Was Jacob Justified in His Actions Concerning Esau?
Note (12 November, 2018, 4 Kislev, 5778): We have written other articles on the subject below. This one is similar but it contains additional information. It also has a corrected reference regarding the source of the Insight regarding Jacob giving Esau the food BEFORE buying the blessing.
Was Jacob wrong to trick Esau into compromising his birthright?
by Yair Davidiy, Researcher at Brit-Am/Hebrew Nations
We believe the Lost Ten Tribes are now among Western Peoples. Our proofs are derived from many fields but evidence from the Bible is the most important point source we have. This Biblical Evidence deals with Biblical Promises and prophecies. Expercially imporntat are the Blessings made to the forefathers. It may be shown how these Promises were fulfilled through the Ten Tribes. Understanding these prophecies is important to us. Jacob was also known as Israel. His brother was known as Esau and also as Edom. Jacob/Israel gave rise to the 12 Tribes of Israel. Jacob received the Blessings by first buying the Right of the Firstborn from his brother who was famished with hunger. After that he received the deathbed blessing from his father by disguising himself as Esau. We may ask questions about all this? Why did it have to be that way? Why could Israel have not been given the Blessings in a straightforward manner? What about the Ethics? Was it morally correct to act that way? The Bible says it so we believe it and accept it. Nevertheless we are allowed to ask questions about it. We often find that by making an investigation of matters that at a superficial level appear questionable we may actually strenthen our own faither and gain a deeper understandign of Scripture in general.
Abraham begat Isaac.
Isaac married Rebecca (in Hebrew "Rivka") and begat twins Esau and Jacob.
Esau emerged first so technically he was the "first-born."
Esau was red and hairy whereas Jacob was smooth skinned.
Before the twins were born Rebecca had been told in prophecy that:
23 Two nations are in your womb;
And two peoples will be separated from your body;
And one people shall be stronger than the other;
And the older shall serve the younger.
Esau was a hunter. One day he returned from the hunt famished with hunger. He requested to eat red lentils that Jacob had prepared. Jacob sold them to him. Jacob asked for the birthright and received it.
Later, when Isaac was about to die he requested that Esau hunt venison (deer flesh) for him and prepare a meal. After that Isaac intended to bless him.
Rebecca persuade Jacob to dress up in the clothes of Esau and pretend to be him. Isaac at the time was old and blind. Jacob did so and received the blessing instead of Esau.
The question is, where the actions of Jacob morally correct? How could they be justified?
To take advantage of his brother who is fainting from hunger? And force his brother to sell his birthright?
After that he disguises himself as his brother and deceives his father to take away the blessing and use it for himself?
Was this a moral thing to do? Is it honest? Would you do somethibg like that? Would like something like that done to you?
On the one hand, since we believe in the Bible we will accept what the Bible says. We might not undersand it but we will accept it.
Nevertheless, it might not help to have a more balanced comprehension of what actually did take place.
Concerning Jacob buying the Birthright:
Jacob did not trick nor exploit Esau. A close examination of the verses in question in the ORIGINAL HEBREW gives a different impression.
First, this is how the passage appears in translation:
Genesis (NASB) 25:
29 When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; 30 and Esau said to Jacob, 'Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.' Therefore his name was called Edom. 31 But Jacob said, 'First sell me your birthright.' 32 Esau said, 'Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?' 33 And Jacob said, 'First swear to me'; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Notice that the expression translated twice as 'First sell me' Genesis 25: 31 and 25:32 in Hebrew is "HaYom" i.e. "this day" not necessarily "first"!
The Zohar expands on the point (25:34) that "Esau despised His birthright." It should be translated as "Esau was despising his birthright" or "Esau would despise his birthright." Esau was in fact prepared to give it away. Having been born first in fact entailed two benefits, a spiritual aspect and a physical one. Esau rejected the spiritual facet. This was in line with what we know of his character from the beginning.
These matters are discussed by Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865) who lived in what was then known as Prussia. [The obeservations by Rabbi Mecklenburg were first brought to our intention by Gill Yehudah.] Rabbi Mecklenburg was the authorof "Haketav VehaKabbalah" ("The Script and the Tradition"), 1839. Concerning Genesis 25:34 "VeYaacov Natan." Rabbi Mecklenburg notices the Zohar emphasizing the expression "And Jacob gave" or 'Jacob had given' (Genesis 25: 34). This has been wrongly translated above as "Then Jacob gave."
In the Original Hebrew ALL the verbs in Genesis 25:29-34 BUT one are in the imperfect tense.
What is intended by "imperfect tense?"
Wikipedia tells us:
# The imperfect (abbreviated imperf) is a verb form, found in various languages, which combines past tense (reference to a past time) and imperfective aspect (reference to a continuing or repeated event or state). It can therefore have meanings similar to the English "was walking" or "used to walk." #
As stated ALL the verbs here are in imperfect tense except the verb "gave" in the expression "And Jacob gave" (Genesis 25: 34). In this case the verb is perfect, i.e. simple past tense.
# All the verbs but one are in the past imperfect tense (also known as the vav-reversal..) #
For the sake of euphonics we could also render the imperfect as 'would do' and the perfect as 'had done,' i.e. pluper perfect.
We should therefore translate the verses in the following way (it is sufficient to translate the verses 25: 32-33 to make the point):
32 Esau would say, 'Behold, I am going to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?' 33 Then Jacob would say, 'Swear to me, this day'; so he would swear unto him, and would sell his birthright to Jacob. 34 And Jacob HAD GIVEN Esau bread and lentil stew; and he would eat and would drink, and would rise and would go on his way. And Esau would despise his birthright.
Why is the verb "had given" in 25:33 in the past (perfect) tense?
It implies that Jacob had PREVIOUSLY given the food before the sale!
In other words Jacob had ALREADY given food to Esau before the sale was made!
In a similar instance the Commentator Rashi on Genesis 4:1 made a similar deduction when all the verbs excerpt one are in the imperfect tense and only one in the perfect.
In summation as the Zohar (quoted by Rabbi Mecklenburg) explains:
Esau despised the birthright. He would have been prepared to give it away just to avoid any responsibility it might impose on him.
Jacob however wanted to buy it so that the acquisition would be clear and certain. Esau came in from the field tired and famished. Jacob gave him food. After that Jacob asked Esau to sell him the birthright in exchange for the food he had just eaten. Esau agreed, rose from his place and went on his way.
This explanation may or may not be acceptable to others. It is however consistent with the grammar of the Original Hebrew.
Later, Jacob was to disguise himself as Esau in order to receive the Blessing of the First-Born from his father Isaac (Genesis ch. 28).
We saw above that 'Esau would despise the birthright' i.e. 'Esau was despising the birthright.' He had not been forced to sell it. After that as henceforth holder of the birthright Jacob had the right to the Blessing of the First-Born.
This is proven by the fact that DESPITE being misled by Jacob, Isaac immediately afterwards, when the truth had been made known to him, confirmed the blessing,
"Yes, and he shall be blessed" (Genesis 27:33). Later Isaac AGAIN confirmed the blessing to Jacob (Genesis 28:3-4).
Jacob valued the birthright.
At their birth it had been prophesied to Rebecca (the mother of Esau and Jacob) that Jacob would have pre-eminence over Esau (Genesis 25:23).
Jacob in first buying the birthright and later deceiving Isaac was doing what he had to do. In pretending to be Esau he was following the instructions of Rebecca (Genesis 27:6-17). Rebecca and Jacob were doing what they could to fulfill the Prophecy.
We should learn from this.
Prophecies for the good are meant to be fulfilled.
Prophecies for the bad however may be averted by changing our behavior to a more positive direction.
We should endeavor to do what we can to fulfill them.
Later Jacob received the Blessing from Isaac by deceiving him BUT Isaac confirmed the blessing to him after that:
33 "Yes, and he shall be blessed."
30 Now it came about, as soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob had hardly gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. 31 Then he also made savory food, and brought it to his father; and he said to his father, 'Let my father arise and eat of his son's game, that you may bless me.' 32 Isaac his father said to him, 'Who are you?' And he said, 'I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.' 33 Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, 'Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.'
and again Isaac later consciously blessed Jacob saying:
3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4 May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.
This is similar to the blessing Isaac had given to Jacob when he thought Jacob was Esau. In other words Isaac once again CONFIRMEDÂ the blessing! Isaac here gave to Jacob THE BLESSING OF ABRAHAM!
The function of blessing another in the Bible is to act as a conduit, e.g.
The Cohens (Priests), descendants of Aharon brother of Moses, were commanded to bless the People of Israel.
Numbers (ESV) 6:
22 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
24 The LORD bless you and keep you;
25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
27 So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.
We see here that that God is the one who blesses the People. The priests serve as a conduit for these blessings, as it says, "and I will bless them."
So too, the blessings given by Isaac did not emanate from him but from the Almighty. That is why Jacob was able to confirm the blessings to Jacob immediately afterwards (Genesis 27:33 "Yes, and he shall be blessed") and later to consciously repeat them in detail to Jacob (Genesis 28:3-4). ISAAC, WHEN HE GAVE THE BLESSINGS, KNEW THAT IT WAS GOD ALMIGHTY WHO WAS BESTOWING THE BLESSING! He may have thought it was Esau who was being blessed and he was mistaken in that BUT he was right in so far as the blessing was fromt he Almighty and he was the channel it was passing through. That is the way God wanted it and so it was!
What were the Blessings to Jacob?
"More Blessings to Jacob"
We see above (Genesis 28:3-4) that Isaac CONFIRMED THE BLESSINGS TO JACOB. Isaac blessed Jacob that God should make him fruitful and multiply him. That he should be a company of peoples. The blessing of Abraham should be his. The Land promised to Abraham also should become his.
Genesis (NASB) 27:
22 So Jacob came close to Isaac his father, and he felt him and said, 'The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.' 23 He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands; so he blessed him. 24 And he said, 'Are you really my son Esau?' And he said, 'I am.' 25 So he said, 'Bring it to me, and I will eat of my son's game, that I may bless you.' And he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, 'Please come close and kiss me, my son.' 27 So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said,
[Jacob had to disguise himself as Esau. This hints at Jacob having to change his garments and disguise his identity. This happened when the Northern Israelites became the Lost Ten Tribes. They changed their identity and became similar superficially to Esau/Edom meaning the Gentile nations.]
Genesis 27:27 'See, the smell of my son
Is like the smell of a field which the LORD has blessed;
28 Now may God give you of the dew of heaven,
And of the fatness of the earth,
And an abundance of grain and new wine;
29 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.'
Here Jacob was promised a fertile land and climate with agricultural bounty.
Other peoples were to be subject to him. His brothers (i.e. Ishmael and Esau, etc) would also serve him.
They who seek his good would be blessed. They who try to do him wrong would be cursed.