Abraham's son Isaac stumbled into the same error as his father in regards to lying about being his wife's brother. Like Sarah, Rebekah was so beautiful that Isaac was afraid men would kill him to get his wife.
He lived among the Philistines for a while and gave out that Rebekah was his sister. One day, the king looked out of a window of his palace and saw Isaac joking around with Rebekah, probably tickling her and kissing her playfully. That wasn't how brothers behaved towards their sisters.
The king asked Isaac why he had lied. When Isaac told him that he had been afraid for his life, the king remembered the trouble that had occurred in the former king's time regarding Isaac's mother. Perhaps he was annoyed that Isaac was like his father. Certainly he and his people were not reluctant to capture other men's wives and take them for their own, but not from men who had the blessing of a god upon them, particularly a god so powerful as the One who safeguarded these Hebrews. Abimelech rebuked Isaac for lying and assured Isaac that none of his people would do harm to him or his wife.
There was famine in the land, but Isaac trusted God and God prospered him, regardless of what was happening in nature. Whatever Isaac planted, he reaped bumper crops. This was a blessing to the Philistines among whom he resided because then there was food for them to buy. Isaac increased in wealth.1
Like his father before him, Isaac was tested regarding children, though not as severely. Twenty years went by before his wife conceived. Then they had twin sons who struggled with each other in their mother's womb.
The youngest twin, Jacob, was the one whom God chose to lead the tribe. Jacob had some glaring faults, but he also yearned for God's blessing. He had the humility to know that, regardless of his natural talents, he needed big help in order to succeed in life, and he also wanted an eternal inheritance beyond that.
Jacob was the younger twin, but he was never one to put up with being pushed around or to settle quietly for second place. In the womb, he wrestled with his brother Esau, and even when Esau was preceding him through their mother's birth canal, he grabbed hold of his brother's heel in a last ditch attempt to be the first one out. He was therefore named "Jacob", which means "supplanter" or "deceiver", and he lived up to his name. Esau's name meant "rough" because he was hairy all over.
Go figure. The boys were named accurately, but "Hairy" and "Sneak" aren't the kind of names that I would want to give to my children. Is it any wonder that their personalities conformed even more to the names they were given, since they were addressed by these names every day? It was as if Esau was named "Brutus", driving him to become more dull and stupid like a beast in his understanding, whereas Jacob learned to be cunning to get what he wanted.
Later, Esau was also named Edom, which meant "Red", not just because his hair was red, but because his life was coloured by a big mistake that he made, and Jacob's name was changed to one that had a princely meaning because of a noble choice that he made to hang onto God.
Esau had the brawn, but Jacob had the brains. Esau was cunning when it came to hunting, but Jacob was more intellectual. From babyhood, Esau was a boisterous extrovert, the kind of a kid that warriors looked at with affection and said, "Now there's a real boy!" It is likely that such comments were made in the hearing of the child's twin brother, who was a quiet introvert, and Jacob perceived that he was considered to be an ineffectual wimp, which was wounding to his soul.
Perhaps Esau's admirers were careless with their words because they hoped to shame the quieter child into being hardier, like his brother. Esau was like he was made of rubber, bouncing back when he tumbled while learning to walk, but Jacob probably cried and was whiny, which men usually find annoying and scoff at, making the problem worse. Either the child cries harder because nobody cares, or they are shamed into silence and become insensitive to others because they feel like nobody cares. Jacob's parents did not find the fine balance of offering cheerful, encouraging words of, "You're okay. You can do it," to let him know that his hurts were not the end of the world, but a small inconvenience at the beginning of his exploration of it.
Rebekah was angered at Isaac's insensitivity towards Jacob's feelings and Isaac's failure to appreciate his abilities, so she favoured Jacob over her other son. She became Jacob's champion. Isaac probably figured that Rebekah was making a sissy out of him.
Rebekah must have noticed how attentive Jacob was to what went on around him, so she would be aware that he was very intelligent. It is likely that he had a scholarly disposition. Jacob took in a lot more than Esau when their father told them about their heritage and their religion. He had more interest in such things than Esau did. I imagine Jacob listening with rapt attention while Esau busied himself by polishing arrows to keep himself from being bored to death.
Isaac gloried in Esau's strength, daring, and athletic ability. Jacob was inclined to be artistic. He learned to weave, as it was useful for a man to have a trade to fall back on, if misfortunes left him penniless, but he also enjoyed making the colourful patterns in the cloth. Weaving was a man's job, though it was not considered a manly job. Jacob also liked to cook.
Cooking was something both boys could do well, having learned from their mother to blend herbs and spices skillfully. Esau could see the practicality of learning to do this. His skill was hunting, and if he should have nobody to cook for him, he wanted to be able to make tasty meals for himself. It also won him more favour with his father when he presented him with delicious venison.
The Bible tells us later on that God chose Jacob for His special purpose while still in his mother's womb because He loved him. He also said that He hated Esau while he was still in his mother's womb, before he had done any evil. The Book of Romans addresses this issue in chapter nine, verse fourteen, where it says, "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid."
God knew before the twins were born how they would respond to having one of their parents favour the other child over the other. God gave their parents a free will to choose to raise their children as they thought best, or to seek His face for His wisdom in how to deal with their children in the best way possible.
Isaac set a wave of dysfunction in his family in motion by favouring Esau. Rebekah had a choice of asking God how to deal with that situation in a way that would be fair to both children, but she reacted in anger to Isaac, and to Esau, who lapped up his father's attention without any regard for his brother, even when he grew older and his awareness increased.
I gather Esau wanted all the attention and admiration, and did not care if his brother got only the leftovers from both parents. I surmise that he deeply resented his mother, and God was a target for his resentment, as well, because He permitted that situation to exist.2 Thus, he despised his mother in his heart, though he was not overtly discourteous due to being taught by his father that he must treat his mother with respect, and he also gave lip service to God for his father's sake, but his heart was far from Him. It was centred on his own gratification.
Jacob's response to his father's favouritism did not carry as heavy a load of resentment. He mourned it, but he was more humble than Esau, and recognized that he had weaknesses within himself and could not hope to succeed in life without God's help. He did not blame his father so much for favouring Esau, who was strong and fearless. Jacob knew that his brains were of value in leading a tribe, but a chief needed to be strong and fearless, too.
Jacob did not resent God for not making him stronger and an extrovert like Esau. He knew that it was actually more essential to be intelligent to lead a tribe whose calling was to serve God and bring forth the Messiah. If a man had strength and daring, but lacked wisdom, he should at least have the wisdom to gather wise counsellors around him and pay serious heed to their advice, but Esau was inclined towards doing what he wanted to do, and that centred around gratifying his flesh.
Jacob, on the other hand, because he knew that if one had God's favour, they could go beyond their natural limitations, desired God. He wanted God's purpose for his tribe, that of bringing forth the Anointed One who would take away the sins of the world and establish righteousness in it, and he wanted God's power so that he could fulfill the calling on his life.
In spite of some natural resentment towards his father, Jacob respected Isaac because of God's calling upon him, but it was through his mother that the flame of a passion for God was ignited and received the most nurturing. His mother was a beautiful woman from a wealthy family who could have had a wide choice of princes to marry, chieftains who already had their own territory, but because she hungered to know God, she left her home, her family and a familiar culture to marry a man she had never met. She knew in her heart that it was God's will for her, and that going to live with Isaac and his father presented her with the best opportunity in the whole world to get to know God better. In spite of her faults and mistakes, Rebekah was a very special lady.
We can see from this story that God does not reject people because of sinful behaviour or attitudes, for Jacob had sinful attitudes and behaviour, but rather He rejects people who hold sinful attitudes and refuse to give them up. He knew before Esau was born that he would choose to respond to his father's affection and his mother's favouritism of his brother in a stubbornly selfish way, and impute unrighteousness to God, rather than repent of his anger, which was centred in selfishness.
For things to be fair to both brothers, Dad would have to pay more attention to Jacob, which would take some attention away from him, and Dad would have to recognize that Jacob excelled Esau in some ways, which meant that he would find some fault with Esau. Esau did not want to give up any of his father's attention, approval, and favour; he wanted it all, and he wanted at least half of his mother's, as well.
Jacob did not try to compete with his brother in Esau's areas of talent. It would have been an exercise in frustration because he did not have the athletic ability nor the drive to be a macho type of man. He stayed close to camp and refined his domestic skills under the tutelage of his mother. He used his talents one day to trick his brother into giving up his birthright, the double portion that is usually inherited by the eldest son.
Did he do it for greed? Considering where his heart was, I doubt it. The son who inherited the leadership of the tribe was the one who also received the double portion. Usually the eldest inherited. Jacob wanted to lead the tribe; he knew it was more likely to stay away from idolatry and seek after God if he led it. He needed material prosperity to minister to the tribe's needs and keep it large and strong enough with servants and warriors to prevent his offspring from being wiped out by bandits and other tribes.
To become the heir, the most logical way for that to happen would be for his brother to die, without having had any children to inherit in his place. It was unlikely that someone as healthy and strong and skilled in war as Esau was going to die while young either from natural causes, or at the hand of another. Jacob certainly was intelligent enough, and could be a skilled enough actor to secretly murder his brother and take his inheritance by that means, but that was totally abhorrent to him.
It would make him ineligible to lead a tribe to love God and bring forth the Anointed, so that sins would be forgiven and righteousness established, if he used such evil means to gain the birthright. He was in a quandary. He could see that his brother was not fit for the destiny that God had ordained for the tribe. He was absolutely right about that. There seemed to be only three ways that he would receive that birthright, and that was if Esau either died from illness or accident, or if Isaac realized that Jacob should be the leader, or if Esau suddenly realized that Jacob was the one who should lead the tribe and willingly handed the birthright over to him. The latter two seemed utterly impossible.
Jacob felt that he was left with no option but to wait for God to let his brother become ill or die in an accident, but that did not sit easy with him either. It was unrighteous of him to wish his brother was dead, even if it was for a righteous cause. How else would he gain the birthright and leadership of the tribe, though? For conscience sake, he had to make sure that in no way did he have any part in causing his brother to become ill or to have an accident.
There were possibly incidents after that where he saved his brother from injury by pointing out possible dangers, while fighting the temptation to pretend that he did not see danger, so that Esau's death was entirely in God's hands.
If this was the case, Esau probably mocked him as being fearful, and Isaac likely thought that Jacob lacked courage and initiative, confirming his misconception that Esau was more fit to be a leader. No doubt, this would be terrifically frustrating to Jacob. There was no way he could have explained his motives without looking like he was envious of his brother, which is another quality that would not recommend him to his father and would invite scorn from his brother. When people develop a negative mindset towards a person, they ignore their good qualities or attribute good behaviour to self–serving motives, and it is almost impossible to change their perception.
With new developments, Jacob decided that he had to do something to get that birthright away from Esau. Esau got married. He not only took a wife, but he took two wives around the same time, the daughters of chieftains.
Esau figured that marriage with these women would give him valuable political connections. He was forty years old, and his parents had not approved of any of the daughters of the Canaanites as a wife for him, but just how long they expect him to wait? Were they expecting some paragon of womanly virtue to just show up some day out of the blue? If that was so, she was taking her sweet time about it.
He usually honoured his father's religious expectations, but it was just getting ridiculous, as far as he was concerned, for them to expect a virile man like him, whom women had been throwing themselves at for years, to retain his virginity any longer. If it had not been for Dad's religious prohibition against him being indiscriminate with his seed, he would have had his first woman long, long ago. Normally, he liked to please his father, but he figured that Isaac would acknowledge that a man has needs that have to be taken care of. This was one of those cases when it would be easier to get forgiveness than permission.
As for Mom, well, who cared what she felt about it? In fact, if his wives annoyed Mom, all the better; she had it coming to her. Those girls were a couple of sassy, little vixens, so it was likely to happen. They would spend time with Mom far more than they ever would with Dad, so if they were cheeky to her, she would have to deal with it. They were not likely to say anything disrespectful to his father, though, because he was the chief and they knew that Esau was very close to his father.
Jacob was alarmed about the marriages. He did not doubt that his brother would soon have some children. He had to get that birthright before any sons were conceived. Killing him was out of the question, but Esau had a blood sugar problem that Jacob could take advantage of. He knew that Esau was usually ferociously hungry when he returned from hunting because he got so into it that he did not take time to eat.
Yes, if he could trick Esau at one of those vulnerable times, perhaps he would hand over the birthright. He knew that Esau would not take it as a serious matter that anyone would hold him to, having obtained it when he was in a weak condition, but Isaac would enforce it because he taught that a person should keep always their word, even when it was not convenient to do so, and he had set them an example of this at various times.
Jacob felt relieved when he came up with this idea. This was so much better than wishing his brother was dead, for he knew in his heart that, regardless of having looked out for his brother's safety, his heart really was not in it. Wishing someone was dead so that he could benefit from their death was like harbouring murder in his heart, and he hated that he was in that predicament. Trickery was not right, but it was better than wishing him dead; definitely the lesser of two evils, and he thought he did not have time to wait for God to move. Maybe God would not let Esau's wives conceive, but in his observation, it was usually godly women who were to bring forth a godly seed who had trouble conceiving, whereas the wicked seemed to be able to breed like rabbits.
Jacob found a reason to station himself on the outskirts of camp in a place where Esau was likely to enter on his return, having noted his direction when he left the camp to go hunting. Perhaps he volunteered to watch over some sheep that were grazing there. Jacob had a savoury pot of red lentils ready and a pile of fragrant bread. Esau approached the outskirts of the camp feeling weak from having stayed out too long, ,and demanded Jacob's food as soon as he smelled its delicious aroma. He was so faint from hunger that he thought he was going to die.
Jacob demanded Esau's birthright in return for the lentils. Esau, being somewhat of a bonehead who acted on his impulses and exaggerated to himself the enormity of his needs, figured that his birthright would not do him any good if he died of hunger, so he agreed. He doubted that anyone would hold him to such a ridiculous bargain.
He got a shock when Isaac agreed with Jacob that the birthright was now his. Isaac disliked Jacob's deception and it deepened his disapproval of him, but he was also disappointed in his favourite son that Esau would treat something so important, as if it was trivial. The only way Esau was going to learn to be a man of his word was to make him suffer the consequences of having given it so lightly.
I am deducing that Jacob did this close to the time that Isaac decided to confer the blessing for two reasons. If he had done it several years before, it would have given the wound he dealt to Esau plenty of time to fester into a desire to kill him, whereas Esau did not desire to kill him until after he stole the blessing. Also, I think that Isaac decided to impart the blessing, not only because he was getting old, but to mollify Esau about having lost his birthright. Jacob now stood to inherit the double portion, but Isaac still had the option of naming who would lead the tribe when he died, and the one from whom the Messiah would be descended was not always the one who inherited the birthright. Isaac wanted Esau to feel that he had the most important parts of what still remained for him to confer. I could be wrong about the timing; Jacob might have stolen the birthright when they were much younger and before Esau married, but Jacob's reasons for stealing the birthright would still hold true.
Jacob was now deep in his father's bad books after he stole the birthright. Rebekah despaired of Isaac ever seeing Jacob's value and realizing that he was the one who should inherit his position because he was the son who valued the things of God. When Isaac announced to Esau that he was going to impart God's blessing on him, Rebekah had a little talk with Jacob.
The deal was that he would take his brother's place. Isaac was blind from age and he would be fooled, if Jacob wore his brother's clothes, so that he smelled like him, and if he let Mom put some goatskin patches on his neck and hands, so that he felt hairy like Esau, too. Rebekah gave him a delicious meal to carry in to his father. Isaac had requested that Esau shoot some venison for him and prepare it with herbs and spices in a special recipe that Isaac enjoyed.
The deception worked. Isaac suspected Jacob because his voice had a higher register than his brother's, but Rebekah's ruses duped him and he prophesied blessing on Jacob. Isaac got the prophecy from God. God wasn't fooled. He knew who was kneeling before Isaac, but He went ahead and sent forth a blessing to Jacob because it was His plan to do so. Jacob, however, was going to be disciplined for having used dishonest means to obtain the blessing, instead of waiting for God to move.
Jacob could have gotten the blessing without needing to stoop to deception to obtain it. Jacob and Rebekah knew that it was God's plan to place Jacob over his brother, but neither Jacob nor Rebekah could see how it would ever happen. They made the mistake of thinking that the control was in Isaac's hands because he was the one with the authority. In this way, they made a god of Isaac, and let him come between them and the Lord. They were frustrated because Isaac favoured Esau, and they thought that would never change because of the stronghold that Isaac had in his flesh, whereby some aspects of the flesh were held in too high of a regard with him.
Control is ultimately always in God's hands. If Rebekah and Jacob had left things alone and not meddled, Jacob would have gotten the birthright and the blessing without any muddle. Isaac would have figured out who was supposed to be his heir when he went to bless Esau and got only silence from the Lord, or heard Him say, "This one is not my choice." Esau's blessing would not have come forth until after the main blessing had been conferred on Jacob.
Jacob and Rebekah set themselves up for a lot of suffering because they did not wait patiently for God to work things out in His own way. They waited for a while, but they waited impatiently and with resentment. It is ironic that Jacob was right on the verge of seeing God confer the birthright and the blessing on him when he decided to take matters into his own hands, and ended up with a big, huge mess that led to detours and losses that could have been avoided.
It seems that Isaac's spiritual blindness about his sons' qualities resulted in actual physical blindness, as his physical blindness was the very thing that God used to prompt Isaac into conferring the blessing at that time. It was evidence to him that he was getting old and could not count on living for much longer, though he did, in fact, live for another eighty years.3
If Jacob had waited patiently for the Lord to fulfill His word, he would have made better use of his time by preparing for spiritual leadership and developing stronger character. Instead of gnashing his teeth with resentment over how his father favoured his brother, he would have pitied Esau that he was not the chosen one, and not grudged him any of the affection that their father gave Esau. He would have seen that Esau needed that affection and favour more then he did, to help soothe his feelings about not being selected to be the leader of the tribe. He also would have been kind and helpful to his brother, so that when Esau learned that Jacob was to inherit the birthright and the blessing, it would alleviate his rage and help him realize that Jacob was better suited to lead their people in God's ways. As it was, because of his bickering and spite and deceptions, Esau considered Jacob unworthy of those honours.
Esau was enraged when he came into Isaac's chamber later with a tasty meal in his hands and discovered that Jacob had stolen his blessing. Isaac was shaken up, too. He was amazed that God had released that blessing, but since He had, he realized that the blessing would stand. Esau passionately begged for a blessing, as well, and one was delivered to him, but it was too late to obtain the blessing of taking Isaac's place as leader when he was gone, which also carried with it the honour of progenitor of the Messiah.
What Esau didn't realize was that he would never have inherited those things anyway. God was not pleased with his shallow attitude towards holy things. Esau knew that in the matter of the birthright, he had displeased his father when he traded it for a meal of lentils, and deduced that God was displeased also.
Esau examined his heart and tried to work up the proper feeling about it, whipping himself with remorse in an effort to propitiate God. Surely when God saw how much he was making himself suffer, He would feel sorry for him and forgive him.
But salvation does not work that way. It does not come through works, not even the work of making oneself feel bad for having done something that they know is displeasing to God, so that He will be satisfied by the emotional suffering they have put themselves through (even if they privately think that God is making too big of a deal about those things). Salvation is a gift from God. After one has realized in their heart that they are guilty of awful deeds, for even the smallest of sins are obscene to a holy God, and are horrified when they realize what they have done, they must turn away from their sins and turn to God for Him to wash them clean and deliver them from sinning any more. And God graciously does so.
Those who have truly repented are so thankful to God for having washed the stains of sin from their heart that, even if they have to suffer the consequences of their mistakes in their Earth life, they rejoice because they are clean. They do not have to bear their filth any longer. Men may still look down on them, but in the eyes of the One who matters the most, they are deemed innocent. They can enter into God's presence and enjoy Him.
Esau did not truly repent of his sin. He could always justify it to himself by blaming Jacob for taking advantage of his weakness. He only felt sorry for the consequences of his actions. In the end, his conclusion was, "When a man is hungry, he has got to eat."
God had this drama recorded because He wanted us to see that Man is not to live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. In fact, we are to esteem His will far above the necessities of life. Later when the Messiah showed up, satan set this same snare before Yehoshua by challenging Him to change some stones to bread after He had fasted for forty days and was weak with hunger. In His reply, Yehoshua made it clear that we should never do what the flesh or the devil wants us to do, no matter how desperately needy we are.
Esau received a blessing anyway because he was Isaac's son, but he was still enraged over what Jacob did to him. He planned to kill Jacob when their father died, which he figured would be soon because Isaac was so old. Isaac had been sixty when the twins were born and now he was 100.
Rebekah got wind of Esau's plot and urged Isaac to send Jacob away to get a wife from among their relatives in Haran. She pointed out to Isaac that the two Hittite women whom Esau had married despised his family's morality and beliefs; it made her weary to deal with them. Another consideration was how those wicked women were going to raise the children that they bore Esau. It always distresses a godly grandparent's heart to see their grandchildren being raised in ways that are contrary to reverence for the Lord. Isaac agreed that Jacob needed a wife who was more in tune with their ways, so he sent him away with his blessing.
Isaac forgave Rebekah for deceiving him. He realized that he had brought the situation on himself by being obtuse about his sons, too caught up with the one who appealed to his earthly interests to recognize that the younger son cared more than his brother about the things that really matter. The fact that God had not seen fit to let Isaac discern who was in front of him receiving the blessing was a reproof about having let himself get too focussed on the things that men esteem. He was humble enough to see that and was now more willing to listen to what Rebekah had to say.
Though Isaac forgave her, Rebekah was still left with repercussions of her sin. The son whom she loved was sent away and she never saw him again in her Earth life. Meanwhile, the remaining son now hated her.
Esau had always preferred his father's company. It was his father who enjoyed his company and was proud of him. Esau did not relate well to women because he was alienated from his mother. He could not empathize with how it wounds a woman to see her husband favour one child over another, instead of loving them equally.
In their anger at the father for not loving their children equally, mothers tend to then make the mistake of favouring the overlooked child to even things up, not considering that they wound their other child by not giving them as much attention as the one they feel sorry for. To be emotionally healthy, children need both a loving father and a loving mother.
Esau retaliated against his mother's emotional neglect by ignoring her most of the time. This must be so for Rebekah was basically a good woman, and a good woman would never deliberately injure a son who had been tender and attentive towards her. To guard his heart against hurt, Esau convinced himself that he didn't need his mother, but that just played into the vicious cycle of hurt that wheeled through the family. After all, Rebekah was human and had feelings, too.
Wounded feelings made Rebekah's heart grow cold towards her eldest son. If she did not have a chip on her shoulder towards him, she would never have urged Jacob to do something that would wound Esau. Knowing that it would wound him and enrage him, she went ahead with it, figuring that she had nothing to lose because he didn't love her anyway and she had no hope that he ever would. She thought Esau was a bonehead who would never change. Her assessment was probably right, but we should always keep the door to reconciliation unlocked on our side.
I think that Rebekah was astounded afterwards by the enormity of what she had done to Esau. In spite of her faults, she was a decent woman. I think she regretted that she had short–changed Esau by not appreciating his abilities, and not being as tender and affectionate to him as she was to his brother. Esau needed her as much as he needed his father, even if he didn't think so.
Esau was too well brought up and respectful of his father to do anything drastic to his mother to pay her back, but he was the type of person who would make her feel his displeasure over her betrayal. It certainly would be evident in the vibes she got from him. His voice was probably studiously polite, but cold when he answered her, and he probably avoided her as much as possible. If Rebekah longed to heal his hurt, he would sense that. To make her suffer, he would refuse to accept her repentance and receive her offers of love.
When he saw that Isaac sent his brother away to take a wife from among their relatives, it finally sunk in that Isaac was displeased with his wives. Isaac was offended on Rebekah's behalf for the impudence that she had to deal with, as well as how their worldliness vexed her, which she had seen more than he had, as she was exposed to their conversation more than he was. It is unlikely that Isaac made much effort to engage them in conversation, especially if their replies and remarks were frivolous or asinine.
Esau had boasted of their virtues to try to put him at ease about the marriages. No, Esau could see that his father had not been fooled. If he was sending Jacob away to get a wife from among the Semites, and specifically from their own close relatives, then Dad was not pleased with him for having married these ungodly daughters of ungodly Ham, though he had never said anything to Esau directly because the deed had already been done before he found out about it.
Therefore, to show his father that he was trying to please him, he took one of Ishmael's daughters for a wife. Her name means sickly, so we can deduce from this that she had poor health. I wonder if some of the old jealousy towards Isaac was rearing up in Ishmael when he gave this daughter to Isaac's son. He would not deny his nephew one of his daughters, but did he give him this particular daughter to weaken Isaac's descendents? In any case, Isaac liked Mahalath, and her name was changed to a nicer one that means fragrant. Esau's wives likely had more than one name, as most people do, and the other one who was also named Bashemath was called by one of her alternate names to avoid confusion. Perhaps Mahalath's name had been Bathshemath before she became sick and was named sickly. In any case, she was valued by her father–in–law, and probably also by her husband because this was the wife that his Dad liked, and her new name reflects that affection.
It is likely that she never warmed to Rebekah, taking her husband's part against his mother, nor is it likely that Rebekah felt particularly warm towards her. After all, Ishmael was the son of Abraham's slave, who had been no relative of hers, and as Mahaleth/Bashemath shared her husband's grudge against his mother, it would be hard to get any warm response to overtures of friendship. But Mahaleth felt kinship with Isaac and it was mutual, for he loved his brother Ishmael, and grew very fond of his niece.4
It was up to Isaac to minister to his son, and God let Isaac live for a long time so that he could cool Esau's wrath against his brother. Jacob was going to come home some day. Esau needed to learn godly values and about how God operates to help him be more accepting about how things had turned out.
Eventually, Isaac sent Esau away to establish his own territory. The land of Canaan was slated for Jacob's descendents and, like Ishmael, the older brother had to be prevented from marring the chosen one's inheritance. Isaac, at that point, probably gave Esau a third of his wealth and pointed out that there was not room for both Esau's herds and what he was looking after for Jacob, which Jacob would receive when he died. Esau could see that his portion was quite sizeable, regardless of what his brother had gained by deception, and he was likely relieved to get away from the mockers in the tribe who called him Red, pretending that it was because his hair was red, but really because he had given away his birthright for goulash made from red lentils. Though he was going to miss his father, he was glad to get away from those who had contempt for him.
Esau went to live among the cave dwellers to the south, hiring himself and his men out as mercenaries, and possibly raiding caravans on the side. It was part of his blessing that he and his descendents would be mighty warriors, though with that kind of blessing, one should be careful to engage only in righteous causes.
Jacob headed east after leaving his parents. He felt lonely and homesick and afraid of the future. He was close to his mother, and he'd always had hopes of getting close to his father, but it didn't seem like it would ever happen now. He was being forced by his brother's rancour to go out into the world on his own to make his fortune. Dad could not deny him the double portion upon his death, and he could not withdraw the blessing, nor did he want to withdraw the blessing, but Isaac punished Jacob's deception by not supporting him any more. Jacob was sent out with only bare essentials to keep him going until he could get a job.
Far from being confident about gathering a fortune, Jacob wasn't certain that he would manage to take care of his minimum needs in such a wicked world. Up until now, as the privileged son of a powerful chief, all his physical needs had been taken care of. In that insulated world, he had never wondered where his next meal was coming from and he'd always had fine clothes. Yes, he had God's blessing, but guilt about how he obtained it undermined his confidence in that blessing.
Jacob lay down at night to take some rest, with his neck supported by a rock. Then he had an amazing dream. He saw a staircase like an escalator that reached to Heaven and angels on it going back and forth between Heaven and the Earth. God stood at the top of the staircase and told him that He was the God of his fathers and that He would give him that land upon which he was lying. He said that He would make a nation of him and bring forth the Messiah out of his nation, who would bless all the nations of the Earth. God promised Jacob that He would be with him and look after him and do all that He had declared unto him.
Jacob was astounded and terrified when he awoke. He set up an altar using the rock he had used for a pillow and poured some oil on it. I heard a pastor criticize Jacob for using "cheap oil". He may have made a good point about how it is wrong to not give God our best, but it was wrong to run Jacob down. Give the man a break. It was all that Jacob had. Even if his father had not withdrawn his support, Jacob was a solitary traveller on a journey and could take with him only what he could carry. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 8:12, "For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man has, and not according to what he doesn't have." God looks on the intentions of the heart, not the outward appearances.
When Jacob came to the outskirts of Haran, he ran into one of his cousins. She was a beautiful, young girl named Rachel, the youngest daughter of his Uncle Laban. Rachel helped look after her father's sheep and Jacob saw her when he was resting at a well. He had been asking the shepherds, who were waiting for the rest of the shepherds to get there, if they knew his uncle. They said they did and noted that Laban's daughter Rachel was approaching.
Jacob was 40–years–old when he left Canaan. When he arrived in Syria, 37 years later, he was 77–years–old and had never married. His and Isaac's ages at death clue us in that he made some detours before he got to Syria. He was 130–years–old5 when Joseph was 39–years–old, so that means that he was 91–years–old when Joseph was born, not in his fifties.
He did not become a father until after he had worked for Laban for seven years, and at the end of another seven years, just after Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob made another deal with Laban to work for him for wages that would consist of flocks. If he was 84 when he married Leah and 85 when Reuben was born, Reuben would have been only six–years–old when Joseph was born, and just 12–years–old when he came to Canaan.
Leah had four children one right after another, which accounts for at least three years, or 36 months. Jacob would be 87 years old at the end of three years. Then Leah stopped having children for a while. Rachel pushes her slave at Jacob, so add 18 more months of childbearing and he would be nearly 89 years old. Leah might have given her slave to her husband right away, as soon as she saw what Rachel did, so the concubines could have been pregnant at the same time. We are now up to almost five years, if those girls got pregnant right away. Leah then has two more children. Add another 18 months, and we are now at 72 months, or six full years and Jacob is 90. Then Leah and Rachel both get pregnant again and Dinah and Joseph are born. Reuben could only be six–years–old when Joseph was born if those ladies got pregnant that fast, and he would have been only four when he found the mandrakes.
If these figures are correct, they indicate that thousands of years ago when the Earth had a much less polluted environment, genes were less corrupted, and Man still had some vestiges of antediluvian strength, people were amazing fertile, except for a few exceptions such as Rachel, and that women got pregnant easily, recovered from pregnancy right away, and lactation did not interfere with conception. When the births in Jacob's family slowed down, it was likely because of decreasing sperm count due to his age, but women probably practiced birth control, if they had no problem conceiving. There are only so many kids that one woman can handle.
If Reuben was only six years older than Joseph, that would have made him 45–years–old when he went to live in Egypt. Judah, who was 42, at the most, when he arrived in Egypt must have been a very young father, if he had three sons who were fully grown before he left Canaan, and the youngest was too young to get married when his older brothers died. Reuben was only 23 and Judah was 20, and still with his father, but perhaps already married, when Joseph was sold into slavery, and only 22 years had passed since he had lost two grown sons, his third son reached marriageable age and possibly got married, but not to his brothers' widow, then Judah became widowed, grieved a while (a very short while?), and then fathered two more children before he went to Egypt.
It seems reasonable that Jacob would want to see the world before he settled down, after having stayed so close to his mother's side. Maybe he did some missionary work; there are legends on other continents about a man from a far off place teaching better ways to the natives, including admonitions against cannibalism, which is unlike the doctrines of the widely travelled emmisaries of the Mystery religion of Babylon. In time, the teachings of a godly man would become confused as idolatry crept back in.
It is likely that Jacob talked to others about his beliefs wherever he went, but it is possible that his main purpose for travelling was to amass wealth. For the sake of his dignity, Jacob probably did not want to show up at Uncle Laban's home until he had acquired a fortune, but his labours to that end simply did not work out the way he had hoped. He had no property when he arrived at Laban's mansion in Haran, so we can deduce that everything he tried before then to acquire wealth bombed, or he might have been robbed. Either way, he finally came to the conclusion that he had to take a wife before he got too old to raise a family, and God apparently was not going to let him prosper in a material way until after he obeyed his parents about taking a wife from among his relatives.
It would be really amazing if when he married, Jacob was 79–years–old, had travelled the world, and was still a virgin! We know he did not mess around before he married because he said in Genesis 49:3 that Reuben, his eldest son, was the first of his strength. To remain a virgin even for 47 years would be an amazing demonstration of how committed Jacob was to the Lord, in spite of his faults, never mind remaining one until he was 84. It is no wonder that God chose Jacob to beget a holy nation. And no wonder, with such a father for an example, that Joseph maintained his purity, in spite of great temptation.
We can't say that Jacob was disobeying God if he went a–travelling and tried to make his fortune before he headed over towards Haran, because his father told him to take a wife from among Laban's daughters, and Leah and Rachel had not yet been born at the time that Jacob set out on his journeys, if he was 84 years old before he married. It could be that God figured into His plans that Jacob would need some time to satisfy his curiosity about various things before he settled down. In all that time, Jacob was committed to obeying his parents about marrying a near relative, he stayed committed to what they had taught him about chastity, and he stayed committed to God's plan for his life. He did not try to carve out a kingdom for himself outside of the promised land.
Jacob had doubtless seen many beautiful women in his travels, but it was not until he saw Rachel, and knew that she was acceptable to the Lord because she was of his own people, that he instantly fell in love. Rachel had big, brown eyes and was absolutely gorgeous. Maybe he never imagined that, at his age, God would be willing to give him such a young wife, and one so beautiful, but with her being the first relative that he saw after arriving in their territory seemed to be a sign from God that she was intended for him.
He hustled to move the rock off of the well to water her sheep for her. It was really impressive that a man his age was so strong; normally the shepherds had to wait until all the sheep were gathered and it took several men to move that rock. I surmise that Jacob was not normally so strong, but he received an anointing at that moment to be an extraordinary shepherd, which must have been very encouraging to him, and it would get a very young girl's attention. Normally, Rachel might not have paid him much mind, but rather just thought of him as a nice kind of "uncle" since he was a much older cousin, but this Samson–like strength marked him as special, and also convinced Laban that Jacob, though he was an old fellow, was very fit for the work of shepherding. It is also possible that God preserved Jacob's youth in a supernatural way, or restored it, as He had his grandparents' youth, thus ensuring that Rachel would be attracted to him, in spite of his age.
After watering the sheep, Jacob took advantage of his kinship and kissed Rachel and cried for relief and joy at having found his relatives. No doubt, he also cried for joy that one of the unmarried ones was such a beauty. After having experienced failure after failure, things were finally starting to look favourable for him.
Rachel hurried off to tell her father that one of Rebekah's sons had arrived. Laban welcomed him. He was a very old man, and had sired his daughters very late in life, but in these remarkable times, people were much longer lived. Isaac, for instance, was probably at least twenty years older than Laban, but was still alive at this time, and lived to see Jacob return to Canaan. Laban still remembered how rich Abraham was and the gifts he had received when his sister Rebekah went away to become Isaac's wife. This nephew was going to inherit great substance from his father someday. He had to see what he could do about fixing him up with one of his daughters, even if Jacob was old enough to be their grandfather.
Jacob needed to marry someone young enough to give him children, one whose high moral character was evident by her virginity, and he was already taken with Rachel. To demonstrate the high value he placed on her, he offered to work for Laban for seven years as a shepherd, so that he could have her as his wife. Laban was delighted with the deal, and said that it was better that he should have her than anyone else. He was also impressed with what he had already seen of Jacob's abilities in the month that his nephew had been staying with him. From the time that he arrived in Syria, God blessed everything that Jacob did. Through Jacob, Laban's wealth increased considerably.
The years sped by like days to Jacob because he loved Rachel and was having so much fun developing an emotional relationship with her. She was beautiful, but what he felt for her was not merely lust. He wanted to know her better as a person and to give her time to grow up because she was so young when he met her. He was quite a man to be willing to wait for her. After all, he was already quite old and not getting any younger. He was so courteous and thoughtful towards Rachel that he won her affection, even if he wasn't what a young woman dreams of when she fantasizes about getting married some day.
The wedding day finally came and Jacob whooped it up with his cousins and the rest of Laban's tribe. Then his bride was brought to him, heavily veiled, as was the custom. It was dark inside the chamber and he could not see his beloved's face, but he lavished on her all the love that had been penned up in his heart for the last seven years. Then he fell asleep, unaware of his bride's tears as she lay fearfully beside him until morning, wondering what he would do when he discovered that she was not Rachel.
She was Leah, the oldest daughter. Nobody wanted to marry Leah. At least, not anybody whom her father would permit her to marry. Laban was avaricious and wanted to increase his wealth in every way possible. No wealthy men offered for Leah, but he saw a way to get Jacob to work for him twice as long. He would pawn Leah off on him.
Rachel was shocked and then furious when her father ordered Leah to dress in Rachel's wedding clothes. Seven years of being courted by an interesting and intelligent man who cherished her and regarded her as an equal, in spite of her gender and her youth, had made her look forward to the consummation of their betrothal, but there was more to her jealousy than that. Instead of having the honour of being the First Wife, and her oldest son having natural title to the double portion, she had to take a secondary position to her sister.
There was nothing Rachel could do about it, though it was contrary to the righteous customs practiced by her grandfather and his father before him. They had adhered to the recognition of male/female equality and the protection of daughters from being abused or neglected. Patriarchal law, such as was gradually being adopted and enforced by Laban, favoured men. Wives and children were coming to be considered as property. Rachel wept in her lonely bed as she imagined her sister lying in Jacob's arms instead of her, and some of her weeping was due to her indignation at the indignity her father was subjecting her to by using her as a commodity, so that he could get seven more years of work out of Jacob.
It was bitter for Leah, also, because the sweet endearments that Jacob whispered in her ears were for another woman. If he hadn't been somewhat tipsy, he might have figured out that she was not Rachel. She was afraid he still might figure it out before the night was over. She possibly was not as slim and shapely as Rachel, but Jacob didn't notice in the dark.
It was not until the next morning when Jacob awoke with a smile, anticipating a resumption of the night's activities, that he looked down at the woman in his arms and discovered, to his horror, that she was not the woman whom he had thought she was. He shoved Leah away and asked her what was going on. She trembled and told him tearfully that her father had made her do it.
Jacob leaped from his bed with a roar, wrapped a blanket around his hips, and tore out of his chamber to confront Laban about the deception. He was now finding out how his father and Esau felt after what he had done to them. He hadn't repented of his deception in all his years of wandering, so he needed a huge kick in the rear end to help him finally get the message that he should not have jumped ahead of God and taken matters in his own hands, and dishonoured his father in the process by lying to him.
1Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year a hundredfold: and the LORD blessed him. And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great:
[Genesis 26:12 & 13]
2Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For you know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
[Hebrews 12:14 – 17]
3And the days of Isaac were a hundred and eighty years.
4Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, Chapter 18, Paragraph 8
5And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.
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The Majesty of God, Chapter 15
Copyright © 2010, Lanny Townsend
Page modified by Lanny Townsend on January 7, 2011
Scripture references on this website are closely paraphrased from e–Sword's King James Bible.