Jacob and Esau is the old familiar story of a sibling rivalry that even started in the womb. From day one, these brothers were in contention. Esau was firstborn and with that came a great responsibility – dedicated to God, 2nd in command to the head of the household (Isaac), a responsibility to carry on the family lineage, and the birthright, which was a double portion of the inheritance.
In the ancient world all of these advantages of being firstborn were bound together in the blessing. The importance of the blessing has been overshadowed in this story by Jacob’s deception of his brother. Nonetheless, the blessing was vitally important in their culture to pass on more than a genetic lineage to their children (which is some people’s definition of father in our culture). In their world to be a father meant that it was expected for you to pass on a legacy that is firmly rooted in and united with God. Here are the words Isaac thought he was conferring upon Esau,
“And Isaac smelled the smell of his clothes and blessed him and said,
‘See, the smell of my son as the smell of a field which God has blessed.
May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fat of the earth and plenty of grain and wine.
Let peoples serve you and nations bow down to you.
Be Lord over your brothers and may your mother’s son bow down to you.
Everyone who curses you be cursed and everyone who blesses you be blessed.'”
– Genesis 27:27-29
These words had far more value than any possession that one could inherit. It was coveted more tightly than the birthright. If given a choice of inheritance today between some words from your father or a double portion of the material possessions, most people today would take the latter. In their view, the blessing was of supreme importance as it was a vision cast of their future by the most important figure in their life, their father.
The NIV doesn’t capture the irony of Isaac’s words – “See, the smell of my son…”. The NIV translates it “Ah, the smell of my son”. Remember, Isaac was basically blind at this point. His nose was his eyes and his way of perceiving who he was dealing with (as were his hands – 27:22-23). As Frank Belizzi mentioned in a previous comment these blessings almost have a magical tone. If Isaac accidentally blesses a stranger, it still has weight to it in their culture. So he has to make sure he has the right person. These are powerful words and are not said haphazardly. They have weight and are to be lived out.
Notice that the blessing is rooted in God. God is the one who brings the blessing to fruition (27:27). God is the one who gives abundance (even heaven’s dew – see Bobby Valentine’s profile for a version of this word). Even his brother being his servant is a reminder that even that was the will of God given in a word from God (Gen 25:23). We talked before about blessing being more about a relationship than about material possessions. In this blessing, material possessions are mentioned. Why? Because Isaac wants his lineage to be passed on but notice that he recognizes where they come from – God.
Our relationship with God is talked about in father-son or father-child terms in scripture. God has a vision for a future for us that is filled with blessing and is centered on Him. He is the one who gives increase. He is the one who has been so close to us he can even recognize us by smell. Even though we are not the rightful recipients of the blessing, God has overlooked that and has given what we have not deserved by adopting us to sonship.
This also challenges parents to understand the importance of casting a vision for your children through a direct blessing. Know how they feel. Know how they smell. Know them. Bless them. Let them know that God will be a part of their life from this moment forward.