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The Story Of The Bible - Esau Sells Jacob His Birthright

Chapter Eight

About three years after his wife Sarah had died, Abraham began to think more and more about Isaac getting married. At that time Isaac was 40 years old, and Abraham knew that Isaac might pick a wife among the Canaanites, who were idol worshippers.

Abraham therefore told his chief servant to take men and camels and provisions and go to Mesopotamia, Abraham’s native land, and bring back a wife from among Abraham’s own people (Gen. 24:3-4). It was the custom then, as it still is in some countries, for the parents to choose whom their children would marry.

Abraham felt sure that there was many of his own tribe still in Mesopotamia who worshipped God, because his brother, Nahor, had settled there at the time Abraham had left for Canaan many years before (Gen. 22:20-24). And Abraham knew that God wanted the people of his tribe to marry only those of the same tribe from which he came.

After several days’ journey to the northeast, Abraham’s servant and his caravan arrived in the evening at a well just outside the city of Nahor (Gen. 24:10). In those days the women went to the wells to draw water. Abraham’s servant prayed that among the women coming to that well would be one that would be a good wife for his master’s son.

Abraham’s servant also prayed that God would point out a good wife for Isaac by causing the woman to want to draw up water for him and his caravan. But what woman would want to draw up water to fill ten thirsty camels?

Even before the servant’s prayer was finished, a beautiful young woman approached the well. A little later, as she drew up water, Abraham’s servant came up to her and asked for a drink of water.

At once the young woman held out her water jar (Gen. 24:11-15). “Drink, my lord,” she said. “This could almost be an answer to my prayer,” thought the servant, “because she is willing to give me a drink. But surely she won’t go to any more trouble than that.”

Perhaps you can imagine how surprised Abraham’s servant was when he heard the young woman say, “I will draw water for your camels, too! I’ll be glad to give them as much as they can drink!”

This was a direct answer to the prayer he had made to God only a few minutes before. Abraham’s servant was sure that this was the woman for Isaac. He wanted to honor her, so he gave her a gold ring and gold bracelets of great value (Gen. 24:22).

When the servant asked the young woman her name, he received another surprise. “I am Rebekah,” she told them. “I am the daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son.”  Nahor was Abraham’s brother, so this young woman was a second cousin to Isaac! It was good news to the servant to learn that he had found a woman who was of Abraham’s people and one who probably knew about the one true God. The servant thanked God at once for helping him.

Rebekah ran to her home to tell her family what had happened, and to show them the ring and bracelets. When her brother Laban, saw the costly jewelry and heard Rebekah’s story, he ran to the well to invite Abraham’s servant in (Gen. 24: 29-31).

The servant was glad to be invited in, but first he made sure that his camels were unloaded and fed and given straw to lie in.

Abraham’s servant and the men with him were given water to wash their feet. This was a custom in those days, and still is in those lands where the traveler’s sandal-covered feet become dusty and weary.

Then food was set before them. But the servant would not eat until he had told them why he had come there (v. 33). The servant told Rebekah’s family about what had happened to Abraham since he had left Haran many years before. He told how Abraham had obeyed God in the lands where other people would have nothing to do with God, and how Abraham had become wealthy and the happy father of an obedient son, Isaac.

When the servant told them about his prayer for a good wife for Isaac, and how Rebekah had fit right in with things he had asked for, Rebekah’s father and brother agreed that God had led Abraham’s servant to Rebekah.

If you think it was strange that Rebekah had little or nothing to say about all this, we must remember that in those times wives were often picked in a much different way. But in this case God had a hand in the matter, and so it was certain to turn out right.

    “We believe it is God’s will that Rebekah become Isaac’s wife,” Rebekah’s father and brother said to the servant (v. 50). The servant was so pleased to hear this that he again thanked God. Then he had gold and silver jewelry and beautiful clothes brought out for Rebekah, and costly presents for her family (v. 53). Then, at last, they all enjoyed a happy feast.

Next morning, Rebekah’s family asked if she could stay a few more days at home. Abraham’s servant reminded them that because God had so quickly led him to Rebekah, no part of the matter should be put off. Rebekah said she was quite willing to leave at once, so the caravan set out with Abraham’s men and camels and the camels carrying Rebekah and her nurse and maids.

The people of Rebekah’s family were sorry to see her go, but they were happy that she was to have a good man for a husband (v. 61).

Several days after that, as Isaac was meditating while out walking in a field, he looked up to see a caravan approaching. He went out to meet it, hopeful that this was the one his father had sent out (v. 63).

When Rebekah saw a man approaching, she asked who he was. “That is Isaac, the man you are to marry,” she was told. Rebekah quickly put on a bridal veil, and alighted (v. 65). The servant presented her to Isaac, who was so struck by her good manners and her beauty that he fell in love with her at once.

They were married shortly after that, and both were very happy (v. 67). Through them, God moved one step nearer to starting the nation that would do some very important work in the world through all succeeding generations.

At this time Abraham was 140 years old. He was probably quite content to leave matters to Isaac, who managed his father’s business well.

Thirty-five years later, at the age of 175 years, Abraham died (Gen. 25:7). We know that Abraham had eight children, all of them sons. If he had other children, the Bible doesn’t mention them (Gen. 25:1-4).

Two of those sons, Isaac and Ishmael, buried their father in the same cave where Sarah had been buried (Gen. 25:9-10). Thus ended the life of one of the most important men who ever lived on the earth. Because of his obedience to his Creator, Abraham became wealthy and lived a long time.

There was one thing God promised him that Abraham didn’t receive, however, even though God always keeps His promises. Can you guess what that thing was?

It was everlasting life in God’s kingdom, which will come to earth at some point in the future. At that time Abraham will become one of the mightiest rulers, along with others who obey God (Heb. 11:8-14).

In that time, strange as it may seem, many of you who read these words will get to meet Abraham and talk with him.

Although Isaac and Rebekah were happy, the years passed without their having any children. As time went on, they became more and more disappointed. At last Isaac asked God to send them a child (Gen. 25:21).

God answered Isaac’s prayer, and after 20 years of marriage, Isaac and Rebekah realized that at last they would soon become parents. At the same time, Rebekah became ill with unusual pains. She prayed to God about the matter. God told her, probably in a dream or a vision, that she would give birth to two nations. One nation would be stronger than the other, she was told, and the first one born would serve the other.

This must have been hard for Rebekah to understand at the time. But God gave her strength to continue in her condition until she became a mother – of twins! The twins turned out to be boys. The first one born was called Esau. The second was named Jacob (Gen. 25:22-26).

 As they grew, it was plain to their parents that they were very different in manners and habits, even though they were twins. Esau loved to hunt and roam about, as did his uncle Ishmael. Jacob wanted to follow his fathers’ kind of life by raising flocks and crops. Isaac liked the delicious meat that Esau brought home, and so Esau became his favorite son. Rebekah’s favorite was Jacob because he chose to do the things that kept him close to home (vs. 26-27).

One day Esau went on a long hunting trip. He went so far away that by the time he returned he was staggering with weariness. On arriving home, he saw that Jacob had prepared a savory lentil soup. Esau was so weak and the soup smelled so good that he begged Jacob to give him some at once lest he faint from hunger.

Now it was a custom in those lands that the first son born in a family would receive many more gifts and rights than any children born later. And because Esau was born first, he naturally had what was called the birthright. This meant that if the father died, the birthright owner would inherit a larger share of the father’s property than any other children in the family. In this case, it also meant that the oldest son would receive the greatest share of the promises God made to Abraham and those who came after him.

Jacob knew the great value of the birthright, and he selfishly wanted it. Here, he thought, was a chance to get it, so he said to Esau: “I will give you all you want to eat if you will in turn promise to sell your birthright,” Jacob smiled shrewdly.

Esau was so hungry that the thought he would faint any minute from lack of strength. In this condition, his birthright didn’t seem very valuable to him. Food was mostly what counted at the moment. Just the delicious aroma of the steaming lentils bubbling in garlic and butter was enough to sway Esau in deciding what to do. “I promise to sell you my birthright for those lentils,” Esau told Jacob (vs. 29-33).

Then he greedily bolted down the bowl of soup and the bread Jacob handed to him. After a while his strength returned and he strode away, not caring very much about the great price he had paid for something to eat (v. 34).

Isaac and Rebekah didn’t know about this matter at the time. Otherwise, Isaac especially would have been greatly displeased, because Esau was his favorite son.

Years later, Esau did bring grief to his parents by marrying two wives. In those days it wasn’t unusual to have more than one wife. But the worst part of this matter was that the wives Esau took were Canaanites. The Canaanites had very little knowledge of God. Most of them worshipped idols (Gen. 26:34-35).

One day when Isaac was well past a 100 years of age, and had become feeble and blind, he called for Esau and said to him:

“I’m getting old. Death could come to me at any time. Before that happens, I want to ask God to bless you. Take your bow and arrows and go out after a deer. Then cook the meat as I like it. After I have eaten, I shall give you the blessing that should be upon the son who has the birthright.”

If Esau had been honest, he would have told his father that the birthright really belonged to Jacob. Instead, he set out to hunt for venison (Gen. 27:1-4).

Rebekah heard Isaac talking to Esau. She wanted Jacob, her favorite son, to receive the blessing Isaac would ask from God. She believed that Jacob was much better fitted to be Isaac’s heir. A plan came quickly into her mind, and she hurried to Jacob to tell him about it.

“Do as I say, and you will receive the blessing your father is about to ask upon Esau,” she said to Jacob. “Go out to the flocks and get two young goats. I’ll cook them just the way your father likes meat cooked. Then take the food to him. He’ll eat it and then give you the blessing before Esau returns” (Gen. 27:5-10)!

To Jacob this didn’t seem to be a very good idea. He knew there was too much difference between him and his brother. For one thing, Esau was a very hairy man. In fact, hair was so thick on his body that his skin felt almost like that of a goat. “I can’t trick my father so easily,” Jacob argued. “When he feels my smooth skin, he’ll know I’m not Esau. Then I’ll probably receive a curse instead of a blessing.” 

“Don’t worry about that,” his mother said. “I’ll take care of matters. Just go get those kids. If there’s a curse, let it be on me, not you.”

     Jacob didn’t know just what his mother intended to do, but he thought that if she were willing to take the blame for anything wrong, then he should be willing to do as she asked. Therefore he brought two kids in from the flocks. Before long, Rebekah made from them a meat dish cooked and seasoned just the way Isaac liked it. Next, she took a coat that belonged to Esau and put it on Jacob. And over his hands and his neck she wound the soft, hairy skins from the young goats that had just been slaughtered.

     “Now take this meat and bread to your father,” she said to Jacob (vs. 11-17). Jacob must have felt that this was a rather wild scheme to get a blessing. Nevertheless, he went to Isaac’s tent and tried to sound like Esau by calling “Here I am, father!”

     “Who is it?” asked Isaac. “I’m Esau,” Jacob replied. “Sit and eat this meat I’ve brought for you. Then give me the blessing you promised.

Isaac was surprised that Esau should return so soon from hunting. “How is it you have brought a deer back so quickly?” he asked. “God showed me where to go to find one,” Jacob lied (vs. 18-20). Isaac was puzzled. This didn’t seem to him to be Esau’s manner of talking. “Come near so I can place my hands on you,” Isaac said.

Jacob stepped close to the bed. Isaac reached out and moved his aged hands over the hairy goat skins on Jacob. “Your voice is like Jacob’s, but your hands feel hairy like Esau’s, said Isaac. “Are you really Esau?”

 Again Jacob lied by saying that he was Esau. “Give me the food and I shall eat it and then bless you,” Isaac promised (vs. 21-22).

Jacob suddenly felt great relief, though at the same time he felt guilty because of lying and because of tricking his father with the goat skins. Quickly he put the steaming meat before Isaac, and brought bread and wine (v. 25).

When Isaac had finished eating, he asked Jacob to come close and kiss him. When Jacob did so, Isaac noticed that the robe Jacob was wearing smelled like the grasses and aromatic herbs of the fields. It would naturally smell that way, because it was Esau’s robe, and Esau spent so much time in the open. Thus there was no doubt left in Isaac’s mind that this person was Esau (vs. 26-27).

     Isaac then asked a blessing upon Jacob, in which he said: “God, give my son, who smells of a field you have blessed, many well-watered, fertile fields. Give him plenty of grain and fruit of the vines. My son, I asked God to cause people to serve you and nations to bow down to you. Rule over your brothers. May a curse be upon any who will try to put a curse upon you. And may a blessing be upon any who would bless you” (vs. 28-29).

Having received the blessing, Jacob left at once. And only in time, too. For meanwhile, Esau had shot a deer and had cooked some of it for Isaac.

“I have returned with the dish of venison you asked for,” Esau called out as he came near Isaac’s tent. “Sit up, father, and eat it” (Gen. 27:30-31).

Blind Isaac was just leaning back on his pillow, content in thinking that he had performed an important duty before his death. The sound of Esau’s voice caused him to sit up suddenly. In that moment he knew that something was not as it should be. He found himself trembling so hard that he could scarcely speak.

“Who are you?” Isaac asked. “I’m Esau, your first-born son,” Esau replied (v. 32). “Then where is the one who brought food to me and just now left?” inquired Isaac. “He said he was Esau, I asked God’s blessing on him. And God will bless him” (v. 33)!

Esau was so stunned to hear what his father said that he almost dropped the food he was holding. “Ask a blessing on me, too, my father!” Esau begged. “But your blessing has been stolen by your brother,” Isaac told him.

“So it was Jacob who did it.” Esau exclaimed bitterly. ‘He has cheated me twice. First he took my birthright. Now he has stolen my blessing. Can’t you ask God for something for me” (v. 36)?

I have asked for all good things for Jacob,” Isaac said. “I can’t ask for the very same things for you.” “But surely there is something for me, your first-born son!” Esau cried out in a shaking voice. Then he broke down and wept aloud, even though he was a strong man (v. 38).

Isaac felt much pity for his favorite son. “Here is what shall be for you, Esau my son,” Isaac said. “God shall give you and those who live after you a land far away from the best thing this earth has to offer. You will have to hunt and fight even for what you get. You and your people will serve your brother and his people. But there will come a time when you will be free of them” (vs. 39-40).

Esau should have been thankful for at least some of the things his father asked for him. Instead, he was very angry because Jacob had received the greater blessing.

“My father Isaac will soon die,” Esau thought. “Then I will kill Jacob for what he has done to me” (v. 41).

In his anger, Esau must have told someone what he planned to do. His mother heard about it, and was afraid for Jacob. She told Jacob what Esau intended to do, and begged Jacob to leave the country at once and go stay with her brother back in the land of Mesopotamia at Haran, where she had come from (v. 42).

“But I don’t want to go away from here,” Jacob argued. “This is my home and my country.”

Rebekah became so worried about Jacob’s safety that she thought up a plan to get him away from home. In the first place, she knew that Jacob would probably do anything his father told him to do. Therefore she went to Isaac about the matter, but she didn’t tell Isaac her real reason for wanting Jacob to leave.

“If Jacob lives here any longer, he is very likely to marry a Hittite woman,” she told Isaac. “I think you should send him to Haran to choose a wife from our own people before he is trapped by some woman from among the heathen idol worshippers around us."

Isaac had been greatly disappointed before because his favorite son, Esau, had taken wives from among the people who didn’t worship God. He didn’t want Jacob to do the same thing. Probably Jacob had no idea of doing such a thing. But Rebekah had put the thought into Isaac’s mind, and Isaac became worried. After some time he called Jacob to him.

“Do not take a wife from the Canaanites,” Isaac told Jacob. ”You should choose a wife from your own people. Your mother thinks you should go to her home in Haran and stay a while. Perhaps you will find a wife there. May God bless you and cause you to have many children and much good land when you return!”

Jacob then started off for Haran by himself with only the few provisions he could carry. It wasn’t easy to cross the desert alone. But he was anxious to escape from his angry brother, Esau.

Instead of taking the most direct road to Haran, Jacob chose side trails that made his journey more difficult. By doing this, he hoped to make it impossible for his brother to catch up with him.

Be watching for our next installment of The Story of the Bible.

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