When Heaven Intervened Once More
The inheritance tensions were central to the development of Israel as a nation. First, we witnessed Avraham’s concerns that he would remain childless and his trusted servant Eliezer would inherit him, despite the Covenant YHVH made with Avraham.
Then, the strife between Avraham’s wife Sarah and her maidservant: Who would be the matriarch of the family, and who would inherit Avraham: Ishmael or Yitschak. By sending away Ishmael, Sarah secured the line of inheritance for her son Yitschak.
But what we are witnessing now is another strife this time in the family: between two brothers from the same father and mother. In the following, we will continue what we already studied in Did Yitschak Allow to Be Deceived in His Blessing? of Time of Reckoning Ministry concerning this strife.
The Torah introduces before us a complication by telling us that Esav was the firstborn, and thus primary inheritor, and that Ya’akov was the second. Esav sold his birthright for a mere bowl of pottage, yet, this has been seen to have played no role in the story.
With that said, it seems that Avraham and Yitschak played a second role in the family, while it was their wives, Sarah and Rivkah respectively, who took decisive actions to shape the course of history.
Yitschak loved both sons
Yitschak wanted to bless both his sons: each according to his merits and calling, though. Yitschak knew that the Covenant of YHVH must go to the heir according to his righteousness.
Esav being the firstborn failed to live up to the standards of righteousness required for the Covenant. Ya’akov on the other side was complete and pious man (Gen 25:27). It was impossible for Yitschak not to see who of his sons was the heir according to the promise. If this is so, then we can expect to see a blessing for the son who deserved to continue the righteous line of Avraham.
But he loved Esav too; he was his first son, even though Esav and Ya’akov were twins. And common sense does not allow us, and we should not say that Rivkah as a mother did not love her both sons—there is no such indication in the Scripture—but that Ya’akov was her favorite for he loved the coziness of home, which Rivkah must have loved too. And Yitschak favored Esav because he loved his wild game; Esav was a hunter, a man of the field. This is what we can derive from the story.
Ya’akov appeared in his father’s tent to receive the blessing. Yitschak recognized his younger son and too decided to steer the blessing as he first intended. He blessed Ya’akov according to the promise given to Avraham.
Here we should recall the prophecy given to Rivkah that “one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger” (Gen 25:23). As we see in the story, this is with what Yitschak blessed his younger son. We should also recall another element of the blessing to Ya’akov: Yitschak cited the blessing YHVH gave to Avraham and to his descendants according to the promise,
And I shall make you a great nation, and bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing! And I shall bless those who bless you, and curse him who curses you. And in you all the clans of the earth shall be blessed. (Gen 12:2-3)
Clearly, Yitschak meant to bless both Ya’akov and Esav, but not in this order of their appearance. Perhaps, he intended to bless first his older son with the blessing he eventually received, and then his younger son. Each of his sons received the blessings, but not according to the order Yitschak originally intended.
But why did Yitschak intend to bless Esav first with the inferior blessing? Should we not expect him to first bless Ya’akov with the better blessing and then Esav?
Yitschak knew that when Lot left Avraham only then did YHVH bless his father, so that Avraham would be the only recipient of the blessing.
And when his father Avraham sent Ishmael away from him, so that Yitschak would remain the only recipient according to the promise, Yitschak might have intended to do exactly that: to bless his son Esav and send him away so that Ya’akov would remain the son of the promise.
But this did not go as Yitschak had planned. Ya’akov appeared first according to what his mother Rivkah had planned. Nevertheless, all went well but not without future complications for both nations, as it was prophesied: “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).
The struggle between the brothers resumed
Yitschak must have recognized in Ya’akov the future patriarch of the family and the progenitor of the covenantal nation. In his blessing to his older son Esav, he promised not freedom from his younger brother (for Esau was to serve Ya’akov, as YHVH foretold it, while they were still in their mother’s womb), but only a constant struggle for freedom until he would at last free himself from Ya’akov.
And it came to be as predicted. The historical relation between the two brotherly nations assumed the form of a constant repetitions of servitude, revolt, and reconquest, as prophesied.
The fight between the brothers, which started from their mother’s womb, resumed at the time of King Shaul (1Sa 14:47), when the Edomites (the descendants of Edom, who is Esav) were inflicted, and submitted by King David to servitude (2Sa 8:14).
The Edomites attempted to revolt under King Shlomoh (1Ki 11:14) but remained subject until the time of King Yoram, when they rebelled.
They were subdued again by King Amatsyahu (2Ch 25:11) and remained subjected under Uzzyah and Yotham (2Ch 26:2).
But it was not until King Ahaz that they overthrew the rule of their brothers entirely (2Ki 16:6; 2Ch 28:17), without Yehudah being ever able to subdue them again. It will take a long time, when they were completely conquered by John Hyrcanus, compelled to submit to circumcision and conversion, and incorporated in the Maccabean state.
At a still later period, in order to fulfill their father’s words, “you shall break his yoke from your neck”, the Edomites established an Idumaean dynasty over Judea through King Antipater and King Herod (Edomites themselves forcefully converted to Judaism), which lasted until the Roman exile, when Judea ceased to exist.
Rivkah’s subconscious desire to reverse the inevitable might explain why she had no alternative but to interpret the prophecy as “the older shall serve the younger”.
We already explained that Yitschak became immediately suspicious as Ya’akov opened his mouth. Yitschak must have recognized the voice of his son Ya’akov, because he spoke in an entreating manner—”Please, rise” as in verse 19, while Esav spoke in a general and impersonal manner (verse 31)—”Let my father rise”.
The second thing Yitschak noticed was that the one who entered his tent mentioned the Name of the Most High.
Esav was a man of the field, and it was unusual for him to speak the Name. Yitschak thought it was not the habit of Esav to mention the Name of YHVH in his daily life, something that made him doubt who in fact stood before him.
In other words, Yitschak might have considered the very fact that it was Ya’akov who would mention the Name. From the point of view of the plain text, we are told that the voices and the manners of his sons were quite different from one another, and Yitschak could not have failed to notice this.
The role of Rivkah
There can be no question that Rivkah had been trimmed the camel-goat skin in such a fashion that the hair were just like the hair on human skin so that Yaakov’s arms were just as hairy as the hands of Esav.
But the voice was distinctly the voice of Ya’akov. Yitschak was not willing to base his judgment solely on the skin alone, for people were creative to disguise it. Hence, he rejected the doubt created by the fake skin since it was easy for a person to change the appearance of his natural skin with the camel-goat’s skin, as we previously explained. At the same time, he realized that one could not change his natural voice (a very distinctive mark of identification) without making an error and thus raising suspicion.
Again, we should ask the question: “What was easier for Ya’akov to imitate: his skin appearance or his voice?”
As we explained in the preceding article, Yitschak knew well that the one who entered the tent was Ya’akov, not Esav. This makes the scene even stranger since Yitschak never opposed or rebuked Ya’akov when he recognized him. Why? Perhaps, because the patriarch had initially intended to bless him.
But what is even more remarkable was that he did not examine the skin on the smooth part of body such as the throat for example. He relied solely on checking his arms. Again why? Perhaps, he did not need any more evidence to convince himself that the intruder was not Esav. As we already explained, Yitschak was not faced with a dilemma whether to trust his sense of hearing or his sense of touch, both being very acute at blind people.
Ya’akov did trick his father, when he asked him, “Are you my son Esav?” It is hard to miss the parallels between what Ya’akov did to Yitschak and what Lavan, Ya’akov’s uncle, did to him later on when he tricked him to believe that Leah was really Rachel. As Ya’akov took advantage of his father for being physically blind, so did Lavan took advantage of Ya’akov, who was “blind” in the darkness: measure-for-measure justice.
Unlike Yitschak, however, who became immediately suspicious when Ya’akov said he was Esav, Ya’akov did not suspect a thing that he was with the wrong woman, not until morning.
With all that said, we realize that it would take more than just blindness to make a father confuse one son for the other. But what more would it take?
So, did Yitschak recognize his son Ya’akov or not?
Alternative reading of the story
With this question we are coming to an alternative reading of our story. Let us see it a little deeper. When Yitschak was old and his eyes nearly blind, he called Esav and asked him to prepare his favorite dish so that he would bless (Gen 27:1-2).
Rivkah overheard the conversation, and while Esav was still in the field, she devised a way to reverse her husband’s decision without having the knowledge of his true intention, or perhaps she had already thought what to do in case her husband wanted to give his final blessing to Esav. And perhaps that was her flaw; Rivkah did not consult her husband.
Rivkah must have kept in her mind the story when Sarah overheard the prophecy that Avraham and her would become father and mother of nations. She must have also kept the prophecy that two nations would come out of her womb; a prophecy Rivkah sought to fulfill, like Sarah did.
She relied on the word of promise that a righteous son should inherit and become the progenitor of the nation meant in the prophecy. And in order to establish Ya’akov as the heir, Rivkah decided to do on her own to line with the prophecy given to Avraham that the Covenant would go through a righteous son.
Thus, Rivkah’s love for her son corresponded to YHVH’s own prophecy concerning her children that the older would serve the younger.
When that moment arrived, she commanded Ya’akov to bring two young camel-goat, whose silk-like hair was quite suitable for the disguise.
Ya’akov brought the goats, and she prepared the dish according to her husband’s taste. Then Rivkah took the garments of Esav and put them on Ya’akov.
Thus disguised, Ya’akov entered his father’s tent for the blessing. The blind Yitschak expected Esav but when he heard the voice of Ya’akov he became confused. He became confused because the one who entered the tent uttered the Name of the Most High: something Esav would not do. With his words “Yehovah your Elohim” Ya’akov almost blew off his disguise.
When Ya’akov went near to his father, he felt him and said,
The voice is the voice of Ya’akov, but the hands are the hands of Esav. (Gen 27:22)
But in the next verse we are told that he did not recognize him,
And he did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like his brother Esav’s hands, and he blessed him. (Gen 27:23)
Evidently, Yitschak trusted his sense of touch more than his sense of hearing. Then Yitschak blessed Ya’akov, saying,
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 will of YHVH that the older was to serve the younger.
But whom did Yitschak think he had blessed: Ya’akov, according to verse 22, or Esav, according to verse 23? Because if Esav was intended for the blessing, something must have happened between verse 22 and verse 23. In verse 22, clearly Yitschak recognized his son Ya’akov, but in verse 23 he did not. Which of these contradictory statements is true?
The apparent contradiction could be resolved by suggesting that either there is something we do not understand, or there is something we are not told. Here comes in help the Book of Jubilee 26. In verse 18 we read thus,
and he discerned him not, because it was a dispensation from heaven to remove his power of perception and Yitschak discerned not, for his hands were hairy as his brother Esav’s, so that he blessed him. The Book of Jubilees, translated from the Ethiopic text by R. H. Charles, D.D., Trinity College, Dublin, 1902.
Here the account in the Book of Jubilee reveals additional information Genesis does not intend to tell us: “and he discerned him not, because it was a dispensation from heaven to remove his power of perception”. This seems quite astounding. Why did the narrator not mention this detail?
We find a similar expression of “a dispensation from heaven” in the Book of Kings, wherein King Rechavam spoke to the people that he would make the tax burden even heavier than that of his father Shlomoh. Then the narrative continues,
So the king did not listen to the people, for the cause was from Yehovah, in order to establish His word, which Yehovah had spoken … (1Ki 12:14-15)
What was to be established, according to the word of YHVH? The kingdom was to be divided into two in the time of King Rechavam, not in the time of his father Shlomoh.
According to Jubilee, at that very moment, Heaven intervened once more this time in Yitschak’s decision to bless the younger, not the older, so that the prophecy must be fulfilled.
We should recall that Heaven had already intervened once when the messenger of YHVH stop Avraham’s hand, when he wrongly assumed that YHVH wanted him to sacrifice his son Yitschak. For further knowledge on the matter, the reader may do well to read what we have written in our commentary on whether YHVH demanded a human sacrifice from Avraham.
This time Heaven intervened again to stop Yitschak’s hands when he intended to bless the son not according to the promise. The matter will become clear once we understand why Heaven intervened.
Perhaps, because that act of Rivkah’s attempt to change the course of blessing would have compromised the respect of Yitschak in the family as a patriarch. If Heaven had not interfered in the blessing to make Yitschak believe he was blessing Esav, he would have felt lessened in his own eyes in authority, dignity, and reputation.
Therefore, by sending “dispensation from heaven to remove his power of perception”, Yitschak became more acceptable or “blind” so to speak for what was about to come. We must therefore view this verse as telling us that Yitschak was made temporarily less perceptive. But this suggestion rewrites the story to mean that everything went on as it was meant in Heaven.
As a result of this trick, whether by humans or by Heaven, Esav hated Ya’akov.
Now, the messenger who narrated the story to Mosheh is very explicit in his wording. We are told that Esav hated Ya’akov not because he stole the blessing meant for him, but because his father blessed Ya’akov. What is the difference?
Nowhere in the narrative it is even mentioned that Ya’akov has stolen something from his brother. The narrator is not telling us that Ya’akov has deceived his father, nor is Yitschak himself. Thus, it will be clear to the reader that the perception of stealing a blessing is solely expressed by Esav’s own words: “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”.
The intelligent reader has the right judgement to discern that Ya’akov took what Esav had already sold him, and the selling of the birthright came along with the selling of the blessing; what goes around comes around. Therefore, Esav should not have thus had any legal justification for his claim on the blessing. This is important to note when taking sides in the conflict between the brothers. This reasoning will also help us draw an unbiased conclusion of the story.
The truth is that Esav was envious of the blessing with which his father blessed Ya’akov. He was envious not because he had lost a blessing, but because his brother was blessed, as we read further,
And Esav hated Ya’akov because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esav said in his heart, “The days of mourning for my father draw near, then I am going to kill my brother Ya’akov.” (Gen 27:41)
But the strife between the brothers became even worse when Esav threatened to kill Ya’akov, prompting him to flee from the family. Once more Rivkah took a proactive role in the family,
And now, my son, listen to my voice, and rise, flee to my brother Lavan in Haran. And stay with him a few days, until your brother’s wrath turns away, until your brother’s anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him. And I shall send and bring you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day? (Gen 27:43-45)
Rivkah feared that as soon as her husband died, Esav would kill Ya’akov, leaving her deprived of Yitschak and Ya’akov on the same day. In order to obtain her husband’s consent, without telling him of Esav’s intention, she spoke to him of her troubles because of the Hittite wives of Esau (Gen 27:46), and the pointless life that she would have if Ya’akov also were to marry a Kana’anite woman. Then, she introduced her idea of sending Ya’akov to her brother in Mesopotamia.
Why was Rivkah’s sudden urge to bring up the painful for Yitschak subject of Esav’s wives necessary, unless she wanted to predispose her husband to send Ya’akov to Haran where he would find not only a wife but also safe haven from his brother. Rivkah again acted proactively and established herself as the undisputable matriarch in the family.
To evade the vengeance of his brother, Ya’akov took again his mother’s advice and fled to her family in Haran. However, before Ya’akov’s flight, he merited receiving a second blessing from his father,
And El Shaddai bless you, and make you fruitful and increase you, and you shall become an assembly of peoples, and give you the blessing of Avraham, to you and your seed with you, so that you inherit the land of your sojourning, which Elohim gave to Avraham. (Gen 28:3-4)
This second blessing is begging for explanation. Did Yitschak, who did not reprimand him for his act of deception, “accidentally” blessed his son before departure, or it was intended as one blessing with the first?
And indeed the first blessing in the tent (Gen 27:27-29) was meant to establish Ya’akov as the heir according to the promise: “Be master over your brothers, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you”. Then with “Cursed be those cursing you, and blessed be those blessing you” (see also Gen 12) the blessing most naturally transitioned to the second one that established Ya’akov and his descendants as the possessors of the land promised to Avraham: “so that you inherit the land of your sojourning, which Elohim gave to Avraham”.
Clearly that was one blessing in two parts all in accord with YHVH’s blessing to Avraham. And if in the second blessing Yitschak, without doubt or question, blessed Ya’akov, not Esav, then the first blessing must have also been meant for Ya’akov; again, what goes around comes around.
However, the questions still remain: Whom did Yitschak intend to bless in the tent, Esav or Ya’akov, and if that were Esav, why did Heaven intervene?
We already addressed the former of these and offer the latter for the reader’s consideration. But the reader should not err to make judgement, as most commentators have done, to see the whole story from the human perspective but from the perspective of Heaven: whom Heaven wanted in the blessing? And perhaps this will help us find the answer to the question: Why had Heaven intervened once more?
When Esav saw that his father had blessed Ya’akov again and sent him away to Paddan Aram to find a wife there, he went to Ishmael and took his daughter as wife (Gen 28:6-9) and descendants were born to him.
When we reflect on what we have written above, we will find that there was a reason for this course of events: the lives of the two brothers were to separate so that the prophecy must be fulfilled:
Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be separated from your body. And one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older serve the younger. (Gen 25:23)
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