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BibleProject Podcast
BibleProject Podcast
Genesis Scroll • Episode 9
Why Can’t Jacob and Esau Both Be Blessed?
62m • March 7, 2022
How is Jesus the first-born of creation and the “second Adam”? Why are the biblical authors so obsessed with the east? And why can’t Jacob and Esau both be blessed? In this episode, Tim and Jon tackle your questions about the Genesis scroll.
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QUOTE

God keeps focusing his purpose and his blessing on one family and their cultural institutions. But the narrative also keeps reminding you, “Hey, this blessing that’s focused on this one family and their cultural practices? It’s actually for everybody.” And the blessing that goes out to Ishmael is a reminder of that.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The east symbolizes movement away from God’s promise and blessing. The biblical authors utilize the east imagery to show humanity’s increasing isolation from God’s promises and presence.
  • The idea that the Nephilim were half human and half divine beings comes from ancient Jewish imagination—the authors of the Bible thought that’s who the Nephilim were. Unlike other ancient Mesopotamian peoples, ancient Hebrews saw divine and human intermarriage as cosmic rebellion, a mark of everything that’s wrong the world.
  • Abraham’s banishment of Ishmael in Genesis 21 is a direct parallel to God’s testing of Abraham with Isaac in Genesis 22.

Is Jesus Both the First-born and Chosen Second-Born?

James from Texas (1:27)

My question is about a comment which Tim made about the second son who receives the blessing throughout the book of Genesis. Since Jesus is called the first-born over all creation (Colossians 1:15), is there any significance or correlation to Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15 being called the “last Adam” or “second Adam” who receives the blessing that the first Adam did not?

The theme of the second-born receiving God’s blessing starts in Genesis 1-2. While Adam and Eve are the first humans (and therefore, Adam is the “first Adam”), Adam and Eve are second-born children in some respects. God creates them to rule over the skies and land, but when he creates them, the skies are already governed by spiritual beings and the land full of animals. Humans are the second-comers to God’s creation.

However, in the Eden narrative, the humans fail to claim their roles as rulers and allow themselves to be usurped by the serpent, who is both a spiritual being and an animal. The Gospel writers and Paul have this theme in mind when they portray Jesus as the ultimate first-born. Clearly he isn’t literally the first human ever born—he’s a latecomer in human history and the story of the Bible. But he is the first human to take up the rights of the firstborn to rule over the skies and the land. Jesus fulfills what Adam and Eve forfeited.

Why Are the Biblical Authors Obsessed with the East?

Michele from the United States (7:00)

What is the significance in the Hebrew Bible of the direction “east”? The Angel of the Lord tells Hagar that Ishmael will live to the east of his brothers (Genesis 16:12). Adam and Eve were cast out to the east of the garden (Genesis 3:23-24), etc. I just wondered if east has some symbolic meaning to the biblical authors.

Adam and Eve are exiled to the east out of the garden—but not out of Eden. However, when Cain murders Abel, he is exiled east out of Eden (Gen. 4:16). In Genesis 11, humans head east by choice and build the Tower of Babel. Lot divides from Abraham and heads east to Sodom, Ishmael is sent to the east away from Isaac’s household, Esau splits off from Jacob to the east, and the list goes on.

The steady eastward progression of humanity is a set-up for the end of the storyline of the Hebrew Bible in 2 Kings, when Israel is completely dismantled, first by the exile of the northern tribes east to Assyria and then the exile of Judah east to Babylon. The east symbolizes movement away from God’s promise and blessing, while the west indicates moving back to the land of God’s promise. The biblical authors utilize the east imagery to show humanity’s increasing isolation from God’s promises and presence.

Where Did Cain Find a Wife?

Brittany from Florida (15:55)

In the Genesis scroll, in the beginning when God created Adam and Eve, and Adam and Eve had Cain and Abel, where did Cain go to find all these other people and find a wife to marry if God created Adam and Eve and there’s no other humans on the earth?

Christian and Jewish readers of the Bible have asked this same question for thousands of years. Sometimes people suggest that Cain married one of his siblings or cousins, another unnamed descendant of Adam and Eve. However, Cain is clearly distraught at his impending exile and is worried someone will kill him (Gen. 4:14). If he was just going to move in with one of his relatives, why is he so scared? Who is he scared of? Just a few verses later, Cain builds a city (Gen. 4:17). Where did all those people come from?

The bottom line is the narrator of Genesis assumes Cain lives in a populated world outside of Eden. What’s unclear is how that population relates to human history and origins. Biblical scholars range in their opinions on this topic. We discussed a similar question in a Q+R from our Family of God series. We also talked about similar themes in our Ancient Cosmology series.

Who Are the Nephilim?

Jonathan from California (21:14)

I have a question about the Nephilim/watchers/giants—whatever we should call them. Do you believe they are literal half elohim and half human beings? And if the flood came as a result of this corruption of humanity, why do we see them after the flood?

Similar to the previous question about Cain, the first thing we have to consider when studying the Bible is what the biblical author assumes the reader will understand when they read this text.

Ultimately, we can’t know who the Nephilim were. However, the idea that the Nephilim were half human and half divine beings comes straight from ancient Jewish imagination—the authors of the Bible thought that’s who the Nephilim were. Jesus’ brother Jude also interprets Genesis 6 this way, referring to the Nephilim in Jude 6.

In the biblical imagination, these divine-human beings were seen as evil. This was a reversal of common folklore from other ancient Mesopotamian people groups, like the Assyrians and Babylonians, who lauded their kings and heroes as divine-human beings. In other words, Assyrians and Babylonians saw divine and human intermarriage as a good thing that gave them divine right to conquer the world. But ancient Hebrews saw divine and human intermarriage as cosmic rebellion, a mark of everything that’s wrong the world. In the story of the Bible, the Nephilim are the violent people that spill the blood that “cries out to God” and inspires him to flood the earth (Gen. 6:1-7).

For more on this topic and the previous question about Cain’s wife, check out this Q+R episode from our Family of God series.

Does God Test Abraham Because He Banished Ishmael?

Clint from Texas (33:05)

I couldn't help but notice that the binding of Isaac, where Abraham believes he will lose his son, follows the exile of Hagar, where she believes she will lose her son. It's like God is keeping the divine scales of justice in balance. And as you've pointed out, Hagar's name means "the immigrant" or "the foreigner," so it seems to lay the groundwork for the laws that follow in the rest of Torah about doing justice for the foreigner. What do you think?

In Genesis 21, Abraham loses his first-born son, Ishmael, because Sarah wants to banish him and his mother Hagar, who she only refers to as “the slave.” Abraham listens to his wife and sends the pair off into the wilderness with nothing but a bottle of water. This is a death sentence. But God’s intervention saves Hagar and Ishmael. And he doesn’t just save them—he promises to multiply Ishmael’s descendants and make them a great nation. It’s no accident that in Genesis 15, God warns Abraham that his descendants will be slaves for 400 years in Egypt, and in the very next story, Abraham and Sarah oppress Hagar, an Egyptian slave. This is biblical foreshadowing at its finest.

These themes prepare us to anticipate the events of Genesis 22 as a direct parallel. The Israelite oppression in Egypt is an inversion of Abraham and Sarah’s oppression of Hagar. Similarly, Abraham’s beloved son Isaac is delivered by God’s provision of a ram, and the Israelites are delivered from death in Egypt by the blood of lambs. After God delivers Israel from Egypt, he makes it a priority to give them laws that govern their dealings with immigrants. In fact, when you read Exodus 23:9, our English word “stranger/foreigner/immigrant” is the Hebrew word “hagar.”

Exodus 23:9 You shall not oppress a stranger (hagar), since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were hagars in the land of Egypt.

Why Can’t Jacob and Esau Both Be Blessed?

Julie from the United Kingdom (42:30)

My question relates to Genesis 27, the story of Jacob stealing his brother Esau’s blessing from their father Isaac. If God’s blessing is about fruitfulness and multiplication, and it can be passed from one person to another, rather than always having to be received directly from God, why can it only be given to one son rather than to both? Esau says in verse 38, “Have you only one blessing, Father?” Why can Isaac give only one blessing? Thank you so much for all that you do in helping people to engage with the Bible and to discover more and more of its richness.

Isaac tells Esau he has no other blessings to give, but just a generation previously, God explicitly blesses both Isaac, the chosen son, and Ishmael the non-chosen son. So what’s going on here? The story assumes a cultural practice from this time in history, in which a first-born son becomes the “image” of the father, inheriting his father’s status, property, and blessing.

The blessing in question is the blessing of Eden to be fruitful and multiply and rule the Earth. That’s the blessing that gets passed on to the chosen lines of people. But again and again, we see God breaking the mold and blessing people from outside the chosen family. This is because the whole point of blessing a chosen family is so that those chosen ones would bless others. But the chosen ones are often greedy and abuse God’s blessing. That’s what is highlighted in this story with Jacob and Esau and then intensified throughout Jacob’s life.

Referenced Resources

  • Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?: Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology), James K. Hoffmeier, Gordon J. Wenham, Kenton L. Sparks
  • "And You Shall Tell Your Son...": The Concept of the Exodus in the Bible, Yair Zakovitch
  • The Blessing and the Curse, Jeff S. Anderson
  • Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here.
  • You can experience the literary themes and movements we’re tracing on the podcast in the BibleProject app, available for Android and iOS.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS

Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.

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Genesis E1  –  57m
God’s Spirit in Creation
57m
1hr
Genesis E3  –  51m
Under the Trees with Yahweh
51m
Genesis E4  –  1hr 6m
Trees of Testing and Blessing
1hr 6m
1hr 3m
Genesis E6  –  1hr 6m
Wrestling God for a Blessing
1hr 6m
Genesis E7  –  42m
Joseph the Exile
42m
Genesis E8  –  45m
Joseph the Suffering Servant
45m
1hr 2m
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