Way back in the beginning, after God created Adam, he commissioned Adam to fill the earth and to subdue it. In other words, the Lord wanted Adam to fill the earth with people who would bear his image and who would be able, therefore, to reflect the glory of God on the earth. And the Lord wanted Adam to subdue the earth by making it a place where God’s people would worship the Lord. In other words, the Lord’s commission to Adam involved making a people and making a place for them to live in.
However Adam — instead of carrying out the Lord’s commission — sinned against the Lord. But that wasn’t the end, was it? We’ve seen, as we’ve studied this book together, that what Adam failed to do because of his sin, God promised to do. What Adam failed to do, God promised to do. And so, we’ve seen how, when the time was right, the Lord spoke to Abraham and promised to make him into a great nation. So, there’s the promise of a people. And the Lord promised to give Abraham and his descendants a land to live in. So, there’s the promise of a place. Adam failed to do what the Lord commanded. But instead of abandoning his plan the Lord promised that he would do it himself through Abraham and through Isaac and their descendants.
And, of course, I’ve said repeatedly that God’s promises to Abraham and Isaac were going to be fulfilled in two ways: in an earthly, ordinary and provisional way and in a spiritual, greater and eternal way. The promise of a people was going to be fulfilled in an earthly way in the nation of Israel. And the promise of a place was going to be fulfilled in an earthly way in the land of Israel.
But then, the promises were also going to be fulfilled in a spiritual way. God’s promise of a people is fulfilled in the church, because the members of the church are the spiritual descendants of Abraham and Isaac, and we’re being renewed in the image of God so that more and more we reflect the glory of God. And God’s promise of a place will be fulfilled in the new heavens and the new earth which we read about in the last book of the Bible where all of God’s believing people will live for ever and ever.
So, there was God’s original commission to Adam about a people and a place. And, because Adam sinned, God stepped in and revealed to Abraham and then to Isaac that what Adam failed to do, he would do himself.
And God’s promise to Abraham and his promise to Isaac is now passed on to Isaac’s son, Jacob. Look with me at verses 3 and 4 of chapter 28. Isaac said to his son, Jacob:
May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples.
May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien, the land God gave to Abraham. So, there’s the promise of a people:
may you be fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples.
And there’s the promise of a place:
may he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham so that you may take possession of the land….
A people and a place. We’ve to keep those two ideas in mind as we go through the book of Genesis, because in a sense that sums up God’s plan for the world and how ultimately he’s making a people who — having been united to Christ through faith — are now being renewed in his image; and who — when Christ returns — will live with him for ever and ever in the new heavens and the new earth.
Well, today’s passage contains the well-known story of how Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, so that Jacob received the blessing which Isaac wanted to give to Esau. And really, everyone in this passage comes out looking a little dirty, don’t they? No one is innocent. No one does what is right. Everyone does what is wrong. So, they all appear a little dirty. And, of course, that’s one of the remarkable things about the Bible. The Bible doesn’t cover up and hide the sins of the people who appear in its pages. The Bible isn’t like the magazines we buy in which the photos of celebrities are touched up so that when you look at their photos, he doesn’t appear to have any wrinkles and she doesn’t appear to have any blemishes on her skin. That’s what we do, isn’t it? We try to cover up our physical blemishes. And, of course, we also try to cover up our moral blemishes too. But the Bible is remarkably open and honest and frank about our moral blemishes. The Bible is clear that the people who appear in its pages are sinners. And sometimes there were nasty, dirty sinners and what they did to one another shocks us. And that’s what we find here in today’s passage. No one comes out of this passage looking good. So, let’s go through it together.
And we need to begin with the last two verses of chapter 26. ‘Why should we begin here?’ you might be wondering. Well, this passage begins by telling us about the women Esau married. And if you glance forward to verses 6 to 9 of chapter 28, you’ll see that this passage ends by telling us about the women Esau married. This passage begins and ends with Esau and his wives. And who did Esau marry? Well, look at the end of chapter 26. There we read that when he was forty years old, he married a woman called Judith who was the daughter of Beeri the Hittite; and he married a woman called Basemath who was the daughter of Elon the Hittite. And do you see what it says next? We’re told that they were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah. Why was that? What was wrong with these two women? Well, the reason they were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah is because Judith and Basemath were Hittites. In other words, they were pagans. They were from those tribes which lived on the land of Canaan. And the people in these tribes didn’t know the Lord and they didn’t worship him or walk in his ways. So, that’s why Esau’s wives were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah. Instead of marrying someone from his own people, instead of marrying someone who knew the Lord and worshipped him, Esau married unbelievers.
And that’s never a good idea. We only need to remember what happened to King Solomon who also married foreign women. And do you remember what we read in 1 Kings 11 about his foreign wives? It says:
his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God.
His foreign wives led him astray. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, was not wise enough to know what a foolish thing he was doing when he married an unbeliever. And Esau did the same thing and instead of demonstrating to his parents his commitment to the Lord and his desire to please the Lord and to walk in his ways, Esau did this foolish and reckless thing. So, Esau doesn’t come out of this passage looking very good.
Verses 1 to 4
Let’s turn now to verses 1 to 4 of chapter 27. And here we read that when Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau, because he wanted to bless him before he died.
And you can see that he asked Esau to go and hunt some wild game and then prepare it for him to eat. And, once he had eaten, he would bless Esau. That was his plan.
Now, I’ve said that no one is innocent in this chapter. Everyone appears a little dirty. So, what’s wrong with this scene? What’s wrong with what Isaac was proposing? Well, first of all, we need to remember what happened at the end of chapter 25. Do you remember? Esau had come home from hunting and he was famished. He was starving to death. And Jacob was cooking some stew. And Esau demanded some of his brother’s stew. But Jacob would only give it to him if Esau agreed to give Jacob his birthright. The birthright included all the privileges the elder son could expect from his father. And it included his father’s blessing. ‘Sell that to me’, Jacob said. And his brother agreed. And chapter 25 ended with the comment:
So, Esau despised his birthright.
So, Esau had despised his birthright and he had handed over to Jacob the right to receive this blessing from his father. The birthright and the right to receive his Isaac’s blessing now belonged to Jacob. But Isaac didn’t care. He still wanted Esau to get it. And, in fact, some of the commentators point out that this little arrangement between Isaac and Jacob was was being done secretly and surreptitiously. It’s as if Isaac was saying to his elder son:
Let’s not say anything about this to your mother or to your brother. This is just between you and me. It’s our little secret.
So, that’s not right.
But there’s more. Do you remember when Rebekah was pregnant with Esau and Jacob? Do you remember how the babies jostled one another in her womb? Rebekah wondered what was going on and so she enquired of the Lord. And the Lord revealed to her his plan for her two children and how the older son in her womb would end up serving the younger son in her womb. Esau the elder would serve Jacob the younger. In other words, the Lord was revealing his plan for these two boys and he was making clear that Jacob would be the greater of the two boys.
Well, here’s Isaac in chapter 27, and he seems to be out of step with the Lord, doesn’t he? God had revealed that Jacob would be greater than Esau, but here’s Isaac trying to make Esau greater than Jacob. So glance forward for a moment to verse 29 and to the blessing Isaac gives his son. And remember: he thinks he’s blessing Esau. This is what he wants for Esau. He said:
May 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.
That’s what Isaac wanted for his son Esau:
Be lord over your brothers.
But what had God said? He had said that Jacob would lord it over Esau.
Something has happened to Isaac and he’s now completely out of step with the Lord. Instead of following the Lord and blessing Jacob, he follows something else and tries to bless Esau. What was that something else? If he wasn’t following the Lord’s lead, what was he following now?
Well, I think the text tells us. I think he was following his own appetite and desires. You see, he asked Esau to go and hunt some wild game for him. And the word for game is repeated eight times in this passage. And he asked Esau to make him some tasty food. And the word for tasty food is repeated six times. Food is mentioned an awful lot in this passage and look at what Isaac said in verse 4:
Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like.
That’s what he’s thinking about. He’s thinking about his stomach and the food he likes. And, of course, Esau was always Isaac’s favourite son. We learned that back in verse 28 of chapter 25. Esau was his favourite son because Esau was the hunter who was able to get for his father the kind of food his father liked to eat.
And so, even though Esau had despised his birthright and had given up the right to inherit his father’s blessing, and even though he had married pagan woman and had shown he wasn’t interested in walking in the ways of the Lord, nevertheless Isaac favoured Esau. And he favoured him because Isaac liked the food Esau could get for him.
So, Isaac wasn’t following the Lord any longer. Instead, he was following his own appetite and his desire for good food. Well, there’s a warning for us. As we get older, our devotion to the Lord can easily get replaced by our devotion to our stomachs. We can get a taste for fine food and perhaps a comfortable chair, and an easy life. And our desire for the Lord and his glory goes away. And if it’s not food, then there’s something else which will come along and replace our devotion to the Lord unless we’re careful to watch out and to guard ourselves and our love for the Lord. Certainly that seems to have been the case in Isaac’s life, because instead of giving his blessing on the one God had chosen, he tried to give his blessing to the one who made him the tasty food he liked. So, Isaac doesn’t come out of this passage looking very good.
Verses 5 to 29
Well, in verses 5 to 17 we see that Rebekah overheard what Isaac and Esau were planning and she began to put into action her own plan. And her plan is all about deceiving her husband. And that’s a terrible thing, isn’t it?
And Jacob is perfectly prepared to go along with her plan. His only concern is that the plan might not work and he points out to his mother that Esau is hairy and he is not. So, he’s saying to her in verses 11 and 12:
We’ll not be able to get away with it. Dad is sure to notice.
But Rebekah has already thought of that and knows exactly what needs to be done so that her plan will work and her husband will be fooled. So, she prepares the food Jacob will need for his father. And she covers his smooth skin with goatskins so that they were hairy to the touch. And she put Esau’s clothes on Jacob so that he smelt like his brother. She had it all worked out. And look how Jacob went about deceiving his father too. When Isaac asked him who it was, he lied and said:
I am Esau.
A barefaced lie. And when Isaac asked how he managed to get the game so quickly, he was even prepared to use the name of the Lord in his lie. He said:
The Lord your God gave me success.
Now, it’s clear that Isaac still had some doubts, because he asked Jacob to come close. But the goatskins covering Jacob’s smooth skin, and the smell of Esau’s clothes fooled the old man. And look at verse 27: Jacob went up and kissed his son. Well, this is the first time a kiss is recorded in the Bible. But it’s not a kiss of affection. Like Judas Iscariot’s kiss in the gospels, it was a kiss of betrayal and deceit. And so, Isaac blessed his son. He thought he was blessing Esau, but instead he was bestowing his blessing on Jacob.
Well now, I’ve said that everyone in this passage appears a little dirty. And certainly, Jacob and Rebekah are the worst, aren’t they?
Verses 30 to 40
Well, in verses 30 to 40 we read that, as soon as Jacob had left his father’s presence, Esau came in. He had hunted the wild game his father had wanted and he had prepared the food his father liked so much. And so, we can imagine him coming in, all pleased with himself and looking forward to pleasing his father and getting the blessing. He said:
Sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing.
And, of course, Isaac is thoroughly puzzled. ‘Who are you?’ he asks. And when Esau told him, we read that Isaac trembled violently. Only a moment ago, he was probably lying back, relaxing after a good meal, having a little snooze. But now he’s trembling and he explained to Esau that someone else brought him food to eat and someone else has received the blessing. And Esau knew immediately who it was. He knew that his brother, Jacob, was always a schemer and a chancer and that if anyone was capable of cheating him out of his blessing, it was his brother Jacob.
And look at the end of verse 38 where it tells us that Esau wept aloud. We feel sorry for him, don’t we? And he begged his father:
Bless me too, my father! Bless me too.
But look at Isaac’s words in verses 39 and 40. It’s hardly a blessing. In fact, the Bible scholars call it an anti-blessing because it’s the opposite of the blessing Jacob received. According to Isaac, Jacob was to receive the heaven’s dew and the earth’s richness, but Esau would dwell away from the earth’s richness and away from the heaven’s dew. According to Isaac, the nations would serve Jacob but Esau would have to live by the sword. According to Isaac, Jacob would lord it over his brothers, but Esau will have to serve his brother. Esau was going to get the opposite of what his brother was going to get.
## The aftermath
We feel sorry for him, don’t we? But perhaps we shouldn’t feel so sorry for him, because look at verse 41 where it tells us that Esau held a grudge against Jacob and he comforted himself with the thought that one day soon he’d kill his brother and get even with him.
And so, in the following verses we read that there was really no option, but to send Jacob away. Jacob needed to leave in order to remain safe. That’s what we read in verses 43 to 44. But he also needed to leave in order to find a suitable wife. That’s what we read in verse 2 of chapter 28.
And look, while Jacob went away to find himself a wife, the passage ends as it started by telling us about Esau and his wives. And even though he was trying to please his parents this time, he once again got it wrong, because instead of marrying a member of God’s chosen people, he married someone who was related to Ishmael, and Ishmael was not a member of God’s chosen people. In other words, he once again married a pagan.
Everyone looks a little bit dirty, don’t they? No one appears innocent. Everyone clearly does wrong. Esau married pagan wives and he wanted to murder his brother. Isaac’s love for the Lord seems to have been replaced with a love for fine food. And Rebekah and Jacob were both schemers and deceivers.
And yet, here’s the thing. God chose Jacob. According to verses 3 and 4 of chapter 28, Jacob was the one who was going to inherit God’s promises of a people and a place. God was going to bless Jacob and make him fruitful and increase his numbers so that he would become a community of peoples. And God was going to bless Jacob and give him and his descendants the Promised Land to live in. Even though Jacob was a schemer and a chancer and a cheat and a sinner, God chose him to inherit God’s promises of a people and a place. God was going to work out his plans and purposes for the world and its salvation through Jacob the cheat.
Now Jacob didn’t deserve this. Jacob didn’t deserve to receive God’s blessing and he didn’t deserve to inherit God’s promises. He didn’t deserve any of it. And yet, God chose him and blessed him.
And, of course, we too don’t deserve to be blessed by God, because all our lives we’ve sinned against him and we’ve done wrong and we’ve fallen short of doing his will, again and again. The only thing we deserve from God is condemnation for our sins. And yet, he does not treat us as our sins deserve. And instead of condemning us, he pours out on us one spiritual blessing after another including the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting life.
Like Jacob, we don’t deserve any of this. But nevertheless, God is gracious and kind and good, and he chooses to bless us and to pardon our sins and to give us eternal life. We don’t deserve it. But God is gracious and kind and he gives us what we don’t deserve. And, of course, he’s able to do that, because Jesus Christ his Son, who never sinned, not even once, took the blame for us, and suffered the curse we deserve from God, so that we might receive the blessing of God and the forgiveness of our sins and the hope of everlasting life.
And this is such good news, because we naturally think that God will only choose the best. Or he’ll only choose the righteous. He’ll only choose those who deserve to be chosen and he’ll bless them only. And so, we worry that we’re not good enough for God. Or, we worry that because of that thing we did, because of that shameful thing we did in the past, then we’ve disqualified ourselves from ever receiving God’s blessing. But no. The Lord chose Jacob even though he was no better than his brother. And even though we’re no better than anyone else, nevertheless the Lord is prepared to bless us and everyone else who trusts in his Son. And so, we ought to trust in his Son and we ought to give thanks to him for his kindness towards us, giving us what we did not deserve.
And then finally today, we can be encouraged by this passage because it reminds us that nothing can prevent the Lord from carrying out his plans for the world. There was Isaac, trying to bless Esau whom God had rejected, instead of blessing Jacob whom God had chosen. So, Isaac was standing in the way of God’s plan for Jacob and for the world and its salvation.
And then there was Esau who wanted to murder his brother. And if he had murdered him, what would have become of the promises of God for the world’s salvation.
But look: God thwarted Isaac’s plan to bless Esau and the Lord ensured that Jacob received the blessing and the promises and he was kept safe from his brother.
And God is still working out his plan for the world today to call out a people for himself who will love him and serve him and seek to glorify him. He’s still working out his plan to build his church throughout the world through the preaching of his word. And despite the Devil’s opposition and the world’s persecution, and despite even the weakness of his people, nothing will prevent the Lord from carrying out his purposes. Nothing at all will stop him. And so, we can be encouraged that God will do what he has promised. And we can pray for that day, and look forward to it, when all of God’s people will come into the place God has prepared for us and we will worship the Lord for ever and ever in glory.