ESAU UNCHAINED: TWO PROPHECIES FULFILLED
After a long period of infertility, Isaac and Rebecca were finally blessed with offspring -- fraternal twin sons, which they named Esau and Jacob. While Rebecca was still pregnant with them, God had informed her that there would be strife between their descendants. As the Torah relates:
And Isaac entreated HaShem on behalf of his wife [Rebecca], because she was childless. And HaShem allowed Himself to be entreated by him; and his wife Rebecca became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So, she went to inquire of HaShem. HaShem said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; and one people will be stronger than the other people, and the elder will serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:21-23)
As Esau was the elder son, and as Jacob was the younger son, this first Prophecy meant that Jacob’s descendants would dominate Esau’s descendants. This was counterintuitive for several reasons. Firstly, to Esau belonged the two entitlements of the Firstborn, namely, the birthright and the paternal blessing, which meant that, upon the death of Isaac, Esau was slated to become the next Patriarch of the family. Secondly, as the Torah points out: “. . . Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was an introvert, living among the tents.” (Genesis 25:27).
Yet, Jacob convinced Esau to sell his birthright in exchange for a meal of red lentil stew (see Genesis 25:29-34), as a result of which Esau obtained an additional name: Edom (meaning: Red) (see Genesis 25:30).
Then, at the direction of his mother Rebecca, in order for him to receive, as well, the paternal blessing meant for Esau, Jacob deceived his blind father into believing that he was Esau (see Genesis 27:1-29). Isaac’s blessing of the Firstborn was a promise of Wealth, Power and Divine Protection. As the Torah relates:
And he [Jacob] came near, and kissed him [Isaac]. And he [Isaac] smelled the fragrance of his clothing, and blessed him [Jacob], and said, “See, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field that HaShem has blessed. And may the [one and only] God give you from the dew of the Heavens and from the fatness of the Earth -- an abundance of grain and wine. And may peoples serve you, and may nations bow down to you. And may you be a master over your kinsmen, and may the descendants of your mother bow down to you. And may he who curses you be cursed, and may he who blesses you be blessed.” (Genesis 27:28-29)
When Esau discovered the ruse, he complained to his father Isaac; but the latter responded that the blessing of the Firstborn now belonged to Jacob, and that its issuance was irrevocable. As the Torah then relates:
When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a great and bitter cry, and he said to his father, “Bless me -- also me, my father!” But he [Isaac] said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.” Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? He has supplanted me twice: he took my birthright; and, behold, now he has taken my blessing!” Then he [Esau] said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” And Isaac answered, and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him a master over you, and I have given to him, as servants, all of his kinsmen, and I have sustained him with grain and wine. And, so now, what am I able to do for you, my son?” And Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau lifted up his voice and wept. And his father Isaac answered, and said unto him, “Behold, your dwelling shall be from the fatness of the Earth, and from the dew of the Heavens above. And you shall live by your sword, and you shall serve your brother. But it shall be that when you grow restless, you shall cast off his yoke from your neck.” (Genesis 27:34-40)
This second Prophecy is both a confirmation and a continuation of the first Prophecy. Consequently, the second Prophecy -- like the first Prophecy -- relates not to the interpersonal relationship between Esau and Jacob, but rather to the international relationship between the brothers’ respective descendants, namely, the nations of Edom (see Genesis 36:1-19 & 36:40-43) and Israel (see Genesis 32:25-33 & 35:9-13).
And, indeed, there was warfare between Edom and Israel, commencing during the reign of David, second king of united Israel, as a consequence of which Israel subjugated Edom (see II Samuel 8:14), after which Edom repeatedly -- but unsuccessfully -- rebelled against the successor kingdom of Judah (see II Kings 8:20-22 & 14:7).
Almost two millennia after the declamation of these two Prophecies, and almost one millennium after Israel initially subjugated Edom, Israel had become Judea (meaning: Land of the Jews), while Edom had become Idumea (meaning: Land of the Edomites).
At the conclusion of the Maccabean revolt (167 BCE - 140 BCE) against the Damascus-based Hellenic Seleucid Empire -- commemorated as the Jewish holiday of Chanukah (also spelled Hanukkah) -- the Hasmonean Dynasty (founded by Simon Maccabeus, also known as Simon Thassi, being the last surviving son of Mattathias ben Johanan, the initiator of the revolt) ruled an independent, albeit endangered, Judea.
Circa 110 BCE, during Judea’s reconquest of ancestral territories, the Hasmonean king of Judea, John Hyrcanus (who was a son of Simon Maccabeus), conquered Idumea and forced its inhabitants to convert to Judaism. In the next generation, an Idumean named Antipater was appointed Governor of Idumea by the Hasmonean king of Judea, Alexander Jannaeus (who was a son of John Hyrcanus). After the death of King Alexander Jannaeus, Antipater, having become an influential advisor to the king’s son, Hyrcanus II, convinced the latter to contest the rule of his brother King Aristobulus II, thereby sparking a civil war in Judea. The Roman Empire ended this civil war by conquering Judea in 63 BCE, and making it a client kingdom of the Empire. The Empire’s conquering general, Pompey Magnus, thereupon appointed Hyrcanus II as vassal king of Judea; and Antipater became the king’s senior advisor and liaison to the Empire.
During the Roman Empire’s subsequent civil war in 49 BCE between the military forces of surviving triumvirs Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus (after the death of triumvir Marcus Crassus), Antipater initially sided with Pompey against Caesar. After Caesar defeated Pompey in Greece in 48 BCE, Pompey fled to Egypt, pursued by Caesar. After the subsequent assassination of Pompey in Egypt, and after Caesar’s failure to successfully mediate the termination of an ongoing war between royal siblings Cleopatra VII Philopator and Ptolemy XIII, Ptolemy attacked both Cleopatra and Caesar. Antipater (together with other allies of Caesar) helped Caesar and Cleopatra defeat Ptolemy in 47 BCE. Caesar thereupon rewarded Antipater with Roman citizenship, and subsequently appointed him to the senior administrative position of Roman Procurator of Judea. This enabled Antipater to appoint his sons, Phasael and Herod, to high positions in Judea. Phasael became tetrarch of Jerusalem, while Herod became tetrarch of Galilee. After Caesar’s assassination in 44 BCE, Antipater was able to skillfully shift his allegiance among the warring factions of the Empire. Upon Antipater’s death in 43 BCE, Herod succeeded his deceased father as vassal King Hyrcanus II’s senior advisor and liaison to the Empire.
In 40 BCE, with the assistance of the Parthian Empire, vassal King Hyrcanus II’s nephew (and the last surviving son of deposed King Aristobulus II), Antigonus II Mattathias, rebelled against the Roman Empire, in the process overthrowing his uncle and thereby becoming King of Judea, as a consequence of which Phasael committed suicide and Herod fled (via Egypt) to Rome. In 39 BCE, the Roman Senate appointed Herod as rival King of Judea; and he thereupon invaded Judea in order to obtain that prize. In 37 BCE, with the assistance of the Roman Empire, Herod (who later became known as “Herod the Great”) finally conquered Judea and overthrew the last Hasmonean king, Antigonus II Mattathias (who was subsequently executed at the instruction of Roman triumvir Marcus Antonius, commonly known as Mark Antony), thereby terminating the Hasmonean Dynasty (led by ethnic Jews) and replacing it with the Herodian Dynasty (led by ethnic Idumeans).
The prior conversion of the Idumeans to Judaism highlights the uniqueness of the Jewish people, as the latter is a religio-nation. Alternatively stated, the Jewish people comprises two coexistent and intertwined components, namely, an ethnic nation and a faith community. Although a Gentile can never become an ethnic Jew, he or she may nonetheless become part of the Jewish people -- and, consequently, be deemed a Jew -- by voluntarily accepting the tenets of the latter’s faith community. However, the mass conversion of the Idumeans, being involuntary, was, consequently, inauthentic.
Now, the prophetic irony of the supplantation of the Hasmonean Dynasty by the Herodian Dynasty finally becomes clear. For, it must be recalled that Jacob supplanted Esau as the hereditary ruler of Isaac’s family by inauthentically becoming Esau. Similarly, the Idumeans (being the descendants of Esau) supplanted the Jews (being the descendants of Jacob) as the hereditary rulers of Judea by inauthentically becoming Jews. This is nothing less than the principle of mida k’neged mida (measure for measure) at work in the service of Prophecy!
Thus did Esau, after being subjugated by Jacob, finally free himself from his brother’s yoke. Thus were two Prophecies fulfilled!
© Mark Rosenblit