You can’t make this stuff up. The story of Jacob “stealing” the blessing from Esau is real and none of the names were changed because no one was innocent. This plot can be found borrowed, in part, in Shakespearean plays such as Othello, and in plenty of other plays and TV shows and movies, where one character pretends to be another and ends up in all kinds of trouble, as the audience laughs. But make no mistake. All four of the characters in this Bedouin tragicomedy are guilty, but Moses, our narrator, makes no editorial comments. He simply tells it like it is and shows the rival strategies of father and favorite son vs. mother and favorite son and how they all end up serving God’s purposes. But not without lies and deception and even blasphemy.
Isaac is old now, his eyes are dim, and maybe his faculties are as well. He thinks he is about to die so he wants to give Esau his blessing, though Isaac will end up living at least 20 more years. And it seems the whole thing for Isaac centers on food. Listen! Isaac knew the oracle God spoke to Rebekah before these boys were born, that the older would serve the younger. You know Rebekah had reminded him of it often as the boys grew up. But Isaac was determined to have his way, not God’s, in this. And honestly, the older he got the more he was being led by his five senses, and not by good sense. Derek Kidner wrote, “his palate had long since governed his heart and silenced his tongue for he was powerless to rebuke the sin that was Esau’s downfall…(and he ends up) rejecting the evidence of his ears for that of his hands, following the promptings of his palate and seeking inspiration through -of all things- his nose.”
The plot of the story is hatched because Rebekah overhears Isaac talking to Esau about the kill and the meal and the thrill of the blessing that would follow. What if Rebekah had not overheard and Isaac had eaten Esau’s food and then blessed his older son? Oh my goodness, what would God have done then? We don’t know how, but God’s purposes will stand. Always and forever. Rebekah did not have to hatch this plot, because God had already told her Jacob was the chosen son. God did not need her help. We never have to take matters in our own hands to get what we think God wants for us.
It might appear Jacob has a twinge of conscience when his mother tells him her plan, but it is simply fear of being caught. This is situational ethics 101. Do whatever you need to do, even if it includes deception, to “accomplish the purposes of God.” Kent Hughes writes about this, “The variations of this ethical absurdity are endless: (A man says) ‘It is God’s will that I provide for my family. Therefore a partial truth told to a client is OK.” Or, “It is God’s will that his Word be preached with power. So the use of made-up illustrations and personal stories are fine if they enhance the truth of the Word.” Or, “God wants people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. So it’s OK to use unbelievers and entertainers to get an audience.”
Jacob says to his mom, I might end up bringing a curse upon myself, and Rebekah assures him that no, she would take the curse. As if she had authority over that discipline from God. Then she says, “Only obey my voice.” Listen, everyone, and especially young people. If anyone tells you to do something that you know is wrong, no matter who it is, obey God instead. But Jacob did what his mother told him to do, and Rebekah knew that she could prepare some gamey-tasting goat (yuck) that would taste just as delicious as whatever Esau would be dragging back to the tent, and she could do it in less time. That was important, right? You couldn’t have Esau showing up right when Jacob, all dressed up in his Esau-halloween costume, is carrying a platter of steaming goat into his father’s tent. That would ruin the ambience and probably lead to fratricide. I’m telling you; you can’t make this stuff up.
The final touches are complete when Rebekah makes a meal that will appeal to Isaac’s stomach, puts some of Esau’s clothes on Jacob to help him smell like his brother, and goat skins on his arms and neck so he will feel like his brother. The fix is in, the props and the costumes are ready, so…
Read the rest of the story in Genesis 27!
God blessed Isaac in the land that he had told him to live in. He became rich, and then he became very wealthy. God is not an enemy of wealth or the wealthy. In fact, Deuteronomy 8:18 reminds us, “You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth…” But Isaac’s faith was never in his crops or stocks or wells, but in God.
I love the story in Genesis 26 of Isaac digging one well after another, only to have the men of Gerar contend and quarrel with him over who owned the wells. Isaac set to work re-digging the wells his father had dug and the Philistines had filled in. Each well his men dug was challenged or seized by the herdsmen of Gerar, and Isaac simply moved on and dug another. Finally he moved far enough away that the well was not contested, so he named it Rehobeth, which means “broad places.” God has given me room. Derek Kidner writes, “His labor on the lost wells, the contesting of his early gains, the timely reliefs and encouragements, and the eventual reward of his tenacity make a story which still speaks to the man (or woman) of God engaged in the same struggle.”
I also love the character that we see here in Isaac. The confidence he had that his life and his work were in the Lord’s hands gave him the strength not to fight the men or even resent the struggles and the opposition. He was able to simply trust that it was part of God’s plan, and that God would give him a broad place after he patiently and peacefully walked through the narrow ones.
I call that divine grit. Grit that comes not from self-reliance but from faith that rests solidly on the promises of God. We see it in Isaac, and we will see it even more in Jacob, and even more in Joseph. Divine grit is not just a patriarch thing. It’s a man of God thing. It’s a woman of God thing.
This is a cartoon depiction of Jacob and Esau at a pivotal moment in their lives. Which one of these is a real man? The truth is, both of them appear to have the XY chromosome, so they are both men. Which is the more manly man? Some people determine manliness by levels of aggression, athleticism, or rugged individualism. Or even by the size of the pickup truck or the biceps. Esau was a skillful hunter and a man of the fields. He may have been a lot bigger or stronger than his little brother, but the truth is, Jacob will turn out to be the most manly. Even the way Genesis 25 describes Jacob here is telling. He is a “quiet man, dwelling in tents.” The Sumerians of that day spoke highly of tent dwellers, saying they were settled and civilized. But what about “quiet man?” Some people read “mama’s boy,” or “sissy,” but the word in Hebrew for quiet means “complete, upright, one of stable disposition.” He was much more in control of himself and his emotions than his older brother, which brings Proverbs 16:32 to mind: “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Manliness has much more to do with self-control than with brute strength. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek,” and we know that meekness is not weakness, but it is strength under control. With that understanding, then, Jesus was the manliest man who ever lived.
What is most important in this story is that Esau lost his birthright to Jacob, but he lost it because he did not consider it important. It is a great story of how expedience can overcome wisdom and make us the poorer. It is a story of how flesh will win over spirit if we do not say no to the flesh. It is a story of wanting something of little value instead of that which has greater and lasting value.
Jim Eliott said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” That statement would take on ‘forever meaning’ for Jim when he was speared to death by the Auca Indians in 1956, the same ones he was witnessing to. He gave up his comfort and even his life which he could not keep anyway to gain eternity and to help that tribe do the same.
Esau came in from the fields, tired and exhausted, and Jacob was cooking some red stew. Esau smelled the stew and he saw the stew, and he wanted the stew, wanted it right now. He didn’t care what it took and what he had to give up to get the stew. This past week, an airborne deer going north to south met my Honda Accord traveling west to east. It’s rutting season when bucks are thinking about only one thing. He was chasing a doe and could not have cared less what was in his way. Even the windshield of a pastor’s car as he is just trying to make it across town.
Esau didn’t care about anything at that moment but food. See food. Eat food. Red stew? Good. Give me some. Birthright? What good is a birthright if I’m about to die. Drama much, Esau? But he was thinking with his gut. Derek Kidner said, “he was a prey to his craving.” At this moment, he was not the mighty hunter but the weak prey. You may say that Jacob wasn’t much better. And on one level, you’re exactly right. He was the usurper, right? The heel-grabber, the one who trips up to take advantage, and he was doing just that with his brother. The difference is that what Jacob desired more than anything was worth desiring. That made Jacob the more godly man. He gave his brother what he craved and Esau walked away, thinking nothing of the consequences to his soul. The text is stark: “…He ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.”
It was a warning to Israel and to all who simply live to satisfy the desires of their flesh. Man and woman without Christ simply eat and drink and die and go their way. And in the process, they despise their birthright, the blessing that is freely given to all who come to Christ by faith and through grace.
Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah and 60 when his twins were born. So for 20 years, Rebekah was barren. Twenty long years of waiting. But that waiting was not without action. What did Isaac do? What was his work during those 20 years besides taking care of his flocks and herds? Prayer. Prayer that sprang from his faith. Remember when the people asked Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So Isaac prayed. And believed. And waited.
Some in today’s world might say, “What was the big deal that Isaac and Rebekah couldn’t have children? We have too many people in the world, anyway!” Or some say, “The world is dark and evil; why would I want to bring children into it?” I answer with the Psalms: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” And I answer with Jesus, “You are the light of the world.” Think about it, followers of Christ. If the world is a dark place, don’t we need to bring more light into it? That’s what children born into a home where they will be taught of the Lord can become: light in a dark place. Having children, if you are able, is an act of faith in a mighty God, and I would even say an act of obedience to a God who gives good gifts.
Isaac’s work of God was to believe, and because he believed, he prayed with and for his wife. How many times in Genesis 25 did Isaac ask in faith that God would let his wife Rebekah conceive? We are not told. But maybe he had heard from his father about the time when God told him to pray for the women in Abimilech’s house who had been made barren by the Lord. God heard Abraham’s prayer and the women in Abimilech’s house bore children. Abraham may have said to Isaac, “Son, I didn’t pray for your mom then. She was barren, and I should have prayed that God would heal her long before she was 91 and had you.” We don’t know how this happened, but Isaac knew that his only hope for children was the Lord. So he prayed with and for his wife. And if that prayer started when they got married, and he prayed every day, then he asked God more than 7,000 times to bless his wife with a child. The verb that is translated “prayed” in that passage is used by Moses multiple times in Exodus and is usually translated “plead.” Moses told the Pharaoh more than once that he would go and plead with the Lord to remove the plagues. There’s an emotional component here as well, as Isaac is pleading with God on behalf of Rebekah.
One of the most important works of being a husband is to pray, in faith, with and for your wife. And not to give up. Keep knocking on the door, keep asking, keep seeking. Isaac did that. Can you imagine the joy of this couple when “God granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived”? God did the same for the mothers of Jacob, Isaac, Joseph, and Samuel, among others. Four famous and very important men of God whose mothers were barren before God healed them. Where would the people of faith be without those men, and their fathers and mothers who prayed for their existence?
Let’s acknowledge and believe and teach others that EVERY child, every single one, is a gift from God.
I love the story in Genesis 24 Abraham sending his servant to find a wife for Isaac in the old country. Eliezer had to travel more than 500 miles with ten camels and supplies and “choice” gifts, to find a woman he did not know, convince her that she should leave her family and home and travel with a stranger for 500 miles, where she would meet his master’s son, a stranger, and become his wife!
Eliezer stopped at the well outside the city of Nahor and prayed for guidance, that God would show him the right woman for Isaac. He didn’t ask God to help him see something arbitrary or spectacular. He wanted to see a woman who was set apart by her generosity and her willingness to work. A woman who was both kind and industrious, as one commentator put it. By this I will know, Eliezer said to God, that you have shown “hesed,” steadfast love to my master.
How do we know Rebekah was generous and kind? She did not hesitate to offer Eliezer a drink of water when he asked. And she did not hesitate to offer to draw water for his camels as well! How do we know she was industrious and hard working? Because he had TEN camels, and a thirsty camel after a long journey can drink up to 25 gallons. That means she offered to draw 250 gallons of water from the well for this stranger and his camels which would have taken 2 hours or more. The text says Eliezer “gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not.”
God did, and Rebekah took Eliezer and his entourage to her house to meet the family and stay the night. The evening and the next morning in Rebekah’s house is another example of the faithfulness of Eliezer. And of his determination to complete what his master had sent him to do. Allen Ross wrote, “Believers must give priority to completing God’s work.” Eliezer did that by coming into Laban’s house at his bidding, but then insisting that before he ate anything he would need to tell them the story of his coming to their house. What did he tell Laban? He emphasized the blessing of the Lord upon Abraham, and that the inheritance of all he had would go to his son Isaac, and the promise he made to his master not to take a wife for Isaac from Canaan but from his father’s house and from his clan. He told him that his master promised an angel would come with Eliezer and prosper his way. He told him of the conditions by which he prayed the Lord would show him the right one for Isaac and how Rebekah appeared even before he finished praying and did all that he had just asked the Lord to show him. He ended his story with this appeal to Rebekah’s family: “If you are going to show hesed, steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me.” They agreed!
But…what happened the next morning is a good reminder that though God’s provision is certain, it is not always easy. Rebekah’s brother and mother, and I suspect this is mostly Laban, as we know how he will treat Jacob later on, tell Eliezer to let her stay at home for another ten days and then she could go. Eliezer had two choices. He could acquiesce and bide his time for ten days, with no guarantee that 10 would not stretch into 30 and a decision not to let Rebekah go at all. Or he could push back. The saying is, “Don’t doubt in the darkness what you have heard in the light.” He had heard in the light that this was the woman God had led him to. So, he pushed back: “Do not delay me, since the Lord has prospered my way.” They responded with, “OK, let’s see what Rebekah wants to do.”
I love this, and I believe God sovereignly worked it out precisely this way. Because though on the one hand this was an arranged marriage, and the two who will marry in a few days will have never seen each other, neither was forced into it. Especially not Rebekah! She said to her brother and mother, “I will go.” J.I. Packer wrote, “Believers are never in the grip of blind forces (fortune, chance, luck, fate); all that happens to them is divinely planned, and each event comes as a new summons to trust, obey, and rejoice.”
The story ends with the two seeing each other for the first time, and “she became his wife, and he loved her.” We modern folks like to flip that around and say, “I loved her, and then she became my wife.” And that’s good. But isn’t it the desire of every married couple that we will grow in love for our wife or husband in ways we could never even imagine when we first married?