by Glenn Harris | January 01 1970
The parasha for this week is entitled Tol’dot, which means “generations” and takes us from Genesis 25:19 to 28:9. To the careful reader of Scripture, it becomes evident that God is giving us an ever-narrowing and increasingly selective genealogical line meant to point us to the Redeemer, Messiah Yeshua, the ‘seed’ of the woman in Genesis chapter 3 and again the seed of Abraham in chapter 12.
Isaac and Ishmael’s reunion for the purpose of burying their father Abraham would be the last time they came together… a foreshadowing of the rift that would exist between the two people groups they fathered for the ages to come until Messiah returns.
In chapters 25 and 26 our attention turns to Isaac. Isaac and Rebekah are happily married, but for 20 years have been unable to bear children. Inconceivable! (pun intended). But you see, God is the Eternal Sovereign whose prerogative it is to open or close the womb. Yet Isaac didn’t give up. Nor did he become impatient and take matters into his own hands. Perhaps the years of strife between Hagar and Ishmael and his own mother were not lost on Isaac; nor the pain he must have seen in his father’s eyes when the other wives and children were sent away. He learned just how painful we make things when we try to force God’s hand. No, there would be no more taking of handmaids to bear surrogate children. When Rebekah couldn’t conceive, he brought the matter to Adonai.
And what was God’s answer? Twins! And they were fighting with each other while still in her womb (certainly a foreshadowing of things to come), and now it’s Rebekahs’ turn to talk to Adonai! And what was God’s answer to her? Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.
The first to be born was Eisav (Esau), who is described as red, like a hairy garment, hence his other name: Edom (red). The second one came right afterwards, grasping his heel, hence his name, Yaakov (Jacob – one who grasps or follows along at the heel).
In chapter 26 there is another famine in the land, so Isaac is forced to relocate the family, but not to Egypt. Instead, at God’s instruction they temporarily settle in Philistine territory. While there, Isaac, fearful that the men of the land might harm him on account of his very beautiful wife, employs the same strategy Abraham used in Egypt. He pulls the “She’s my sister” routine. Soon enough, though, he’s seen by Abimelech the king romantically caressing Rebekah and is rebuked for the deception, but at the same time the king issues an edict to leave Isaac and his family alone.
God prospered Isaac in Philistia; so much so that the Philistines became envious and a little fearful, and Abimelech told him to move out of the city. So they settled in the valley outside of Gerar. But even there, the family faced opposition repeatedly over wells that they had dug. It wouldn’t be the last time that the Jewish sons of Abraham did the hard work and built something significant and good, only to have people who call themselves Philistines (or some variation of it) claim that it belongs to them and threaten them over it. Nor would it be the last time that the Jewish sons of Abraham made such concessions for the sake of peace, only to have more concessions demanded of them, again in the face of threats.
Eventually Isaac and the family move back to southern Israel (Canaan) and settle in Beersheva. Abimelech actually is so fearful of Isaac’s wealth and power that he shleps the 25 miles to Beersheva to seek a treaty with him! When a man’s ways are pleasing to Adonai, the Proverbs tell us (16:7), He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. But this might also be a foreshadowing of the Messianic Age, when the kings of the nations come to Israel and pay homage to that greater descendant of Abraham and Isaac, Messiah Yeshua, and seek peace and enjoy a meal together (cf. Zechariah 14:16-19).
In chapter 26 God reconfirms to Isaac the promises made to Abraham. That covenant included descendants as numerous as the stars, permanent possession of Eretz Canaan, and the blessing that would flow from him to all the nations of the Earth. The reason God gives for doing these things: because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws (26:5). Think about this: we know Abraham obeyed God’s instructions, but statutes and laws? How could Abraham keep the Torah when it didn’t exist yet, nor would for 400 years? In Abraham we can see the principle of justification by faith very clearly. Faith produces obedience.
Our attention is turned once again to the two sons of Isaac. We’re told that as they grew up, they also grew apart. Jacob was a peaceful, tent-dweller and Esau a hunter and man of the field. But their differences went much deeper. When they grew to be men, these two clearly made their own choices. Jacob desired the birthright, and understood the value of spiritual headship. But instead of trusting that God would bring it about, he resorted to deceit and manipulation to secure what he wanted. Esau, on his part, couldn’t be bothered about spiritual responsibilities until at least after lunch. Thus we have in this parasha the “lentil stew incident”. Esau traded Jacob his right as a first-born for a bowl of soup.
In chapter 27 the great deception occurs. The elderly and now blind patriarch Isaac, either unaware of or not believing the word God had given about the older serving the younger, sent Esau out to hunt game and cook him a delicious dinner to put him in the mood to bestow the blessing before he died. Rebekah overheard this and conspired with Jacob to go in and present a prepared meat dish for his father and receive the blessing before Esau could get back. Jacob lied several times to his father, who was suspicious that something wasn’t right, but went along with it, eating and drinking and then pronouncing the all-important patriarchal blessing.
Jacob stole the blessing… sort of. Hadn’t God already declared that the older would serve the younger? Hadn’t Esau sold him that birthright? So how can you steal what is rightfully yours? You can’t. But let’s not play down the fact that Jacob lied repeatedly, and took what Isaac wasn’t intending to give him. This has provoked many spirited discussions over the centuries. There’s a painful lesson here about what happens when we don’t trust God to fulfill His promises, and take matters into our own hands. When Esau returned, only to find out that Jacob had tricked his way into receiving the blessing, he became furious, and planned to kill him. Jacob had to be sent away for his own protection. Rebekah thought it would only be for a few days, until Esau calmed down. She was wrong. She would never see Jacob again.
Years earlier Esau had distressed his parents by marrying foreign women. To his credit, Esau, upon hearing of his father’s disapproval of marriage with Canaanite women, takes his next wife from his uncle Ishmael’s family. But Esau will eventually fade from the scene, as the focus again selectively turns to Jacob and his descendants, through whom would eventually come the long-anticipated Redeemer, the Messiah.
In Parasha Toledot we learn the tandem lessons of the sovereignty of God, who faithfully brings to pass the things He promises; and the trouble and the pain we inflict on ourselves and others when we don’t trust Him, but attempt to force the hand of God. Adonai is able to turn our mistakes to His glory, and of course He will accomplish all that He has said. Ultimately through Isaac and through Jacob and their descendants we find His greatest promise fulfilled: He has brought a Redeemer to their children for His name’s sake. That Redeemer has a name: Yeshua, Jesus of Nazareth.
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Toldot תּוֹלְדֹת. Other transliterations: Toldos or Tol’doth