Then he [Esau] said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” Gen. 27:36
My heart can’t help but feel sorry for Esau, who was tricked out of the family blessing from his father, Isaac. Not because of sibling rivalry, but more so because it reveals a family as a whole that didn’t always get along. Not only was there conflict and disunity between the two twin brothers, Esau and Jacob, but also between husband and wife (Isaac and Rebekah). It’s also a story of a mother who favored her younger son and of a father who favored the eldest son. No doubt, this created a troubling struggle in that family. Not much has changed. Favoritism is still a problem in many families today, but what is it about the blessing that created such an uproar in Esau’s family?
May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone that blesses you! (Genesis 27:28-29 NKJV).
Before a father passed away, it was customary to perform a ceremony to formally give the blessing to the firstborn son.1 In fact, in Hebrew, “firstborn” is bekorah, whereas “blessing” is berakah. These two similar words, “firstborn” and “blessing” use a play on words to link their meanings together.2 Although Esau was the first born son, and according to the custom of the day was the assumed recipient of the blessing, a father could pass the blessing on to another son if he so chose. However, once the blessing was given, it was irrevocable. This is because in ancient times, a person’s word was binding, especially when it was a formal oath.3
The birthright of the first born son (in our story that is Esau) is different than receiving the blessing. Remember, Esau had sold his birthright for a pot of stew (Gen.25:29-33). But the blessing was an extension of the birthright and included some personal and heartfelt words along with a gesture from the father. When I think of the birthright I think mostly of the tangible things passed on to the eldest son. He received a double share of his father’s inheritance. However, with the blessing it is far more personal and therefore more deeply felt. The blessing includes words from a father conveying worth, unconditional love, and acceptance to his son. Those are life-sustaining words. Like it did in Esau and Jacob’s day, the blessing can propel a child onto the path of God’s will for his or her life. Receiving the blessing can satisfy a deep longing of the heart. You can feel Esau’s pain in his words to his father as he begins to bitterly sob at the realization that his brother, Jacob, took the blessing deceitfully from him. “Not one blessing left for me? O my father, bless me too” (Gen.27:38 TLB).
It was not uncommon for fathers in Esau’s and Jacob’s day to wait until late in life to pronounce the blessing in case the first born son wasn’t deserving of it. This way the father could chose to give it to a more deserving son.4
Isaac did have words for Esau’s future, even though the blessing was not to be his. However, they were words probably hard to take in. Isaac says, “Yours will be no life of ease and luxury, but you shall hew your way with your sword. For a time you will serve your brother, [younger brother] but you will finally shake loose from him and be free” (Gen. 27:39-40 TLB). Being that Esau was Isaac’s favorite, perhaps knowing that he would no longer be struggling against his younger brother brought some comfort.
It’s also worth noting that God had chosen Jacob over Esau to receive the blessing, however, his mother, Rebekah decided to manipulate the situation and hurry up God’s plan.
Today the blessing is still conveyed, but perhaps with less protocol than in Bible times, but the importance is still no less needed. In a couple of months, my son, Lawrence, will be graduating from high school. My husband, Ray, and I are working on the words we want to convey to him as we mark this milestone in his life.
In The Blessing, written by John Trent and Gary Smalley, it describes the importance of the blessing: “The family blessing provides that much-needed sense of personal acceptance. The blessing also plays a part in protecting and even freeing people to develop intimate relationships. Perhaps most important, it lays the foundation for a genuine and fulfilling relationship with God that can survive even the rocky teen years, when many young people pull away from faith.”5
John Trent and Gary Smalley describe the five elements of the blessing of which we’ll explore in the next blog article. “The presence or absence of these elements can help us determine whether our home is–or our parents’ home was–a place of blessing.”6 The foundational truth to the blessing is that it is wrapped and sealed in Jesus’ unconditional love. His love is so profound, we can’t even take it all in. We see our flaws, weaknesses, screw-ups and hang-ups, but still, He sees His created children that He chooses to love–without exception.
Giving the blessing, according to John Trent and Gary Smalley is all about choosing–stepping towards someone.
On Thursday we’ll look at the concept of stepping towards our children. Again, if you have a story to share, or this blog article spoke to your heart, please reply in the section below. We grow by sharing.
1 Bible Note for Genesis 27:33-37, Life Application Bible (Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, Inc., 1989).
2 Bible Note for Genesis 27:4, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2008).
3 Bible Note for Genesis 27:33, Life Application Bible
4 Bible Note for Genesis 27:33-37, Life Application Bible
5 John Trent and Gary Smalley, The Blessing (Nashville, TN.: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1993), 27.
6 Ibid., 34.