In this week’s parasha, Toldot, Genesis 25:19 – 28:9, we see Isaac setting the stage for the next two decades.
Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” Isaac said, “Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. “Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.”Genesis 27:1-4
The story is well known, Jacob, with Rebekah’s prompting and assistance, deceives Isaac and receives the blessing of the firstborn, which was Esau, who had already sold his birthright to his brother Jacob. Esau was less than happy, and Jacob was understandably afraid for his life.
In the end, at Rebecca’s planning and Isaac’s direction, Jacob flees his home and family to his uncle Laban and his hospitality. Jacob spends 20 years working for Laban acquiring 2 wives, 2 concubines and eleven sons, as well as quite a bit of wealth before he returned home.
Now, flashback to the beginning of the story. Esau and Jacob were conceived after Rebekah had been barren for 20 years. According to Scripture it was not an easy pregnancy or birth, so much so that Rebekah cried out to HaShem and received a prophecy about her sons,
Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.Genesis 25:23
The struggle that plagued the boys in the womb continued as they grew, albeit fostered by parental favoritism.
When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.Genesis 25:27-28
We are not told whether Rebekah ever told Isaac about the prophecy she heard from HaShem. However, with Jacob being her favorite, Rebekah instilled in him the intent of the prophecy that despite being the second born, he would eventually be the one in charge, that he would, in essence, be in the place of the firstborn.
With this in mind, it is quite feasible that Jacob would attempt to help the plans of HaShem when Esau came in from the fields, famished, and demanding to be fed.
Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.Genesis 25:31-33
Whatever Jacob’s motives, he did in fact take advantage of his brother’s situation. Esau, however, was far from innocent in the interchange. After satisfying his physical appetite, Scripture says that Esau despised his birthright. His position as firstborn was sold for a single meal.
Now, we come to the passage where we started. Isaac calls Esau to him, and in verbiage much like Esau to Jacob, pleads with Esau to quickly prepare him a meal to gratify his stomach. Then similar to Esau’s interchange with Jacob over the need for food, he says, “Behold, I am about to die…” Isaac predicates his desire for a meal prepared by Esau because Isaac did not know the day of his death and wanted to eat and then bless Esau before he (Isaac) died.
Two points of clarification; 1) Isaac did not die for another twenty years, as it is written in Genesis 35:28, Isaac “died an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him,” and 2) with the prompting of Rebekah, Isaac agreed to help the plans of HaShem once again. This time, Rebekah and Jacob deceive Isaac into believing that Jacob was Esau. Then, after providing the meal Isaac desired, Jacob receives the blessing of the firstborn, fulfilling his prophetic position of preeminence over his elder brother.
Would the prophecy have been fulfilled if Jacob and Rebekah hadn’t helped matters along? Yes, but the narrative would have developed differently, possibly even without the animosity that divided Esau and Jacob for years and served as a wedge dividing their future descendants. Jacob still would have left to his uncle Laban, as he received the same charge from Isaac that Abraham had given to his servant concerning Isaac’s future wife, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan,” (Genesis 28:1). However, in their attempt to ensure the fulfillment of HaShem’s prophetic word, a family was split apart and even after 20 years of separation, the closeness of the family bond was never really restored. Also notice that after Rebekah pleaded with Isaac to send Jacob to her brother’s family to find a wife, Rebekah is not mentioned again except for a passing note that she was buried in the same cave as Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 49:31).
In conclusion, there is a very fine line between using common sense and wisdom in following the Ruach and using manipulation, even well meaning, to accomplish that which HaShem has set before us. We need to be cautious about rationalizing our actions and/or our motives, always ensuring that our desire is to bring honor and glory to HaShem and not bring about self-glorification. With the psalmist David, let our mantra be,
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be [always] acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible Update (NAS95S), copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Accordance Digital Edition, Ver 4.2