Why Jacob and not Esau


In my most recent blog entry I wrote about the fact that both Abraham and David were wholly committed to God’s lineage through which His Seed of Promise — the Messiah — would come. While they may not have been fully aware of it, they were important, key players in God’s plan of redemption. In our Scripture reading this week, we read this very interesting account:

Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac; and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD answered him, and his wife Rebekah conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her,

“Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body;
and one people will be stronger than the other; and the older will serve the younger.”

When her days leading to the delivery were at an end, behold, there were twins in her womb. Now the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so he was named Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.
Genesis 25:19–26

I believe that this account is very important for many reasons. The main reason is that it shows, once again, that God alone chooses who will continue the lineage of redemption; He decides through whom His Seed of Promise will come! The second reason is that it explains why Jacob “deceives” Esau twice. Two pressing questions come up, however, as to why Rebecca did not tell Isaac about the word that she received from God, and why Jacob did not simply tell Isaac that Esau sold the first born right to him. These are important questions, which we do not fully understand.

Regardless, I believe there are a few additional points of interest in this account. For one, I find it interesting that the children were already struggling in Rebecca’s womb. Is it possible that the struggle we find here was not just about the right of the first born, or the right of the blessing, but the right of the entire inheritance, which included land? Is it possible that this was the continuation of a struggle that began with Isaac and Ishmael, which still exists today?

Another interesting point is why God chose Jacob. The Haftarah Scripture portion tells us it was because of His love for Jacob: “Yet I have loved Jacob” (Malachi 1:2). I believe Jacob’s name, “Ya’akov” (יעקב) in Hebrew, holds significance and can shed light on why God chose him and loved him. The root word for Yaakov in Hebrew is עקב (akev), which is heel, from which the name “יעקב” (Ya’akov/Jacob) is derived. This is yet one more amazing hint of the “seed” that would be the source of redemption, which continues through Jacob’s lineage. The name here is not coincidental, as it reminds us of Genesis 3:15, where the LORD says that He will put enmity between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s seed, and that her seed will “bruise [the serpent’s] head” while the serpent will “bruise [the woman’s seed’s] heel”. The second point related to his name is that it can also mean, “to follow”. I believe that the “following” here is two-fold: first, it refers to following the linage of the blessing. Secondly, it also speaks to Jacob’s role in following after God, which is a command that continued on to the children of Israel, who were Jacob’s direct descendants.

What can we say, then, about Esau? I find it interesting that Esau did not choose to follow God. In fact, not only did he want to kill his brother, but he also took wives from the daughters of Canaan after he saw that it was against his father Isaac’s will. We read that:

So Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Isaac; and Esau went to Ishmael, and married, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife in addition to the wives he had.
Genesis 28:8–9

Returning to the Book of Malachi, when we read that God loved Jacob, we also find an interesting and important reference to Esau:

The pronouncement of the word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi: “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was Esau not Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated (שָׂנֵ֑אתִי) Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and given his inheritance to the jackals of the wilderness.”
Malachi 1:1–3 (emphasis mine)

Most Bible translations will translate the Hebrew word “שָׂנֵ֑אתִי” (saneti) as “I hated”.  However, in a deeper search of that word, I found in the Hebrew dictionary that it can also mean “to change” or “not to choose”. This sheds light on what can be a difficult Scripture verse for many people. Instead of hating Esau, it is entirely possible that God simply changed the right of the first-born and did not choose Esau to fulfill this role, but instead chose Jacob to receive and honor the inheritance.

Again, we find that God’s will is always supreme to anything else; it takes precedence over cultural norms, our human sense of justice and fairness, and even family relationships. While we may not be able to understand why God does things a certain way, we can choose if we will submit to His will or rebel against it. The choice is yours… will you follow Jacob’s footsteps, choosing to follow and work for God, or will you follow Esau’s footsteps?

This article originally appeared on Hope for Israel and is reposted with permission.