Why Jacob Took the Blessing

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington


Why was it such a big deal for Jacob to take the blessing? Hadn't Esau already sold his birthright?


It appears as if birthright (behorah) and blessing (berakhah) are two different things. W. Sibley Towner notes that it could just be a "legal" difference, with birthright being "guaranteed by law" (207). Duet 21:15-17 says that the first-born son is to get a "double portion" of the inheritance. Basically, the first son gets 2/3rds of the estate.

Being a first-born son was huge. Nahum N. Sarna explains that the "first-born son, along with the first fruits of the soil and the male firstlings of the herd and the flock were considered to be possessed of a unique sanctity. They all belonged to God" (180-1). In addition, the first-born was "second only to the head of the family" and was the automatic successor.

Why Esau didn't care about that birthright is hard to understand. He sold his birthright to his younger twin brother Jacob – for a pot of lentil stew. Esau had come in from outside famished, asking Jacob for stew. Jacob agreed if Esau would first sell him his birthright. So the transfer happened. According to the Bible writers, Esau "showed contempt for his rights as the firstborn" (Gen 25:34 NLT).

Maybe Esau didn't want the responsibilities that came with the status -- guaranteeing the family line and taking care of his parents. Jacob, on the other hand, was certainly motivated to get the birthright. He must have seen the value in it.

History also shows that fathers sometimes disregarded seniority, as Jacob did later to his own son, Reuben, who had disrespected him. So being the oldest wasn't always a guarantee for getting the double portion of the birthright.

But how is the blessing different, and why was it so important?

Perhaps the answer lies in its two-fold nature. Towner explains that a "blessing in ancient Israel … revolved around the very practical notion of material welfare." That appears to be its primary importance. But he also explains that there is a "true spiritual dimension to even such a material blessing." A blessing would provide "positive hope" and "is intended to give physical and emotional empowerment" (206).

While gaining material possessions is an understandable motivation for wanting a blessing, we could argue that there's more to be said for "physical and emotional empowerment." When we feel empowered, we act empowered. Our approach to life is different. We're more confident, willing to try new things, more positive, inspired to live life to the fullest. If we feel we're missing something, we tend to feel down, less worthy, even victimized. The ways in which we view ourselves and our situations actually determine the quality of our experiences and our life.

It also appears that they believed the blessing really came from God (Sarna 190). Feeling God's blessing upon one's life is pretty valuable.

No wonder Esau was upset when he found out that his dad had blessed his brother and so asked for a blessing of his own, which Isaac did give him. No wonder Rebekah wanted Jacob to receive the blessing. As this Bible story shows, Jacob was blessed and so was Esau. No one was left out. But there were consequences: Rebekah never saw Jacob again, and neither son had an easy life.

Perhaps there's a better way to receive a birthright or a blessing and experience a blessed life -- one that doesn't include selling or buying, deceiving or hating, biding one's time or fleeing. Perhaps the better way is to see that it doesn't matter if we're first or last. God has already blessed each one of us abundantly with everything we need. We can feel blessed and act and live accordingly.