Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his eldest son, and said unto him, My son: and he said unto him, Behold, here am I.XXVII.
JACOB BY SUBTILTY OBTAINS THE FIRSTBORN’S BLESSING.
(1) It came to pass.—The importance of this chapter is manifest. Just as in Abraham’s life the decision had to be made which of the two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, was to be the heir of the promise, so, here again, there is the same Divine election (Romans 9:10-13): but while Abraham obeyed, though with heavy heart (Genesis 21:11), Isaac even struggled against God’s will, and his assent was obtained by human craft working tortuously to effect that which God would have wrought in His own better way. In this case, however, the sons are more closely allied, being twins, born of the same mother, but the younger following so closely upon the very heels of the elder as to seem, even at his birth, as if in eager pursuit. They grow up strangely unlike—the one brave, active, vigorous, but indifferent to everything save earthly things. In his skill and love of hunting, Esau is the very counterpart of Ishmael. The other is calm, sedentary, keenly alive to business, devoted to domestic pursuits, but chiefly valuing the spiritual privileges for which Abraham had left his distant home, and become a wanderer in the highlands of Canaan. Thoroughly as all honest men must disapprove of the mean way in which Jacob bought the birthright, yet, at least, he valued that which Esau so despised as to sell it for the gratification of a hungry appetite. And now again the transfer is ratified by means of another unworthy artifice, but Esau this time is grieved and distressed; for at least he loved his father, and gave proof of the possession of the same warm heart that made him afterwards fall so lovingly upon his brother’s neck, and kiss him with tears of hearty affection (Genesis 33:4).
For Jacob, it must be said that he sought no earthly good. It was not the elder brother’s share of the father’s wealth that he wanted. All that was Isaac’s he resigned to Esau, and went away to push his fortunes elsewhere. Even when he returned with the substance he had gotten in Padan-aram, he was no match for Esau (Genesis 33:1), though Isaac was still living. While, too, Esau violated the family law laid down by Abraham, Jacob conformed to it. By marrying Canaanitish women, Esau forfeited by his own act the birthright which previously he had sold; for his children, being illegitimate (Hebrews 12:16), could not inherit the promise. What was utterly wrong in Rebekah’s and Jacob’s conduct was that they used miserable artifices to do that which should have been left to God; and Isaac was equally wrong in trying to make void and annul the clear intimation of prophecy (Genesis 25:23).
Isaac was old.—Isaac was now 117 years of age. but he lived to be 180 (Genesis 35:28). (See Excursus on Chronology of Jacob’s Life at end of this book.) He had thus sixty-three more years to live, but not only himself (Genesis 27:2), but Esau also expected his speedy decease (Genesis 27:41). Probably, therefore, his failing eyesight was the result of some acute disorder, which so enfeebled his general health that he had grown despondent, and thought his death near. But evidently he recovered, and attained to a good old age. It seems, however, that though the lives of the patriarchs were so long extended, yet that their bodily vigour slowly decayed through the latter portion of their days. Jacob when but 130 speaks of himself as a grey-haired old man, already upon the brink of the grave (Genesis 42:38; Genesis 47:9). Moreover, the term old is used in a very general sense in the Old Testament, and thus Samuel is described as old in 1Samuel 8:1, when we should have spoken of him as at most middle-aged.
Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me some venison;(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.
And make me savoury meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die.(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) 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 practised upon his own father.
And Rebekah heard when Isaac spake to Esau his son. And Esau went to the field to hunt for venison, and to bring it.(5) Rebekah heard.—She was possibly present when Isaac gave the order, and he may even have wished her to know his determination to give the blessing to his favourite son. But the words filled her with dismay. She had, no doubt, treasured the prophecy of Jacob’s ultimate superiority, and now it seemed as if the father would reverse it. Had her faith been pure and exalted, she would have known that God would fulfil His word without her help; but all alike act from unworthy motives, and all have their meed of punishment. But here the fault began with Isaac, and Rebekah probably considered that she was preventing a grievous wrong.
Bring me venison, and make me savoury meat, that I may eat, and bless thee before the LORD before my death.(7) Before the Lord (Jehovah).—Rebekah has been accused of inserting words which Isaac had not used; but it is unreasonable to suppose that more is recorded of Isaac’s address to his son than the main sense. Still, these words had a meaning to Jacob which they did not bear to Esau. The latter cared for his father’s blessing, partly from natural affection, but chiefly because of the temporal benefits connected with it. To Jacob its value consisted in the covenant between Jehovah and the family of Abraham.
Go now to the flock, and fetch me from thence two good kids of the goats; and I will make them savoury meat for thy father, such as he loveth:(9) Two good kids.—These would be about equal to one antelope or animal of the larger game. After Isaac had eaten of the flesh, so solemn an occasion would doubtless be marked by a feast for those, at least in the foremost tents, if not for all the household and followers of Isaac.
And his mother said unto him, Upon me be thy curse, my son: only obey my voice, and go fetch me them.(13) Upon me be thy curse.—No curse followed upon their conduct; but, on the contrary, Isaac acknowledged the substantial justice of the act of Rebekah and her son, and confirmed Jacob in the possession of the blessing (Genesis 27:33). It seems strange, nevertheless, that neither of them had any scruples at the immorality of the deed, but apparently thought that as the end was right they were justified in using falsehood and treachery.
And Rebekah took goodly raiment of her eldest son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son:(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.
And she put the skins of the kids of the goats upon his hands, and upon the smooth of his neck:(16) The skins of the kids.—In hot countries the coats of animals are far less thick and coarse than in cold climates, and some species of Oriental goats are famous for their soft, silky wool. But in those cases in which men have their bodies covered with hair, it is by no means of a delicate texture. In Song of Solomon 4:1 Solomon’s hair is compared to that of a flock of goats.
And Jacob said unto his father, I am Esau thy firstborn; I have done according as thou badest me: arise, I pray thee, sit and eat of my venison, that thy soul may bless me.(19) Arise . . . sit and eat.—The Hebrews at this time, and for centuries, sat at their meals (1Samuel 20:25). It was from the Romans that they learned to recline at table, as we find was their custom in the Gospels. It is a mistake, moreover, to suppose that Isaac was a bedridden old man, for Jacob bids him arise and seat himself. Nor does he help him, though his sight was weak. It is only when commanded to draw near that he lets his father touch him.
And Isaac said unto his son, How is it that thou hast found it so quickly, my son? And he said, Because the LORD thy God brought it to me.(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.
And Isaac said unto Jacob, Come near, I pray thee, that I may feel thee, my son, whether thou be my very son Esau or not.(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.
And his father Isaac said unto him, Come near now, and kiss me, my son.(26) Come near now, and kiss me, my son.—This was the solemn preparation for the giving of the blessing. Isaac’s suspicions had now quite passed away. He had eaten and drunk, and the time had now come for the decision which son was to inherit the promise.
And he came near, and kissed him: and he smelled the smell of his raiment, and blessed him, and said, See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the LORD hath blessed:(27) As the smell of a field.—From the abundance of aromatic plants, the pastures of Palestine are peculiarly fragrant; but Isaac, deceived by the scent of Esau’s own garments, intended probably to contrast the pure sweetness of one whose life was spent in the open field with the less pleasant odour which Jacob would bring with him from the cattle-shed.
Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine:(28) Therefore God give thee.—Heb., And the Elohim give thee. Here, as not unfrequently is the case, the name Elohim follows immediately upon that of Jehovah. As the blessings of dew and fertile land are the gifts of the God of nature, the use of the title Elohim is in accordance with the general rule.
The fatness of the earth.—Heb., the fatnesses: that is, the fat places. In the countries where Esau and Jacob were to have their homes, the land varies from districts of extraordinary fertility to regions of barren rock and sterile sand. It was these rich fields which Isaac’s blessing conveyed to Jacob.
Wine.—Not the word used in Genesis 27:25, but tirosh, the unfermented juice of the grape. It thus goes properly with corn, both being the natural produce of the field.
Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.(29) Let people serve thee.—Heb., peoples. Up to this point the blessing had been general, but now Isaac bestows the birthright, carrying with it widespread dominion, precedence over all other members of the family, and special blessedness. The phrases “thy brethren” and “thy mother’s sons” include all nations sprung from Abraham, and all possible offshoots from Isaac’s own descendants.
Cursed . . . and blessed.—This is a special portion of the blessing given to Abraham (Genesis 12:3); but Isaac stops short with this, and does not bestow the greater privilege that “in him should all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4). The reason for this may be that it was a blessing which God must grant, and not man; or he may have had misgivings that it was more than Esau was worthy to receive; or, finally, his whole conduct being wrong, he could see and value only the earthly and lower prerogatives of the birthright. Subsequently he bestows the Abrahamic blessing upon Jacob in general terms (Genesis 28:4); but this, its highest privilege, is confirmed to Jacob by Jehovah Himself (Genesis 28:14).
And he also had made savoury meat, and brought it unto his father, and said unto his father, Let my father arise, and eat of his son's venison, that thy soul may bless me.(31) He also had made.—Heb., he also made, Esau returned just as Jacob was leaving Isaac’s presence. There would still be some considerable delay before the captured game was made into savoury meat
And Isaac trembled very exceedingly, and said, Who? where is he that hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him? yea, and he shall be blessed.(33) Isaac trembled very exceedingly.—This was not from mere vexation at having been so deceived, and made to give the blessing contrary to his wishes. What Isaac felt was that he had been resisting God. In spite of the prophecy given to the mother, and Esau’s own irreligious character and heathen marriages, he had determined to bestow on him the birthright by an act of his own will; and he had failed. But he persists no longer in his sin. Acknowledging the Divine purpose, he has no word of blame for Rebekah and Jacob, but confirms to him the possession of the birthright, and declares, “Yea, he shall be blessed.”
And he said, Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing. And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?(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.)
And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept.(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.
And Isaac his father answered and said unto him, Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above;(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.
And by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck.(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.
(41) The days of mourning for my father are at hand.—Esau evidently expected that his father’s death was near, and such also was Isaac’s own expectation (Genesis 27:2); but he recovered, and lived for more than half a century. Perhaps on this account another translation has been suggested, namely, “Days of mourning for my father are at hand: for I will slay Jacob.” But there is no support for this in the Hebrew, and it represents Esau as utterly inhuman; whereas, with all his faults, he had a warm, loving heart. Genesis 28 ought to have begun here, as the break at the end of Genesis 27:46 is very injurious to the meaning.
And these words of Esau her elder son were told to Rebekah: and she sent and called Jacob her younger son, and said unto him, Behold, thy brother Esau, as touching thee, doth comfort himself, purposing to kill thee.(42) These words of Esau.—Though spoken “in his heart,” Esau had evidently made no secret of his evil purpose, and Rebekah therefore determines to send Jacob to her father’s house, not merely for safety, but that he might take a wife from among his own kindred. He was now formally acknowledged as the heir of the birthright and of the promises made to Abraham, and must therefore conform to the principle laid down in his own father’s case, and marry into the family of Nahor. “She sends, therefore, and calls him” to her tent, and takes secret counsel with him; and Jacob consents to take this distant journey. Thus the separation of mother and son, and long and painful travel, are the immediate result of their scheming.
And tarry with him a few days, until thy brother's fury turn away;(44) A few days.—Like Esau (Genesis 27:41), Rebekah expected that Isaac’s end was near. Really Jacob was absent for forty years, and while Isaac lived to see him return, Rebekah saw him again no more. Yet this was better than for Esau to slay him, and then, like another Cain, to be banished far away.
And Rebekah said to Isaac, I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth: if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these which are of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?(46) Rebekah said to Isaac.—With this begins a new act. In the previous five verses we had the general results of Rebekah’s guile: we have now the special consequence of Jacob’s departure for Haran. Upon Rebekah’s communication to Isaac follows his decision in the next chapter. In the Hebrew there is no break from the beginning of Genesis 27 to the end of Genesis 27:9 of Genesis 28.