What does Genesis chapter 27 mean?By the end of Genesis 27, Isaac will have handed the family blessing down to his second-born, Jacob. This should seem unusual, since Esau is technically oldest and is entitled to that inheritance. At the start of the chapter, though, Isaac has no intention of doing so. Instead, Isaac sets out to confer the blessing on Esau, the firstborn of the two twins. Isaac is old and blind. He believes himself to be near the end of his life. The time has come to pass the blessing on (Genesis 27:1–4).
When the day comes, Isaac tells Esau to go out into the field to hunt fresh game and to prepare for him a delicious meal. When Esau returns, Isaac will eat the meal and give to Esau the blessing. Esau agrees, which is a far cry from his earlier attitude—an oath, given to Jacob, in a moment of recklessness, to sell his birthright (Genesis 25:29–34).
Isaac's wife Rebekah overhears the exchange between Isaac and Esau (Genesis 27:5). She loves Jacob more than Esau (Genesis 25:28), and she wants him to receive this critical blessing. Before the twins were even born, Rebekah received an oracle from the Lord prophesying that the younger would one day rule over the older (Genesis 25:23). Rebekah decides to step in to help that prophecy along. As was the case with Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, trying to "help" God's plans usually backfires (Genesis 16:1–5; 21:9–12).
Rebekah compels Jacob to participate in a scheme to deceive Isaac into giving him the blessing by pretending to be Esau. She will prepare the meal Isaac is expecting from Esau. She will dress Jacob in Esau's clothes to make him smell like his brother. She will cover his smooth hands, arms, and neck with goat's skin to make him feel to the touch like hairy Esau. This is an elaborate, very deliberate act of deceit.
Jacob offers one objection about the plan: What if his father catches on and curses him instead of giving him the blessing? It's worth noting that Jacob's concern here is not about whether or not this action is moral; rather, his concern is only about what will happen if he is caught in the lie. Rebekah assures Jacob the curse will fall to her if that happens. She commands him to obey and do what she says. Jacob agrees (Genesis 27:6–13).
When Jacob goes to his blind father with the meal, it seems the plan is doomed from the start. Isaac knows it's too soon for Esau to have returned, and the voice of this man claiming to be Esau sounds like Jacob. Jacob is forced to lie outright to Isaac insisting that he is Esau. This statement—deception about his identity—is something God will turn on Jacob later in his life (Genesis 29:21–26; 32:24–28). Isaac is finally convinced by Jacob's disguised hairy hands and the smell of the fields on his clothes (Genesis 27:14–25).
As the son of Abraham and receiver of the promises of God, Isaac's prayer of blessing carries the weight of certainty. Isaac knows God will bring his blessing to pass. He prays for great wealth in grain and in the fat of the land. He also prays for the one before him to be lord over his brothers and other nations. Finally, Isaac passes on the promise that all who bless or curse this one will receive the same in return (Genesis 27:26–29).
Moments after Jacob leaves with these blessings from Isaac, Esau returns with his own meal. Shocked and shaking with anger, Isaac realizes he has been duped by Jacob. Still, he says the blessing will stand. Jacob will be blessed (Genesis 27:30–35).
Esau is distraught. He recalls the time Jacob "cheated" him out of the birthright for a bowl of stew and mocks the meaning of Jacob's name. Ya'aqob literally means "heel grabber" or "usurper." In more casual understanding, the name can be understood as "he lies," or "cheater." This is a somewhat ironic moment, since Esau's oath to sell the birthright should have meant allowing Jacob to take the blessing in the first place. Esau begs his father for some kind of blessing of his own (Genesis 27:36–38).
That blessing, though, reads more like a curse. Esau and his descendants will be wanderers, living away from moisture and the fat of the land. They will live by the sword and only at some point in the future break free from the rule of his brother (Genesis 27:39–40). The sad end of this family strife, lived out through the nations of Israel and Edom, is summarized in the book of Obadiah.
Esau, heartbroken and bitter, falls into a dark rage, committing himself to murder Jacob after Isaac dies. Rebekah learns of his plan and urges Jacob to obey her once more by running away to live with her brother Laban in Mesopotamia. She then urges Isaac to send Jacob away to find a wife from among her own people (Genesis 27:41–46). Her punishment for this fraud is not small; so far as we can tell from Scripture, Rebekah will never see Jacob again (Genesis 35:27; 49:31).