Genesis 27:40
And by your sword shall you live, and shall serve your brother; and it shall come to pass when you shall have the dominion, that you shall break his yoke from off your neck.
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(40) When thou shalt have the dominion.—This rendering of a rare and difficult Hebrew word is scarcely more than a guess made by two or three ancient Jewish commentators. Its real meaning here, and in Jeremiah 2:31, Hosea 11:12, is to toss the yoke—be restless and unquiet. The prophecy of Edom’s subjection to his brother was literally fulfilled, as Idumæa was for ages a mere dependency upon Judah; but in the days first of Joram, and then of Ahaz, it revolted, and recovered its freedom. It was again conquered by Hyrcanus, the nephew of Judas Maccabaeus; nor was its subject condition altered by the fact that the dynasty of the Herods was of Edomite extraction. In troubled times, then, it broke the yoke from its neck; but generally Edom served his brother.

27:30-40 When Esau understood that Jacob had got the blessing, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry. The day is coming, when those that now make light of the blessings of the covenant, and sell their title to spiritual blessings for that which is of no value, will, in vain, ask urgently for them. Isaac, when made sensible of the deceit practised on him, trembled exceedingly. Those who follow the choice of their own affections, rather than the Divine will, get themselves into perplexity. But he soon recovers, and confirms the blessing he had given to Jacob, saying, I have blessed him, and he shall be blessed. Those who part with their wisdom and grace, their faith and a good conscience, for the honours, wealth, or pleasures of this world, however they feign a zeal for the blessing, have judged themselves unworthy of it, and their doom shall be accordingly. A common blessing was bestowed upon Esau. This he desired. Faint desires of happiness, without right choice of the end, and right use of the means, deceive many unto their own ruin. Multitudes go to hell with their mouths full of good wishes. The great difference is, that there is nothing in Esau's blessing which points at Christ; and without that, the fatness of the earth, and the plunder of the field, will stand in little stead. Thus Isaac, by faith, blessed both his sons, according as their lot should be.At length, in reply to the weeping suppliant, he bestows upon him a characteristic blessing. "Away from the fatness." The preposition (מי mı̂y) is the same as in the blessing of Jacob. But there, after a verb of giving, it had a partitive sense; here, after a noun of place, it denotes distance or separation; for example, Proverbs 20:3 The pastoral life has been distasteful to Esau, and so it shall be with his race. The land of Edom was accordingly a comparative wilderness (Malachi 1:3). "On thy sword." By preying upon others. "And thy brother shalt thou serve." Edom was long independent; but at length Saul was victorious over them 1 Samuel 14:47, and David conquered them 2 Samuel 8:14. Then followed a long struggle, until John Hyrcanus, 129 b.c., compelled them to be circumcised and incorporated into Judaism. "Break his yoke." The history of Edom was a perpetual struggle against the supremacy of Israel. Conquered by Saul, subdued by David, repressed by Solomon, restrained after a revolt by Amaziah, they recovered their independence in the time of Ahab. They were incorporated into the Jewish state, and furnished it with the dynasty of princes beginning with Antipater. Esau was now exasperated against his brother, and could only compose his mind by resolving to slay him during the days of mourning after his father's death.39, 40. Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth—The first part is a promise of temporal prosperity, made in the same terms as Jacob's [Ge 27:28]—the second part refers to the roving life of hunting freebooters, which he and his descendants should lead. Though Esau was not personally subject to his brother, his posterity were tributary to the Israelites, till the reign of Joram when they revolted and established a kingdom of their own (2Ki 8:20; 2Ch 21:8-10). By thy sword shalt thou live; by violence and rapine, in an unquiet and military posture, troubling others, and forced to defend thyself. But this, as also the following clause, though spoken to Esau, was not fulfilled in him, but in his posterity the Edomites, whose history makes good this prophecy. Thus things spoken and promised to Abraham were fulfilled in his posterity, as Genesis 12:3 22:18.

When thou shalt have the dominion; when thou shalt grow potent. Some render the words thus, When thou shalt have mourned or groaned, as the same word is used Psalm 55:2; when thou hast oppressed as long as I think fit. And by thy sword shalt thou live,.... By what he could get by it; his land being so poor that he could not live upon it, but must be obliged to such methods for a livelihood; or his country being surrounded with enemies, his posterity would be obliged to defend themselves by the sword, and other weapons of war:

and shalt serve thy brother; which is the sense and language of the oracle, Genesis 25:23; and which Isaac perhaps now remembered, and had a clear understanding of it, and delivers out his prophetic blessing agreeably to it:

and it shall come to pass, when thou shalt have the dominion; not over the Israelites, the posterity of Jacob, which the Edomites, Esau's posterity, never had; but when they should get a greater degree of strength, power, authority, and dominion in the world:

that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck; the Edomites should revolt from the posterity of Jacob, and shake off the yoke of bondage and subjection they had been long under; as they did in the times of Joram, king of Judah, and set up a king of their own, and continued in such a state of freedom a long time, see 2 Kings 8:20.

And {i} by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt {k} serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck.

(i) Because your enemies will be all around you.

(k) Which was fulfilled in his posterity the Idumeans: who were tributaries for a time to Israel, and later came to freedom.

40. by thy sword] The soil will not furnish means of subsistence. The life of marauders dwelling in mountain fastnesses is here depicted. They will raid their brother’s borders. They will cut off the merchants travelling with caravans and camels between the Red Sea and Syria.

thou shalt serve thy brother] Cf. Genesis 25:23. The people of Edom were first subjugated by Israel in the reign of David. Cf. 2 Samuel 8:14.

break loose] Better, as Driver, “become restless.” The word in the original is obscure, being found elsewhere only in Psalm 55:2, “restless”; Jeremiah 2:31, “broken loose”; Hosea 11:12 (R.V. marg. is yet unstedfast with). Probably the metaphor is that of an animal shaking itself free from restraint. The A.V. “shalt have dominion” is quite impossible. Dillmann, “when thou shalt make efforts, or strive,” as the Arabian and Ethiopian versions.

Lat. tempusque veniet, cum excutias et solvas jugum ejus.

shake … neck] The metaphor is that of the bull refusing the yoke. Edom successfully threw off the yoke of the kingdom of Judah in the reigns of Jehoram, 2 Kings 8:20-22, and Ahaz, 2 Kings 16:6. But freedom from the dominion of Israel was followed by submission to Assyria. Edom appears among those who paid tribute to the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III (731 b.c.), the Pul of 2 Kings 15:19-20.Verse 40. - And by thy sword shalt thou live, - literally, upon thy sword shalt thou be, i.e. thy maintenance shall depend on thy sword; a prediction that Esau s descendants should be a warlike and tumultuous people of predatory habits (cf. Josephus, B. 1, 4. 4) - and shalt serve thy brother; - a prediction afterwards fulfilled (cf. 1 Samuel 14:47; 2 Samuel 8:14; 1 Kings 11:16; 2 Kings 14:7-10; 2 Chronicles 20:22-25) - and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck. The verb רוּד, used of beasts which have broken the yoke and wander freely about (Gesenius, Furst), appear to hint at an incessant restlessness on the part of Edom while under Israel's yoke which should eventually terminate in regaining their independence. The exact rendering of the clause is obscure, but perhaps means that when Edom should roam about as a freebooter (Lange), or should revolt (Alford), or should toss, shake, or struggle against the yoke (Vulgate, Keil, Hengstenberg, 'Speaker's Commentary), he should succeed. Other renderings are, when thou shalt bear rule (Kimchi), when thou shalt repent (Jarchi), when thou shalt be strong (Samaritan), when thou prevailest (Murphy), when thou shalt truly desire it (Kalisch), when thou shalt pull down (LXX.); because thou art restless (Havernick).

CHAPTER 27:41-46 Jacob had hardly left his father, after receiving the blessing (יצא אך, was only gone out), when Esau returned and came to Isaac, with the game prepared, to receive the blessing. The shock was inconceivable which Isaac received, when he found that he had blessed another, and not Esau-that, in fact, he had blessed Jacob. At the same time he neither could nor would, either curse him on account of the deception which he had practised, or withdraw the blessing imparted. For he could not help confessing to himself that he had sinned and brought the deception upon himself by his carnal preference for Esau. Moreover, the blessing was not a matter of subjective human affection, but a right entrusted by the grace of God to paternal supremacy and authority, in the exercise of which the person blessing, being impelled and guided by a higher authority, imparted to the person to be blest spiritual possessions and powers, which the will of man could not capriciously withdraw. Regarding this as the meaning of the blessing, Isaac necessarily saw in what had taken place the will of God, which had directed to Jacob the blessing that he had intended for Esau. He therefore said, "I have blessed him; yea, he will be (remain) blessed" (cf. Hebrews 12:17). Even the great and bitter lamentation into which Esau broke out could not change his father's mind. To his entreaty in Genesis 27:34, "Bless me, even me also, O my father!" he replied, "Thy brother came with subtilty, and hath taken away thy blessing." Esau answered, "Is it that (הכי) they have named him Jacob (overreacher), and he has overreached me twice?" i.e., has he received the name Jacob from the fact that he has twice outwitted me? הכי is used "when the cause is not rightly known" (cf. Genesis 29:15). To his further entreaty, "Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?" (אצל, lit., to lay aside), Isaac repeated the substance of the blessing given to Jacob, and added, "and to thee (לכה for לך as in Genesis 3:9), now, what can I do, my son?" When Esau again repeated, with tears, the entreaty that Isaac would bless him also, the father gave him a blessing (Genesis 27:39, Genesis 27:40), but one which, when compared with the blessing of Jacob, was to be regarded rather as "a modified curse," and which is not even described as a blessing, but "introduced a disturbing element into Jacob's blessing, a retribution for the impure means by which he had obtained it." "Behold," it states, "from the fat fields of the earth will thy dwelling be, and from the dew of heaven from above." By a play upon the words Isaac uses the same expression as in Genesis 27:28, "from the fat fields of the earth, and from the dew," but in the opposite sense, מן being partitive there, and privative here, "from equals away from." The context requires that the words should be taken thus, and not in the sense of "thy dwelling shall partake of the fat of the earth and the dew of heaven" (Vulg., Luth., etc.).

(Note: I cannot discover, however, in Malachi 1:3 an authentic proof of the privative meaning, as Kurtz and Delitzsch do, since the prophet's words, "I have hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste," are not descriptive of the natural condition of Idumaea, but of the desolation to which the land was given up.)

Since Isaac said (Genesis 27:37) he had given Jacob the blessing of the super-abundance of corn and wine, he could not possibly promise Esau also fat fields and the dew of heaven. Nor would this agree with the words which follows, "By thy sword wilt thou live." Moreover, the privative sense of מן is thoroughly poetical (cf. 2 Samuel 1:22; Job 11:15, etc.). The idea expressed in the words, therefore, was that the dwelling-place of Esau would be the very opposite of the land of Canaan, viz., an unfruitful land. This is generally the condition of the mountainous country of Edom, which, although not without its fertile slopes and valleys, especially in the eastern portion (cf. Robinson, Pal. ii. p. 552), is thoroughly waste and barren in the western; so that Seetzen says it consists of "the most desolate and barren mountains probably in the world."

The mode of life and occupation of the inhabitants were adapted to the country. "By (lit., on) thy sword thou wilt live;" i.e., thy maintenance will depend on the sword (על as in Deuteronomy 8:3 cf. Isaiah 28:16), "live by war, rapine, and freebooting" (Knobel). "And thy brother thou wilt serve; yet it will come to pass, as (כּאשׁר, lit., in proportion as, cf. Numbers 27:14) thou shakest (tossest), thou wilt break his yoke from thy neck." רוּד, "to rove about" (Jeremiah 2:31; Hosea 12:1), Hiphil "to cause (the thoughts) to rove about" (Psalm 55:3); but Hengstenberg's rendering is the best here, viz., "to shake, sc., the yoke." In the wild, sport-loving Esau there was aptly prefigured the character of his posterity. Josephus describes the Idumaean people as "a tumultuous and disorderly nation, always on the watch on every motion, delighting in mutations" (Whiston's tr.: de bell Judges 4; Judges 1:1-21:25; 1). The mental eye of the patriarch discerned in the son his whole future family in its attitude to its brother-nation, and he promised Edom, not freedom from the dominion of Israel (for Esau was to serve his brother, as Jehovah had predicted before their birth), but only a repeated and not unsuccessful struggle for freedom. And so it was; the historical relation of Edom to Israel assumed the form of a constant reiteration of servitude, revolt, and reconquest. After a long period of independence at the first, the Edomites were defeated by Saul (1 Samuel 14:47) and subjugated by David (2 Samuel 8:14); and, in spite of an attempt at revolt under Solomon (1 Kings 11:14.), they remained subject to the kingdom of Judah until the time of Joram, when they rebelled. They were subdued again by Amaziah (2 Kings 14:7; 2 Chronicles 25:11.), and remained in subjection under Uzziah and Jotham (2 Kings 14:22; 2 Chronicles 26:2). It was not till the reign of Ahaz that they shook the yoke of Judah entirely off (2 Kings 16:6; 2 Chronicles 28:17), without Judah being ever able to reduce them again. At length, however, they were completely conquered by John Hyrcanus about b.c. 129, compelled to submit to circumcision, and incorporated in the Jewish state (Josephus, Ant. xiii. 9, 1, xv. 7, 9). At a still later period, through Antipater and Herod, they established an Idumaean dynasty over Judea, which lasted till the complete dissolution of the Jewish state.

Thus the words of Isaac to his two sons were fulfilled-words which are justly said to have been spoken "in faith concerning things to come" (Hebrews 11:20). For the blessing was a prophecy, and that not merely in the case of Esau, but in that of Jacob also; although Isaac was deceived with regard to the person of the latter. Jacob remained blessed, therefore, because, according to the predetermination of God, the elder was to serve the younger; but the deceit by which his mother prompted him to secure the blessing was never approved. On the contrary, the sin was followed by immediate punishment. Rebekah was obliged to send her pet son into a foreign land, away from his father's house, and in an utterly destitute condition. She did not see him for twenty years, even if she lived till his return, and possibly never saw again. Jacob had to atone for his sin against both brother and father by a long and painful exile, in the midst of privation, anxiety, fraud, and want. Isaac was punished for retaining his preference for Esau, in opposition to the revealed will of Jehovah, by the success of Jacob's stratagem; and Esau for his contempt of the birthright, by the loss of the blessing of the first-born. In this way a higher hand prevailed above the acts of sinful men, bringing the counsel and will of Jehovah to eventual triumph, in opposition to human thought and will.

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