Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

Jacob and Esau

I’ve decided to take a different approach to Jacob. Rather than doing a detailed section-by-section posting I’m going to take more of an summary approach. Let me know if this works for you, or should I go back to the detailed review?Jacob is one of the more interesting of the Israeli Patriarchs, a model that we will see time and again where the lesser is chosen over the greater. Foretold by the Lord that he would rule over his older brother, and born in a way that would typify Israel’s struggles as a nation, fighting with his brother at birth for who would be the first born, the inheritor of God’s promises to Abraham and Isaac. Israel’s birth (the nation) as the youngest of the nations of the Jordanian valley, yet to be the stronger and outlast many of her elder brothers. A look into his life will reveal parallels between Jacob and the Nation of Israel. Let’s begin.

The Early Years

It’s a story almost as old as time. Two boys born close together, one becomes daddy’s pride and joy, while the other becomes mommy’s boy. Why has this happened with Easu and Jacob? The Bible tells us that Isaac loved Easu because he was a hard worker and a skillful hunter; as far as Jacob, all we are told is that Rebekah loved him; this parental preference seems to have been enough to create the rift that will occur later in their lives.

What we have here with Isaac, Rebekah, Easu, and Jacob is one dysfunctional family. The inter-dynamics at play would keep a psychologist busy for a lifetime. Here is a quick breakdown:

  • God makes a promise to Rebekah that the younger son (Jacob) will receive the blessing, normally associated with the elder child.
  • Esau comes in one day from working hard in the field under the hot sun; he is famished. Jacob agrees to sell the stew he just made in exchange for Esau’s birthright. Jacob now not only is destined to receive the blessing, but has the birthright as well. This completes the transfer, making Jacob, for all intents and purposes, the eldest son.
  • Esau is rebellious and, at the age of 40, takes two wives from among the pagans (Hittites) instead of from his own family. The women make life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. Most likely this is because they refuse to give up their pagan ways, worshiping their gods instead of the God of Abraham.
  • This does not change Isaac’s love for Esau himself. As Isaac gets older and loses his sight he calls Esau and plans, defying God, to grant Esau the blessing promised to Jacob. Rebekah overhears and launches her own plan, convincing Jacob to pretend to be Esau, and it works. Isaac, unwittingly, gives Jacob the blessing.
  • Now, Esau returns and both he and Isaac realize what happened. Distraught Esau asks for something, anything, to not be under Jacob’s thumb. To this Isaac does what he can, and gives Esau the right to break away from the family and live his own life. While it doesn’t sound like much to us, it gives him the right to take his portion of the family’s possessions and go his own way. If you remember the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-32) the son was considered dead to the family for doing this, here Esau would still be considered a member of the family, with all the rights and protections of family member.

A brief break to explain birthright and blessing. Many people are confused by the two terms, and how they apply to Old Testament times, for we have nothing similar to these ideas in our modern society.

Birthright is the physical inheritance from the father to his children (sons in this case). The way it was done was to determine all of the father’s possessions (money, livestock, land, servants), then divide it up equally among all of the sons, plus one. In Isaac’s case this is pretty easy as he only had two sons, Esau and Jacob. So, you would take the number of sons (2) add one (3) and divide up Isaac’s possessions by that number. The owner of the birthright would then receive two shares, and the other son one.

Blessing is a different matter, and has nothing to do with possessions. This is what God promised, through Rebekah, to Jacob, it is the leadership of the family. The son receiving the blessing is the new head of the family: all decisions are his; interactions with other tribes are done by him, or with his permission; if something happens to him, from his sons the new head of the family will come, it does not pass to his brother(s).

  • Now you can understand the bad blood between Esau and Jacob. Esau, seriously, wants to kill his brother. As Isaac’s only other son, and Jacob without heirs, everything would revert to Esau. Knowing this Rebekah sends Jacob off to her family on the ruse of seeking a wife from among her kin, Jacob is all too willing to leave.
  • Esau, in an attempt to get back into the good graces of his parents, takes a wife from Abraham’s son Ishmael, thus being seen as having a proper wife. He still has the other two.
  • Fast forward several years, Jacob now has two wives (we’ll cover later) and he wants to restore his kinship with Esau. He sends a messenger to Esau, with many platitudes hoping to win Esau’s favor. In response Esau announces he is coming with a retinue of 400 men, a sizable army in Jacob’s thoughts. Not knowing Esau’s purpose, Jacob divides his possessions in half, so that (should war erupt) half of them would be safe. Jacob then takes a sizable portion of the group with him and sends them ahead as a peace offering, also as a test to see what Esau would do with them. Esau, however, is not seeking revenge but reunion. He welcomes his brother, Jacob introduces Esau to his family, and the two groups head back to the land of Isaac.

Eventually Isaac dies and the two brothers bury him, bringing an end to the story of Esau and Jacob. Next we look into Jacob’s life.

So, is this a better format, or the more detailed analysis? Let me know.


Comments on: "Jacob and Esau" (7)

  1. I really like this “executive summary” format. It allows me to get to the meat of the matter more quickly, and also helps me know where to research if I want to go further in the biblical text. Thank you.

    I hadn’t previously thought about the link between Esau’s actions and the Prodigal Son. Which brings me to one question: When Esau is given the right to break away from the family (as the younger son in the Prodigal), while the son would be considered dead to the family, doesn’t the son also insult the father and, in essence, say, “I wish you were dead,” in the asking of any assets prior to his father’s death?

    Liked by 1 person

    • The son does, yes (I cover that in my writing on it), but there is the difference between the two. In the Prodigal son, the son is asking for his share; with Esau, Isaac is already dividing up his assets prior to his death.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good stuff Brother. Summaries are great, because as Susan said they provide a jumping off point for further study.


  3. […] if anything, with their relationship during his absence. For a complete discussion on that see Esau and Jacob, for this treatise let’s leave it at things went better for Jacob than he thought, and the […]


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