Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
When Isaac had grown old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could no longer see (מראת from seeing, with the neg. מן as in Gen 16:2, etc.), he wished, in the consciousness of approaching death, to give his blessing to his elder son. Isaac was then in his 137th year, at which age his half-brother Ishmael had died fourteen years before;
(Note: Cf. Lightfoot, opp. 1, p. 19. This correct estimate of Luther's is based upon the following calculation: - When Joseph was introduced to Pharaoh he was thirty years old (Gen 41:46), and when Jacob went into Egypt, thirty-nine, as the seven years of abundance and two of famine had then passed by (Gen 45:6). But Jacob was at that time 130 years old (Gen 47:9). Consequently Joseph was born before Jacob was ninety-one; and as his birth took place in the fourteenth year of Jacob's sojourn in Mesopotamia (cf. Gen 30:25, and Gen 29:18, Gen 29:21, and Gen 29:27), Jacob's flight to Laban occurred in the seventy-seventh year of his own life, and the 137th of Isaac's.)
and this, with the increasing infirmities of age, may have suggested the thought of death, though he did not die till forty-three years afterwards (Gen 35:28). Without regard to the words which were spoken by God with reference to the children before their birth, and without taking any notice of Esau's frivolous barter of his birthright and his ungodly connection with Canaanites, Isaac maintained his preference for Esau, and directed him therefore to take his things (כּלים, hunting gear), his quiver and bow, to hunt game and prepare a savoury dish, that he might eat, and his soul might bless him. As his preference for Esau was fostered and strengthened by, if it did not spring from, his liking for game (Gen 25:28), so now he wished to raise his spirits for imparting the blessing by a dish of venison prepared to his taste. In this the infirmity of his flesh is evident. At the same time, it was not merely because of his partiality for Esau, but unquestionably on account of the natural rights of the first-born, that he wished to impart the blessing to him, just as the desire to do this before his death arose from the consciousness of his patriarchal call.
Rebekah, who heard what he said, sought to frustrate this intention, and to secure the blessing for her (favourite) son Jacob. Whilst Esau was away hunting, she told Jacob to take his father a dish, which she would prepare from two kids according to his taste; and, having introduced himself as Esau, to ask for the blessing "before Jehovah." Jacob's objection, that the father would know him by his smooth skin, and so, instead of blessing him, might pronounce a curse upon him as a mocker, i.e., one who was trifling with his blind father, she silenced by saying, that she would take the curse upon herself. She evidently relied upon the word of promise, and thought that she ought to do her part to secure its fulfilment by directing the father's blessing to Jacob; and to this end she thought any means allowable. Consequently she was so assured of the success of her stratagem as to have no fear of the possibility of a curse. Jacob then acceded to her plan, and fetched the goats. Rebekah prepared them according to her husband's taste; and having told Jacob to put on Esau's best clothes which were with her in the dwelling (the tent, not the house), she covered his hands and the smooth (i.e., the smoother parts) of his neck with the skins of the kids of the goats,
(Note: We must not think of our European goats, whose skins would be quite unsuitable for any such deception. "It is the camel-goat of the East, whose black, silk-like hair was used even by the Romans as a substitute for human hair. Martial xii. 46." - Tuch on v. 16.)
and sent him with the savoury dish to his father.
But Jacob had no easy task to perform before his father. As soon as he had spoken on entering, his father asked him, "Who art thou, my son?" On his replying, "I am Esau, thy first-born," the father expressed his surprise at the rapid success of his hunting; and when he was satisfied with the reply, "Jehovah thy God sent it (the thing desired) to meet me," he became suspicious about the voice, and bade him come nearer, that he might feel him. But as his hands appeared hairy like Esau's, he did not recognise him; and "so he blessed him." In this remark (Gen 27:23) the writer gives the result of Jacob's attempt; so that the blessing is merely mentioned proleptically here, and refers to the formal blessing described afterwards, and not to the first greeting and salutation.
After his father, in order to get rid of his suspicion about the voice, had asked him once more, "Art thou really my son Esau?" and Jacob had replied, "I am" (אני = yes), he told him to hand him the savoury dish that he might eat. After eating, he kissed his son as a sing of his paternal affection, and in doing so he smelt the odour of his clothes, i.e., the clothes of Esau, which were thoroughly scented with the odour of the fields, and then imparted his blessing (Gen 27:27-29). The blessing itself is thrown, as the sign of an elevated state of mind, into the poetic style of parallel clauses, and contains the peculiar forms of poetry, such as ראה for הנּה, הוה for היה, etc. The smell of the clothes with the scent of the field suggested to the patriarch's mind the image of his son's future prosperity, so that he saw him in possession of the promised land and the full enjoyment of its valuable blessings, having the smell of the field which Jehovah blessed, i.e., the garden of paradise, and broke out into the wish, "God (Ha-Elohim, the personal God, not Jehovah, the covenant God) give thee from the dew of heaven, and the fat fields of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine," i.e., a land blessed with the dew of heaven and a fruitful soil.
In Eastern countries, where there is so little rain, the dew is the most important prerequisite for the growth of the fruits of the earth, and is often mentioned therefore as a source of blessing (Deu 33:13, Deu 33:28; Hos 14:6; Zac 8:12). In משׁמנּי, notwithstanding the absence of the Dagesh from the שׁ, the מ is the prep. מן, as the parallel מטּל proves; and שׁמנּים both here and in Gen 27:39 are the fat (fertile) districts of a country. The rest of the blessing had reference to the future pre-eminence of his son. He was to be lord not only over his brethren (i.e., over kindred tribes), but over (foreign) peoples and nations also. The blessing rises here to the idea of universal dominion, which was to be realized in the fact that, according to the attitude assumed by the people towards him as their lord, it would secure to them either a blessing or a curse. If we compare this blessing with the promises which Abraham received, there are two elements of the latter which are very apparent; viz., the possession of the land, in the promise of the rich enjoyment of its produce, and the numerous increase of posterity, in the promised dominion over the nations. The third element, however, the blessing of the nations in and through the seed of Abraham, is so generalized in the expression, which is moulded according to Gen 12:3, "Cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee," that the person blessed is not thereby declared to be the medium of salvation to the nations. Since the intention to give the blessing to Esau the first-born did not spring from proper feelings towards Jehovah and His promises, the blessing itself, as the use of the word Elohim instead of Jehovah or El Shaddai (cf. Gen 28:3) clearly shows, could not rise to the full height of the divine blessings of salvation, but referred chiefly to the relation in which the two brothers and their descendants would stand to one another, the theme with which Isaac's soul was entirely filled. It was only the painful discovery that, in blessing against his will, he had been compelled to follow the saving counsel of God, which awakened in him the consciousness of his patriarchal vocation, and gave him the spiritual power to impart the "blessing of Abraham" to the son whom he had kept back, but whom Jehovah had chosen, when he was about to send him away to Haran (Gen 28:3-4).
Jacob had hardly left his father, after receiving the blessing (יצא אך, was only gone out), when Esau returned and came to Isaac, with the game prepared, to receive the blessing. The shock was inconceivable which Isaac received, when he found that he had blessed another, and not Esau-that, in fact, he had blessed Jacob. At the same time he neither could nor would, either curse him on account of the deception which he had practised, or withdraw the blessing imparted. For he could not help confessing to himself that he had sinned and brought the deception upon himself by his carnal preference for Esau. Moreover, the blessing was not a matter of subjective human affection, but a right entrusted by the grace of God to paternal supremacy and authority, in the exercise of which the person blessing, being impelled and guided by a higher authority, imparted to the person to be blest spiritual possessions and powers, which the will of man could not capriciously withdraw. Regarding this as the meaning of the blessing, Isaac necessarily saw in what had taken place the will of God, which had directed to Jacob the blessing that he had intended for Esau. He therefore said, "I have blessed him; yea, he will be (remain) blessed" (cf. Heb 12:17). Even the great and bitter lamentation into which Esau broke out could not change his father's mind. To his entreaty in Gen 27:34, "Bless me, even me also, O my father!" he replied, "Thy brother came with subtilty, and hath taken away thy blessing." Esau answered, "Is it that (הכי) they have named him Jacob (overreacher), and he has overreached me twice?" i.e., has he received the name Jacob from the fact that he has twice outwitted me? הכי is used "when the cause is not rightly known" (cf. Gen 29:15). To his further entreaty, "Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?" (אצל, lit., to lay aside), Isaac repeated the substance of the blessing given to Jacob, and added, "and to thee (לכה for לך as in Gen 3:9), now, what can I do, my son?" When Esau again repeated, with tears, the entreaty that Isaac would bless him also, the father gave him a blessing (Gen 27:39, Gen 27:40), but one which, when compared with the blessing of Jacob, was to be regarded rather as "a modified curse," and which is not even described as a blessing, but "introduced a disturbing element into Jacob's blessing, a retribution for the impure means by which he had obtained it." "Behold," it states, "from the fat fields of the earth will thy dwelling be, and from the dew of heaven from above." By a play upon the words Isaac uses the same expression as in Gen 27:28, "from the fat fields of the earth, and from the dew," but in the opposite sense, מן being partitive there, and privative here, "from = away from." The context requires that the words should be taken thus, and not in the sense of "thy dwelling shall partake of the fat of the earth and the dew of heaven" (Vulg., Luth., etc.).
(Note: I cannot discover, however, in Mal 1:3 an authentic proof of the privative meaning, as Kurtz and Delitzsch do, since the prophet's words, "I have hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste," are not descriptive of the natural condition of Idumaea, but of the desolation to which the land was given up.)
Since Isaac said (Gen 27:37) he had given Jacob the blessing of the super-abundance of corn and wine, he could not possibly promise Esau also fat fields and the dew of heaven. Nor would this agree with the words which follows, "By thy sword wilt thou live." Moreover, the privative sense of מן is thoroughly poetical (cf. Sa2 1:22; Job 11:15, etc.). The idea expressed in the words, therefore, was that the dwelling-place of Esau would be the very opposite of the land of Canaan, viz., an unfruitful land. This is generally the condition of the mountainous country of Edom, which, although not without its fertile slopes and valleys, especially in the eastern portion (cf. Robinson, Pal. ii. p. 552), is thoroughly waste and barren in the western; so that Seetzen says it consists of "the most desolate and barren mountains probably in the world."
The mode of life and occupation of the inhabitants were adapted to the country. "By (lit., on) thy sword thou wilt live;" i.e., thy maintenance will depend on the sword (על as in Deu 8:3 cf. Isa 28:16), "live by war, rapine, and freebooting" (Knobel). "And thy brother thou wilt serve; yet it will come to pass, as (כּאשׁר, lit., in proportion as, cf. Num 27:14) thou shakest (tossest), thou wilt break his yoke from thy neck." רוּד, "to rove about" (Jer 2:31; Hos 12:1), Hiphil "to cause (the thoughts) to rove about" (Psa 55:3); but Hengstenberg's rendering is the best here, viz., "to shake, sc., the yoke." In the wild, sport-loving Esau there was aptly prefigured the character of his posterity. Josephus describes the Idumaean people as "a tumultuous and disorderly nation, always on the watch on every motion, delighting in mutations" (Whiston's tr.: de bell Judg 4; 1:1-21:25; 1). The mental eye of the patriarch discerned in the son his whole future family in its attitude to its brother-nation, and he promised Edom, not freedom from the dominion of Israel (for Esau was to serve his brother, as Jehovah had predicted before their birth), but only a repeated and not unsuccessful struggle for freedom. And so it was; the historical relation of Edom to Israel assumed the form of a constant reiteration of servitude, revolt, and reconquest. After a long period of independence at the first, the Edomites were defeated by Saul (Sa1 14:47) and subjugated by David (Sa2 8:14); and, in spite of an attempt at revolt under Solomon (Kg1 11:14.), they remained subject to the kingdom of Judah until the time of Joram, when they rebelled. They were subdued again by Amaziah (Kg2 14:7; Ch2 25:11.), and remained in subjection under Uzziah and Jotham (Kg2 14:22; Ch2 26:2). It was not till the reign of Ahaz that they shook the yoke of Judah entirely off (Kg2 16:6; Ch2 28:17), without Judah being ever able to reduce them again. At length, however, they were completely conquered by John Hyrcanus about b.c. 129, compelled to submit to circumcision, and incorporated in the Jewish state (Josephus, Ant. xiii. 9, 1, xv. 7, 9). At a still later period, through Antipater and Herod, they established an Idumaean dynasty over Judea, which lasted till the complete dissolution of the Jewish state.
Thus the words of Isaac to his two sons were fulfilled-words which are justly said to have been spoken "in faith concerning things to come" (Heb 11:20). For the blessing was a prophecy, and that not merely in the case of Esau, but in that of Jacob also; although Isaac was deceived with regard to the person of the latter. Jacob remained blessed, therefore, because, according to the predetermination of God, the elder was to serve the younger; but the deceit by which his mother prompted him to secure the blessing was never approved. On the contrary, the sin was followed by immediate punishment. Rebekah was obliged to send her pet son into a foreign land, away from his father's house, and in an utterly destitute condition. She did not see him for twenty years, even if she lived till his return, and possibly never saw again. Jacob had to atone for his sin against both brother and father by a long and painful exile, in the midst of privation, anxiety, fraud, and want. Isaac was punished for retaining his preference for Esau, in opposition to the revealed will of Jehovah, by the success of Jacob's stratagem; and Esau for his contempt of the birthright, by the loss of the blessing of the first-born. In this way a higher hand prevailed above the acts of sinful men, bringing the counsel and will of Jehovah to eventual triumph, in opposition to human thought and will.
Esau's complaining and weeping were now changed into mortal hatred of his brother. "The days of mourning," he said to himself, "for my father are at hand, and I will kill my brother Jacob." אבי אבל: genit. obj. as in Amo 8:10; Jer 6:26. He would put off his intended fratricide that he might not hurt his father's mind.
When Rebekah was informed by some one of Esau's intention, she advised Jacob to protect himself from his revenge (התנחם to procure comfort by retaliation, equivalent to "avenge himself," התנקּם, Isa 1:24),
(Note: This reference is incorrect; the Niphal is used in Isa 1:24, the Hithpael in Jer 5:9-29. Tr.)
by fleeing to her brother Laban in Haran, and remaining there "some days," as she mildly puts it, until his brother's wrath was subdued. "For why should I lose you both in one day?" viz., Jacob through Esau's vengeance, and Esau as a murderer by the avenger of blood (Gen 9:6, cf. Sa2 14:6-7). In order to obtain Isaac's consent to this plan, without hurting his feelings by telling him of Esau's murderous intentions, she spoke to him of her troubles on account of the Hittite wives of Esau, and the weariness of life that she should feel if Jacob also were to marry one of the daughters of the land, and so introduced the idea of sending Jacob to her relations in Mesopotamia, with a view to his marriage there.