The Bible Story - Volume I
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The Bible Story - Volume I

Chapter 8:

Esau Sells Jacob His Birthright

   ABOUT three years after his wife Sarah had died, Abraham began to think about Isaac getting married. By then Isaac was forty years old. Abraham was concerned lest his son pick a wife from among the Canaanites, who were idol worshipers.
   Abraham instructed his chief servant to take men, camels and provisions on a trip to Mesopotamia, Abraham's native land, and bring back a wife for Isaac from among his own people. (Gen. 24:3-4.) It was the custom then, as it still is in some countries, for parents to choose whom their sons and daughters would marry.
   Abraham felt certain that there were many people still in Mesopotamia who worshiped God. He had a brother, Nahor, who still lived there and had a large family. (Gen. 22:20-24.) He knew that it would be more pleasing to God for Isaac to marry within his own family than take an idol-worshiping wife.

Abraham's Servant Finds Rebekah

   After days of journeying to the northeast, Abraham's servant and his caravan arrived one evening at a well just outside the city of Nahor. (Gen. 24:10.) In those days the women were generally the ones who went to the wells to draw water. Abraham's servant prayed that among them would be one that would turn out to be a good wife for his master's son. He also prayed that God would point out such a woman by causing her to volunteer to draw up water for him and the camels. That would seem to be asking a lot of God. What woman would be willing to draw water for ten thirsty camels?
   But even before the servant's prayer was finished, a beautiful young woman approached the well. As she drew up water, Abraham's servant came up to her and asked her for water to drink. At once the woman held out her water jar. (Gen. 24:11-15.)
   "Drink, my lord," she said. "This could almost be an answer to my prayer," thought the servant. "She is willing to give me a drink, but surely she won't want to go to more trouble than that."
   Abraham's servant was surprised, therefore, when he heard the young woman say, "I will be glad to draw water for your camels, too! I'll give them as much as they can drink!"
   This was a direct answer to the prayer made only minutes before. Abraham's servant was sure that this was the woman for Isaac. To pay her for her trouble, he gave her a gold ring and gold bracelets of great value. (Gen. 24:22.) When he asked her name, he received another surprise.
   "I am Rebekah", she told him. "I am the daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son."
   Nahor was Abraham's brother, so this young woman was a second cousin to Isaac! It was good news to the servant to learn that he had found a woman who was of Abraham's people, and one who knew about God. Abraham's servant immediately thanked God for helping him.

Laban Invites Him In

   Rebekah ran to her home to excitedly tell her family what had happened, and show the ring and bracelets. When her brother, Laban, saw the costly jewelry and heard Rebekah's story, he hurried to the well to invite Abraham's servant in. (Gen. 24:29-31.) The servant was thankful for the invitation, but before accepting it, he made sure that the men with him unloaded, fed and made straw beds for the camels. He and his men were then brought water with which to wash their feet. This was a custom that was very helpful in arid lands where travelers' feet became dusty and weary.
   Food was then set before them, but the servant wouldn't eat until he had told his hosts why he had come. (Verse 33.) He related to Rebekah's family what had happened to Abraham since he had left Haran many years before. He told how Abraham had obeyed God in the lands where other people would have nothing to do with God, and how Abraham had become wealthy and the happy father of an obedient son, Isaac.
   When the servant told them about his prayer for a good wife for Isaac, and how Rebekah had fitted in with what he had asked for, Rebekah's family were convinced that God had led him to Rebekah.
   "We believe that it's God's will that Rebekah become Isaac's wife," they told the servant. (Verse 50.)
   The servant was so pleased to hear this that he again thanked God. Then he had gold and silver and beautiful clothing brought to Rebekah, and costly gifts for her family. (Verse 53.) Then, at last, all enjoyed a happy feast. If the reader believes that it was unfair to Rebekah because she had little or nothing to say about all these plans, it must be remembered that in those times wives were picked in a different manner. In this case, Rebekah was undoubtedly pleased and excited, even though she hadn't met Isaac. What matters more is that God had a hand in the matter, which would insure the happiness of the people involved.
   Next morning, Rebekah's family asked if she could stay a few more days at home. Abraham's servant reminded them that because God had so quickly led him to Rebekah, no part of the matter should be postponed. Rebekah stated that she was quite willing to leave at once, so the caravan set out on the way back. On the return trip it was enlarged by the addition of camels carrying Rebekah, her nurse and her maids. Rebekah's family was sad to see her go, but its members were happy that she would obviously have a good man for a husband. (Verses 55-61.)

Isaac Meets His Bride

   Days afterward, as Isaac was out walking in a field, he saw a caravan approaching. He went to meet it, hopeful that it was the one his father had sent to Nahor. When Rebekah saw a man hurrying toward them, she asked who he was. On being told that he was the man she had been brought to marry, she was pleased. She quickly and modestly attired herself in a long veil before stepping down off her camel to meet her future husband. (Verse 65.)
   Isaac and Rebekah were married shortly after their meeting. Because they had God's blessing, they were very happy. (Verse 67.) Through them, the Creator moved a step nearer starting the nation that would do important work in the world through succeeding generations.
   By that time Abraham was one hundred and forty years old, and quite content to leave matters to Isaac, who managed his father's business well. Thirty-five years later, at the age of one hundred and seventy-five years, Abraham died. (Gen. 25:7-8.)
   The Bible refers to eight children Abraham had. All were sons. If there were others, the Bible doesn't mention them. (Gen. 25:1-4.) Most of those sons were born to Abraham's second wife. The first two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, buried their father in the same cave where Abraham's

Isaac gazed at Rebekah and knew at once that he loved her.

first wife, Sarah, was buried. (Gen. 25:9-10.) Thus ended the life of one of the most obedient of men. Because of that obedience to his Creator, Abraham became wealthy and lived a long time.
   There was one thing God promised him that he didn't receive then, however, even though God always keeps His promises. It is everlasting life in God's Kingdom, which will come to Earth only a few years from now. Then Abraham will become, along with others who obey God, one of Earth's mightiest rulers. (Heb. 11:8-14.) At that coming time, strange as it may seem, many of you who read these words will get to meet Abraham and talk with him.
   Although Isaac and Rebekah were happy in their marriage, the years passed without their having any children. They became so disappointed that at last Isaac asked God to send them a child. (Gen. 25:21.) God answered the prayer. After twenty years of marriage, Isaac and Rebekah realized that at last they would soon become parents.
   At the same time, Rebekah suffered unusual pains that were so severe that she prayed for relief. God told her, probably in a dream or a vision, that she would give birth to the beginnings of two nations. One nation would turn out to be stronger than the other, she was told, and that the first one born would serve the other. God gave her strength to continue in her condition until she became the mother of twin boys. The first one born was called Esau. The second was named Jacob. (Gen. 25:22-26.)
   As the boys grew, it was plain to their parents that they were very different in manners and characteristics. Esau loved to hunt and roam about, as did his uncle, Ishmael. Jacob wanted to follow his father's kind of life by raising animals and crops. But Isaac liked the delicious meat that Esau brought home, so Esau became his favorite son. Rebekah's favorite was Jacob because he chose to do the things that kept him close to home. (Verses 27 and 28.)

Esau Sells His Birthright

   One day Esau went on a long hunting trip. He went so far that by the time he returned he was staggering with weariness. As he arrived home, he saw that Jacob had prepared a savory lentil soup. Esau was so weak and the soup smelled so good that he begged Jacob to give him some at once lest he faint from lack of nourishment.
   It was a custom then that the first son born in a family would receive more gifts and rights than any brothers born later. Because Esau was the first born, he naturally had what was called the birthright. This meant that if the father died, the birthright owner would inherit a larger share of the father's property than would any other children in the family. In this case, it also meant that the descendants of the oldest son would receive the greatest share of the promises God made to Abraham and those who came after him.
   The birthright was of great value. Jacob realized that, and he selfishly desired it. He knew that here was an opportunity to get it.
   "I will give you all you want to eat if you will turn over your birthright to me", Jacob smiled shrewdly.
   Esau was so hungry that he feared he would faint any minute from lack of strength. In that condition, his birthright didn't seem very valuable to him. Food was mostly what counted at the moment. The delicious aroma of the steaming lentils bubbling in garlic and butter was enough to sway Esau into deciding what to do.
   "I promise you my birthright for those lentils!" Esau eagerly exclaimed. (Verses 29-33.)
   Jacob shoved the bowl of soup toward Esau, who cooled it a little by dipping chunks of bread into it. After Esau had bolted it down and his strength started to return, he strode away with his game, not seemingly caring about the great price he had paid for something to eat. (Verse 34.)
   Isaac and Rebekah didn't know about this matter at the time. Otherwise, Isaac especially would have been greatly displeased because of Esau being his favorite son.

Jacob smiled triumphantly to himself as he watched his brother bolt down the food that cost Esau his birthright.

   Years later, Esau brought grief to his parents by marrying two wives. In those days it wasn't unusual to have more than one wife. The worst part of the matter was that both of Esau's wives were Canaanites. The Canaanites worshiped idols, and had little knowledge of God. (Gen. 26:34-35.)

Jacob Steals the Blessing

   One day when Isaac was well past a hundred years of age, and had become blind, he sent for Esau to come and listen to what he had to say.
   "At my age, death could come to me at any time"' he explained to Esau. "I want to ask God to bless you before that happens. Take your bow and go out after a deer. Then cook the meat as I like it. After I have eaten, I shall ask God to give you the blessing that should be on the son who has the birthright."
   If Esau had been honest, he would have told his father that he had promised his birthright to Jacob. Instead, he said nothing about it, and set out to hunt for venison. (Gen. 27:1-4.)
   Rebekah had heard Isaac talking to Esau. She wanted Jacob, her favorite son, to receive the blessing Isaac would ask from God. She believed that Jacob was better fitted to be Isaac's heir. A plan came into her mind. She hurried to Jacob to tell him about it.
   "Do as I say, and you will receive the blessing your father is about to ask for Esau", she told Jacob. "Go out to the flocks and get two young goats. I'll cook them just the way your father likes them cooked. After you take some of it to him and he eats it, he'll give you the blessing before Esau returns!" (Gen. 27:5-10.)
   Jacob believed he should have the birthright advantages because Esau had promised them to him years before, but he couldn't understand why his mother thought it could be accomplished so easily. There was too much difference between him and his brother. For one thing, Esau was a very hairy man. In fact, hair all over him was so thick that his skin felt almost like that of an animal.
   "I can't pass for Esau", Jacob argued. "When my father puts his hands on me and feels my smooth skin, he'll know I'm not Esau. Then I'll probably receive a curse instead of a blessing."
   "Don't worry about that," his mother said. "I'll take care of matters. Hurry and get those kids. If there's a curse, let it be on me instead of you.
   Jacob didn't know what Rebekah intended to do, but he reasoned that if she were willing to take the blame for anything wrong, he should be willing to do as she asked. He brought her the two kids. Rebekah hastily made from them a meat dish cooked and seasoned just the way Isaac liked it.
   Next, she had Jacob put on one of Esau's coats. Over his hands, forearms and his neck she carefully wound strips of the hides from the young goats that had just been slaughtered.
   "Now take this meat and bread to your father," she said to Jacob. (Verses 11-17.)
   Jacob must have felt that this was a wild scheme for getting what he and his mother wanted. Nevertheless, he went to Isaac's tent and tried to sound like Esau by calling "Here I am, father!"
   "Who is it?" asked Isaac. "This is Esau", Jacob answered. "Sit up and eat this meat I've brought for you. Then give me the blessing you promised."
   "How can it be that you've brought back a deer so quickly?" Isaac asked.
   "God led me where to find one", Jacob lied. (Verses 18-20.) Isaac was puzzled. This wasn't Esau's manner of talking. He asked Jacob to come near so that he could put his hands on him. Jacob stepped close to the bed and almost held his breath as his father reached out and moved his aged hands over the hairy strips of goat hide on his son.
   "Your voice is like Jacob's, but your skin feels like Esau's", Isaac said. "Are you really Esau?"
   Again Jacob lied by saying that he was his brother. "Give me the food, and I shall eat it and then bless you", Isaac promised.
   Jacob suddenly felt great relief, though at the same time he felt guilty because of lying and tricking his father with the goat hide. Quickly he put the steaming meat before Isaac, and brought bread and wine. (Verse 25.)
   When Isaac had finished eating, he asked Jacob to come close and kiss him. When Jacob did so, Isaac smelled the grasses and aromatic herbs of the fields on his coat. It deceived Jacob into believing that Esau was beside him. This was because Esau spent so much time hunting. It didn't occur to him that another could be wearing Esau's coat. (Verses 26-27.) Isaac then asked a blessing on his son.
   "God, give to this young man, who smells of a field you have blessed, many well-watered fields," Isaac prayed. "Give him plenty of grain and fruit of the vines. Cause people to serve him and nations to bow down to him. Give him power to rule over his brothers. May a curse be upon any who will try to put a curse on him, and may a blessing be upon any who would bless him." (Verses 28-29.)

Esau Comes in from the Field

   Having received the blessing, Jacob left at once. He went just in time to avoid Esau, who had meanwhile shot a deer and cooked part of it for his father.
   "I have returned with the venison you asked for!" Esau called out as he came near Isaac's tent. "Sit up, father, and eat it!" (Gen. 27:30-31.)
   Blind Isaac was just leaning back on his pillow, content in thinking that he had just performed an important duty. The sound of Esau's voice brought him back up suddenly. In that moment he knew something wasn't as it should be. He found himself trembling as he spoke.
   "Who are you?" he asked. "I'm Esau, your firstborn son," Esau replied. (Verse 32.) "Then where is the one who brought food to me and left just now?" Isaac inquired. "He said he was Esau. I asked God's blessing on him. And God will bless him!" (Verse 33.)
   Esau was so puzzled and surprised that he almost dropped the food he was holding.
   "Then ask a blessing on me, too, father!" Esau excitedly begged.
   "But your blessing has obviously been stolen by your brother Jacob", Isaac explained, recalling how much the voice had sounded like Jacob's.
   "I should have known it was Jacob who did this thing!" Esau exclaimed bitterly. "He has cheated me twice. First he took my birthright. Now he has stolen my blessing. Can't you ask God for anything for me?" (Verse 36.)
   "I have asked for special things for Jacob", Isaac replied. "I can't ask for the very same things for you."
   "But surely there is something you can ask for me, your firstborn son!" Esau cried out in a shaking voice. Even though he was a strong man physically, he broke down and wept aloud. (Verse 38.)
   Isaac felt great pity for his favorite son. He meditated prayerfully for a few moments.
   "Here is what shall be for you, Esau my son," Isaac finally said. "God shall give you and those who live after you a land far away from the best things this Earth has to offer. You will have to hunt and fight for what you will get. You and your people will serve your brother and his people, come a time when you will be free of them." (Verses 39-40.)

Fearing that his angry brother would pursue him, Jacob chose difficult side trails on his way to Haran.

   Esau wasn't thankful for anything his father asked for him. Instead, he was very angry because Jacob had received the greater blessing.

Esau Plots to Murder Jacob

   "My father will soon die", Esau thought. "Then I will do away with Jacob because of what he has done to me." (Verse 41.)
   In his anger, Esau must have told someone what he planned to do. His mother heard about it, and was afraid for Jacob. She warned him of what might happen, and begged him to go stay with her brother back in the city in Mesopotamia where she had been born. (Verses 42-43.)
   Rebekah became so worried about his safety that she thought up a plan to get Jacob to leave. She knew that he would probably do anything his father told him to do, so she went to Isaac.
   "If Jacob lives here much longer, he is likely to marry a Canaanite woman", Rebekah told Isaac. "I think you should send him to Haran to choose a wife from our own people before he is trapped by some woman from among the idol worshipers around us."
   Isaac had been greatly disappointed before because his favorite son, Esau, had taken pagan wives from among nearby nations. He didn't want Jacob to do the same thing. Probably Jacob didn't intend to, but Rebekah had fostered concern in Isaac's mind. After a time he had a talk with Jacob.
   "If you're considering marriage, don't choose a wife from any except your own people", Isaac told Jacob. "Perhaps you will find a wife in Haran, where your mother was born. If you make the trip, God will surely bless you. May He cause you to have many children and much good land when you return."
   Jacob welcomed this good reason to escape from his brother. He started off for Haran by himself with few provisions. He wanted to travel light and fairly fast, and off the direct route east in case Esau decided to pursue him. Taking side trails, however, made parts of his trip more difficult.

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Publication Date: 1982
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