With this and with Noah in chapter 9, it’s fairly clear that at the time the Bible was composed, there was a fairly standard belief that fathers had the ability to pass down a curse or a blessing onto their sons that was guaranteed to come true. What the theological justification for this would be, I don’t know. But then again, the Bible isn’t a book of systematic theology. It’s a collection of myths, legends, histories, laws, proverbs, parables, and prophecies, and apparently this belief was taken for granted enough that they didn’t feel a need to explain it.
Every analysis I’ve ever read of this has focused more on Jacob and Esau and what they were thinking as they went through with this. But the heading for the first section of this chapter in Japanese got me thinking. They titled it “Rebekah’s Plot,” and really, she’s the mover behind the events in this chapter. Jacob just goes along with what she tells him because (1) he obviously wants his brother’s birthright, and (2) over forty and still unmarried? He’s a momma’s boy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love the movie Forty Year-Old Virgin, and I got the message from that.
But yeah, why does Rebekah do this? Is it just favoritism of Jacob over Esau? I don’t think she hates Esau. At the end of the chapter (v 45), she declares that she won’t lose both of them in one day (if Esau were to murder Jacob). So why does she want Jacob to inherit instead of Esau?
See, back when I read this for the first time years and years ago, I never really noticed the last few verses of the previous chapter. I think the big reason that Rebekah figures out a way to dupe her blind husband into giving his birthright to Jacob is because of Esau’s wives. Neither she nor Isaac can stand them, but he’s fond enough of Esau that he’ll give him precedence, which means his family will get precedence, which means his wives will get precedence. And some day, Rebekah is going to be a widow and in the care of whichever son inherits, and she knows she sure as hell doesn’t want to move in with her Hittite daughters-in-law.
in fact, this section is book-ended by Rebekah’s concerns about Esau’s wives. At the end, as part of her way of saving Jacob from a rightfully ticked off Esau, she decides to talk Isaac into having Jacob marry into the family. She intends to send him to her brother Laban and have him marry a cousin.
There’s obviously a message of “stick to your own kind” going on here, and apparently that’s relatively common to this day in the Middle East, where cousin marriage is far more common than in the Western countries where it’s legal (a.k.a. almost all of them except the US because we bought into a bunch of eugenic pseudoscience in the 1800s). In Esau’s case, the barrier isn’t just one of clan loyalties. The Hittites actually spoke a completely different language (Hittite) from a different language family (Indo-European), and worshiped gods even more different than those of their Canaanite neighbors, who at least had “El” that you could equate to the LORD God. It’s quite possible that his wives found their in-laws to be insufferable and bizarre as well.
Rebekah clearly thinks that in the long run, she will have better luck with Jacob than with Esau. And there’s no way she’s going to get that as long as Isaac dotes on Esau, so she decides to trick him. It isn’t nice, it isn’t just, but she sees it as her survival.
Still, I don’t entirely feel on her side, per se. As much as the previous chapters tied to portray Esau as someone who would just throw away his birthright for food, the reality is there’s no other indication that he’s a bad guy. Heck, he’s out getting food for his dad when Jacob steals it, how much more “good son” do you have to be? And you can feel for how angry he gets about this, when he starts crying over his loss, begging for even the tiniest bit of blessing (he gets the right to someday overthrow Jacob’s authority over him). Even when he decides to kill Jacob, given that Rebekah thinks he’ll get over it, he can’t be so terrible a person since he doesn’t hold a grudge forever.
The Japanese: kasumu “to blur, to dim” (v 1), yadzutsu “quiver” (v 3), nameraka “smooth” (v 11), haregi “best clothing” (v 15), miyaburu “to pierce a disguise” (v 23), hitsuu “heart-rending, woeful” (v 34), sakuryaku “trick” (v 35), azamugu “to deceive, to cheat” (v 36), hedateru “to separate from” (v 39), hankou suru “to rebel” (v 40), mo “mourning” (v 41), osamaru “to calm down, to subside” (v 44), ikidoori “anger, indignation, resentment” (v 45).
The soap opera of Genesis continues tomorrow!