Birth. Birthright. Blessing. These are the first three things we’re told about Esau and Jacob, twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah, as the Scriptures selectively present us with some of the key events in their lives. As we’ve seen,[1] Genesis 25 related their birth and how even from their mother’s womb the two boys jostled against one another.[2] From the story of their birth the chapter jumped ahead to tell how it came about that Esau lost his birthright to Jacob when, as young men, the twins continued their jostling and Jacob manipulated the right of the firstborn from his brother, Esau, all but for a bit of stew.[3] This morning we again will see that this jostling, this ongoing struggle and competition between the twins, continued well into their adulthood as Jacob—whose name translates as “he grasps the heel,” a Hebrew idiom meaning “he deceives”—lived up to his name as he stole the blessing of the firstborn from his brother Esau. But important to note in all of this is a particular detail that was stated about the twins in Genesis 25, namely, “Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”[4] This stated preference of Isaac for Esau and Rebekah for Jacob would now come into play in the jostling between their twin sons recounted in Genesis 27.

The chapter opens by focusing upon Isaac’s preference for Esau:

1 When 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.Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. Now then, get your equipment—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.”

Isaac, who was sixty years old when his twin sons were born,[5] was now an old man—so old that his eyes failed him. Yet despite this physical blindness his other faculties, both mental and physical, were still functioning. Not knowing the day of his death but wanting to leave everything in good order, game-loving Isaac asked his firstborn to go hunt and prepare a meal for him that he might give him his blessing before he died. As one commentator notes, “Such blessings were very important, for as prayers addressed to God they were viewed as shaping the future of those blessed.”[6] What is more, the same source states, “The paternal blessing that Isaac wishes to give to Esau is important because it will establish the identity of the heir to the divine promises given to Abraham and Isaac” and “will eventually lead to a royal descendant through whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed” [7]—which royal descendant, of course, is Jesus Christ.[8]

Now we can’t know for certain whether Isaac and Rebekah knew of the oath that had resulted in Esau selling his birthright to Jacob earlier in their sons’ lives.[9] If Isaac knew about it, then he now sought a way for his elder son to nonetheless receive the blessing he had earlier sworn away; if he didn’t, then he made his request in innocence. However as to Esau, though he knowingly had sold away his birthright to Jacob and sworn an oath to sell it to him for some stew[10]—and therefore had sworn away his right to this further blessing—he now made no objection to his father’s request. The right of the firstborn typically led to such blessing and inheritance yet Esau demonstrated his willingness to break his sworn oath by hearkening to his father’s instructions.

Next, beginning with verse 5, we turn to Rebekah’s preference for Jacob:

Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘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.’ Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. 10 Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.”

Now if at this point Rebekah knew about the sworn agreement that had been made between her sons when Esau sold Jacob his birthright, then her actions might be viewed as her attempt to undo the effects of Esau willfully breaking his oath; if she didn’t know, then her actions might be viewed as her attempt to have the blessing taken away from their firstborn son, Esau—the twin Isaac loved more—and given to Jacob, the twin that she loved more. Whichever the case, Rebekah clearly sought to attain the blessing for Jacob by taking advantage of her husband’s blindness.

For his part Jacob questioned the feasibility of her plan. Though he and Esau were twins, they were distinct not only in their personal interests but also in their physical appearance. As he reminded his mother, verses 11–12, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. 12 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.” Rather than express concern about the deception his mother was encouraging him to engage in, Jacob instead was concerned about getting caught in such a deception. For he knew that though his father, Isaac, was blind he still had his sense of touch. Therefore the difference between hairy Esau—as opposed to smooth Jacob—would immediately become apparent to his father who, upon discovering this deception, would no doubt bring a curse upon Jacob rather than a blessing. For Jacob wouldn’t simply “appear” to be tricking his father but would in fact be tricking him. Rebekah wasn’t deterred by this eventuality for she told him, verse 13, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.” Rebekah risked taking the blame should things go awry.

Then Jacob obeyed his mother, verse 14, as “he went and got [the two choice young goats] and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it.” Rebekah further arranged for the deception of her husband, verses 15–17, by taking “the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and [putting] them on her younger son Jacob. 16 She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. 17 Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made.” What we see played out in this account is an example of Walter Scott’s well-known quote, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”[11] Consider the number of deceptions that took place in our account:

Deception #1: By placing Esau’s clothes on Jacob, Rebekah tried to make sure that the younger twin would smell like the elder;

Deception #2: By covering the exposed parts of Jacob’s body—his hands and neck—with the goatskins, she had tried to make sure that the younger twin would feel like the elder;

Deception #3 occurred when Jacob picked up where his mother left off. As stated beginning in verse 18, “18 He went to his father and said, ‘My father.’ ‘Yes, my son,’ he answered. ‘Who is it?’ 19 Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn.’” In this third deception Jacob pretended to be his older brother Esau.

Deception #4 is found in the remainder of verse 19 as Jacob went on to state, “I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” Jacob pretended to have hunted down game and prepared it for his father whereas the truth of the matter was that he had brought “two choice young goats” (verse 9) that his mother had prepared “just the way” Isaac liked (verse 14).

Deception #5 is stated in verse 20 as “Isaac asked his son, ‘How did you find it so quickly, my son?’” and his son replied, “The Lord your God gave me success.” If this isn’t an example of the later prohibition against taking God’s name in vain,[12] I don’t know what is. One commentator put it even more strongly stating that “Jacob blasphemously lied.”[13] Interesting to note, too, is that Jacob referred not to “my God” or “our God,” but to “the LORD your God.” At this point, Jacob viewed God as the God of Abraham, his grandfather, and Isaac, his father. But as we’ll see in the coming weeks, Jacob, too, comes to embrace and be identified with this very same LORD and God.

Beginning with verse 21, we see that the second deception—that of putting on goatskins—was tested by Isaac as he told his son, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.” We continue to see that Isaac’s “spidey sense” was up throughout this encounter. Though he was now an old man, surely he had seen his younger son employ his deceptive ways on other occasions. Therefore, having already questioned the speed with which Jacob-disguised-as-Esau had found and prepared the game he had requested—an undertaking that under normal circumstances would have taken hours—he now sought to touch the son who appeared before him with the prepared game. No doubt with pounding heart, “Jacob went close to his father Isaac,” verse 22. Isaac then yielded to his sense of touch over that of hearing in concluding, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” In the absence of sight, Isaac had trusted his sense of touch—and this despite having correctly recognized that this was the voice of Jacob, not Esau. As verse 23 goes on to state, “He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him.” But, before he did, Isaac provided Jacob with one final chance to come clean as he asked him, verse 24, “Are you really my son Esau?” The final deception occurred when Jacob replied, “I am.” With this final affirmation from his son, Isaac was sufficiently reassured that the son who stood before him was, in fact, Esau, his eldest; Esau, his favorite son.

Therefore, starting with verse 25, he told Jacob-disguised-as-Esau, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.” Jacob did as his father requested, bringing him both food and wine. “Then,” verse 26, “his father Isaac said to him, ‘Come here, my son, and kiss me.’” And upon being kissed by him, Isaac received a final confirmation that this was, in fact, Esau for “When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes,” verse 27, “he blessed him.” The blessing he intended to give to Esau but actually gave to Jacob is found in verses 27–29: “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. 28 May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness—an abundance of grain and new wine. 29 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. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.” Notice how all-encompassing this blessing is:

Isaac prayed the blessing of nature upon his son, “heaven’s dew and earth’s richness—an abundance of grain and new wine;”

He further prayed that his son would be distinguished among all nations, that they might serve him, that peoples might bow down to him;

Next his blessing was brought closer to home as he prayed that his son would be lord over his brothers who would bow down to him. Now Isaac had unwittingly blessed Jacob rather than Esau and in doing so he had confirmed what the LORD told Rebekah when the twin boys were jostling in her womb, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”[14];

Last, Isaac repeated part of the blessing that the LORD had given to his father—Jacob’s grandfather—Abraham[15] that those who cursed and blessed him might be cursed and blessed themselves.

Thus, with a huge assist from his mother, Rebekah, did Jacob manage to manipulate circumstances so that he, not Esau, was now the recipient of his father Isaac’s blessing.

The drama in this passage comes to a head beginning in verse 30 as we read, “30 After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. 31 He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, ‘My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.’” Esau, of course, had no way of knowing about everything that had just transpired. When told by his father to hunt and prepare game that he might receive his father’s blessing before he died, Esau had gone out and done so. But Isaac, for his part, would now have his worst fears confirmed as he asked, verse 32, “Who are you?” and received the following answer: “I am your son,… your firstborn, Esau.” Then “Isaac trembled violently,” verse 33, as he asked, “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!” Isaac shook violently for he knew that once a blessing had been given, it couldn’t be undone. As noted by one commentator, “In patriarchal times, a solemn family blessing….could be given to only one person and could not be altered.”[16]

Esau struggled to accept this. As stated in verse 34, when he “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!’” But Isaac replied, verse 35, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.” By his deception Jacob had again lived up to his name. As Esau went on to observe, verse 36, “‘Isn’t he rightly named Jacob.? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!’ Then he asked, ‘Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?’” Isaac did go on to bless him but it’s worth noting, as we did a few weeks ago,[17] that the author of Hebrews warned concerning this older brother’s foolish behavior saying, “16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.”[18] Having despised his birthright, Esau had also lost his inheritance blessing.

Even so Isaac complied with his request to grant him a blessing—although I’m not sure how satisfied Esau would have been in receiving this blessing when compared to that of his brother, Jacob:

Whereas Jacob would receive “heaven’s dew and earth’s richness—an abundance of grain and new wine” (verse 28), Isaac was told, “Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above” (verse 39);

Whereas nations and peoples would serve and bow down to Jacob (verse 29a), Esau would “live by the sword” (verse 40a);

Whereas Jacob would rule over his brothers who would bow down to him (verse 29b), Esau would serve his brother—although one day when he grew restless, he would throw his brother’s yoke from off his neck (verse 40);

Whereas those who cursed Jacob would be cursed and those who blessed him would be blessed (verse 29c), nothing comparable would happen to Esau. Such was Isaac’s blessing for his firstborn who, at this point in his life, had begun to reap the piteous fruit of the seed he himself had sown when he had despised his birthright by selling it with a sworn oath in exchange for some stew.

Concerning this blessing, it’s interesting to consider that though in the twelfth chapter of his epistle the author of Hebrews held Esau up as negative example, likening his godlessness with sexual immorality, in the eleventh chapter he held up Isaac as a positive example for having blessed both Esau and Jacob. Though what he states about Isaac is brief, this second patriarch, like the first patriarch Abraham, his father, is included in this renowned faith chapter. As read earlier, in verse 20 of Hebrews 11 we’re told, “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.”

Jacob deceived in the many ways we just considered;

Esau broke his sworn oath when he sought to receive the blessing of the birthright he had given away;

But Isaac had faith and blessed them both. He didn’t have faith in himself. He didn’t have faith in Jacob. He didn’t have faith in Esau. No, Isaac had faith in God. As we saw last week,[19] he placed his trust in the very God who had revealed himself to him as the God of his father, Abraham, and had said to him, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”[20]

Now keep in mind that not only had Isaac known about his father’s faith but, when he himself was likely a teenager, he had experienced and witnessed firsthand that God was with him when God provided a ram to be sacrificed in his place.[21] In this he saw that God was with him—and his faith in God was built up;

Approximately twenty years later, he experienced God’s provision again in leading his father’s head servant to his father’s homeland where he encountered Rebekah, Isaac’s future wife, whom Isaac married when he was forty years old.[22] In this he saw that God was with him—and his faith in God was built up;

Then twenty years after marrying his wife, he yet again experienced God’s provision as he had prayed for his wife to become pregnant and, at the age of sixty, witnessed the birth of his twin sons, Esau and Jacob. In this he saw that God was with him—and his faith in God was built up;

Though unlike his father, Abraham, we’re only provided but a few snapshots of Isaac’s life, we can see why, as an old man who was physically blind, he continued to display faith in God as he gave a blessing not only to Jacob, but also to Esau. For throughout his life he had seen that God was with him—and his faith in God was built up.

This communion Sunday as we celebrate the Lamb of God that our heavenly Father provided to take our place[23]—even as he provided a ram to take Isaac’s place—we can be confident that God is with all who have placed their faith in his Son and accepted his sacrifice on their behalf. All who have done so can take to heart Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans,

31 …If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…. 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us, too, have our faith built up as we trust in our awesome and trustworthy Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who is ever with us; who is ever for us!

Let us pray.

Addendum

On page 3, I state: “Now we can’t know for certain whether Isaac and Rebekah knew of the oath that had resulted in Esau selling his birthright to Jacob earlier in their sons’ lives.” I would like to think that Rebekah knew—and Isaac didn’t—since this would put them both in the best light: If Rebekah knew about the oath and it was an oath in keeping with what the LORD had told her when the twins wrestled in her womb,[24] then though her actions were still deceptive, they were done with the intent of following through with what God had promised. Similarly, if Isaac didn’t know about the oath, then his offer to give his eldest his blessing would have been in keeping with Esau being the firstborn, to whom the blessing and inheritance were typically given.

However, it’s certainly possible that Rebekah didn’t know about the oath and Isaac did. If so, then Rebekah used deception so that her favored son would receive a blessing that, by rights, didn’t belong to him; if Isaac did know, then his offering Esau the blessing would have been an attempt to make an end run around the agreement previously made by his sons for the sake of favoring the son he preferred. In this case, both parents might be understood as acting in less than honorable ways.

Whatever the case, it’s important to remember that our gracious and heavenly Father works in our lives not because of our merit but despite our lack of merit. It is by his grace that we are saved through faith, not by works so that none of us can boast![25] Deception isn’t good; making rash oaths isn’t good; breaking oaths one has made isn’t good. But God is greater than all our sin and therefore, as Paul teaches, he is able to work in all things for the good of those who know and have been called by him.[26]

 

 

[1] Sermon preached on September 20, 2020, Children of Divine Promise, not Human Works, on Genesis 25:19–34.

[2] Genesis 25:22–26: 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” 24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.

[3] Genesis 25:27–34: 27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) 31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” 33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.

[4] Genesis 25:8.

[5] Genesis 25:26b: Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

[6] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 27:1–2.

[7] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 27:4.

[8] See, e.g., Romans 10:9–13: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Acts 2:21: And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Both passages reference Joel 2:32: And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.)

[9] I share some thoughts on this matter in the Addendum after the end of this sermon.

[10] Genesis 25:33: But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

[11] This quote (often misattributed to Shakespeare) is found is Walter Scott’s poem, Marmion, 1808.

[12] Exodus 20:7: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

[13] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 26:34–27:46.

[14] Genesis 25:23.

[15] Genesis 12:2–3:2 I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” The LORD had told Isaac he would bless him but not mention is made of a corresponding curse. See Genesis 26:3–4: Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.

[16] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 27:7.

[17] Again, in the sermon preached on September 20, 2020, Children of Divine Promise, not Human Works on Genesis 25:19–34.

[18] The entirety of the exhortation and warning are found in Hebrews 12:14–17: 14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.

[19] Sermon preached on September 27, 2020, Like Father, Like Son, on Genesis 26:1–33.

[20] Genesis 26:24.

[21] See sermon preached on September 6, 2020, Faith that Works, on Genesis 22:1–19.

[22] See sermon preached on September 13, 2020, God Knows before We Ask, on Genesis 24.

[23] This is John the Baptist’s declaration about Jesus. See John 1:29: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

[24] Genesis 25:23: The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

[25] Ephesians 2:8–9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

[26] Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.