Jacob seems to obtain the birthright from Esau through dubious means. He seems to exploit his brother Esau's weak state in Gen 25:31 getting Esau to sell him the birthright. And then in Gen 27, Jacob is in a complicitous deception with Rebekah to get the blessing fromm Isaac.
It seems a natural question to ask how these acts should be viewed, since Jacob—whose name later became Israel—was the father of a great nation favored by God. The main purpose of this page is to explore various views on this and related issues. Please feel free to edit this text to improve it, or add comments to the discussion page.
These quotes come from Understanding Isaiah by Nahum Sarna, pp. 183-184 (publisher: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America; volume 1 of The Heritage of Biblical Israel, 1966).
- "Scripture, therefore, by means of the oracle story, wishes to disengage the fact of Jacob's election from the improper means the young man employed in his impatience to formalize his predestined, independent, right to the heirship. The Bible is not here condoning what has been obtained by trickery. On the contrary, the way the narrative is handled makes clear that Jacob has a claim on the birthright wholly and solely by virture of God's predetermination. In other words, the presence of the oracle in the stroy constitutes, in effect, a moral judgment upon Jacob's behavior."
- "This implicit condemnation of the patriarch's unethical conduct is powerfully brought out through the cycle of biographic tales. Of Abraham, Scripture could relate that he died at "a good ripe age, old and contented" (Gen 25:8). Isaac could likewise be described as dying "in ripe old age" (Gen 35:29). But such notice is singularly lacking in respect of Jacob. This patriarch could only report that the years of his life had been "few and hard" (Gen 47:9). The reference, of course, is to the unrelieved series of trials and tribulations that dogged his footsteps from the day he cheated his father until the last years of his life."
- "The quiet, mild-mannered, home-loving Jacob, favorite of his mother, was forced into precipitate flight, abandoning home and hearth, exiled from his nearest and dearest, to be ruthlessly exploited for twenty years by his uncle Labann. It is not hard to see in the trickery Laban successfully practiced on Jacob in taking advantage of the darkness to substitute Leah for her sister, the retributive counterpart, measure for measure, of Jacob's exploitation of his father's perpetual darkness by masquerading as his own brother. The perpetrator of deception was now the victim, hoist with his own petard."
- "The bibliographical details of Jacob's life read like a catalogue of misfortunes. When he was finally able to make his escape and set out for home two decades in the service of his scoundrelly uncle, he found his erstwhile employer in hot and hostile pursuit of him. No sooner had this trouble passed than he felt his life to be in mortal danger from his brother Easau. Arriving at last, at the threshold of Canaan, Jacob experienced the mysterious night encounter that left him with a dislocated hip. His worst troubles awaited him in the land of Canaan. His only daughter, Dinah, was violated, his beloved Rachel died in childbirth, and his first son she had born him was kidnapped and sold into slavery, an event that itself initiated a further series of misfortunes."
- "All the foregoing makes quite clear Scripture's condemnation of Jacob's moral lapse in his treatement of his brother and father. In fact, an explicit denunciation could hardly have been more effective or more scathing than this unhappy biography."
- Peradventure: In Gen 27:12, use of the word "peradventure" may suggest reluctance on Jacob's part to go along with his mother's plan.
- No haste: In Gen 27:14, Jacob seems reluctant to fulfill his mother's wishes—there's no haste mentioned when there should be, and a series of Hebrew prefixes seems ominous.
And what about Isaac?
This is only tangentially related to Jacob, but since I didn't want to start a new subpage, I'll put my question here (and add it to the general commentary after I've pontificated here a while first):
Just reading Genesis, I would not think Isaac is a particularly examplary individual (after all, he never receives a new covenant name; and most commentators seem to take a negative view of Isaac). But Matt 8:11, D&C 132:37, and many other LDS scriptures discuss Isaac as dwelling with God ("entered into . . . exaltation" D&C 132:37 says). Did Isaac live “good enough” to receive exaltation, even though he wasn’t exemplary? Is the Genesis narrative embellished in a way that doesn’t reflect Isaac’s actual righteousness? Am I misreading the Genesis narrative regarding Isaac? Are there other possibilities??
Interestingly, D&C 138:38-47 adds favorable epithets for the other prophets being listed, but conspicuously does not add a favorable epithet to Isaac and Jacob (v. 41)....
- See discussion of Jim F.'s Sunday school lesson at Times & Seasons.