Genesis 26:34 - 28:9 ~ 2008 02 17 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
Today we're going to look at a very dysfunctional family. This is a family where there is no open communication between all members – everybody is talking behind everybody else's back. The dad is totally negligent on his responsibilities as head of the home. He seems to have just given up, and all he really cares about any more is satisfying his taste buds. He's blatantly disobedient to God's commands and secretly doing things his own way. The mom is sneaky and deceptive. She's eavesdropping on everybody else's conversations and she is manipulative and controlling and will lie and cheat and steal to get her own way. She makes it appear on the surface that everything is in order, but she's really running everything from the back seat. Both parents have their own favorite son, and they are each training their favorite to be just like them. One son has total disregard for spiritual things and lives for the moment without thinking about consequences. All he thinks about is satisfying his cravings. When he feels he is wronged, he is quick to blame someone else for the consequences of his own action, and even willing to murder to get even. The other son is crafty and deceptive has no concern for what is right or wrong other than that he doesn't want to get caught or have consequences for his actions. Neither of these boys have proper honor for their parents, and nobody is willing to stand up and do what's right when others are going in the wrong direction. This is a mess. We might be tempted to pick our favorite or sympathize with one, but the bottom line is that:
We're in Genesis 27. Were talking about Isaac, Abraham's child of the promise, the one who willingly obeyed his father even to the point of laying down his own life. The one who we saw in the last chapter persevering when he was being persecuted, and rather than retaliating, he patiently endured being pushed around and trusted in his God. And his wife Rebekah, who was this woman of virtue that Abraham's servant went to get from Abraham's extended family in Aram Naharaim. She was the one who was generous and hospitable and offered to water this stranger's ten camels, then agreed to go on a journey 400 miles through the desert to marry a man she had never met. And it says that Isaac loved Rebekah. Rebekah was barren, but Isaac took their problem to God and prayed for her and she became pregnant. Here we are, about 40 years later and this family is in a state of disaster! We can see the conversations criss-cross if we look at the layout of the chapter:
[26:34-35 Esau marries to two Hittite women]
27:18-29 Isaac----------------------Jacob (as Esau)
[28:6-9 Esau marries an Ishmaelite woman]
We are introduced to the beginning of Esau's family. Esau married two Hittite women. And we are told that they brought grief of soul to Isaac and Rebekah. We are not told much about these two, but any parent can imagine what kind of daughter in law would bring grief of soul. And Esau should have known better. When God made his promises to grandpa Abraham, he had promised to give the land of the Hittites to him and to his descendants (Genesis 15:18-21), and they were categorized as a wicked people who would later be totally destroyed from the land. What I don't understand is what Isaac was doing while all this was going on. Was he just standing by biting his nails? His dad had gone to great lengths to secure him a wife from his relatives. Why didn't Isaac do the same for his favorite son? Why didn't he at least try to instill in him discretion and wise judgment? Or was he so interested in eating wild game that he excused his son's immoral behavior? Was Isaac so concerned that Esau think he was a cool dad that he neglected to discipline and instruct him? Maybe we should give Isaac the benefit of the doubt that he tried and Esau was just a stubborn rebellious son who refused correction. Whatever the case, Isaac's action in the next verses when put in this context seems totally irrational:
Isaac is old, he is bed bound and blind. He thinks he might die any day. When a father was near death, it was customary to gather the whole family and let his wishes be known as to who got what of the estate – kind of like a last will and testament. This took on even more significance because Isaac was the son who would inherit the promise that God gave to Abraham, and now Isaac was poised to pass on this spiritual blessing to the next generation. But rather than do this in an honest public way, he privately calls in his favorite son and instructs him to prepare his favorite meal as if that would block out the grief he had caused so he could bless him. We had already seen that Isaac had a weakness for tasty food:
And we saw that Esau had betrayed his character as one who had no interest in spiritual things: he despised his birthright. And he disregarded the wishes of his parents by his choice in marriage and brought them grief. But if Esau's character weren't enough of an indicator that he had forfeited his right to the blessing, Isaac had God's word on the issue. God had spoken that 'the older shall serve the younger'. Isaac was going against the word of God when he attempted to pass the blessing to Esau. Esau had sold his birthright for a bowl of soup; and now Isaac is willing to sell the blessing for a meal of wild game.
But Rebekah has been listening:
Things just get messier. Rebekah also knew the promise of God and she wasn't about to let Isaac bless the wrong son. But rather than going and reasoning with her husband, she comes up with this deceitful plan. While Esau is out hunting, Jacob will lie and pretend to be him and get the blessing by trickery. And Jacob's moral character really shines through in this story – he knows what they're doing is wrong. But he doesn't say 'mom, this isn't right. It just doesn't seem right to rip off a blind guy – and my own father at that. How 'bout we go talk to him and maybe he'll understand?' no, instead he says 'I'm ok with lying to dad. But if he realizes that I'm lying, he might be really upset and there might be consequences. I just don't want to have any consequences for my evil behavior'. Understand that this is not repentance. Repentance is a change of heart about your sin. I no longer want to do what is evil. That is a very different thing from saying I don't want to get caught for my evil behavior, so if I have to stop sinning to avoid the consequences, I will, but I'd rather keep on sinning and just figure out a way to avoid the consequences. That's not repentance. Jacob is wicked through and through. When his mom offers to take his consequences, he's more than happy to go through with their wicked plan.
So Jacob pulls it off. He deceives his blind dad. Notice the sequence:
1. first, he addresses him as 'My father' (Abba); 2. then he says 'I am Esau, (lies about identity); your firstborn, (lies about position); I have done as you told me; (lies about obedience); eat of my game' (lies about meal); 3. Isaac expresses doubt – how did you hunt and kill and prepare a meal so quickly? ; Jacob's answer to this question is shocking and demonstrates the depth of his depravity; 'The LORD your God granted me success'; his lie has now been amplified into taking God's name in vain, claiming the assistance of divine providence. 4. Isaac expresses his doubt – caused by hearing; his ears are telling him that 'the voice is the voice of Jacob'; 5. in confirmation of Jacob's lie is his sense of touch - feel; the hairy goat skins; 6. He states his doubt in a question: Are you really my son Esau? Jacob answers boldly: 'I am'; 7. Another confirmation of Jacob's lie comes through his taste buds - taste; eat of the goats Rebekah prepared; 8. The final confirmation comes through his nose – his sense of smell; he smelled the smell of Esau's garments.
Isaac was blind, so he had to rely on his other senses. His sense of touch, taste, and smell all agreed that it was Esau; but his sense of hearing told him that it was Jacob. He shouldn't have let his other senses override his hearing (don't trust your feelings – trust the word!)
Isaac is intentionally violating the divine prophesy; God had said that the elder would serve the younger, yet Isaac, thinking he is blessing the older says 'be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you'.
(I wonder if they crossed paths at this moment – Esau is dragging his fresh kill into camp, just as Jacob comes running out of his father's tent with a bunch of dirty dishes – Why is Jacob dressed up in my clothes... and why does he have goatskins all over his body?)
What a scene! We have the original two – the father and his favorite son who had schemed this plan to secretly pass the blessing on without the rest of the family knowing. Now they are back together realizing that they had been duped and their plans had been frustrated. Isaac appears to be having a panic attack. Esau is reduced to a sniveling whining begging 40 year old victim who refuses to take responsibility for his own sins but is quick to blame others. Yes, Jacob was deceitful, yes, Jacob cheated him of the blessing. And yes, Jacob was less than hospitable or fair to his brother when he demanded the exchange of birthright for a bowl of soup. But Esau had agreed to that bargain. Esau had despised his birthright. And now, when he wanted the connected blessing he found no chance to repent. That's what Hebrews tells us:
Repentance would have been to acknowledge that he was wrong to treat the birthright as worthless and confess his own sin. Instead, he played the victim and blamed all his problems on somebody else. In fact, he demonstrated that spiritually he was a descendant of Cain who killed his brother; and of the serpent who was a murderer from the beginning; he comforted himself with the thought of killing his own brother:
So Rebekah again is eavesdropping and again takes matters into her own hands and whips up another scheme to save her favorite son. She plans to send him away for a while and then bring him back. As the story unfolds, we will find out that she will never see him again. But notice what she says to her husband in the only instance that the two of them actually communicate:
She doesn't bring up the fact that Jacob is fleeing for his life. She doesn't mention the fact that she and Jacob conspired to trick the blind old man. She points to their common frustration with Esau's wives. She slyly makes a comment which causes Isaac to come up with the idea of sending Jacob away to Paddan-Aram as if it were his own:
We've looked at Isaac and Rebekah's sinful favoritism; we've seen Esau and Jacob's depraved character and actions. But there's one other actor in this drama that we haven't yet paid much attention to. In fact his name barely shows up in this narrative, and only in passing. But he is really the main actor on the stage. We have the people running back and forth attempting to further their own agendas and sinning to do so, but over it all we have the sovereign God who proclaimed before the boys had been born or done anything good or bad that 'the older shall serve the younger'. And God's purpose always stands, in spite of the Isaac's who try to thwart it; in spite of the Rebekah's who try to accomplish God's purpose by their own means; in spite of the Jacob's and Esau's who run headlong into the sins of their parents. That's why Isaac shook violently when he realized what had happened – he knew what he was doing was wrong and he realized God had had the final word. He acknowledged in verse 33 that 'I have blessed him- Yes, and he shall be blessed.' He recognized that it was God at work accomplishing his own purposes in spite of all their sinful behavior.
It's interesting that Isaac shows up in Hebrews 11 as a man of faith:
This is almost bewildering until we recognize that faith is believing God is who he says he is and will do what he says he will do. Through this episode, Isaac recognized that God is indeed in control, and that he is able to keep his word, regardless of what we do to thwart his plans. Isaac acknowledged that God had indeed blessed Jacob for his own good purposes, and rejected Esau, and he did not try to nullify the blessing because it was gained deceitfully; rather he affirmed that it would happen, and he voluntarily re-confirmed the blessing God gave to Abraham on Jacob before he sent him away. And like bookends to the story, we see Esau taking another wife, demonstrating his lack of spiritual discernment.
I think we can all identify with one of the sinners in this story. We can see our own self-seeking sinful agendas reflected by the characters. And hopefully we can recognize that we are all sinners deserving of judgment and we all need God's free and sovereign grace to set us free from ourselves and save us. And in this passage there is hope and warning. Warning in Esau, that if we persist in undervaluing and rejecting God's gift, then there may come a time when we find ourselves hardened to the point of not being willing or able to repent of our sins and turn to God. There is warning but there is hope – hope in Jacob, that God can take an undeserving heel grabber like me and rescue him and change his character so that he becomes a man who brings honor to our great God! Hope and confidence that God can accomplish his purpose in spite of what sinners do to frustrate his plan.