Did Yitschak Allow to Be Deceived in His Blessing?

Posted by on Nov 8, 2021

The motive of a mother advocating on behalf of her son is found in two biblical stories of the matriarchs of the nation of Israel. After Yitschak was molested by Ishmael, Sarah urged Avraham to send Hagar away along with her son, so only her son Yitschak would inherit, according to the promise.

After Sarah’s ultimatum that Hagar and her son be expelled, Avraham became grieved, but YHVH advised him to listen to his wife.

Rivkah, the new matriarch of the family, too acted according to the will of YHVH. While Rivkah was still pregnant, YHVH foretold the destiny of the children, who were already fighting in her womb. She kept this in her mind.

It is the object of this work to explain the ambiguous prophecy concerning the two nations that came out of Esav and Ya’akov, the sons of Yitschak.

This work has also a second object. It is designed to explain certain obscure moments which occur in the story of Yitschak’s blessings and are not distinctly pointed out, and more particularly, whether Yitschak was deceived by his wife Rivka. We will explain the reason for these objects in due course.

A good departure point to achieving the foresaid objects is reviewing the lives of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the nation of Israel. As the reader may expect, this study is based on what we have studied in the articles Avraham gained righteousness but lost a son and Did YHVH Tell Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac? of Time of Reckoning Ministry.

Rivkah received the prophecy, not Yitschak

Yitschak was forty years old when he took Rivkah as his wife. Like his father Avraham, Yitschak was childless, because Rivkah was barren. He prayed to YHVH for his wife; the prayer was heard and Rivkah conceived.

Yitschak was unique among the patriarchs as the only one who was monogamous even when faced with a barren wife, and the only one who prayed on behalf of his wife (Gen 25:21).

When Sarah was barren, his father Avraham complained to YHVH about his childlessness but procreated with his wife’s maidservant.

When Rachel was barren, Yitschak’s son Ya’akov scolded her with the words: “Am I in the place of Elohim, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” (Gen 30:2)

When YHVH assured Avraham that Sarah too would bear a child, he failed to recognize Sarah’s equal share in becoming father and mother of nations.

The narrative of our story presents Rivkah in an active role of a mother, who was concerned about the fulfillment of the promise given to Avraham, both in the story of her difficult pregnancy, in which she consulted with YHVH on her own, and in the story of the blessings of Ya’akov and Esav.

But Rivkah’s long-awaited pregnancy was difficult, as she found out she was carrying children who were fighting in her womb. In this she saw a bad sign that the pregnancy, which she so long desired, would bring misfortune to the family. Troubled by the uncertainty, she asked YHVH and He answered her prophetically. We should note here that Rivkah was the second matriarch to whom YHVH spoke.

Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be separated from your womb. And one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older serve the younger. (Gen 25:22-23)

What Rivkah learned from this prophecy was that two sons would come out of her, and their destiny would be to have separated and alienated lives even from her womb.

But what must have perplexed Rivkah even more was that one of them would be stronger than the other, and the older would serve the younger. She was given to know nothing more than that. But one thing is certain, after hearing the prophecy, Rivkah must have kept it in her mind and heart until the end of her days.

And indeed, in her condition, it would have been natural for Rivkah to be concerned. She must have asked herself as to who would be the one through whom the promise given to Avraham would come to fulfillment. Neither was Rivkah told, nor are we.

Nevertheless, it is remarkable that it was Rivkah to whom YHVH decided to reveal the future of her sons, not Yitschak. It seems clear from the narrative that follows that Rivkah never told her husband of this prophecy, and she was not told to reveal it. Why? As we see in the following this would play major role in the story.

The ambiguity in the prophecy concerning the two nations

The wording “the older shall serve the younger” is capable of two interpretations. The rabbis noticed this ambiguity in the Hebrew text of the prophecy to Rivkah. They commented that due to the absence of vowel points, the wording in question can be read in two different ways; all depending on how the word “shall serve” is read: either as יַעֲבֹד ya’avod (from עָבַד avad, to serve), as punctuated by the scribes, meaning “he shall serve”, or causatively, ya’aved (spelled identically) meaning to enslave, to keep in bondage, to compel. In the case of the latter, the phrase would mean “he shall enslave”.

Such explained, the text is saying that the older will either serve the younger or will cause him to serve. i.e., will compel him to serve.

An alternative reading, according to the rabbis, is that the two nations will never be equally great at the same time: when one rises, the other will fall. Although, this is a legitimate interpretation of the text, it is more based on the subsequent development of the history between the two nations rather than based on the plain reading of the text.

What exactly indeed Rivkah heard, whether “shall serve” or “enslave” we do not know. And no one knew either for more than a millennium what YHVH meant in his words to Rivkah until His words to her descendants by Malachi (“My messenger”) came to explain.

Only then, YHVH revealed the full meaning of the prophecy that when the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, He had already loved Ya’akov and hated Esav so that the purpose according to election might stand (see also Rom 9:11-13). He spoke,

“Was not Esav Ya’akov’s brother?”, says Yehovah. “Yet I loved Ya’akov. But I hated Esav, and made his mountains a desolation and gave his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness”. (Mal 1:2-3)

That was the continuation of the prophecy YHVH did not tell the concerned mother. And there was a good reason not to let her know, because this is what prophecy meant when spoken in its entirety,

Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be separated from your womb. And one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older serve the younger. Yet I loved Ya’akov. But I hated Esav, and made his mountains a desolation and gave his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.

That was the message Rivkah did not hear. Yet, she decided to act on her own.

The names of the brothers speak out

And when the days were filled for Rivkah to give birth, fraternal twins were in her womb. The first came out ruddy all over and exceedingly hairy, so they called his name Esav “rough” on account of being so hairy.

And afterward his brother came out, with his hand holding on to Esav’s heel, so his name was called Ya’akov “heel-holder”. That rarity was seen as a sign of the future struggling between the twins. From these circumstances at birth the children received their names.

The name given to the second son of Yitschak, יַעֲקִב Ya’akov, is derived from the verb עָקַב akav, meaning to restrain (as if holding by the heel in wrestling). It is used only as derived from the noun עָקֵב akev, “heel”. This name needs a further explanation.

If Ya’akov was given this name for the reason that he was holding on to his brother’s heel, he should have been called Akev “a heel”, as Esav was called such for his reddish body hair. But this is not so.

The Hebrew ya’akov stems from the root akav, which means “to restrain” as in protection. Thus, the name Ya’akov can also be rendered “he protects”, as he was protecting his soft fontanel (membranous gap in the skull of an infant) from his brother’s heel.

Akav is a close synonym of pasach with the same meaning “to protect” by skipping over and passing over, hence, to spare, as found in the Exodus story. From this, pesach came afterwards to be used for the lamb, through which, the passing over or sparing had been effected (Exo 12:21, Exo 12:27).

In Exo 12:12-13 pesach is explained. In that night YHVH passed through Egypt, smiting all the first-born of man and beast of Egypt, and pass over, spare, the Israelites. From pasach another word is derived pesach: the Passover lamb whose blood served as a mark of protection on the doorposts in Egypt.

The difference though between akav and pasach is how one protects himself: by holding the sourse of the threat, in the case of akav, or by holding the object of the threat, pasach. Ya’akov, in his struggle to protect his head from harm, was holding Esav’s heel, hence the use of akav.

Regrettably, it is due to the bias of the Christian theology, many have adopted the wrong meaning of the name, by which Ya’akov is known today: “supplanter” (one who wrongfully or illegally seizes and holds the place of another). That prejudiced definition of the name was employed by Esav, when he complained before his father accusing Ya’akov for having taken something Esav had already sold,

Was his name, then, called Ya’akov? For he has caught me by the heel these two times. He took my birthright, and look, now he has taken my blessing (Gen 27:36),

But as we explained, the name Ya’akov has a quite different meaning: “he protects”. This is also hinted in Hosea,

He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and in his strength he strove with Elohim. He strove with the messenger and overcame  (Hos 12:3-4) (JPS 12:4-5)

The journey from Ya’akov to Israel

And indeed, the patriarch would be known by his two names: Ya’akov, for he took his brother by the heel to protect himself, and Israel, for in his strength he strove with Elohim and with His messenger. In both case the nation that was called after him would struggle from the day it was established, whether against its enemies or with Elohim.

The new name our patriarch would receive later, יִשְׂרָאֵל Israel, means “he rules with El[ohim]”. It comes from the verb שָרָה sarah, to rule, and אֵל (Elohim), hence Israel means “one who has power with Elohim and is able”, or figuratively “one who strives with Elohim and has overcome”. This is according to what we have written in the article The Consequence of Struggling with YHVH.

This struggle between the brothers, which began in Rivkah’s womb, shaped their personalities that developed within their nations. As a sign of this, Ya’akov received a new name Israel that better reflected his nature and future course of his life, as he was fighting a tremendous inner battle with Elohim to overcome the Ya’akov (the heel-holder who protected himself) in order to establish the Israel (the overcomer, who has power with Elohim).

The name Israel thus denoted a spiritual state in a constant struggle to survive from his mother’s womb to the end of his life. The patriarch’s entire life was indeed that of defense and struggle. Nothing came easily to Israel.

It was he who fought with Esav for the birthright, and it was he who took the blessing.

And it was he who was in a constant struggle with Lavan, with his wives, Leah and Rachel, and his children, whose rivalry eventually brought him in Egypt.

In each of those struggles, he won, but only until the next struggle. There was no rest for Israel. His inner battle became a family trait; not only was Ya’akov’s new name transcended to his descendants, as a protector, but his struggle too, as a fighter. The struggle of the nation of Israel began in Egypt and continues to this day: the struggle to survive in the hostile world.

It is the present author’s understanding that YHVH used his brother Esav, even from their mother’s womb, to transform Ya’akov into Israel.

Let us now return to our main subject.

Selling a birthright

In Gen 25:28 we read that Rivkah’s sons grew up, and Yitschak loved Esav because he ate of his wild game, but Rivkah loved Ya’akov. When reading this verse one might come to the conclusion that Yitschak did not love Ya’akov, nor did Rivkah love Esav.

We must not err to assume that, because what this verse is telling us is that Esav was his father’s favorite, and Ya’akov was his mother’s.

Esav became a cunning hunter, a man of the field, for this reason he was his father’s favorite: Yitschak loved the taste of wild game. But Ya’akov was a pious man who had pleasure of home in contrast with his brother’s wild life; for this reason he was his mother’s favorite: Rivkah loved the quiet life of home. This difference in their characters was soon shown in the following scene, which became the turning-point in their lives.

A day came to be when Esav returned home from the field quite exhausted and hungry, and saw Ya’akov cooking brown-red lentil pottage. Unable to restrain his wild appetite, Esav asked Ya’akov to feed him with the red stew.

Knowingly his brother’s neglect for inheritance, Ya’akov used the occasion to make his brother sell his birth right of firstborn: a double portion of the father’s inheritance and the title to the blessing of the promise of the future possession of the land of Kana’an according to the Covenant with YHVH. Esav knew it and Ya’akov knew it. But they attached different values to it: the older according to the flesh, the younger according to the promise.

Esav’s superfluous disposition towards the Covenant is best seen in his own words: “Look, I am going to meet death anyway, and what is the birthright to me?”

It seems that the only thing of value to Esav was the sensual enjoyment of the present, not the Covenant of YHVH with his grandfather of a distant future. For trading his birthright for a red stew, Esav was also called Edom, “red”, but we should call him “heedless”.

Esav swore to Ya’akov and sold his birthright.

Ya’akov then gave Esav bread and stew of lentils. And he ate and drank, and rose up and left. Thus, Esav despised his birthright. (Gen 25:34)

“Thus, he despised his birthright” is according to the words of the Messenger of His Face, who narrated the story to Mosheh.

Now, we cannot leave this incident unexplained, because Esav used it to reclaim his birthright from the “supplanter” for illegally seizing his place in the Covenant. Let us again recall Esav’s words to his father later on in the story,

Was his name, then, called Ya’akov? For he has caught me by the heel these two times. He took my birthright, and look, now he has taken my blessing (Gen 27:36).

The questions that are begging for answers are: Was it Esav’s authority to sell his birthright? and: Was it Ya’akov’s right to bargain it in the first place? Neither.

A birthright is given to the firstborn male in the family. It cannot be transferred or offered to other, unless it is by the will of the father. We should recall later in the history that this is what Ya’akov himself did when he took the birthright of his firstborn son Reuven and gave it to Yoseph.

With that said, it is clear that the trade the brothers did had no legal consequences and therefore no bearing on any future event. Regardless of the deal between the two brothers, Esav remained the firstborn in the family.

Yitschak’s intent to bless Ya’akov

And it came to be, when Yitschak was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called Esav and asked him to prepare his favorite dish so that he would bless him for he did not know how many years he had left (Gen 27:1-2).

Yitschak married Rivka at 40 (Gen 25:20) and 60, when the twins were born (Gen 25:26). Avraham, 160, was still alive when the twins were born, and he died when they were 15 years old.

Yitschak was 100, when Esav married (Gen 26:34), 110 years old when Shem died, and 123 when Esav sold his birthright. That year Ishmael died at 137 (Gen 25:17). See Jubilee Table of the Book Reckoning of Time for the chronology of events.

It is assumed by some commentators that Yitschak blessed his sons in the same year they traded the birthright, but this assumption cannot be supported by the plain reading of the text.

Gen 27:1 begins with the expression “And it came to pass”: a phrase that expresses an unidentified period of time. Also, we are given to know that Yitschak was old and nearly blind: clues not presented in the preceding chapters 25 and 26.

This makes us conclude that at the time of the blessings, Yitschak was much older than 123; but how much older we are not told. What we are given to know is that in Gen 35:28 Yitschak was 180 when he died.

Rivkah overheard what Yitschak spoke to Esav, and while Esav was still in the field to hunt wild game, she told Ya’akov all his father said to Esav. Then she commanded Ya’akov to bring two choice young goats, which she would prepare for his father, and having introduced himself as Esav to ask for the blessing “in the presence of Yehovah” before his father’s death. Clearly Rivkah thought her husband intended to give his final blessing to Esav.

Ya’akov’s objection, that his father would recognize him by his smooth skin, and instead of a blessing him a curse upon him might come for he attempted to deceive his blind father, she silenced by saying, that she would take the curse upon herself, only he had to do was to listen to her.

A multiple considerations we must take into account here.

We know that Rivkah replaced Sarah as the second matriarch of the family. We should also recall that when Sarah overheard the prophecy that Avraham and her would have an heir and become father and mother of nations; a prophecy she sought to fulfill by her own means.

It is possible then that Rivkah saw herself (and rightly so) in the role of a matriarch and remembered the prophecy that two nations would come out of her womb; a prophecy she sought to fulfill by whatever means necessary, like Sarah did. Overhearing that her husband might give his blessing to Esav, she devised her own plan to make the prophecy self-fulfilled.

She evidently relied on the word of promise and thought that she ought to do her part to secure its fulfilment by directing the blessing to the righteous son Ya’akov, and not to the unrighteous Esav. Confident in her intent, she was so assured of the success of her plan that she had no fear of the possibility of being cursed by her husband.

Rivkah specifically commanded Ya’akov to bring her two choice goats. The question that is begging an explanation is: “Could and should Yitschak consume two whole young kids to bless his son?” Obviously the answer is “No”, because she needed the two kids for their skins to prepare a disguise for Ya’akov.

This choice of goat skin as a disguise may look odd to us, but we should not think of the European goats, whose skins would be quite unsuitable for such a disguise. But we should think of the camel-goat of the East, whose black silk-like hair was indeed quite suitable for the task.

The camel-goat of the East, whose black silk-like hair was used for making wigs in the ancient world.

The camel-goat of the East, whose black silk-like hair was used for making wigs in the ancient world, Rivkah used to disguise Ya’akov.

Ya’akov brought the goats to her mother and she prepared the dish according to her husband’s taste. Then in Gen 27:15 we are told that Rivkah took the garments of “her older son Esav” and put them on “Ya’akov her younger son”.

Why is it necessary for us to know something we already know that Esav was the older and Ya’akov was the younger?

The sages noticed this peculiarity and explained that the terms gadol “older” and katan “younger” may not only refer to their ages but may refer also to Esav being larger physically compared to Ya’akov.

Thus disguised, Ya’akov entered his father’s tent for the blessing with his favorite dish, saying “My father”. The blind Yitschak expecting to hear Esav’s voice most naturally asked, “Who are you my son?” And Ya’akov said,

I am Esav your first-born, I have done as you said to me. Please rise, sit and eat of my wild game, so that your soul may bless me. (Gen 27:19)

Already confused, the father expressed doubt that his son Esav would return so quickly with the game. But Ya’akov said,

Because Yehovah your Elohim brought it to me. (Gen 27:20)

Do we see something odd here? Ya’akov used the Name of YHVH to deceive his father. But as wrong as it was, that was not the only error Ya’akov did.

With his words “Yehovah your Elohim” Ya’akov blew off his disguise. Esav would never say the Name. The sages noticed this peculiarity and commented thus in Midrash Rabbah,

As soon as Jacob said these words, Isaac said to himself: “I know that Esau does not mention the name of the Holy One, blessed be He; since this one does mention Him, he is not Esau but Jacob.” Since Jacob spoke thus, Isaac said to him: “Come near, please, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.”

If we want to understand what took place in the tent at that time, we must pay attention to Yitschak’s words. And Ya’akov went near to his father, and he felt him and said,

The voice is the voice of Ya’akov, but the hands are the hands of Esav. (Gen 27:22)

Clearly to this moment, Yitschak was certain that it was Ya’akov who entered his tent, not Esav. However, if some were to argue that the patriarch was figuratively blind to see the promised son, there is no merit to such an argument. The fact is that Yitschak recognized Ya’akov.

Now, still on the same line of thought how we are to understand the statement in the next verse that is seemingly bringing confusion saying that “he did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like his brother Esav’s hands” (verse 23). We will address this apparent contradiction in a later study but until then we will offer the reader to come with his or her considerations.

Isaac blesses Jacob by Govert Flinck, 1638.

Isaac blesses Jacob by Govert Flinck, 1638.

Then Yitschak asked him to come and kiss him, all as a test. And when his son kissed him, he smelled the smell of a field. Then Yitschak blessed Ya’akov, saying,

See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which Yehovah has blessed. And Elohim give you of the dew of the heavens, of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brothers, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those cursing you, and blessed be those blessing you! (Gen 27:27-29)

Ya’akov was thus blessed, according to the predetermination of YHVH that the older was to serve the younger.

As soon as Yitschak had finished blessing, and Ya’akov had hardly left the presence of his father, Esav came in from the field. He prepared the dish for his father and brought it to him.

But upon learning what had happened in his absence, Esav all of a sudden remembered his birthright which forgot he had sold (Gen 27:36). Weeping he asked his father for a blessing if he had some left. And Yitschak blessed him thus,

Look, your dwelling is of the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of the heavens from above. And by your sword you are to live, and serve your brother. And it shall be, when you grow restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck. (Gen 27:39-40)

Now, this whole scene too is begging for an explanation.

How was it possible that Yitschak first recognized Ya’akov and then he did not recognize him? Are these two statements not mutually exclusive? And if Yitschak had already recognized the voice of his own son, how had the hairy hands changed his perception? Which human sense is stronger and more convincing: the sense of touching or the sense of hearing?

Yitschak asked for a wild game, but Ya’akov brought in goat meat. Had the old man not smelled and tasted the difference and questioned the situation?

Lastly, we do not find anywhere in the narrative that Esav had ever called on the Name of the Most High, but Ya’akov indeed did. Had the righteous Yitschak not noticed this and questioned the identity of the intruder?

How can we reconcile all these oddities?

Yitschak was old and blind, not naïve and foolish. He indeed recognized that the one who entered his tent and asked for his blessing was his younger son Ya’akov. This is self-evident. He himself concluded that it was Ya’akov who asked for his blessing. In support of our assertion, we know as matter of fact that blind people have an acute and intensive sense of hearing other people do not have. Hence, when Yitschak said, “The voice is the voice of Ya’akov”, he indeed meant it.

Then, what sense can we make of this odd situation? Did Yitschak recognized his son Ya’akov, or he allowed to be fooled by such a simple trick?

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