Normally throughout history, when it came to inheritance, the eldest son was the one who received the greatest part. He usually received the birthright, which under the Mosaic Law meant that he got a double portion due to his being the oldest. He was the one who would also receive the greatest blessing.
God, though, doesn’t always operate as man does. It is of interest that throughout the Messianic lineage, often the blessing was not passed down through the oldest son. Abraham received the promise that all nations would be blessed through him and his seed, but that was not through his first son, Ishmael, but through his son of promise, Isaac (who was in chronology his second son).
Isaac and Rebekah (his wife) also had two sons who were twins. Even before they were born God told Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will be separated from within you. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23 NET). By human reckoning, Esau, the eldest should have received the birthright and blessing, but God’s choice was the younger son, Jacob. As we read the text we see how this worked out.
Esau actually gave away his birthright to Jacob, for a bowl of stew! After they were grown, he had been out in the fields, probably hunting. He had possibly been gone for several days, and when he returned, he was famished. Jacob had made a pot of lentil stew. Esau was extremely hungry and wanted some.
Jacob was a shrewd young man. He seemed to realise that the birthright was supposed to be his. So he told Esau he would sell him some stew for the birthright. Esau seems to have been a bit reactionary and reasoned that, since he was about to starve to death, the birthright was useless to him – so he gave Jacob the birthright for the stew (see Genesis 25:29-34).
The blessing was given before the patriarch died. A few years later, Isaac was losing his sight and thought he was about to die. By this time he would have been around 140 years old (based on Jacob being twenty years with Laban and then around twenty years in Canaan before Isaac died).
Isaac called in Esau and asked him to make his favourite meal before he gave him the blessing. The question should be asked as to why Isaac was doing this when he knew God had chosen the younger son to be the one the older served. But Esau was his favorite, and he seemed to have been trying to change what God wanted.
Rebekah overheard Isaac’s instruction and was determined that her favourite, Jacob, would receive the blessing, just as God had indicated. She must have been a good cook because she was able to mimic Isaac’s favourite meal without using game. She had Jacob dress up as Esau with animal skins on his arms/hands and neck (due to Esau being hairy) and wearing Esau’s clothing.
Jacob brought in the meal and was able to convince Isaac that he was Esau despite not sounding like him. And Isaac gave him the blessing: that God would bless him, that peoples and nations would serve him, that his brother would serve him and that those he blessed would be blessed and those he curses would be cursed (Genesis 27:27-29).
We often refer to these as the land promise and the seed promise. They were given to Abraham, then to Isaac, and then we find them ending up with Jacob. Although Jacob was not the one in line for them, God knew which was the right son, even before they were born.
This was all part of God’s plan for redeeming humankind through the coming Messiah.
Readings for next week:
10 August – Genesis 29
11 August – Genesis 30:1-24
12 August – Genesis 30:25-43
13 August – Genesis 31:1-24
14 August – Genesis 31:25-55