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Genesis 25:21-30

Context

25:21 Isaac prayed to 1  the Lord on behalf of his wife because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 25:22 But the children struggled 2  inside her, and she said, “If it is going to be like this, I’m not so sure I want to be pregnant!” 3  So she asked the Lord, 4  25:23 and the Lord said to her,

“Two nations 5  are in your womb,

and two peoples will be separated from within you.

One people will be stronger than the other,

and the older will serve the younger.”

25:24 When the time came for Rebekah to give birth, 6  there were 7  twins in her womb. 25:25 The first came out reddish 8  all over, 9  like a hairy 10  garment, so they named him Esau. 11  25:26 When his brother came out with 12  his hand clutching Esau’s heel, they named him Jacob. 13  Isaac was sixty years old 14  when they were born.

25:27 When the boys grew up, Esau became a skilled 15  hunter, a man of the open fields, but Jacob was an even-tempered man, living in tents. 16  25:28 Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for fresh game, 17  but Rebekah loved 18  Jacob.

25:29 Now Jacob cooked some stew, 19  and when Esau came in from the open fields, he was famished. 25:30 So Esau said to Jacob, “Feed 20  me some of the red stuff – yes, this red stuff – because I’m starving!” (That is why he was also called 21  Edom.) 22 

1 tn The Hebrew verb עָתַר (’atar), translated “prayed [to]” here, appears in the story of God’s judgment on Egypt in which Moses asked the Lord to remove the plagues. The cognate word in Arabic means “to slaughter for sacrifice,” and the word is used in Zeph 3:10 to describe worshipers who bring offerings. Perhaps some ritual accompanied Isaac’s prayer here.

2 tn The Hebrew word used here suggests a violent struggle that was out of the ordinary.

3 tn Heb “If [it is] so, why [am] I this [way]?” Rebekah wanted to know what was happening to her, but the question itself reflects a growing despair over the struggle of the unborn children.

4 sn Asked the Lord. In other passages (e.g., 1 Sam 9:9) this expression refers to inquiring of a prophet, but no details are provided here.

5 sn By metonymy the two children in her womb are described as two nations of which the two children, Jacob and Esau, would become the fathers. The language suggests there would be a struggle between these nations, with one being stronger than the other. The oracle reveals that all of Jacob’s scheming was unnecessary in the final analysis. He would have become the dominant nation without using deception to steal his brother’s blessing.

6 tn Heb “And her days were filled to give birth.”

7 tn Heb “look!” By the use of the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh, “look”), the narrator invites the audience to view the scene as if they were actually present at the birth.

8 sn Reddish. The Hebrew word translated “reddish” is אַדְמוֹנִי (’admoni), which forms a wordplay on the Edomites, Esau’s descendants. The writer sees in Esau’s appearance at birth a sign of what was to come. After all, the reader has already been made aware of the “nations” that were being born.

9 tn Heb “all of him.”

10 sn Hairy. Here is another wordplay involving the descendants of Esau. The Hebrew word translated “hairy” is שֵׂעָר (sear); the Edomites will later live in Mount Seir, perhaps named for its wooded nature.

11 tn Heb “And they called his name Esau.” The name “Esau” (עֵשָׂו, ’esav) is not etymologically related to שֵׂעָר (sear), but it draws on some of the sounds.

12 tn The disjunctive clause describes an important circumstance accompanying the birth. Whereas Esau was passive at birth, Jacob was active.

13 tn Heb “And he called his name Jacob.” Some ancient witnesses read “they called his name Jacob” (see v. 25). In either case the subject is indefinite.

sn The name Jacob is a play on the Hebrew word for “heel” (עָקֵב, ’aqev). The name (since it is a verb) probably means something like “may he protect,” that is, as a rearguard, dogging the heels. It did not have a negative connotation until Esau redefined it. This name was probably chosen because of the immediate association with the incident of grabbing the heel. After receiving such an oracle, the parents would have preserved in memory almost every detail of the unusual births.

14 tn Heb “the son of sixty years.”

15 tn Heb “knowing.”

16 tn The disjunctive clause juxtaposes Jacob with Esau and draws attention to the striking contrasts. In contrast to Esau, a man of the field, Jacob was civilized, as the phrase “living in tents” signifies. Whereas Esau was a skillful hunter, Jacob was calm and even-tempered (תָּם, tam), which normally has the idea of “blameless.”

17 tn Heb “the taste of game was in his mouth.” The word for “game,” “venison” is here the same Hebrew word as “hunter” in the last verse. Here it is a metonymy, referring to that which the hunter kills.

18 tn The disjunctive clause juxtaposes Rebekah with Jacob and draws attention to the contrast. The verb here is a participle, drawing attention to Rebekah’s continuing, enduring love for her son.

19 sn Jacob cooked some stew. There are some significant words and wordplays in this story that help clarify the points of the story. The verb “cook” is זִיד (zid), which sounds like the word for “hunter” (צַיִד, tsayid). This is deliberate, for the hunter becomes the hunted in this story. The word זִיד means “to cook, to boil,” but by the sound play with צַיִד it comes to mean “set a trap by cooking.” The usage of the word shows that it can also have the connotation of acting presumptuously (as in boiling over). This too may be a comment on the scene. For further discussion of the rhetorical devices in the Jacob narratives, see J. P. Fokkelman, Narrative Art in Genesis (SSN).

20 tn The rare term לָעַט (laat), translated “feed,” is used in later Hebrew for feeding animals (see Jastrow, 714). If this nuance was attached to the word in the biblical period, then it may depict Esau in a negative light, comparing him to a hungry animal. Famished Esau comes in from the hunt, only to enter the trap. He can only point at the red stew and ask Jacob to feed him.

21 tn The verb has no expressed subject and so is given a passive translation.

22 sn Esau’s descendants would eventually be called Edom. Edom was the place where they lived, so-named probably because of the reddish nature of the hills. The writer can use the word “red” to describe the stew that Esau gasped for to convey the nature of Esau and his descendants. They were a lusty, passionate, and profane people who lived for the moment. Again, the wordplay is meant to capture the “omen in the nomen.”



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