Elon, North Carolina
If you are here for the first time, we want to welcome you. We are studying the Book of Genesis. Many Christians have read some of these stories or heard them as kids but never really studied them in depth. Many are in church for twenty years and never get any in-depth bible teaching. That is what we want to do in this class.
Today, we will be looking at a famous story about Jacob and Esau. This is the story of a mother plotting with her favorite son to cheat his twin brother out of the blessing by deceiving his old blind dying father. A mother here schemes to steal her own son’s blessings so another son can have them.
This story is well known. It is very interesting. There is a lot of drama in this section. It reads like a modern-day soap opera, except these events took place four thousand years ago. It is also a very misunderstood story. Some have missed the whole point of the passage.
It is definitely a provocative story. It raises all kinds of questions. Why does Esau do the right thing and get punished? He does what his father tells him to do. He goes out and gets some venison like his father asked him to do and prepares it all by himself. He plays by the rules. He tells the truth (unlike his brother) and loses out in the end.
He gets tricked out of both his birthright and his blessing, not once but twice. You almost feel sorry for Esau here. In the end, he is sobbing. The text says that it was a loud cry (27:34) and he begs his father to bless him. Esau is definitely the more likable character here.
His brother Jacob lies. He cheats. He deceives his blind father and ends up with the blessing. That doesn’t seem fair. He does the wrong thing and gets rewarded for it. He got the blessing through deception. Nothing Jacob does is really appealing. Why is Jacob the hero of the story? Why does God bless a bold-faced liar? Was does he reward a man for lying to his father?
What does this story teach us? That it is okay to lie? Does this story justify lying? If Jacob was able to get his blessing by lying, does this mean that we should try to get some things by lying as well? These are all important questions.
In order to understand what is going on in these two sections of Scripture, you have to first understand two words: birthright and blessing. In Genesis 25, Jacob receives THE BIRTHRIGHT. In Genesis 27, Jacob receives THE BLESSING. The problem is that most Christians have no idea what those two words mean. We no longer use those terms today. We live in a completely different culture.
Who have you given the birthright to in your family? Do you even have a birthright in your family? Who did you get the blessing to in your family? Preachers sometimes talk about the need for people to still do this today. They say that we need to bless our kids. We need to speak affirming words of blessing over them.
There is only one problem. This blessing was not just a wish or a prayer. It was a prophecy. It was a prediction of future events. It did not just involve saying some good words over your children. It involved bringing them to bring them to pass. Jacob here acts as a prophet.
It was also permanent. It could not be changed. Even though Isaac thought he was blessing Esau and even though Jacob lied about who he was, he could not change what he said. It was considered a legal contract, like a last will and testament.
It was also selective. Only one son could be blessed, not both. You can’t use this passage to bless all of your children. Only one of Isaac’s sons was blessed. Esau begged his dad to bless him and he tried but what he said was more of a curse than a blessing.
“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” (27:39-40). Esau has to serve his brother. He does not get heaven’s dew or the earth’s fatness. He is stuck living like a predator on the earth.
What do these two words mean? Are they the same? They are not the same thing. Esau said, Jacob “took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing” (27:36). He understood that they were different things.
In fact, the same person did not always get both. When Jacob gets old and is on his deathbed, he gives the blessing to one child and the birthright to another. Ephraim got the birthright and Judah got the blessing. What is the difference between the two?
Meaning of Birthright
The birthright refers to inheritance. It refers to property. The one who got the birthright inherited two-thirds of the estate when the parent died. If there are two sons, the one who got the birthright inherited two-thirds and the other son inherited one-third.
In the ancient world, this went to the firstborn but God sometimes reversed human custom. Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn but he did not get the birthright; Isaac did. Esau was Isaac’s firstborn but he did not get the birthright; Jacob did. Reuben was Jacob’s first born but he did not get the birthright; Ephraim did.
Meaning of Blessing
What was this deathbed blessing? It was a formal ceremony. It was done in the presence of God (27:7). It involved physical touch (laying hands on Jacob) and spoken words. It does not have to do with inheritance but personal success. Isaac’s blessing had three parts to it.
It had an economic or agricultural component. “May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness—an abundance of grain and new wine” (27:28). It also had a political component. “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” (27:29).
Finally, it had a spiritual component to it. It refers to the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. In fact, when God blesses Jacob, he quotes the Abrahamic Covenant. He says, “Whoever curses you will be cursed and whoever blesses you will be blessed” (27:29).
This was the covenant blessings which God promised to Abraham. They had been passed on to Isaac and were now being passed on to Jacob. Jacob, not Esau, would be the ancestor of the Messiah. The blessing is actually far more valuable than the birthright. We will see this in the next chapter.
As we read this chapter, it is clear that the family of Rebekah and Isaac is a dysfunctional family. The whole family is screwed up. It is a broken family. What is shocking is that this isn’t just any family.
This was the chosen family. This was the family God was going to work through. These were not pagans. These were supposed to be the people of God and yet this family was completely messed up. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of this family. Does it describe your family?
Characteristics of a Dysfunctional Family
- There is division in the home.
The parents were divided and the kids were divided. Isaac and Rebekah were not on the same page. They were not working together. Jacob and Esau were rivals from birth (25:22-23).
- There is no communication on the home.
Jacob and Esau do not speak to each other. Isaac and Rebekah do not speak to each other either, like many married couples. They would be prime candidates for marriage counseling today. Rebekah does not talk to Isaac until the last verse in the chapter.
- There is favoritism in the home.
In fact, both parents have a favorite child. Both loved one child more than another child. Rebekah loved Jacob and Isaac loved Esau (25:28).
- There is secrecy in the home.
Isaac tries to bless Esau in secret. It was supposed to be a public event. When Jacob blesses his sons at the end of Genesis, it is done in public. Rebekah comes up with a counter-plan which is also secret. Esau has a plan to kill his brother at the end of the chapter which was also a secret, although that secret got out.
- There is dishonesty in the home.
In this family, we see spouses lying to each other and kids lying to parents. In fact, children were taught to be dishonest. Jacob’s mom actually told him to lie but we saw in Genesis 26 that Jacob’s dad also lied. He lied to Abimekel and said that she was his sister. Dishonesty runs all through the family. The father lies. The mother lies. The kids lie. They lie to each other.
- There is violence in the home.
When Jacob steals Esau’s birthright, he is angry. His true character is revealed. He plans to kill his own brother for what he did (27:41). Esau becomes like Cain, although he does not get a chance to carry out his plan. He wants to carry out a violent act on a member of his own family. Home is a place where you are supposed to feel safe. Jacob had to leave because it was not a safe place to be.
Let’s look at this chapter. There are four characters in this story: a mother, a father and two sons. The interesting thing is that every one of these people does something wrong. They all do the wrong thing. None of them looks good.
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” (27:1-4 NIV).
What happens here? Isaac is about to die but wants to bless Esau first but he doesn’t just bless him. He says, “Go get me my favorite food first and then I will bless you”. Isaac is in decline here. He is not just in decline physically. He is in decline spiritually. That tells us two things about Isaac.
1) He is in rebellion to God
He used to be a spiritual man who liked to meditate. He used to be a man of faith. He waited to get married. He prayed when his wife could not have children. In his early years, he was a much better role model. He was a better spiritual leader. He was not perfect but much better. Here he is fighting against God.
Isaac had a blind spot when it came to Esau. Esau was Isaac’s oldest son. He was his firstborn. He was his favorite son. Jacob was always in his shadow. Esau was older than Jacob was. He was married and Jacob was still single. Isaac wanted Esau to take over when he was gone. The problem is that God already decreed that “the older will serve the younger” (25:23). He said that before Esau and Jacob were even born.
What Isaac does here is an act of deliberate defiance to the revealed will of God. He put his personal preference over God’s Word. People still do that today. God says something clearly about sexual sin but many people do not have a problem with it. They put their thoughts over God’s thoughts.
2) He has a weakness for food
We may have a weakness for something else. Isaac had a weakness for food. Three times we are told that he had a favorite meal. He liked red meat and his son Esau brought it to him. That may be one of the reasons, he was his favorite son. Jacob says, “Then prepare for me some tasty food, the kind I love, and bring it to me” (27:4 NET Bible). Rebekah says, “I’ll prepare them in a tasty way for your father, just the way he loves them” (27:9 NET Bible).
Moses wrote, “So he went and got the goats and brought them to his mother. She prepared some tasty food, just the way his father loved it” (27:14 NET Bible). It is not wrong to have a favorite food but Isaac was driven by his appetites. In fact, Isaac’s appetites and passion for good food led him to defy the living God. We will see that Esau is just like him.
Esau was controlled by his appetites. He wanted instant gratification. He lacked self control. He was impulsive. He gave up his inheritance for a bowl of red stew because he was hungry. That is a little ironic because Esau’s descendants were the Edomites. Edom means red. Esau went down on some red stew.
Like his dad, he also had a food problem. You are what you eat. Esau also had an attitude of defiance like his father. Esau knew that it was not God’s will for him to marry pagan women but he does it anyway. He is rebellious. He married not only one but two pagan Canaanite women. He defied God. He defied his parents. He does not care what they think. He will marry whoever he wants to marry.
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 (27:5-6 NIV)
What do we learn here? Isaac has really bad eyes but Rebekah has really good ears. She heard what Isaac said. Actually, they lived in tents, so it probably was not hard. She also hears later what Esau said when he plans to kill his brother. That was intended to be a secret but somehow she found out about it. Isaac had his plan to bless Esau and Rebekah hears about it and immediately comes up with a counter-plan.
Rebekah was a quick thinker. Her plan was brilliant. It was creative. It was devious. Rebekah had Jacob bring in two goats from his flock. She had to make goat meet taste like deer meat. She had to make Jacob look, feel and smell like Esau. It was also very risky. It might not work.
It almost didn’t work. Isaac was suspicious. “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (27:22). His brother Esau almost caught him in the act. “After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting” (27:30).
This tells us a lot about Rebekah. Isaac and Rebekah were as opposite as Jacob and Esau. Isaac was very passive. He also did not like to take risks. He did not make any waves. We saw that in Genesis 26.
Rebekah is a strong-willed woman. She is very domineering. She immediately takes control of the situation. Rebekah was not a doormat. She was not passive. She did not sit back and do nothing. She acted decisively and told Jacob what to do. She was also not afraid to take risks.
Keep in mind that deception was Rebekah’s idea, not Jacob’s. She is the mastermind of the whole thing. She planned it. It was deliberate but her motives are good. God promised her before she gave birth that Jacob would rule over Esau. Her husband is not cooperating. He is not being the spiritual leader that he should be, so she comes up with a plan to make sure that what God said actually comes to pass.
Rebekah’s Four Roles
Rebekah has four roles in this story. She was the ARCHITECT. She comes up with the plan. She was the CHEF. She cooked the food (27:14) and apparently she was good at it. She made goat meat taste like deer meat.
She put the right spices in it. She was the COSTUME DESIGNER. She got the wardrobe together. She found Esau’s best clothes and gave them to Jacob to wear (27:15). She was also the SCAPEGOAT. If it did not work out, she was willing to take the blame (27:13).
“He went to his father and said, ‘My father.‘ ‘Yes, my son,’ he answered. ‘Who is it?’ Jacob 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.’ Isaac asked his son, ‘How did you find it so quickly, my son?’ ‘The Lord your God gave me success,’ he replied” (27:18-20 NIV).
So Jacob tells Isaac he did exactly what he told him to do, even though he really did exactly what Rebekah told him to do. He brought him some meat, along with some wine, because who wants to eat meat without some good wine.
Isaac asked him if he was Esau point blank and he said that he was. Two times he lied about his identity to his dad (27:18-19, 24). Jacob lies five times in his short conversation with his dad and these are not half-truths but blatant lies.
Truth be told Jacob was not a very nice person. In Genesis 25, we see him as a COOK. He makes some delicious red stew but in Genesis 27 we see him as a CROOK. He commits fraud.
He steals his brother’s identity. He impersonates Esau. He commits identity theft. That is not a modern crime. There was identity theft in biblical times four thousand years ago. Jacob cheats his brother and lies to his dying father, not once but repeatedly. He ends the whole transaction with a Judas kiss (27:27).
He not only deceived people, he exploited them. He also took advantage of them. He took advantage of his hungry brother and his blind father. His brother came home from hunting starving and Jacob used that to his advantage. He got something out of it. His dad couldn’t see very well and he took advantage of that for his own benefit. The Mosaic Law later prohibited people from doing that (Leviticus 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:18).
Jacob is a rather interesting character. The Apostle Paul says that the unrighteous will NOT inherit the kingdom of God. He specifically says that thieves and swindlers will NOT inherit the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6:9). The Apostle John says that the fate of all liars will be the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8). This causes a little problem.
The Patriarch Jacob was a liar and a cheat. He was a deceiver and a con artist. He was a swindler. He doesn’t just lie to anyone; he lies to his own dying father, bold-faced lies. Will he be in heaven? The answer is that he was not saved yet. Jacob was NOT a believer yet. He gets saved in the next chapter. God had to change his heart. He eventually changed his name.
Why does God reward Jacob for his deception? Many read this chapter and think that it glorifies deception. Someone entitled this chapter “Blessed Deception”. The truth is that God does not tell Jacob to trick his blind old father into blessing him. Rebekah does and God does NOT reward Jacob because of his deception.
That is the big myth about this chapter that many people have. Jacob did NOT receive the blessing BECAUSE he lied. He was promised the blessing BEFORE he was even born and BEFORE he had done good or evil. He was chosen before he was born and before he ever uttered a lie.
In fact, he was chosen before he uttered a single word. God did NOT bless him because of his behavior but in spite of it. He did not reward him for his deception. In fact, he suffered because of what he did. Our time is up. Next week, we will look at some applications from this chapter. The homework for next week is to think about what lessons can we learn from this chapter. We will also look at Genesis 28.