Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Blessing of Esau

While thinking on the subject of blessing for the previous post, I considered others that had been given in Scripture and turned to Genesis 27 for the blessing given to Esau. Why that one? Because it does not fit neatly into one's perception of a blessing.

First, we should get a definition for the word blessing. The following is the opening paragraph from Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology:
God's intention and desire to bless humanity is a central focus of his covenant relationships. For this reason, the concept of blessing pervades the biblical record. Two distinct ideas are present. First, a blessing was a public declaration of a favored status with God. Second, the blessing endowed power for prosperity and success. In all cases, the blessing served as a guide and motivation to pursue a course of life within the blessing. [1]
Now we turn to the blessing itself in verses 39-40:
39 "Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be,
    and away from the dew of heaven on high.
40 By your sword you shall live,
    and you shall serve your brother;
but when you grow restless
    you shall break his yoke from your neck."
This is a blessing? Admittedly, there is confusion how to translate verse 39. Compare with the NKJV:
39 "Behold, your dwelling shall be
    of the fatness of the earth,
And of the dew of heaven from above.
40 By your sword you shall live,
And you shall serve your brother;
And it shall come to pass,
    when you become reckless,
That you shall break his yoke
    from your neck."
This looks more like a real blessing, seemingly saying just the opposite of the ESV above. How do we reconcile the two? David Richter tells us that
Literally the morphemes run "from the fat of the land shall be your encampments and from the dew of the heavens thereon"... [and the grammar] can operate as a partitive ("some of the fat places of the land") or it can express a direction ("away from the fat places of the land"). Which it is depends on the context. [2]
This is no solution but offers a clue to resolution. By comparing this blessing with Jacob's earlier in the chapter, the reader should be able to understand what Esau does and does not receive. Here is the blessing Jacob received.
"See, the smell of my son
    is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed!
28 May God give you of the dew of heaven
    and of the fatness of the earth
    and plenty of grain and wine.
29 Let peoples serve you,
    and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
    and may your mother's sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
    and blessed be everyone who blesses you!"

Notice the key elements: God's supply (v. 28), Dominion (v. 29), and the continuation of God's promised blessing to Abraham when called from Ur (Genesis 12:3). The first element gives the clue concerning Esau's blessing--Jacob would receive from YWHW himself, whereas Esau would be forced to make his own way. Coupled with this was the servitude Esau (and later Edom) would be forced to undergo until the nation would finally be able to put off the yoke.

So, did Esau really receive a blessing? Yes, because the promise allowed him to continue and prosper though not in a way that brought him into fellowship with the living God. That decision Esau had already made long before he scorned the birthright and sold it for pottage.

The question to ask at this point is: which blessing am I operating under? Who is my supply? Am I readying for a future reign? Am I under God's special care and promise?

[1] Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Blessing'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". Found at www.biblestudytools.net/Dictionaries/BakerEvangelicalDictionary/bed.cgi?number=T97. 1997.
[2] Richter, David. "Midrash and Mashal: Difficulty in the Blessing of Esau." Found at http://qcpages.qc.edu/ENGLISH/Staff/richter/esau.html

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