Torah: Genesis 25:19-28:9
Haftarah: Malachi 1:1-2:7
New Testament: Romans 9:1-31
The portion Toledot means ‘Generations’, after the first words of the portion, “And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son.” Toledot includes the following stories:
- Birth of Esau and Jacob
- Esau sells his birthright
- Covenant with Isaac confirmed
- Sojourn in Gerar
- Dispute about wells
- Covenant between Isaac and Abimelech
- Esau’s wives
- Jacob steals Esau’s blessing
- Esau’s disappointment
- Jacob flees to Padan-Aram
Birth of Esau and Jacob
Right at the beginning of the passage, we are told that the twins Esau and Jacob struggled with each other within Rebekah’s womb, and this sets the scene for their relationship. Rebekah asks, “Why?” and the LORD tells her, “Two nations are in thy womb… and the elder shall serve the younger.”
Esau sells his birthright
The next section tells the story of Esau selling his birthright for ‘pottage’ or lentil stew. But really, it seems rather more that it is the story of Jacob taking advantage of his brother in his hour of need, but we are told “Thus Esau despised his birthright” so in other words, it is less important that Jacob obtained the birthright in a dishonest way than the fact that Esau did not value it as he should have done.
Covenant with Isaac confirmed
Next there is another famine in the land, and the LORD tells Isaac not to go back down into Egypt, so he goes to Abimelech of the Philistines to live in Gerar. He is told “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with theee, and will bless thee; for unto thee and unto thy seed, I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father.” We are reminded that these promises are not dependent on Isaac’s obedience. “Because that abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
Dispute with Abimelech
We now have another sister/ wife narrative in which Isaac attempts to pass Rebekah off as his sister, but Abimelech sees Isaac behaving in a way that indicated she was his wife, and so Abimelech instructs nobody to touch her. Again it seems that the foreign kings are more moral than the Patriarchs!
Then we are told that the Philistines have filled in all Abraham’s wells, and Abimelech asks Isaac to move on because God has blessed him so much during his time there so he now has great wealth, “Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we.”
Then Abimelech’s servants fight with Isaacs over the ownership of the wells and the water.
Then, at Beersheba, the LORD appears to Isaac and tells him he will bless and multiply him (give him children and descendents).
Looking at the chiastic structure of the portion (see Christine’s Bible study in the links below), this contention over Isaac’s wife, wealth and water are the central axis of the whole passage.
Covenant between Isaac and Abimelech
Abimelech approaches Isaac to make an agreement that they won’t do any harm to each other, apparently seeing how great Isaac has become and fearing him a little. Isaac retorts “Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me, and have sent me away from you?” (I think he was teasing them a little there!) They answer “We saw certainly that the LORD was with thee.”
We then have a short paragraph about Esau marrying foreign girls, “which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah”, and although we are not told why this would be, we can assume it is related to their ‘foreign gods’.
Jacob steals Esau’s blessing
We now have the most incredible story of Rebekah collaborating with Jacob to trick Isaac into giving Esau’s blessing to Jacob instead with an elaborate rouse – sending Esau out to hunt venison for dinner while they cook a kid at home and Jacob pretends to be his hairy brother by covering himself in goat skin! Why does Rebekah do this? Is this a simple case of favouritism or is it another case, like Sarah, of trying to force events to fit the promise? It seems thoroughly immoral, but Jacob receives the blessing whether he deserves it or not.
Esau is bitterly disappointed, having apparently realised too late what a big mistake he had made already in selling his birthright. He begs his father to bless him too, but evidently Isaac cannot give him the same blessing as the blessing is prophetic, and so Esau receives only what is left. Esau remarks, “Is not he rightly named Jacob (meaning supplanter or deceiver), for he hath supplanted me these two times.”
Jacob flees to Padan-Aram
Of course, Esau hates Jacob for what he has done to him, so Jacob flees for his life, and Rebekah once again collaborates with him, sending him to her relatives back in Padan-Aram, convincing Isaac that it is so that he wouldn’t take a wife from among the ‘daughters of Canaan’ as Esau had done.
Esau’s response is to go to Ishmael’s family to take another wife from his family. It is not clear whether this was a good thing or just as bad as taking wives from Canaan, and we are not told whether or not this pleased Isaac. We can probably assume from silence that it made little difference. Esau will become the father of a nation (the Edomites), but the birthright, the blessing and all the promises go to Jacob.
Links and Resources
Overview of Genesis as a series of Toledot http://www.lanz.li/index.php/9-article-for-edification/12-the-toledot-structure-of-genesis
Toledot at Hebrew for Christians http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Parashah/Summaries/Toldot/toldot.html
Toledot at Messianic Educational Trust http://www.messianictrust.org.uk/weekly_parasha.htm
Toledot at Christine’s Bible Studey (with chiastic structure) https://christinesbiblestudy.wordpress.com/2013/11/02/genesis-2519-289-annual-cycle-toledoth-generations/