Here, we continue our study in Genesis.
26:34When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.
27:1When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, "My son."
"Here I am," he answered.
2Isaac said, "I am now an old man and don't know the day of my death. 3Now then, get your weapons--your quiver and bow--and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. 4Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die."
5Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, 6Rebekah said to her son Jacob, "Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, 7`Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the LORD before I die.' 8Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 9Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so that I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. 10Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies."
11Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, "But my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I'm a man with smooth skin. 12What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing."
13His mother said to him, "My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me."
14So he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it. 15Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. 16She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. 17Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made.
We come now to one of the most puzzling, painful, pitiful episodes in the Bible. In this episode, we have four people in a godly family all demonstrating a lack of faith in God and a selfish desire to fulfill their own purposes at the expense of fulfilling God's desire and purpose. All are guilty in this episode. This episode is proof that godly people can and do act abominably at times, proof that even the godly (some may say, especially the godly) need redemption and salvation from themselves.
Yet, throughout this episode, God shows that He is in control. God thwarts the plans of all those involved. They all learn the lesson of Num. 32:23: "You may be sure that your sin will find you out." And as we will see in the discussion at the end of this study, we also may learn a valuable lesson from this episode concerning our own birthright and inheritance.
The events in this episode are a continuation of the tension and strife of Isaac's family described in Genesis 25. Recall that in Genesis 25, we learned that Rebekah favored Jacob, while Isaac favored Esau (because Isaac "had a taste for wild game"). This favoritism served to split the family down the middle, with Rebekah and Jacob on one side, and Isaac and Esau on the other. This split in the family is very evident in the episode here in Genesis 27, as we see Isaac and Esau plan the celebration surrounding the bestowal of the birthright blessing, without consulting Rebekah and Jacob. We then see Rebekah and Jacob scheming to disrupt the bestowal of the birthright blessing without directly confronting Isaac and Esau. It seems that all lines of communication had been severed between the two sides of the family.
The events described here in this passage are a continuation of the events described in Genesis 25 in yet another way. In Gen. 25, we saw that Esau "despised his birthright" (Gen. 25:34), demonstrating this attitude by selling it for a mere bowl of stew. Here, Esau demonstrates his despising of the birthright by marrying from among the local pagans: "When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite" (26:34). Surely, Esau had been told of Abraham vehemence that Isaac not marry from among the local pagans (see Gen. 24:3ff). This action by Esau was in direct contempt of the desires of the Grand Patriarch of the family. The fruits of this action demonstrate the foolishness of it: "They" (referring to Esau's wives, and possibly also Esau) "were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah" (26:35). We are not given the reasons for the grief, but we can speculate that Esau was being influenced by the pagan culture of his wives, quite possibly also joining in their pagan religious rites. This indeed would have been a great source of grief for any godly parents.
However, despite the grief that Esau caused his parents, Isaac still favored Esau. Moreover, despite the oracle of God that "the older will serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23), Isaac in defiance of God was determined to give the birthright blessing to Esau. For this end, "[w]hen Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, `My son. . . I am now an old man and don't know the day of my death. Now then, get your weapons--your quiver and bow--and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.'" (vs. 3-4). As mentioned above, there are no innocents in this episode, and so in vss. 3-4, we see Isaac's selfishness, and lack of faith in God. We see his selfishness in not confiding in Rebekah and Jacob concerning the birthright blessing. The bestowal of such a blessing should have been a family celebration that all took part in. But Isaac knew that there would be contention over Esau's receiving of the blessing. All in the family knew that in the Lord's oracle (Gen. 25:23), Jacob was chosen by God to receive the birthright. Moreover, Esau himself sold his birthright to Jacob (Gen. 25:31ff). Nevertheless, Isaac ignored these things and, to selfishly get his way, Isaac on the sly called Esau in to have him prepare a meal. This was to be some sort of a private birthright celebration between just Isaac and Esau. The meal was requested by Isaac to encourage him in his favoritism of Esau, for Esau was favored by Isaac because he "had a taste for wild game" (Gen. 25:28). Ironically, Esau was to buy back his birthright with a meal of venison.
We see a lack of faith in God by Isaac, one of the great patriarchs, because he acts in defiance of the Lord's oracle. Isaac is in effect demonstrating that he does not believe that God will do what is best for His people. Isaac, in his defiance, puts his own will above the will of God. God gave Abraham promise after promise concerning the blessings that He will bestow on Abraham's offspring. In giving the oracle that "the older will serve the younger", God stated that these blessings would come through Jacob. Because Isaac favors Esau, he desires that Esau not Isaac get the birthright blessing. Isaac would have been wise to bring his unhappiness with the oracle to God in prayer, rather than act to nullify it.
Isaac feelings are reminiscent of Abraham's desire that Ishmael be the chosen offspring. Abraham, to his credit, brought to God in prayer his desire: "And Abraham said to God, `If only Ishmael might live under Your blessing!'" (Genesis 17:18). The Lord, in answer, stated His will: "Yes, but Your wife Sarah will bear you a son and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him" (Gen. 17:19). Then God went on to tell Abraham that Ishmael too would be blessed: "And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation" (Gen. 17:20). This satisfied Abraham. Through prayer, Abraham came to an understanding and acceptance of God's perfect will in the situation. So too Isaac could have come to an understanding and acceptance of God's perfect will if he had sought the will of God in the matter. Isaac however did not go to God in prayer, but instead, sought to work the situation out according to his own will. He sought rather the "tasty food" of Esau. This whole episode, for all involved, was motivated by desires of the flesh. We will never know how the situation would have unfolded if everyone--Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob--had sought God's perfect will, but we know the result would have been satisfactory to all. Moreover, we would have praised God for His love and His wisdom. As it was, noone sought God, everyone went his own way, and the result was disastrous for all, as we shall see.
By the way, this all took place "[w]hen Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see" (vs. 1). Isaac used his age as an excuse to proffer the blessing. He said to Esau: "I am now an old man and don't know the day of my death" (vs. 2). However, Isaac was not on the verge of death. In fact, he lived another forty or so years. But since he was acting outside of the will of God, he had the fear that death would prevent him from fulfilling his own plan. Those who are within the will of God need not fear death. They can say with David: "The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me" (Ps. 138:8). But those who walk their own way, and follow their own purposes, must always be looking over their shoulders, wondering if they will be able to carry out their plans.
Isaac was all set, so he thought. However, "Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau" (vs. 5). How sad! That Rebekah must eavesdrop on Isaac to learn that the birthright blessing is about to be given to her son. This shows how far the tension and strife seen in Genesis 25 had gone to ruin the family.
Rebekah, as we learned in Genesis 25, favored Jacob. Also, she remembered the oracle of God that said (in effect) that Jacob would receive the birthright. When she overheard Isaac's plan to proffer the blessing upon Esau, she must have felt a sense of urgency. She must have felt pressured that she had to do something, anything, to make sure that Jacob received the blessing. In essence, she felt that she needed to help God out in carrying out His plan. How foolish we are! Don't we know that God's promises will be fulfilled? Don't we realize that God has the power to fulfill what He Himself has promised? Rebekah felt a sense of urgency to see that the promise was fulfilled; God however felt no sense of urgency. He knew that Isaac was going to live another forty years.
Rebekah's response to what she overheard was not to confront Isaac directly, nor to go to God in prayer that He might change Isaac's heart, but was to come up with her own scheme: "Rebekah said to her son Jacob: `...Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so that I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.'" (vss. 8-10). Rebekah here shows contempt for the power of God and the holiness of God, by coming up with a sinful scheme in her attempt to fulfill a promise of God. Motive, means, and ends: all three must be pure. Rebekah had the right motive, and was striving for the right ends, but the wrong means made her guilty of wrongdoing. Listen all: God will not have us sin to carry out His will. If we are within the will of God, we can be sure that motive, means and ends will all three be pure. If any one of these three is not pure, we can be sure that we are not acting within the perfect will of God. In no sphere does the ends justify the means, especially in doing the work of God. "In personal life, in home life, in Church life, in endeavors to win men for Christ, in missionary enterprise, in social improvement, and in everything connected with the welfare of humanity we must insist upon absolute righteousness, purity, and truth in our methods, or else we shall bring utter discredit on the cause of our Master and Lord."[Footnote #1] Yes, Rebekah was zealous that the will of God be fulfilled, but zeal for God's work must never lead to sin. In any case, Rebekah's scheming, rather than furthering the will of God, served to delay the fulfillment of the oracle of God, as we shall see.
Jacob's response to Rebekah was typical of the moral attitude of many today: "But my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I'm a man with smooth skin. What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing" (vss. 11-12). Jacob was not so much concerned that Rebekah's scheme was immoral, but he was worried that he might get caught. Many today base their morality upon the chance of getting caught, rather than on true righteousness. Many, even Christians, with no compunction doctor their expense report, cheat on their taxes, steal small items from their place of business, etc. because they know they will not get caught. Such a moral attitude demonstrates a lack of faith in the omniscience of God. God sees these "small" immoral acts, and they are hateful to Him, for God is holy. And "small" though they may be, such trespasses bring dire consequences, for "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (James 2:10).
Rebekah removed Jacob's item of hesitation by vowing to accept full responsibility herself: "My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me." (vs. 13). And so, Jacob went along with Rebekah in her scheme, slaughtering the goats, putting on the clothes of the first born Esau, even wearing goatskin to simulate Esau's hairy body.
18He went to his father and said, "My father."
"Yes, my son," he answered. "Who is it?"
19Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing."
20Isaac asked his son, "How did you find it so quickly, my son?"
"The LORD your God gave me success," he replied.
21Then Isaac said to Jacob, "Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not."
22Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau." 23He did not recognise him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he blessed him. 24"Are you really my son Esau?" he asked.
"I am," he replied.
25Then he said, "My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing."
Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. 26Then his father Isaac said to him, "Come here, my son, and kiss me."
27So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said,
"Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed. 28May God give you of heaven's dew and of earth's richness--an abundance of grain and new wine. 29May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed."
Whereas earlier Jacob hesitated at Rebekah's scheme, here Jacob displays unusual boldness in carrying out the deception. He was fully in on it. How foolish Jacob must have looked entering Isaac's room covered with goatskin, pretending to be Esau, yet he stated assertively: "I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing" (vs. 19). Deception leads to more deception; lie follows lie; Jacob's sin leads to greater sin. Isaac asks: "How did you find it so quickly, my son?" Jacob replies: "The LORD your God gave me success" (vs. 20). Surely Jacob ducked as he said this, expecting a lightning bolt from heaven! How could he have the boldness to say such a thing?! He attributes to God aid in his deception. He was the first in a long line of those who have tarnished the name of God by doing evil in His name.
Isaac apparently suspected that something was amiss. He musters the waning abilities of all his senses to determine if the visitor really is Esau. In his questioning, Isaac recognizes the voice of Jacob, so he asks to touch his skin, and finds: "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau" (vs. 22). This doesn't make sense, so Isaac asks again: "Are you really my son Esau?" Jacob again lies: "I am." Not quite satisfied, Isaac asks "Esau" to come near to him: "Come here, my son, and kiss me" (vs. 26). It was fragrance of "Esau" that convinced Isaac: "When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him" (vs. 27).
The blessing that Isaac gave was not mere rantings of an old man, but was a prophecy inspired by God. Unbeknownst to Isaac, the Spirit of God used him to bestow upon Jacob the blessing that was intended by God for Jacob, even though Isaac intended it for Esau. The blessing was consistent with the oracle given by God before the twins were born: "The older will serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23). Here Jacob says: "Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you" (vs. 29). In this blessing, Isaac correctly prophesies that the nation of Israel will come from Jacob's offspring.
By the way, all through this episode, we see that everyone involved placed great value upon the blessing that Isaac was to give. Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob all knew (by faith) that the birthright blessing was bestowed by Isaac by inspiration of God Himself. The elaborate deception by Rebekah and Jacob, and the bitter anguish that Esau feels when he finds out that Jacob received the blessing (vs. 34ff) demonstrate the importance of the blessing to all involved in this episode. Someone might say (in a lawyerly manner): "Wait. The blessing that Isaac gave to Jacob doesn't count because it was received by Jacob through deception." This argument misses the fact that Isaac was speaking prophetically, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The blessing that Jacob received was the blessing intended by God for Jacob. The words that Isaac spoke were not his words, but the words of God. If, indeed, Jacob had not deceived Isaac, and Esau was sitting under the hand of the blessing, Isaac by inspiration would have given Esau the blessing intended for Esau, the one that he later did give Esau (vs. 39-40). Despite the deceptions and the defiance of God by all those involved in the episode, God was in control of the situation. Jacob received Jacob's blessing. Esau received Esau's blessing.
30After Isaac finished blessing him and Jacob had scarcely left his father's presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. 31He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, "My father, sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing."
32His father Isaac asked him, "Who are you?"
"I am your son," he answered, "your firstborn, Esau."
33Isaac trembled violently and said, "Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him--and indeed he will be blessed!"
34When Esau heard his father's words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, "Bless me--me too, my father!"
35But he said, "Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing."
36Esau said, "Isn't he rightly named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he's taken my blessing!" Then he asked, "Haven't you reserved any blessing for me?"
37Isaac answered Esau, "I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?"
38Esau said to his father, "Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!" Then Esau wept aloud.
39His father Isaac answered him,
"Your dwelling will be away from the earth's richness, away from the dew of heaven above. 40You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck."
When Esau came in from hunting, he was clearly anxious to receive the blessing: "My father, sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing" (vs. 31). And why wouldn't he be anxious? Esau had probably given up hope for getting the birthright blessing. After all, the oracle of God said that "the older will serve the younger". And then, Esau had himself sold his birthright to Jacob. So certainly, it was with great joy that he entered his father's room, expecting to be blessed, after all.
Isaac's response to Esau is significant: "Who are you?" (vs. 32). We have already discussed (in our study of Genesis 25) that Esau typifies the worldly. He is typical of those who place all value on gratifying worldly desires. He is typical of those who live for the moment, with no concern about how his actions affect the future. He is typical of those who cultivate the respect of men, with no concern about his relationship to God. And so here, he is typical of the man who lives with only regard for his own will and desires, with no thought of the desires and purposes that God has for his life, who then goes in the end to the Father expecting a blessing. The response that such people will receive from God will be the same one that Esau received from Isaac: "Who are you?" Many will hear similar words from Christ on the judgment day: "I never knew you" (Matt. 7:23).
Esau responded to his father's question: "I am your son. . . your firstborn, Esau" (vs. 32). This response caused quite a shock to Isaac: "Isaac trembled violently" (vs. 33). Isaac's trembling sprung from his fear of God. Isaac realized that God was in control of the situation, and that by God's will, Jacob had received the blessing that Isaac had intended for Esau. Isaac realized anew that God is sovereign. Isaac's trembling also sprung from his realization that he had been fighting against God. This is a scary place for a man of God to be. As the writer of Hebrews stated: "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31). Don't fight against God. You will always lose. Submit to Him: it's much easier.
To Isaac's credit, he did now submit to God's will: "I blessed [Jacob]--and indeed he will be blessed" (vs. 33). Isaac would not attempt to rescind Jacob's blessing. He knew that it was inspired by God. Esau's response was severe anguish: "When Esau heard his father's words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry" (vs. 34). Esau had changed over the course of his life. When he sold his birthright to Jacob, Esau "despised his birthright" (Gen. 25:34). But the rashness of youth turns into the wisdom of age, and so Esau now realizes his foolishness in despising the birthright. Esau now has a family and desires to receive the inheritance of the birthright. Again Esau is typical of the worldly man who, with his worldly attitude, despises the magnificent inheritance that God has set aside for him. He rejects the terms of the inheritance--to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior--and so despises his birthright. But there will come a time when he will regret this decision, for the Lord has said: "As surely as I live. . .every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God" (Rom. 14:11; Isa. 45:23). For many, this repentance comes too late, and they will hear the dreadful words: "I never knew you". All must heed the advice of the Lord: "Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near" (Isa. 55:6).
Esau, true to his nature, blames another for his loss of the inheritance: "Isn't he rightly named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he's taken my blessing!" (vs. 36). Yes, Jacob was cunning, but Esau was not without blame in his worldliness and despising of the birthright. And yet, we do feel for Esau. We find it very difficult to side with Jacob in the matter. We dislike the fact that Jacob is the representative of the people of God, the new patriarch through the bestowal of the blessing. Our sympathies are with the one who was deceived, not with the deceiver Jacob. This is the shame of ill-gotten gain. This is the shame of religious hypocrisy. The world sees the actions of the Jacobs in the church, and blames the whole church. Jacob miserably failed in living up to his calling. He was the chosen man of God, but instead of being patient and waiting for the bestowal of God's blessings, he attempted to grasp them prematurely through deceit. In doing so, his actions have become a black stain upon the people of God.
Esau begs for a blessing from his father: "Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!" (vs. 38). Esau recognized that the blessings of prophecy that Isaac bestowed were inspired by God. Isaac, through faith (see Heb. 11:20), does give Esau the appropriate blessing (such as it was): "Your dwelling will be away from the earth's richness, away from the dew of heaven above. You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck" (vss. 39-40). Esau was the father of the nation of Edom, and this prophecy was fulfilled throughout the history of Edom with amazing accuracy.[Footnote #2]
It may seem easy for us to look at Jacob and castigate him for his deceit, but are we any better? It turns out that this episode is an amazing allegory concerning our inheritance. We are Jacob. Just as Jacob came to Isaac in the name of the first born son Esau, so also we come to the Father for our inheritance in the name of the first born son Christ. Just as Jacob "took [Esau's] best clothes" (vs. 15) and wore them in the presence of his father, so also we come before our Father clothed in the righteousness of Christ. As Paul said: "For all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Gal. 3:27). Just as Jacob came to his father in the aroma of the first born son, so also we come before the Father in the aroma of Christ. Again, as Paul said: "For we are to God the aroma of Christ" (II Cor. 2:15). And just as Jacob came to his father in the body of Esau (in effect) by wearing the goatskins, so also we come to the Father in the body of Christ. Finally, just as Jacob, by being the second-born son, did not deserve the inheritance, so also we in our sin do not deserve the great inheritance our Father has set aside for us. So, do not be so quick to judge Jacob. You are him. Praise our Father for bestowing the birthright blessing upon us despite our deceit in trying to gain it.
Yes, Father we praise You for the blessings that You shower upon us, though we deserve none of them. Help us by Your Spirit to live lives worthy of all that You have done for us. We also praise You for Your word, that through the history related here and acted out so long ago, we can learn so much about ourselves and Your relationship to us, Your love for us, Your great mercy. In the name of Christ, in whose body, in whose fragrance, clothed in His righteous, we pray these things, Amen.
1. W. H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary, pg. 252.
2. Key events in the history of Edom can be found in: I Sam. 14:47; II Sam. 8:14; I Kings 11:14; II Kings 14:7; II Chron. 26:2; II Kings 16:6; II Chron. 28:17.