Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Lesson 10 The Price of Duplicity

The Lesson for this week begins with the story of Jacob and Esau. The lesson states on Sunday Dec 3:

Genesis 25:27 contrasts the two boys. It's interesting that the Hebrew word describing Jacob is tam, which means "complete" or "perfect" or "morally innocent." It's the same word, translated in Job 1:8 as "perfect," used to describe the character of Job. Despite this depiction, he still was willing to take advantage of his brother's weakness in order to seek for himself the birthright. Perhaps the promise made to his mother regarding him and his brother (vs. 23) made him think that he had to have the birthright in order for that promise to be fulfilled. Whatever his motives, he obviously esteemed the birthright as something to be coveted.

What is interesting about this is the supposed Hebrew word used in Gen. 25:27. You have no doubt been subjected to a local pastor who purports to tell the congregation the meaning of a Greek word which somehow he learned in his two years of Greek in college. Occasionally they may do the same for Hebrew even though they probably had less Hebrew courses then Greek. Actual Greek scholars, the Bible translators and the lexicons don’t have that meaning but the graduate of 4 semesters of introductory Greek has figured it out. It is frankly annoying. Here the lesson author does the same thing as anyone can see if they click the link offered in the online quarterly. (The Lesson Study author has been pastor, teacher, and administrator). The texts states:

Gen 25:27
27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. (NIV)

8535 tam (tawm);from 8552; complete; usually (morally) pious; specifically, gentle, ear:

KJV-- coupled together, perfect, plain, undefiled, upright.

Yes it is the same word used several times in the book of Job but it is also the same word used of the coupling of the frame of the tabernacle or of the beloved in the Song of Solomon.

Exod 26:24
24 And they shall be coupled together beneath, and they shall be coupled together above the head of it unto one ring: thus shall it be for them both; they shall be for the two corners. (KJV)

See also Song of Solomon 5:2, 6:9 where it is used as flawless one (NIV) and undefiled (KJV)

Interestingly enough the word Tam is closely related to twins.

8382 ta'am (taw-am'); a primitive root; to be complete; but used only as denominative from 8380, to be (causatively, make) twinned, i.e. (figuratively) duplicate or (arch.) jointed: KJV-- coupled (together), bear twins. ***. ta'om. See 8380.

If only Hebrew had over a million words like English maybe we would not have to suffer the multiple meanings. As it is we will all have to deal with the multitudes of speculative meanings that our pastors can come up with. At least until we grant the experts in language their due.

The story of the conflict begins with the now familiar theme of a birth of nations. We saw that in the story of Abraham, and the story of Lot. Again the focus is to take us to God’s chosen nation of Israel in a world where they were to fight for the promised land.

Gen 25:21-23
21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, "Why is this happening to me?" So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger." (NIV)

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary explains the recurring motif in Genesis this way:

Another important motif is present in this account: "the older will serve the younger" (v. 23). As far back as chapter 4, the narrative has portrayed God choosing and approving the younger and the weaker through whom he would accomplish his purpose and bring about his blessing. The offering of Cain, the older brother, was rejected, whereas the offering of the younger brother, Abel, was accepted. The line of Seth, the still younger brother, was the chosen line (4:26-5:8); Isaac was chosen over his older brother Ishmael (17:18-19); Rachel was chosen over her older sister Leah (29:18); Joseph, the younger brother, was chosen over all the rest (37:3); and Judah was chosen over his older brothers (49:8). The intention behind each of these "reversals" was the recurring theme of God's sovereign plan of grace. The blessing was not a natural right, as a right of the firstborn son would be. Rather, God's blessing is extended to those who have no other claim to it. They all received what they did not deserve (cf. Mal 1:1-5; Rom 9:10-13).

If this motif is correct then the nation from Esau was to be a nation stronger then Israel. When you think about nations you would normally think about wanting the nation to become strong. Yet in this story the prediction is opposite of what most in Israel would really want to hear. Rebekah could do nothing about the strength of the nations to come from her children so like a good mother she sought to help establish the latter part of the prediction, that the older would serve the younger. That never really happened in their lives, but many years later Edom became subject to Israel as the Wikipedia says:

Nothing further is recorded of the Edomites in the Tanakh until their defeat by King Saul of Israel in the late 1000's BCE. Forty years later King David and his general Joab defeated the Edomites in the "valley of salt," (probably near the Dead Sea).[18] An Edomite prince named Hadad escaped and fled to Egypt, and after David's death returned and tried to start a rebellion, but failed and went to Syria.[19] From that time Edom remained a vassal of Israel. David placed over the Edomites Israelite governors or prefects [20] and this form of government seems to have continued under Solomon. When Israel divided into two kingdoms Edom became a dependency of the Kingdom of Judah. In the time of Jehoshaphat (c. 914 BCE) the Tanakh mentions a king of Edom,[21] who was probably an Israelite appointed by the King of Judah. It also states[22] that the inhabitants of Mount Seir invaded Judea in conjunction with Ammon and Moab, and that the invaders turned against one another and were all destroyed. Edom revolted against Jehoram and elected a king of its own.[23] Amaziah attacked and defeated the Edomites, seizing Selah, but the Israelites never subdued Edom completely.[24]

There is a very interesting pattern involved with the stories of the Patriarchs. Even though they have been promised a homeland they have never received it. They wander around from place to place like Jacob in this week’s lesson. Some may speculate that this was to build their characters. More likely it is a technique used by the author to relate the struggle of Israel as a nation with that of her forbearers.

One perennial question that comes up when talking about Jacob and Esau is the text in Malachi and later quoted in Romans:

MAL 1:2 "I have loved you," says the LORD. "But you ask, `How have you loved us?' "Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" the LORD says. "Yet I have loved Jacob,

MAL 1:3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals."

MAL 1:4 Edom may say, "Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins." But this is what the LORD Almighty says: "They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD.

If you look up the Hebrew word for hate you find that it means aside from hate, enemy or foe etc. So Malachi is referring to the destruction of the nation of Edom. In fact when you do a search of the word you find that the reference listed right before this one is found in Amos where God says He hates Jacob.

Amos 6:8
8 The Lord GOD hath sworn by himself, saith the LORD the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein. (KJV)

Being an enemy of God is related not to race or genealogy but upon what one does, or in this case the results of a nations activities. Paul takes the Old Testament verse and makes a point which may or may not be related to the use in Malachi:

RO 9:10 Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac.
RO 9:11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand: RO 9:12 not by works but by him who calls--she was told, "The older will serve the younger." N RO 9:13 Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

His point was that God chose who were to be the fathers of the Jewish nation and that the one chosen had done nothing to deserve the honor, it was God’s choice based upon the mercy and wisdom of God. The choice by God was likely based upon his foreknowledge, whereas in Malachi the line Jacob I loved and Esau I hated was a reference to the actions of the nations. The actions of nations or individuals are based upon the hardness of their hearts. The hardness of their hearts whether of their own accord or somehow aided by God in revealing what they are also revealing the power of God.

In conclusion As the Expositor’s Bible Commentary says:
In this connection, by quoting Malachi 1:2, 3, Paul lifts the discussion from what might appear to be a purely personal one to the plane of corporate, national life. God's love for Jacob and hatred for Esau ought not to be construed as temperamental. Malachi is appealing to the course of history as fulfilling the purpose of God declared long before. Hatred in the ordinary sense will not fit the situation, since God bestowed many blessings on Esau and his descendants. The "hatred" is simply a way of saying that Esau was not the object of God's electing purpose (cf. the use of hate in Luke 14:26, where discipleship is stated to involve "hatred" for one's own family and one's own life; they are simply put out of consideration when one takes on himself the responsibility of following Christ). The value of the account of the two brothers is to make clear that in election God does not wait until individuals or nations are developed and then make a choice on the basis of character or achievement. If he did so, this would make a mockery of the concept of election, because it would locate the basis in man rather than in God and his purpose. God's love for Jacob, then, must be coupled with election rather than explained by some worthiness found in him (cf. Deut 7:6-8).


Julius said...


I appreciated your article comparing progressives and historics in AToday a while back. In fact, I have it linked in my site.

On this my mind, there are only three viable ways of understanding the prophecy given to Rebekah in Gen 25.

1. It's a later editorial to explain the actions of Rebekah and what eventually happened.
2. It's based on God's will (and foreknowledge/predestination) of choosing Jacob and the nation of Israel.
3. It's meant as a description of what may take place if Isaac and Rebekah were to allow the jostling to continue.

I've wondered about the 3rd possibility recently since I'm teaching the lesson tomorrow morning at my church. What do you think?

Happy Sabbath!

Ron Corson said...

Might not get this answer to you in time but here goes. I think if we read the story literally then it was a prophecy of God about what was going to happen. Now what that means in the world of prophecy is that God knows the future. What that means in the world of humanity is that if God tells us something of the future we will try an make what we think should happen happen.

And we will see later on in the Old Testament that in order to stop that kind of human anticipation prophecy becomes a lot more obscure. Or maybe this prophecy to Rebekah was equally obscure but more subject to her own intervention then other prophecies.

All in all it fits with the theme of Genesis which is to take us to the nation of Israel who arrive through divine means, often inspite of the efforts of the Patriachs, who may have been well intentioned at times but got themselves in lots of trouble. And if not for God's continual intervention the whole divine plan for the nation would have vanished.