Post Author: Bill Pratt
God has promised Abraham that his descendants would be blessed with great numbers and with the promised land of Canaan. In turn, they would also be a blessing to all mankind. In previous chapters, we learned that Abraham’s son, Isaac, was the child of the promise. But now that Isaac has married Rebekah, we want to know who will receive the blessing from God after Isaac has died. Which child of Isaac will the covenant pass to?
In verses 19-21, we see that Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, is barren (just like Sarah was). She cannot conceive a child. Isaac prays for Rebekah and 20 years later she becomes pregnant. Barren wives becoming pregnant, is a repeating theme in the Bible. The biblical writers want us to understand that these births require the supernatural intervention of God. Without God, the plan of redemption could not occur. Remember that the Israelites are reading these words before they enter the promised land. They are being reminded that God intervenes and He is in control of the outcome.
In verse 22, we learn that Rebekah is having a rough pregnancy. It seems as if, first of all, there are multiple children in her womb, and second of all, that they are battling each other! The situation is so serious that Rebekah asks God to tell her what is happening.
In verse 23 God tells Rebekah that there are two children in her womb. Each child will be the father of a nation, but these nations will be separated from each other. They will be at war, in other words. One nation will be stronger than the other.
In the ancient near east, the oldest child always received a double portion of the inheritance, and thus the younger children were always expected to serve the oldest. But when God tells Rebekah about the twins inside of her, he flips this relationship completely around. In her case, the older child would serve the younger. God’s choice is not always man’s choice.
In verses 24-26, we learn that the first baby to come out is named Esau and the second to come out is named Jacob. The Israelites, who were reading these words 600 years after these events occurred, would have immediately known which two nations would come from Esau and Jacob. Esau’s descendants would become the nation of Edom, and Jacob’s descendants would become the nation of Israel. The father of the Israelites was Jacob, and the father of their enemies in Edom was Esau, Jacob’s brother.
Verses 27-28 tell us that Jacob and Esau were quite dissimilar. Because Esau was an outdoorsman, Isaac preferred him. Jacob, on the other hand, was more of a home-body, and his mother Rebekah preferred him.
In verses 29-34, a famous biblical incident occurs. Esau returns from an outdoor foray, and he is famished. Jacob has prepared a lentil soup and Esau desperately wants some. Taking advantage of the situation, Jacob demands that Esau give up his birthright in order to get some of the soup. Surprisingly, Esau agrees. The chapter ends with the following words: “So Esau despised his birthright.”
This incident is significant for a few reasons. First, we learn how it is that Jacob, the second-born, is granted the status of being first-born, and how he thus inherits the double portion from Isaac. Second, since the firstborn would be the child of promise – the child that receives the covenant promises passed down from Abraham to Isaac – we see how Jacob becomes the father of God’s chosen people, the Israelites. Third, and tragically, we see that Esau did not seem to care about the covenant promises, and thus thought it nothing to give away his birthright.