esau’s character to see anything providential in his success in hunting. This may have helped to arouse Isaac’s suspicions, who immediately proceeds to examine him.

(21) Come near . . . that I may feel thee.—Besides the answer, in a style very different from Esau’s way of thinking, Isaac was surprised at the short delay in bringing the savoury meat; for the game had to be sought at a distance away from the cattle-pastures. Though, too, the voices of the twins had a certain degree of similarity, yet they would also have their peculiarities, and Isaac detected the difference. But the artifice of the kid-skins fitted, no doubt, cleverly to Jacob’s hands and neck saved him from detection; for after Isaac had passed his hands over him, his doubt entirely vanished.

Isaac likely knows – and demonstrates his doubt openly – that Jacob’s manner of speaking is not that of Esau. As if to confirm his suspicion, we read in verse 21 that he feels his son’s arms. Either Isaac does not know the difference between animal skins and Esau’s arms… or he is now certain that Jacob is attempting to fool him but is playing along with the ruse anyway.

The commentary above though indicates that Ellicott believed that the ruse was successful. Ultimately it does not matter in the sense that the transaction occurs either way.

In verses 24 and 25, Isaac asks Jacob outright if he is Esau. Let me backtrack a second on my previous statement. The answer to whether or not the ruse was successful does not matter in the sense that the transaction occurs either way… HOWEVER.. it matters a great deal with respect to how we view Isaac. If he is fooled successfully, then it implicates Isaac (arguably at least) with attempting to subvert the will of God regarding the relationship between his two sons. From Genesis chapter 25:

23 And the Lord said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you[b] shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.”

On the other hand, if we believe that Isaac is aware of the ruse, then his awareness may actually mean that he gives the correct son the intended blessing. We must at least consider that Isaac intended to give Esau the blessing that Esau ultimately receives.

From The Pulpit Commentaries:

And he said (showing that a feeling of uneasy suspicion yet lingered in his mind), Art thou my very son Esau? Luther wonders how Jacob was able to brazen it out; adding, “I should probably have run away in terror, and let the dish fall;” but, instead of that, he added one more lie to those which had preceded, saying with undisturbed composure, I am—equivalent to an English yes; upon which the blind old patriarch requested that the proffered dainties might be set before him. Having partaken of the carefully-disguised kid’s flesh, and drunk an exhilarating cup of wine, he further desired that his favorite son should approach his bed, saying, Come near now, and kiss me, my son—a request dictated more by paternal affection (Keil, Kalisch) than by lingering doubt which required reassurance (Lange).

These verses again indicate that Isaac seems aware of at least the possibility of the ruse. How he ultimately decides is a matter of interpretation.

The article from Chabad.org mentioned above adds one more element to this situation. It is possible that Rebekah knew that Isaac was not going to give Esau the blessing that he grants to Jacob. Perhaps it was her intent that Jacob receive both blessings.

Rebecca disagreed: both worlds must be given to Jacob. There cannot be “two departments,” for the material world cannot be entrusted to materialists. Only one who is steeped in the Divine wisdom can know how to make proper use of G‑d’s world. Only one who possesses a spiritual outlook and value system will be able to master the physical reality rather than be mastered by it.

We’ll see how this plays out in subsequent verses.

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