Here the intimate, holy, personal Name of God is seen in relationship to His people in a profound and literal way.
The events of this chapter follow on the heels of Yaakov’s wonderful prophetic dream at Beiyt El. Yaakov appears to arrive in Charan devoid of material wealth, which in itself is a testimony to his tenacity, character and belief in HaShem. Many focus on the ironic trickery of Laban and see these events as Yaakov getting his just deserts, however, as I have previously noted, Yaakov was the one who was dealt with unjustly regarding the birth-right and the blessing of the first-born: so too here, he is dealt with unjustly by Laban, an idolatrous and wicked man who, in a genuine case of irony, unwittingly helps to further the plan of HaShem for Yaakov’s life.
In the account of the blessing, Yitzchak is fooled for his own good and the good of his future offspring. So too, in the account of Yaakov’s marriages to Leah and Rachel, Yaakov is fooled for his own good and the good of the future tribes of Israel. Knowing this, we’re able to properly discern the present circumstances as being due to God’s planning and not as some sort of punitive punishment serving the superstitious notion that Yaakov is reaping what he’s sown. Interpretation of this kind only serves to impugn God’s character and place undue blame on Yaakov.
The familiar setting of a life-giving well acts as a symbol of God’s continued provision. We have seen this wonderful symbol of hidden water revealed in the lives of Avraham and Yitzchak, and have understood its connection to covenant, blessing and prosperity. Now we see these living waters participating again in the marital union of the Patriarchal and Matriarchal line (Gen 24). The correlation between the well and the courting practices of the Patriarchs’ is significant in Hebrew thought and culture. It was at a well that Eli-etzer (My God’s servant) met Yitzchak’s (He laughs) bride Rivkah (Captivating), and later in Israel’s history Moshe (drawn out) meets his bride Zipporah (Bird, early departure) at a well (Be’er: spring, well. From the root Ba’ar: to make plain, distinct, to make clear, to declare, letters on a tablet).
To the Hebrew, the well is considered a symbol of wisdom because the waters of a well are hidden beneath the earth and must be sought out. Wisdom in turn is linked to women and their role as home builders (Proverbs 14:1). Wisdom, as personified in the proverbs (1-9) of Shlomo (Peace), is linked to the Creation of the world and the voice/living Word of Hashem. Thus the well has great significance, physically, figuratively, metaphorically and spiritually. It is a place of clarity, union, provision, blessing, covenant, intimacy, and Divine revelation. Its living waters (Mayim chayim) are a consistent reminder of the merciful provision of God in arid places.
Gen 29:1 Then lifting his feet, Yaakov (follows at the heel) walked forth, and came to the land of the children of the east.
The lifting of Yaakov’s feet denotes lightness and freedom of purpose as he moves forward on his journey toward intimacy with HaShem. Like the Patriarchs who came before him he goes in agreement with HaShem’s purpose and comes to the land of his mother’s family with nothing more than that which has necessitated his travel.
Gen 29:2 And he looked, and v’hinei (suddenly) behold a well in the field, and, v’hinei (suddenly) behold, three flocks of sheep were lying there by it. - For out of that well they watered the flocks. And the great stone (v’ha-even g’dolah) was upon the well's mouth.
Both the presence of the three flocks and the well itself are a testimony to HaShem’s hand upon Yaakov’s journey. Yaakov has come to a place where the very sight of Hashem’s provision will renew his strength. This is because he has trusted in Hashem (Isaiah 40:31).
The great stone over the mouth of the well prevented water from being stolen and acted as a safeguard against children falling into the well. The Torah emphasises the size of the stone in order to prepare the reader for the miraculous strength that will be exhibited by Yaakov in rolling it away.
Gen 29:3 And gathered there were all the flocks; and they rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone back upon the well's mouth in its place.
This can be understood in two ways. Either this is a commentary on the customary practice of the shepherds and herdsmen, or it has taken place as Yaakov approached.
Gen 29:4 And Yaakov said to them: 'My brothers (achiym), where are you from?' And they said: 'We’re from Charan (Scorched mountain).' Gen 29:5 And he said to them: ‘Do you know Laban (white) the son of Nachor (snorting)?' And they replied: 'We know him.' Gen 29:6 And he said to them: 'Is it well with him?' And they said: 'It is well; and, behold, Rachel (Ewe) his daughter is coming with the sheep (Ha-tzon).'
The cultural etiquette of the Middle East requires Yaakov to call these men brothers (achiym), however, they are not literally his blood relatives. Additionally, it is right that he asks after his uncle’s wellbeing. He is also wanting to receive accurate directions for finding his uncle’s dwellings.
It is noteworthy that the Hebrew, “Ha-tzon” is used here to describe the sheep that Rachel is tending. This Hebrew word can refer to small herded animals in general, as well as to sheep specifically, but does not refer to standard sized cattle. Rachel’s name, which means “Ewe”, is connected to her role as a shepherdess, both physically and spiritually. She is soon to become the shepherdess of the tribes of Israel.
Gen 29:7 And he said: 'Listen, it’s mid-day, it’s not yet time to gather the livestock (Ha-mik’neh) together; so water the sheep (Ha-tzon), and go and feed them.' Gen 29:8 And they said: 'We cannot, until all the herds are gathered together, and they roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we’ll water the sheep.'
Yaakov, seeing that Rachel, Laban’s daughter was approaching, wanted to endear himself to her and to Laban by facilitating the watering of her flock. His request also takes into account that if Rachel is made to wait until the evening when the large cattle are coming in to water, her flock will become secondary to the watering of the herds of the others and she may lose some of her animals due to dehydration. Not to mention the imposition it would be to her.
The herdsmen and shepherds of the region show their lack of honour and their selfish intent by refusing to move the great stone. They know that the stone can only be moved by several men (29:8) and therefore, they’re smug in their firm position, refusing to help water Rachel’s flock. The phrase, “we can’t” should be understood to mean, “we won’t”. It’s possible that Rachel is disliked by the shepherds and herdsmen of the region because of her father’s reputation.
Gen 29:9 While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father's sheep; for she was a shepherdess.
The fact that Rachel came alone may indicate that Laban has limited resources, both in people and herds. In fact, Laban did not become prosperous until after he had met Yaakov (30:30). Leah, being weak in the eyes, that is, with an eye condition that would have made the task of shepherding impossible for her, was not able to shepherd her father’s sheep. Therefore, Rachel was given the task.
Gen 29:10 And it came to pass, when Yaakov saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother's brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother's brother, that Yaakov went near, and rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother's brother.
The repetition of the unnecessary phrase, “Laban, his mother’s brother” connects all of Yaakov’s actions to the righteousness of his mother Rivkah, so as to make clear to the reader that Yaakov is not honouring his wicked uncle through his actions. In other words, the righteousness of Rivkah is being offerred onto Rachel and Leah and not upon Laban.
The fact that Yaakov was able to move the great stone away from the mouth of the well denotes miraculous, God given strength. He has travelled far, has not yet received water himself and has shifted a stone that usually takes several men to move. This action shows Yaakov’s righteous character, his care for women, his holy tenacity and his unrelenting pursuit of all that God has promised him. He is rightly named Yaakov (Follower/Grasper after the heel), for he continues to reach beyond his own grasp in order to take hold of the things that can only be grasped in HaShem.
When we compare the well (Be’er) meetings of Eli-etzer and Moshe (Moses) to that of Yaakov, we see some beautiful examples of the unique roles that individuals play in service to God (Gen 24, Exodus 2). Eli-etzer (My God’s servant) was a man of prayer, who through integrity, commitment and piety received a miraculous answer from Hashem during his well encounter with Rivkah, and returned to present his master’s son with his captivating bride. Eli-etzer lived his name, serving his God through right action. Moshe (Moses: drawn out), becomes a champion to Zipporah (bird) and her sisters, drawing them out from an abusive situation and thus gains a home, having previously lost everything as a former son to Pharaoh and a prince in Egypt. Finally Yaakov (Grasps after the heel), employees his tenacious spirit to reach beyond his own limitations in the strength of God and roll away the stone that had prevented Rachel from getting life giving water for her flock. Thus Yaakov follows after the heel of the Life Giving Water, The Healer, The Shepherd of Israel, the Malakh (angel, messenger) of HaShem, Yeshua, The Water of living Himself, God with us.
Gen 29:11 And Yaakov kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept. Gen 29:12 And Yaakov told Rachel that he was her father's brother (Blood, kindred), and that he was Rivkah's (Captivating) son; and she ran and told her father.
Yaakov kissed Rachel as a relative, and not in a romantic way, because to do so prior to making a betrothal contract would have shamed Rachel. This is another reason why the phrase, “Laban, my mother’s brother” was employed by the writer of the text three times in the previous verse. He is kissing Rachel here as a cousin.
We can only conjecture as to why Yaakov wept. Perhaps he wept out of relief, having finally made it to his destination and due to coming into contact with a member of his mother’s family. He may also have wept at his lack of means and his inability to offer anything of value for a bride. After all, the purpose of his journey was to find a bride among the daughters of his mother’s brother Laban.
He lifted up his voice and proclaimed before all present that he was Rachel’s cousin and the son of her aunt Rivkah, whom she is sure to have heard stories about. Rachel may well have been familiar with the story of her aunt Rivkah’s betrothal through the servant Eli-etzer and for this reason her excitement builds at the possibility of her own betrothal. Thus she runs to fetch her father Laban.
Gen 29:13 And it came to pass, when Laban heard news of Yaakov his sister's son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house (Beiyto).
Laban’s character gives cause for speculation as to his motives for running to meet Yaakov. The Sages teach that Laban ran to Yaakov because he was confident that Yaakov must be laden with wealth and gifts. He thought, “If Eli-etzer, a mere servant had come with 10 richly laden camels (24:10), then Yitzchak’s heir must be bringing great wealth with him (Rashi). Both the Midrash and Rashi suggest that Laban, seeing Yaakov had no wealth, hugged him in order to feel his garments for jewels and valuables he might be keeping on his person. Whatever the truth may be, the Scripture details Laban’s actions and his idolatry, from which we can infer a his motivations.
And he told Laban all that had happened. Gen 29:14 And Laban said to him: 'Surely you’re my bone and my flesh.' And he (Yaakov) stayed with him (Laban) for a month.
We note that once Yaakov has explained his present situation to Laban, Laban’s response is one of obligation, “You can stay because your my blood”. Yaakov is no longer someone from whom Laban can glean material wealth.
Gen 29:15 And Laban said unto Yaakov: 'Just because you’re my brother (Blood, kindred), should you serve me for nothing? Tell me, what should your wages be?'
From this we determine that Yaakov worked for his keep the entire time he was with Laban. It was no free ride. Laban offers wages, perhaps because he has prospered while Yaakov has been with him, and because he wants to benefit further from having Yaakov in his community. After all, where Yaakov is there is blessing because of the promises of God.
Gen 29:16 Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah (weary/impatient), and the name of the younger was Rachel (Ewe).
The text refers to the daughters of Laban in terms of birth order, to make sense of Yaakov’s request in verse 18.
Gen 29:17 And Leah's eyes were weak (tender, delicate); but Rachel was of beautiful form and fair to look upon.
Leah is said to have a condition of the eyes and the Hebrew denotes weakness, meaning that this condition was debilitating. It may also infer that she was homely looking, making the comparison to Rachel’s form and beauty all the more poignant.
As He has done so many times in the past, HaShem will lift up the weak for His glory. By the end of this chapter Leah will have become the mother of a third of Yaakov’s sons, and the Matriarch to the Priesthood (Levi), and the Davidic and Messianic Kingships (Y’hudah) of Israel.
Gen 29:18 And Yaakov loved Rachel; and he said: 'I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.'
Yaakov’s love for Rachel is identified pursuant to the description of her looks. However, he had already noted her service as a shepherdess and there is no reason to believe that his love for her was mere physical attraction. To offer seven years of service for Rachel’s hand is extravagant and shows both his passion and commitment to loving her. He makes clear that he is offering this service for the hand of the younger daughter.
Gen 29:19 And Laban said: 'It is better that I give her to you, than that I should give her to another man; stay with me.'
Laban says nothing of his intention to marry Leah off first. Either he is hoping Leah will be wed within the next seven years or he has always planned to trick Yaakov. The seven years is spiritually symbolic of completion and prosperity and shows Yaakov to be a man of character, who, although he knows that HaShem has blessed him and promised him a great inheritance, makes no demands for special treatment.
Gen 29:20 And Yaakov served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed to him but a few days, because of his love for her.
This is more than infatuation or mere physical attraction. Yaakov, according to betrothal custom, did not cohabitate with Rachel for the period of the seven years. It is clear that he genuinely loved Rachel.
Gen 29:21 And Yaakov said unto Laban: 'Give me my wife, so that I may go in unto her, for my days are fulfilled.'
This is one of the few graphic sexual statements in the Torah. The phrase, “Go in unto her” could be translated in modern terms as, “Go into her”. While this might seem vulgar, it is an important qualifying statement concerning Rachel’s virginity and Yaakov’s righteous actions toward her over the seven year betrothal period. The traditional betrothal period was set at up to one year, thus Yaakov had waited seven times the traditional period for his bride.
Rashi notes that Yaakov was 84 years old at this point in the narrative and is concerned about producing progeny in fulfilment of the blessing of HaShem.
Gen 29:22 And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast.
Drunkenness and debauchery were common practice at the feasts of idolaters. Thus it seems that Yaakov may well have over indulged in alcohol, making him an easy target for the deception that follows. One could say that like Yitzchak before him, he had become blind. It would be no surprise if we were to learn that Laban had encouraged him to drink excessively during the wedding feast celebrations.
Gen 29:23 And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her. Gen 29:24 And Laban gave Zilpah (A trickling like myrrh) his maid servant to his daughter Leah for a maid servant.
Laban’s disregard for his daughters’ feelings aside, it is hard to imagine that Rachel was not complicit in this. Marriage was essential to an ancient woman’s survival and Rachel, seeing that her sister was unlikely to attract a husband, may well have acted to include her in the arrangement that Laban had made with Yaakov, with the end goal of getting both herself and her sister out of the idolatrous household of Laban in pursuit of a better future.
Rashi notes, in reference to Megillah 13b, that Zilpah was the younger of the two maid servants and thus helped to solidify the illusion that Yaakov was receiving Rachel into his tent on his wedding night.
Gen 29:25 And it came to pass in the morning that, hinei (suddenly) behold, there was Leah;
The Hebrew, “hinei” denotes a sudden revelation, a surprising discovery. Thus it seems that Yaakov must have been extremely intoxicated in order to have been fooled the night before. Add to this the deep darkness that falls over communities at night in places where city light doesn’t cause the skies to become luminous and the moon is in its later phases, and it seems more than possible for a deception like this to succeed.
and he (Yaakov) said to Laban: 'What is this you have done to me? Didn’t I serve with you for Rachel? Why have you tricked me?' Gen 29:26 And Laban said: 'It’s not our custom in this place, to give the younger daughter in marriage before the first-born. Gen 29:27 Fulfil the wedding week of this one, and we will give you the other also for another seven years’ service.' Gen 29:28 And Yaakov did so, and fulfilled her wedding week; and he gave him Rachel his daughter for a wife. Gen 29:29 And Laban gave to Rachel his daughter Bilhah (troubled) his maid servant to be her maid servant. Gen 29:30 And he (Yaakov) went in also unto Rachel, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served with him another seven years.
It may or may not have been the custom of Laban’s community to give the eldest daughter in marriage before the younger. Regardless, Laban has acted deceptively. To Yaakov’s credit, he agrees to honour his marriage commitment to Leah and to work an additional seven years in order to secure his marriage to Rachel. The later Torah instruction forbidding a man to marry both a woman and her sister while both are living, may well be the result of an oral tradition passed down from Yaakov as a warning against the pitfalls of such an arrangement (Leviticus 18:18).
The wedding week (Judges 14:17) was an obligatory week for the purpose of consummating the marriage and celebrating with wider family and community.
Gen 29:31 And HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) saw that Leah was hated (s’nuah), and he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.
The term, “s’nuah” hated, is better understood as, “unloved” (v.30) in this context. It is used as the counterpoint to love, rather than to convey malice.
HaShem shows mercy to Leah, knowing that at least for a time, Rachel will be enjoying her newlywed status and the genuine affection of her husband while Leah is neglected. It is however part of the husband’s obligation to provide seed for procreation. Therefore, Leah was not neglected in the marriage bed.
Gen 29:32 And Leah conceived, and bore a son, and she called his name Reuven (See a son); for she said: 'Because HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.'
Children were greatly desired in this ancient culture where a man’s name, culture, religion and identity lived on through his male descendants. Leah determined that having given birth, she would find favour and love because of her husband’s desire for progeny. Leah, although the less loved of the two wives of Yaakov, is none the less privileged with giving birth to Israel’s firstborn. In fact, as previously mentioned, she will become the Matriarch of the Priesthood (Levi) and the Davidic and Messianic Kingships of Israel (Y’hudah).
Gen 29:33 And she conceived again, and bore a son; and said: 'Because HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has heard that I am hated, He has therefore given me this son also.' And she called his name Shim’eon (heard).
The naming of both Reuven and Shimeon emphasise the fact that God hears in mercy and acts to deliver His children from suffering: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. These names also reflect the naming of Ishmael.
Gen 29:34 And she conceived again, and bore a son; and said: 'Now this time my husband will be joined unto me, because I have birthed him three sons.' Therefore, his name was called Leivi (joined to).
It is clear from Leah’s progression of statements regarding the births, that Yaakov has still not changed his view of her or his manner toward her. Thus, at the birth of Levi, the third son (A significant number), she hopes that not only will Yaakov love her for her children’s sake but will also spend more time with her and develop a stronger bond with her through the children they share. Of course, Levi and the priesthood born of him are to be joined to God
Gen 29:35 And she conceived again, and bore a son; and she said: 'This time I will praise HaShem (YHVH: Mercy).' Therefore she called his name Y’hudah (praise); and she left off bearing.
In the case of the first three sons, Leah has given glory to God and has then focused on how the birth of the boys might benefit her in relationship to her husband Yaakov. This time however, at the birth of Y’hudah, something changes. Here she simply says, “This time I will praise Hashem.” No mention of how the birth of Y’hudah might benefit her, only praise for Hashem. Through great turmoil of heart and emotional suffering, Leah has come to a place of trust. She now recognises that her identity is not in Yaakov but in HaShem. Therefore, she names her son Y’hudah (Praise).
The name Y’hudah has greater significance than any of the names given to the other 11 sons of Yaakov. Over 360 times, the Tanakh both directly and indirectly relates the Name of God to the Jewish people. This account gives birth to a revelation of the intimate connection between God and the Y’hudiym (Jews). Here the intimate, holy, personal Name of God is seen in relationship to His people in a profound and literal way. The Hebrew name Y’HVDaH (Y’hudah) meaning praise, has the Name of the One Who is to be praised imbedded within it, YHV(D)H. Simply by removing the character Dalet “D”, the Holy Name is revealed. Thus it is in Y’hudah that the light of the nations dwells and out of Y’hudah will come the light of God with Us, the Messiah and King, Yeshua. Therefore, the light that Y’hudah will bring to the nations is entirely reliant on YHVH. The removed character Dalet, meaning, “Door” teaches us that YHVDH (Y’hudah) will become a door through which the nations will meet HaShem (YHVH). All this is born in the womb of an unloved woman.
“Amen, amen truly I tell you P’rushiym, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the door, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the door is the Shepherd of the sheep. The doorkeeper opens the door for Him, and the sheep listen to His voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all His own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”Yeshua (Jesus) used this figure of speech, but the P’rushiym did not understand what He was telling them. Therefore Yeshua said again, “Amen, amen, truly I tell you, I am the door for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the door; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” –Yochanan/John 10:1-10
This is why Yeshua says, “Salvation (Yeshua: the door/gate) is of the Y’hudiym (Jews: YHVDH)” [Yochanan/John 4:22].
© 2017 Yaakov Brown
“The joy filled One laughed, and calling for the one who followed at His heel, He blessed him, and instructed him saying, “Don’t take a wife from the daughters who dwell in low places. Arise, and go to the place where you will be elevated and rescued, to the house where God dwells, the house of your mother’s Father, and take for yourself a wife from there, from the daughters of righteousness, your mother’s Brother.
The beginning of this chapter concludes the final sidra of Toldot (Generations) with Yitzchak giving Yaakov yet another blessing and sending him to Laban at the request of Rivkah. The remaining portion of the chapter begins Vayeitzei (and he went out) and records Yaakov’s dream of the stairway/ladder connecting heaven and earth. This dream reveal’s a great deal concerning the character of God and the future Messiah. The rich symbolism in this story illuminates our understanding of Yaakov’s journey and gives us insight into the future relationship between God and Israel.
28:1 So Yitzchak (He laughs) called for Yaakov (Follower at the heel), blessed him, and instructed him saying, “Don’t take a wife from the daughters of C’naan (lowland). 2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram (Field of Aram, Route to Aram, Elevated rescue), to the house of B’tuel (Daughter of God, Abode of God), your mother’s father, and take for yourself a wife from there, from the daughters of Laban (White, righteousness), your mother’s brother.
We begin this chapter with Yitzchak ratifying the blessing. Yaakov had tricked Yitzchak into giving him the blessing of the first born, which as we have previously understood, rightfully belonged to Yaakov. Now, however, Yitzchak blesses Yaakov of his own free will, thus affirming the previous blessing and adding to it. The words of the blessing are articulated in verse 3 of this chapter.
The p’shat, plain meaning of the text is clear: “Don’t take a wife from the daughters of idolatry. You are to go to your mother’s family to get a bride from our bloodline”, that is, the bloodline through which HaShem has chosen to perpetuate His plan of salvation for humanity.
“Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and HaShem’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.” –D’varim/Deuteronomy 7:3-4
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” –2 Corinthians 6:14 (NIV)
There is also a remez, a hint at something more and a sod, a mystery born of allegory, present in the text. The Hebrew nouns used allude to a spiritual truth that acts in unity with the physical reality. The following is a reading of the text using the meanings of the various nouns:
“The joy filled One laughed, and calling for the one who followed at His heel, He blessed him, and instructed him saying, “Don’t take a wife from the daughters who dwell in low places. Arise, and go to the place where you will be elevated and rescued, to the house where God dwells, the house of your mother’s Father, and take for yourself a wife from there, from the daughters of righteousness, your mother’s Brother.”
To be clear, The Joy filled One is HaShem, the follower is the children of Israel (Yaakov), the wife-to-be, is a servant of HaShem born of the blood of Israel and Rivkah the mother, whose name means captivating, is the daughter of HaShem. Thus HaShem is the Father and the Righteous One to whom the daughter is spiritually born is the Moshiyach (Yeshua: God the Son), who is fully God and fully human and is descended from Rivkah’s Fathers’ bloodline, both her physical father and her heavenly Father.
These opening verses are also pretext to what is about to unfold, that Yaakov will meet Righteousness Himself in an Elevated place, and will name a place Beiyt El (House of God) in remembrance of this divine encounter.
3 Now may El Shaddai (God Almighty, Protector) bless you, and make you fruitful and multiply you so that you will become a lik’hal (assembly) of peoples. 4 And may He give you the blessing of Avraham (Father of many nations), to you and to your seed with you that you may take possession of the land of your sojourn, which God gave to Avraham.” 5 Then Yitzchak sent Yaakov away and he went toward Paddan-aram, to Laban the son of B’tuel the Aramean (Ha-aram, Exalted, Person of Aram), the brother of Rivkah, the mother of Yaakov and Esau.
This blessing is a continuation of the covenant blessing of Avraham (17:1) and uses the covenant Name of God, “El Shaddai” (God the Almighty Protector). There can be no doubt that the covenant made by God with Avraham, while he slept, is being ratified to Yaakov and the ethnic people of Israel. This covenant blessing is not reliant on the children of Israel acting a certain way, rather it is entirely reliant of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), El Shaddai (God Almighty).
The use of the Hebrew, “lik’hal” (assembly, ecclesia) denotes a diverse people of the same blood. That is, the tribes of ethnic Israel.
This blessing is given as an extension of the former blessing (27:28), meaning that the blessings of prosperity would take place in the land of Israel, whereas Esau’s blessing would be fulfilled elsewhere (Rambam re: 27:39).
Yitzchak states explicitly here that he is conveying upon Yaakov, “The Blessing of Avraham”, and thus, he restates the primary aspects of that blessing.
It is important to note that there is no mention of Yaakov being sent away with any wealth. In fact, it seems clear from his status while in Laban’s company: that Yaakov arrived in Charan devoid of wealth. This is unusual, given that the birth-right entitled him to the majority share of the family wealth. However, Yitzchak had not yet died and it seems that Yaakov’s parents expected his journey to mirror Elietzer’s journey to retrieve a bride for Yitzchak. Thus they expected Yaakov to return in a reasonably short space of time. Given the tradition of a one year engagement, this would place his expected return within two years.
The reason for the obvious statement, “Rivkah, the mother of Yaakov and Esau” is to emphasise the fact that while the sons are of the same blood, it is the one chosen who becomes heir. Election originates from God and is not subject to human desire. Yaakov has not earned his position, to the contrary, it is by the grace of God and through election that Yaakov has come into the blessing.
6 Now Esau (Hairy) saw that Yitzchak (He laughs) blessed Yaakov (Follower at the heel) when he sent him to Paddan-aram (Elevated ransom, Field of Aram) to take for himself a wife from there, when he blessed him and instructed him saying, “Don’t take a wife from the daughters of C’naan.” 7 Yaakov yish’ma (listened to, understood, obeyed) his father Yitzchak and his mother and went toward Paddan-aram. 8 Then Esau saw that the daughters of C’naan were contemptible in his father Yitzchak’s eyes. 9 So Esau went to Ishmael (Hears God) and took Machalat (stringed instrument), the daughter of Ishmael, Avraham’s son, Nebaiot’s (Fruitfulness) sister for his wife, in addition to his other wives.
Esau, having witnessed the second blessing bestowed upon Yaakov by his father Yitzchak and hearing his father’s instruction regarding where Yaakov should seek a bride, now attempts to gain back some respect from his parents by marrying someone more suitable. Tragically Esau misses the point altogether. He does not act to divorce his idolatrous wives, rather he adds to his retinue, seeking to merge his father’s faith with the false gods of C’naan. Ironically, by marrying a daughter of Ishmael, he is aligning himself with the enemies of God and of Israel. Therefore, Esau, seeking to curry favour with man, affirms his rejection of God.
Parashat Vayetze (And he went out)
The following events are a wonderful testimony to the grace of God. Yaakov has not set out seeking God but He has gone with God’s blessing. Yaakov, who spoke to his father saying, “HaShem your Elohiym”, has yet to meet HaShem face to face. He knows off HaShem because of the generational faith passed on to him from his father Yitzchak, and Yaakov is also a man of study, having researched and memorised the history of HaShem’s dealings with his forebears. However, his knowledge is according to earthly record, he has yet to encounter the living Word, the present Creator of the Universe. We observe that although Yaakov was not searching for HaShem, HaShem comes to him. We add to this that HaShem asks nothing of Yaakov, but that Yaakov wants to respond, and so he makes a vow, not as a bargain but as a show of his desire to know HaShem intimately.
“Elohiym demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Messiah (God with us) died for us.” –Romans 5:8
10 Then Yaakov left Beer-sheva (Well of sevenfold oath) and went toward Charan (Scorched mountain). 11Vayif’ga, And he had an encounter Bamakoom in the place and stayed there, for the sun had set. So he took from the stones (meiavneiy: plural) of Ha-makoom, the place and put them by his head and lay down Bamakoom, in the place.
Yaakov has come to Beiyt El (Bethel), however, the text hints (remez) at the location of the destination which is about to be revealed in the dream that follows, saying, “Ha-makoom” (The Place), which is a name for the Temple Mount, Moriah.
The Sages interpret the Hebrew, “Vayif’ga” to mean, “prayed” (Job 21:15, 36:32, Isaiah 53:12, 59:16, Jer 7:16, 15:11, 27:18, 36:25). Based on this interpretation the Sages say that Yaakov instituted the Ar’viyt (evening) prayer service. This translation of vayif’ga (paga) is however, relatively rare when compared to its contextual meaning throughout the remainder of the text of the Tanakh, and it is not used this way elsewhere in the Torah. When we add to this that there is nothing in the text to indicate that Yaakov is intentionally seeking God, we must conclude that the more common meaning, “encountered, met” is the correct interpretation.
We note that Yaakov takes from the stones (Plural) and lies his head on them. However, later in the text he takes the stone (singular) and sets it as a memorial.
The Sages tell a mashal (parable) regarding the stones, saying that the stones argued over who would be the pillow for the righteous head of Yaakov. As a result, God is said to have combined them into one stone. While this is not a historical fact, the meaning can be seen in the simple symbolism of the many stones becoming one (echad). Thus the tribes of Israel, an assembly (lik’hal) of blood related peoples, become echad, one people.
12 He dreamed: v’hineih (and suddenly), there was a sulam (stairway or ladder) standing upright on the land (artzah) and its top reaching to the heavens-- v’hineih (and suddenly), mal’acheiy (messengers, angels) of Elohiym (God) oliym (ascending: plural) going up v’yor’diym (descending: plural) and down!
This dream initiates a section of the text that takes place after sundown. A section that is, in its entirety, focussed on Yaakov’s dream and the place seen in it. This section covers verses 12 through 17 and concerns the subject of the dream, which is the sulam, ladder/staircase, often called, “Jacob’s ladder”. Although, what becomes clear is that it is HaShem’s ladder/staircase, which is the gate/doorway to the heavens (a figurative way of saying, it is the means by which humanity can be reconciled to God).
So what is the ladder/staircase? Yeshua answers this question by saying:
“Hinei, Behold, I tell you the truth, you will see ‘the heavens open, and the angels of Elohiym (God) ascending and descending on’ (Gen. 28:12) the Son of Man.” –Yochanan/John 1:51
“Son of Man” is a messianic reference from the writings of the prophet Daniel (God is my Judge) [Dan. 7:13; 8:17]. Thus Yeshua is saying that He is the ladder/stairway which is pictured in Yaakov’s dream. Yeshua is the gateway/doorway to right relationship with God the Father, Who stands atop the ladder, and both beside and above Yaakov in his dream. God is before us, beside us, below us and above us, and if we are willing, He will dwell in us.
For contextual purposes it is wise to read the entire first chapter of Yochanan/John’s gospel, which illuminates the person and role of Yeshua as the person of God with us.
It makes sense that the location and imagery of Yaakov’s dream should be understood to be a figurative vision correlating to the future physical Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, because it is also a vision that connects Jacob and the people of Israel to the Heavenly Mishkhan (Meeting place) that is yet to descend, that is, God Himself dwelling with us, as recorded in the Revelation given to Yochanan/John (Rev. 21:22). “I saw no temple in the city (New Jerusalem): HaShem El Shaddai and the Lamb will be its Temple”
This text also has a lovely connection to the modern state of Israel and its Aliyah (right of return) policy, which affectionately labels new groups of Jewish immigrants to the land of Israel, “Oliym”, ascending ones.
13 v’hineih (and suddenly), HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) was standing on top of it (above him, beside to him) and He said, “I am HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), Ha-Elohiym (the God) of your father Avraham and Ha-Elohiym (the God) of Yitzchak. Ha-aretz (The land) on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your seed. 14 Your seed will be as the dust of the land, and you will burst forth to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south. And blessing you (v’niv’rachoo), all the families of the earth will be blessed—and in your seed. 15 v’hineih (and suddenly), Behold, I am with you, and I will watch over you wherever you walk, and I will return you to this ground (ha-adamah), for I will not forsake you while I fashion what I have spoken (promised) to you.”
Scripture customarily uses the Hebrew, “Hinei” to introduce something new and significant. The Akeidat Yitzchak notes that the frequent use of the term in this account denotes an event of great importance.
“Suddenly, Mercy (HaShem) was standing with Yeshua (Jacob’s Ladder) and said, ‘I am Mercy, the Judge of all things, the God of Avraham your father, and the God of Yitzchak. The land of Israel, which you’re lying on, I will give to you and your descendants.”
Notice that HaShem doesn’t call Yitzchak Yaakov’s father, but places the emphasis on Avraham being Yaakov’s father. This is yet another affirmation of the covenant of Avraham upon Yaakov and the ethnic children of Israel.
16 Yaakov woke up from his sleep and said, “Undoubtedly, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) is standing in this place (Bamakoom)—and I was unaware.” 17 So he was afraid and said, “What fear is in this place! This is none other than Beiyt Elohiym (the House of God)--this must be the gate to the heavens!”
“HaShem is standing in this place”, that is, the place in his dream. “I was unaware”, that HaShem had placed His name upon Ha-makoom (The place), Moriah. “What fear is in this place”, that is, the place in his dream. “This is none other than Beiyt Elohim, the house of God”, a title for the Temple in Jerusalem atop mount Moriah. “This must be the gate to the heavens”, that is, this ladder/stairway must be the gate/doorway to the heavens.
“Ein zeh, this place I saw in my dream that the ladder was standing upon. It can be none other than Beiyt Elohiym, the site of the Temple. Our Sages (Pessachim 88) have said that Yaakov called the Temple ‘House’,” –Sforno on Genesis 28:17:2
“This is not an ordinary place but a sanctuary for God’s name, a place suitable for prayer.” –Targum Yonatan
Speaking of the Temple in Jerusalem the prophet Isaiah says:
“These I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” –Yishaiyahu/Isaiah 56:7
18 Early in the morning Yaakov got up and took the stone (singular), which he had placed by his head, and set it up as a memorial stone and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Beiyt-El (though originally the city’s name was Luz-almond tree).
This section refers to a place other than the place in the dream, which is called, “this” place. Here Yaakov sets up a single stone in, “that” place. Thus, the former place is Moriah, the Temple Mount which Yaakov saw in his dream, whereas the current place is differentiated from the dream place and is called, “that” place, meaning Beiyt El, which was once called Luz. It is important to note that Beiyt El (Bethel) is only 18 kilometers east of Jerusalem and that Mount Moriah can be seen from Beiyt El.
The oil poured upon the stone is a symbol of the Ruach Ha-kodesh (Holy Spirit) and His being poured out upon the people of Israel, made one through Yeshua, Who is the head and King over Yaakov and his sons. It is worth remembering that stone is porous and absorbs oil into its deepest recesses. We too invite the oil of God’s Ruach to become infused with our own spirits, an intrinsic part of our soul existence and to ignite the overflow of eternal hope in us.
20 Then Yaakov made a vow saying (l’mor), “If Elohiym (God, Judge) will be with me and watch over me on this way that I am going, and provide me food to eat and clothes to wear, 21 and I return in shalom to my father’s house, then HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) will be lee l’elohiym (my God).
The word, “l’mor”, saying, usually denotes a vow formula, which is intended to be said allowed and used by others. However, there is no one to whom Yaakov could be speaking the vow other than Hashem. Therefore, the Sages suggest that his words are meant to be passed on to future generations as an example.
Contrary to popular teaching, Yaakov’s vow does not show mistrust, rather it is because He believes that God will do what He has promised that Yaakov wants to respond by offering a promise of his own. This is another step in Yaakov’s journey toward intimacy with HaShem.
A paraphrase of Yaakov’s vow could read:
“If Elohiym, the Judge of all things, will be with me as He has said, and He will watch over me on this way I’m going, and provide all my needs, and return me in peace to my father’s house. Then HaShem, the God of mercy, will have shown that He is my God, and as a symbolic gesture of my thankfulness I will continually give Him a percentage of the wealth He has provided for me, that figuratively represents all that I have and am.”
Yaakov’s vow is made up of what would eventually become the primary elements of the standing prayer, Ha-Amidah, and in turn is reflected in the Disciples Prayer (Teffilat Ha-Talmidim) that Yeshua taught to His talmidim:
“You should pray like this: Our Father Who dwells in the heavens, may Your name be kept Holy. Your kingdom come, Your will be done in earth, as it is in the heavens.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into trials, but reach down and tear us up and out of that which is evil: For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
22 So this stone which I set up as a memorial stone will become a Beiyt Elohiym (God’s House), and of everything You provide me I will repeatedly give a tenth of it to You.”
The stone, which has been Yaakov’s pillow, a symbol of the unity of the future tribes of Israel and a symbol that connects Yaakov/Israel to the foundation of the earthly Temple, the means of redemption Yeshua/Jacob’s Ladder, and the heavenly Temple to come; is set up not to be worshipped but as a sign of remembrance (zikharon) of what God has done, what He is doing and what He has promised to do.
© 2017 Yaakov Brown
While it’s true that Yaakov, encouraged by his mother, does act deceptively, it is also true that he should not have been placed in a position where he had to act this way in order to receive what was rightfully his.
We begin this chapter with the knowledge that Esau has legally sold his birth-right to Yaakov, along with all that is attached to it, including the blessing of the first-born. Esau has also rejected the women of his parent’s bloodline and married foreign women (idolaters), much to the chagrin of his parents. We know that each of Esau’s poor decisions denote a rejection of the God of Avraham and Yitzchak and place him in a position where he cannot inherit the promises of God. Yitzchak’s journey from generational to personal faith and God’s establishing of the faith of Avraham for the next generation leads us to this final sidra (section) of the Torah portion Toldot, which describes the passing on of the birth-right, family priesthood and blessing of the first-born to Yaakov, who himself has yet to have an intimate personal encounter with the God of Avraham and Yitzchak.
Many have focused on Yaakov’s deception and presume flawed character and sinful practice from the present text. However, they fail to consider the fact that either Esau has knowingly kept the information about the sale of his birth-right to himself, or Yitzchak, knowing that the birth-right had been sold, has none the less failed to establish the sale by approving Yaakov as the rightful heir to the family inheritance and the blessing of the first-born, which is attached to the birth-right. While it’s true that Yaakov, encouraged by his mother, does act deceptively, it is also true that he should not have been placed in a position where he had to act this way in order to receive what was rightfully his.
Scripture is crystal clear regarding the reasons for God’s rejection of Esau. “Esau despised his birth-right” (Gen. 25:29-34), He married women from outside of the faith of his fathers’ (Gen. 26:34-35) and subsequently, when compared to Yaakov (Israel) by the prophet, it is said of him, “Yaakov I have loved but Esau I have hated” (Malachi 1:3).
“Also see to it that there is no immoral or godless person—like Esau, who sold his birth-right for one meal. For you know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected. He found no chance for repentance, though he begged for it with tears.” –Hebrews 12:16-17 (TLV)
We would be unwise to see Yaakov as a perfect human being, he clearly is not. However, it is equally unwise to impugn his character based on actions that, in the long run, prove that he is a seeker after righteousness, a follower at the heel of the Almighty. His name has many meanings and his new name Israel carries salvation in its contraction of Hebrew terms. But for the time being, deception is his only means for perpetuating his calling. Make no mistake, he is seeking what is rightfully his.
Yitzchak was 60 years old when he fathered Esau and Yaakov (Gen. 25:26). The rabbis calculate his age to be 123 years in the present chapter, based on the fact that Ishmael was 137 when he died (Gen. 25:17) and Yitzchak lived to be 180 (Gen. 35:28). If this is correct, Esau and Yaakov would be 63 years old respectively and these events are taking place 23 years after Esau’s marriages to the daughters of Chet.
Gen 27:1 And it came to pass, that when Yitzchak was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his elder (gadol: bigger, greater) son, and said unto him: 'My son'; and he (Esau) said to him: 'Here I am.' (hineini)
While a number of rabbinical sources give varies explanations regarding the reason for Yitzchak’s failing sight, the plain meaning of the text infers old age as the cause of his blindness. One can’t help but see the providence of God at work here, given that the deception undertaken by Rivkah and Yaakov is entirely reliant on the blindness of Yitzchak, who otherwise would have spotted the deception strait away and left Yaakov without the blessing.
Yitzchak clearly favoured his eldest son Esau, with whom he shared a love for hunting and eating wild game (Gen. 25:28). Yitzchak continues to favour Esau here, despite the grief he has caused Rivkah and Yitzchak over his marriages to the daughters of Chet.
The fact that Yitzchak has called Esau to begin the process of imparting the blessing of the first-born, tells us that he was either unaware of the sale of the birth-right or was intentionally disregarding the fact. If the former is true the sin of the sale rests on Esau’s shoulders alone. This is consistent with the Biblical view of Esau’s character.
We now read Esau’s response, “Hineini, here I am”, the very words of the Akedah binding of Yitzchak (Gen. 22:1, 7, 11). How is Esau’s, “hineini” (Here I am) different from that of Avraham’s? In the Akedah Avraham uses, “hineini” for the first time as a faithful response to God’s calling (Gen 22:1), secondly for the purpose of reassuring his son Yitzchak of God’s faithfulness (Gen 22:7), and finally in order to receive God’s deliverance (Gen. 22:11). Avraham uses this Hebrew term as a statement of absolute trust and faithful intention. Whereas by despising his birth-right and marrying outside the faith of his father, Esau has already shown that he has no respect for the things of God. Therefore, there can be little doubt that his “hineini” is one motivated by his base desire for power and material gain, and in spite of God.
Gen 27:2 And he (Yitzchak) said: 'Behold now (hinei), I am old, I know not the day of my death. Gen 27:3 Now therefore I plead with you to take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and catch me some mitzaydi (game/hunted animal flesh); Gen 27:4 and make me savoury food, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul (nafshi) may bless you before I die.'
This is the point where Esau has an opportunity to fess up. A man of more noble character would have said, “Father I no longer have the right to receive the blessing of the first-born because I despised my birth-right, selling it to my brother and am bound by oath to make this known to you.” However, Esau does no such thing.
From Yitzchak’s request it seems that he is still favouring Esau based on his love for eating wild game. It appears that Yitzchak has decided to ignore Esau’s actions regarding his marriages to the daughters of Chet (terror). We must also presume that Rivkah has kept to herself the intimate prophecy that God had given her prior to the birth of Esau and Yaakov (Gen. 25:22-23).
‘But the children struggled with one another inside her, and she said, “If it’s like this, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of Adonai. Adonai said to her:
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from your body
will be separated.
One people will be stronger
than the other people,
but the older will serve the younger.”’ –Genesis 25:22-23 (TLV)
What does, “that my soul (nafshi) may bless you” mean? It could be as simple as, “When I’m full of good food and content in my body I will be in the best frame of mind for articulating the blessing effectively.” On the other hand it may mean that Yitzchak intends to bless Esau from the core intention of his inner being as heir to the blessings of Avraham. The Hebrew nefesh has multiple uses and can be read either way. However, in the strictest sense it denotes the complete person, mind, body, heart, emotion, core being, spirit and action.
Gen 27:5 And Rivkah (Captivating) heard when Yitzchak spoke to Esau (Hairy) his son. And Esau went to the field to hunt for venison, and to bring it. Gen 27:6 And Rivkah spoke to Yaakov (follower, after the heel) her son, saying: 'Behold (hinei), I heard your father speaking to Esau your brother, saying: Gen 27:7 “Bring me mitzaydi (game/hunted animal flesh), and make me savoury food, that I may eat, and bless you before HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), before my death.
In a close knit tenting community it is not unusual to overhear a conversation. There is no need to presume that Rivkah was intentionally ease dropping.
Gen 27:8 Now therefore, my son, shema (listen, hear, perceive, understand and obey) my voice and do that which I command you. Gen 27:9 Go now to the flock, and fetch me from there two good kids of the goats; and I will make them savoury food for your father, such as he loves; Gen 27:10 and you will take it to your father, so that he may eat, that he may bless you before his death.'
Rivkah grabs Yaakov’s attention by using an important word, “shema”. She is calling him to understand why he must go to his father to receive what God has for him and claim that which he has legally purchased. She is asking Yaakov to stop and take stock of the gravity of the situation and the importance of comprehending its spiritual implications.
Rivkah is said to have been given the promise of an allowance of two kid goats per day, as detailed in the bride price/ketubah Yitzchak had arranged for her prior to their union (Bereshit Rabba, sect. 65. fol. 57. 4. Jarchi in loc.)
We should not presume that Rivkah’s motivation is unholy. After all, she has been told in an intimate conversation with God that her youngest son will rule over his brother. Her motivation is to see this come about, having already recognised the wicked nature of her eldest son, she is determined to see Yaakov prosper.
Of course a wife knows just how to prepare her husband’s favourite dish and how to use food to get what she wants. Add to this the fact that she sends Yaakov to get two kid goats rather than lambs. She knows that the goat meat has a gamier flavour which is similar to the flavour of wild game.
Gen 27:11 And Yaakov said to Rivkah his mother: 'Behold (hinei), Esau my brother is a hairy (sa’ir) man, and I am a smooth man. Gen 27:12 What if my father were to touch me, and expose me as a mocker; and as a result I were to bring a curse upon myself, and not a blessing?'
Yaakov shows that he is aware of the power of blessing and curse. He exhibits a tender conscience and appropriate trepidation toward the idea of outwitting his father.
The Hebrew, “sa’ir” meaning hairy, is also used as a noun to describe a male goat. The word play connects Esau, the hairy goat to the goat skin used to cover Yaakov.
Gen 27:13 And his mother said unto him: ‘May your curse fall on me, my son; only shema (listen) to my voice, and go fetch me the goats.' Gen 27:14 And he went, and fetched, and brought them to his mother; and his mother made savoury food, such as his father loved.
Rivkah’s willingness to accept any curse that might come upon Yaakov is not as ominous as it might seem. She is certain, based on what God has told her, that her actions in deceiving Yitzchak serve a higher purpose. Keep in mind that the blessing of Yaakov will set in motion the creation of Israel and the revelation of God’s plan for redemption.
The fact is that Yaakov doesn’t come under a curse. He has already received an irrevocable blessing by the time it is discovered that he has deceived his father. Yitzchak affirms the blessing saying, “I’ve already blessed him and he will be blessed!”
It is worth noting that following these events the Tanakh (OT) does not speak again of Rivkah interacting with Yaakov. It is possible that she never saw him again after he left her to go to Laban in Charan.
Gen 27:15 And Rivkah took the choicest garments of Esau her elder (gadol: greater, bigger) son, which were with her in the home (babayit), and put them on Yaakov her younger son. Gen 27:16 And she attached the skins of the kids of the goats on top of his hands, and to the smooth of his neck. Gen 27:17 And she gave the savoury food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Yaakov. Gen 27:18 And he came to his father, and said: 'My father'; and he said: 'Here I am (hineini); who are you, my son?'
It seems that eastern goat hair is similar to human hair, given that this is not the only time in the Tanakh where it is used to give the impression of hairy human skin (1 Samuel 19:13).
Why is it significant that it is Yitzchak who says, “hineini” here? This powerful response of readiness was formerly spoken by Avraham in righteousness. It was the response Avraham gave to Yitzchak when he asked after the provision of the lamb for the offering of the Akedah. Here, Yitzchak, who is now a father himself, responds to the voice of Yaakov with the same words of faithful readiness that his father had once spoken in response to him. Unlike Esau whose motivation was selfish, seeking material blessing for himself, Yitzchak is selfless, expecting to give of himself, a blessing from God. Thus he responds with a willing trust, “Hineini, here I am.”
The fact that Yitzchak has to ask, “Who are you my son?” infers that Yaakov’s voice was similar enough to Esau’s, that it was difficult for Yitzchak to distinguish between them based on intonation alone.
Gen 27:19 And Yaakov said to his father: 'I am, Esau your first-born; I have prepared that which you spoke toward me. Arise, I plead with you, sit and eat of my mitzaydi (game/hunted animal flesh), that your soul (nafsh’cha) may bless me.'
Yaakov is not Esau, but with regard to the birth-right and its wider application, including the blessing of the first-born, he is the legal possessor of the first-born status. Therefore, with the exception of the use of the name Esau, Yaakov is in fact telling the legal truth, “I am… your first-born.”
Gen 27:20 And Yitzchak said to his son: 'How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?' And he said: 'Because of an encounter (hik’rah) with HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) your God’s (Elohim) face (l’panaiy).'
What does Yaakov’s statement, “your Elohim” infer? Why does the Hebrew text read, “Vayomeir keey hik’rah HaShem Eloheicha l’panaiy”?
Yaakov first claims that it is because of an encounter with HaShem that he was able to come to Yitzchak in a prompt fashion with the prepared food. In fact, while it may be stretching to call his speedy delivery a miracle, it is true to say that it has resulted from a face to face meeting with HaShem. That meeting was between Rivkah and HaShem prior to the birth of Esau and Yaakov (Gen. 25:22-23). Thus it seems that Yaakov is either aware of Rivkah’s meeting with HaShem or is speaking prophetically. However, he is not yet in personal relationship with HaShem. This is why he says, “your Elohim”.
Gen 27:21 And Yitzchak said to Yaakov: 'Come near, I beg you, that I may touch you, my son, to discern whether you are my son Esau or not.'
Yitzchak appears to have heard something in Yaakov’s answer that causes him to doubt his identity. It’s possible that Yitzchak found the idea of Esau using God’s name unusual given Esau’s rejection of the symbols of family faith and his marriage to women who worshipped foreign deities.
Gen 27:22 And Yaakov went near to Yitzchak his father; and he (Isaac) felt him, and said: 'The voice (ha-kol) is the voice (ha-kol) of Yaakov, but the hands are the hands of Esau.' Gen 27:23 And he discerned him not, because his hands were hairy, like his brother Esau's hands; so he blessed him.
The Hebrew, “kol”, voice, can be understood to refer to the way a person speaks, that is, their manner, choice of words and subject matter. Therefore, when Yitzchak says, “The voice is the voice of Yaakov”, we could read, “The voice speaks using the kind of language Yaakov would use.”
Needless to say. If goat skins conveyed a true sense of the hairiness of Esau’s arms, he was truly worthy of his name.
Gen 27:24 And he (Isaac) said: 'Are you my son Esau?' And he (Yaakov) said: 'I am.' Gen 27:25 And he (Isaac) said: 'Bring it near to me, and I will eat of my son's mitzaydi (game/hunted animal flesh), that my soul (nafshi) may bless you.' And he brought it near to him, and he did eat; and he brought him wine, and he drank.
The threefold false claim of Yaakov concludes here with the clear pronouncement, “I am”.
Yitzchak, convinced or not, has decided to go ahead with the blessing.
Gen 27:26 And his father Yitzchak said to him: 'Come near now, and kiss me, my son.' Gen 27:27 And he came near, and kissed him. And he smelled the smell of his clothing, and blessed him, and said: ‘See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which HaShem has blessed.’
Kabbalistically, the kiss is said to have brought about the intimacy required as a catalyst for the Shechinah (Divine presence) to alight on Yitzchak (Alshich). The Divine presence bringing the blessing and God’s manifest prophetic power.
The Palmist, speaking of the Messiah, says:
“Your throne, O Elohim, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of Your kingdom is a right sceptre. You love righteousness, and hate wickedness: therefore Elohim, Your Elohim, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your friends. All Your garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made You glad.” –Tehilim/Psalm 45:6-8
Gen 27:28 ‘May the God (Ha-Elohim) give you of the dew of the heavens, and of the fat places of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine.
The Hebrew, “Ha-Elohiym” the God, has the definite article and thus denotes God as Judge and Ruler, setting Him apart from and above all other elohiym. The blessing is an established reality decreed by the King of the universe, the Judge of all things.
The grain and wine, while understood to become a literal reality, are also symbolic of both necessities (grain, our daily bread) and pleasures (wine, celebration of life). A spiritual remez (hint at something deeper) also seems to be inferred. The dew of the heavens is symbolic of emrah (Word essence of God) and with regard to watering the earth and fattening the land the rain represents God’s lekakh (received instruction). The end result being the proclamation and reality of the greatness of God our Judge and King, His Messiah the Rock and His perfect redemptive work.
“My instruction shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass: Because I will publish the name of HaShem (Mercy): ascribe all of you, greatness unto our Elohiym. The Rock, His work is perfect: for all His ways are verdicts: an Elohiym of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He.” –Deuteronomy 32:2-4
Gen 27:29 Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord (adon) over your brothers, and let your mother's children bow down to you. Cursed be every one that curses you, and blessed be every one that blesses you.’
This portion of the blessing confers the blessings of Avraham upon Yaakov and makes it impossible for curse to cause him lasting harm. All the nations will one day bow before Yaakov’s greater Son, the Messiah Yeshua:
“Yes, all kings shall fall down before Him: all nations shall serve Him.” –Tehilim/Psalm 72:11
Gen 27:30 And it came to pass, as soon as Yitzchak had made an end of blessing Yaakov, and Yaakov had only just gone out (yatza, yatza) from the presence of Yitzchak his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. Gen 27:31 And he also made savoury food, and brought it to his father; and he said unto his father: 'Let my father arise, and eat of his son's game, that your soul (nafsh’icha) may bless me.' Gen 27:32 And Yitzchak his father said to him: 'Who are you?' And he said: 'I am your son, your first-born, Esau.'
The doubling of the Hebrew word, “Yatza”, translated, “just gone out” can mean, “one passed the other”, one going out, one going in. If this translation is correct, then the brothers came face to face as they passed one another, Yaakov exiting and Esau entering. This makes the context all the more intense (excuse the pun).
Genesis Rabbah explains that Angels of Hashem had prevented Esau from getting game (Bereshit Rabba, sect. 67. fol. 59. 3), and the Targums say that Esau, being without game, killed a dog and made savoury meat out of it. Regardless of whether these conjectures are true or not, they show that the Jewish view reflects God’s disgust at Esau’s actions and favours Yaakov’s actions in spite of the deceit involved. If nothing else, in the case of Yaakov, we learn that a righteous person, though flawed, is chosen.
Esau is only telling a part truth. He is the physical first-born son but he is no longer the holder of the birth-right of the first-born.
Gen 27:33 And Yitzchak trembled (g’dolah ad m’od) very exceedingly, and said: 'Who then is he that has taken game, and brought it me, and I have eaten it all before you came, and have blessed him? yes, and he shall be blessed.'
Why did Yitzchak tremble very greatly? The power of blessing resides within the one who blesses. All blessing comes from God and Yitzchak is aware of this. He had favoured Esau for shallow reasons, but had intended the blessing for him none the less. With the dawning of the knowledge that he may have blessed Esau’s brother in his place, Yitzchak trembled because he knew that the one whom God has blessed is blessed and that God keeps his word. “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). Thus Yitzchak says, “Yes, and he will be blessed!”
Gen 27:34 When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with an exceeding (gadol) great and bitter cry, and said to his father: 'Bless me, even me also, O my father.' Gen 27:35 And he (Isaac) said: 'Your brother came with mir’mah (subtlety), and has taken away your blessing.' Gen 27:36 And he (Esau) said: 'Is not he rightly named Yaakov? for he has outwitted me these two times: he took away my birth-right; and, behold, now he has taken away my blessing.' And he said: 'Have you not reserved a blessing for me?'
The Targums and Yarchi both interpret the Hebrew mir’mah as, “wisdom”. Thus reading, “Your brother came with wisdom”.
This may be the first time Yitzchak has heard of the sale of the birth-right?
The context denotes a conversational response. Esau makes a play on words here, using the Hebrew, “Eikev” which Yaakov’s name is derived from. It can mean both heel and outwit or deceive.
It is important that we note the fact that Esau is lieing when he says, “he took away my birth-right”. Yaakov did not take away Esau’s birth-right, to the contrary, Esau despised his birth-right and sold it for a pot of stew (25:34). This was done under oath and thus Esau had invoked a curse upon himself by breaking the oath and seeking the birth-right in spite of his having sold it. Given that the blessing of the first-born belongs to the child who holds the birth-right, Esau is also incorrect in saying that Yaakov took his blessing. In fact, Yaakov received from his father (albeit through deception) that which was rightfully his. The Hebrew terms, “bekhora” birth-right, and “Berakha” blessing, share the same root consonants. Thus they are related both linguistically and spiritually. They are echad, a complex unity.
Like all those who sell their heritage to satisfy a temporary hunger, Esau is now surprised to find that he has also had his identity taken from him.
Gen 27:37 And Yitzchak answered and said unto Esau: 'Behold, I have made him your lord, and all his brothers have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him; and what then shall I do for you, my son?' Gen 27:38 And Esau said to his father: 'Have you only got one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.' And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept.
Esau clearly understands that there is power in blessing but wrongly concludes that the blessing comes from Yitzchak.
“Also see to it that there is no immoral or godless person—like Esau, who sold his birth-right for one meal. For you know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected. He found no chance for repentance, though he begged for it with tears.” –Hebrews 12:16-17 (TLV)
Gen 27:39 And Yitzchak his father answered and said to him: ‘Behold, of the fat places of the earth shall be your dwelling, and of the dew of heaven from above; Gen 27:40 And by the sword shall you live, and you shall serve your brother; and it shall come to pass when you shall break loose, that you will shake his yoke from off your neck.
Yitzchak can only bless Esau according to God’s will, thus Esau’s blessing takes on the appearance of a curse. He will not benefit from the fat land, he will only dwell in it. He will have to fight to survive, living by the sword rather than the plough. And, he will serve his brother. The last clause is prophetic of the future when Esau’s descendants will break free of the yoke of Israel (Yaakov) [2 Kings 8:20-22, 2 Chronicles 28:17].
“Yet I loved Jacob 3 and Esau I hated.
I made his hills a wasteland
and gave his inheritance to jackals of the wilderness.”
4 For Edom may say,
“We have been beaten down,
but we will return and rebuild the ruins.”
Thus Adonai-Tzva’ot says:
“They may rebuild but I will tear down.
They will be called a wicked territory,
the people Adonai denounced forever.
5 So you will see, and you will say:
‘May Adonai be magnified beyond the border of Israel!’” –Malachi 1:3-5 (TLV)
Gen 27:41 And Esau hated Yaakov because of the blessing his father had blessed him with. And Esau said in his heart (lev, inner being): 'Let the days of mourning for my father be completed; then will I slay my brother Yaakov.'
Esau’s hatred for Yaakov reveals his true character. Like Cain he is jealous of his brother and seeks his death. Note that Esau says these things to himself. They are the thoughts and feelings of his core being (B’lev).
Gen 27:42 And the words of Esau her elder son were told to Rivkah; and she sent and called Yaakov her younger son, and said unto him: 'Behold (hinei), your brother Esau, in thinking of you, comforts himself, with plans to kill you.
How were the words of Esau communicated to Rivkah if, as the text says, they were spoken in his heart/core-being/mind? The most reasonable solution is that God informed Rivkah of Esau’s plan to kill Yaakov. The Targum of Yonatan and the writings of Yarchi affirm this saying, “the words of Esau her elder son were told to Rivkah by the Ruach Ha-kodesh (Holy Spirit).”
Gen 27:43 Now therefore, my son, shema (listen to and obey) my voice; and arise, flee to Laban (white) my brother to Charan (scorched mountain); Gen 27:44 and stay with him a number of days, until your brother's fury is turned away; Gen 27:45 until your brother's anger turns away from you, and he forgets that which you have done to him; then I will send, and fetch you from there; why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?'
It seems that, “bereaved of you both” indicates that Esau would be put to death according to moral law (Gen. 9:6) if he were to kill his brother Yaakov.
Gen 27:46 And Rivkah said to Yitzchak: 'I abhor my life because of the daughters of Chet (terror). If Yaakov takes a wife of the daughters of Chet, such as these, of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?'
Rivkah, using the dislike both she and Yitzchak share for the practices of the daughters of Chet (Who are considered by Jewish sources to be idolaters), convinces Yitzchak to send Yaakov to Laban in order to get a wife from the family bloodline. This serves to preserve both Yaakov’s life and the lineage of Avraham. Thus the stage is set for Yaakov’s years of servitude to Laban. Yaakov will not enter directly into blessing, the blessing will come but it will come in God’s timing. Yaakov must wrestle with the One Who blesses and discover that true blessing is found in relationship with HaShem.
© 2017 Yaakov Brown
Egypt was a place of certain sustenance and provision, whereas Gerar was as famine affected as Hebron. If Yitzchak is to obey God he must choose to travel from famine to famine and trust that God will provide for his needs.
Genesis 26 is the central chapter of the Torah portion “Toldot”, meaning generations. This portion is key to the extension of God’s plan for Israel and His irrevocable covenant with Avraham. This chapter plays a pivotal role in explaining the continuity of Avraham’s covenant as it is confirmed (not re-established) through Isaac and will be confirmed again through Jacob, not as a result of either Isaac or Jacob’s character but as a result of Avraham’s having accepted God’s Word (D’var, ketvi, memra, logos) through trust. This is why the text reminds us that it is as a consequence of Avraham’s trust in God that God has passed the covenant promises on to Isaac, Jacob and the ethnic children of Israel.
Chapter 25 ended with Esau despising his birth right and the priestly role as head of the family, thus rejecting the faith of his father Avraham. The current chapter ends with Esau making more poor choices and bringing grief and bitterness to Yitzchak and Rivkah. We may ask, why is the sin of Esau emphasised here? Why is it so important to distinguish him as one who grieves his parents? The answer is found in the establishment of the covenant of Avraham. The righteous line of Avraham will benefit from the trust of Avraham. This covenant is to be generational and must pass to those who will establish it for each subsequent generation. It is for this reason also, that Yitzchak must experience similar trials to those of his father.
This text is not the story of Avraham with Yitzchak’s name inserted (as some foolish critics conclude). This is the third account of its kind, the former two being those enacted by Avraham and Sarah, however, this is a story that is as unique to Yitzchak and Rivkah as it is similar to the accounts of Avraham and Sarah. It is a story of both continuation and personal revelation, of struggling and overcoming. It is important to note that verse 1 intentionally distinguishes this account from the former famine of Avraham’s time. The similarities in the three accounts should not blind us to the divergent details. For example, Rivkah, unlike Sarah, is not taken from her husband. The former wells have been stopped up and the covenant reneged upon. Add to this Avimelech’s agitation in verses 10 and 11, which is clearly in response to a precedent already known to him, i.e. the warning of 20:7. The present events allude to the former and presuppose the latter.
Therefore, Yitzchak, through circumstances similar to those experienced by Avraham, learns to trust HaShem for himself. This is an important illumination of generational trust (faith) in God. The parent must pass on the instruction of God, and the child must respond. Salvation comes to both family and the individual, everyone must choose God freely for himself. God does (contrary to popular Christian truism) have grandchildren, however, they are not grandchildren by osmosis but by free will.
Gen 26:1 And there was a famine (ra’av – hunger) in the land, separate from the famine (hunger) that had first come to pass in the days of Avraham (Father of many nations). And walking forth Yitzchak (He laughs) went to Avimelech (My father is king) king of the Pilishtiym (immigrants), he was heading toward Gerar (lodging place).
This chapter, like so many other accounts of its kind, gives an overview statement prior to presenting the details of the events. Verse 1 stresses the fact that this is not a repetition of a former account, so as to dispel any future revisionist attempts to discount its authenticity. The writer is Moses, who, from oral tradition (often as reliable as the written tradition and at times more reliable due to its one on one passing down of meticulously memorised detail) and by the revelation of God, has recorded Israel’s history at Sinai. These words, penned at Sinai are connected generationally to factual history. There is no good reason to doubt either the writer or the information gathering process.
The Pilishtiym, both here and in the previous episodes, are thought to be referred to in general terms, that is, as immigrants, which is the meaning of the Hebrew Philishtiym. This is because historians place the migration of the Philishtiym at a much later date in history (1200 BCE). Regardless, they are an immigrant people. This is essential to understanding the ongoing struggle for the land to this day.
The fact that Avimelech is still alive either means that he had been much younger than Avraham, or that the name is a Title, “My father the king”, much like the name Pharaoh.
Yitzchak’s journey is said by the rabbis to represent the future exile to Babylon, just as Avraham’s journey represented Israel’s descent into Egypt and captivity.
The Hebrew, “ra’av” translated as famine, means hunger. One reads a twofold meaning here: famine affects the land, hunger impacts the individual. Spiritual famine is the result of spiritual decay and spiritual hunger, a desperate cry for redemption.
Gen 26:2 And seeing, perceiving, appearing (vayira) HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) said: “Do not descend to Mitzrayimah (Egypt, double straits); settle in the land which I tell you to go toward.”
Mizrachi explains that when Yitzchak was placed on the altar of the Akiedah (The Binding), he became the equivalent of an elevation offering that is to be entirely consumed on the altar of sacrifice. This offering was not to be removed from the Temple courtyard. Thus Rashi reads, “Do not descend to Egypt (bondage) for you are an unblemished offering, and it is not proper for you to reside outside the land (Eretz Israel).”
Egypt was a place of certain sustenance and provision, whereas Gerar was as famine affected as Hebron. If Yitzchak is to obey God he must choose to travel from famine to famine and trust that God will provide for his needs.
Gen 26:3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you, and to your seed (zera Gen.3:15, 22:18), I will give all these lands (Ha-aratzot), and I will stand up, arise and establish (v’hakeemotiy) the oath which I swore to Avraham (Father of many nations) your father; Gen 26:4 and I will make great (multiply) your seed (zera) as the stars of the heavens, and will give to your seed (zera) all these lands (Ha-aratzot); and kneeling to be blessed (v’heet’brachoo) in your seed, will be all the nations of the earth (Ha-aretz);
Faced with the decision to remain in the land of Israel in spite of the famine, rather than going to Egypt where the Nile river feed the rich crops of the delta, Yitzchak, like Avraham before him, must choose to trust God for the future fulfilment of His promises (Hebrews 11:9-10).
This repetition of God’s former promise to Avraham is not a renewal of the promise, nor is it a new promise, rather it is the firm establishment of the generational promise and a precursor to the fulfilment of the generational covenant originally made with and through Avraham. This covenant is entirely reliant on God and not on the deeds or misdeeds of His servants. God is simply saying to Yitzchak, who has yet to complete his faith journey, “In case you had any doubts, I’m reminding you that I will keep my promises.” The Hebrew idiom, “I will arise, stand up” is intended to convey God’s active participation in and acknowledgement of His creation and His purposes for His servants. This same phrase is used frequently in the Genesis creation accounts.
The Hebrew “zera” seed, is the same term used in Genesis 3:15 & Genesis 22:18, which is singular but can be understood in Hebrew to also denote the sum of a man’s progeny in the plural sense and thus lends itself to ambiguity. Rav Shaul (Paul the Apostle) makes a drash on the Genesis 22:18 text saying:
“The promises were spoken to Avraham and to his seed (zera). Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Mashiyach. What I mean is this: The Torah, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by Elohim and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the Torah, then it no longer depends on the promise; but Elohim in His grace gave it to Avraham through a promise.” –Galatians 3:16-18
It is worth noting that the Hebrew text says, “I will give you the lands (plural: Ha-atzarot)”, rather than simply saying, “I will give you the land (Ha-Aretz).” This makes it impossible to confuse the legitimacy of Israel’s Promised Land, made up of the lands of each of her yet to be born tribes.
Gen 26:5 As a consequence of Avraham listening, hearing, understanding and obeying (Shema) My voice, and guarding (keeping) My safeguards mishmar’tiy, My mitzvotay right actions (commands), my decrees Chookotay, and My Torahtay instructions.”
This is the explanation for the repetition of the blessing and covenant given to Avraham. It is due to Avraham’s trust and obedience that his son Yitzchak has been given the generational promises of God. However, in order to receive God’s promises Yitzchak must exhibit trust of his own.
The specific instructional terms used here convey detailed forms of obedience. The Safeguards (mishmar’tiy) are intended to serve as barriers against infringement. The right actions, positive commandments, (mitzvotay) are the laws that innate moral sense dictates. The decrees (Chookotay) are laws that human reason cannot always explain but are given for our good as a result of God’s greater knowledge of His creation. Thus they are considered to be like Royal decrees, which God our King enacts on His subjects. The instructions (Torahtay) refer to the written, even engraved word of God. The rabbis conclude that the plural refers to both the written and oral Torah. What is certain is that Avraham obeyed God in a wide range of ways and was ultimately attentive to God’s voice, “Kol”.
Gen 26:6 And Yitzchak dwelt in Gerar (lodging place). Gen 26:7 And enquiring, the men of that place asked him for his wife; and he said: “She is my sister”; for he feared to say: “My wife”; “Or the men of this place might kill me for Rivkah (Captivating), because she is beautiful to look upon.”
Yitzchak was well aware of the way the people of Philistia treated others. He had witnessed it as a young man dwelling in his father’s camp and had no reason to believe that Avimelech and his people had changed their ways. After all, as we soon see, they have stopped up the wells of Avraham thus breaking the covenant oath which they had made with him before God. It is a mistake to presume that Yitzchak is being intentionally deceptive, or to call his actions sin. They are in fact the actions of a righteous man who is seeking to protect and defend his household.
Some suggest that by calling Rivkah his sister, Yitzchak places her in greater danger, however, given the cultural, historical context and the explanation Yitzchak gives to Avimelech later in the account, it is in fact the opposite that is true. By calling Rivkah his sister Yitzchak prevents the men killing him in order to take Rivkah (his wife). This is because cultural historical tradition required that a man seeking to bed/wed Rivkah, a single woman (sister), must approach the male relative responsible for her and make a proposal, prepare a home and pay a bride price in order to take her into his bed. According to the text Rivkah was extremely beautiful, which means the men would have been fighting among themselves for the pleasure of possessing her and would thus be compelled to pursue the traditional process of outbidding each other to pay her bride price. Yitzchak’s subterfuge was extremely effective, as can be seen from the many days he and Rivkah experienced, devoid of harassment, prior to Avimelech discovering them.
Gen 26:8 And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Avimelech king of the Pilishtiym looked out a window, and saw, and, behold, Yitzchak was sporting with and fondling Rivkah his wife.
Much time has passed and Yitzchak has obviously become comfortable in his surroundings, thus he seems to be less careful with regard to how he is seen to interact with his wife. The Hebrew word play between Yitzchak’s name and the term zachek (sporting, playing, fondling), is meant to convey a sense of relaxed laughter and free play. Thus supporting the notion that Yitzchak had become settled in the land and felt much safer than he had previously.
The term “window” may indicate that Yitzchak and Rivkah were now living in the small village community of Gerar, perhaps even in a solid dwelling, or at very least their tent community lived very nearby.
Gen 26:9 And Avimelech called Yitzchak, and said: “Behold, certainly she is your wife; how could you say, “She is my sister?” And Yitzchak said to him: “Because I said: they might kill me because of her.”
As alluded to previously, this was a reasonable assumption on Yitzchak’s part, given the lack of character exhibited by Avimelech and his people in the past and the fact that they had now stopped up Avraham’s wells and reneged on the covenant they had made with him.
Gen 26:10 And Avimelech said: “What is this you have done to us? One of the people (Ha-am) might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.”
The Hebrew Ha-am (the people) is interesting. It may indicate that sexual immorality like that of S’dom was being practised by the Pilishtiym.
Another view suggests that Avimelech is referring to the “One over the people”, a ruling title denoting Avimelech himself. However, this is at best a dubious reading of the Hebrew.
Gen 26:11 And Avimelech charged all the people, saying: “Anyone that touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”
Avimelech, while a covenant breaker, is none the less familiar with the servants of HaShem and the protection and prosperity they experience in His service. Thus his somewhat fearful warning to his people. The warning also shows that Avimelech knew his people were likely to do the very thing he warned against, thus the severe punishment that accompanied his decree. The irony of Avimelech’s powerless decree is not lost on this reader. In the end it is the decree of the King of kings that will prevail.
Gen 26:12 And Yitzchak sowed in that land, attaining in the same year a hundredfold measure; and blessing from HaShem (YHVH: Mercy). Gen 26:13 And the man (Isaac) became great, and grew more and more until he became very great.
God had promised to be with Yitzchak and prosper him and that is exactly what happened. The numerical value of a hundred is ten by ten, that is completion multiplied by completion, fullness multiplied by fullness. This kind of harvest was nothing short of miraculous in a drought ridden climate during a time of famine.
Gen 26:14 And he had flocks, and herds of cattle, and a great many servants; and the Pilishtiym envied him.
The Pilishtiym clearly felt threatened by Yitzchak’s success. This resentment of the Jewish alien would become a cyclic historical reality and continues to this day. The irony here being that the Pilishtiym themselves were immigrants, aliens in the land.
Gen 26:15 Now all the wells which his father's servants had dug in the days of Avraham his father, the Pilishtiym had stopped them up, and filled them with earth.
The past tense shows that this had been done some time ago and probably soon after Avraham’s death. Under Avimelech’s rule the Pilishtiym had violated the covenant they had made with Avraham and had brought a curse upon themselves according to the oath. This may well have been the reason for the famine which had come upon the land.
In addition, this made Yitzchak’s journey into the desert of the wider Negev all the more treacherous. He had in fact sought refuge from famine in a land of famine. This shows his great faith.
Gen 26:16 And Avimelech said to Yitzchak: “Go from us; for you are much mightier than we are.” Gen 26:17 And Yitzchak walked forth, and encamped in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there.
Once again Yitzchak experiences a prelude to Israel’s history among the nations. Once Jews begin to prosper and become despised, they are often persecuted and sent away, or worse. Avimelech was sending Yitzchak into barren land where he knew that his men had stopped up the water sources. This is a harsh exile for Yitzchak and yet another testimony to Avimelech’s poor character. Yitzchak moved to the south and dwelt in the valley of Gerar, some distance from the town.
Gen 26:18 And Yitzchak dug again the wells of water, which they had dug in the days of Avraham his father; for the Pilishtiym had stopped them up after the death of Avraham; and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them.
In the desert, water or the lack thereof is a poignant reminder of life’s frailty. Yiztchak, in re-digging his father’s wells is showing his connection to his father’s journey, and in renaming them with the names his father had given them he is also honouring his father’s faithful legacy. Yitzchak is identifying more and more with both the physical struggle and the spiritual journey of his father Avraham.
Gen 26:19 And Yitzchak’s servants dug in the valley, and found there a well of living water (Mayim Chaiyim).
The phrase, “living water” denotes an underground stream that flows from outside the valley with its source in the north. These waters of living are a significant symbol of God’s life giving spirit and his sustaining provision.
Gen 26:20 And the herdsmen of Gerar fought with Yitzchak’s herdsmen, saying: “The water is ours.” And he called the name of the well Eisek (contention); because they contended with him.
Having cast Yitzchak out and into a place where they knew there was no water, the herdsmen (Pilishtiym), now envious of the success of Yitzchak’s men, attempt to steal the water for themselves. This type of contention is also a familiar refrain in Israel’s history. The irony here is that the living water’s source is to the north outside the land of the Pilishtiym. Thus, spiritually speaking, they are attempting to cut Yitzchak off from the living waters of HaShem. All be it a vein attempt.
Gen 26:21 And they dug another well, and they also had to fight for that. And he called the name of it Sitnah (strife).
Yitzchak’s men, acting in humility, turn their attention to looking for another water source rather than antagonising the Pilishtiym herdsmen. However, this does not prevent the Pilishtiym from contesting the finding of the second well. Strife is an escalation of the Contention, things are becoming dire, Yitzchak’s community cannot survive without water.
Gen 26:22 And he moved from there, and dug another well; and they didn’t have to fight for it. And he called the name of it Rehobot (wide places); and he said: “For now HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”
In these dire circumstances, Yitzchak still chooses to act righteously and moves away from the contentious Pilishtiym to dig a third well. The Hebrew number three indicates complex unity, Godly action, firm establishment, completion and security. This third well which Yitzchak calls “Wide open places” is symbolic of the freedom found in the life giving spiritual waters of HaShem’s salvation. Yitzchak acknowledges that it is HaShem who has made room for them, rather than their own well digging know how.
Gen 26:23 And he went up from there to Beer-sheva (Well of sevenfold oath).
Yitzchak’s journey to Beer-Sheva denotes his desire to seek God. Beer-Sheva, the well of the sevenfold oath is a place of solace and recovery, of covenant and sustenance. Avraham had experienced the living God at work there (Gen. 21:22-34), and after Yitzchak (Genesis 26:23–33), Yaakov would have his intimate dream of the stairway to the heavens immediately following a visit to Beer-Sheva (Genesis 28:10–15 and 46:1–7).
Beer-Sheva was to become a place of glory and refuge for many of Israel’s prophets, judges and kings. Beer-Sheva was the territory of the tribes of Simeon and Judah (Joshua 5:28 and 19:2). The sons of the prophet Samuel were judges in Beer-Sheva (1 Samuel 8:2). Saul, Israel's first king, built a fort there for his campaign against the Amalekites (I Samuel 14:48 and 15:2–9). The prophet Elijah took refuge in Beer-Sheva when Jezebel ordered him killed (1 Kings 19:3). The prophet Amos mentions the city in regard to idolatry (Amos 5:5 and 8:14). Following the Babylonian conquest and subsequent enslavement of many Israelites, the town was abandoned. After the Israelite slaves returned from Babylon, they resettled the town. According to the Hebrew Bible, Beer-Shebah was the southernmost city of the territories settled by Israelites, hence the expression “from Dan to Beer-Shebah” to describe the whole kingdom.
Gen 26:24 And HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) appeared to him the same night, and said: “I am the God of Avraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you, and will bless you, and multiply your seed (zera) for My servant Avraham's sake.” Gen 26:25 And he built an altar (mizbeiach – blood sacrificial altar) there, and called upon the name of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), and pitched his tent there; and there Yitzchak’s servants dug a well.
Having experienced such hostility from the Pilishtiym and seeing God’s provision of the well at Rehobot, Yitzchak seeks God where his father had once made a covenant with the wicked people of Philistia.
God comes to Yitzchak strait away, “the same night”. The immediacy of this encounter illuminates the Father and His intimate care for the wellbeing of His sons and daughters. Yitzchak needed to be comforted, he was overwhelmed and longed for the deep trust centred relationship with God that he had witnessed in his father Avraham. He sought personal revelation of the tribal, generational God of Avraham. God does not disappoint, for His desire has always been to reconcile Yitzchak to Himself just as He had reconciled his father Avraham.
Once again the building of the altar is a response to what God has already done (Gen.12:9, 13:17-18, 35:7). The Hebrew mizbeach (altar) is from the root zabach (kill, slaughter), meaning an atoning blood sacrifice. Thus, this altar, as in the case of those built before it, is an altar of animal blood sacrifice and an acknowledgement of the need for covering of sin.
Gen 26:26 Then Avimelech went to him from Gerar, and Achuzzat (possession) his friend, and Peechol (strong) the captain of his army.
Avimelech, now old in years, as is Phicol, the captain of his guard, has become more and more afraid of Yitzchak. Perhaps he fears his own destruction due to his violation of the covenant he made with Avraham? Whatever the case, he comes, not in humility, but with a show of strength.
Gen 26:27 And Yitzchak said to them: “For what reason have you come to me, seeing you hate me, and have sent me away from you?”
Yitzchak has every reason to be weary of their intentions.
Gen 26:28 And they said: “We saw plainly that HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) was with you; and we said: ‘Let there now be an oath between us, even between us and you, and let us make a covenant with you;
Avimelech and his retinue stress that the oath be made between, “us and you” because they have already broken the former oath made with Avraham.
Gen 26:29 that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you, we have only been good to you, and have sent you away in peace; you are now the blessed of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy).”
The Pilishtiym have envied Yitzchak, kicked him out of town, hounded him in the desert, stopped up the wells of his father and stolen the new wells he has dug. Nothing could be further from the truth than the statement, “We have done only good to you”. This lack of humility and brazen unrepentance is consistent with the character exhibited by Avimelech and his people throughout their dealings with Avraham and Yitzchak.
The one thing they do right is to acknowledge that where Avraham was the blessed of HaShem, his son has now taken on the mantel of HaShem’s blessing.
Gen 26:30 And he (Isaac) made them a feast, and they ate and drink. Gen 26:31 And they rose up in the morning, and swore to one another; and Yitzchak sent them away, and they departed from him in peace.
Yitzchak’s response to the unrepentant and arrogant request of Avimelech and his retinue is nothing short of incredibly gracious. Yitzchak is clearly a man who has met God and has been filled with the Spirit of righteousness. Rather than refute Avimelech’s lies, Yitzchak sees that Avimelech is fearful of Yitzchak’s God and that beneath his bravado he is desperate. Secure in his own identity in God and the assurances from God of the promised land and provision for generations to come, Yitzchak shows great mercy toward Avimelech and his people, Yitzchak treats them to the best in Middle Eastern hospitality, having a feast prepared for them, he sits down to eat with his enemies.
The reason the oath takes place the following morning is that an oath should not be taken after the parties have become intoxicated.
The outcome of this interaction with his enemies is that they depart in peace. We could all benefit from practicing the type of merciful religion that Yitzchak exhibits here. He is truly a man transformed by a personal encounter with the God of the Universe.
Gen 26:32 And it came to pass the same day, that Yitzchak's servants came, and informed him of the well which they had dug, and said to him: “We have found water.” Gen 26:33 And he called it Shevah (Seven). Its name unto this day.
The provision of water following Yitzchak’s righteous actions is an affirmation of God’s pleasure.
There are two possibilities here: either Avimelech’s men had stopped up Avraham’s well at Beer-Sheva and subsequently Yitzchak’s men had re-dug the well, or they had dug a second well. Regardless, the name Sheva is a shortened form of Beer–Sheva and is another example of Yitzchak renaming a location with the same name his father had used. This brings attention to both covenant oaths made with Avimelech and passes the knowledge on to subsequent generations. “Unto this day” means unto the day of the writing down of the Torah at Sinai by Moses.
Gen 26:34 And when Esau (hairy) was forty years old, he took to wife Y’hudit (Praised, Jewess) the daughter of B’eiri (My well) the Chitti (Descendent of terror - Chet), and Bas’mat (Spice) the daughter of Elon (mighty, terebinth) the Chitti. Gen 26:35 And they brought bitterness and grief to the spirit of Yitzchak (He laughs) and of Rivkah (Captivating).
Esau’s sinful actions in marrying women outside of his father’s faith system result in grieving the spirits of his mother and father. This same grief comes upon mothers and fathers of faith today when we see our children wandering from the faith. This is a grieving of both our own spirits and the Ruach Spirit of God in us. God’s desire is for the reconciliation of Esau, God is grieved by Esau’s rejection of Him.
The reason for ending this account with Esau’s continued sin practices is to show the stark contrast between his actions and those of the Patriarch Yitzchak. The promises of HaShem are to be passed on to men of noble character, men who will not despise His promises, covenants and birth rights. As explained in my commentary on the previous chapters, Yaakov is a follower of HaShem and a man who struggles to acquire integrity and righteousness. He is to be the next step in the ladder of Israel’s generations. Thus Toldot.
© 2017 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.