WISDOM FROM THE BEGINNING: PART VI – SECTION I
JACOB AND ESAU:
BROTHERS IN CONFLICT
I. In chapter 25, verse 19, the book then turns to the next generation, Jacob and Esau.
A. The first part
of the chapter described the deaths of Abraham and Ishmael, even though
those events occurred after the birth of Jacob and Esau. The placement
of those events first is meant to give a sense of the passing of the
other generations and families in preparation for the ascendance of
1. For the first
time, the covenant has been handed onto a son, who receive the covenant
rather than accepting it for the first time as an adult. He still
must choose to carry it out.
2. The text emphasizes
that Isaac was forty when he married Rebekah. Forty years, although
longer than the typical generation, was a shorthand for a full generation.
Thus, for example, the Chosen People would wander in the desert for
forty years until that generation (i.e. the leaders and other adults)
died off. Likewise, Jesus said in about 31-33 A.D. that "this
generation would not pass away" until His prediction of the destruction
of the Temple was fulfilled; that occurred in 70 A.D.
1. Some of the
Church fathers, building on the comparison of the (planned) sacrifice
of Isaac to the sacrifice of Christ, also compare the marriage of Isaac
and Rebekah to the marriage of Christ and His Church. See St.
Caesarius of Arles, Sermon 85; Origin, Homilies on Genesis 10:5; St.
Ambrose, Isaac, or the Soul 1:2. This time of sterility is an
image of the time it often takes between the first preaching of the
Gospel and the many prayers, until conversions take place. It
is also a comfort to women who have trouble conceiving that many holy
women, such as Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah (the mother of Samuel) and St.
Elizabeth did the same. See also Wis. 3:13-4:6.
1. If one believes
in promigeniture, twins create a problem because both of them are basically
the same age.
2. God gives a mysterious promise regarding the two sons and the two nations, which could be translated either, "The elder shall serve the younger," or "The elder, the younger shall serve." It is clear that there will be some dominance, but either one could be dominant. In a sense, both promises would be true. Israel would come to dominate the religious promises, but the foreign nations, exemplified by Esau and the Edomites who would descend from him would sometimes dominate Israel. In particular, Herod the Great, who ruled over the Promised Land when Christ was born, was Edomite.
1. Right at birth, the first-born Esau is ruddy and hairy, indicating physical strength and a more obviously dominant personality. Jacob is gripping his heal, indicating more one who follows.
- The Jacob
is derived from the Hebrew word for heel. Easu's second name
Edom is based roughly on the Hebrew word for red.
1. The event, where Esau sells the birthright of the firstborn for a meal, probably occurs when both of them are teenagers, or perhaps in their early 20s. The birthright was the special blessing that the firstborn would receive, religious and leadership responsibilities, and the larger share of the estate. Here, however, the birthright is of vastly greater importance because it means carrying on the covenant.
- Esau plainly
does not understand the importance of the birthright. Partially,
it is probably because he does not care about long-range planning.
Partially, it is because he is unaware of the spiritual significance,
and thinks that it only involves some division of property long in the
future, which may or may not even occur. Esau cares about establishing
his current dominance by having Jacob serve him.
II. After describing birth, early life, and early rivalry of Esau and Jacob, the text once again turns to Isaac's dealings with the world. With God's blessings, Isaac flourishes, but he needs to learn to trust in God.
1. The first
five verses describe God speaking with Isaac and giving him promises
similar to those given to Abraham. Verses 23-25 describe another
vision and an altar.
1. Here the famine occurs first and Isaac goes toward Egypt. But, instead of God's call to migrate to the Promised Land, and acquiescence when Abraham went to Egypt, God calls upon Isaac to remain in the Promised Land.
- Isaac had
apparently lived to the northeast of Gerar and was on his way to Egypt,
which was presumably not affected by the famine, when God appeared to
- Isaac is
in the Promised Land and thus the call is to remain and make it work.
The spiritual life is, in one way a journey, as with Abraham, but in
another way, a steady consistency, as with Isaac.
- The promises
are based, not upon anything Isaac has so far done, but rather upon
Abraham's faithfulness. But Isaac does cooperate by remaining
in the land of Gerar. Grace is first a gift of God, without human
merit, but we choose whether to act upon it.
1. Isaac had probably heard of his parent's stratagem in dealing with the people of Gerar by passing Sarah off as Abraham's wife. Here, Isaac and Rebekah are cousin's once removed, and thus the same deceiptful, but partially true claim is available. Isaac and Rebekah and not resort to it at once, but when the people of Gerar ask about her, they goes back the trick Abraham and Sarah used.
described later, the event probably took place before the birth of Esau
and Jacob, for their presence would have made the deceit very difficult.
Still, it occurs at least 41 years, and probably a few more, from the
similar event with Abraham and Sarah.
1. In a dramatic
reversal of the famine, Isaac reaps a hundred-fold from his crop.
A hundredfold return would be at the very highest level. Cf.
Mark 4:8. There is an implication that Isaac continued year and
year to be prosperous beyond that of the people in the same area.
- He re-digs
the same wells Abraham's people dug and gives them the same name.
He understands their symbolic importance as continuing Abraham's claim
to the land. The native people presumably understand the same
thing and thus dispute the claim.
- The campsites
were in wadis, which were ravines that would have rivers or streams
when there was rain, but would be dry at other times. There would
presumably be water beneath the surface even when the surface was dry.
- The fact that there was only one main well in the campsite indicates that Isaac is not there with the whole people of Abraham. Presumably, he is not leading as large a number of people that Abraham did, which would also explain why the people are more willing to dispute with him. Rule over large numbers of other people is not necessary for God's blessings.
1. There seems
to be a holiness to that area that is understood by both the Chosen
People and others. It would become the southernmost part of the Promised
Land, thus marking the connecting point between the People of God and
1. He comes with
his councilor and military leader. Origin sees in them the symbols
of all the good natural powers (political, intellectual, physical) that
can be at peace with the people of God, anticipating the magi in the
Gospels. See Homilies on Genesis 14:3. Noteworthily, they
seem to be equals, indicating that neither type of power rules over
the other, but that they here cooperate. It is in some ways the
ideal of a secular world.
G. The scene closes with Isaac's servants finding water for a new well, which they will now keep. The well is not only good news in itself, but also establishes once again a permanent claim on the land.