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Birth of Esau and Jacob. 19 [a]These are the descendants of Isaac, son of Abraham; Abraham begot Isaac. 20 Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram[b] and the sister of Laban the Aramean.(A) 21 Isaac entreated the Lord on behalf of his wife, since she was sterile. The Lord heard his entreaty, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 But the children jostled each other in the womb so much that she exclaimed, “If it is like this,[c] why go on living!” She went to consult the Lord, 23 and the Lord answered her:

Two nations are in your womb,
    two peoples are separating while still within you;
But one will be stronger than the other,
    and the older will serve the younger.[d](B)

24 When the time of her delivery came, there were twins in her womb.(C) 25 The first to emerge was reddish,[e] and his whole body was like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Next his brother came out, gripping Esau’s heel;[f] so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.(D)

27 When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country; whereas Jacob was a simple[g] man, who stayed among the tents.(E) 28 Isaac preferred Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah preferred Jacob. 29 Once, when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Let me gulp down some of that red stuff;[h] I am famished.” That is why he was called Edom. 31 But Jacob replied, “First sell me your right as firstborn.”[i](F) 32 “Look,” said Esau, “I am on the point of dying. What good is the right as firstborn to me?” 33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first!” So he sold Jacob his right as firstborn under oath.(G) 34 Jacob then gave him some bread and the lentil stew; and Esau ate, drank, got up, and went his way. So Esau treated his right as firstborn with disdain.

Chapter 26

Isaac and Abimelech. [j](H)There was a famine in the land, distinct from the earlier one that had occurred in the days of Abraham, and Isaac went down to Abimelech, king of the Philistines in Gerar.(I) The Lord appeared to him and said: Do not go down to Egypt, but camp in this land wherever I tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I will give all these lands, in fulfillment of the oath that I swore to your father Abraham.(J) I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and I will give them all these lands, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing—(K) this because Abraham obeyed me, keeping my mandate, my commandments, my ordinances, and my instructions.

[k]So Isaac settled in Gerar. When the men of the place asked questions about his wife, he answered, “She is my sister.” He was afraid that, if he called her his wife, the men of the place would kill him on account of Rebekah, since she was beautiful. But when they had been there for a long time, Abimelech, king of the Philistines, looked out of a window and saw Isaac fondling his wife Rebekah. He called for Isaac and said: “She must certainly be your wife! How could you have said, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac replied, “I thought I might lose my life on her account.” 10 “How could you have done this to us!” exclaimed Abimelech. “It would have taken very little for one of the people to lie with your wife, and so you would have brought guilt upon us!” 11 Abimelech then commanded all the people: “Anyone who maltreats this man or his wife shall be put to death.”

12 [l]Isaac sowed a crop in that region and reaped a hundredfold the same year. Since the Lord blessed him, 13 (L)he became richer and richer all the time, until he was very wealthy. 14 He acquired flocks and herds, and a great work force, and so the Philistines became envious of him. 15 (M)The Philistines had stopped up and filled with dirt all the wells that his father’s servants had dug back in the days of his father Abraham. 16 So Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us; you have become far too numerous for us.” 17 Isaac left there and camped in the Wadi Gerar where he stayed. 18 Isaac reopened the wells which his father’s servants had dug back in the days of his father Abraham and which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham’s death; he gave them names like those that his father had given them. 19 But when Isaac’s servants dug in the wadi and reached spring water in their well, 20 the shepherds of Gerar argued with Isaac’s shepherds, saying, “The water belongs to us!” So he named the well Esek,[m] because they had quarreled there. 21 Then they dug another well, and they argued over that one too; so he named it Sitnah.[n] 22 So he moved on from there and dug still another well, but over this one they did not argue. He named it Rehoboth,[o] and said, “Because the Lord has now given us ample room, we shall flourish in the land.”

23 From there Isaac went up to Beer-sheba. 24 The same night the Lord appeared to him and said: I am the God of Abraham, your father. Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for the sake of Abraham, my servant.(N) 25 So Isaac built an altar there and invoked the Lord by name. After he had pitched his tent there, Isaac’s servants began to dig a well nearby.

26 (O)Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar, with Ahuzzath, his councilor, and Phicol, the general of his army. 27 Isaac asked them, “Why have you come to me, since you hate me and have driven me away from you?” 28 They answered: “We clearly see that the Lord has been with you, so we thought: let there be a sworn agreement between our two sides—between you and us. Let us make a covenant with you: 29 you shall do no harm to us, just as we have not maltreated you, but have always acted kindly toward you and have let you depart in peace. So now, may you be blessed by the Lord!” 30 Isaac then made a feast for them, and they ate and drank. 31 Early the next morning they exchanged oaths. Then Isaac sent them on their way, and they departed from him in peace.

32 That same day Isaac’s servants came and informed him about the well they had been digging; they told him, “We have reached water!” 33 He called it Shibah;[p] hence the name of the city is Beer-sheba to this day. 34 [q]When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith, daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath, daughter of Elon the Hivite.(P) 35 But they became a source of bitterness to Isaac and Rebekah.

Chapter 27

Jacob’s Deception.[r] When Isaac was so old that his eyesight had failed him, he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son!” “Here I am!” he replied. Isaac then said, “Now I have grown old. I do not know when I might die. So now take your hunting gear—your quiver and bow—and go out into the open country to hunt some game for me. Then prepare for me a dish in the way I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you[s] before I die.”

Rebekah had been listening while Isaac was speaking to his son Esau. So when Esau went out into the open country to hunt some game for his father,(Q) Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Listen! I heard your father tell your brother Esau, ‘Bring me some game and prepare a dish for me to eat, that I may bless you with the Lord’s approval before I die.’ Now, my son, obey me in what I am about to order you. Go to the flock and get me two choice young goats so that with these I might prepare a dish for your father in the way he likes. 10 Then bring it to your father to eat, that he may bless you before he dies.” 11 But Jacob said to his mother Rebekah, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man and I am smooth-skinned!(R) 12 Suppose my father feels me? He will think I am making fun of him, and I will bring on myself a curse instead of a blessing.” 13 His mother, however, replied: “Let any curse against you, my son, fall on me! Just obey me. Go and get me the young goats.”

14 So Jacob went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared a dish in the way his father liked. 15 Rebekah then took the best clothes of her older son Esau that she had in the house, and gave them to her younger son Jacob to wear; 16 and with the goatskins she covered up his hands and the hairless part of his neck. 17 Then she gave her son Jacob the dish and the bread she had prepared.

18 Going to his father, Jacob said, “Father!” “Yes?” replied Isaac. “Which of my sons are you?” 19 Jacob answered his father: “I am Esau, your firstborn. I did as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may bless me.” 20 But Isaac said to his son, “How did you get it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “The Lord, your God, directed me.” 21 Isaac then said to Jacob, “Come closer, my son, that I may feel you, to learn whether you really are my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob moved up closer to his father. When Isaac felt him, he said, “Although the voice is Jacob’s, the hands are Esau’s.” 23 (He failed to identify him because his hands were hairy, like those of his brother Esau; so he blessed him.) 24 Again Isaac said, “Are you really my son Esau?” And Jacob said, “I am.” 25 Then Isaac said, “Serve me, my son, and let me eat of the game so that I may bless you.” Jacob served it to him, and Isaac ate; he brought him wine, and he drank. 26 Finally his father Isaac said to him, “Come closer, my son, and kiss me.” 27 As Jacob went up to kiss him, Isaac smelled the fragrance of his clothes. With that, he blessed him, saying,

“Ah, the fragrance of my son
    is like the fragrance of a field
    that the Lord has blessed!(S)
28 May God give to you
    of the dew of the heavens
And of the fertility of the earth
    abundance of grain and wine.
29 (T)May peoples serve you,
    and nations bow down to you;
Be master of your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be those who curse you,
    and blessed be those who bless you.”

30 Jacob had scarcely left his father after Isaac had finished blessing him, when his brother Esau came back from his hunt. 31 Then he too prepared a dish, and bringing it to his father, he said, “Let my father sit up and eat some of his son’s game, that you may then give me your blessing.” 32 His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?” He said, “I am your son, your firstborn son, Esau.” 33 Isaac trembled greatly. “Who was it, then,” he asked, “that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it all just before you came, and I blessed him. Now he is blessed!” 34 As he heard his father’s words, Esau burst into loud, bitter sobbing and said, “Father, bless me too!” 35 When Isaac said, “Your brother came here by a ruse and carried off your blessing,” 36 Esau exclaimed, “He is well named Jacob, is he not! He has supplanted me[t] twice! First he took away my right as firstborn, and now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not saved a blessing for me?”(U) 37 Isaac replied to Esau: “I have already appointed him your master, and I have assigned to him all his kindred as his servants; besides, I have sustained him with grain and wine. What then can I do for you, my son?” 38 But Esau said to his father, “Have you only one blessing, father? Bless me too, father!” and Esau wept aloud.(V) 39 His father Isaac said in response:

“See, far from the fertile earth
    will be your dwelling;
    far from the dew of the heavens above!(W)
40 By your sword you will live,
    and your brother you will serve;
But when you become restless,
    you will throw off his yoke from your neck.”(X)

41 Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. Esau said to himself, “Let the time of mourning for my father come, so that I may kill my brother Jacob.”(Y) 42 When Rebekah got news of what her older son Esau had in mind, she summoned her younger son Jacob and said to him: “Listen! Your brother Esau intends to get his revenge by killing you. 43 So now, my son, obey me: flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, 44 and stay with him a while until your brother’s fury subsides— 45 until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send for you and bring you back. Why should I lose both of you in a single day?”

Jacob Sent to Laban. 46 Rebekah said to Isaac: “I am disgusted with life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob also should marry a Hittite woman, a native of the land, like these women, why should I live?”(Z)

Chapter 28

[u]Isaac therefore summoned Jacob and blessed him, charging him: “You shall not marry a Canaanite woman!(AA) Go now to Paddan-aram, to the home of your mother’s father Bethuel, and there choose a wife for yourself from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.(AB) May God Almighty bless you and make you fertile, multiply you that you may become an assembly of peoples. May God extend to you and your descendants the blessing of Abraham, so that you may gain possession of the land where you are residing, which he assigned to Abraham.”(AC) Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way; he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, and brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.(AD)

Esau noted that Isaac had blessed Jacob when he sent him to Paddan-aram to get himself a wife there, and that, as he gave him his blessing, he charged him, “You shall not marry a Canaanite woman,” and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and gone to Paddan-aram. Esau realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac, so Esau went to Ishmael, and in addition to the wives he had, married Mahalath, the daughter of Abraham’s son Ishmael and sister of Nebaioth.(AE)

Jacob’s Dream at Bethel.[v] 10 Jacob departed from Beer-sheba and proceeded toward Haran. 11 When he came upon a certain place,[w] he stopped there for the night, since the sun had already set. Taking one of the stones at the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12 Then he had a dream: a stairway[x] rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s angels were going up and down on it.(AF) 13 And there was the Lord standing beside him and saying: I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants.(AG) 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and through them you will spread to the west and the east, to the north and the south. In you and your descendants all the families of the earth will find blessing.(AH) 15 I am with you and will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you.(AI)

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Truly, the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!” 17 He was afraid and said: “How awesome this place is! This is nothing else but the house of God, the gateway to heaven!” 18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head, set it up as a sacred pillar,[y] and poured oil on top of it.(AJ) 19 He named that place Bethel,[z] whereas the former name of the town had been Luz.(AK)

20 Jacob then made this vow:[aa] “If God will be with me and protect me on this journey I am making and give me food to eat and clothes to wear, 21 and I come back safely to my father’s house, the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone that I have set up as a sacred pillar will be the house of God. Of everything you give me, I will return a tenth part to you without fail.”

Footnotes

  1. 25:19–36:43 The Jacob cycle is introduced as the family history of Isaac (Jacob’s father), just as the Abraham stories were introduced as the record of the descendants of Terah (Abraham’s father, 11:27). The cycle, made up of varied stories, is given unity by several recurring themes: birth, blessing and inheritance, which are developed through the basic contrasts of barrenness/fertility, non-blessing/blessing, and inheritance/exile/homeland. The large story has an envelope structure in which Jacob’s youth is spent in Canaan striving with his older brother Esau (25:19–28:22), his early adulthood in Paddan-aram building a family and striving with his brother-in-law Laban (chaps. 29–31), and his later years back in Canaan (chaps. 32–36).
  2. 25:20 Paddan-aram: the name used by the Priestly tradition for the northwest region of Mesopotamia, between the Habur and the Euphrates rivers. In Assyrian, padana is a road or a garden, and Aram refers to the people or the land of the Arameans. The equivalent geographical term in the Yahwist source is Aram Naharaim, “Aram between two rivers.”
  3. 25:22 If it is like this: in Hebrew, the phrase lamah zeh is capable of several meanings; it occurs again in v. 32 (“What good…?”), 32:30 (“Why do you want…?”), and 33:15 (“For what reason?”). It is one of several words and motifs that run through the story, suggesting that a divine pattern (unknown to the actors) is at work.
  4. 25:23 The older will serve the younger: Rebekah now knows something that no one else knows, that God favors Jacob over Esau. The text does not say if she shared this knowledge with anyone or kept it to herself, but, from their actions, it seems unlikely that either Isaac or Esau knew. That fact must be borne in mind in assessing Rebekah’s role in chap. 27, the theft of Esau’s blessing.
  5. 25:25 Reddish: in Hebrew, ’admoni, a reference to Edom, another name for Esau (v. 30; 36:1). Edom was also the name of the country south of Moab (southeast of the Dead Sea) where the descendants of Esau lived. It was called the “red” country because of its reddish sandstone. Moreover, “red” points ahead to the red stew in the next scene. Hairy: in Hebrew, se‘ar, a reference to Seir, another name for Edom (36:8).
  6. 25:26 Heel: in Hebrew ‘aqeb, a wordplay on the name Jacob; cf. 27:36. The first of three scenes of striving with Esau. The second is vv. 27–34, and the third, chap. 27. In all the scenes, Jacob values the blessing more than his ardent but unreflective brother Esau does.
  7. 25:27 Simple: the Hebrew word denotes soundness, integrity, health, none of which fit here. Whatever its precise meaning, it must be opposite to the qualities of Esau.
  8. 25:30 Red stuff: in Hebrew, ’adom; another play on the word Edom, the “red” land.
  9. 25:31 Right as firstborn: the privilege that entitled the firstborn son to a position of honor in the family and to a double share in the possessions inherited from the father. There is a persistent wordplay between bekorah, “right of the firstborn,” and berakah, “the blessing.” Contrary to custom, the preference here is for the younger son, as it was in the choice of Isaac over Ishmael.
  10. 26:1 The promise of land and numerous descendants given to Abraham (12:1–3; 15; 17; 22:17–18) is renewed for his son Isaac. The divine blessing to Isaac is mentioned also in vv. 12, 24, and 29.
  11. 26:6–11 This scene is the third version of the wife-in-danger story (cf. chaps. 12 and 20). The mention of the famine in 26:1 recalls the famine in 12:10; the name Abimelech, king of the Philistines in Gerar, recalls 20:2. The deception, according to all the stories, is the claim that the wife is a sister. This story (from the Yahwist source) departs from the two previous accounts in that the wife is not taken into the harem of the foreign king.
  12. 26:12–33 The dispute is over water rights. In a sparsely watered land, wells were precious and claims on water could function as a kind of claim on the land. Scholars generally judge the account of the dispute over water rights and its settlement by a legal agreement between Isaac and Abimelech to be a Yahwist version of the similar story about Abraham in 21:22–34. Here, Abimelech realizes that Isaac has brought blessing to his people and thus desires a covenant with him. The feast in v. 30 is part of the covenant ceremony.
  13. 26:20 Esek: “quarrel.”
  14. 26:21 Sitnah: “opposition.”
  15. 26:22 Rehoboth: “wide spaces,” i.e., ample room to live; site is probably SW of modern day Beer-sheba.
  16. 26:33 Shibah: the place name Shibah is a play on two Hebrew words, shebu‘ah, “oath,” and shwebaa‘, “seven.” In v. 31, they exchanged oaths.
  17. 26:34–35 These verses from the Priestly source introduce the next section on Esau’s loss of his right as firstborn by suggesting a motivation for this in Isaac’s and Rebekah’s dislike for Esau’s Canaanite wives.
  18. 27:1–45 The chapter, a literary masterpiece, is the third and climactic wresting away of the blessing of Esau. Rebekah manages the entire affair, using perhaps her privileged information about Jacob’s status (25:23); Jacob’s only qualm is that if his father discovers the ruse, he will receive a curse instead of a blessing (vv. 11–12). Isaac is passive as he was in chaps. 22 and 24. The deception is effected through clothing (Jacob wears Esau’s clothing), which points ahead to a similar deception of a patriarch by means of clothing in the Joseph story (37:21–33). Such recurrent acts and scenes let the reader know a divine purpose is moving the story forward even though the human characters are unaware of it.
  19. 27:4 I may bless you: Isaac’s blessing confers fertility (vv. 27–28) and dominion (v. 29). The “dew of heaven” is rain that produces grain and wine, two of the principal foodstuffs of the ancient Near East. The “fertility of the earth” may allude to oil, the third basic foodstuff. The full agricultural year may be implied here: the fall rains are followed by the grain harvests of the spring and the grape harvest of late summer, and then the olive harvest of the fall (cf. Dt 11:14; Ps 104:13–15).
  20. 27:36 He has supplanted me: in Hebrew, wayyaqebeni, a wordplay on the name Jacob, ya‘aqob; see Jer 9:3 and Gn 25:26. There is also a play between the Hebrew words bekorah (“right of the firstborn”) and berakah (“blessing”).
  21. 28:1–9 A glimpse of Rebekah’s shrewdness is provided by 27:42–28:2. She is aware of Esau’s murderous plot against Jacob (27:42–45) but realizes the episode of the stolen blessing is still painful to Isaac; she therefore uses another motive to persuade Isaac to send Jacob away—he must marry within the family (endogamy), unlike Esau. Esau, unreflective as usual, realizes too late he also should marry within the family but, significantly, marries from Abraham’s rejected line. At this point in the story, Jacob (and his mother) have taken the blessing for themselves. Their actions have put Jacob in a precarious position: he must flee the land because of his brother’s murderous intent and find a wife in a far country. One might ask how God’s blessing can be given to such an unworthy schemer. There is a biblical pattern of preferring the younger brother or sister over the older—Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Rachel over Leah, Joseph over his older brothers, Ephraim over Manasseh (Gn 48:14), David over his older brothers.
  22. 28:10–22 As Jacob is leaving the land on his way to an uncertain future in Paddan-aram, God appears to him at a sacred place that Jacob had visited only to take a night’s rest. Jacob’s unawareness of the holiness of the place underscores the graciousness of the gift. On his return to Canaan, he will again encounter a divine visitor in the form of the mysterious attacker (32:23–33) and, after his return and reconciliation with Esau, he will again go to Bethel (35:1–15).
  23. 28:11 Place: the Hebrew word is often used specifically of a sacred site. The ambiguous word “place” is used here, for the text emphasizes that Jacob has no idea the place he has come upon is sacred; only when he wakes up does he realize it is sacred. The place was Bethel (v. 19), a sacred site as early as the time of Abraham (12:8).
  24. 28:12 Stairway: in Hebrew, sullam, traditionally but inaccurately translated as “ladder.” The corresponding verb, salal, means “to heap up” something, such as dirt for a highway or a ramp. The imagery in Jacob’s dream may be derived from the Babylonian ziggurat or temple tower, “with its top in the sky” (11:4), and with brick steps leading up to a small temple at the top.
  25. 28:18 Sacred pillar: in Hebrew, masseba, a stone which might vary in shape and size, set upright and usually intended for some religious purpose. The custom of erecting such sacred pillars in Palestine went back to its pre-Israelite period; but since their polytheistic associations were often retained, later Israelite religion forbade their erection (Lv 26:1; Dt 16:22) and ordered the destruction of those that were associated with other religions (Ex 34:13; Dt 12:3).
  26. 28:19 Bethel: i.e., “house of God”; the reference is to the house of God in v. 17.
  27. 28:20 This vow: knowing well that Esau’s murderous wrath stands between him and the possession of the land promised him, Jacob makes his vow very precise. He vows to make the God who appeared to him his own if the God guides him safely to Paddan-aram and back to this land.

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