Genesis 26:34-28:9 – Esau becomes Filled with Bitterness towards his Parents & his (Patriarch) Brother

My family in Christ, shalom.

Welcome and thanks for joining me on my journey through the Bible. Last time we saw how Isaac and Rebekah were able to take over ownership of more of King Abimelech’s land. The whole episode was sparked off by a famine, and although Egypt would have been a better place to go to during such perillous times, the LORD had other plans. In order to show His majestic power to the Philistines, He directed Isaac to go to Gerar in the Negeb desert. Although there were similar events to those which had happened to Abraham and Sarah, and additional incidents which showed that El Shaddai‘s faithful servant Isaac was the beneficiary of the miraculous appearing of water, Abimelech’s subjects were unimpressed and did not recognise the Creator’s involvement. The King, however, recognised the hand of the LORD Most High and so established a treaty of peace between Isaac and himself.

 

In this post we return to the account of Isaac’s sons, Esau and Jacob, in Beer-sheba. Through the primogeniture birthright Esau had familial responsibilities that Jacob did not. However in chapter 25 we saw that Esau recklessly handed over his birthright to his younger brother for the sake of a single meal. Chapter 27 shows Jacob and his mother’s efforts to ensure that this new arrangement is ratified by Isaac (the current head of the family). First, though, let us look at 26:34-35:

Pastor Luke Fraser talks about bitterness, and how what he calls “a perpetual state of regret” had hardened Esau’s mind and soul against his family (cf. Hebrew 12:15-16). Esau’s ungodly desire for immediate gratification had already led him to give up his birthright, something of enormous value in terms of the his family’s material and spiritual leadership, and no doubt something he regreted. Verse 34 tells us that a 40-year-old rebellious Esau went on to marry two Hittite women, Judith and Basemath. The next verse says that:

“…they were a source of bitterness to Isaac and Rebekah”

(JPS).

This bitterness (anger and disappointment at being treated unfairly) came about, I would suggest, because of Esau’s wives’s racial heritage. Ever since ADONAI had first led Abraham to leave Haran, enter Canaan and contemplate it as the home of his progeny, the Hittites had been natives of the pagan land. All his life Isaac had observed his father trying to distance himself from these people in order that a nation faithful to YHWH might arise in Canaan (cf. 23:3-20). Now his wayward eldest son was marrying into this idolatrous people! Even more unfair and shameful than this was that one of the Hittite women had a name which means ‘Jewish woman’ (Judith)!!!

It is my belief that the account of Esau’s first two marriages and their effect on his parents were placed before chapter 27 because these events did actually occur before the fight over the ratification of the birthright, and thus this chapter should be read with these things in mind (cf. 27:46). It is interesting to note the extent to which the principle of the birthright had already been adopted by the patriarchal family. Whereas it had taken many years for Ishmael (Abraham’s eldest son) and his mother to be sent away, not even the disgraceful marriages of Isaac’s eldest son had yet led to his perminent separation. Isaac and Rebekah’s affections, though, were still divided between their two children.

Isaac asks Esau to hunt some game and to prepare his favour meal (vv. 3-4). He feels that he may soon die and so wishes to ratify Esau’s birthright. [1] It is likely that Isaac was unaware that the birthright had already been squandered, and that the impulsive Esau, thinking the his brother won’t find out about this meeting until it is too late, and that he himself was still able to hold on to his birthright, does as his father wishes. But his mother Rebekah’s servants overhear this converstion and inform their mistress. Rebekah then arranges with Jacob to fool Isaac into believing that the younger brother is the older (vv. 5-13):

Can we really blame Esau for feeling the way he did? Is it not a natural reaction when someone takes something which we believe belongs to us? But as Rebekah reveals in verse 46 Esau’s action in marrying the Hittite women showed once and for all that he is unfit to lead the patriarchal family. He has no respect for their spiritual identity. It is interesting to note that in the cases of both Abraham and Isaac’s children, it is through the mothers that the LORD separates the chaff from the wheat.

The blessing which Esau missed out on was this:

“May God give you

Of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth

Abundance of new grain and wine.

Let peoples serve you,

And nations bow to you;

Be master over your brothers,

And let your mother’s sons bow to you.

Cursed be they who curse you,

Blessed those who bless you”

(vv. 28-29 JPS).

What a thing to miss out on! Especially the last two lines, which have been repeatedly given to many generations. And for me, the last thing that Isaac says to Esau feels like it would have been as crushing to hear as God’s curses to Adam and Eve were:

“Your home will be far

from that fertile land,

where dew comes down from the heavens.

You will live by the power

of your sword

and be your brother’s slave.

But when you decide to be free,

you will break loose”

(vv. 39-40 CEV).

Intentional or not, Jacob had now (in Esau’s mind) irreconcilably divided an already tense family. Jacob had stolen Esau’s birthright and blessing, and it seemed to Esau that the only way to regain the slightest degree of honour was to kill his brother. The battle lines had been drawn. And in this ‘war’ it seems that the future-death of Isaac, the parent who seems to have favoured Esau, [2] would be the occasion on which to launch his decisive attack (v. 41).

Hearing of Esau’s rage Rebekah tells Jacob to flee for his life. He is to go to his Uncle Laban in Haran (vv. 42-43). Just before leaving he receives a final blessing from his father; plus the instruction:

“You shall not take a wife from among the Canaanite women”

(28:1 JPS).

Instead he must marry one of Laban’s daughters. His brother, however, filled with rage at their father (v. 8), goes to Ishmael (the son of Abraham who was ‘sent away’) and married his daughter, Mahalath (‘lyre’).

Here we have seen the event which finally made it clear to Esau that he had no place left in the patriarchal family. His brother Jacob and his mother Rebekah had conspired to and succeeded in taking away any last claim he had to his birthright. The important responsibilities and privileges that went with being the eldest son had all now completely vanished from his grasp. Utterly enraged, Esau now takes a wife from a severed branch of the patriarchal line. Disgraceful!

I hope you have enjoyed my insights and will join me again soon.

Lehitra’ot and God bless you.

Endnote

[1] It was (and in may ways still is) customary for such momentous occasions to take place within the setting of a feast.

[2] Was this favouritism wholly or partly for reasons of primogeniture?

One thought on “Genesis 26:34-28:9 – Esau becomes Filled with Bitterness towards his Parents & his (Patriarch) Brother

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