His name was called Jacob - יעקב Yaccob, from עקב akab, to defraud, deceive, to supplant, i.e., to overthrow a person by tripping up his heels. Hence this name was given to Jacob, because it was found he had laid hold on his brother's heel, which was emblematical of his supplanting Esau, and defrauding him of his birthright.
- LIII. Birth of Esau and Jacob
20. פדן padān Paddan, “plowed field;” related: “cut, plow.”
25. עשׂי ‛êśâv ‹Esaw, “hairy, or made.”
26. יעקב ya‛ăqôb Ja‘aqob, “he shall take the heel.”
27. תם tām “perfect, peaceful, plain.” The epithet refers to disposition, and contrasts the comparatively civilized character of Jacob with the rude temper of Esau.
30. אדים 'ědôm Edom, “red.”
The ninth document here begins with the usual phrase, and continues to the end of the thirty-fifth chapter. It contains the history of the second of the three patriarchs, or rather, indeed, as the opening phrase intimates, of the generations of Isaac; that is, of his son Jacob. Isaac himself makes little figure in the sacred history. Born when his mother was ninety, and his father a hundred years of age, he is of a sedate, contemplative, and yielding disposition. Consenting to be laid on the altar as a sacrifice to God, he had the stamp of submission early and deeply impressed on his soul. His life corresponds with these antecedents. Hence, in the spiritual aspect of his character he was the man of patience, of acquiescence, of susceptibility, of obedience. His qualities were those of the son, as Abraham‘s were those of the father. He carried out, but did not initiate; he followed, but did not lead; he continued, but did not commence. Accordingly, the docile and patient side of the saintly character is now to be presented to our view.
The birth of Esau and Jacob. “The son of forty years.” Hence, we learn that Isaac was married the third year after his mother‘s death, when Abraham was in his hundred and fortieth year. “Bethuel the Aramaean.” As Bethuel was a descendant of Arpakshad, not of Aram, he is here designated, not by his descent, but by his adopted country Aram. By descent he was a Kasdi or Kaldee. Sarah was barren for at least thirty years; Rebekah for nineteen years. This drew forth the prayer of Isaac in regard to his wife. The heir of promise was to be a child of prayer, and accordingly when the prayer ascended the fruit of the womb was given. Rebekah had unwonted sensations connected with her pregnancy. She said to herself, “If it be so,” if I have conceived seed, “why am I thus,” why this strange struggle within me? In the artlessness of her faith she goes to the Lord for an explanation. We are not informed in what way she consulted God, or how he replied. The expression, “she went to inquire of the Lord,” implies that there was some place of worship and communion with God by prayer. We are not to suppose that she went to Abraham, or any other prophet, if such were then at hand, when we have no intimation of this in the text. Her communication with the Lord seems to have been direct. This passage conveys to us the intimation that there was now a fixed mode and perhaps place of inquiring at the Lord. The Lord answers the mother of the promised seed. Two children are in her womb, the parents of two nations, differing in their dispositions and destinies. The one is to be stronger than the other. The order of nature is to be reversed in them; for the older will serve the younger. Their struggles in the womb are a prelude to their future history.
The twins are born in due time. The difference is manifest in the outward appearance. The first is red and hairy. These qualities indicate a passionate and precocious nature. He is called “Esau the hairy,” or “the made up,” the prematurely developed. His brother is like other children. An act takes place in the very birth foreshadowing their future history. The second has a hold of his brother‘s heel, as if he would trip him up from his very birth. Hence, he is called “Jacob the wrestler,” who takes hold by the heel.
The brothers prove to be different in disposition and habit. The rough fiery Esau takes to the field, and becomes skilled in all modes of catching game. Jacob is of a homely, peaceful, orderly turn, dwelling in tents and gathering round him the means and appliances of a quiet social life. The children please their parents according as they supply what is lacking in themselves. Isaac, himself so sedate, loves the wild, wandering hunter, because he supplies him with pleasures which his own quiet habits do not reach. Rebekah becomes attached to the gentle, industrious shepherd, who satisfies those social and spiritual tendencies in which she is more dependent than Isaac. Esau is destructive of game; Jacob is constructive of cattle.
A characteristic incident in their early life is attended with very important consequences. “Jacob sod pottage.” He has become a sage in the practical comforts of life. Esau leaves the field for the tent, exhausted with fatigue. The sight and smell of Jacob‘s savory dish of lentile soup are very tempting to a hungry man. “Let me feed now on that red, red broth.” He does not know how to name it. The lentile is common in the country, and forms a cheap and palatable dish of a reddish brown color, with which bread seems to have been eaten. The two brothers were not congenial. They would therefore act each independently of the other, and provide each for himself. Esau was no doubt occasionally rude and hasty. Hence, a selfish habit would grow up and gather strength. He was probably accustomed to supply himself with such fare as suited his palate, and might have done so on this occasion without any delay. But the free flavor and high color of the mess, which Jacob was preparing for himself, takes his fancy, and nothing will do but the red red. Jacob obviously regarded this as a rude and selfish intrusion on his privacy and property, in keeping with similar encounters that may have taken place between the brothers.
It is here added, “therefore was his name called Edom,” that is, “Red.” The origin of surnames, or second names for the same person or place, is a matter of some moment in the fair interpretation of an ancient document. It is sometimes hastily assumed that the same name can only owe its application to one occasion; and hence a record of a second occasion on which it was applied is regarded as a discrepancy. But the error lies in the interpreter, not in the author. The propriety of a particular name may be marked by two or more totally different circumstances, and its application renewed on each of these occasions. Even an imaginary cause may be assigned for a name, and may serve to originate or renew its application. The two brothers now before us afford very striking illustrations of the general principle. It is pretty certain that Esau would receive the secondary name of Edom, which ultimately became primary in point of use, from the red complexion of skin, even from his birth. But the exclamation “that red red,” uttered on the occasion of a very important crisis in his history, renewed the name, and perhaps tended to make it take the place of Esau in the history of his race. Jacob, too, the holder of the heel, received this name from a circumstance occurring at his birth. But the buying of the birthright and the gaining of the blessing, were two occasions in his subsequent life on which he merited the title of the supplanter or the holder by the heel Genesis 27:36. These instances prepare us to expect other examples of the same name being applied to the same object, for different reasons on different occasions.
“Sell me this day thy birthright.” This brings to light a new cause of variance between the brothers. Jacob was no doubt aware of the prediction communicated to his mother, that the older should serve the younger. A quiet man like him would not otherwise have thought of reversing the order of nature and custom. In after times the right of primogeniture consisted in a double portion of the father‘s goods Deuteronomy 21:17, and a certain rank as the patriarch and priest of the house on the death of the father. But in the case of Isaac there was the far higher dignity of chief of the chosen family and heir of the promised blessing, with all the immediate and ultimate temporal and eternal benefits therein included. Knowing all this, Jacob is willing to purchase the birthright, as the most peaceful way of bringing about that supremacy which was destined for him. He is therefore cautious and prudent, even conciliating in his proposal.
He availed himself of a weak moment to accomplish by consent what was to come. Yet he lays no necessity on Esau, but leaves him to his own free choice. We must therefore beware of blaming him for endeavoring to win his brother‘s concurrence in a thing that was already settled in the purpose of God. His chief error lay in attempting to anticipate the arrangements of Providence. Esau is strangely ready to dispose of his birthright for a trivial present gratification. He might have obtained other means of recruiting nature equally suitable, but he will sacrifice anything for the desire of the moment. Any higher import of the right he was prepared to sell so cheap seems to have escaped his view, if it had ever occurred to his mind. Jacob, however, is deeply in earnest. He will bring this matter within the range of heavenly influence. He will have God solemnly invoked as a witness of the transfer. Even this does not startle Esau. There is not a word about the price. It is plain that Esau‘s thoughts were altogether on “the morsel of meat.” He swears unto Jacob. He then ate and drank, and rose up and went his way, as the sacred writer graphically describes his reckless course. Most truly did he despise his birthright. His mind did not rise to higher or further things. Such was the boyhood of these wondrous twins.
Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac, present a striking contrast, both in character and in life. This unlikeness was foretold by the angel of God before their birth. When in answer to Rebekah's troubled prayer he declared that two sons would be given her, he opened to her their future history, that each would become the head of a mighty nation, but that one would be greater than the other, and that the younger would have the pre-eminence. PP 177.1
Esau grew up loving self-gratification and centering all his interest in the present. Impatient of restraint, he delighted in the wild freedom of the chase, and early chose the life of a hunter. Yet he was the father's favorite. The quiet, peace-loving shepherd was attracted by the daring and vigor of this elder son, who fearlessly ranged over mountain and desert, returning home with game for his father and with exciting accounts of his adventurous life. Jacob, thoughtful, diligent, and care-taking, ever thinking more of the future than the present, was content to dwell at home, occupied in the care of the flocks and the tillage of the soil. His patient perseverance, thrift, and foresight were valued by the mother. His affections were deep and strong, and his gentle, unremitting attentions added far more to her happiness than did the boisterous and occasional kindnesses of Esau. To Rebekah, Jacob was the dearer son. PP 177.2
The promises made to Abraham and confirmed to his son were held by Isaac and Rebekah as the great object of their desires and hopes. With these promises Esau and Jacob were familiar. They were taught to regard the birthright as a matter of great importance, for it included not only an inheritance of worldly wealth but spiritual pre-eminence. He who received it was to be the priest of his family, and in the line of his posterity the Redeemer of the world would come. On the other hand, there were obligations resting upon the possessor of the birthright. He who should inherit its blessings must devote his life to the service of God. Like Abraham, he must be obedient to the divine requirements. In marriage, in his family relations, in public life, he must consult the will of God. PP 177.3Read in context »
God knows the end from the beginning. He knew, before the birth of Jacob and Esau, just what characters they would both develop. He knew that Esau would not have a heart to obey Him. He answered the troubled prayer of Rebekah and informed her that she would have two children, and the elder should serve the younger. He presented the future history of her two sons before her, that they would be two nations, the one greater than the other, and the elder should serve the younger. The first-born was entitled to peculiar advantages and special privileges, which belonged to no other members of the family. SR 87.1
Isaac loved Esau better than Jacob, because Esau provided him venison. He was pleased with his bold, courageous spirit manifested in hunting wild beasts. Jacob was the favorite son of his mother, because his disposition was mild and better calculated to make his mother happy. Jacob had learned from his mother what God had taught her, that the elder should serve the younger, and his youthful reasoning led him to conclude that this promise could not be fulfilled while Esau had the privileges which were conferred on the first-born. And when Esau came in from the field, faint with hunger, Jacob improved the opportunity to turn Esau's necessity to his own advantage, and proposed to feed him with pottage if he would renounce all claim to his birthright, and Esau sold his birthright to Jacob. SR 87.2Read in context »