Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
30 As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. 31 He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” 32 His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” 33 Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” 34 As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” 35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” 36 Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 37 Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.
39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him:
“Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be,
and away from the dew of heaven on high.
40 By your sword you shall live,
and you shall serve your brother;
but when you grow restless
you shall break his yoke from your neck.”
Here we see the immediate aftermath of Jacob getting a blessing from Isaac. After two consecutive posts defending the idea that Isaac was aware of Jacob’s deception, this section appears to clarify that Isaac was actually deceived. We can look closely here to see if any room still exists to believe that Isaac was genuinely deceived.
Isaac notwithstanding, there can be no doubt that Esau is deeply upset.
Starting with The Pulpit Commentaries in Verse 30:
And it came to pass (literally, and it was), as soon as Isaac had made an end of blessing Jacob, and Jacob was yet scarce gone out—literally, and it was (sc. as soon as, or when) Jacob only going forth had gone; i.e. had just gone out (Ewald, Keil), rather than was in the act of coming out (Murphy), since the narrative implies that the brothers did not meet on this occasion—from the presence of Isaac his father, that (literally, and) Esau his brother came in from his hunting.
This note lets us know that Jacob and Esau did not run into each other outside the tent despite the text painting that type of picture.
Continuing on with The Pulpit Commentaries, we see that Esau appears to show great affection for Isaac and the comment points out that this moment is likely important for him personally because he is likely familiar with Genesis 25:23. From the Commentary:
And he also had made savory meat (vide Genesis 27:4), and brought it unto his father, and said unto him, Let my father arise, and eat of his son’s venison—compared with Jacob’s exhortation to his aged parent (Genesis 27:19), the language of Esau has, if anything, more affection in its tones—that thy soul may bless me. Esau was at this time a man of mature age, being either fifty-seven or seventy-seven years old, and must have been acquainted with the heavenly oracle (Genesis 25:23) that assigned the precedence in the theocratic line to Jacob. Zither, therefore, he must have supposed that his claim to the blessing was not thereby affected, or he was guilty of conniving at Isaac’s scheme for resisting the Divine will. Indignation at Jacob’s duplicity and baseness, combined with sympathy for Esau in his supposed wrongs, sometimes prevents a just appreciation of the exact position occupied by the latter in this extraordinary transaction. Instead of branding Jacob as a shameless deceiver, and hurling against his fair fame the most opprobrious epithets, may it not be that, remembering the previously-expressed will of Heaven, the real supplanter was Esau, who as an accomplice of his father was seeking secretly, unlawfully, and feloniously to appropriate to himself a blessing which had already been, not obscurely, designated as Jacob’s? On this hypothesis the miserable craft of Jacob and Rebekah was a lighter crime than that of Isaac and Esau.
This comment raises a really great point and it is one human beings struggle with due to our inability to fully respect the divine sovereignty of God. If God says in Genesis 25:23 that Jacob will rule over Esau, then the thing is already done. God has decreed it. Therefore, if it is true that Isaac and Esau are conspiring to bestow upon Esau that God has already declared for Jacob, it is Isaac and Esau who are committing the deception. Jacob’s actions – however you might view them – are preventing the deception from succeeding.
In verses 32 and 33, the idea that Isaac was aware of Jacob’s deception – and allowed it to happen – is seemingly challenged and defeated. Continuing with the Commentary:
And Isaac his father said unto him, Who art thou? The language indicates the patriarch’s surprise. And he said, I am thy son, thy firstborn Esau. The emphatic tone of Esau’s answer may have been dictated by a suspicion, already awakened by Isaac’s question, that all was not right (Inglis). Esau’s claim to be regarded as Isaac’s firstborn, after having bartered away his birthright, is considered by some to be unwarranted (Wordsworth); but it is doubtful if Esau attached the importance to the term “firstborn” which this objection presupposes.
And Isaac trembled very exceedingly,—literally, feared a great fear, to a great degree; shuddered in great terror above measure (Lange). The renderings ἐξέστη δὲ Ἰσαάκ ἔκστασιν μεγάλην σφόδρα (LXX.), Expavit stupors, et ultra quam credi potest admirans (Vulgate), “wondered with an exceedingly great admiration” (Onkelos), emphasize the patriarch’s astonishment, the first even suggesting the idea of a trance or supernatural elevation of the prophetic consciousness; whereas that which is depicted is rather the alarm produced within the patriarch’s breast, not so much by the discovery that his plan had been defeated by a woman’s wit and a son’s craft—these would have kindled indignation rather than fear—as by the awakening conviction not that he had blessed, but that he had been seeking to bless, the wrong person (Calvin, Willet)—and said, Who? where is he—quis est et ubi est? (Jarchi); but rather, who then is he? (Rosenmüller, Kalisch, Lange)—that hath taken venison,—literally, the one hunting prey—that hunted, or has hunted, the part having the force of a perfect—and brought it me, And I have eaten of all before thou earnest, and have blessed him? yea, and he shall be blessed—thus before Jacob is named he pronounces the Divine sentence that the blessing is irrevocable (Lange).
How does the article at Chabad.org by The Chassidic Masters (we looked at in the previous section) address this apparent shock on the part of Isaac and conclude that Isaac was not fooled by Jacob? By continuing forward with the story.
When Esau discovers that Jacob has received the blessings, he begs Isaac, “Bless me, too, my father!” “But I have made him your master,” says Isaac, “I have given him [the blessings of] grain and wine. What can I do for you now, my son?” “Have you only one blessing, my father?!” sobs Esau. “Bless me too, my father!” Finally, Isaac blesses Esau that “Of the fatness of the land shall be your dwelling, and of the dew of heaven above” (the fat of the land and the dew of heaven themselves having already been granted to Jacob), and promises him that should the descendants of Jacob sin and become unworthy of their blessings, they will forfeit their mastery over Esau’s descendants in material affairs. This is the best he can do for his beloved elder son.
But in the very next chapter we read how Isaac summons Jacob to him, and… blesses him. “May G‑d Almighty bless you,” says Isaac, “make you fruitful, and multiply you, and you shall become a populous nation. And may He grant you the blessing of Abraham, to you and your descendants, that you may inherit the land of your dwelling, which G‑d has given to Abraham”–blessings which had not been included in his earlier benedictions to either son.
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.
How can this interpretation square with Isaac’s “who are you?” question and his violent trembling at Esau’s response? It is difficult. One potential answer is that Isaac’s response reflects grief. He may have intended for the two sons to receive the blessings that he gives them but for the circumstances of how they receive them to transpire differently. Perhaps he is grieved at the thought that the way that it is happening now will cause division between the two brothers. Perhaps he intended to bless Esau in the way that Esau ultimately was blessed but within the color of an apparent deception hanging over the events. Obviously we cannot know with certainty. It is worth pointing out though that the question and his trembling do not prove he was deceived. Isaac’s subsequent behavior indicates that he may not have been deceived at all.
Returning to the notes from The Pulpit Commentaries:
And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry—literally, he cried a cry, great and bitter exceedingly; expressive of the poignant anguish of his soul (Kalisch, Bush), if not also of his rage against his brother (Philo, Eusebius), of his envy of the blessing (Menochius, Lapide), and of the desperation of his spirit (Calvin). Cf. Hebrews 12:17—and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father. A proof of Esau’s blind incredulity in imagining it to be within his father’s power to impart benedictions promiscuously without and beyond the Divine sanction (Calvin); a sign that he supposed the theocratic blessing capable of division, and as dependent upon his lamentations and prayers as upon the caprice of his father (Lange); an evidence that “now at last he had learned in some measure adequately to value” the birthing? (Candlish); but if so it was post horam.
And he (i.e. Isaac) said, Thy brother came with subtlety,—with wisdom (Onkelos); rather with fraud, μετά δόλου (LXX.)—and hath taken away thy blessing—i.e. the blessing which I thought was thine, since Isaac now understood that from the first it had been designed for Jacob.
A word of translation contention can be found in verse 35… is the word rightly translated subtlety or deceitfully? We see translators use both. The underlying Hebrew word is as follows:
מִרְמָה mirmâh, meer-maw’; from H7411 in the sense of deceiving; fraud:—craft, deceit(-ful, -fully), false, feigned, guile, subtly, treachery.
The word can be translated either way and it appears that translators may make the determination based upon their view of Jacob’s actions.
Picking up with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary in verse 36:
(36) Is not he rightly named Jacob?—In thus playing upon his brother’s name, Esau has had a lasting revenge; for the bad sense which he for the first time put upon the word Jacob has adhered to it, no doubt, because Jacob’s own conduct made it only too appropriate. Its right meaning is “one who follows close upon another’s heels.” (See Note on Genesis 25:26.)
Jacob = יַעֲקֹב Yaʻăqôb, yah-ak-obe’; from H6117; heel-catcher (i.e. supplanter); Jaakob, the Israelitish patriarch:—Jacob.
Esau has been fully and thoroughly supplanted by his brother.
From The Pulpit Commentaries we get further interpretation of the underlying text. When Esau bemoans his brother, he essentially says “he has Jacob’d me these two times.”
And he (Esau) said, Is he not rightly named Jacob?—literally, is it that one has called ha name Jacob? הֲכִיְ being employed when the reason is unknown. On the meaning of Jacob cf. Genesis 25:26—for (literally, and) he hath supplanted me (a paronomasia on the word Jacob) these two times—or, already twice; זֶה being used adverbially in the sense of now. The precise import of Esau’s exclamation has been rendered, “Has he not been justly (δικαίως, LXX.; juste, Vulgate; rightly, A.V.) named Supplanter from supplanting?” (Rosenmüller). “Is it because he was named Jacob that he hath now twice supplanted me?” (Ainsworth, Bush). “Has he received the name Jacob from the fact that he has twice outwitted me?” (Keil). “Shall he get the advantage of me because he was rims inadvertently named Jacob?” (Lange). “Has in truth his name been called Jacob?” (Kalisch). All agree in bringing out that Esau designed to indicate a correspondence between Jacob’s name and Jacob’s practice. He took away my birthright;—this was scarcely correct, since Esau voluntarily sold it (Genesis 25:33)—and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing. Neither was this exactly accurate, since the blessing did not originally belong to Esau, however he may have imagined that it did. And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me? The question indicates that Esau had no proper conception of the spiritual character of the blessing which his brother had obtained.
Esau changes tactics now and asks his father Isaac if he has any additional blessings to give. From Ellicott:
(38) Hast thou but one blessing?—Only one son could inherit the spiritual prerogatives of the birthright, and the temporal lordship which accompanied it. And even lower earthly blessings would avail little if Esau’s descendants were to be subject to the dominion of the other brother’s race. With some mitigation, then, of his lot Esau must now be content.
In verse 39, Isaac blesses Esau. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And Isaac his father (moved by the tearful earnestness of Esau) answered and said unto him,—still speaking under inspiration, though it is doubtful whether what he spoke was a real, or only an apparent, blessing—(vide infra)—Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above. Literally, from (מִן) the fatnesses (or fat places) of the earth, and from the dew of area; a substantial repetition of the temporal blessing bestowed on Jacob (Genesis 27:28), with certain important variations, such as the omission of plenty of corn and wine at the close, and of the name of Elohim at the commencement, of the benediction (Vulgate, Luther, Calvin, Ainsworth, Rosenmüller, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’); though, by assigning to the preposition a privative rather than a partitive sense, it is readily transformed into “a modified curse”—behold, away from the fatnesses o/the earth, &c; shall thy dwelling be, meaning that, in contrast to the land of Canaan, the descendants of Esau should be located in a sterile region (Tuch, Knobel, Kurtz, Delitzseh, Keil, Kalisch, Murphy). In support of this latter rendering it is urged
(1) that it is grammatically admissible;
(2) that it corresponds with the present aspect of Idumaea, which is “on the whole a dreary and unproductive land;”
(3) that it agrees with the preceding statement that every blessing had already been bestowed upon Jacob; and
(4) that it explains the play upon the words “fatness” and “dew,” which are hero chosen to describe a state of matter exactly the opposite to that which was declared to be the lot of Jacob. On the other hand, it is felt to be somewhat arbitrary to assign to the preposition a partitive sense in Genesis 27:28 and a privative in Genesis 27:39. Though called in later times (Malachi 1:3) a waste and desolate region, it may not have been originally so, or only in comparison with Canaan; while according to modern travelers the glens and mountain terraces of Edom, covered with rich soil, only want an industrious population to convert the entire region into “one of the wealthiest, as it is one of the most picturesque, countries in the world.”
The note above is worth reading as it again illustrates a point of disagreement common with the translation herein. The note argues that Esau may have been “blessed” by being told that he would live away from the fatness of the earth. To defend that interpretation, some commentators have pointed out the reality of where Esau’s descendants dwell.
Ellicott’s Bible Commentary brings up this same issue with the translation:
(39) Isaac his father answered.—Unwillingly, and only after repeated entreaty and earnest expostulation, and even tears, upon Esau’s side, does Isaac bring himself to the effort to lessen in any way the painful consequences to his favourite son of his brother having robbed him of the blessing. Plainly, he felt that he had endeavoured to do what was wrong, and was afraid lest he should still be found resisting God’s will.
Thy dwelling shall be the fatness.—Heb., thy dwelling shall be of the fat places of the earth. (See Note on Genesis 27:28.) But most modern expositors consider that the preposition should not be translated “of,” but from, that is:—
“Behold thy dwelling shall be away from the fat places of the earth,
And away from the dew of heaven from above,
And by (Heb., upon—depending upon) thy sword thou shalt live,” &c.
By this rendering the parts of the blessing agree together. Those who have fertile lands live by agriculture, but the inhabitants of sterile regions must look to more adventurous enterprises for a living. So the Swiss, like the Greeks of old, long served as mercenaries in the armies of other states. Idumæa, though not destitute of fruitful tracts, and even famous for its orchards, was, as a whole, sterile and unproductive, and the people were restless and unquiet. Moreover, Isaac had already given the corn-land and vineyards to Jacob (Genesis 27:37), and had no second gift of them in his power. It is no answer to this to say that as the same preposition is used in Genesis 27:28, it cannot have a contrary sense in the two blessings. It there follows a verb of giving, and necessarily has a partitive signification. Here there is nothing absolutely to settle its meaning, and we are left to the general sense. Possibly, Isaac may have purposely used an ambiguous word; but the meaning as a whole is clear. Esau was to inhabit a land which by its barrenness would force him to a life of adventure, military service, and freebooting.
Verse 40 also represents a difficult translation issue. From Ellicott:
(40) When thou shalt have the dominion.—This rendering of a rare and difficult Hebrew word is scarcely more than a guess made by two or three ancient Jewish commentators. Its real meaning here, and in Jeremiah 2:31, Hosea 11:12, is to toss the yoke—be restless and unquiet. The prophecy of Edom’s subjection to his brother was literally fulfilled, as Idumæa was for ages a mere dependency upon Judah; but in the days first of Joram, and then of Ahaz, it revolted, and recovered its freedom. It was again conquered by Hyrcanus, the nephew of Judas Maccabaeus; nor was its subject condition altered by the fact that the dynasty of the Herods was of Edomite extraction. In troubled times, then, it broke the yoke from its neck; but generally Edom served his brother.
The Pulpit Commentary also adds its thoughts on this difficult translation:
And by thy sword shalt thou live,—literally, upon thy sword shalt thou be, i.e. thy maintenance shall depend on thy sword; a prediction that Esau’s descendants should be a warlike and tumultuous people of predatory habits (cf. Josephus, B. 1; 4. 4)—and shalt serve thy brother;—a prediction afterwards fulfilled (of. 1Sa 14:47; 2 Samuel 8:14; 1 Kings 11:16; 2 Kings 14:7-10; 2 Chronicles 20:22-25)—and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck. The verb רוּד, used of beasts which have broken the yoke and wander freely about (Gesenius, Furst), appear to hint at an incessant restlessness on the part of Edom while under Israel’s yoke which should eventually terminate in regaining their independence. The exact rendering of the clause is obscure, but perhaps means that when Edom should roam about as a freebooter (Lange), or should revolt (Alford), or should toss, shake, or struggle against the yoke (Vulgate, Keil, Hengstenberg, ‘Speaker’s Commentary), he should succeed. Other renderings are, when thou shalt bear rule (Kimchi), when thou shalt repent (Jarchi), when thou shalt be strong (Samaritan), when thou prevailest (Murphy), when thou shalt truly desire it (Kalisch), when thou shalt pull down (LXX.); because thou art restless (Havernick).
The Chabad article above puts the blessing bestowed upon Esau this way:
[Isaac] promises him that should the descendants of Jacob sin and become unworthy of their blessings, they will forfeit their mastery over Esau’s descendants in material affairs. This is the best he can do for his beloved elder son.
Esau is furious and the ramifications of his fury are felt almost immediately. We will see that in the verses ahead.