The Death Of Esau’s Father
“And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob (Genesis 27:41).
Genesis 27:2 quotes Isaac as saying that he does not know how much longer he will be alive. It’s not clear is that was a prediction of early death, or a statement of the fact that he does not know. Even today, as I struggle with Parkinson’s Disease, I admit to myself that I don’t know how much longer I can work. This is not a prediction that I should at this time brace for retirement. It is a concession that I don’t know whether I will be able to work into my 80’s, or if God plans to shut my business down sometime this year. God knows.
This might be amplified in Genesis 27:41 by Esau’s confidence that the days of mourning for his father are at hand. While Esau’s estimates are not within the purview of biblical inerrancy, there is no reason to think Esau should be so wildly off base. Using basic biblical data, and accepting Bishop Ussher’s date of the creation of Adam and Eve to be 4004 BC, we have the following chronology:
1956 BC – Isaac born
1916 BC – Isaac and Rebekah married
1896 BC – Jacob and Esau born
1876 BC – Esau sells his birthright to Jacob
1856 BC – Esau marries
1776 BC – Isaac dies
Since Esau doesn’t marry until Genesis 28, Genesis 27 – the forecast of Isaac’s death – takes place no later than 1856 BC. Isaac still has 80 years to live before his death. This is usually taught as a faulty projection by Isaac, followed by Esau taking Isaac at his word. I have an alternate understanding. Perhaps “father” in Genesis 27:41b is to be comprehended as “grandfather,” or an ancestor further back. For there is another chronology to consider:
2948 BC – Noah born
2446 BC – Shem born
2348 BC – the flood
2346 BC – Shem’s son Arphaxad born. He dies 1908 BC.
2311 BC – Arphaxad’s son Salah born. He dies 1878 BC.
2281 BC – Salah’s son Eber born. He dies 1817 BC.
2247 BC – Eber’s son Peleg born. He dies 2008 BC.
2217 BC – Peleg’s son Reu born. He dies 1978 BC.
2185 BC – Reu’s son Serug born. He dies 1955 BC.
2155 BC – Serug’s son Nahor born. He dies 2007 BC.
2126 BC – Nahor’s son Terah born. He dies 1921 BC.
2056 BC – Terah’s son Abraham born. He dies 1881 BC.
2046 BC – Sarah born. She dies 1919 BC.
1998 BC – Noah dies. He was born 2948 BC.
1846 BC – Shem dies.
When Jacob and Esau turned 18 in 1878 BC, their ancestor Salah died. The living ancestors included Eber (died 1817, Jacob and Esau were 81) and Isaac (died 1776 BC, Jacob and Esau were 120) alone, plus Shem (died 1846, Jacob and Esau were 52). Esau could have been referring to his Great(8) Grandfather who was dying when he spoke in Genesis 27:41. Surely an ancestor of 10 generations ago, the obvious patriarch of the family – three generations prior to Esau’s only other living ancestor besides his own father who was functionally disabled by blindness – would have attracted tremendous respect with Jacob and Esau.
Esau wanted to kill Jacob but he had too much respect for “his father” while his father lived. Would he really fear losing the respect of a man who couldn’t tell what was going on anyway? Or did he defer killing Jacob out of respect for an ancestor 9 generations earlier than Isaac, an ancestor who had survived the legendary flood? Jacob had lost respect for Isaac, his father, for having blessed Jacob (Genesis 27:41a). But he honored his “[fore]father” Shem by waiting a few years until Shem would eventually run out of years of life.