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Jacob and Esau

19 This is the account of Isaac,[a] the son of Abraham.

Abraham became the father of Isaac. 20 When Isaac was forty years old, he married Rebekah,[b] the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.[c]

21 Isaac prayed[d] to the Lord on behalf of his wife because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 But the children struggled[e] inside her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?”[f] So she asked the Lord,[g] 23 and the Lord said to her,

“Two nations[h] are in your womb,
and two peoples will be separated from within you.
One people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”

24 When the time came for Rebekah to give birth,[i] there were[j] twins in her womb. 25 The first came out reddish[k] all over,[l] like a hairy[m] garment, so they named him Esau.[n] 26 When his brother came out with[o] his hand clutching Esau’s heel, they named him Jacob.[p] Isaac was sixty years old[q] when they were born.

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  1. Genesis 25:19 sn This is the account of Isaac. What follows for several chapters is not the account of Isaac, except briefly, but the account of Jacob and Esau. The next chapters tell what became of Isaac and his family.
  2. Genesis 25:20 tn Heb “And Isaac was the son of forty years when he took Rebekah.”
  3. Genesis 25:20 sn Some valuable information is provided here. We learn here that Isaac married thirty-five years before Abraham died, that Rebekah was barren for 20 years, and that Abraham would have lived to see Jacob and Esau begin to grow up. The death of Abraham was recorded in the first part of the chapter as a “tidying up” of one generation before beginning the account of the next.
  4. Genesis 25:21 tn The Hebrew verb עָתַר (ʿatar), translated “prayed” here, appears in the story of God’s judgment on Egypt in which Moses asked the Lord to remove the plagues. The cognate word in Arabic means “to slaughter for sacrifice,” and the word is used in Zeph 3:10 to describe worshipers who bring offerings. Perhaps some ritual accompanied Isaac’s prayer here.
  5. Genesis 25:22 tn The Hebrew word used here suggests a violent struggle that was out of the ordinary.
  6. Genesis 25:22 tn Heb “If [it is] so, why [am] I this [way]?” Rebekah wanted to know what was happening to her, but the question itself reflects a growing despair over the struggle of the unborn children.
  7. Genesis 25:22 sn Asked the Lord. In other passages (e.g., 1 Sam 9:9) this expression refers to inquiring of a prophet, but no details are provided here.
  8. Genesis 25:23 sn By metonymy the two children in her womb are described as two nations of which the two children, Jacob and Esau, would become the fathers. The language suggests there would be a struggle between these nations, with one being stronger than the other. The oracle reveals that all of Jacob’s scheming was unnecessary in the final analysis. He would have become the dominant nation without using deception to steal his brother’s blessing.
  9. Genesis 25:24 tn Heb “And her days were filled to give birth.”
  10. Genesis 25:24 tn Heb “look!” By the use of the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh, “look”), the narrator invites the audience to view the scene as if they were actually present at the birth.
  11. Genesis 25:25 sn Reddish. The Hebrew word translated “reddish” is אַדְמוֹנִי (ʾadmoni), which forms a wordplay on the Edomites, Esau’s descendants. The writer sees in Esau’s appearance at birth a sign of what was to come. After all, the reader has already been made aware of the “nations” that were being born.
  12. Genesis 25:25 tn Heb “all of him.”
  13. Genesis 25:25 sn Hairy. Here is another wordplay involving the descendants of Esau. The Hebrew word translated “hairy” is שֵׂעָר (seʿar); the Edomites will later live in Mount Seir, perhaps named for its wooded nature.
  14. Genesis 25:25 tn Heb “And they called his name Esau.” The name “Esau” (עֵשָׂו, ʿesav) is not etymologically related to שֵׂעָר (seʿar), but it draws on some of the sounds.
  15. Genesis 25:26 tn The disjunctive clause describes an important circumstance accompanying the birth. Whereas Esau was passive at birth, Jacob was active.
  16. Genesis 25:26 tn Heb “And he called his name Jacob.” Some ancient witnesses read “they called his name Jacob” (see v. 25). In either case the subject is The name Jacob is a play on the Hebrew word for “heel” (עָקֵב, ʿaqev). The name (since it is a verb) probably means something like “may he protect,” that is, as a rearguard, dogging the heels. It did not have a negative connotation until Esau redefined it. This name was probably chosen because of the immediate association with the incident of grabbing the heel. After receiving such an oracle, the parents would have preserved in memory almost every detail of the unusual births.
  17. Genesis 25:26 tn Heb “the son of sixty years.”