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A TRAVELER and lecturer acquainted with the habits and customs of the Arabs throws a fresh light upon the transaction between Jacob and Esau respecting the birthday and the deception practised upon Isaac. It is claimed, and apparently on good grounds, that the customs of the Arab in Mesopotamia to-day are in all respects what they were thirty-five hundred years ago, when Abraham dwelt there, and was a great sheik, with flocks and herds and servants. Hence the ideals and customs prevailing amongst them furnish a good criterion as respects those in vogue in the days of Isaac, Jacob and Esau.
It is declared that to this day the first-born son of the family is the heir of the estate, with full authority next to his father. It is the custom amongst the Arabs that the elder son shall recognize by fast the birth date of a celebrated ancestor, from whom he has received patrimony. On the other hand, other members of the family celebrate such a day as a festival. For the elder son to partake of the feast on such an occasion would mean the renouncement of his birthright to the next one in succession.
Applying this to Esau and Jacob: Presumably the occasion was a celebration of the birthday of their grandfather Abraham, from whom proceeded the great blessing of God, which, as the elder son of the family, Esau had inherited. It was a day, therefore, in which it was incumbent to fast, but a holiday and special lentil festival to Jacob. As the elder son it would not have been necessary for Esau to purchase victuals from his brother, for, as the head of the home next to his father, he could have commanded whatever he desired. But on this occasion, when he asked Jacob for the savoury food, the latter was astonished and practically said: "Do you mean it, or are you joking? Do you really mean that you wish to abdicate your rights as the first-born by partaking of the stew? If you do mean it, I shall very gladly assume responsibility and I will do the fasting as the first-born." Esau replied, "Yes, I mean it. Why should I fast? I have no confidence in the old Scripture promises anyway, and have serious doubts if God had any more communication with father Abraham than with others." Still doubting his sincerity, Jacob, after the manner of the people of the East to this day, said, "Swear it and I will believe it." So Esau swore that he voluntarily voided his rights to his brother Jacob, who was glad to go under the conditions because of his faith in the promises made to Abraham.
Our informant further declares that amongst the Arabs it is still considered entirely proper to deceive the aged, for the purpose of saving them from sorrow. For Isaac to learn that his first-born son had so disesteemed his privileges, it was surmised, would cause heartache and sorrow. Hence his wife and Jacob arranged to deceive him. Esau was dishonest in attempting to take the blessing which he had forfeited and that with an oath. He seems to have feared that the blessing of the first-born would carry the bulk of Isaac's estate to Jacob. Apparently [R4722 : page 377] it was the earthly things that he desired and not the spiritual blessing of God through Abraham. So soon as Jacob left all the earthly inheritance in Esau's hands the latter seemed satisfied. And Jacob, too, was satisfied, because he got the portion which he specially desired and prized above everything else.
In full harmony with this the Scriptures denounce Esau as a profane, worldly-minded person, who sold his birthright share in God's special promises for a mess of pottage—for temporal, earthly refreshment. The Scriptures similarly praise Jacob because of his willingness to deny himself earthly comfort for the heavenly promises.