Last time, we spoke of Isaac’s commendable devotion to the Lord and his steadfast dedication to pursuing the things of God. It is good that we were shown such a wonderful picture of Isaac’s faithfulness in Genesis 26 because if we were left with only the account of the events of Genesis 27, we might have come to quite a different conclusion about his character. In fact, the whole sordid affair of the “stolen blessing” casts such a despicable shadow across this entire family that it gives us pause when we reflect upon the fact that they were the lineage through whom our Lord Jesus would ultimately arise. Yet we know that we serve a perfect God Who is in no way dependent upon “perfect” people, and thus we are reminded that even the Patriarchs of old were not without their faults.
“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
As we read through the details of this incident, the treachery and deception of Jacob’s ruse, carefully rehearsed to him by Rebekah, his mother, makes it readily apparent that neither the woman nor her son are blameless. Rebekah is guilty of conspiring to defraud Isaac, while Jacob perpetrates what is perhaps the world’s first case of “identity theft.” We know that they are in no way innocent. But Isaac and even Esau are no less blameworthy of wrong-doing in the eyes of God. Let us consider the role of each player in this very sad and deplorable scene:
As is so often the case, the head-of-the-household is where the occasion of familial folly can be traced. Isaac calls his favorite son (Gen. 25:28), Esau, to his side and tells him that he is old and will soon be dead; therefore, the time has come to pass on the mantle of blessing in order that Esau might assume the role of his father (Gen. 27:1-2). But why does he do so? Has the Lord appeared to him again as He did previously (Gen. 26:2, 26:24), instructing Isaac to do this? No. It seems that this notion has arisen solely from the heart and mind of Isaac. He tells Esau that he fears that the days of his life are at an end, but God has certainly not given him this idea. No less than 43 years will transpire before we read his “obituary” in Genesis 35:29!
Isaac reacts out of fear and panic that his time is short and that those things which must be done can wait no longer. So he decides that he shall take it upon himself to pass the blessing on to Esau at once. But we can be certain that Isaac was not ignorant of the oracle which the Lord had told Rebekah those many years before: that Jacob would be the blessed son (Gen. 25:23). How is it, then, that he should seek to circumvent the will of God in order to accomplish his own purposes?
“And prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.” (Genesis 27:4)
Like so many parents throughout history, Isaac seems to have intertwined the value of Esau with Esau’s meeting his expectations. How many fathers have we known who withhold their love and approval save that their own sons fulfill the desires which they have for them? Genesis 25:28 tells us plainly that Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his son’s venison. As Esau had been willing to sacrifice the blessing of his father in order to satisfy his own fleshly appetites, so is Isaac willing to “sell” the birthright to the son which will satisfy his. What a picture of two men being led about by their own appetites, preferring to serve the god of their own bellies (Phil. 3:19), if but for a season, rather than remaining mindful of the things of the Living God.
“Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” (Genesis 27:33)
Isaac’s response when he realizes that he has been duped is very interesting. He does not become angry. He does not recant the blessing which was extracted from him under false pretenses. He trembles. Is this not the response of any of us when we are reminded that we are powerless to override the plans of God? So often we know the will and desire of God, yet we try to supersede it with our own. And when the sovereignty of the Lord of Heaven moves upon our own lives in those instances, trumping our actions with His own, we, too, are left with no response but fear and trembling. Ashamed that we have even tried to superimpose our own will over that of our precious Lord’s, we are left with no viable recourse but to throw ourselves on His mercy and accept the course of action that He has set in motion.
If we could have asked Rebekah the day that this happened, she very likely would have told us that she had really done nothing wrong. After all, she had already been told that God had chosen Jacob to receive Isaac’s blessing, what was the harm in making sure that this happened? As she overheard Isaac and Esau discussing the giving of the blessing to occur after Esau returned from his hunt (Gen. 27:5), Rebekah must have surely been gripped with desperation. She must have felt compelled to do something to prevent this from happening. But what to do? There is an age-old philosophical question that asks: “Is an evil deed truly evil if the end result is good?” Or, “Does the end justify the means?” In the eyes of God, we know the answer to this question. We are never justified in resorting to trickery, deception, lies, or any other sinful behavior in order to bring about any perceived “greater good.” We serve an all-powerful God in Whose hands all things are upheld. We must trust that He will bring about all things according to His will.
Rebekah had heard the Word of God which clearly told her that Jacob would be the son of blessing, not Esau. It was not up to her to ensure that this would happen; God would cause it to come to pass. Yet how often do we do likewise? We have the promises in God’s Word to us (the Bible) and we still resort to all sorts of measures that conflict with His holiness in order to ensure our own “success.” We must trust in the One Who has made the promises to bring them to pass. Any suggestion as to what would have happened that day had Rebekah not intervened would be pure speculation. I do know one thing, though: the blessing most definitely would not have been passed on to Esau.
Like his mother, Jacob’s greatest fault is believing that he is personally responsible for making sure that God’s will is carried out in his life, regardless of the method. We already saw Jacob behave less than honorably when he took advantage of Esau’s low regard for the blessing back in Genesis 25:27-34. So, really, his despicable actions here do not come as any surprise. But there can be little doubt that he has definitely taken things quite a bit further by moving from extortion to out-and-out deception. He lies repeatedly to his father with a coolness that leaves little doubt that he was one with much practice in lying and manipulating others. Two aspects of this make things particularly heinous: that he is deceiving his own father, and that he is doing so in the name of God.
“Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?” And he said, “Because the Lord your God caused it to happen to me.” (Genesis 27:20)
Few things are more distressing than when a person attempts to validate their own misdeeds by applying the endorsement of God to them. They equate the success of their own endeavors, no matter how deplorable, with the approval of the Lord. Or else they seek to elevate their own wicked agenda to a level of unwarranted respectability by fabricating the confirmation of Heaven behind it. “God has told me to do this”, or “The Lord wants me to do that”, they will claim. They do things in the name of God which God has nothing to do with. Perhaps Jacob really believed that the blessing of God was with him during this tragic event, but we can be certain that this was no plan of His. How the will of God comes to pass is every bit as important as whether or not it comes to pass at all.
“For you know that even afterwards, when [Esau] desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.” (Hebrews 12:17)
Esau blames Jacob for stealing his birthright (Gen. 27:36), though he had willfully given it to him for the price of a bowl of soup. That thing which had previously been of absolutely no value whatsoever to Esau now was something he was exceedingly bitter and angry over. Why the change of mind? Sadly, it is not that Esau now has a higher regard for the things of God; he has not acquired a higher level of spirituality. But he is now standing face-to-face with the consequences of his decisions, and that is what disturbs him. Many people, when faced with the consequences of their sinful behavior, will cry out in despair, but it is not because they have suddenly realized that they have offended the holiness of God. It is for no other reason than they sincerely desire that the results of their bad decisions be abated. Esau has no more interest in serving in the priestly role of the family than he did before, but he is interested in the “grain and the new wine.” Oh, to enjoy the blessings of God without having to yield one’s will to Him! To eat the delicious red stew and receive the blessings of Heaven! To sing with the drunkards on Saturday night and with the church choir on Sunday morning! This is what Esau is so bitter about.
Finally, it must be noted that, although each of the four members of this family were selfishly going about to pursue their own desires, the will of God is not frustrated. Though they were all in error, though they all were guilty of trying to do things their own way rather than God’s, the end result was exactly what God said it would be. This was not how God planned for it to come about, but His purposes were realized, nonetheless. Rebekah would never again see Jacob after she sent him away (Gen. 27:43), Esau would end up living away from his homeland in the land of Edom (Gen. 32:3), and, ironically, Jacob, who had just received such a magnificent blessing from Isaac, being the heir to all of Isaac’s wealth, would flee from his home and the wrath of Esau with no more than the clothes on his back and the staff in his hand! What a price they paid for their sins. We do well to be certain that we do things the way that God would have us do them.
To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,
[This post was originally published May 20, 2010]
[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]