The incidents recorded in this chapter are the only ones in which Isaac figures as chief character. Immediately thereafter other persons stand out more prominently. This is in keeping with the character of Isaac. He is not the prominent, aggressive figure that Abraham is. Isaac, himself a great man in his own right, is quite overshadowed by the towering figure of Abraham. True Isaac is a quiet and unassuming man, patient and submissive in his contact with others. But to infer from this that he is unworthy of the patriarchal position would be wrong. He is a man of strong faith. But it is not given to all men to occupy equally prominent positions in the kingdom of God. The distinct advance made in Abraham's day is carefully guarded by Isaac. Isaac lives in the fulness of truth revealed to Abraham. Spiritually he is a true son of his father. It has well been said that the experience of Moriah put its stamp upon Isaac and taught him that in patiently submitting to the Lord's will one shall see the Lord's salvation.
The pronounced parallel between events in Isaac's life and those of Abraham's can only disturb those who are too shortsighted to see that similar characters under similar circumstances in a given age are very likely to have similar experiences. A bit less of theorizing about such situations and a bit more of observation of real life will furnish a multitude of parallels equally startling.
(a) Sojourn in Philistaea (v.1-11)
1. And there came a famine in the land, other than the first famine that was in the days of Abraham; and Isaac went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, to Gerar.
The writer, conscious of the similarity of Isaac's situation to that of Abraham's, is at pains to remind us that this could not be the famine of Abraham's time, and that we, therefore, have an entirely new case to deal with. In fact, a bit of computation reminds us that a full century had passed since that time. The second half of the verse is best construed as giving in characteristic Hebrew fashion the whole event in a summary fashion: Isaac went to Gerar. The details, beginning back in point of time before he actually started out, follow, beginning at verse 2. The Abimelech here mentioned can hardly be the Abimelech of chapter 20, who ruled Philistaea eighty years before. The common assumption that Abimelech was a standing designation of all Philistine kings, like Pharaoh for the Egyptian, finds definite support in the heading of Ps 34, where Abimelech is used as a title for the man who 1Sa 21:10-15 appears as Achish. "Gerar" appears to be identical with Umm-Jerar, about ten miles south of Gaza.
2-5. And Yahweh appeared to him and said: Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land I tell thee of; sojourn in this land and I will be with thee and I will bless thee. For to thee and to thy descendants do I give all these lands. And I will fulfill my oath which I swore to Abraham, thy Father, and I will multiply thy descendants as the stars of the heavens, and I will give to thy descendants all these lands, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves in thy seed; because that Abraham hearkened to my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
The situation is sufficiently important to call for divine intervention. God appears to Isaac as well as to Abraham; but only twice to Isaac: here and v. Ge 26:24. He appears in the capacity of "Yahweh," because His graciousness as the covenant God watching over the covenant people is displayed. According to our interpretation of v. Ge 26:1 this word was spoken before. Isaac set out from southern Palestine. Isaac may actually have contemplated a temporary sojourn in Egypt. This is denied him. Divine providence alone can determine whether what is permissible in one case is advisable in another. The statement, "dwell in the land I tell thee of," means, "in whatever land I may designate from time to time." There Isaac is to sojourn, and in every case he will be sure of the attendance of the divine presence as well as of the divine blessing. The blessings spoken upon Abraham are here being definitely renewed for Isaac in all their fulness with certain modifications of expression. The correspondence part for part with these earlier promises is too obvious to require to be pointed out: descendants, a land for these descendants, God's blessing upon them in that land. If incidentally the one land is now thought of in terms of the constituent parts: "all these lands," the difference in expression is merely nominal. Ha'el, the shortened form for ha'elleh, is one of the peculiarities of the Pentateuch. All such gifts as are here promised are based upon that basic oath spoken to Abraham (Ge 22:16 f.) which is important enough to be alluded to again.
4. The promise of numerous offspring is as much in place for Isaac as for Abraham, for in Isaac's case, too, the chosen family had not yet displayed numerical strength. The second half of the verse brings the distinctly Messianic element in the promise. For there is but one thing sufficiently important to challenge the strongest interest of "all the nations of the earth" and that is the Messianic blessing. Here, however, a slightly different point of view obtains. In Ge 12:3 the simple passive (Nifal) had been used, "be blessed." Here the reflexive (Hithpael) appears, "bless oneself." Naturally the latter is not radically different from the former, nor does it cancel the idea of the former. The passive speaks of objective blessings. The reflexive shows the subjective reaction: nations shall "bless themselves," i. e., wish themselves the blessings conferred through Abraham's seed, the Messiah in particular. Heretofore we have been translating zéra'(" seed") as collective: "descendants" (also v.3), but here we definitely believe that the One great Descendant is primarily under consideration, "the Seed," the Christ. We also hold that in the light of Ge 3:15 (see explanation there) men like Isaac will have interpreted this word as referring specifically to One -- a fact denied almost universally in our day but yet true.
5. Though, indeed, this promise originally given to Abraham was a promise of pure grace, without any merit or worthiness on his part, yet God's mercy deigned to note with delight the one thing that Abraham did, which kept him from making himself unworthy of the divine promises: Abraham obeyed every divine injunction. Therefore, these manifold blessings, Isaac is told, come upon him for Abraham his father's sake, or rather, because of Abraham's faithful obedience. Remarkable is the scope of divine blessings that are mediated through faithful Abraham. In order to make prominent the thought that Abraham conscientiously did all that God asked, the various forms of divine commandments are enumerated; sometimes, of course, a divine word would fall under several of these categories. They are a "charge" or "observance" if they are to be observed mishméreth from shamar, ("observe"). They are "commandments" (mitswôth) when regarded from the angle of having been divinely commanded. They are "statutes" (chuqqôth) when thought of as immutable, and "laws" (torôth) insofar as they involve divine instruction or teaching. Under these headings would come the "commandment" to leave home (ch. Ge 12), the "statute" of circumcision, the instruction to sacrifice Isaac, or to do any other particular thing such as (Ge 15:8) to sacrifice, or (Ge 13:17, 18) to walk through the land, as well as all other individual acts as they are implied in his attitude toward Yahweh, his faithful God. By the use of these terms Moses, who purposes to use them all very frequently in his later books, indicates that "laws, commandments, charges, and statutes" are nothing new but were involved already in patriarchal religion. Criticism, of course, unable to appreciate such valuable and suggestive thoughts, or thinking Moses, at least, incapable of having them, here decrees that these words come from another source, for though J wrote the chapter, J, according to the lists they have compiled, does not have these words in his vocabulary, and so the device, so frequently resorted to, is employed here of claiming to discern traces of a late hand, a redactor.
6, 7. And Isaac dwelt in Gerar; and when the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said: She is my sister, for he was afraid to say: She is my wife lest the men of the place slay me because of Rebekah, for she was beautiful to look at.
Isaac, constituted much like his father, finding himself in a situation identical with the one in which his father has figured, does exactly as his father. The very strange thing about this action is that it is as wrong here as there, if not more wrong, For Isaac must have known how the matter turned out in the case of his father. But then, for that matter, sin is never logical.
Criticism, with almost complete unanimity we know of only Koenig as an exception calls this a later (Isaac) version of the original (Abraham) legend, or else calls chapter 26 the original and chapter 20 derivative. Yet the differences, aside from the very plain statements of the text to the same effect, point to two different situations: here a famine, there none; here Rebekah is not molested, there Abimelech took Sarah; here accidental discovery, there divine intervention; here no royal gift, there rich recompense. Of course, criticism usually points to Ge 12:10 ff. as being merely another form of the same incident. Yet at least one aspect of the critical approach can be refuted completely on purely critical grounds. For, as K. C. observes, it is unthinkable that J, to whom chapter 12 as well as chapter 26 are attributed, should have preserved two versions of one and the same incident.
8-10. And it came to pass after quite a number of days had passed, that Abimelech, king of the Philistines, looked out of his window, and, behold, Isaac was caressing Rebekah, his wife. And Abimelech summoned Isaac and said: Look here, she certainly is thy wife, and how is it that thou saidst: She is my sister? And Isaac said to him: (I did it) because I said: that I might not die on her account. And Abimelech said: What, now, hast thou done to us? Quite easily some of the people might have lain with thy wife, and so thou wouldest have brought guilt upon us.
The situation comes to a climax after quite a number of days had passed (literally, "the days had grown long for him"), when Abimelech, looking out of a "window," (one of the small latticed openings looking beyond the confines of the court), happened to see Isaac, who dearly loved his wife (Ge 24:25), "caressing" her (metsach (ch) eq -- "fondling," "sporting." A.V.), a course of procedure not followed with sisters. Though the term "sister" is sometimes used loosely, even the relative truth involved by such use would in Isaac's mouth have been employed in order to deceive, and would thus certainly have been an untruth.
9. The wayyiqra' can hardly here mean: he called out to him from the window (Procksch), by which boorish behaviour on the king's part a lifelike touch is supposed to be secured. Rather, he formally "summoned" Isaac. The king's mode of stating the case implies suspicions that he has held right along: "Look (here), she certainly is thy wife," a shade of thought caught by Meek when he renders: "So she really is your wife." Taken to task for his lie, Isaac weakly admits that he had been afraid: men might have put him to death on her account. Amûth ("die") is here really used in the sense of "lose my life." The kî is best explained as "because," and so it involves an ellipsis ("I did it").
10. Abimelech administers a well-deserved rebuke. The memory of what happened to his grandfather may perhaps have still been fresh at court. Kim'at could mean "almost," but that would imply what the text otherwise does not indicate, that some individual had been on the verge of approaching her. So "easily" (A. V.) is more in place. This Abimelech also has a measure of the fear of God still left in his heart, for he knows that adultery involves "guilt." However, obversely, by the argument from silence we dare not infer, as some do, that the king considered carnal intercourse with a maiden as entirely right. For it appears far more likely that a man who seeks to avoid guilt on the part of himself and his people will not have stood on so low a level morally, and will have referred to "guilt," asham, in the sense of "great guilt." After kim'at the perfect always is used (K. S.175). Hebe'tha with e (G. K.76h). Mah-zo'th could mean "what is this?" perhaps "why?" but most likely the demonstrative is used for a mild emphasis: "what, now?"
11. And Abimelech gave orders to all his people, saying: He that toucheth this man or his wife shall without fail be put to death.
The king is a man who desires to have righteousness strictly upheld among his people, so he gives orders to all his people, apparently by some public proclamation. Hebrew: "this man and his wife" means "this man or his wife" (K. S.375f). The same result is arrived at by construing the thought thus: "he that toucheth this man and he that toucheth his wife." In mûth yûmath the Hofal of the verb is strengthened by the Kal absolute infinitive, by which construction the verbal idea is made more positive not intensified; therefore: "shall be put to death without fail."
(b) His Prosperity (v.12-17)
12-14. And Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped that year a hundred fold; and so Yahweh blessed him. And the man prospered and kept right on and prospered until he was exceedingly prosperous. And his property consisted of flocks and herds and many servants; and the Philistines were envious of him.
If Abraham cultivated fields at all, he did not do sufficient of such work to make it important enough to record. Isaac ventured into agriculture to such an extent as to allow us to classify him as a kind of seminomad. Consequently, though following for the most part in Abraham's footsteps, Isaac must, nevertheless, be credited with a measure of initiative. He also dug new wells (v. Ge 26:19 ff.). For "reaped" the Hebrew text has "found" (matsa'), involving the idea of coming into the field and discovering how rich the crop really is. She'arîm means "measures," here most properly a hundred measures -- "a hundred fold." Such remarkable fertility was sometimes found in days of old and is claimed for the Hauran, east of the Jordan, to this day. Here, however, a rich harvest is a token of divine favour. Therefore the "and he blessed" (waybhßrekh) is meant in the sense "and so Yahweh blessed" (K. S.369 g). Though such a material blessing could most properly have been ascribed to Elohim, here the ascribing of it to Yahweh involves that He was blessing him because Isaac stood in covenant relation with Him.
13. In terms and construction reminiscent of Ge 7:18, 19 the increase of Isaac's prosperity is here described. Gadhel, "be great," can hardly here be used of achievement or renown, and so we have rendered it "prospered." The Hebrew idiom for "he kept growing richer and richer" is: "he went forward, going on, and became prosperous." Halokh, absolute infinitive (G. K.113 u).
14. Since Abraham already was very rich (Ge 13:2; 14:23) and the bulk of his property had gone to Isaac, such an increase as this in Isaac's wealth must have brought his possessions up to a startling total. However, his wealth was that of the nomad only, "flocks, herds, servants." The Hebrew designates the first two as "possession of flock" and "possession of cattle." Apparently, he had abstained from raising camels and asses. However, a requisite number of servants also belonged to his establishment -- "many servants" -- 'abuddah, abstract "service" (Dienerschaft) for concrete "servants." A problem resulted from this unusual prosperity: the Philistines grew envious. This is here added to explain the clash with the Philistines on the subject of wells, which is about to be touched upon.
15-17. Now all the wells which the servants of his father had dug in the days of Abraham, his father, these the Philistines stopped and filled with dirt. And Abimelech said to Isaac: Go away from us, for thou art altogether too powerful for us. So Isaac went away and pitched tent in the valley of Gerar and settled down there.
Envy on the Philistines' part turns to spite. The wells so essential to the herds of nomads, wells that dated back to Abraham's time, and may for half a century or more have been recognized as the peculiar property of Abraham's family because he himself had had them dug, these the Philistines now begin to fill with dirt ('aphar) and so stop them up. Such a loss is very painful, for it shuts off the prime necessity of physical life. So the result of the envy of the Philistines is described. Criticism quite commonly insists that v.15 is a later insertion. Critics would have preferred v.16 as the continuation of v. Ge 26:14. But what strange reasoning! Before the final result is related, we have the summons to depart. Why cannot another intermediate stage be recorded, namely, instead of 1. envy 2. summons, 1. envy, 2. spite 3. summons. In this latter case 2., 3. make a good sequence, for when the Philistines have done Isaac wrong, the king according to a common psychological procedure blames Isaac, asserting he has become too powerful. "Wells" -- a nominative absolute (K. S.341 c).
16. Numerically Isaac's household was so strong as to constitute a threat to the safety of the Philistines, had Isaac been minded to use his power selfishly. The king's summons is a combination of flattery ("thou art altogether too powerful for us") and of an ungracious attitude ("go away from us").
17. Isaac is a pacifist in the best sense of the word. Power is safe in his hands. He shows no inclination to abuse it. Secure in his strength but mindful primarily of his responsibilities to his God, he yields to pressure and moves farther up the valley, i. e., southeast from Gerar, and there pitches his tent with the intent of staying there permanently (he "settled down" -- yeshebh -- "sat down"). On yichan from chanah see G. K.75 r.
(c) Strife over Wells (v.18-22)
18-20. Then Isaac let the wells of water be reopened which had first been dug in the days of Abraham, his father, and which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham, and he gave them the names which his father had already given them. Then Isaac's servants dug in the valley and found a well of running water. But the herdsmen of Gerar strove with Isaac's herdsmen, saying: Ours is this water. So he called the name of the well Esek (Contention), because they contended with him.
It may seem like an account of prosy trifles to have such petty strife recorded in the Scriptures, but against the background of these trivialities the character of a man like Isaac is displayed to advantage. Trivialities serve to reveal true nobility of character when a man rises above them.
To understand the situation correctly for criticism again believes v.18 to be a later insertion we must note that though Isaac had departed partly because of stopped-up wells (v. Ge 26:15), yet Isaac's herds and flocks were spread over a great territory, and, apparently, very many wells had been stopped up all along the valley of Gerar. So abandoning those wells nearer Gerar, which had been one immediate source of contention, Isaac feels justified in reopening those wells at a distance from Gerar which Abraham had dug. The Hebrew construction: "and he returned and dug" -- he "reopened." However, since the patriarch merely took steps to have this done, we may render: "he let the wells be reopened." The statement that they were wells that Abraham had first dug is not superfluous after v.15 but clearly establishes Isaac's claims to these wells. To indicate, further, his right to these wells and to indicate his respect for what his father did, Isaac in every case revives the original names of these wells. On shûbh used adverbially for "again" see G. K.120 d; K. S.332 v; 369q. In waysattemûm ("and they stopped") the converted imperfect takes the place of the relative construction with asher, which had preceded (K. S.366 c).
19. This verse, of course, refers to additional digging operations carried on by Isaac's servants. Apparently, because of the rapid increase of Isaac's wealth there was need of additional wells. But the Philistines kept close watch. What could not be claimed by right of possession from Abraham's time was contested, especially in this case where "running water" (Hebrew idiom: "living water," mayim chayyîm) was found.
20. The strife arises only among the herdsmen, the initiative, apparently, being taken by those of Gerar, who are mentioned first and whose assertive claim is mentioned: "Ours (emphatic) is this (demonstrative use of the article) water." No doubt, the distance from Gerar was sufficient to establish Isaac's claim to the well, otherwise this fair-minded man would never have sanctioned the digging. Isaac's policy is in keeping with the word, "Blessed are the meek." He leaves a memorial of the pettiness of the strife behind by calling the well Esek -- "Contention" -- the Quarrel Well. Perhaps a mild and tolerant humour lies in the name. Yet after all, what a fine testimonial to a great man's broad-mindedness and readiness to sacrifice, lest the baser passions in men be roused by quarrelling.
21, 22. Then they digged another well and there was strife also over it. So he called its name Sitnah (Hostility). So he moved away and dug still another well, about which there was no strife. So he called its name Rehoboth (Plenty of room), saying: For now Yahweh has given us room and we shall be fruitful in the land.
A second attempt at a new well meets with the same result. In this case the opposition seems to have been even more spiteful, for the stronger name "Sitnah" (Hostility) is left behind for the well. But everyone must recognize that it is magnanimity and not cowardice on Isaac's part when he yields, because Isaac had ample manpower at his command.
22. Isaac goes as far as possible in the interest of peace: he even "moved away." By this time his generous example seems to have shamed the opposition. No doubt, too, the site of the latest, well is still farther removed from territory which Gerar may rightfully claim. The resultant peace Isaac in true gratitude ascribes to Yahweh, tokens of whose favour he has been meeting with continually. The name "Rehoboth" is to convey this reminder. Rechobhôth means "wide places" and signifies in reference to the well more than "room" (Meek), rather "plenty of room." "Be fruitful" (parah) can hardly be referred to good crops -- "we shall be fruitful" -- but rather to numerical growth as in Ge 1:28. Isaac is thinking of v. Ge 26:4.
(d) The Appearance of Yahweh (v.23-25)
23-25. From there he went up to Beersheba, and Yahweh appeared to him that night, saying: I am the God of Abraham, thy father; be not afraid, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and make thy descendants numerous for the sake of Abraham, my servant. And he built an altar there and called upon the name of Yahweh and pitched his tent there; and there Isaac's servants digged a well.
23. Though Beersheba is said to lie lower than Gerar, yet the general expression for approaching any part of Palestine from the southwest is to "go up" ('alah).
24. "Yahweh" appears to Isaac, for covenant issues are under consideration. Isaac has behaved in a manner calling forth divine approval. Besides, Isaac's faith needs to be strengthened in the matter of the realization of the covenant promise. For one part of this promise is: numerous descendants. Isaac has been thinking along this line (see the close of v. Ge 26:22). He shall have to walk by faith very largely as did Abraham. That this faith might be well established he is informed that God will surely bring this promise to pass. So we see that the situation is sufficiently important to call for the appearance of Yahweh, the second and last that is granted to Isaac. The substance of Yahweh's promise is: Fear not as to the realization of the promises given thee, for I am with thee, I the God of Abraham, thy father, who never failed to make good what I promised to him; I guarantee to make thy descendants (Hebrew "seed") numerous, for the sake of Abraham, my servant. It is here only in Genesis that the title "my servant" is applied to Abraham. By it another aspect of Abraham's relation to the Lord is covered: he stood in God's service all his days and faithfully did His will.
25. A place marked by a divine appearance is a sacred spot where Yahweh is to be worshipped in a particular sense. So, following the good example of his father, Isaac builds an altar, where, of course, he offers sacrifice -- a thing so obvious that it is not even mentioned -- and engages in public worship in the course of which God's character and His works are extolled, for this is involved in "calling upon the name of Yahweh" (see notes on Ge 4:26). Because of Yahweh's manifestation such a spot becomes dear to Isaac, and he pitches his tent there, and since a relatively permanent residence is involved, he has servants dig a well here too. Karah, the verb for "dig" here used, differs from chaphar used earlier in the chapter, in that the former simply means "to dig," whereas the latter involves the idea of "search." Both may imply the successful completion of the digging operations.
(e) Covenant with the Philistines (v.26-33)
This passage presents a close parallel to Ge 21:22 ff. which covers a similar case in Abraham's day. But why should the thought be so repulsive that in Isaac's day the situations that had previously prevailed in Abraham's time were duplicated? Have the critics never noticed from their study of history how certain problems and situations are perennial in certain regions?
26, 27. And Abimelech came to him from Gerar together with Ahuzzath, his friend, and Phicol, the captain of his army. And Isaac said unto them: Why have ye come to me, seeing that ye on your part hate me and have driven me away from you?
As "Abimelech" is the standing title of the Philistine kings (see on v. Ge 26:1), so "Phicol" seems to have been the standing title for the captain of the army. The additional personage involved in this instance is the king's friend "Ahuzzath" (on the Philistine ending of the name cf. Goliath). The agreement to be entered into is to be more than a private diplomatic arrangement. Isaac discerns the purpose of their coming before they speak and points out a certain inconsistency manifest in their attitude: first they drive him out, then they follow after him to make a treaty of amity and good will. Besides, his manner of stating the case testifies to his innocence in the matter: "ye on your part hate me." The emphatic personal pronoun ('attem) indicates by an implied contrast that the ill will is entirely on their side; he on his part never bore them ill will, in fact, does not now. The Philistines had deserved this rebuke. Shillach here is stronger than "send away" (A. V.); they had actually "driven" him away. In v. Ge 26:29 the meaning "dismiss" is the one implied by the Philistines.
28, 29. And they said: We plainly see that Yahweh is with thee, so we said: Let, we pray, an oath be between us -- between us and you, and let us make a covenant with thee, that thou wilt do us no hurt, even as we have not touched thee, and even as we have done only good to thee, and have let thee go in peace -- thee, now the blessed of Yahweh.
Through their whole speech this one idea shines forth: we are impressed with Yahweh's blessings which continually go with thee. The Philistines refer to this at the beginning and at the close of their plea. They do not think it safe to be on bad terms with one who so manifestly stands in Yahweh's favour. That the name "Yahweh" should be used by Philistines need not surprise us. They naturally do not know Him as the one who is what this name involves. They simply take the heathen attitude: each nation serves its own God; we have heard that Isaac serves Yahweh; it must be Yahweh who has blessed His faithful follower. The "oath" ('alah) here is a "curse-oath," a lower conception than is involved in shebhû'ah. Since, indeed, the king and his captain may have been quite innocent in the matter of the trouble over the wells, they give the most favourable statement of their side of the case and with a certain diplomatic glibness claim for themselves that they always gave evidence of the best of fair play. Isaac, the meek, will not broach a fruitless argument on the subject and answers the idle claim with a significant silence. The absolute infinitive (v.28) ra'ô (G. K.113 n) conveys some such idea as "plainly." The jussive (tehî) is followed by the cohortative nikhrethah (K. S.364 g). Ta'aseh (v.29) has tsere because it is not indicative (K. S.183 c, G. K.75hh).
30, 31. And he made a feast for them and they ate and drank. And they arose early in the morning and gave the oath one to another, and Isaac let them go, and they went from him in peace.
The customary thing in making covenants, apparently, was a covenant-feast in token of goodwill. Isaac omits nothing that makes for a friendly relationship. The Philistines may be diplomats rather than friends. The oaths are exchanged early the next morning before departure. Here shillach is not meant as "drove away" or "dismissed" -- both of which would conflict with Isaac's irenic treatment of his potential allies; therefore, "let them go" (Meek). At their departure the best of goodwill. ("peace") prevails as a result of Isaac's discriminate handling of the case. In the expression "one to another" îsh, singular, does not strictly harmonize with the preceding plural verb but makes the two parties to the covenant individually more prominent (K. S.348 w),
32, 33. And it happened that day that Isaac's servants came and told him concerning the well that they had dug, and they said to him: We have found water. And he called it Shibah (oath); therefore the name of the city is Beersheba unto this day.
A coincidence, manifestly providential, marks that covenant day. After the departure of the noble guests Isaac's servants reported that the well on which they had been working had actually yielded water. Isaac regards this as a token of divine favour and gives a name to the well that is reminiscent of the oath of that date "Shibah." The difficulty about shibh'ah is that the word as such usually means "seven." Now it is true that there seems to be some deeper connection between the Hebrew roots "seven" and "swear." But here the matter is simplified if we give different vowel points to the consonants of the text, namely shebhu'ah, which is the regular word for "oath." Then all difficulty is removed. A slight difference, however, arises in connection with Ge 21:31, where the meaning "well of seven" seems to prevail. But both points of view seem justified: there were originally "seven" wells; the place was the scene of an "oath." One account emphasizes the former; the other, the latter idea. For that matter, Isaac may well have remembered the name given to the place in Abraham's time and may have welcomed the opportunity for establishing that name. The expression "unto this day" simply carries us up to the writer's time and is, of course, very appropriate coming from the pen of Moses.
(f) Esau's Hittite Wives (v.34, 35)
34, 35. When Esau was forty years old he married Judith, the daughter of Beeri, the Hittite, and Basemath, the daughter of Elon, the Hittite; and they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah.
Esau's incapacity for spiritual values is further illustrated by this step. He is not concerned about conserving the spiritual heritage of the family. Wives, two of them, unfortunately, of the Hittite stock which gave evidence of Canaanite contamination, were married (Hebrew: "he took to wife"). Yehûdhith is a form that is quite possible without attempting to derive it from Judah; it may come from the name of the town Jehûd (Jos 19:45) which lay in the confines of the territory later inhabited by Dan.
35. "Grief of mind" (morath rûach -- "bitterness of spirit") resulted from this marriage. The corrupt heathenish way of these wives will have been the source of this grief.
As to the location of the sites of Isaac's wells, "Rehoboth" might well be er-Rheibe, some twenty miles southwest of Beersheba. Robinson claimed to have found a spot Wadi Shutain, or Schutnet, which might be "Sitnah." Beersheba will, no doubt, be Bires-seba in a wadi of the same name.
On v. Ge 26:1-11 compare the remarks on chapter 12 that refer to the similar event in the life of Abraham. For the remainder of the chapter we see the several episodes as excellent illustrations of certain Scriptures that furnish the dominant thought for each episode. So v. Ge 12-17 illustrates beautifully the truth: "The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich" (Pr 10:22). The section v. Ge 26:18-25 furnishes a clear case of what is involved in the word (Ro 12:18) "as the present she is bold enough and so thoroughly convinced of the justice of the cause which she espouses as to be ready to assume any curse that may grow out of an eventual discovery. Qillathekha, "thy curse," involves a kind of eventual use of the possessive pronoun in the sense of "any curse intended for thee." Strack cites a parallel use in the expression "mine iniquity" Ps 18:23, used in the sense of: "the iniquity into which I might have fallen." The boldness of Rebekah's reply appears reflected in its elliptical form: "Upon me thy curse." While she devises a solution of the difficulty, Jacob is to "give heed to her voice and go and get" for her. Her firm command gains in curtness when the verb "get" (qach) is used without an object. In English we have supplied a "them" (referring to the kids) in order to avoid unseemly harshness of expression.
14-17. And he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and his mother made tasty things as his father loved them. And Rebekah took the garments of Esau, her elder son, the choice ones, which were with her in the house and she clad Jacob, her younger son, in them. And she put the skins of the goats upon his hands and upon the smooth part of the neck. And she gave the tasty things and the bread which she had made into the hand of Jacob, her son.
Jacob's chief difficulty was removed, He had been more afraid of detection than of duplicity. His mother, however, proved more resolute than he in carrying through the plan. Jacob provides the materials, Rebekah prepares them. After more than ninety years of married life she must have known pretty well what "his father loved."
15. Every eventuality has been considered: the sense of sight is out of the question. By the sense of hearing Isaac may be brought to have misgivings. The sense of taste will be appealed to by cunningly devised dishes. The sense of smell will point definitely to Esau if Jacob wears "the garments" of the elder, the "choice" ones (chamudhoth, feminine to agree with the feminine construction of the word bégedh which is also found). These are not by anything in the text indicated to have been priestly garments, as the Jews surmised. They are simply the better ones that men, especially men of means reserve for special occasions. But these, too, had been worn by their owner roving through the fields and woods and so had acquired an attractive odour all their own, which the father may have come to associate more and more with the presence of Esau in the room, especially as the father's eyes grew more and more dim. Undue conclusions should not be drawn from the fact that the mother had these garments "with her in the house." This does not take us back in point of time to the days before Esau had married but is quite adequately covered by the assumption that Esau after his marriage still dwelt in the same house with his parents. Criticism here tries to prove the text guilty of incongruity. "House" (bßyith) points to the fact that a more substantial dwelling may have been in use by the family just at this time; yet, bearing in mind the avowed nomadic character of life in patriarchal days, "house" may simply be used in the sense of our "home," a use found perhaps also in Ge 33:17.
16. Now the difficulty arising from possible detection by the father's sense of touch, Jacob's chief difficulty (v. Ge 27:11), is met. The skins, still very soft and pliable and readily moulded to any surface, and besides of a much finer quality than the skins of young goats as we know them, are applied to the hands and the neck. Yadh will in this case cover more than the mere "hand," for since garments were for the most part sleeveless, the whole forearm might protrude and is therefore enveloped in goatskin. All these additional precautions might well have been disposed of while the meat was roasting. No unseemly jokes about the hairy Esau are attempted by this account, rough like a goatskin.
17. The scene grows vividly dramatic as the "tasty things" prepared are put into Jacob's hands and he prepares to enter the father's room. "Bread" is mentioned because the thin loaves were broken into pieces, by the use of which meat and other viands were conveniently taken in hand without soiling the fingers, the thin bread being folded around the meat.
At this point criticism assumes too much by claiming that Gunkel has proved that the "garments" are mentioned by J, the "goatskins" by E. Such contentions cannot be proved; they are subjective opinions which are unconvincing but which seem to impress the unlearned and the unwary because they are advanced by learned writers.
18-20. And he came in to his father and he said: My father. And he said: Here am I. Who art thou, my son? And Jacob said to his father: I am Esau, thy first-born. I have done as thou didst bid me. Arise, now, take thy seat and eat, I pray, of my game in order that thy soul may bless me. And Isaac said to his son: How is it, then, that thou didst find so very quickly? And he said: Yahweh, thy God, did bring it before me.
Perhaps a trace of suspicion may be detected in Isaac's first question: "Who art thou, my son?" He expects Esau; he seems to have heard Jacob's voice, though Jacob certainly will have been trying to imitate Esau's voice and mode of speech.
19. Jacob recognizes that hesitation or curt responses will arouse further suspicion and prove fatal to his enterprise, and so somewhat volubly he talks right on. He claims to be the first-born, to have carried out all instructions, and now he summons his father to "arise" from his bed and "take his seat" (shebhah -- lengthened imperative -- for shebh -- "to sit down") and to eat. The double cohortative lends an urgency to his words, that make it appear that he is eager to receive the blessing. When Jacob calls the kid's meat "game," Whitelaw observes that this is the "third lie" in his words.
20. One surprising factor surely requires explanation: how did Esau find what he sought so very quickly? The boldness of Jacob's explanation certainly disposed of the question very effectively, but it is at the same time almost the most flagrant instance of abuse of the divine name recorded anywhere in the Scriptures. This is "lying and deceiving by God's name." By making the utterance doubly solemn, "Yahweh, thy God," the hypocritical pretense is made the more odious. Jacob's tricky device is decked out as an outstanding instance of divine providence: "Yahweh did bring it (hiqrah -- cause to meet) before me." Kî merely introduces the direct discourse and is not to be translated.
21-23. And Isaac said to Jacob: Come near, please, and let me feel of thee, my son, whether thou indeed be Esau, my son, or not. And Jacob came near to Isaac, his father, and he felt of him and said: The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau. And he did not discover him, for his hands were like Esau, his brother's, hands, hairy -- and so he blessed him.
But the father's doubt still persists. For the blind man the sense of touch must help to remedy the loss of sight. So Jacob is asked to step up that Isaac might feel of him. How correct had been Jacob's suspicion that he might be detected on this score. Luther, who entered quite successfully into the tenseness of this situation, said that had he been Jacob under scrutiny as here narrated, he would have dropped the dish and run away.
22. Though with trepidation, no doubt, Jacob steps up for closer examination. One sees the old father reach for his son with groping hand and feel of his hands and arms. Jacob will certainly have used all possible caution to prevent the father's hands from touching those parts where the kidskin was bound in place. The father's utterance reflects his perplexity: "The voice is the voice of Jacob," etc. The voice, by the way, is the only count on which misgivings arise.
23. Those who have not noticed the similarity of voice and manner of speech on the part of sons of one and the same family will think it strange that Isaac allowed the sense of touch and of smell to overrule the objections of the ear. But those who have observed this similarity will not. Isaac may well have recalled on how many occasions he had mistaken the one for the other on the strength of this similarity in speech. So "he did not discover him," -- nakhar, Hifil, implies "recognizing" or "discovering" on the basis of a close scrutiny. The sum of Isaac's conclusion then is "his hands were like Esau, his brother's hands, hairy." That is to say: the voice has its variations and modulations, and so Esau may sometimes sound like Jacob, but, surely, a man cannot change his skin from rough to smooth or vice versa. When now the conclusion of the verse says, "and so he blessed him," this is simply one more of the many instances where, according to the Hebrew style of narrative, the result is reported first and the details are given afterwards. At this point Isaac's mind is practically made up to proceed and to bless this one. For a moment the critics, who claim to have at this point clear evidence of the weaving together of two separate accounts, seem to occupy a strong position when they claim that according to E the blessing is bestowed at this point, whereas according to J another question follows, then the eating and the drinking, then the kiss, finally the blessing. However, all these artificial constructions discredit Scripture, in this case by letting the final account as we have it contain a confused version of events and so be unsatisfactory and devoid of even the simple merit of clearness and correctness. Besides, here again as practically always the critics diverge quite radically from one another in their analysis of the original sources. The account as it reads then means: at this point Isaac addressed himself to the task of blessing his son. But when v. Ge 27:24 again records a question of doubt from Isaac's lips, we are introduced to a situation we can readily understand. In spite of the resolution to go on with the blessing Isaac is assailed by new misgivings. So, then, Isaac's vacillation is effectively brought to our notice by this style of the narrative.
24-27 a. And he said: Art thou really my son Esau? and he said: I am. And he said: Bring it near to me that I may eat of the game, my son, in order that my soul may bless thee. So he brought it to him and he ate, and he brought him wine and he drank. And Isaac, his father, said to him: Come here, now, and kiss me, my son. And he came near and kissed him, and he smelled the smell of his garments and he blessed him, saying:
We have just shown how the first question indicates new misgivings on Isaac's and a new lie on Jacob's part. But Jacob's answer is so positive, and, surely, Isaac was accustomed to truthfulness on the part of his sons. Jacob's persistence in his wrong course is to be accounted for, first, by the fact that he firmly believed in the justice of his cause, and then, secondly, by the fact that his mother so staunchly supported him in the enterprise. There may have been on the part of both of these an erroneous conception of the validity of a wrong blessing. For just as the curse causeless falls to the ground (Pr 26:2), so the blessing granted in disobedience would have been futile.
25. The ending ah on the imperative and the imperfect make the hortative form help to express how Isaac is strengthening himself in his resolution to go through with the undertaking. When Isaac is said to have drunk wine at this point, the critics in a number of instances are greatly perturbed. They had not known that the patriarchs drank wine at this early date, consequently the text must be in error. Certainly a non sequitur.
26. The kiss appears here for the first time as the token of true love and deep affection. Isaac asks for this token from his son. The treachery of the act cannot be condoned on Jacob's part on any score: the token of the true love is debased to a means of deception. The Old Testament parallel (2Sa 20:9) as well as that of the New Testament (Mt 26:49 and parallels) comes to one's mind involuntarily. The emphatic imperatives with ah ("do come here and do kiss me") show how strongly Isaac enters heart and soul into his task. "My son" here implies: "my favourite."
27a. Here Rebekah's clever foresight is further vindicated as having coped with the situation. The smell of Esau's garments recalls vividly to the father the daily pursuits of his son and gives the immediate ground for the blessing to be uttered. This smell seems to have kindled Isaac's imagination.
Behold, the smell of my son is as the
smell of a field which Yahweh has blessed,
May the true God give thee of the dew of
heaven and of the fertile places of the
earth, and much of grain and wine.
Let peoples serve thee, and nations bow down
Be master over thy brethren, and may thy
mother's son bow down to thee.
Cursed be they that curse thee, and blessed be
they that bless thee.
Isaac's blessing is poetic, being, in an exalted strain of noble feeling. On the formal side this poetic character is marked by parallelism and the use of poetic words like re'eh for hinneh and hawah for hayah.
Starting with a reminiscence of the odoriferous herbs whose smell clings to Esau's garments, Isaac rightly interprets this smell as a token of things blessed by Yahweh. The sweet smell of the fields is, in reality, a reminder of the good Lord who displays His goodness by many an attractive grace. Since, then, God's grace is under consideration, He is rightly spoken of as "Yahweh," at least at first. Besides, the use of this name suggests that Isaac may originally have intended to bestow upon Esau the full covenant blessing. But the change to ha'elohîm (v. Ge 27:28), "the true God," seems to indicate that the patriarch's purpose wavered in the midst of the blessing, and so he bestowed little more than a material blessing. Of course, the expression ha'elohîm would more naturally cover the case of blessings like dew and fertile soil. These two would result in the total of good crops. For the heavy Palestinian dews almost make up for the lack of rain during the dry season. Such "dew of heaven" is heaven's gift; whereas shemannîm are not merely "fat things" but fat "fertile places." "Dew" and'"fertile places" as a cause should yield the result of "grain" and "new wine," the essentials of food and of drink. So much for the blessings relative to daily bread.
29. Now for the political blessings that involve relations to others and the question of rule and superiority. "Peoples" and "nations" can hardly be distinguished as to their relative import. To have such "serve" and "bow down" to one implies a position of rule and authority, not the position of a servile nation. In particular, the relation to the brother now comes under consideration. When Isaac says: "be master over thy brethren" he means to let Esau's descendants dominate Jacob's; and so he was by these words trying to annul and invalidate God's original verdict in reference to the relationship of these children (Ge 25:23). Certainly, then, from this point of view the word was bold and presumptuous, even a defiance of the Almighty. "Brethren" and "sons," used in the plural, do not involve an incongruity. The father is looking forward to those who shall yet spring from both. In reference to Jacob they will be "brethren" in so far as they are descended from Esau. In reference to Rebekah all Esau's descendants are "sons." The closing line is an echo of Ge 12:3 a, not of 3b. This is very significant. In Ge 12:3 b is found the essence of the Messianic element in Abraham's blessing. This Isaac does not dare to bestow upon his favourite. That is too sacred an element to be tampered with. In Ge 28:4 he finally bestows it upon Jacob intentionally. Still the blessing: "Cursed be they that curse thee, and blessed be they that bless thee" is a very substantial one. It fends off harm and bestows tokens of goodwill. The unusual sequence of plural and singular conveys a shade of meaning about as follows: "Thy cursers, may each one of them be cursed; they blessers, may each one of them be blessed," (K. S.348 t to a).
On the whole, who would not covet such a blessing? Bestowed by a godly father upon a godly and a deserving son in accordance with the will and purpose of God, it surely would constitute a precious heritage.
30, 31. And it came to pass when Isaac had finished blessing Jacob and Jacob had yet just about gone out from the presence of Isaac, his father, that Esau, his brother, came in from the field. And he too prepared some tasty things and came in to his father, and said to his father: May my father arise and may he eat of the game of his son in order that thy soul may bless me.
The akh ("yet" or "only") marks how very nearly Jacob was detected. He had just about closed the door, divested himself of the borrowed garments and the kidskin disguise, when his brother appears on the scene.
31. Quite unsuspecting he prepares what he has caught and in due course of time steps into his father's presence, using practically the same words Jacob had used. For one thing, that shows at least how carefully Jacob had planned his deception; he knew about what Esau would say when stepping into his father's presence. The jussives yaqûm and yo'khal are, it would seem, a bit more "deferential" ("may he rise and may he eat") than Jacob's imperative ("arise, take thy seat and eat"). But then Jacob acted under greater strain, which may, indeed, have been reflected in an attempt at bolder utterance. From all this no conclusion may legitimately be drawn as to which of the sons actually reverenced his father the more. In all likelihood it was Jacob.
32-35. And Isaac his father said unto him: Who art thou? And he said I am thy son, thy first-born, Esau. And Isaac trembled most excessively and said: Who, then, is he who caught game, and brought it to me, and I ate of it all before thou camest in, and I have blessed him? Yea, blessed shall he be. When' Esau heard the words of his father Isaac, he gave vent to an exceedingly loud and bitter outcry and said to his father: Bless me, me too, my father! And he said: Thy brother entered in treacherously and took thy blessing.
One can hear with what startled emphasis the cry breaks from Isaac's lips, mî'attah, "who thou?" So, too, one can feel the surprise expressed in the tone of Esau's answer, as much as to say: "Why should you be surprised that I am come with my tasty things, seeing you made me prepare them for the blessing?"
33. What Esau witnessed immediately after he had given his answer was enough to startle any man. The Hebrew employs three devices to convey the desired emphasis, piling one upon the other: the cognate object, the modifying adjective, the adverbial phrase, "lie trembled a trembling, a great, unto excesss." Our rendering: "he trembled most excessively" is still too weak. What a pitiful sight to. see the venerable patriarch under the stress of so violent an emotion. It is almost unbelievable that one brother should thus have impersonated the other to secure the blessing designed for the other and that he should have done it so successfully. The pained perplexity stands out in the father's question: "Who, then, is he who caught game," etc.? But by the time the question has been formulated the problem has been solved. The vague "who is he?" has narrowed down to the one and only possibility that could be involved in this case. Isaac knows it was Jacob. Isaac sees how God's providence checked him in his unwise and wicked enterprise. From this point onward there is no longer any unclearness as to what God wanted in reference to the two sons. Therefore the brief but conclusive, "yea, blessed shall he be." But his trembling was caused by seeing the hand of God in what had transpired.
34. Esau's conduct in the case does not impress us favourably. His unmanly tears are quite unworthy of him. His "exceedingly loud and bitter outcry" is further evidence of lack of self-control. He who never aspired after higher things now wants this blessing as though his future hopes depended all and only on the paternal blessing. We cannot help but feel that a superstitious overvaluation of the blessing is involved. In fact, he now wants, as though it were his own, that which he had wilfully resigned under oath. The right to the blessing which Esau now desires was lost long ago. In fact, up to this point there was a double conspiracy afoot. Isaac and Esau, though not admitting that it was so, were conspiring to deflect to Esau a blessing both knew he had forfeited, in fact, was never destined to have. But at the same time Rebekah and Jacob were consciously conspiring to obtain what God had destined for Jacob and what Jacob had also secured from Esau. The pronoun in the nominative (gam anî) stands in apposition with the objective (G. K.135 e).
35. The father refused to be moved. He admits Jacob's treachery (mirmah, primarily "deceit"), but he knows the case cannot be altered. Esau "found no place for repentance" (Heb 12:17) in the sense of the more correct rendering: "he found no place for a change of mind (in his father)" (A. R. V.). Perhaps Isaac too now saw for the first time that in reality Esau did not stand on the level of the ideals of the patriarchs. Isaac's refusal to alter the blessing is not to be explained by calling upon the idea of something like a fetish character of the blessing. The true patriarchal religion was not encumbered by such trash. Nor are we to claim that the blessing "works in purely objective fashion and cannot be retracted, and so we have here a fate-tragedy of antiquity" (Procksch). The true patriarchal religion nowhere gives indications of a belief in fate.
36-38. And he said: Is he not rightly called Jacob, for he has twice overreached me: my birthright he took and, lo, now he has also gotten my blessing. And he said: Hast thou not laid a blessing aside for me? Isaac answered and said to Esau: Behold, I have made him thy master and all his brethren I have made his servants; with grain and wine have I supplied him, and as for thee, what shall I now do for thee, my son? And Esau said unto his father: Hast thou only one blessing, my father? Bless me, me too, my father! And he lifted up his voice and wept.
The thought expressed with so much bitterness by Esau becomes entirely clear when we remember that "Jacob" practically means "Overreacher" -- he is rightly called "Overreacher" because he has twice "overreached" me. A strange but emphatic paronomasia is also involved in the second part of his bitter outbreak: first he took my bekhorah (birthright), now he takes my berakhah (blessing). Though there is truth in what Esau says, he does not do well to play the part of injured innocence. His birthright he sold right cheerfully, and was far more at fault in the selling of it than Jacob in the buying. The blessing, on the other hand, had been destined for Jacob by God long ago, and Esau knew it. The verb atsßlta very distinctly means "lay aside" and so "reserve" (A. V.).
37. A blessing in the sense in which Esau wants it cannot be bestowed, for that would require the cancellation of the blessing just bestowed. Jacob's blessing Isaac cannot revoke because he clearly sees that God so disposed of events that Isaac finally did what God had originally appointed. This startling instance of God's overruling providence fills Isaac's thoughts completely. He is not like a man who has run out of ammunition and so has nothing more to say. This is not the spirit of his answer but rather the thought: we cannot alter Jacob's blessing for it has God's sanction: "I have made him your master and all his brethren I have made his servants." Material wants have also been provided for. Really, what is there left for Esau? Daghan and tîrôsh are adverbial accusatives, "with grain and wine" (G. K.117 ff).
38. Poor Esau's grief is pathetic, a startling case of seeking a good thing too late. The blessing of the father seems to be the one thing of the whole spiritual heritage that has impressed Esau. Unfortunately, it is not the chief thing.
39, 40. And Isaac, his father, answered and said unto him:
Behold, away from the fertile places of the
earth shall thy dwelling be
And away from the dew of heaven from above.
By the sword shalt thou live
And thy brother thou shalt serve.
And it shall come to pass when thou shalt shake
Thou shalt tear off the yoke from the neck.
At this point prophetic utterance came upon Isaac and he foretold what the distinctive lot and fortunes of his son Esau would be. It is not said that he blessed him, for this is not a blessing but a prophecy. Nor could it rightly be called a curse. But the inferior lot of Esau is made very apparent by this word. Misunderstanding has arisen from the fact that in point of form both blessings use the preposition "from" (min), especially in the two phrases "from the dew" and "from the fertile places." If the min of source (B D B p.579 b) be assumed for both cases (so Luther and A. V.), then we are confronted by the impossible situation that, whereas Isaac had insisted that Jacob's blessing must stand, distinct from what Esau may attain to, in the end Isaac reverses his decision and gives Esau a blessing almost as good as Jacob's, and so Esau would have lost little, only the pre-eminence. Consequently, modern commentators, positive and negative, are practically unanimous in construing the preposition in the case that applies to Esau as a "min separative" (B D B p.578 a): "away from the fertile places -- away from the dew." With this interpretation agrees the predominant impression conveyed by the land of Edom. In spite of fertile spots it is mostly very bleak, rocky and barren, allowing scant opportunities of cultivation, especially the western part, of which travellers have claimed that they have seen no region to equal it for barrenness.
40. To "live by the sword" (this use of al in De 8:3) implies violence and continual conflict. But yet for all that he is to be in continual subjection to his brother. Attempts at liberation from this yoke shall be many. In fact, whenever he "shall shake himself,", then will he. succeed in "tearing off the yoke from the neck," but he could not keep shaking himself forever. These words describe attempted freedom rather than achieved freedom. So from David's time onward Edom was kept subject to Israel. Though rebelling frequently, they were always being subjugated again, until finally John Hyrcanus (126 B. C.) completely subdued them and compelled them to accept circumcision. The rather common interpretation of this statement, that it implied that ultimately Edom would "have dominion" (A. V., also Luther) is based upon a misunderstanding of the verb rûdh. In any case, the rule of Herod the Edomite over Israel can hardly be called the dominion of Edom, the nation, over Israel, for Edom had ceased to be a nation by this time, and, in any case, Herod's rule did not involve Edom's rule. Herod ruled alone as an individual. However, the meaning of rûdh, "to shake," or "to shake thyself," or, as Keil puts it, "to shake, namely the yoke," is pretty well established. So this becomes the one part of Isaac's word in which some success is promised to Esau. His people shall at least occasionally be rid of Israel's yoke. In so far, then, this statement involved an interruption in Jacob's blessing. For Jacob's wrong in deceiving his father the blessing bestowed was to be curtailed in part.
After all this examination of what Isaac did the verdict of Heb 11:20 may still seem a bit strange: "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even concerning things to come." But this word will be felt to be entirely true if we but bear in mind that the erring saint had been corrected by God in the midst of his attempt to transfer the blessing. He had accepted the correction and repented, and so in the end what he did was an act of faith after all. Both words told "concerning things to come" and were spoken in faith and in the strength of God's Spirit.
The ethics of the case should be scrutinized a bit more closely. That Jacob was in part at fault has not been denied. That Esau was far more at fault has been pointed out. This contrast is usually overlooked. Jacob is criticized quite roundly, and the greater sinner, Esau, is pitied and represented as quite within his rights. That the whole is a most regrettable domestic tangle cannot be denied, and, as is usually the case in such tangles, every member involved bore his share of the guilt. But if it be overlooked that Jacob's aspirations were high and good and in every sense commendable and besides based on a sure promise of God, a distorted view of the case must result.
They that insist on distorting the incident claim that the account practically indicates that Jacob was rewarded with a blessing for his treachery. The following facts should be held over against such a claim to show how just retribution is visited upon Jacob for his treachery: 1. Rebekah and Jacob apparently never saw one another again after the separation that grew out of this deceit -- an experience painful for both; 2. Jacob, deceiver of his father, was more cruelly deceived by his own sons in the case of the sale of Joseph and the torn coat of many colours; 3. from having been a man of means and influence Jacob is demoted to a position of hard rigorous service for twenty years.
41. And Esau harboured enmity against Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father had blessed him, and Esau said in his heart: The days of mourning for my father are not far off; then will I kill my brother Jacob.
Good-natured, easy-going Esau is changed in his attitude toward Jacob. Bitter enmity takes up residence in his heart. All his thinking still seems to centre about the lost blessing. This confirms our interpretation of v. Ge 27:39, 40, because if Esau had construed these words as a substantial blessing, he could hardly have cherished animosity. But one thing restrains Esau: he does not want to cause his aged father further grief. He does, however, believe that his father will not live long. This is the meaning of the word: "the days of mourning for my father are not far off." He expects to wait till his father is dead; then will he kill Jacob. Esau does not mean: I will kill my brother, and in that sense days when my father must mourn are coming upon him. But it is strange that he who so readily parted with the birthright now so firmly resolves to commit murder, even fratricide. Ebhel abhî is "mourning for my father" not "of my father" -- therefore objective genitive like Am 8:10; Jer 6:26. The expression "said in his heart" means "to himself" or "in his own circle," because v. Ge 27:42 Rebekah hears the report of it.
42-45. And the words of Esau, her elder son, were told to Rebekah, and she sent and called Jacob, her younger son, and said unto him: See, Esau, thy brother, is about to take vengeance upon thee by killing thee. Now, my son, give heed to my instruction: up, flee thou to Laban, my brother, to Haran, and live with him for a while until the fury of thy brother turn away, until thy brother's anger turn away from thee and he forget that which thou hast done to him. Then will I send and get thee from thence. Why should I be bereft of both of you in one day?
Esau's intention somehow comes to the ear of one who is friendly disposed toward Rebekah, perhaps one of the feminine members of the establishment. With her customary alacrity of decision Rebekah acts and calls Jacob in order to dismiss him at once. The participle mithnach (ch) em from nacham, "to comfort," could be rendered "comforteth himself" (A. V.) or "eases himself" (B D B) but very likely the comfort that one of Esau's mind administers to himself is vengeance. The participle then expresses the durative "is planning vengeance" or "is about to take vengeance." Then the infinitive must be rendered "by killing thee" -- a kind of gerundive use.
43. Rebekah's attempt to make her warnings emphatic show how sure she is of the need of immediate action: now, my son, give heed to my instruction. Flight to Laban to Haran offers sure asylum.
44. Her desires colour her thoughts. She hopes it may be only "for awhile," yamîm achadhîm -- "a few days." Men of Esau's disposition often let their native, good-naturedness dissipate their "fury" (chamah -- from yacham -- "burning" "hot anger").
45. The repetition of the thought -- until thy brother's anger turn away from thee -- shows how eagerly her thoughts hope that this may come to pass. This parting must have been hard for both. So Rebekah tries to make herself believe that it will be but for a short time and Esau will "forget that which thou hast done to him." Her thoughts run to what she regards as perhaps an early prospect: I will send and get thee from thence. When Rebekah expresses the thought of the possibility of being bereft of both her sons in one day, she means at one time. Of course, she refers to the possibility of Esau's slaying Jacob. Then at once someone would take it upon himself to play the part of the "avenger of blood" and so slay Esau, perhaps very shortly thereafter.
4) Jacob's Dismissal from Home and His First Vision (27:46-28:22)
The Jewish custom of choosing a more or less weighty utterance to be the initial word of a new chapter led to the addition of v. Ge 27:46 to chapter 27, in order that Ge 28:1 might make a seemly beginning. Yet, without a doubt, v.46 has to do with the matter of Jacob's dismissal from home. K. C. penetrates a bit more deeply into the essence of the situation when he gives as a title for this section, "The Beginning of the Exile and of the Training (Erziehung) of Jacob." But the second half of this title is defective, for Jacob's "training" did not begin at this point, though at this point it becomes more intensive.
For once let an analysis of the critical contentions be made on the section Ge 27:46-28:9, which is with great unanimity ascribed to P.
The argument seems quite imposing when we are told that the following terms, which are said to be characteristic of P, are found in the passage: el Shadday ("God Almighty") v. Ge 27:3, 'elohîm ("God") v. Ge 27:4; ha'arammî ("the Aramaean, or the Syrian") verse Ge 27:5; paddan aram v. Ge 27:2, 5, 6, 7; 'érets meghurîm ("land of sojournings") v. Ge 27:4; benôth kena'an ("daughters of Canaan") v. Ge 27:1, 6, 8; qehal ammîm. ("company of peoples") v. Ge 27:3. But note how very flimsy all this becomes on closer investigation.
Take 'el Shadday. This term does occur besides in
Ge 17:1; 35:11; 48:3; Ex 6:3. But in Ge 17:1 "God Almighty" appears to Abraham and assures him of His strength to carry out His promise. This is not a stylistic peculiarity; this is a designation God employed to describe Himself. Similar is the situation in Ge 35:11 where Jacob is addressed, where God's comfort will mean so much more to Jacob if it is couched in terms long familiar from Abraham's time. Why then in Ge 48:3, where Jacob blesses Joseph's sons, should he not use the very terms God used for Him? And most particularly Ex 3, where God reappears after a long interval to Moses, why should He not employ names familiar from patriarchal times to describe Himself? This use of a specific divine name here is not a peculiarity of style on the part of one author. This name most appropriately grows out of a given situation. It is used also Ge 43:14, which some critics assign to a priestly redactor and not to P. There, surely, is little convincing proof in the use of this term.
On the use of 'Elohîm (v.4) little can here be said; we shall dwell on the propriety of the term later in this connection.
The word ha'arammî ("the Syrian") v.5 is supposed to belong to the vocabulary of P. It appears twice in Ge 25:20. But why not in a formal beginning of a new section as Ge 25:19 ff. use fuller titles, "Bethuel, the Syrian," "Laban, the Syrian"? Aside from our passage, Ge 28:5, appear the two instances of its use Ge 31:20, 24, which, however, Strack ascribes to E. Surely, nothing like proof for a peculiarity of style has been offered.
Paddan aram is next. True, it appears in Ge 48:7; 25:20; Ge 28:2, 5-7; 31:18; 33:18; 35:9, 26; 46:15. This point is supposed to build up on the divergent use found in J, who in Ge 24:10 used for Syria the name Aram Naharaim. Note the invalidity of trying to prove J's style by a single instance. We know too little about the use of these names to build arguments on them. But the inconclusive methods employed to make the argument appear impressive come to light when we notice that in Ge 31:18; 33:18 critics label just this one verse in a supposedly different source as belonging to P merely on the strength of the appearance in it of the word "Paddan Aram." After it is first consigned to a supposed P, it is quoted as a P passage to prove that P uses the word -- a perfect argument in a circle. The same use is made of Ge 25:20, where v.19 and 20 are alone ascribed to P. Since now the likelihood is that "Paddan Aram" was the usual designation of the country, what else could P say? This is not a peculiarity of style on his part.
Now 'érets meghurîm, used Ge 17:8; 28:4; 36:7; 37:1. First of all, the nature of God's remarks requires that it be emphasized both in the case of Abraham (Ge 17:8) and of Jacob (Ge 28:4) that for the present they are dwelling in a "land of sojournings." Two passages of such a character do not suffice as evidence to build up a peculiarity of style. Critics admit that they are not sure to which source Ge 36:7 is to be ascribed. But on the strength of the first two passages cited above they claim Ge 37:1 for P, ascribing, however, only v.1 and 2 to P. If this is to be called "proof," we do not know what the word "proof" means.
The case of the critics keeps growing flimsier. The use of the term benôth kena'an ("daughters of Canaan") borders on unmeaning proof. In the passage we are studying the expression occurs three times, in v. Ge 27:1, 6, 8. Of these three v.6 quotes v.1 and v.8 is a direct reference to the two preceding. Then, as far as peculiarities of style are concerned, there is really only one passage before us in chapter 28. Now the only other instance of the use of the expression is Ge 36:2, whose authorship is doubtful (Strack). What now? On the strength of one passage, then, this expression is said to be a part of
the vocabulary of P. Could any procedure be more unscientific?
The case of qehal ammîm is about as flimsy. The only instances of its use are Ge 28:3; 48:4. Can that suffice as an argument for assigning both passages to P, or even for claiming the expression as peculiarly P's? So shallow are the critical contentions.
46. And Rebekah said to Isaac: I am disgusted with life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob is going to take a wife of the daughters of Heth like these, of the daughters of the land, what's the use of living?
First of all this verse throws a side light on Ge 26:34, indicating how great the bitterness of heart caused to Esau's parents by the unbelieving, ungodly Hittite wives really was. Qßtstî -- "I abhor," "I am disgusted with." However, Rebekah's complaint is preparatory to having Jacob sent away before Esau does him harm. What Rebekah says is true: her vexation over these daughters-in-law is excessive, but Rebekah uses this situation as an indirect argument to move Isaac to send Jacob to Mesopotamia. Should Esau, then, hear what Isaac had done, respect for his father would certainly check him from laying hands upon his brother, who would merely have done what his father had bidden him do. The verse thus furnishes a good illustration of the methods employed, perhaps more or less commonly, on Rebekah's part in dealing with Isaac. Sending Jacob to Mesopotamia to get a wife was a splendid idea. Inducing Isaac to take steps in that direction by her complaints about Esau's wives was not the most frank procedure in achieving her purpose, but it secured the desired result.
This chapter, at least the major part of it, is so much a unit (v. Ge 27:1-40) that it would not do to take portions of it; for these would be but fragment texts. Yet, without a doubt, forty verses are too long a text. Too many elements in it cannot receive adequate treatment. Yet, if one should determine to use it, he should primarily emphasize the inadequacy of a faith that builds on human ingenuity. It would still seem that the text as a whole is sufficiently well known through Sunday school instruction so as not to require specific homiletic treatment. The remaining portion of the chapter, v. Ge 27:41-45, furnishes an illustration of the bitter fruit of duplicity. Yet, if it were desired as a text, it might justly be questioned whether it does not rather tend toward a so-called morality-sermon rather than to broader and bigger themes of the Scriptures.