Chapter 27

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When Isaac was advanced in age, he suffered from blindness. Based on the information in the Genesis account, he was about 137 years of age when he summoned his older son Esau. (See the Notes section.) At that time, Esau would have been about 77 years old. It is likely that the contact Isaac had with Esau was not as frequent as it had been in earlier years, particularly since Esau had been married for 37 years and had his own household. (26:34) Although not knowing the day of his death, Isaac may have believed it was near, for his half brother Ishmael had died at 137 years of age. (25:17) Therefore, Isaac wanted to make sure that he blessed Esau before his death and asked him to hunt for game and prepare a meal for him — a dish of which he was especially fond. (27:1-4)

After having heard what Isaac said to Esau, Rebekah decided to intervene, wanting Jacob to be the son to receive his father’s blessing. Josephus (Antiquities, I, xviii, 6) represented Rebekah as considering Jacob worthy of having supplication made for him to be the recipient of God’s favor and, therefore, acted contrary to Isaac’s intent to bless Esau. The Genesis account does not disclose whether Rebekah recalled the divine revelation that the older would serve the younger and whether she knew about Esau’s having sold his birthright to Jacob. She apparently felt justified in taking matters into her own hands. Instead of waiting on YHWH to fulfill his word, Rebekah devised a way to obtain the blessing for her favorite son. While Esau was away hunting for game, Rebekah planned to prepare a tasty dish for Isaac from the meat of two kids of the goats. When she told Jacob about what Isaac had said to Esau and what she purposed to do so that Esau would not be the one to receive the blessing, Jacob raised the objection that Isaac, by feeling him, might recognize him from his lack of bodily hair and then curse him. Rebekah replied, “Your curse [be] upon me, my son. Only obey my word and go fetch [the two kids of good goats] for me.” (27:5-13)

Jacob obeyed his mother and brought her the two kids of the goats, from which she prepared a tasty dish for Isaac. To deceive Isaac, Rebekah dressed Jacob in the best of Esau’s garments that were available to her and afixed the hairy goat skins on Jacob’s hands (probably including part of the arms [“arms,” not “hands” (LXX)]) and on his neck. With bread and the tasty dish that Rebekah had prepared, Jacob went to his father and identified himself as Esau his firstborn son. Asked how it happened that he had so quickly found game, Jacob replied, “Because YHWH your God had [it] meet up with me.” (27:14-20)

Based on Jacob’s voice and possibly also on how he expressed himself, Isaac appears to have been unsure about whether he was speaking to Esau. He asked Jacob to come near so that he might feel him to determine whether he truly was Esau his son. Upon feeling the hairy goat skins, Isaac concluded that the hands were those of Esau but that the voice was the voice of Jacob. The deception that Rebekah devised worked. Isaac did not recognize Jacob because he perceived the hands to be the hairy hands of Esau. Nevertheless, he again asked Jacob, “Are you really my son Esau?” Jacob answered, “I am.” (27:21-24)

In response to Isaac’s request for him to bring him the dish made from the game so that he might be blessed, Jacob brought it to him. Isaac ate and drank and then asked his son to come near and to kiss him. He smelled the garments that belonged to Esau and expressed the blessing in keeping with what his sense of smell had perceived. “See the smell of my son [is] as the smell of a field that YHWH has blessed. May God give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness [or plenty] of the earth [or land] and abundance of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone cursing you, and blessed be everyone blessing you.” (27:25-29)

The blessing was a prayerful request for God to prosper the agricultural labor of Jacob’s descendants, providing the essential dew during the dry season to preserve the maturing crops and making it possible for Jacob’s descendants to enjoy good grain harvests and wine from the juice of productive grapevines. Instead of being subservient to other tribes and nations, the descendants of Jacob were to be a free people whom others would acknowledge as their superiors. Even their most closely related descendants, the “sons” of the same mother or ancestress, were to make the same acknowledgment. Targum Jonathan is more specific in the wording relating to the superior position of the descendants of Jacob. “Let peoples be subject to you, all the sons of Esau, and kingdoms bow before you, all the sons of Keturah. May you be a chief and a ruler over your brothers, and let the sons of your mother salute you.” The Jerusalem Targum includes a number of other interpretive elements. “Let peoples serve before you, all the sons of Esau. All kings be subject to you, all the sons of Ishmael. May you be a chief and a ruler over the sons of Keturah. And the sons of Laban the brother of your mother will come before you and salute you.”

After Isaac had blessed him and Jacob had barely left his father’s presence, Esau returned from the hunt. He prepared a tasty dish with meat from the game, brought it to Isaac, requested that his father sit up, partake of the food, and bestow his blessing on him. Esau identified himself as the firstborn son upon being asked, “Who are you?” Isaac then began to tremble violently and said, “Who was it then who hunted game and brought it to me? And I ate everything before you came, and I have blessed him, and indeed blessed he will be.” Esau gave way to loud and bitter weeping, pleading with his father to bless him also. Isaac responded that Esau’s brother had come with deceit and taken away his blessing. (27:30-35)

Esau recognized that the name Jacob (“supplanter”) had fittingly been given to his brother, for he had supplanted him twice. Jacob had taken away his birthright and his blessing. Esau asked whether his father had not reserved a blessing for him. Seemingly, Isaac recognized that the pronouncement of the blessing on Jacob was according to God’s will. Therefore, he could not nullify it. Isaac said to Esau that he had made Jacob master over him and given “all his brothers” (or all those closely related to him) as his servants. Moreover, he would be “sustained with grain and wine,” or be abundantly supplied with food and drink. In view of the blessing he had pronounced on Jacob, Isaac concluded with the words, “What then can I do for you, my son?” Esau pleaded with his father for just one blessing and wept aloud. (27:36-38)

Isaac spoke prophetically of what the future for Esau and his descendants would be. “[Away] from the fatness of the earth will be your dwelling and [away] from the dew of the heavens above. And by the sword you will live, and your brother you will serve.” This situation, however, would not continue, Esau (or his descendants) would break free from his brother’s yoke. (27:39, 40) The region that the descendants of Esau came to occupy contained limited fertile land. Its strategic position, however, made it necessary for caravans to travel on the roads traversing the territory. By exacting tolls from those passing through their land and probably also having them pay for food, water, and lodging, the descendants of Esau acquired great wealth. They appear to have been prepared to use the “sword” to enforce their demands. (Compare Numbers 20:14-21.)

During the course of history, the descendants of Jacob did exercise control over the descendants of Esau, but there were reversals. (1 Samuel 14:47, 48; 2 Samuel 8:13, 14; 1 Kings 11:15-17; 2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chronicles 28:16, 17) According to Targum Jonathan, Esau (his descendants) would break the yoke of servitude from his neck when the “sons” or descendants of Jacob would fail to observe the “commandments of the law.” The Jerusalem Targum adds that the “sons” or descendants of Jacob could impose the yoke of servitude only when they observed the commandments.

Josephus (Antiquities, I, xviii, 7) represents Isaac as expressing himself in a manner that differs from the wording of the Genesis account. “Being grieved at [Esau’s] weeping,” Isaac said that Esau “should excel in hunting and strength of body in arms and all such kinds of work,” acquiring “glory forever” by those means — “he and his posterity after him.”

Esau hated Jacob for what he had done in obtaining Isaac’s blessing for himself and determined to kill him after the death of his father. Upon hearing what Esau planned to do, Rebekah told Jacob to flee to her brother Laban in Haran and to remain there until Esau’s anger had passed and he would have forgotten about what Jacob had done to him. She then planned to send for Jacob. Her wish for Jacob to flee was so that she might not be bereft of both of her sons in “one day” or at the same time. To persuade Isaac to agree with her in sending Jacob to Laban, Rebekah mentioned the trouble Esau’s wives had brought into her life and added, “What good will my life be to me if Jacob marries [one of the] daughters of Heth such as these?” (27:41-46)


Josephus (Antiquities, I, xviii, 6) wrote that Jacob followed the instructions Rebekah gave to him and did not attribute the actions to Rebekah herself as does the extant Hebrew text. Jacob “took a goat’s skin,” placing it about his arm, that “its hairy roughness” would convince his father that he was indeed Esau.

Josephus (Antiquities, I, xviii, 6), in a way that significantly differed from the record in the Genesis account, worded Isaac’s prayerful appeal for Jacob, the son whom he believed to be Esau. “O Lord of all ages and Creator of all substance; for it was you who did set before my father an abundance of good things and considered me worthy of what I possess, and have promised to be the kind supporter of my posterity and to bestow on them still greater blessings. Do you, therefore, confirm these your promises and do not overlook me because of my present weak condition, on account of which I most earnestly pray to you. Be gracious to this my son, preserve him, and keep him from everything that is evil. Grant him a happy life and the possession of as many good things as your power is able to bestow. Make him a terror to his enemies and honorable and beloved among his friends.”

After having served Laban for fourteen years, Jacob became father to Joseph by his wife Rachel. (30:25) Thereafter he served Laban for six more years and obtained wages in the form of sheep and goats. (31:41) At the time Jacob arrived with his household to settle in Egypt, he was 130 years of age, and Joseph was 39 years old. (41:46, 47, 53, 54; 45:11; 47:9) This would make Jacob about 91 years of age at the time Joseph was born and after he had begun to serve Laban fourteen years earlier. Accordingly, he was about 77 years old when his service to Laban began. Isaac was 60 years of age at the time the twins Jacob and Esau were born (25:26) and, therefore, about 137 years of age at the time of Jacob’s departure.