In chapter 27, Rebekah and Jacob mastermind a way for Jacob to receive the blessing of the firstborn instead of Esau. As with many Old Testament stories, difficult questions of right and wrong overshadow the events. From a worldly perspective, both Isaac and Rebekah show parental favoritism. Rebekah not only deceives her husband but betrays her firstborn son. Jacob, although relieved of moral responsibility by his mother, still lies to his father and betrays his brother. Even Isaac, it seems, lacked the spirit of discernment to know whom he was blessing. What are we to make of this twisted story of a father’s blessing?
Things don’t always add up in Old Testament stories. That is the fun of reading them and learning how the Lord is able to weave His will into the lives of imperfect people. By doing so, we learn that the Lord rewards righteousness, not position or birthright. We learn that His eternal purposes are sometimes brought about in uncommon ways. By studying the Lord’s ways, we learn that He has the right to bend the rules to suit His purposes. We may find Him work through one member of the family who is perhaps more spiritually sensitive than another. We may even find that the Lord has done the same things in our lives—turned them upside down to work his magic. The road isn’t always smooth; life doesn’t always proceed as planned; righteousness trumps inheritance; exceptions are sometimes made that bless our lives forever. The story of Jacob and Esau is a good example.
Genesis 27:6-13 Rebekah spake unto Jacob her son… Upon me be thy curse
“While the children were still in her womb, the Lord revealed to Rebekah that, contrary to the custom of the day, the ‘elder would serve the younger.’ (Gen. 25:23.) With this knowledge, she jealously guarded Jacob’s God-given right to be the heir to the covenant. When she discovered that Isaac intended to give this blessing to Esau, who had already sold his birthright to Jacob and had further discredited himself by marrying two Canaanite women, she interfered and substituted Jacob in his stead.
“When Jacob protested, saying, ‘I shall bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing,’ Rebekah replied, ‘Upon me be thy curse.’ (Gen. 27:12–13.) Rebekah would willingly suffer any consequence for her act rather than see the covenant pass on to an illegitimate heir. A guardian of the covenant, indeed!
“When Isaac realized what had happened, he told Esau that he had given his blessing to Jacob, and then he added, ‘and he shall be blessed’ (Gen. 27:33), implying that the words that flowed through his lips were not his but the Lord’s, and that they could not be changed.
“Later, the Lord covenanted with Jacob that the priesthood would continue through his seed forever and that he would be the father of multitudes, just as he had covenanted with his father and his grandfather before him, thus exonerating Rebekah in the discharge of her duty as she saw it.” (Mary Pratt Parrish, “Guardians of the Covenant,” Ensign, May 1972, 27-28)
Bruce R. McConkie
Women are appointed, Rebekahlike, to be guides and lights in righteousness in the family unit, and to engineer and arrange so that things are done in the way that will result in the salvation of more of our Father’s children. (“Our Sisters from the Beginning,” Ensign, Jan. 1979, 63)
Genesis 27:19 I am Esau thy firstborn
“Jacob appears to have stolen the birthright from his brother, Esau—that he received it unjustly through deceit and trickery. But what does the scriptural record say concerning this matter? The record indicates that Esau not only sold his birthright, but ‘despised’ it (Gen. 25:34), and that he further disqualified himself for these blessings by marrying nonbelievers ‘which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and Rebekah’ (Gen. 26:35).
“When the time came for Isaac to bless his two sons, Rebekah, who learned through a revelation she had received that Jacob was to rule over his brother (see Gen. 25:23), went against the cultural tradition and helped Jacob, the younger son, receive the blessing. When Esau came to claim his blessing, Isaac realized that the important rights of priesthood presidency did, in fact, belong to faithful Jacob, not to unworthy Esau: ‘Yea,’ said Isaac, ‘and he shall be blessed’ (Gen. 27:33). If the prophet-patriarch had acted improperly, he had the priesthood right to revoke Jacob’s blessing. But he didn’t do so, knowing that he had done the will of the Lord. Perceiving that Esau’s concern was for the loss of the temporal gain instead of spiritual blessings, Isaac promised him prosperity, but he also reaffirmed the blessing of Jacob (see Gen. 27:37–40).” (Edward J. Brandt, “Understanding the Old Testament: Keys to Resolving Difficult Questions,” Ensign, Sept. 1980, 30–31)
Genesis 27:22-27 The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau
At least in this instance, Isaac suffered from more than physical blindness. He is suspicious; the presenter sounds like Jacob, and he was a bit too quick with the prepared meat, but he both feels and smells like Esau. The physical senses can deceive us. Certainly, the patriarch would have perceived the supplanter if the Lord intended it to be so. Perhaps Isaac’s spiritual “eyes were holden” (Lu. 24:16) as the disciples on the road to Emmaus. It suited the resurrected Lord’s purposes to not reveal his identity while he unfolded the scriptures to the travelling disciples, and it suited the Lord’s purposes to hide Rebekah’s deception from Isaac that the promise might be fulfilled as foreordained.
Genesis 27:28-40 be Lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee
Jacob, though younger, was blessed to rule over his brethren as if to foreshadow what would happen in the next generation. Joseph was far from the eldest; indeed he was the 11th of 12 sons, but he was given dominion. Esau was probably the only one greatly offended at Jacob, but with Joseph his eleven brothers and his parents would bow down to him (Gen. 37:9).
The Esaus and Lamans of the world can never quite get over the treachery of the Lord skipping over them. Perhaps they should have tried a bit more righteousness and a little less worldliness. The Lord wants righteousness not primogeniture. Actually, Esau was still given quite a beautiful blessing from his father. He was promised the fatness of the earth and the dews of heaven just as Jacob. He was promised that he would someday be able to brake the yoke of his brother’s oppression from off his neck, but that wasn’t enough. It was ruling in the immediate family that he coveted most. That would not be given, “though he sought it carefully with tears.” (Heb. 12:17)
Interestingly, Paul uses this instance to demonstrate a case of discipleship failure. We all fear it. We all hope we are not falling short. The saints in Paul’s day had the same fear, so he taught them to seek the Lord “diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God.” Who did he use as an example of failed discipleship—of falling short—of losing out on the promised blessing? Esau. He even refers to him as a “profane person” in the same breath with fornicators (Heb. 12:15-17). What a condemnation!
What does that tell us? It tells us that the Lord didn’t forget that Esau “despised his birthright” (Gen 25:34). Procrastinated remorse and last-minute repentance are not a substitute for obedience and righteousness. “Careful tears” are not a substitute for careful obedience. They weren’t then and they aren’t now. Esau was still blessed. He still gained so much wealth that he had to move away from Jacob, “For their riches were more than that they might dwell together; and the land wherein they were strangers could not bear them because of their cattle” (Gen. 36:6-7). But he had missed out on a great blessing. Jacob’s name of Israel would become the name of the Lord’s covenant people; it would be used to identify God Himself (Ex. 5:1); it would be the line through which the Messiah would come. In contrast, Esau’s lineage would produce the atrocious Herod the Great. (http://www.gotquestions.org/Edomites.html)
Now we will pass by the places in the Bible which speak of this birthright until we come to Isaac, the son of Abraham, and to Jacob, the son of Isaac, who bought the birthright of his brother Esau. From the story that is told of Rebekah helping her son Jacob to get the first blessing from his father Isaac, on purpose to secure the birthright from his brother Esau, many would be inclined to think that deceit, dishonesty and unrighteous means were employed to secure it, and they perhaps wonder why it should be so. This was really not the case; it is only made to appear so in the eyes of those who do not understand the dealings of God with man, and the workings of the Holy Spirit to bring about His purposes. There was neither unrighteousness in Rebekah nor in Jacob in this matter; but on the contrary, there was the wisdom of the Almighty, showing forth his providences in guiding them in such a manner as to bring about his purposes, in influencing Esau to transfer his birthright to Jacob, that He might ratify and confirm it upon the head of Jacob; knowing as He did that Jacob and his seed were, and would be, more deserving of the birthright, and would magnify it in its true spirit. While Esau did not sense nor appreciate his condition and birthright; he did not respect it as he should have done, neither did he hearken to the counsels of his father and mother. On the contrary, he went his own way with a stubborn will, and followed his own passions and inclinations and took to wife one of the daughters of the Canaanites whom the Lord had not blessed; and he therefore rendered himself unacceptable to God and to his father and mother. He gave himself to wild pursuits—to hunting, and to following the ways of the Canaanites, and displeased the Lord and his parents, and was not worthy of this right of seniority. The Lord therefore saw fit to take it from him, and the mother was moved upon to help the younger son to bring about the purpose of the Lord, in securing to himself the blessing through the legitimate channel of the Priesthood. And as you know, his father was induced to bless him and confirm this blessing upon him. (Journal of Discourses, 21:370-371)
Genesis 27:37-38 Esau, Behold, I have made him thy lord… And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also
“How dramatic and moving Genesis can be! Where in prose literature can this passage (i.e. Gen. 27:18-40) be surpassed in portrayal of human emotions, and in the poignancy and pathos of its conclusion? In the first place there is Jacob, following his mother’s craftily suggested trick with an unscrupulous thoroughness that could make him descend to claiming the help of God (v. 20) in making his lie successful. There is Isaac, pitiful in his troubled eagerness, trying to assure himself that this son before him is Esau whom he loves. Then the blessing wrongly given—wrongly, so far as Isaac’s desire was concerned, and yet in accord with destiny. Isaac’s heart was wrapped up in Esau, and his anguish was as deep as Esau’s anger when he knew that Esau had been defrauded. But the tragedy was that he could not reverse what he had done. What shall I do now unto thee, my son? He cried. He would give to Esau all the blessing that rested in him to confer, a blessing that had love in it like the dew of heaven from above, and had fierceness in it, in the hope that although Jacob should have the pre-eminence, Esau should someday break his yoke from off thy neck. But the tragedy was that he must see this son of his chief devotion sacrificed to facts which he could not cancel. The method which Rebekah and Jacob had contrived happened only to be the particular means through which the blessing passed away from Esau. In Esau’s earlier limitations that loss was predetermined. It was written in his character that he could not have the birthright blessing; and though Isaac might have cried out in such words as would come from the lips of Othello concerning Desdemona, ‘Oh, the pit of it!’ not all the pitifulness within the fact could change it.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, pp. 682-684)
Genesis 27:40 it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck
“Traditional enemies of the Israelites, the Edomites were the descendants of Esau who often battled the Jewish nation. Edom was in southeast Palestine, stretched from the Red Sea at Elath to the Dead Sea, and encompassed some of Israel's most fertile land. The Edomites attacked Israel under Saul's rulership. King David would later defeat the rogue nation, annexing their land. At the fall of the First (Solomon’s) Temple, the Edomites attacked Judah and looted the Temple, accelerating its destruction.” (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Edomites.html)
“Because they were close relatives, the Israelites were forbidden to hate the Edomites (Deuteronomy 23:7). However, the Edomites regularly attacked Israel, and many wars were fought as a result. King Saul fought against the Edomites, and King David subjugated them, establishing military garrisons in Edom. With control over Edomite territory, Israel had access to the port of Ezion-Geber on the Red Sea, from which King Solomon sent out many expeditions. After the reign of Solomon, the Edomites revolted and had some freedom until they were subdued by the Syrians under Tiglath-pileser.
“During the Maccabean wars, the Edomites were subjugated by the Jews and forced to convert to Judaism. Through it all, the Edomites maintained much of their old hatred for the Jews. When Greek became the common language, the Edomites were called Idumaeans. With the rise of the Roman Empire, an Idumaean whose father had converted to Judaism was named king of Judea. That Idumaean is known in history as King Herod the Great, the tyrant who ordered a massacre in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the Christ child (Matthew 2:16-18).” (http://www.gotquestions.org/Edomites.html)
Many years after the reign of Solomon, when wicked king Jehoram was king in Jerusalem, “Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah, and make a king over themselves,” (2 Kgs. 8:20) thus finally fulfilling the prophecy of Isaac that Esau’s descendants would someday be able to break the yoke of oppression off their necks.
Genesis 27:41 Esau hated Jacob
Cain hated Abel as well (Gen. 4). Hate is a dangerous emotion. Rebekah’s plan to save Jacob by sending him away also saved Esau from committing murder. Fortunately, the hate doesn’t last forever. Esau and Jacob reconcile some 14 years later (Genesis 33).
Genesis 27:46 if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth… what good shall my life do me?
“As a younger man, Esau seems to have possessed little sensitivity to spiritual matters… Esau added to his own misery and that of his parents by vowing to kill Jacob because of the lost birthright and blessing, even though he himself was responsible for that loss and Isaac did still give him a father’s blessing (see Gen. 27:39–42). Moreover, Esau had married outside the covenant, among the Hittites, which caused great grief to Isaac and Rebekah (see Gen. 26:34–35). Without doubt, Esau’s behavior was on his mother’s mind when she exclaimed: ‘I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth: if Jacob [also] take a wife of the daughters of Heth … what good shall my life do me?’ (Gen. 27:46). In other words, Rebekah felt that all her life’s work, all her planning and teaching about the importance of the covenant God made with Abraham, all her care in guarding and guiding its perpetuation according to divine desires, would be worthless and wasted if Jacob were to follow in Esau’s footsteps.
“Here we see a recurring problem of the ages laid bare in an ancient, Old Testament context. Is there anything so heart-wrenching for a caring parent as seeing a child of hope choose to devalue or disregard eternal family bonds, temple-centered covenants, and matters of everlasting consequence? Do faithful parents, of any gospel dispensation, ever not worry about their Esaus?
“By contrast, Jacob trifled not with sacred things (compare D&C 6:12). He chose to obey his mother and father, and eventually he set out on a journey to seek a wife from among a known and acceptable branch of the covenant family. This was of paramount importance to his mother, for she was ever conscious of God’s promises regarding her twin boys, especially the promise of Jacob’s ascendancy over nations, though he was the younger (see Gen. 25:23).” (Andrew C. Skinner, “Jacob: Keeper of Covenants,” Ensign, Mar. 1998, 51)
Bruce R. McConkie
When “Esau was forty years old, … he took to wife Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath, the daughter of Elon the Hittite: Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah.” (Gen. 26:34–35)
That is to say, Esau married out of the Church; Esau did not marry in the everlasting covenant revealed to Abraham; Esau chose to live after the manner of the world, rather than to keep the standards of righteousness which the Lord had given them. In the light of all this, the account says:
“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?” (Gen. 27:46)
In effect she is saying, “If Jacob marries out of the Church as Esau has done, what good is there left for me in life?” And having been encouraged and impelled to step forward and assume his responsibility, this is what Isaac did:
“And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan” [which means, “Thou shalt not marry out of the Church”].
(quotes Gen. 28:1–4)
Rebekah—truly she is one of the most noble and glorious of women! (“Our Sisters from the Beginning,” Ensign, Jan. 1979, 6)