"Who Gets What?"
August 22, 2021 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis
Passage: Genesis 27
Who Gets What?
August 22, 2021
Read Genesis 26:34-28:9.
This is the Word of the LORD.
Today we wrap up our time in Genesis – at least for a little while. We have come from creation and are concluding with Jacob’s receiving the Abrahamic blessing. It has been quite the journey and I thought we might finish up on a dramatic note.
This is like a trying to explain a movie or a soap opera.
Context is key. There are some clues that help explain what may not be obvious in a first reading. For example, Esau and Isaac are generally viewed as victims in this story; however, they were willing participants in the game. Rebekah and Jacob simply were better at subterfuge than they were.
The story began with Esau’s marriage to Hittite women. Those marriages made life bitter for Rebekah and Isaac. That statement is just dropped in there, but don’t overlook it because it is a significant factor in what happened. Think about how long the Hittite women made life bitter for Rebekah and Isaac: when Esau was born, Isaac was forty. Esau was forty when he got married. Our text today only says that Isaac was old and his eyes were dim. Even though we have the impression that he was ailing and close to death, but that would not be accurate. The truth is that Isaac lived a long time after these events. We find out in Chapter 35:28 – after Jacob’s long exile and adventures – that Isaac died when he was 180 years old. That gives a long time for bitter family relations. Keep that in mind when you think about Rebekah’s motivations for preferring Jacob to Esau.
Then it is important to know that Isaac was not innocent. Everyone feels sorry for him because he was old, blind, and apparently not aware of the character of people who were in his family; however, his actions here were sneaky and a bit lazy, too. He was setting things in order so that others would – as they had his whole life – take care of him.
At stake here was the blessing of the patriarch. The blessing was different than the birthright that Esau had sold. Though no material rights were conveyed, this was perceived to be an incredibly important transaction from one generation to the next.
These pronouncements can be viewed from … different perspectives: social [and] theological... From the social perspective, there is no question that these pronouncements are taken with the utmost gravity by both father and son. They expect the pronouncements to impact the destiny of the son. The significance attached to the pronouncement is evident in what Rebekah and Jacob are willing to do to procure it as well as in Esau’s distress when he loses it. The power of the pronouncement is vested in its being spoken. That is why Isaac cannot take it back after he learns he has been tricked.
…[T]heologically these pronouncements are not presented as prophetic messages from the Lord. They simply represent the hopes and wishes of a father for his son(s). Consequently, Isaac uses first-person grammatical forms to indicate his ownership of the statements. There is no intrinsic authority vested in the blessing. In this way it is much like Joseph’s dreams: God is not obliged to work them out.
Thus, within the expectations of the time, this was an important event for the whole family. When Isaac called for Esau, instructing him to go out in the field to get him some food, he was planning to exclude Jacob from the blessing ceremony. It was going to happen in secret. Isaac knew the tension in the family and decided how things were going to be. They were going to do this without Rebekah and Jacob knowing. Make no mistake: Isaac was trying to do something underhanded.
Rebekah, who already favored Jacob, overheard. She did not want Isaac to bless the person responsible for bringing in the women who have made their lives “bitter.” That makes sense, right?
This is a family system just begging to go on Dr. Phil – if not Jerry Springer.
These Are The Good Guys?
In the bigger picture, the narrator also made a point of emphasizing how important to Isaac was Esau’s delivering food – the gist of it is that Isaac was more concerned with satisfying his hunger than in the meaning of the blessing. Compared to Abraham, who sent a servant to find a wife from among Laban’s people, Esau had married the women of the land. Isaac was more concerned about dinner than faithfulness to God’s plan.
There also are some larger picture things taking place. These events are included in the Bible as part of the story told about the Patriarchs – remember, God will introduce himself to Moses as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” So, these guys are the good guys? How can that be? No, they are not the good guys; they are God’s guys. The things they do are not very Godly. The things they do are not very Godly, yet God uses them all the same.
And, as we can see looking back, the sins of the fathers are played out in the sons. The brothers hate each other. They both wanted the blessing of Abraham. Jacob was a deceiver and a conniver. Esau was a rogue who wanted the blessing for his own benefit. Their competing interests mirrored the conflict between Isaac and Rebekah, put them at odds with each other, and broke up the family.
Again, these are the good guys? Again, no, they are not the good guys; they are the guys God uses to accomplish his good will. How does that work? It really is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the things they do are despicable. On the other hand, consider God’s grace, mercy, and sovereignty in working through imperfect people to accomplish his perfect will. As we look at those guys, we wonder, how? Then, when we look at our own lives, we wonder, how? If ever you wondered whether God could still love you because of what you have done, look at the Bible and see the kinds of people God calls to himself. They are flawed. They are not role models in the sense that we want to imitate their behavior. God did not love what they did, but God did love them. So, yes, these are God’s guys and it is through flawed humans that God’s promises are fulfilled.
Let me pause and dwell here for a moment to review: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Sarah and Rebekah, also) were not perfect people. They were not unblemished saints. They were real people with real flaws, real sins, real brokenness, and real moral failures. We can’t overlook those things just because they are people in the Bible. We need to look at those things because they are in the Bible. We need to look at those things because we are just like them. God does not love the things we do, but God does love us.
God was faithful to them because he was working out his good and perfect plan through them. God is faithful to us because he is working out his good and perfect plan through us. Yes, God is intimately concerned with you and with me – and – yes, God loves you and me. But it would be a mistake to think that God was only concerned with you and me. God works in us and through us to accomplish his good and perfect plan.
We often get wrapped up in our own flaws, sins, brokenness, and moral failures, that we fail to recognize that God was, is, and always will be accomplishing his good and perfect plan. That is occurring when we are being faithful and when we are being unfaithful. The truth is that we are most alive and most free when we are acting in accord with God’s purpose and will; and we miss out on the blessing, peace, and joy when we are acting contrary to God’s call.
The gospel we preach is that Christ came to give his life as a ransom for many. He came that we would be reconciled to God, we would be adopted into God’s family, that we might see what God has done and is doing, and might be conformed to his purposes – now and eternally. We still live in the midst of the brokenness, we are still subject to brokenness of this world and the brokenness of our own sinful conduct; yet, we are a people of hope because God has claimed us as his own. We are not good because we are good; we are good because we have been made good through the blood of Christ so that we can live according to God’s purposes in God’s kingdom. To wrap up that thought: living in God’s kingdom is the result of salvation; and there is salvation in no one other than Jesus, for there is no one else – “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
That’s the good news: we are people of hope because God can and does work in and through us. Praise God.
This leads us to the most confusing part of this story.
What do we make of God’s Will being accomplished through lying?
Jacob clearly benefited by the deception, right? He gained his father’s blessing. He usurped the position rightly held by Esau. Yes, he did it at his mother’s direction; however, he played into the role by out-and-out lying to Isaac, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.” “Are you really my son Esau?” asked Isaac. “I am,” said Jacob.
There is no way to explain away what Jacob did here. No way. Unlike the birthright, Esau had not consented to give this blessing to Jacob; Jacob took it. Even the Bible writer does not justify what happened, quoting Isaac, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken your blessing.”
And yet Jacob had the irrevocable blessing of his father.
What are we to do with that? On the surface, it seems like Rebekah and Jacob were operating on the “ends justify the means” philosophy. Esau was a bad guy, Jacob was better; Isaac was being sneaky, and Rebekah was smarter; thus, it was necessary and acceptable to pull this ruse over on Isaac. Isaac was not acting in good faith – so he has no real right to complain.
One way of looking at things is that Rebekah and Jacob benefited from their wrongdoing. However, a deeper look shows that is not accurate; and the fallout from their actions demonstrates that everyone lost. No one gained anything by deception, and everyone lost.
Let me say that again: no one gained anything by deception, and everyone lost.
God’s Will often is accomplished in spite of the machinations of humankind. God’s purpose was not thwarted or advanced because Rebekah and Jacob hatched this plot to steal the blessing. Jacob did not inherit anything that God did not already have in store for him. In fact, Jacob’s deception did not prevent Isaac from thwarting God’s purpose; if Isaac had gone ahead with blessing Esau in secrecy, God’s plan to effect salvation through Jacob’s line would have been accomplished another way.
How can I say that? The blessing Jacob stole ends up not being the blessing of Abraham. Do you see that? The blessing in Chapter 27 was consistent with God’s prophecy at the boys’ birth. However, it was in Chapter 28 – after the deception was discovered, after Esau had vowed to kill Jacob, after Rebekah convinced Isaac to send Jacob away – it was then that Abraham’s blessing was uttered to Jacob. Jacob was being sent away to find a bride from with marry within the Abraham’s family; just as Abraham had provided for Isaac. Jacob was sent to find a wife – not a foreign woman; rather, one in compliance with God’s Will. It is at that point Isaac voluntarily said,
“May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and numerous, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give to you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your offspring with you, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien – the land that God gave to Abraham.
Jacob did not gain God’s promise by deception; Isaac gave it to him when they all began to act in accordance with God’s purpose.
What about the others? Rebekah did not gain anything by the deception. In fact, she lost almost everything. The Bible writer introduced her as a kind of female version of Abraham – someone who left her family and all security to go with Abraham’s servant to marry Isaac, whom she had never met. She was smart and a woman of action. Where Isaac comes across as utterly passive, she was the strength in the family. She had received the word from the LORD about the twins and how God intended their lives to be. However, because she tried to step in where she thought God had failed, she ended up being responsible for blowing things up. Already alienated from Esau, made bitter by Esau’s wives, she hoped that Jacob would receive the blessing and be able to stay near. Instead, Isaac was anguished and angry; and Esau vowed to kill his brother. Rebekah manipulated Isaac to send Jacob to her brother, Laban, where he would be only a few days away; however, she would end up never seeing him again.
Esau lost the most by being self-centered and ignoring God. He did not value his birthright and sold it for a pot of stew. He was the victim of the deception for the blessing and ended up alienated from his brother. As Hebrews 12 explains later, “See to it that no one becomes like Esau, and immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal. You know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears.” The end of this story involved Esau marrying daughters of Ishmael – outside of the line of Abraham’s family through which the promises of God would flow. Even when he tried to get it right, he tried by doing it his own way and he got it wrong.
Isaac did not gain anything. Again, a second victim of the immediate deception, Isaac had not been active in his faithfulness to God, had not paid attention or taken an active role in developing and disciplining the boys in God’s promise. He tried to do something slick, and it backfired when he was outwitted.
I go through all these characters and show how their own actions did not benefit them to illustrate this simple point. “Thy will be done.” We pray that each week and the truth is that God’s Will always will be done. We can neither speed God’s Will by our obedience nor thwart God’s Will by our own efforts. We cannot force God to bless us; neither can we take something God does not intend for us. God wants our faithfulness and obedience. Even our most strategic manipulations are child’s play in the eyes of the LORD.
I have mentioned Psalm 139 a few times and it bears repeating here; the first few verses are a terrific statement of this concept:
O LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
It is not good to think that the ends justify wrong means. Focus on God, first. Be in communication with God, first. Pursue peace – God’s peace – with others, first. You cannot take anything that is not yours, you cannot force God to do anything other than what he has already willed.
The importance of the meal.
I want to briefly turn your attention to one last thing. As we look back, we cannot miss the significance of Isaac’s attention to his own stomach as opposed to his relationship with God. Isaac, like Esau, was taken in by a meal; was taken in by weakness to his own flesh and his own desires. He had his mind on earthly things, not God’s things.
Contrast that to this table – this communion table. There was no deception. There was no guile, or manipulation, or strategy to do something other than abide in God’s Will, remember God’s goodness, and place trust in God’s sovereignty. The Passover table remembered God’s faithfulness and how God delivered the people out of the hand of slavery in Egypt. It meant something more than simply quenching hunger. Jesus took those same elements, those same memories, and re-purposed it for God’s new covenant.
The food Jesus offered is eternal life. The food for which Esau and Isaac settled was stew. Which food do you desire? Which food do you seek out and which food satisfies? Intellectually, as you sit here, you know the answer; but the question is, if you look at your life, your heart, your actions and your priorities, what food are you actually seeking?
Put your trust in God; seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all other things will be added unto you. You do not need to be anxious, you do not need to scheme and plot, God is God, God is good, and God’s Will be done.
Closing hymn: His Name Is Wonderful
- Have you ever wondered whether God could still love you because of what you have done? Have you ever wondered if God could or would still use you because of the sin in your life? How do these events address those thoughts?
- How does it strike you when we talked about God accomplishing his purpose regardless of your concurrence and compliance? “The truth is that we are most alive and most free when we are acting in accord with God’s purpose and will; and we miss out on the blessing, peace, and joy when we are acting contrary to God’s call.” Does that alter or deepen your understanding of your relationship with God? How might that impact how you relate to others?
- Looking at Isaac’s hunger and the Lord’s Table side-by-side, if you look at your life, your heart, your actions, and your priorities, which food are you actually seeking?
 John Walton, New International Version Application Commentary, Genesis, p. 554.