{11}   Isaac’s blessings (Gen 27—28)


Part K. Isaac’s Family (25:1—28:22)

K5.   Jacob’s stolen blessing (27:1–46)

·         Rebekah and Jacob were co-conspirators committing a deception that fractured the family for two decades. Hosea describes how Jacob was repaid for his deception: “The Lord has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds.” (Hos 12:1).

·         In the story, Rebekah was the prime manipulator; Jacob and Isaac were mere tools who carried out her objectives.

·         “Birthright” (Heb. bekora) and “blessing” (Heb. beraka) have similar sounds. Yet, birthright and blessing are not always to be equated. Normally, the father could decide the fitting division of property. However, the formal “blessing” of Isaac implied an oath that could not be withdrawn. On the other hand, Esau (not Jacob) appeared to gain eventual possession of Isaac’s property.

K6.   Jacob’s vision at Bethel (28:1–22)

·         After Jacob’s deception in stealing the blessing, Isaac granted Jacob the blessing (this time knowingly), and instructed him to avoid marrying a Canaanite woman.

·         On Jacob’s journey to Haran, God revealed to Jacob at Bethel. The passage is important in showing “how a place became a shrine, a stone became an altar, and a fugitive became a pilgrim.”

·         Compared with Abraham, Jacob’s vow was “backward”: God tested Abraham, but here Jacob tested God; God instructed Abraham to leave his country before he intered into blessing, but Jacob imposed conditions on God before he vowed to benefit God. But God was gracious to Jacob and Jacob would learn that he was in fact totally dependent on God’s mercy.

·         Some Christians (Augustine, Luther) interpret Jacob’s ladder allegorically as a description of Jesus on earth. It is a type of Christ’s mediatorial position, connecting heaven and earth. Some identify Jacob’s “stone” as Christ (“cornerstone” in Eph 2:20 and 1Pe 2:6) and the ladder as Christ’s cross.

·         Jacob’s dream includes 3 parts: (1) v.11—15 was the dream sequence, (2) v.16—19 was Jacob’s response to the dream, and (3) v.20—22 was Jacob’s vow.



27:1     he could not see: Isaac was physically weak. However, he was at the most 140 years old and would live another 40 years or more.

27:4     prepare for me delicious food: Esau had hunting ability and also culinary ability to please his father.

such as I love: The word “love” (Heb. ahab) shows strong affection for the feast—a weakness of Isaac.

27:5     Rebekah was listening: Rebekah’s eavesdropping was perhaps deliberate.

his son Esau: Esau was identified as “Isaac’s son” while Jacob was identified as “Rebekah’s” son in v.6.

27:7     before the Lord: The reference to the divine name was added by Rebekah to give the matter more urgency leading to greater religious significance.

27:8     obey my voice: The exhortation (again in v.13,43) appealed to Jacob to follow her instructions carefully.

27:11   Behold: Jacob replied with a strong objection with the sense of “hold on here!” Jacob was afraid that his smooth skin would expose his deception and he would then be cursed by his father. In the Bible, God may transform a curse into a blessing (Dt 23:5; Neh 13:2), but never the reverse.

27:13   Let your curse be on me: Jewish tradition tries to justify Jacob’s action by attributing the blame to Rebekah. It is true, however, that the deception would not have occurred if Jacob had been left alone.

27:15   best garments of Esau: Rebekah’s plan for deception was elaborate—using Esau’s garments, skins of young goats, meat of the young goats, even adding bread to the cuisine.

27:18   My father!: The phrase recalls Isaac’s own call to his father Abraham at Mount Moriah, where as a boy he trusted his father (Gen 22:7). Here, however, Jacob betrayed his father’s trust.

27:19   I am Esau your firstborn: That was a blatant lie. The word “firstborn” (Heb. bekor) recalls his former exploitation of Esau’s “birthright” (Heb. bekora).

I have done as you told me: a second lie, a double lie as Isaac did not tell him and he did not prepare the food.

27:20   God granted me success: Jacob’s answer was blasphemous, attributing his success to God. Ironically, this assertion was not too far off the mark as the will of God was revealed in the birth oracle (Gen 25:22–23).

27:21   Please come near: Isaac was suspicious and sought confirmation by touch and sound. The word “come near” (Heb. nagas) is repeated a few times: come near (v.21), went near (v.22), bring (v.25), brought (v.25), come near (v.26), came near (v.27).

27:22   The voice is Jacob's voice: Isaac admitted that he was still confused as he recognized the voice as Jacob’s. That he continued to bless Jacob despite the voice was not Esau’s showed that he was doubtful about his own judgment. It might be true that God’s work was also present. Before Isaac recognized his voice, Jacob was rather loquacious. Afterwards, Jacob limited himself to a one-word answer.

27:24   Are you really my son Esau?: Isaac’s senses of touch and hearing were failing him so he wanted to have a final, truthful reply. Jacob lied a third time.

27:27   he came near and kissed him: Jacob’s betrayal with a kiss for personal gain was repeated in Judas’s betrayal of Jesus with a kiss to gain silver.

smell of his clothes: The clothes were Esau’s and the smell was from a hunter.

he blessed him: Isaac’s blessing consisted of 2 parts: the fruition of the land and the growth of a great nation.

27:28   of heaven's dew and of earth's richness: The pair “heaven/earth” expressed the entirety of nature’s abundance, producing grain and wine.

27:29   May nations serve you: describing a powerful nation. The description contains 3 pairs of lines. In the first pair, “nations” (Heb. ammim) and “peoples” (Heb. le-ummim) are parallel. The pair “serve” (Heb. abad) and “bow down” (Heb. hawa) are also parallel. The idea was servitude and submission, echoing the birth oracle that “the older shall serve the younger” (Gen 25:23).

Be lord over your brothers: In the second pair, “lord” (Heb. hawa) and “bow down” (Heb. hawa) are parallel. The word “brothers” may mean simply “relatives” (as Jacob had only one brother).

blessed be everyone who blesses you: The third pair contains a contrast of “bless/curse”. It is a repetition of God’s promise in Gen 12:3.

27:30   Jacob had scarcely gone out: Esau just missed catching his brother in the act.

27:33   Isaac trembled very violently: Isaac was terrified with physical shaking; literally, “Isaac trembled a great trembling exceedingly.”

Yes, and he shall be blessed: expressing the irrevocable nature of the blessing.

27:35   deceitfully: The word describes the treachery that Jacob himself would someday suffer (Gen 29:25).

27:36   he has cheated: (Heb. aqab) It was a wordplay on Jacob’s name (Heb. ya-aqob).

He took away my birthright: Esau conveniently forgot his own part in the earlier deal involving the birthright (Gen 25:34).

27:39   Isaac his father answered: It was an antiblessing, consisting of 3 lines. The first line describes Esau’s parched and fruitless land as his home, opposite Jacob’s land enriched by dew and fatness. The second line describes Esau’s way of life through war. The third line describes Esau’s true character as a wild beast by breaking free from its yoke. The portrayal recalls the same characterization of Ishmael whose nature was the obstinate, desert donkey (Gen 16:12).

27:42   were told to Rebekah: Esau’s plan to murder Jacob leaked out.

27:43   obey my voice: Rebekah commanded Jacob to follow her instruction, the third time in this chapter.

flee: The word “flee” (Heb. barah) becomes the motto of Jacob’s life, for he would also flee Laban after deceiving him.

27:44   stay with him a while: Rebekah thought Jacob would be gone for a short while, perhaps even in terms of days but it became 20 years of hard labour in Haran. Also, Rebekah was not mentioned again after this chapter, until her burial (Gen 49:31).

28:1     directed him: The command to Jacob to not marry a Canaanite woman was a forceful one, meaning “you must not take”. When the word “commanded” (Heb. sawa) is used in the stories of Moses, it always characterizes divine instruction (Dt 32:6). The repetition in v.6 further intensifies its significance.

28:2     Arise, go: Dual imperatives indicated the urgency of the moment.

28:3     God Almighty: (Heb. El Shaddai) The name was announced first to Abraham (Gen 17:1). Israel later honoured this name used by the patriarchs.

make you fruitful (Heb. para) and multiply (Heb. raba) you: This reflects creation’s blessing (Gen 1:22,28; 8:17; 9:1,7).

a company of peoples: Although the blessing was for Jacob (“you”, singular), it transcended his generation to include the “company/community” (Heb. qahal) of Israel.

28:8     did not please Isaac his father: Esau showed no interest in his mother’s opinion.

28:9     daughter of Ishmael: The connection of Esau and Ishmael renewed the ancestral bond of the two outcast sons.

28:10   Haran: Paddan-aram was the region and Haran was the city. Some believe that Paddan was the old name for Haran.

28:11   a certain place: The word “the place” appears 3 times in the verse for emphasis and definiteness—the story is not a myth or imagination. Because of the presence of God, this public space becomes the holy, “the house of God”. By morning, the ordinary stone would mark a hallowed place. The story shows that God takes something common and transforms it into the sacred by His presence.

the sun had set: The fall of night recalls the night theophany Abraham received at Mamre/Hebron (Gen 15:12,17).

put it under his head: The stone was used as a pillow. It is also possible that “the stones of the place” formed a makeshift enclosure for his head.

28:12   a ladder: Jacob’s ladder, traversed only by angels, was the means of a gracious revelation from heaven. The ladder/stairway (Heb. sullam, exact shape uncertain) connecting earth and heaven signified divine presence and mediation.

the angels: Angels (Heb. malakim) are God’s servants who deliver divine messages. Here, the angels did not speak so Jacob’s encounter was directly with God. These angels were probably sent to protect Jacob.

28:13   the Lord stood above it: The phrase could also mean “standing beside him (Jacob)”. However, God’s looming position over the earth beneath is probably more likely.

Abraham your father: “Father” means “ancestor”. The term was used to recognize him as the chief recipient of the promises to Abraham.

28:14   you shall spread abroad: The spreading/dispersion of Jacob’s descendants is a new feature of the promise, perhaps fulfilled by the dispersion of Jews in the world today.

28:15   I am with you: God promised His protective presence. This presence often became evident to all who encountered the patriarchs.

28:17   the house of God: The place Jacob chose to sleep was recognized as a divine sanctuary. The term refers to the place, not the stone pillar.

28:18   set it up for a pillar: The pillar corresponded to the practice of constructing altars by Abraham (Gen 12:7–8; 13:18) and Isaac (Gen 26:25). The pillar might also be a witness to Jacob’s vows. Establishing pillars was Jacob’s habit (Gen 31:45,51–52; 35:14,20).

poured oil on the top of it: It was the annointing of the pillar, consecrating it to the Lord.

28:19   Bethel: meaning “the house of God”. It signified to Jacob the assurance of God’s superintendence and imminence. Since it was Jacob who named the place Bethel, the earlier references (Gen 12:8; 13:3) were perhaps later updating, just like the reference to Dan (Gen 14:14). Later, the place became a city but the city’s history of idolatry made Bethel notorious among the prophets (Hos 4:15; 10:15; Am 5:5–6).

28:20   Jacob made a vow: Jacob made a vow with 3 promises to God (the only time that a patriarch made a vow to God): (1) devotion to God, (2) dedication of the site to God, and (3) offering of a tithe. He was asking no more than the fulfilment of God’s self-imposed obligations delivered in the dream so it was strictly speaking not a test of God—throughout the Bible, God forbids man to test Him; the only exception being Malachi 3:10 (about tithing).

28:21   in peace: (Heb. besalom) meaning return “safely”, without physical harm.

28:22   I will give a full tenth to you: Jacob’s promise is emphatically expressed: “I will surely give you a tenth.” The giving of a tithe recalls Abraham’s offering to Melchizedek (Gen 14:20).



·         How we react to a moral dilemma often exposes our real motives. Frequently we are more worried about getting caught than about doing what is right. Jacob did not seem concerned about the deceitfulness of his mother’s plan; instead he was afraid getting caught. If you are worried about getting caught, you are probably in a position that is less than honourable. Let your fear of getting caught be a warning to do right. Jacob paid a huge price for carrying out this dishonest plan.

·         Although Jacob got the blessing he wanted, deceiving his father cost him dearly. Some consequences include: (1) he never saw his mother again, (2) his brother wanted to kill him, (3) Jacob was exiled from his family for years, (4) he was deceived by his uncle, (5) his family became torn by strife, (6) Esau apparently got the material inheritance (although not the divine promise) and became the founder of an enemy nation.

·         Jacob’s life had 5 stages, divided by 4 personal encounters with God (Gen 28:13–15; 31:3; 32:24–30; 46:2–4). Each encounter progressively turned Jacob into a more mature person.

·         When Esau lost the blessing, his future suddenly changed. Reacting in anger, he decided to kill Jacob. When you lose something of great value, or if others conspire against you and succeed, anger is the first and most natural reaction. But you can control your feelings by: (1) recognizing your reaction for what it is, (2) praying for strength, and (3) asking God for help to see the opportunities that even your bad situation may provide.

·         God made promises to Abraham and Isaac. But it is not enough to be Abraham’s grandson; Jacob had to establish his own relationship with God. God has no grandchildren; each of us must have a personal relationship with God. It is not enough to have Christian parents and live in a Christian family.