Deuteronomy 32:36-39

Genesis 25:19--34

Scope, Selection and Content of Pericope

Genesis 25:19 begins a new text section, marked by a topic marker "These are the descendants of name son of name" which begins new sections in Gn 2:4, 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, and 11:27. Gn 26, immediately following the pericope is an independent story about Isaac. The Jacob saga begun in 25:19 continues with 27:1, which directly depends on 25:19-34. The pericope as selected is a well-defined and complete text consisting of introductory material and a brief narrative.


This text is predominantly J tradition with a P introduction. The narrative has the typical J traits of the name Yahweh and the immanence of the Deity. The connection of Esau with Edom both explicitly and through wordplay shows a J origin because the conflict between Judah and Edom is a southern (hence J) rather than northern (E) concern. The oracle that Jacob will dominate Esau (Edom), reflects a situation that only obtained during the kingships of David and Solomon. The emphasis on personal inheritance of God's promise accords with the J view of the Davidic covenant.

Summary of Content

Preceding context

Abraham obtains Rebekah as wife for Isaac in Gn 24. Miscellaneous genealogical material related to Abraham occupies the first 18 verses of Gn 25.


A new section of the Patriarchal History, the Jacob Saga , begins with 25:19. Rebekah is "barren"; she becomes pregnant when Yahweh answers Isaac's prayer. An oracle of the dominance of Jacob over Esau is interpolated in 22-23. Rebekah bears twins, the firstborn is red and hairy, the second grips the first's heel. Esau becomes Isaac's favorite, Jacob is Rachel's. Jacob demands and gets Esau's birthright as the price of a bowl of lentil stew.


After an unrelated Isaac story in Gn 26, the saga continues in Gn 27 with the story of Jacob obtaining the blessing of the firstborn, by trickery, from Isaac, completing (or complementing) the sale of the birthright.

Lexical and Grammatical Issues


rq=i8, 'aqar, from rqi, "root", can be used of male or female human or animal without descendants. In Dt 7:14 the absence of barren-ness is listed as one of Yahweh's blessings for keeping the covenant. Rebekah's barrenness emphasizes that these children are born of Yahweh's will because of his relationship to Isaac.

Why do I live?

Rebekah's question "yk1Ona= hz<3 hm<=l=", is difficult to translate. Literally it is "How this I?". The context describing the tumult in her womb and the reply given to her question indicates that the sensible reading is "why am I like this?" (REB).

The one shall be stronger than the other.

The oracle of 22-23 speaks of the struggle in Rebekah's womb as a symbol of the struggle between two "peoples". As the pregnancy is a direct response of Yahweh to prayer, the events of 29-34 and 27:1-40 are not results of free choices by Jacob and Esau, but are the acting out of Yahweh's will as already manifested in utero. It provides another rationale from 34 for the domination of Edom by Israel and the attendant atrocities during the United Monarchy.


A leitmotif of this pericope is the play on words between MOda=, MOda=h=, and moda6 ("red", "the red", and "Edom"), a relationship reinforced in Gn 36:1,8. The use of MdOa=h= in 30 explicitly plays on the relationship.

The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle

There is another play on words between ri=S2 and vS=i2 which recurs in 27:11. The birth narrative, however, is consistent with an accurate description of a premature twin birth, obviously based on actual midwife experiences. It is a rare instance of a female-derived source in the Pentateuch. The entomology of 26 for Jacob also is a back-reading of an accurate description.


This emotionally loaded word, hz=b=< "despise, have contempt for, disregard", appears in the Torah only here and in Nm 15:31 (where it is intensely pejorative). Esau is condemned for selling his birthright, but Jacob is not condemned for his extortion.


hr4kOb4<, from rk-b<= "first", "right of the first born" is specified in Dt 21:17 as an inalienable double share of an estate. Except for 1 Chron 5:1-2 which relates the transfer of birthright from Judah to Joseph, there are no other examples of birthright transfer in the TaNaK. The Yahwist apparently interprets birthright as strictly applying to property (Gn 27:36) and distinguishes it from the paternal blessing.

Punch Line

"Thus Esau despised his birthright." The punch line in 25:34 summarizes the Yahwist's interpretation of this part of the saga. Jacob is entitled to the Esau's inheritance because Esau was contemptuous of it, not because of parental favoritism, Jacob's trickery, or (23 to the contrary) because of God's will. It is all Esau's own fault.

The Sixth Century Message

To the exile community, this story gave explanation for David's treatment of Edom and Edom's actions against Judah in the seventh and eighth centuries. It reinforced the theology of the Davidic covenant, a theology which continued to develop during the exile, finding full expression in Deutero-Isaiah.

Twentieth Century Message

Although this text is used to support supersessionism, there is no exegetical justification for that use. The twentieth century message is simply that God chose Jacob, without regard for his manifest imperfections, to be a channel of the blessing.


Bartlett, J. R., "Edom" in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, editors David Noel Friedman, et al, 6 volumes, New York: Doubleday, 1992

Biblia. Det ar all den heliga skrift after den uppa konnung Carl den Tolftes Befallning, Introduction by Martin Luther, edition of 1703, Lund: C. W. K. Gleerup, 1874

Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament, An Introduction, New York: Paulist Press, 1984

Brenton, Lancelot C. L. The Septuigint with Apocrypha: Greek and English, London: Samuel Boyster and Sons, 1851, reprinted Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, no date

Bright, John, A History of Israel, third edition, Philadelphia: Westminster Press 1973

Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown--Driver--Briggs--Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon, with an appendix containing the Biblical Aramaic, annotated by Jay P. Green Sr, Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979

Catholic Biblical Association of America, The New American Bible, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1970

Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship, Lutheran Book of Worship, Minister's Desk Edition, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1978

La Santa Biblia, Antiguo y Nuevo Testamentos, Antigua version de Casiodoro de Reina (1569), revisada por Cipriano de Valera (1602) y cotejada posteriormente con diversas traducciones, y con los textos Hebreo y Griego, London: Sociedad Biblica Trinitaria, date not given

Luther, Martin, translator, Die Bibel oder die ganze Heilige Schrift des Alten und Neuen Testaments, nach der deutschen ubersetzung Martin Luthers, Stuttgard: Wurttembergische Bibelanstalt, 1964.

Metzger, Bruce M, and Roland E. Murphy, editors, The New Oxford Annotated Bible, with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, New Revised Standard Version, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994

Owens, John Joseph, The Analytical Key to the Old Testament, volume 1, Genesis-Joshua, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990,

Telushin, Joseph, Jewish Literacy, The Most Important things to Know about the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc, 1991

The Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha, no city: Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, 1989

von Rad, Gerhard, Genesis, a Commentary, translator John H. Marks, revised translation W. L.Jenkins, series "The Old Testament Library", Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1966

Westermann, Claus Genesis 12-36, a Commentary, tr. John J. Scullion, S. J, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1985

Wigram, George V, The New Englishman's Hebrew Concordance, revised by Jay P. Green Sr, Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1984


It is not, however, a major LBW liturgical text. It does not appear in either the three-year or one-year LBW lectionary, but only in the daily prayer for Monday 5 Epiphany Year 2. Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship, Lutheran Book of Worship, Minister's Desk Edition (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1978), 101,500, 507.

Versus 19, 20, 26b are convincingly identified as P by von Rad. Gerhard von Rad, Genesis, a Commentary, translator John H. Marks, revised translation W. L.Jenkins, series "The Old Testament Library", (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966), 264.

see John Bright, A History of Israel, third edition, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press 1973), 224-225.

von Rad, Genesis, 263, prefers to consider the entire cycle as an Isaac story, but himself notes that this view is arguable. See also Claus Westermann, Genesis 12-36, a Commentary, tr. John J. Scullion, S. J, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1985), 412.

cf. Ps 113:9, 1Sam 2:7.

"Why am I like this? (REB)

"Why do I live?" (RSV)

"What good will it do me!" (NAB)

"Warum bin ich schwanger geworden?" (Luther)

"hwi ar jag da worden hafwandes?" (Carl XII) - "then why have I gotten pregnant"

"Ina ti moi to$uto;" (LXX) "What purpose is this for me?"

"para que vivo yo?" (Reina-Valera) "What do I live for?"

(Translations of non-English versions by author.)

The exact timing of the shedding of lanugo is variable; twins need not be concordant with regard to this factor. The redness probably reflects some amount of twin-twin transfusion; a common occurrence. There is no need to add any symbolic explanations, cf. Westermann, Genesis 12--36, 414.

Twin A is in frank breech, B is vertex with a hand presentation. This would have been a challenging situation for the midwife; one likely to be repeated in her "war stories". Von Rad, Genesis, 265, and Westermann Genesis 12-36,414, both derive Ya'aqob from "May God protect", not from 'aqeb, "heel".

Gunkel, as summarized in Westermann, Genesis 12-36, 418, disagrees. Joseph Telushin Jewish Literacy, The Most Important things to Know about the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History, (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc, 1991), 39, regards the birthright as "the right to be regarded as the firstborn son" and considers the birthright sale to be a justification for Gn 27. Esau in 27:36 obviously does not agree. It would appear that there are several streams of tradition coming together in the narrative.

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