Ya‘akov (Hebrew), Jacob, James (English), Yakub, Yakobus (Indonesian) are the names that refer to the following figure we will talk about here. He was born as a second child and was called Ya’akov because he was born holding the heel of his twin, Eisav (or Esau) which was born earlier than him. So the meaning of the name Ya’akov is a follower. However, akev, the word from which Ya’akov was derived has a broad meaning including substitute, supplants (or to tackle to replace), and deceive. Esau and Jacob’s parents were Isaac and Rebekah.
In Christianity, Ya’akov is often interpreted as the deceiver. This is due to what Esau called him with that word in Genesis 27:36 ESV after Jacob had robbed him of his blessing, is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. This then always stuck with him like a stigma that Jacob was always a deceiver. Many of us would point our finger directly at Jacob, agree with Esau’s words without examining His Word, studying it carefully.
It is interesting to note that Rebekah, the mother of Esau and Jacob, was one of the barren women in the Bible. He was barren for approximately 19-20 years, Genesis 25:20 & 26, until before God answered Isaac’s prayer in verse 21 to open her womb. She was pregnant with 2 twins who fought and struggled with each other from inside the womb, causing her lots of pain, she felt like dying in verse 22. The next verse shows us that Rebekah went to seek guidance from the Lord on this heavy matter. The Lord answered (Genesis 25:23, CJB), “There are two nations in your womb. From birth, they will be two rival peoples. One of these peoples will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” This was God’s answer to Isaac and Rebekah about Esau and Jacob from the very beginning.
An answer that becomes a prophecy about what will happen in the future. Like a promise of God that brings hope which will change the fate of the one who would be born later. So don’t forget this Word of God that came to Rebekah and Isaac about how their children, Esau and Jacob, would be one day. Oftentimes, just because we only see one side of a story when Jacob tricked his aging and almost blind father Isaac into taking Esau’s blessing, we then quickly judge him to be the deceiver, the supplanter. People who have bad character, but why did God choose him ?!
CJB is Complete Jewish Bible.
ESV is the English Standard Version.
AMPC or The Amplified is the Amplified Bible Classic Edition.
The two children later grew up in the house (tent) of Isaac and Rebekah with 2 different personalities. Not only their characters but their habits had become completely different. Jacob grew up with a stay-at-home nature, not interested in going anywhere, neither to adventure to see the world outside. He had a calmer and gentle personality, tend to be passive. It is completely opposite to Esau who was very active and full of adventurous nature, and always curious. He was good at hunting and liked to live in the field, verse 27. Being out all the time. These things cause Isaac and Rebekah to oppose each other to choose their own favorites. Isaac liked Esau because he liked to hunt and enjoyed eating game meat, but Rebekah liked the other, verse 28. Of course, this was due to Jacob’s nature who liked to stay at home, he would always close to (accompany) his mother. Thus he inherited Rebekah’s expertise in the kitchen. Their cooking was well-liked by both Isaac and Esau.
Esau has a meaning of red, Edom, this is due to almost his entire body was covered with red hair when he was born. With his hunting nature when he started growing up, Esau showed that he was a man who enjoyed a strong adrenaline rush to satisfy his strong aggressive nature. A man who exaggerated the carnal things, he disliked paying attention to divine things, Colossians 3:1. He was more interested in the needs of his stomach and could not help but satisfy his (fleshly) appetite. Look at the words in verse 32 (Amplified Bible), I am at the point of death; what good can this birthright do me? Words that came out of him when Jacob asked his birthright first in exchange for the food he was asking. He was a man who deeply despised his privileges of being the firstborn, even willing to sell it for a bowl of lentil soup just to satisfy his hunger, Genesis 25:34. Notice the words of Jesus in Matthew 15:11, what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.
Esau’s carnal nature was not only about his hungry stomach but also primarily about sexual matters. As in hunting, he was very wild in his sexual appetite. Genesis 26:34 shows us, he married 2 women at the same time at once, Judith and Basemath. Verse 35, the two women caused much pain for Isaac and Rebekah. When Jacob was sent to Padan-Aram, to the house of Bethuel, to take a wife from the children of Laban, his mother’s brother, Genesis 28:2, Esau then took Mahalath to be his wife, the daughter of Ishmael, in verse 9. Esau’s wives are also called by the names of Adah, Oholibamah, and Basemath, Genesis 36:1-3.
Take a look at this article by Tamar Kadari.
According to the teachings of the Jewish Rabbis, Esau’s wives spent their days in adultery and idolatry. Adah liked to adorn herself with the jewelry worn by prostitutes (note that jewelry and cosmetics these days are only worn by prostitutes). It is said like that because the name Ada has this meaning, like to wear (adayat) jewelry (Gen. Rabbati, Vayishlah, p. 160). Another name for Adah is Basemath (Genesis 26:34 and 36:2). This name also shows her other personality who liked to wear perfume to prostitute herself.
Note also that in this age the Law, Torah, did not exist yet. Not until the time of Moses, several hundred years later, some 400 years, Genesis 15:16 & Exodus 12:40. It is the Law that is primarily the basis on which mankind would establish the moral values of a modern society today. After all, these days monotheism is the religion practiced by almost everyone. Belief in one God only. Thus, because of these religions and moral values which are generally accepted by most people, our society has become civilized. Now try to imagine the general public in the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They have no moral values and live by pagan religions (polytheism, which is a belief in many gods). So in those days, each person lived according to his own rules, Judges 21:25. Idolatry itself is closely related to adultery, this is due to the large numbers of idolatry rituals that must be performed in sexual practices, Numbers 25.
Esau’s second wife is Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, she was the illegitimate child of Beeri’s adultery (Tanhuma, Vayeshev 1). Judith was also referred to as Oholibama, a name given to her because she built a place of idol worship (to Bamot). She lived in Esau’s camp as his wife, but “seek the pleasure elsewhere”. Through the actions of Esau who took 2 wives at once, he was acting like those who lived before the flood who took 2 wives at once. Genesis 4:19, Lamech took two wives; one name is Adah, the other is Zillah. Note the names of the wives of Esau and Lamech, both of whom are called Adah.
It is inconceivable the heartache and pain of Esau’s parents, Genesis 26:35. Witnessing their eldest son who should have been the one to inherit Abraham’s blessing to become the next third patriarch, now grew to be very carnal, not having any interest in God and spiritual matters, had wives who would not only prostitute themselves with others, but also brought Esau to idolatry, away from the LORD.
There is an interpretation that said Esau actually acted right in Genesis 28:9 when he married Mahalat, Ishmael’s daughter. Because according to this, God actually had already forgiven Esau’s sins (JT Bikkurim 3:3, 65c–d). The name Mahalat has a meaning that shows God forgives (mahal) Esau. But in another interpretation (by the Rabbis too), Esau did not justify himself by marrying Mahalat. As Mahalat, his 3rd wife was as evil as Esau’s first 2 wives. (according to Midrash Aggadah, ed. Buber, Genesis 28:9). This marriage, according to this interpretation, happened because of Esau’s hidden purpose that he was conspiring with Ishmael to kill Isaac and Jacob, in order to reclaim Abraham’s inheritance (blessing) which came down to Isaac (then to Jacob). In the end, Mahalat, Esau’s 3rd wife, actually added more pain and heartache to Esau’s parents, Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. Rabbah 67:8, 13).
Isaac and Rebekah were well aware of this, they understood that their hope was only on Jacob who could continue the Patriarchal Blessing of their family. Notice that Genesis 27 occurs after Genesis 26:34. According to David J. Zucker in his book, The Torah, An Introduction for Christians and Jews page 40, Deception in the Dark, Jacob’s issue is he was a passive person, too calm in his character. He enjoyed too much living in his parents’ house, was feeling settled already before he was really mature, Genesis 25:27. He had no wife yet even he was already 40, Genesis 26:34. He 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 were the forefathers of Israel, the people whom God chose to form the nation of Israel. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In Genesis 27, there are actually quite a number of signs and hints that would 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 so Jacob (and not Esau) would eventually get Isaac’s blessing (Abraham’s inheritance promise) but also to get him out of his parents’ house to be mature in reaching his potential as the next father of Israel in the future through the difficulties and challenges that will exist.
Genesis 27 begins with Isaac telling Esau to go hunting so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die. Verse 4. In many different translations, verse 5 begins with the word but or and, as if to show the reader that this situation was overheard by Rebekah. But in the Hebrew translation, this word is completely absent. Verse 5 starts immediately with Rivkah was listening when Yitz’chak spoke to his son ‘Esav. This shows that Rebekah could have been in the same room when Isaac spoke to Esau or that she could have been not that far away.
So this situation is not as simple as Jacob tricking Esau by deceiving his father Isaac, but what happened could have been even more complicated where Isaac and Rebekah had conspired first so that the inheritance would fall to Jacob instead, and not to Esau, the son who had hurt them badly. Notice again that just before Genesis 27 begins, the last verse of chapter 26 shows how the situation of Esau’s wives had offended Isaac and Rebekah much. Moreover, they knew that from the very beginning, there was a prophecy of God in Genesis 25:23 which stated that the firstborn would serve, become a servant to the young. God in His Omniscience had chosen Jacob from the beginning as the father of the 3rd Patriarch after Abraham and Isaac to be the ancestor of the 12 tribes of Israel.
So verse 1 actually shows that Isaac himself (with Rebekah his wife was there to ensure) 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. He persuaded Jacob to take his part in this scheme so that the inheritance blessing (Abraham’s promise) would fall to Jacob and not to Esau. Jacob was also left to think that he had tricked Esau so that this would later become an excuse to push him out of his habit of staying at home to escape to save himself, to run to Haran, to Laban, the brother of Rebekah. That’s what actually 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 that Jacob to draw closer to him in verse 21 (come closer) is not really to confirm that it was Esau who really came to him, but Isaac really wanted to know that it was Jacob who came to him. Isaac was already old indeed and his eyesight was blurred (verse 1) but this fact didn’t mean he was a fool to be easily deceit by his own son, he knew for sure that this was Jacob and not Esau, verse 22. He knew Jacob’s voice clearly. After all, the passive character of Jacob was not like Esau which is very different, it must be clearly heard differently in the intonation of Jacob’s voice when he lied that he was 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.
At the same time, when Esau returned, in verse 33 Genesis 27 the Bible shows clearly that Isaac was very shocked. In the CJB translation, he trembled uncontrollably. This was not because he found himself being deceived by Jacob but rather because he just realized now that he had deceived his own eldest son Esau and robbed him of the right that should have been given to him instead. Isn’t Esau his favorite child? Isaac felt very-very guilty.
So in this case, it wasn’t Jacob who deceived Esau by fooling Isaac with the help of Rebekah, his mother. But he himself was tricked by both of his parents to think that he had deceived his brother for the sake of Abraham’s blessing would not fall into a wrong heir. Esau was aware of this too, notice Genesis 28:6. It is a deception in the dark. At the same time this situation could be used to push Jacob out of his comfort zone, his parents’ house, to flee to Padan-Aram. Where in the end he could learn to be mature to face each of his own difficulties by learning to depend on God who would lead him, Genesis 28:13.
If indeed Genesis 27 shows that it was Jacob who was guilty of deceiving Esau by fooling his father Isaac, why didn’t God seem to have dealt with his err but kept silent instead? We might think that because he fooled Isaac, he was then taken by God to Laban, the real conman, to be punished by Laban’s trick (case of Leah and Rebekah, Genesis 29). But notice here that how many struggles Jacob would have suffered afterward, the blessings he took away had never taken back from him or turned to be a curse on him! It is a wrong judgment to always think a struggle or a problem we face is a punishment from God. Many times God meant to humble us, to teach us of His ways. Deuteronomy 8:3.
Often times we are too quick to judge that it was Jacob who cheated in Genesis 27 just because we didn’t want to study God’s Word seriously. We do not read the context any further, we do not want to read the whole story either. After all, our minds are often trapped by our own assumptions that have been formed because of Sunday school stories only. We don’t want to be open to what’s really going on. After all, this is a story of the Hebrews, not a story of Europeans nor Asians (Chinese). We should study them in their context and culture as Hebrews.
Yes, this story is very easy to understand. Will you give your inheritance to the child who has hurt you so badly? Or to those who know how to please you, who really love you? If you also would act as Isaac and Rebekah towards Esau, don’t be so quick to accuse Jacob of being a deceiver, or 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!