8 - The Ancient Book of Jasher- Jacob and Esau
Jasher is not a book of the Bible, but it covers the history of the world from Genesis to the conquest of Canaan after the Exodus. It is not inspired, but is a very old history book noted in the Bible on three occasions, two directly and one indirectly. For example, in Joshua 10:12-13: Then Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.” 13 So the sun stood still and the moon stopped, till the people had revenge upon their enemies. Is this not written in the book of Jasher?
This would indicate that this event which took place around 1400 BC was placed in the book of Jasher before the Biblical book of Joshua was written. Jasher is recommended reading per the Bible.
In 2 Samuel 1:17-18: Then David lamented with this lamentation over (the deaths of) Saul and over Jonathan his son. 18 and he told them to teach the children of Judah the Song of the Bow; indeed it is written in the Book of Jasher:
This recalls when Jacob lay dying and was prophesying over his sons in Genesis 49, but this command to Judah is not recorded in the Bible. Jasher 56:10 … only teach thy sons the use of the bow and all weapons of war, in order that they may fight the battles of their brother who will rule over his enemies.
Finally, in 2 Timothy 3:8, we are told that Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses. In Jasher 79:27, we are told these two were sons of Balaam the magician. All three opposed Moses before Pharaoh. In Jasher 79:36 Aaron threw his rod down, and it became a serpent. The sorcerers did likewise. The serpent of Aaron’s rod lifted up its head and opened its mouth to swallow the serpents from the rods of the magicians. Then Balaam the magician said that it was not unusual that a serpent swallow another serpent or that living things devour one another. He challenges Aaron that if he is from God, to restore his serpent to a rod and the magicians will do likewise and then have his staff devour the staffs of the magicians. Aaron’s rod then swallows the magicians’ rods. Per Exodus 7:12 For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.
I had always presumed that rods referred to the serpents the rods became in the verse above, i.e. Aaron’s serpent swallowed the magicians’ serpents. I believe the Bible portrays this event accurately. I suspect my imagination and the 1956 movie on the Exodus starring Charlton Heston gave me an erroneous impression of this event before Pharaoh. I believe Jasher’s account is also true.
A Roman centurion had the book of Jasher, which is a Hebrew word meaning upright, hence, Jasher is the Book of the Upright, removed from Jerusalem during the 70 AD burning of the city. He sent it to the Sephardic Jews in Spain, where it remained, likely till 1492, when Ferdinand and Isabella exiled the Jews. The first official printed copy was completed in Hebrew in Venice in 1613. The first English translation was made in 1840.
When I read the Biblical stories of the patriarchs in Genesis, I always felt that there were missing pieces of the story. Jasher fills in many of those pieces, at least to me. For example, when Jacob returns from Aram with his wives, concubines, sons, and wealth, Esau seems too forgiving for someone who wished to murder his brother. Granted God can grant Jacob favor with Esau, but it does not seem to fit with Esau’s character. In the same light, Esau sells his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew. The possessor of the birthright gets a double portion of his father’s goods, i.e. if there are two children, the owner of the birthright gets two-thirds of his father’s inheritance. Yet the Bible merely notes at the end of Genesis 35 that Jacob and Esau buried their father Isaac with no indication of who got what. Did Jacob demand the double portion allotted to the possessor of the birthright? He had been very frightened of Esau, but now his sons had grown up, and, according to Jasher, they were mighty men indeed. Esau does not seem to be the type of man who would allow Jacob to take the birthright portion. What happened? Jasher has twice the information of Genesis and explains this, and well to me.
According to Genesis, the story of Jacob and Esau begins about 25:18 with the genealogy of Isaac, their father. The story of Esau ends about 35:29 with the death and burial of Isaac though 36 lists Esau’s genealogy. Afterwards no further information on Esau is given though Jacob continues till his burial in chapter 50. Genesis does not put a lot of flesh on the bare bones story of the two.
We are told that the two fought in Rebekah’s womb and that two peoples would be separated from Rebekah’s body. The older (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob) per Genesis 25:23. Esau was a man of the field, a hunter, while Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents per Genesis 25:27. Per Genesis 25:29-34, one day, a weary Esau came in from the field and asked for some of Jacob’s lentil stew and bread. Jacob sold them to Esau for the birthright, which guaranteed the first born a double portion of their father’s estate. Esau felt he was about to die from hunger, so he sold his birthright to Jacob. In effect, he despised his birthright.
Jasher adds significant detail to this event. Abraham died when Jacob and Esau were 15. Hence, they would have known their grandfather well. Twice Nimrod, the first world dictator, who built the Tower of Babel, had sought to kill Abraham and failed, the details noted earlier in Jasher. Esau apparently went far afield in his hunts, sometimes being gone for over a year. One day, he saw three men approaching. The three were Nimrod and two guards. Esau had hidden himself from the three. He suddenly rushed forward and beheaded Nimrod and killed the two guards, but there was also a large entourage of warriors behind Nimrod. They rushed forward to kill the assassin, but Esau escaped. However, he was not coming home from just a failed hunting trip, but one in which Nimrod’s troops tried to kill him likely over several days or longer. Likely, he was absolutely exhausted from being hunted.
Then Jacob with help from his mother, Rebekah, steals Esau’s blessing from Isaac per Genesis 27 by pretending to be Esau. Esau’s blessing thereafter included the verse from Genesis 27:40 “…By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; And it shall come to pass, when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck.” So Esau hated his brother and sought to kill him thereafter. Jacob’s parents, hating the idolatry of Esau’s wives, send Jacob to Padan Aram to marry among his Uncle Laban’s family. On the way, Jacob went to Bethel where he dreamed there was a ladder to heaven with angels descending and ascending. Per Genesis 28:20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, 21 so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God 22 and this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”
My impression is that Jacob does not have much at this point in time, which seems strange as his father Isaac was very wealthy. It seems unlikely that Isaac would have sent Jacob on this trip financially strapped. Jasher explains this. After stealing the blessing, Jacob greatly feared Esau and fled to the house of Eber per Jasher 29:11, where he stayed 14 years learning the ways of the LORD. Eber was the great grandson of Shem, who according to Jasher 16:11 was Adonizedek king of Jerusalem who met Abram and his men with bread and wine. Abram gave him a tithe of the spoil he had acquired from the four kings who had defeated the armies of the 5 cities of the plain to include Sodom and Gomorrah, and had carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his family and goods. Per Genesis 14:18, Melchizedek, king of Salem and also priest of the most high God met Abram. Apparently this was Shem, a model for Christ to come.
After 14 years (Jasher 28:20) Jacob returned home. Esau had forgotten about him, but his hatred immediately burned anew with his brother’s return. Rebekah was aware of Esau’s plans for Jacob . His parents were also vexed by Esau’s two Canaanite (Remember in Genesis 9:25, Noah cursed Canaan) wives’ idolatry and wished Jacob to marry from Rebekah’s family, so they loaded him with gifts including gold and silver and sent him to his Uncle Laban in Syria. Esau, burning with hatred, then sent his 13-year-old son, Eliphaz, with 10 men to kill Jacob and return with the loot. Jacob tells Eliphaz to take all he has but spare his life, which Eliphaz does. Esau was furious when his son failed to kill Jacob despite the spoils. When Jacob saw the angel-laden ladder to heaven, he had nothing other than the clothes on his body.
Jacob reaches his Uncle Laban in Syria and falls in love with his younger daughter, Rachel. He works seven years for Laban for Rachel, and God greatly prospers Laban because of Jacob, also giving him his first sons per Jasher 30:18-19. Per Genesis 29, Laban fools Jacob into marrying his eldest daughter, Leah, and Jacob agrees to work another seven for Rachel. At the end of the fourteen years, Jacob has two wives, two concubines, and eleven sons, but little else. Rebekah sends word for him to return home. Jacob tells Laban it is time for him to return home and build his own house. Laban, having greatly prospered under Jacob’s stewardship, begs him to stay for payment of sheep. Jacob agrees and immediately Laban begins to cheat him of his wages per Genesis 30:35, and Jacob cheats him back per Genesis 30:37-42. Of course, God is the primary reason Jacob becomes exceedingly wealthy over the next six years.
After these last six years, Jacob notices Laban and his sons no longer regard him with favor. The LORD tells him to return home, so Jacob leaves with all his family and wealth, when Laban goes to shear sheep. Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel, steals her father’s idols without Jacob’s knowledge. She did this per Jasher 31:44 because she knew Laban would ask them where Jacob went and the idols would tell him. Laban easily solved this problem by asking other idols and pursuing Jacob thereafter. Per Genesis 31:24 God came to Laban in a dream thereafter telling him, “Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.” Likely Laban intended to take all of Jacob’s wealth, but God’s warning gives him pause. Still he wants his idols back, and he overtakes Jacob. He demands their return, and Jacob tells Laban to search his camp and kill whoever took them, never dreaming his favorite wife did so. Rachel is a favorite to Laban also and when Laban enters her tent she tells him she cannot get up from her camel’s saddle because the manner of women is with her, i.e. she is menstruating. The idols were hidden in the saddle, but Laban, apparently, is unwilling to believe Rachel will steal his idols. Hence, he does not search the saddle. Then Jacob tells Laban how he had mistreated him over the twenty years span (Genesis 31:36-42). Laban makes a covenant with him by setting up a pillar and a heap (of stones) telling him that he will not go past this heap to do him harm nor will Jacob go beyond this heap to do Laban harm. They agree, and part.
It troubled me that Jacob sent his servants to Esau to tell him he was returning to Canaan. Jacob knew his brother hated him. Why would he give him this information? Jasher explains what happened. On leaving Jacob, Laban immediately sends his son to tell Esau that Jacob has returned, that he took Laban’s daughters and children by the sword and had stolen his gods though Laban had made him wealthy after Jacob came to him with nothing. Jasher 31:64 “… he (Esau) remember his hatred and his anger burned within him.” Laban’s messengers then go to Isaac and tell him and Rebekah that Esau is going to meet Jacob with four hundred men, to smite him and to take all he has. Rebekah then sends seventy two servants of Isaac to Jacob with the information that Esau is coming. She asks Jacob to supplicate Esau and to give him a present. Per Genesis 32:1 So Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him. In verse 3, Jacob then sent messengers to Esau. I suspect the angels of God were the messengers from Rebekah, rather than true angels. Remember angel means messenger.
Jacob’s messengers reach Esau and tell him Jacob’s story of his relations with Laban. Per Jasher 32:9, And Esau answered them with pride and contempt, “Surely I have heard and truly it has been told unto me what Jacob has done to Laban, who exalted him in his house and gave his daughters for wives, and he begat sons and daughters, and abundantly increased in wealth and riches in Laban’s house through his means. 10 And when he saw that his wealth was abundant and his riches great he fled with all belonging to him, from Laban’s house, and he led Laban’s daughters away from the face of their father, as captives taken by the sword without telling him of it. 11 And not only to Laban has Jacob done thus but also unto me has he done so and has twice supplanted me, and shall I be silent? 12 Now therefore I have this day come with my camps to meet him, and I will do unto him according to the desire of my heart.”
Jacob’s messengers return with Esau’s reply, and Jacob is distraught. He prays to God reminding Him that He had told him to return to his home in Canaan, and God would deal well with him. He decides to appease Esau, taking 220 goats, 220 sheep, 30 camels, 30 asses, and 50 cows dividing them into a total of 10 portions and sending them to the approaching Esau. His servants were to put distance between them and tell Esau at each meeting, “We are the servants of Jacob, and we come to meet Esau in peace, and behold Jacob cometh behind us. And that which is before us is a present sent from Jacob to his brother Esau.”
Then Jacob spends the night wrestling with God. He refuses to release Him until He blessed him. God agrees and renames Jacob Israel because he had struggled with God and with men and had prevailed (Genesis 32:28). With the dawn, Jacob sees Esau coming. He bowed seven times to Esau, and Esau ran to meet him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him and they wept. Esau seems to have had a complete change of heart regarding his brother. Jacob encourages Esau to take the animals he had sent as gifts. Esau initially declines, but Jacob insists that he take the herds, and he does so. He invites Jacob to come to Edom with him, but Jacob tells him his entourage will be slow because of the animals and the children. He tells Esau to return to Edom, and he will follow. Esau heads due south to his home, and Jacob heads due west to Shechem. All’s well that ends well, but now for the rest of the story per Jasher 32:28-40, or what happened to Esau on his way to meet Jacob.
The LORD sent three angels who appeared to Esau as 2,000 men riding upon horses and furnished with all sorts of war instruments in four camps. The first camp appeared to Esau as 500 men riding toward Esau, whose men are terrified and flee Esau. Though a noted warrior, Esau is so frightened, he falls off his horse. The 500 men say to Esau in verse 32- “Surely we are the servants of Jacob, who is a servant of God, and who then can stand against us?” And Esau said unto them, “O then, my lord and brother Jacob is your lord, whom I have not seen for these twenty years, and now that I have this day come to see him, do you treat me in this manner?” 33 And the angels answered him saying, “As the LORD liveth, were not Jacob of whom thou speaketh thy brother, we had not let one remaining from thee and thy people, but only on account of Jacob we will do nothing to them.” This happens three times more though Esau only falls off his horse once thereafter. On to verse 39 And when Esau beheld the evil which the four angels had done to him and to his men, he became greatly afraid of his brother Jacob, and he went to meet him in peace. 40 And Esau concealed his hatred against Jacob, because he was afraid of his life on account of his brother Jacob, and because he imagined that the four camps that he had lighted upon were Jacob’s servants.
Two verses are allotted to the death of Isaac in Genesis 35:28-29, ending with: And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. But was there a double portion? If so, who got it? Going back to Isaac on his death bed, he blesses Jacob’s children. Per Jasher 47:6, And Isaac also blessed the sons of Esau, saying, “May God cause you to be a dread and a terror to all that will behold you, and to all your enemies.”
Per Jasher 47:15-25, Isaac’s possessions are divided among Esau and Jacob. Esau tells Jacob that they will divide everything into two parts, and that he, Esau, will have first choice. Jacob agrees, telling Esau one portion is the land of Canaan, including the cave of Machpelah in Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac are buried, and the second portion is all of Isaac’s wealth. Esau is taken aback by these choices. He consults with a son of Ishmael who tells him in verse 22: “What is this that Jacob has spoken unto thee? Behold all the children of Canaan are dwelling securely in their land, and Jacob sayeth he will inherit it with his seed all the days. 23 Go now and therefore and take all thy father’s riches and leave Jacob thy brother in the land, as he has spoken. Then Esau took all the riches of Isaac, leaving Jacob nothing, save the land of Canaan (then occupied by the Canaanites), from the brook of Egypt to the Euphrates as an everlasting possession.
Per Genesis 47:28, Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years and died at age 147. Joseph took his embalmed body to the cave of Machpelah to be buried with his fathers. He went with his brothers and the army of Egypt. Nothing very interesting seems to have happened on this trip to Canaan according to the Bible. However, Jasher tells a different story. In Jasher 56:50, Joseph on arriving at the cave of Machpelah is opposed by Esau and his sons who state the cave is theirs. Esau says he did not sell anything belonging to him in all the land of Canaan. Joseph tells Esau he has a deed and witnesses. Esau tells him to send for the deed, which Jacob does. Then Esau attacks the Egyptian army and Joseph, but he is defeated and in verse 64, a son of Dan kills Esau and cuts off his head.
The Arabs of Islam say Ishmael is the true son of Abraham. There are not many prophecies on Ishmael in the Bible, but extensive prophecies on Esau, also known as Edom, where he resided, and Seir or Mount Seir, apparently the main topographic feature of the land of Edom. I believe the prophecies on Esau refer to the Arabs of the Middle East. Genesis 28:9 notes that Esau married Ishmael’s daughter. Psalm 83:6 notes that among the enemies of God are the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites. As noted above, Esau was counseled by the son of Ishmael regarding the distribution of Isaac’s estate. Esau and Ishmael are clearly connected.
Jasher is not an inspired book, but a somewhat accurate history book. The stories seem to fit the characters noted above. I urge you to read the book of Jasher, the upright, and come to your own conclusions.
-Richard Gentry (May 26, 2017)