Gospel Doctrine Lesson #10 – Birthright Blessings; Marriage in the Covenant
While the Sunday School lesson focuses on the blessings of birthrights and marriage, we’ll also discuss some other equally important issues in the story.
Abraham has faithfully followed the Lord through more than a century of trials and blessings. The blessings God Jehovah has promised him are also promised to Isaac. Both have been the symbolic sacrifice representing the Lord in his atonement.
From this point on, we will see the importance of marriage to the right group of people. Abraham insists that Isaac not marry a Canaanite. In the past, Christians have presumed that the Canaanites were black and this was to prevent the curse of Cain/Canaan, which was believed to be black skin, from passing into Abraham’s line. Recent archaeology proves that the Canaanites were not black, however. Therefore there must be another answer that does not place the blame on black skin.
Was there a curse on Canaan? Yes. Noah cursed the son of Ham, when Ham entered into his tent and saw Noah naked (see Genesis 9). As mentioned in a previous lesson, one tradition suggests that the special garment of Adam, which was passed down to Noah, was stolen by Ham and given to one of his sons. If the blessings that went with Adam’s garment, including priesthood authority, were kept from Canaan because of a curse, it would mean that regardless of who possessed the garment that person still was not a correct nor authorized priesthood holder.
Abraham notes how he sought for the priesthood and blessings of the fathers (Abraham 1), which may have included going to Noah and Shem’s home to dwell and be ordained. Ham’s children did not seek God’s authority and power, but as with Nimrod, sought power to control and overthrow the earth and God.
Not only were the Canaanites involved in such reckless and selfish use of power, they were also avid idolaters. Abraham fled Chaldea’s idols, only to dwell near more idolaters. The history of the Bible shows that men who marry the “daughters of men” end up falling into iniquity and disbelief. Abraham wanted Isaac to remain true to the covenant they had with Jehovah. This required marrying a woman who would be as faithful to God as was Isaac.
So Abraham sends his servant, not a slave, but an honored and trusted member of his household, to the city of Haran and his brother’s family. The Lord guides the servant, who quickly comes across Rebekah. Rebekah is perhaps one of the most remarkable women in the Old Testament. We encounter her offering not just to give the servant water, but to water all of his camels. This meant lowering a jar down into a well and bringing up water several times to give them drink. Camels drink a lot of water, especially after days or weeks of travel in the deserts of the Middle East.
Next, Rebekah quickly accepts the request to immediately leave her family and join with a man she has never met. Isaac was forty years old at the time. She was likely only half his age. Yet, when she heard who he was, jumped off her camel and ran to him (Gen 25)
The Promised Child
Rebekah is one of the few women in the Bible who receives inspiration from God, perhaps as well as, or better than, her husband. According to the Book of Jasher, Isaac and Rebekah tried for twenty years to bear children. Finally, after Isaac plead with God, Rebekah became pregnant (Jasher XXVI, pg 69). When she was pregnant, she struggled with great pangs. She asked other women if they had such struggles with their pregnancies. The women told her no. Wanting to know what was happening, the Lord told her that she had twins, and that the younger one would be the chosen one of God.
Jacob had a special relationship with Abraham, according to the Book of Jubilees. “Jacob was pious and righteous and Esau was a rough man, a tiller of the field and hairy, but Jacob dwelt within tents. And the youths grew, and Jacob learned writing; but Esau did not learn it, for he was a man of the field and a hunter, and learned war and all rough deeds. But Abraham loved Jacob, but Isaac loved Esau. And Abraham saw the deeds of Esau, and he knew that his name and seed should be called for him in Jacob, and he called Rebecca, and commanded her concerning Jacob, for he saw that she too loved Jacob much more than Esau. And he (Abraham) said to her: “My daughter, watch my son Jacob, for he shall be in my stead upon the earth as a blessing among the sons of men, and to all the seed of Shem, and for an honor, and I know that the Lord has chosen him for himself as a people secluded from all those upon the face of the earth.”
Abraham continues telling her to ensure that Jacob receives Isaac’s blessing and becomes Abraham’s promised line. He then blessed Jacob in front of Rebekah with the blessings of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Shem and Abraham (Book of Jubilees XIX, p47-48).
Jacob would spend much time with his grandfather. In fact, when Abraham was old, Jacob stayed the night with him, listening to him speak of Adam, Noah, Shem and the patriarchs and seeking the blessings they received. Abraham “ceased speaking and commanding and blessing. And the two lay together on one bed, and Jacob slept in the bosom of Abraham, the father of his father, and his (Abraham’s) thoughts kissed him seven times, and his love and his heart rejoiced over him (Jacob)….And he (Abraham) laid two fingers of Jacob upon his eyes, and he blessed the God of gods, and he covered his face and stretched out his feet and slept the sleep of eternity….” (Jubilees XXII-XXIII, p53).
Here we see a tender moment between a grandfather and his special grandson, where Abraham spends his last moments on earth with the child who will fulfill the promises God has made with him and his seed.
The differences between Esau and Jacob are very important. Jacob is shown to be the beginning of civilization, dwelling in tents and learning to read and write. Esau represents the lifestyle of the hunter-gatherer. Interestingly, Esau is noted as tilling the earth, much like Cain. Jacob becomes the new Abel/Seth. Just as Cain was rejected of God for his rebellious spirit, so too, Esau will lose his standing before God.
In a previous lesson, we discussed the garment of Adam having been passed down through the generations to Noah. The garment was sacred, and used to represent Adam as the glory of God. The person wearing it had great power. It allowed Adam to name the animals, and Noah to gather them to the ark. The Book of Jasher tells us that Ham stole the garment from Noah, giving it to his son. The garment then was passed down to Nimrod, who used the garment to become king of the earth, to be a mighty hunter, and to be feared by men.
In his older years, Nimrod feared Abraham’s family, as he saw in a dream they would kill him. He especially developed a jealousy of Esau’s hunting prowess. There was enmity between the two of them. In one chance meeting in the wild, Esau slays Nimrod and takes the garment of Adam from him. Nimrod’s men hear the fighting from a distance and chase Esau. “And when Esau saw the mighty men of Nimrod coming at a distance, he fled, and thereby escaped; and Esau took the valuable garments of Nimrod, which Nimrod’s father had bequeathed to Nimrod, and with which Nimrod prevailed over the whole land, and he ran and concealed them in his house. And Esau took those garments and ran into the city on account of Nimrod’s men, and he came unto his father’s house wearied and exhausted from fight, and he was ready to die through grief when he approached his brother Jacob and sat before him” (Jasher XXVII, p72).
It seems that Esau feared being caught with Nimrod’s garments, for he knew his men were after him. Had they caught him, he would have been killed, and so selling his birthright for a mess of pottage seemed like a very good deal when Jacob offered it. Selling the birthright also gave Jacob a spot to be buried next to his dear grandfather in the cave at Machpelah. So the garment of Adam returned to the rightful owner, Jacob.
Blessing of the Firstborn
The blessing of the Firstborn actually is part and parcel of the birthright. When Esau sold his birthright, the blessing should have automatically gone with it. However, Isaac still loved his older son and sought to give him the blessing. Rebekah knew, however, that God’s will through Abraham was to ensure Jacob received the blessing. And she meant for Jacob to receive that blessing.
In deceiving Isaac, who was blind, it seems rather strange that Jacob could so easily deceive him. Can lamb skins really seem like Esau’s rough and hairy hands? Was he really that furry? Could hearing Jacob’s voice not convince him that something was up? According to Jubilees, Isaac “did not know him, for it was a fate from heaven to remove his spirit…” (XXVI pg 60). Isaac temporarily lost his spirit of discernment, in order for God to accomplish his plan of blessing Jacob.
Esau was so angry for losing the blessing of first born that he planned Jacob’s death. The Book of Jasher suggests that Jacob fled to the house of Eber, the son of Shem for several years. Just two generations before, Abraham fled Nimrod for the house of Noah/Shem, where he was protected and guided in the gospel. Now, Jacob follows in his grandfather’s footsteps by fleeing his enemy for the house of Eber (Jasher XXIX p75). This did not stop Esau. He continued to plague his parents, marrying two women of the Canaanites. His parents saw them as crude women that followed after idols and encouraged Esau to do the same.
After 14 years, Jacob returned. Esau still wanted him dead. Rebekah went to Isaac asking him to not allow Jacob to marry a Canaanite woman, but to send him off to her family in Haran. Isaac agreed and sent Jacob off with his blessing.
Along the trek, Jacob stops for the night and lays his head on a long stone to sleep. In his dreams, he sees a ladder or staircase that led up to heaven. Most people note the angels going up and down the staircase, but do not notice that Genesis 28:13, which states: “And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac….”
A vision where a person sees God is called a theophany. In modern parlance, LDS would say the person was going through a temple endowment. The most important thing about an endowment is the person enters into God’s presence and is instructed by him. That the Lord explained to Jacob that he was the same God that Abraham followed helped Jacob to understand that Jehovah was not just a local God who had no power in other lands, but that he could follow Jacob everywhere. The Lord promises to Jacob the same promises He made to Abraham and that Abraham had already made to Jacob.
Jacob is amazed that Jehovah could be with him in all places. But a God that held such power and that revealed himself to mankind was worth worshiping. Upon waking, Jacob realizes he is on sacred ground. “This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen 28:17). Jacob sets up the stone, which he used for a pillow, as a sacred pillar or altar, and named it Beth-El, the House of God. “This stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house” (vs 22).
Here we see that the place is the gateway to God’s heaven. It is God’s house on earth, even though it is only a pillar. Later, the Temple of Solomon would have two massive pillars in the front gate, representing the gateway of Jacob’s God to heaven. Just as the ark of the covenant and Mercy Seat represented God in his holy temple or house, so did the stone pillar (Hebrew: Masseboth) represent the gateway up the staircase to God’s throne. Jacob had received his endowment.
Jewish tradition has this event occurring on Mt Moriah, where Abraham traditionally sacrificed Isaac, and where Solomon would one day build the temple.
Jacob’s 21 year test
Just as Abraham and Isaac had their tests of patience, so too, Jacob was tested with patience. First, he fell in love with Rachel and worked seven years for her dowry, but was tricked into marrying Leah. Then he agreed to work seven more years for Rachel. Finally, he agreed to work another seven years for his own wealth. At every step of the way, his father-in-law, Laban, attempted to trick and deceive him.
Finally escaping from Laban and returning to land of promise, Isaac knew his test was not over. He still had to make peace with Esau.
In chapter 32 of Genesis, Jacob approaches the land and knows he must be strong in order to prevail. He comes across angels of God, who he recognizes as the host of God. They are to prepare the way for two events: Jacob encountering Esau, but more so Jacob encountering God.
Jacob wrestled a man until dawn. This was no ordinary man, as he had the power to touch Jacob’s thigh and cause it to go out of joint. This man also had the power to give Jacob a new name and bless him.
There are two key ways of thinking here: either this was God or it was a man. Some people, like Joseph F. Smith, felt that Jacob only wrestled a man, because there is no way anyone could prevail against God in a wrestling match. Besides, prior to his mortal life, Jehovah/Jesus did not have a physical body with which to wrestle. However, given the power of God, he could have wrestled with Jacob, even without a body and made it seem real. As for prevailing, it could be that Jacob prevailed by enduring through the night, not by beating his foe.
Others believe that it was God, for Jacob states afterward, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (vs 30). Jacob called the place Penu-El, the Face of God. Clearly, Jacob was wrestling someone more than just a regular man. My preference is that he was fighting God, or another divine being standing in as God.
One interesting LDS teaching is that of Divine Investiture. It is where a divine being can stand in the place of another divine being. Jehovah speaks to us in many places as if he is the Father (see Moses 1). In Revelation, an angel speaks as though he is Christ, yet when John attempts to worship the being, he is told not to, as he is a fellow servant (Rev 19:10).
A friend of mine, David Larsen, has suggested on his blog, Heavenly Ascents that perhaps the divine being who wrestled with Jacob was a translated man. Not long before Jacob, there were many who were translated, including Enoch and his city (Moses 6-7) and Melchizedek and his city (JST Genesis 14). David suggests that Abraham spoke with Melchizedek as Lord, which suggests perhaps that Jacob wrestled also Melchizedek as Lord! Why? Melchizedek is THE symbol of Jesus Christ. Melchizedek was known as Prince of Peace and the King of Salem. Salem was translated, becoming a part of heaven, therefore Melchizedek was a king of heaven. And as mentioned in a previous lesson, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, 11Q Melchizedek proclaims that “Melchizedek is El (God)!” In another place, he is proclaimed to be Jehovah. How is this possible? By Divine Investiture, wherein he stands in the place of God, representing all that God is.
So, there are a variety of possible beings who represented the Lord, including Jehovah himself.
An interesting moment in Jacob’s wrestling with the Lord comes after he has prevailed through the night. Jacob insists on being blessed before he will let the man go. The Lord asks him his name, and he tells him “Jacob”, meaning Supplanter. While this name fit Jacob in his early life in his challenges with Esau and Laban, it no longer applied to the promised heir of Abraham.
“Thy name shall be no more called Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and has prevailed.” Israel means one who prevails with God. In other words, while Jacob wrestled all night long, the true wrestling occurred previously, when Jacob struggled through life among men and seeking God’s way. Because he was now considered worthy of God’s greatest blessings, he received a new name. This new name would represent the new and future Jacob.
Anciently, a name held power. If a person had a special name and it was revealed to others, it gave power to those others. It is as if one had a special computer password to an online bank account. As long as the password did not fall into the wrong hands, it held power for the individual. But once divulged to the wrong people, they could enter into the account and ruin the account’s owner. Such was a special name given anciently.
So, when Israel/Jacob asks the man his name, he is rebuffed. “Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name?” Anciently, one of God’s names was Jehovah/Yahweh. It is represented by the letters “YHWH.” For Jews, ancient and modern, it is a sacred and unpronounceable name. It is blasphemy to say the name, and so they use the term “Adonai” (Lord) instead. Why? Because this is God’s special power name, reserved for few to pronounce, such as the high priest once a year in the temple’s Holy of Holies before the Mercy Seat.
In Revelation 2:17, we read that for those that overcome (or prevail) God will “give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” D&C 130 gives us more information regarding this. Those who receive a celestial glory will receive a white stone, which becomes a personal Urim and Thummim. This stone is accessed by using the new name, which is a keyword or password. In other words, Joseph Smith described a celestial computer. The Urim and Thummim is what makes a person a “seer” (Mosiah 28:16). A seer is greater than a prophet. He is a revelator and prophet also, with the greatest spiritual gift a mortal can possess. Interestingly, “no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish (Mosiah 8:13-20). It almost sounds as if they are describing a computer with Internet access, because there is great knowledge and information to be had, if you don’t look in the wrong places.
So, even to this day, a special name given of God to man is very significant.
Israel establishes himself in the Promised Land
Israel sets out to treat his brother differently. He is no longer the Supplanter, but one who has prevailed with God and man. He sends great gifts ahead of him to bribe Esau, soften his heart, and to make amends. Esau accepts the bribe, realizing that the Supplanter is dead, and he has a new brother who seeks his older brother’s acceptance.
Twelve children are born to Israel. With the birth of the youngest, Benjamin, Rachel dies in childbirth. Reuben is caught sleeping with his step-mother. Levi and Simeon slaughter an entire city, because a young prince of the city slept with their sister, Dinah.
And he settled in an area that he named El-Elohe-Israel, “El (God) is the God of Israel/Jacob”.
Book of Jasher: http://www.ccel.org/a/anonymous/jasher/home.html
Book of Jubilees: http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/jub/index.htm
David Larsen’s Heavenly Ascents, Jacob vs Esau: http://www.heavenlyascents.com/2010/03/04/the-jewish-legends-of-jacob-vs-esau-the-birthright-and-the-blessing/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+HeavenlyAscents+(Heavenly+Ascents)
David Larsen’s Heavenly Ascents, Melchizedek as Translated God: http://www.heavenlyascents.com/2010/02/24/more-on-melchizedek-and-abraham-and-more-old-testament-resources/
Kevin Barney at BCC, The Wrestler: http://bycommonconsent.com/2010/02/17/the-wrestler/