Food in the Bible: Genesis 27:1-40

Let me give you a summary of Genesis 27:1-40 instead of quoting 40 verses. Isaac is old, half blind, and near death. So, he sends his favorite son, Esau, out to hunt game for him for his last meal. He will give Esau his blessing as the firstborn when he returns. Meanwhile, Rebekah, the mother, plots for her favorite son to steal the blessing, as he previously stole the birthright. Rebekah tells Jacob to put goat’s hair on his arms so Isaac will think he is the hairy Esau. Jacob takes him some food, convinces him that he is Esau and receives the blessing. Here’s the text of the blessing:

Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that YHWH has blessed.
May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine.
Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!

Esau returns from hunting with game for his father. When he goes to give it to his father, he and Isaac realizes what has happened.

Food continues to play a pivotal role in the relationship between these two brothers. We also see in this passage a connection between blessing and food, word and sustenance.

In the Ancient Near East the spoken word was considered extremely powerful (e.g. God speaking creation into existence). When someone received a blessing it was reality. Once it was spoken or given it could not be taken back, thus Esau’s distress makes sense. The blessing itself is connected to food. I love the image of the smell of a field that YHWH has blessed. Most of us have a difficult time imagining this smell, but to them it meant life itself. That smell meant sustenance and even abundance.

We also see a continued contrast between Esau and Jacob. Esau goes to hunt his food and bring it to his father, while Jacob gains his food without much work through his mother’s scheming and uses the wool to deceive his father. Many have painted Jacob as a trickster figure, as seen in Native American and other myths. While there is some truth to this, I would suggest that Jacob is more complex than this archetype. Jacob grows and changes. So, the lesson is not gleaned from only reading this particular story, but putting this story within the context of the patriarchal narratives.

To recap, these narratives show an intimate connection between food and life. People understood food as the source of their existence and knew their dependence on nature and weather in a tangible way. Thus this figures into everything about how they perceive the world and also the difference between a blessing and a curse. I think finally we can also see that food plays a role in our relationships that we may not always be aware of.

On this last point, I am reminded of how often food is brought up in my conversation because of my vegetarianism, which usually leads down other food rabbit trails. For those who attempt to eat more ethically in our current context food will sometimes be a difficult and divisive issue. At the same time, I think food can be a unifying thing if people are respected as we pursue justice in our food system.

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