28 So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: “Do not marry a Canaanite woman. 2 Go at once to Paddan Aram,to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. 4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” 5 Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau.
6 Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman,” 7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram.8 Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; 9 so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.
(Genesis 28:1-9 NIV)
As we ended Chapter 27, we saw Rebekah act treacherously toward her husband Isaac by playing on his emotions. She reminds Isaac the heartache that Esau’s two foreign wives have brought them (Genesis 26:34-35). She tells Isaac that she can’t live with the thought of Jacob marrying a foreigner.
Whether Isaac and Rebekah had further dialog or not about the subject, the text does not say. Isaac no doubt fondly remembered the joy Rebekah brought him so many years ago, and wants that same joy for his son Jacob. There was also no mention of consulting the Lord in this decisionmaking process – it appears to be based solely on human wisdom and family tradition.
Isaac then calls Jacob in, tells him not to marry a Canaanite woman, and instead, go to his uncle’s house and find a bride among his daughters. Isaac then bestows the blessing of Abraham on Jacob, which he had not done before when he gave the birthright blessing to him.
In our modern society, most of us would chafe at the idea of first cousins getting married. In ancient cultures such as Isaac’s, cross-cousin marriage (a sister’s son marrying a brother’s daughter) was common and accepted as a way of knowing you had similar values, family loyalty, and separateness. In contrast, many cultures encouraged intermarrying with others outside their family ties as a way of overtaking them and subsuming them into their culture.
After Isaac blessed Jacob, warned him about not marrying a Canaanite woman, and sent him off to his uncle’s territory to obtain a wife, Esau heard about all of this and saw the joy it brought his father when Jacob obeyed and did all that Isaac told him to do.
Esau then went out and married his cousin (his uncle Ishmael’s daughter). Several questions come to mind when we read about Esau’s response:
- Did Esau not know that his marriage to the two Hittite women was so offensive and grievous to his parents, or did he not care before this point?
- Did Isaac and Rebekah not say anything to Esau before he married these two women, or did Esau not listen when they did speak up?
- Was Esau acting in revenge against his father’s blessing and command to Jacob, or was Esau seeking redemption and blessing from Isaac?
One note of interest is that Isaac never mentions the treachery and deceit from before when Jacob stole Esau’s birthright blessing. Had they dealt with this already, or was the incident swept under the rug (so to speak), never to be talked about? In any case, Isaac seemed to sense the inevitability of the past and bestowed the blessing of his father Abraham onto Jacob before he left for his uncle’s house.
The text also does not mention any response from Isaac and Rebekah when Esau married Ishmael’s daughter. Did Esau do this on his own, or did he seek the approval of his parents before he married for the third time?
If we do the math, we know that Isaac and Rebekah were not young anymore, and neither were Esau and Jacob. These were not impetuous teenagers – they were grown men leading adult lives at this point.
May we stop and seek the Lord before leaning on human wisdom and tradition in all matters of faith and life.
May we speak the truth in love, especially in our families.