Ya‘akov (Hebrew), Jacob, James (English), Yakub, Yakobus (Indonesian) are names that refer to the figure we will discuss here. He was born as the second child and was called Ya’akov because he was born holding the heel of his twin, Eisav (or Esau), who was born earlier. The name Ya’akov means “follower,” but the word akev, from which Ya’akov was derived, has a broader meaning, including “substitute,” “supplant” (or “to tackle to replace”), and “deceive.” Isaac and Rebekah were Esau and Jacob’s parents.
CJB is Complete Jewish Bible.
ESV is the English Standard Version.
AMPC or The Amplified is the Amplified Bible Classic Edition.
In Christianity, Ya’akov is often interpreted as “the deceiver.” This is because in Genesis 27:36 ESV, Esau called him by that name after Jacob had tricked him into giving up his birthright. Esau said, “is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times.” This label stuck with Jacob like a stigma, and many people tend to point their finger at him and agree with Esau’s words without carefully examining the Bible and studying its context. However, it is important to remember that Jacob’s story also shows his transformation and redemption through God’s grace.
It is worth noting that Rebekah, the mother of Esau and Jacob, was one of the barren women in the Bible. She remained childless for approximately 19-20 years, as mentioned in Genesis 25:20 & 26, until God answered Isaac’s prayer in verse 21 and opened her womb. She became pregnant with twins who struggled and fought with each other inside the womb, causing her great pain and distress. In verse 22, she even expressed a desire to die. In the next verse, we see that Rebekah sought guidance from the Lord on this matter. God answered her in Genesis 25:23 (CJB), saying, “There are two nations in your womb. From birth, they will be two rival peoples. One of these people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” This was God’s plan for Esau and Jacob from the very beginning, and He revealed it to Isaac and Rebekah through this prophecy.
The prophecy given to Rebekah and Isaac about their children, Esau and Jacob, was not just an answer but also a promise from God that brought hope and changed the fate of those who were to be born later. It is essential not to forget this Word of God and the significance of what He revealed to Isaac and Rebekah about their children. Sometimes, we tend to judge Jacob harshly because we only see one side of the story – how he tricked his aging and almost blind father Isaac into taking Esau’s blessing. However, we should remember that God chose Jacob despite his flaws and weaknesses. Jacob’s story shows us that God’s grace and mercy are not dependent on a person’s character or actions.
The two children, Esau and Jacob, grew up in the house (tent) of Isaac and Rebekah, each with a distinct personality and set of habits. Jacob had a stay-at-home nature and was not interested in exploring the world outside. He had a calm and gentle personality, and tended to be passive. This was in stark contrast to Esau, who was very active and adventurous, always curious and good at hunting. Esau preferred to live in the field and spent much of his time outdoors, as mentioned in verse 27. Their different personalities and habits caused Isaac and Rebekah to choose their own favorites. Isaac favored Esau because he enjoyed hunting and eating game meat, whereas Rebekah preferred Jacob, who had a nature that kept him close to his mother. Consequently, he inherited her expertise in the kitchen, and their cooking was well-liked by both Isaac and Esau.
Esau‘s name means “red” or “Edom” because almost his entire body was covered with red hair when he was born. As he grew up, his hunting nature revealed him to be a man who enjoyed a strong adrenaline rush to satisfy his aggressive nature. He tended to focus on carnal things and was not interested in divine matters, as mentioned in Colossians 3:1. Esau was more concerned with satisfying his physical needs and could not resist his fleshly appetites. In Genesis 25:32 (Amplified Bible), he said, “I am at the point of death; what good can this birthright do me?” when Jacob asked for his birthright in exchange for food. He despised his privileges as the firstborn and was even willing to sell them for a bowl of lentil soup to satisfy his hunger, as stated in Genesis 25:34. It’s worth noting Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:11, “.. what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.“
Esau’s carnal desires extended beyond his appetite for food and included his strong sexual appetite. Similar to his hunting nature, Esau was wild and unrestrained in his pursuit of sexual gratification. Genesis 26:34 tells us that he even took two wives at once, Judith and Basemath, which caused much pain for Isaac and Rebekah as stated in verse 35. Later, when Jacob was sent to Padan-Aram to find a wife, Esau married Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael, as mentioned in Genesis 28:9. Esau’s wives are also called by the names of Adah, Oholibamah, and Basemath, as listed in Genesis 36:1-3.
Take a look at this article by Tamar Kadari.
According to the teachings of the Jewish Rabbis, it was believed that Esau’s wives engaged in adultery and idolatry. Adah was known to adorn herself with jewelry that was typically worn by prostitutes. Interestingly, the name Ada means “to wear (adayat) jewelry” (Gen. Rabbati, Vayishlah, p. 160). Adah is also referred to as Basemath in Genesis 26:34 and 36:2, a name which suggests that she enjoyed wearing perfume to attract sexual partners.
It’s worth noting that during the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Law, Torah, did not yet exist. It wasn’t until several hundred years later, during the time of Moses, that the Law was established (Genesis 15:16 and Exodus 12:40). Today, the Law serves as the primary basis for establishing moral values in modern society, which is predominantly monotheistic, with most people believing in one God. As a result of these religions and shared moral values, society has become more civilized over time. However, in the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, there were no shared moral values, and people lived according to their own rules (Judges 21:25). Pagan religions, which involved the worship of multiple gods, were prevalent at the time, and many of their rituals involved sexual practices (Numbers 25). This connection between idolatry and adultery was common in those days.
Esau’s second wife, Judith, was the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and according to Tanhuma, Vayeshev 1, she was the illegitimate child of Beeri’s adultery. Judith was also known as Oholibama because she built a place of idol worship to Bamot, and although she lived in Esau’s camp as his wife, she sought pleasure elsewhere. Esau’s actions of taking two wives at once were similar to those who lived before the flood, as seen in Genesis 4:19, where Lamech also took two wives named Adah and Zillah. It is interesting to note that both Esau’s and Lamech’s wives are named Adah.
It is difficult to imagine the heartache and pain that Esau’s parents, Isaac and Rebekah, must have experienced in Genesis 26:35. They saw their eldest son, who should have been the one to inherit Abraham’s blessing and become the next patriarch, grow to be very carnal and show no interest in God or spiritual matters. Esau’s wives not only engaged in prostitution with others but also led Esau away from the Lord and into idolatry.
There are different interpretations regarding Esau’s marriage to Mahalat. One interpretation suggests that Esau’s decision to marry her was actually a sign that God had already forgiven his sins (JT Bikkurim 3:3, 65c–d). The name Mahalat means “forgiveness,” (mahal) which supports this view. However, another interpretation holds that Mahalat was just as wicked as Esau’s first two wives (according to Midrash Aggadah, ed. Buber, Genesis 28:9). According to this interpretation, Esau married Mahalat as part of a conspiracy with Ishmael to kill Isaac and Jacob, in order to reclaim Abraham’s inheritance. In the end, this marriage caused even more pain and heartache for Isaac and Rebekah.
Isaac and Rebekah were well aware of this; they understood that their hope rested solely on Jacob, who could continue the Patriarchal Blessing of their family. It is worth noting that Genesis 27 occurs after Genesis 26:34. According to David J. Zucker’s book, The Torah, An Introduction for Christians and Jews page 40, Deception in the Dark, Jacob’s issue is that he was a passive person and too calm in character. He enjoyed living in his parents’ house too much, feeling settled before he had truly matured, as evidenced in Genesis 25:27. Additionally, at the age of 40, he had no wife yet, as seen in Genesis 26:34. Jacob lacked the potential to succeed the family as the father of the 3rd Patriarch, the next leader who would inherit Abraham and Isaac’s promise.
The Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are the forefathers of Israel, chosen by God to form the nation of Israel.
In Genesis 27, there are actually quite a few signs and hints that indicate Jacob was set to inherit the blessing and not Esau. It is interesting that this was arranged by Isaac and Rebekah themselves with the aim not only for Jacob to eventually receive Isaac’s blessing (Abraham’s inheritance promise), but also to help him mature and reach his potential as the next father of Israel. This was done through the difficulties and challenges that he would face once he left his parents’ house.
Genesis 27 opens with Isaac instructing Esau to go hunting so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die. In many translations, verse 5 begins with the words “but” or “and,” indicating that Rebekah overheard Isaac’s words to Esau. However, in the Hebrew translation, this conjunction is absent. Instead, verse 5 begins with “Rivkah was listening when Yitz’chak spoke to his son Esav.” This suggests that Rebekah may have been in the same room when Isaac spoke to Esau, or at least within earshot.
The situation depicted in Genesis 27 is not as straightforward as Jacob simply deceiving his father Isaac to obtain Esau’s inheritance. It is possible that Isaac and Rebekah had conspired beforehand to ensure that Jacob, rather than Esau, would receive the inheritance. This is suggested by the fact that the last verse of chapter 26 shows how Esau’s wives had deeply offended Isaac and Rebekah. Furthermore, they were aware of God’s prophecy in Genesis 25:23, which stated that the firstborn would become a servant to the younger. From the beginning, God had chosen Jacob to be the father of the third Patriarch after Abraham and Isaac, and the ancestor of the twelve tribes of Israel, through His Omniscience.
Verse 1 of Genesis 27 suggests that Isaac himself (with Rebekah present to ensure everything went smoothly) had arranged in advance for Esau to go out hunting. After he left, Rebekah immediately played her role by cooking Isaac’s favorite dish and preparing Jacob to smell like Esau according to the situation in verse 1 that Isaac’s vision was blurred due to old age. Jacob was persuaded to take part in the scheme so that the inheritance blessing (Abraham’s promise) would fall to him and not to Esau. It seems that Jacob was also left to believe that he had tricked Esau, which would later become an excuse to push him out to escape his habit of staying at home and flee to Haran to Laban, Rebekah’s brother. This is indeed what happened.
Isaac’s question in verse 18 (“who are you?“) and verse 24 (“is it true that you are my son Esau?“), and his request for Jacob to draw closer to him in verse 21 (“come closer“), were not intended to confirm that it was Esau who had come to him. Rather, Isaac wanted to be sure that it was Jacob who was there. Despite his advanced age and blurred vision (as stated in verse 1), Isaac was not easily fooled by his own son. In fact, he knew for certain that it was Jacob and not Esau (as mentioned in verse 22) because he recognized Jacob’s voice. Jacob’s passive character was very different from Esau’s and this would have been clearly audible in the intonation of Jacob’s voice when he claimed to be Esau.
Notice how Jacob was terrified in verse 12 when he answered his mother Rebekah. Ya’akov answered Rivkah his mother, “Look, ‘Esav is hairy, but I have smooth skin. Suppose my father touches me -he’ll know I’m trying to trick him, and I’ll bring a curse on myself, not a blessing!” Genesis 27:11-12, CJB.
In verse 33 of Genesis 27, when Esau returned, the Bible clearly shows that Isaac was shocked and trembling uncontrollably (as described in the CJB translation). This was not because he had just realized that he had been deceived by Jacob, but rather because he had just realized that he had deceived his own eldest son, Esau, and robbed him of the right that should have rightfully been his. Esau was his favorite child, and Isaac would have felt an immense sense of guilt and regret for what had transpired.
In this case, Jacob was not the one who deceived Esau by fooling Isaac with the help of Rebekah, his mother. Rather, he was tricked by both of his parents into thinking that he had deceived his brother for the sake of ensuring that Abraham’s blessing would not fall to the wrong heir. Esau was also aware of this, as shown in Genesis 28:6. It was a deception in the dark. At the same time, this situation could be seen as a way to push Jacob out of his comfort zone, his parents’ house, and to flee to Padan-Aram. There, he could learn to be mature and face his own difficulties by learning to depend on God, who would lead him (as seen in Genesis 28:13).
If Genesis 27 does indeed show that Jacob was guilty of deceiving Esau by fooling his father Isaac, why didn’t God deal with his wrongdoing? It might be tempting to think that God allowed Jacob to be punished by Laban’s trickery since Jacob deceived Isaac. However, it’s important to note that even though Jacob faced many struggles after the incident, the blessings he received were never taken away or turned into a curse. It’s incorrect to always interpret struggles and problems as punishment from God. Sometimes, God uses difficult situations to humble us and teach us His ways, as Deuteronomy 8:3 teaches.
Often, we rush to judgment and assume that it was Jacob who cheated in Genesis 27 simply because we don’t take the time to study God’s Word carefully. We fail to read the entire story in context and allow our preconceived notions, often formed from childhood Sunday school lessons, to cloud our understanding. It’s essential to approach biblical stories with an open mind and a willingness to understand the cultural and historical context of the Hebrew people, rather than viewing them through our modern Western or Eastern lens. We must strive to study the Bible in its proper context as Hebrew literature.
Yes, this story is actually easy to understand. As a parent, would you give your inheritance to a child who has hurt you deeply? Or to one who truly loves you? If you would act as Isaac and Rebekah did towards Esau, then don’t be too quick to accuse Jacob of being a deceiver or a supplanter.
In the next writing, we will talk about Jacob with his divine encounters with the LORD. We will see how Jacob, like most of us, grew to know God through all his hardships and struggles. Psalm 34:19, The misfortune of the righteous is great, but the LORD delivers him from all these things. Jacob was he who had shown his strength against God and mankind and had won. He managed to endure to the end, Genesis 32:29 (CJB). He was Israel, God’s warrior!