Sweet Jacob! It sounds like a spring flower (like “Sweet William”), but it is not. Perhaps you have a kind and honest friend whose name is Jacob and this name fits him well, but “sweet” is not an adjective most would associate with Jacob the son of Isaac.
Two Very Different Interpretations
A while back I was listening to a Christian radio program when I heard an ad that made me wonder with concern. A Rabbi was speaking of the lessons we can learn from Isaac, Rebecca, Esau and Jacob. The vast difference in how he “sees” Jacob and how Christians see this man is startling. I’ll present the information so you can decide for yourself, but let’s first consider these things.
We know that, as Christians, we read some parts of the Bible differently than practicing Jews and we can understand they might read it differently than we do. When I speak of the Bible, I am only speaking of the Old Testament, because the Jewish Bible does not contain any of the historical records of Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection, or any other books from the New Testament, including the letters of instruction or the prophetic passages. But both Jews and Christians read the same Old Testament Scriptures. Or at least I thought so.
Both Jews and Christians have the same Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy), historical books, poetic and Wisdom writings, and major and minor prophets. Therefore, reading and interpreting the historical accounts and people in the Bible should produce similar understandings. Of course we know the Jews do not “see” Jesus on the pages of the Old Testament, but we should be in agreement about the historical accounts of the people who lived prior to Jesus’ first advent. Well that wasn’t the case in the teaching that I heard on the radio. The difference in interpretation caused me to wonder, how can Christians and Jews read the same Scripture yet our interpretations can vary so greatly. I’ll let you judge for yourself.
A Christian Interpretation of Genesis 27
Isaac, Rebecca, Esau and Jacob
As recorded in the Old Testament, Jacob (God later changed his name to Israel) was the son of Isaac and Rebecca and the father (founder) of the twelve tribes of Israel. Most Christians know the historical account of how Jacob tricked his father, Isaac,
into giving him the blessing that should have gone to the firstborn, his brother Esau.
Jacob’s mother Rebecca was complicit in this deception. Together they deceived
Isaac into blessing Jacob and the Bible tells us that Isaac was distraught when he realized he had given the blessing to Jacob instead of Esau. Isaac was not able to rescind the blessing and give it to his firstborn as he had intended to do and as was custom.
The name “Jacob” means “holder of the heel,” and it’s no surprise because the Bible tells us he was born holding his twin brother Esau’s heel (Genesis 25:16). But the name “Jacob” also carries the meaning of “supplanter.” Supplanter is defined as one who takes the place of someone who was there first. Jacob certainly did that. Supplanter is also often used to refer to governments and rulers of countries. The word evolved from the Latin word “supplantare,” meaning “to trip up or to overthrow.” That is exactly what Jacob did when he conspired to trick his father into bestowing the blessing of the firstborn upon himself. He overthrew his brother and took his place.
Well, that’s the short version of how we as Christians read the account of Genesis 27. It’s a story of deception for selfish and self-serving personal gain. Couple that with the event recorded in Genesis 25, when Jacob took advantage of Esau’s physical
hunger to entice him into trading his birthright for bread and stew, and the only conclusion is that Jacob’s ethics and values were anything but God-honoring.
I share with you now the transcription of the account of Isaac, Rebecca, Esau and Jacob as told by a Jewish Rabbi. I’ll let you wonder, as I do, how we can read the same Words of God and interpret them so very differently.
A Rabbi’s Interpretation of Genesis 27
Isaac, Rebecca, Esau and Jacob
Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. They were very different. Jacob was a sweet boy, not conniving, not cynical. Esau was aggressive. He was a hunter and a man of the fields.
Isaac thought about when He dies who will represent the family. He thought Esau to be the best for the task, because Esau would be able to protect himself from all the forces and be able to sustain these values.
Rebecca, with her special insight, thought the only one who could really preserve this tradition and heritage is the wholesome and sweet Jacob. She realized that ethics and values cannot survive in this cold, harsh world without power.
Somehow in order for Jacob to get the blessing from Isaac, she had to convince him to combine both of those traits—power with morality.
Isaac says finally, the famous words in the Bible, “the voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are the hands of Esau.” On a simple level, what that means, he really wasn’t convinced and yet he went ahead and gave the blessing. Why would he go ahead and give the blessing if he really wasn’t sure this was Esau?
What Isaac was really saying is the voice is the voice of Jacob, the voice that sings praises to the Lord. In other words, the value, the morality is there; but the hands are the hands of Esau. You have learned how to take this morality and ethics and with your hands like Esau be a fighter in order to survive.
Isaac realized that Rebecca was right.
Power without morality is worthless.
Morality without power is suicidal.
And Jacob proved to his father that he can bring both of these forces together. The morality of being a simple person, a naive good guy, with the fierce and brutal prowess of Esau to survive in the world, to go out and hunt and dominate.
These are two completely different interpretations of the same Scripture. What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to hear from you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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