Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Jewish Commentary: Genesis 25:19-26:5

The Jewish orthodox sages and Rabbis understood the literalness of all of the Old Testament prophecies. Premillennialists and dispensationalists are in good company in seeing the Bible interpreted in a normal, literal hermeneutic. Someday, the eyes of the Jews will be open in seeing the Lord Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. Meanwhile, their interpretative notes and commentaries on great prophetic passages continue to support the “rightness” of looking for future prophecy being fulfilled actually, and literally!

Genesis 25:19-26:5

God Confirms the Covenant with Jacob (not Esau) 

Generations of Isaac

25:19 Abraham’s son. With this passage a new section of Genesis begins with the descendants of Abraham. “Abraham’s son” is Isaac (meaning “He who laughs”) the child of Sarah. The Covenant promises will go down to Isaac (not Ishmael, the son of the Egyptian handmaiden Hagar).

 [Abraham] the father of Isaac. When Abram’s name was changed to Abraham (meaning father of a multitude) (17:5) that Isaac was born.

 25:20 Padden-Aram. This is the same as Aram-Naharaim, or Mesopotamia (24:10).

 25:21 She was barren. At this moment, Isaac was a good man and spiritual in that he prayed to the Lord about the barrenness of his wife Rebekah (Rev-kah) Sarah before her was barren (16:1) and so Rachal after her (29:31). Their sterility was intentional by the Lord to show that the children who would come along were a gift of grace from the sovereign God, that would ultimately fulfill His promises. This shows that the Jewish people did not propagate “naturally” but happened to come about by a divine Plan!
 Rebekah means “cow” and Rachal means “ewe.” Rachal would be the youngest daughter of Laben, the second wife and cousin of Jacob, and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. 

 25:22 Struggled together. This was a premonition and a preview of the rivalry which was to come about between the brothers and even their far off descendants. Jacob will be chosen of God over Esau in a providential twist. The descendants of Esau (meaning red or ruddy) are part of the present Arab stock now in the Middle East at war with Israel!

    “If it is so, why then am I this way?” The struggling within her womb seemed a sign of something wrong. Maybe she would accidentally abort the children. Rabbi Nachmanides says she was in an unbearable state and even wished to die! 

    To inquire of the Lord. According to the Jewish Midrash, she went to the School of Shem, where the knowledge of God was expounded. Some feel she went and inquired of the Lord through Abraham who was still alive at this time.  

25:23 Two nations. The founders of two nations were in her womb. They would “be separated” at birth, implying they would distance themselves from each other and be antagonistic from birth. 

    The older shall serve the younger. This prophecy came about when king David defeated the Edomites who were the descendants of Esau. Both words, “Edomites and Esau” imply being red or ruddy, though some believe that “Esau” simply means “thick haired,” though red-like hair. The Edomites today have melded into the Jordanians who live on the east side of Israel. They are part of the larger Arabic peoples who are Muslim in belief. The descendants of Ishmael, the sons of Abraham’s wife Kiturah (25:1-4), Ammon and Moab (the incestuous sons of Lot’s daughters) are all part of the mix of the Arabs today. This is what partly exacerbates the Arab/Israeli problem today.    

 25:25 Red over all … hairy garment. Both descriptions describe Esau who was the eldest and should have been the first out of the womb of the twins. The Jewish Midrash explains the ruddiness as a premonition of his love for hunting and the shedding of blood.

 25:26 His hand holding on to Esau’s heel. While this seems simply to be a naturalistic happening at birth, it was somehow part of the mysterious providential dealings of God in this story. It was as if the one child, Jacob, was holding Esau back from coming forth first. Esau thus was the first and “oldest” of the children but the antagonism would continue through their lives. 

    Jacob means the conniver or supplanter. Though he is far from perfect, God in His providence would make him the prominent son from whom the twelve tribes would come.

Sale of the birthright

 25:27 When the boys grew. Jacob would be the homebody and the favorite of his mother Rebekah. Esau would be a skilled hunter and a man of the field. Apparently also, he would care little that he was to be the one who carried on God’s promises to the family through the Abrahamic Covenant.   

    Skillful hunter. Literally, “knowing hunting.” Or cunning. “Peaceful man” means a “quiet, perfect, harmless” man. “Living in tents” implies he was a shepherd. The Midrash explains “tents” to mean “schools of religious study.” It is certainly possible that Jacob was studying or thinking about God with his parents at home and thus knew more of the Lord than brother Esau.

 25:28 Now Isaac loved Esau. Isaac loved his son Esau because he was a hunter and supplied to the tent wild game. However, Rebekah favored Jacob. While the Rabbinic writings show Esau as a roving hunter, he is depicted like Nimrod as a bad character because of his bloodshed and cruelty to animals that his hunting life entailed. Yet Esau is praised for his devotion to his father Isaac. To have merited his father’s love is regarded as the consequence of Esau’s filial piety.

    Rebekah loved Jacob. Each parent had a favorite, which would lead to heavy tension in the household. The Medieval Rabbinical teachers said “Love your children with an impartial love.”

 25:29-30 One day Jacob had cooked up some stew meat just as Esau was coming in from the field. Esau was “famished” or weak and weary. Esau begged for a bowl of the food possibly because he thought he was going to die (v. 32). Some believe he had diabetes and was about to pass out. From this day forward he would be called Edom” or red. Why is not clear. Maybe his face had turned red, or the food was red in texture. The Edomites today are the descendants of Esau and part of the larger Arabic peoples, especially now living in Jordan. 

    Swallow. Used only here in the Old Testament, the word implies an animal-like voracity, a gulping down of his food. Again, this adds to the theory that he was physically hurting and maybe about to faint. Esau’s manner in this account shows he did not think of where his impulsiveness would lead.

 25:31-32 In a conniving and diabolical way Jacob saw his chance to have the family covenant that had been made by God with Abraham passed down to him.

    Sell me your birthright. This certainly may imply that Jacob knew the attitude of Esau to his inheritance. Verse 32 shows how contemptible in his mind was the covenant! “What use then is the birthright to me?” Some side a little with Esau and say he but thought that he was indeed going to die that very day, so the inheritance would be of no use to him. But most feel the Bible is clearly telling us he cared little for this divine promise made to his grandfather Abraham. 

    The Rabbis say, at first Jacob’s conduct appears reprehensible, but on closer examination the privileges of the birthright so coveted by Jacob were purely spiritual in nature. Jacob suspected Esau thought little of the blessing and wanted the integrity of the promised covenant to be kept with the family. Of course in God’s providence Jacob nor Esau could thwart God’s ultimate plans with this family. “As to power and command, Jacob never exercised any over Esau; but on the contrary humbly and submissively addresses him as ‘my Lord.’” (Rabbi Abarbanel)

 25:33 “First swear to me.” Jacob had Esau swear in a binding oath or contract. Generally, contracts were not written but simply made verbally. Esau then “sold his birthright [to the covenant] to Jacob.”

 25:34 Esau despised his birthright. Esau’s true colors are now revealed. He cared little for the birthright. The spiritual inheritance of Abraham, which would normally have passed into the hands of Esau, was not worth to him as much as a dish of stew. Esau was a sensualist! He was fickle and impulsive, apparently hunting for the gratification of the moment, of the moment of the kill. This was the most noble thing he could do. He could not think in spiritual terms but physical only! 

 Abrahamic Covenant Confirmed to Isaac

 26:1 The previous famine. There had been an earlier famine during the lifetime of Abraham. Is this passage saying there had been no famines in the land of Canaan until the time of Abraham? Possibly but not probable! We know the land was very fertile in these early days, full of trees and pasture land.

    Abimelech. “Ab” means father and “melech” means king. Or, “kingly father,” or “my father is king.” Many scholars feel this was a dynastic title and not a personal name. The same name is mentioned in 12:10, but is probably another ruler. See also 20:2. 

 26:2 Do not go down to Egypt. With the famine, Isaac would naturally do what his father Abraham had done—go down to Egypt to escape the famine. See 12:10. 

 26:3 Sojourn in this land. God then adds: “I will be with you and bless you, because I haven given all these lands to your descendants.” The Lord adds that He is now establishing His promise, His oath that He had made with Abraham. On the Lord’s very nature and attributes, He is guaranteeing that the land is Isaac’s to his children. God will be faithful to His promises! Today the land belongs to the Jews through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not to Ishmael, and Esau, nor the children of Keturah, Abraham’s wife after Sarah. 

 26:4 I will multiply your descendants. God uses the same language, the same phrases, He used with Abraham. The covenant promises are repeated. But more. All the nations will be blessed through Isaac’s children. Ultimately, this happened with the sending of the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, through the Jewish people. And yet, the blessing will also come when He reigns over Israel, and the world, in the near coming kingdom. Before that kingdom comes, the world, and Israel, must go through the birth pangs, the worldwide tribulation and wrath of God poured out on the earth!

 26:5 Abraham obeyed Me. What God charged Abraham with, he kept! He believed the Lord! “Commandments” were the rules that emphasized a moral sense to Abraham. The Mosaic Covenant had not yet been given. The “statutes” may have been prohibitions that the Lord passed down to Abraham. The “laws” were customs and traditions Abraham may have received. These definitions are given in the Jewish Midrash. This verse may tell us that many, many principles and guidelines were given to Abraham that were not recorded here in Genesis. They may have been passed down in some form of writing or in verbal form. Moses may have incorporated them in his Law Covenant code.
    The Pentateuch and Haftorahs.
    Society and Religion in the Second Temple Period, Michael Avi-Yonah and Zvi  Baras (Jerusalem: Massada Publishing, 1977).
    The Messiah Texts, Raphael Patai (Detroit: Wayne State University, 1979).
    Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period, William Green, ed. (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 1999).