What really happened when Jacob took Esau's blessing?

Genesis chapter 27 tells the story of Isaac's blessing on his second-born son named Jacob. In the story, Isaac was planning to bless his firstborn son Esau but at his mother's prompting, Jacob disguised himself like Esau and received the blessing in his place.

I've always been bewildered about the story because it seemed that God was condoning deception and lying by honoring the blessing of Jacob. But recently I began to see the matter from another perspective.

The Dilemma

Normally it is the first born who receives the blessing. I suppose it would have worked like this in the case of Isaac's sons also but there was an unusual factor involved. God had promised Abraham and Isaac that he was going to create a chosen nation from their descendants.

Esau the firstborn son had taken foreign wives and had, in a sense, forfeited the blessing.

When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah (Gen 26:34, 35).

Apparently Isaac was letting his love for Esau cloud his understanding about what God had in mind to do.

Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob (Gen 25:28).

So here is the dilemma. Jacob should have received the blessing because Esau forfeited it by marrying foreign women. But since tradition required that the father bless the oldest son, there was no way that Isaac could have blessed Jacob without ruining the close relationship he had with his eldest son Esau.

What was needed in this situation was a way for Isaac to bless Jacob without ruining his relationship with Esau. There needed to be a way for Isaac to bless the son that God had chosen without having this effect.

The Solution

Rebekah was the key to the solution of this dilemma. When the two sons were still in her womb the Lord gave her a word which would cause her to intervene in Isaac's blessing.

The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger (Gen 25:23)."

When Isaac determined that it was time to give the blessing to Esau he did so without consulting Rebekah. Perhaps if he had consulted Rebekah he would have chosen instead to bless Jacob.

When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, "My son." "Here I am," he answered. Isaac said, "I am now an old man and don't know the day of my death. Now then, get your weapons—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die (Gen 27:1-4)."

But it happened that Rebekah overheard the conversation and she acted decisively.

Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, "Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, 'Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the LORD before I die.' Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies."

Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, "But my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I'm a man with smooth skin. What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing."

His mother said to him, "My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me." So he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it.

Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made (Gen 27:5-17).

At first reading this sounds like a terrible deception that Rebekah and Jacob are planning against Isaac. But I now believe that the real deception was by Isaac against his son Esau.

The Plot against Esau

It is clear that Isaac was not completely fooled by Jacob's disguise. Also, it's hard to believe that Jacob would put on such a flimsy disguise and risk the wrath of his father. But the one they were really trying to fool was not Isaac, but Esau.

He went to his father and said, "My father."
"Yes, my son," he answered. "Who is it?"
Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing."
Isaac asked his son, "How did you find it so quickly, my son?"
"The LORD your God gave me success," he replied
Then Isaac said to Jacob, "Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not."
Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau." He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he blessed him.
"Are you really my son Esau?" he asked.
"I am," he replied.
Then he said, "My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing."
Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, "Come here, my son, and kiss me." So he went to him and kissed him.
When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, "Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed (Gen 27:18-27).

Notice that Isaac immediately observed that it was not Esau who came to him. Isaac wasn't fooled even after asking Jacob several questions. The real purpose Isaac had for asking the questions was to determine whether he would be able to tell Esau that Jacob had deceived him and stolen his blessing. If the disguise was good enough to fool Isaac then it would also fool Esau.

In order to keep the plot from unraveling when Esau appeared on the scene to receive his blessing it was necessary that two factors be present:

Once Jacob had convinced his father that the disguise was adequate and that Jacob's resolve was sufficient so that he wouldn't break down under Esau's persecution of him, then Isaac went along with the deception also. I suspect that during the meal, Isaac was thinking through how Esau would react if Isaac blessed Jacob.

Problems with this scenario

There is one verse in this narrative that poses a problem for this scenario.

He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he blessed him (Gen 27:23).

This verse says that Isaac didn't recognize Jacob. But in the next verse it says that Isaac asked him if it really was Esau which implies that he wasn't completely sure if it was Esau or not.

"Are you really my son Esau?" he asked. "I am," he replied (Gen 27:24).

Perhaps verse 23 merely means that Isaac was not 100% certain who it was. At least the deception was good enough to make Isaac unsure of who was before him.

Jacob forced to marry a relative

An additional benefit of the deception of Rebekah is that Jacob would have to flee from Esau. The only place he could flee to would be to where the relatives of Rebekah lived. There Jacob would marry a relative instead of a Canaanite or Hittite woman as his brother Esau had done.