Jacob and Esau: The Sale of Birthright: The Problem of How Jacob Cheated His Brother

The character of Jacob is one of the craftiest tricksters in the Bible. He goes throughout his life manipulating and subtly fooling any number of others, usually to get himself out of yet another mess that he has inadvertently created for himself with his trickery.

Esau’s Birthright

One such tale is that of his stealing Esau’s birthright (or claiming it slyly after having been sold it “fair and square”) by tricking his father into believing he is Esau when the time comes for Isaac to bless his first-born.

With the help of his mother and some well placed goat hair, Jacob fools his father into thinking he is Esau and receives a powerful blessing, leaving Esau with little more than scraps to come home to. Of course the mighty, if somewhat oafish, Esau is enraged, and Jacob is forced to flee for his very life.

The Problem of Jacob’s Actions

This story, on the surface, may seem slightly troubling to a skeptical reader. Isn’t the dishonest manner in which Jacob obtains his purchased birthright—not to mention the truly un-brotherly way in which he purchased it—just plain wrong?

For that matter, one may wonder about his mother, breaking from her role as a helpmeet and goodly wife to orchestrate the very subterfuge by which Isaac is taken in; isn’t she wrong?

Well, yes, and no. To lie is wrong, to trick your husband dishonestly is wrong, yet both things had to occur in order for God’s preordained plan to work. From the beginning God emphatically states that he “loves Jacob but hateth Esau,” leaving little doubt of whose side he’s on.

Esau Has Gone Outside of God’s Will

Add to that Esau’s flippant disregard for his birthright, which he sells to Jacob for porridge, and his taking of a foreign woman for his wife and the poor schmuck is pretty well as far out of God’s favor as he can be and still be breathing—which leads me to the point that this story has a two-fold lesson.

Firstly it shows us that God will give up to ruin any man who refuses to obey his laws. Esau flaunts God’s will and so God lets him be cheated and suckered.

Of course it’s Jacob, future father of the chosen people of God who does so, but that doesn’t negate the need of Esau to be punished, it just brings us to the second lesson, which is that God will work through whom he chooses, regardless of whether they begin ignobly or not.

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