Genesis 25:19−34

January 1st, 2016| Topic: aBeLOG, Genesis | 0

Genesis 25:19−34

Failing to recognize God’s sovereign distribution of blessing, and despising one’s own blessing, can lead to strife.

The oracle of God in Gen 25:23, announcing the future serving of the younger by the older, explains the conflict between Esau and Jacob—a conflict that begins in the womb, that continues as the twins come out of the womb, and that persists outside the womb for the next several decades. This was a battle for the superiority and eminence that came through primogeniture, a clash for the blessing of the firstborn—both in birthright and in paternal patronage. The resulting antagonism, deception, and strife would plague Isaac’s family for generations to come.

The first and last elements of 25:19–26 provide the ages of Isaac at marriage and at the birth of his children. And in this narrative, there is a progression from barrenness to conception to gestation to delivery, broken in the middle by the rather odd account of the children’s struggle, Rebekah’s inquiry, and Yahweh’s sovereign declaration (25:21b–23). This emphasizes Yahweh’s sovereign ordination of one of the children as “stronger than the other,” who will be served by the other (25:23). It all seems to be happening by God’s sovereign design: He had brought Isaac and Rebekah together (Gen 24); and here, Rebekah’s conception was expressly noted to be an answer to prayer (25:21a). The mention of Isaac’s age is not adventitious; perhaps he interceded for his wife for two decades (25:20, 26). It is ironic that when Rebekah left her homeland, she was blessed: “May you, our sister, become the mother of thousands of ten thousands” (24:60). But here she is, barren, and thus she remained, for two decades. All this to say, it was a sovereign work of God that opened Rebekah’s womb.

It begins with Rebekah pregnant with twins, which raises the question: Who would become the firstborn and thus obtain the sovereign patriarchal blessing? And so the fighting begins, a struggle to be the firstborn, as the participants slug it out between themselves to be the first in line for divine blessing, as if they could overcome sovereign design by human vigor. The Hebrew verb denoting “struggle” in 25:22 is a violent term: there was some serious intrauterine action going on within Rebekah, a street-fight, if you will! In short, in 25:19–26, we see that divine sovereignty in the distribution of blessing raises the potential of strife, when participants respond in a negative fashion. And Jacob gets named as a heel-grabber, one trying to seize the sovereign blessing of God.

But Esau isn’t innocent either in his response to sovereign divine blessing. The next part of this narrative focuses on his histrionic outburst about his famished state: “Behold! I am going to die!” (25:32), as he dismisses the value of his birthright in favor of short-term, instant gratification. Esau’s attitude is one of wanton indifference to and willful negligence of the privilege of birthright highly valued in ancient Near Eastern societies, and the narrator notes it explicitly: “Thus Esau despised his birthright” (25:34). The account closes with Esau’s actions—actions, not words: he is strangely silent as he eats and departs. The staccato-like cascade of five consecutive imperfect verbs in the Hebrew is stunning … and condemning: “and he ate, and he drank, and he rose, and he went, and he despised” (25:34b). Esau is being depicted in a bad light. While earlier the focus was on the younger one fighting to get the blessing, here the focus is upon the older one disdaining what God had given him. The consequence of both actions is strife!

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