Shabbat Commentary

Friday, November 24, 2006 |  by Michael Schneider
Toldot – Genealogy: Genesis 25:19–28:9; Malachi 1:1–2:7

In this week’s Torah Portion we meet another childless couple: Isaac and Rebekah (25:21). After 20 years of prayer, when Isaac was 60 years old, the LORD in his sovereign grace allowed Rebekah to bear twins, Jacob and Esau. Verse 22 tells us the twins “struggled within her.” God told her “two nations are in your womb…and the older shall serve the younger.” This was one promise Rebekah kept to herself until later.

We find parallels between Abraham’s life story to Isaac’s, such as the times of famine and both men lying to authorities, claiming that their wives were their sisters. Isaac did so, lying to the Philistine king in Genesis 26:7.

But Isaac and Rebekah’s younger son received the covenant blessing of promise also in following generations. Jacob even favored Joseph’s younger sons in blessings over the older ones, so with Ephraim. While this seems unfair to man, God looks at the heart (I Samuel 16:7).

To the question ‘Why Jacob and not Esau?’ we find answer in our prophet portion in Malachi 1, but also Paul writes in Romans 9, it was decided in Rebekah’s womb so that it would not be man’s decision, but rather God’s plan: “…for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls...Just as it is written, ‘JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.’" (Romans 9:11,13).

Now, why did God hate Esau? He didn’t value God’s blessing and was ready to sell it for bread and lentil soup. Genesis 25:34 says, “So Esau despised his birthright.” Hebrews 12:16 describes Esau as a fornicator and a godless person. A fornicator sells his body, which is the Holy Temple of God. For the temporary pleasures of the flesh Esau abandoned the eternal blessing! That’s what God hated!

Jacob, in Hebrew is related to the word “akev” meaning “heel” (25:26). “Akov,” also related, means deceitful, like the heart of man (Jeremiah 17:9). Yes, Jacob – even if it meant receiving the blessing from God – was a deceiver (27:35). He attempted to do all in his own strength until he wrestled with God “face to face” at Peniel. From this time on, Jacob was called Isra-el, or God strives (for you).

Esau, today, would be identified as a “real man,” the type of son who makes his father proud as a skilled hunter. Jacob, on the other hand, would be called a “mama’s boy” as a quiet guy who hung around at home. Nevertheless, Esau was disobedient to his father taking foreign wives while Jacob obeyed his father (28:6-7).

Jacob received the blessing by deceiving his father with the help of his mother, but it came at a price. Jacob had to leave his parents’ tents to flee the wrath of his brother. There Jacob met an even greater deceiver – his future father-in-law, Laban. That’s how the LORD works sometimes in order to humble the prideful man.

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