Jacob and Esau’s Birthright

Okay, so, I have heard this story a zillion times before and only four years ago did I ever hear someone challenge the traditional interpretation of it (you know, from the perspective of Esau, that Jacob deceived Esau of his birthright).  The challenger was my wife, Kresha, and the comment was “Jacob was not being a deceiver.  He was just being a good businessman.”  Jacob’s name means literally “he who grabs the heel.”  He was named for the incident in which he grabbed Esau’s heel as Esau was coming out of Rebekah’s womb.

Since we in the church seem to so frequently have a socialistic interpretation on Scripture that God be fair, though God never purported or confessed to be fair.  He seems to occasionally behave, from our POV, much like a benevolent dictator, which, since He is God, befits Him.

And then we come to Esau’s assessment in Gen  27:36.

Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?”

And we mindlessly agree with that perspective and move along, because after all, it’s written in the Bible.  Everything that is said by someone in the Bible is exactly in agreement and in line with God’s thinking, and needs no other interpretation.

However, this time, when I heard the comment, it got me thinking, is there any evidence of Jacob’s being just a good businessman or a deciever?

Let’s look at the passage together recounting the birth of the twins and the birthright issue.  God says the following:

23 And the LORD said to her:

      “Two nations are in your womb,
      Two peoples shall be separated from your body;
      One people shall be stronger than the other,
      And the older shall serve the younger.”
24 So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. 25 And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau.<sup class="footnote" value="[a]”>[a] 26 Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob.<sup class="footnote" value="[b]”>[b] Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
27 So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents. 28 And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 Now Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.” Therefore his name was called Edom.<sup class="footnote" value="[c]”>[c]
31 But Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright as of this day.”
32 And Esau said, “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?”
33 Then Jacob said, “Swear to me as of this day.”
So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

So, Esau was a skilled hunter who could have found his own food and roasted it over the fire that Jacob had prepared for his soup or made a fire for himself in the wilderness, if Jacob did not have a fire (we are not told Jacob has a fire, but perhaps we may assume a fire is present for soup to be warmed).  But instead, Esau wants soup.  Jacob wants the birthright, and did not steal it away as by stealth.  Esau SOLD the birthright.  Moreover, for us to say that Esau despised his birthright (v. 34) only to turn around and agree tacitly with Esau that Jacob “deceived” him of his birthright, is contradictory.  Esau, who could have shot that tasty venison that he got two chapters later for his father Isaac, instead was feeling lazy and the soup was smelling nice.  It would be nice to sit on his can and get a bowl of chow without having to work for it.

So, no, church, Jacob did not deceive Esau, unless you consider a broad daylight sale and trade in full knowledge and complete competence and sanity to be deception.  Moreover, when the writer says Esau despised his birthright, that means that Esau did not care about his birthright and was willing to give it in exchange.  

Why should we pitch sound exegesis out the window just because someone pitches a fit in the Bible, the way Esau did?

Now as for the blessing, we know that Jacob did dress himself up, and Isaac was blind, so that can be considered legitimate deception.  However, Rebekah had received a prophecy that the “older [would] serve the younger,” (v. 23) though we are not told that Isaac knew of the prophecy.  Given Rebekah’s favor of Jacob and her help in deceiving of Isaac, it is possible she held this secret and did not tell Isaac, in case it would work to Jacob’s advantage.  However, it was God’s plan to make Jacob greater than Isaac.  So, this deception could have been orchestrated as part of God’s plan to make Jacob into the nation of Israel, since He would have known the heart of Jacob as different from Esau.  Esau, as the lesson with the stew illustrates, could have had a Saul-like quality of arrogance or pride that would have kept God from choosing him.

Moreover, God, in His foreknowledge also says in Malachi that “He loved Jacob and hated Esau.”  It may be because of this incident that revealed Esau’s heart to us, that caused Malachi to pen God’s words about Jacob and Esau.

Consider this well, and know that Jacob’s work in obtaining the birthright and the blessing was permitted by God, and was used to accomplish His ends, which meant Israel was blessed.



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