Sailhamer, John H. The Pentateuch As Narrative. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.
Chapter 1, “Genesis” pp. 81-240.
Part 3 “The Isaac Narratives (25:11-35:29)” pp. 184-204.
Sailhamer, with the author of Genesis, turns his attention to the life of Isaac beginning on p. 184. Though Isaac does not command as many lines in the biblical text as many people. his life shows God’s blessing. While Ishmael is mentioned as a prosperous man (25.12-18) he is not referred to as blessed. This is here reserved for the chosen child of Abraham. The attention, though initially focused on Isaac, almost immediately shifts to his children, Jacob and Esau (Sailhamer 1992, 185).Sailhamer discusses the family strife found repeatedly in Genesis. In many instances, the older serves the younger, God’s blessing is upon the one who would not normally be blessed (Sailhamer 1992, 186).
In the instance of Esau rejecting his birthright Sailhamer observes that the writer is unusually clear that Esau was not concerned with keeping his status (25:34). Jacob’s obtaining of it should not be seen as unjust, though shrewd.
Genesis 26 puts Isaac in a situation parallel to that of Abraham. God has assured Isaac of the promise of the land, including the territory of Abimelech (Sailhamer 1992, 187) Even with a famine, God promises his blessing upon Isaac. In Genesis 26:5 Sailhamer expresses surprise at the way God says that Abraham obeyed, even before the Mosaic Law. “Abraham is an example of one who shows the Law written on his heart (cf. Jer. 31:33)” (Sailhamer 1992, 187).
In Isaac’s controversies with the Philistines in Genesis 26 we ar to see both Isaac and the Philistines as both righteous and unjust. Both are at times committed to acting as people of faith and both fail (Sailhamer 1992, 188). Throughout the time Isaac gains in prosperity and power.
As we move into chapter 27 we see Jacob receiving blessing and power as opposed to Esau, the older. Through Isaac’s blindness and the skillful manipulation of the situation Jacob receives Isaac’s blessing. “Concurrently with the blessing, Jacob is embroiled in conflict with Esau, whose destiny is confirmed by Isaac (Sailhamer 1992, 191).
Genesis 28 shows yet more distinction between the younger child of promise and the older who has departed from the promise. Esau the older marries a descendant of Ishmael, the older. Jacob, the partaker of the promise, goes to take a wife of his own people (Sailhamer 1992, 192). Jacob’s journey is interrupted by a vision of angels. He erects an altar (28:18-19) and continues, later to do so when he returns (35:14-15).
When Jacob arrives in Haran (ch. 29) the author sets up his heroism with a very careful description. He does a superhuman feat in removing a stone from a well by himself, thus showing divine favor (Sailhamer 1992, 194). Jacob is then deceived by Laban, showing an ironic reversal of much of his past (Sailhamer 1992, 194). Jacob’s hopes and plans crumble repeatedly, including in the case of his having a family which ends up in conflict (Sailhamer 1992, 195). Jacob prepares to leave Haran in Genesis 30. Laban negotiates an agreement by which Jacob will stay on. In these years God gives Jacob great prosperity (Sailhamer 1992, 195).
In Genesis 31 Jacob learns that Laban is jealous of him. He is directed by God to return home. Jacob’s explanation to his wives of his treatment and plan is further confirmation. Rachel’s taking of her father’s household gods is seen by Sailhamer as symbolic of Jacob’s departure with his father’s blessing (Sailhamer 1992, 197). This situation results in Jacob’s confirmation that his departure is motivated by God.
Jacob’s restoration with Esau is prepared in Genesis 31:55 and following. In Jacob’s fear of his brother he prays and then prepares lavish gifts for Esau. Jacob’s struggle with “the man” at Peniel (Sailhamer 1992, 198) is symbolic of his entire life of struggle. Upon meeting with Esau he finds the troops who accompanied Esau were there to protect Jacob and his family. Jacob has been blessed by God without his own plans (Sailhamer 1992, 199).
Genesis 34 details the conflict between Jacob’s sons and Shechem over the rape of Dinah, Jacob’s daughter. In this situation the sons have become the schemers (Sailhamer 1992, 201) while Jacob is critical of their decision.
In Genesis 35 Jacob returns to Bethel at the command of God. He sees that God is the one who has always cared for him. Jacob leaves behind some foreign gods and the covenant is reaffirmed (Sailhamer 1992, 202). Jacob seems to have stopped being the deceiver and the one who struggles. Jacob’s sons become the focus of the narrative as we see the birth of Benjamin and the rise of Judah as the next in line to inherit God’s blessing.