Jacob and Esau

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Families, even the best of families, often experience tensions and arguments. Maybe you experienced that over Christmas. But the family we are looking at this evening was in a real mess. They are an example of what happens when families do not work to resolve problems and fail to seek God’s direction for their family life.

There are four members of this family: Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Esau. As we begin our new series in Genesis, we are going to think about each of these characters in turn, and in particular we are going to focus on chapter 27 this evening.

ISAAC

The first person we meet in chapter 27 is Isaac the son of Abraham. Please have a look with me at what the Bible tells us here about Isaac. Chapter 27 verses 1 to 4.

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. 2 Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. 3 Now then, get your weapons—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me.
4 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).

Ok so Isaac is getting old. Isaac, born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, the child of promise, Isaac is now getting old. The question for the reader of Genesis is what is going to happen to the promise given to Abraham.

You might remember from our series on Abraham last year, that God had promised to bless Abraham, give him numerous descendants, and eventually bring blessing to all nations through one of his offspring (Gen 12). So the question here in chapter 27 is whether God’s promise is going to pass to Isaac’s son Esau or to his son Jacob?

The final blessing should have been an occasion of great celebration. A public event for the whole family to share in. But Isaac is lying in his tent trying to give his final blessing to Esau without the knowledge of his wife Rebekah or his other son Jacob. Clearly there is something wrong in this family. Relations are not as they should be. Isaac and Rebekah don’t seem to be communicating properly and the family is divided. Each parent has a favourite son.

Isaac’s preference for his son Esau is unfortunately largely due to his stomach. Chapter 25 tells us that Isaac had a “taste for wild game” (25:28) and that he favoured Esau because Esau was “a skilful hunter, a man of the open country” (25:27) who provided him with the wild game that he liked.

On the other hand Rebekah favoured Jacob, and as we heard read in chapter 25, God had told Rebekah that her older son Esau would serve her younger son Jacob. Jacob would become the inheritor of God’s promise to Abraham.

But Isaac was not interested in who God had chosen. He wasn’t enquiring of God. And I think he knows he has got it wrong, hence the secrecy around this ceremony. He doesn’t talk to Rebecak or Jacob because he knows he is wrong to try and give his final blessing to Esau, who in actual fact despises God’s promises.

It is such a sad reflection on Isaac. He started off so well in the faith but he lost it towards the end of his life. By this point he is not following God wholeheartedly. Even the way Genesis is written confirms that Isaac lost the plot. The author of Genesis deliberately says very little about him. Isaac didn’t keep running the race with perseverance to the very end of his life. He failed to lead his household as a godly father and his family is in a mess by chapter 27.

I find Isaac’s life a challenge to me as a husband and father. If you are in the situation of being a husband or a father then learn from this story. Take care to lead your household in godliness in as much as it depends on you. Seek God’s direction for your family. Work to improve the quality of your relationships.

And to all of us, you and I are reminded from the life of Isaac of the need to hold firmly to the faith until the very end of our lives. There will of course be ups and downs in the Christian life, times when we feel closer to or further from God, but we must keep going, walking in faith. It is no use just starting well. We have to finish well.

REBEKAH

The second person I would like us to think about is Rebekah. Verses 5 to 13 of chapter 27. Please look with me at what the Bible tells us here about Rebekah.

5 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, 6 Rebekah 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.’
8 Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 9 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.”
11 Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I’m a man with 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.” 13 His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.” (27:5-13, NIV)

You have probably heard stories or maybe even experienced an occasion when a set of twins exchanged places in a school classroom and thoroughly confused the teacher who couldn’t tell them apart. Well this story is also a case of twins exchanging places, but clearly Jacob and Esau were not identical (25:25). One was a hairy monster and the other a smooth deceiver. And it was very likely that Isaac, despite his poor eyesight (27:1), would realise the deception.

God had promised that Jacob would lead the family after Isaac and not Esau (25:23). But instead of trusting in God’s promise and timing Rebekah took matters into her own hands and tried to manipulate the situation at a human level. She had experienced God’s hand miraculously at work in how she came to be Isaac’s wife (Gen 24). Her barrenness had been removed by God in answer to prayer (25:21). But instead of loving her children and bringing them up in godliness she encouraged Jacob in deception.
She failed to teach her children to fear the Lord. She failed to set a godly example in behaviour and action. And the consequences of what eventually happened were vast for Rebekah. As we will see next week, Jacob has to flee to Padan Aram, and Rebekah never sees her favourite son again.

If you are a wife or mother in this congregation then learn from Rebekah’s mistakes (just as husbands and fathers need to take heed of Isaac’s failures). As a wife, work at your relationship with your husband. As a mother, fulfil your responsibility in bringing your children up in the way of the Lord.

Even if they don’t seem to be getting on as well as you want them to in their studies, or career, or finding a spouse, remember that encouraging them in their relationship with God is more important. Don’t scheme. Pray for them and encourage your children in godliness.

JACOB

But what happens next in the story? Let us have a look at verses 14 to 29 of chapter 27. And in particular let us have a think about Jacob and his behaviour.

14 So [Jacob] went and got [the young goats from the flock] and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it. 15 Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put 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.
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. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing.” 20 Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?” “The LORD your God gave me success,” he replied.
21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.” 22 Jacob 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.” 23 He did not recognize 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. 25 Then 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. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.” 27 So 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. 28 May God give you of heaven’s dew and of 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.” (27:14-29, NIV)

Jacob’s behaviour cannot be excused on the basis that his mother put him up to it. Jacob lied and deceived his father. He didn’t object to his mother’s scheme he just questioned, verse 11, whether it would work. To the sin of lying and deception he adds blasphemy, verse 20. He attributes the speed of finding the animals to “The LORD your God” – Isaac’s God not his God. Clearly Jacob does not yet have a personal relationship with God.

In many ways Jacob is an unpleasant character. He is a schemer. He has always been trying to win advantage over his older brother. In chapter 25 he took advantage of his brother’s hunger to buy from Esau the rights of the firstborn son.

The only positive thing that we can say about him so far in Genesis is that he did at least value and want to be the one who received the promise given to Abraham. Esau despised the promises (25:34) but Jacob did at least want to be the inheritor of God’s blessing on Abraham.

As we will see over the next few weeks, as we continue our story, God was gracious to Jacob and his faith and relationship with God grew throughout his lifetime. Jacob wanted the right thing he just went about getting it in the wrong way. He schemed and lied instead of trusting God to bring about what had been promised.

How often you and I do just that. We want good things but we go about trying to get them in the wrong way. We don’t trust God’s sovereignty. We don’t really understand God’s ways. But the end does not justify the means. I know I have got myself into all sorts of scrapes when I have taken matters into my own hands and tried to run ahead of God’s timing.

So all of us need to learn from Jacob in this story. Don’t be tempted to rely on yourself rather than on God. Don’t manipulate situations or people. Don’t scheme. Don’t cut corners for good ends whether that is in your work, or when you are buying something, or in the way you relate to your family or friends. Rather stick completely to the truth and trust God to work out his plan for your life. The end does not justify the means.

ESAU

In some ways Esau is a nicer character than Jacob. He is more straightforward. A man’s man. A skilled hunter. Strong and outdoor orientated.

My wife Sarah and I lived in Canada for a while and a couple of times we had the chance to get out into the mountains and forests. I encountered a few characters in the forest parks who reminded me of Esau. Big burly men with lumber jackets, chain saws, rifles and hunting gear. Driving huge four by four rigs for miles down un-tarred tracks. Sliding sideways round the corners with mud flying from the rear wheels. Rugged outdoor men like Esau.

Let us read what happens next in the story. Verses 30 to 40 of chapter 27. Please look with me at what the Bible tells us.

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, sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”
32 His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?” “I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau.” 33 Isaac 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!”
34 When 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!” 35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.” 36 Esau 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?”
37 Isaac 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?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud. 39 His father Isaac answered him, “Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above. 40 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.”

Before you start feeling too sorry for Esau there are a few things you need to realise. Yes he was taken advantage of by his brother, but the author of Genesis makes it very clear that Esau was not really interested in God’s long term promises. He wasn’t interested in receiving the blessing and promise given to Abraham. What he wanted was instant gratification and material prosperity. Even when he is seeking his father’s blessing, what he is looking for is good things from the land and success in hunting.

The writer of Genesis issues a damming condemnation on Esau in chapter 25 verse 34. He says that “Esau despised his birthright”.

There is again a challenge here for many of us. Perhaps you have grown up in a Christian home, you have heard the Christian stories, you know the message of salvation from sin through the death of Christ on the cross, but you have basically rejected it. Maybe you are here this evening because you parents make you come to church. But here is a lesson from Esau – don’t reject the promises of God.

Esau grew up in a “God fearing” home. Abraham was still alive when Jacob and Esau were growing up. They would have heard the miraculous stories of Abraham’s call, the visit of the three spiritual men, the destruction of Sodom, and the miraculous birth of Isaac.

God was real to this family, but Esau wasn’t interested. He wants instant satisfaction. He wants material wealth and success here and now. He is not concerned for God’s plan of salvation.

I hope you are not in a similar situation this evening. But if you are take warning. Don’t get so caught up with the pleasures of this life that you reject the really important eternal blessings of God. Particularly if you have grown up in a Christian home, and heard your parents’ testimony about God’s work in their life, do not reject the Christian message. If you need to come and talk to me or to one of your small group leaders about becoming a Christian then make sure to do that. Take heed from Esau.

GOD

Just before I finish, I would like to mention one other person, because this story is actually a story about God. Genesis and in fact the whole Bible is God’s story. As we study this book over the next few Sunday evenings keep that perspective in mind. This is the story of God at work in the lives of weak human beings who are often just as sinful if not more so than us.

God chose Abraham and promised to bless him – to give him numerous descendants and a land to live in (Gen 12 & 22). He promised further that all peoples on earth would eventually be blessed through Abraham (12:3). God chose Isaac rather than Ishmael to be the bearer of the promise, and God chose Jacob rather than Esau.

Genesis is not primarily about the individuals who appear on its pages. Genesis is about how God works in the world to create a people for himself. It is the big picture of how God works out his plan of salvation. Through his sovereign choice God works to ultimately bring salvation to us through Jesus Christ.

What is so amazing to me in the chapters we have looked at tonight is that God chooses anyone to be blessed. Jacob is really as bad as Esau. Neither of them appear worthy candidates for God’s blessing and salvation. And yet in some ways that is the whole point. God chooses Jacob despite his failings. It is all about grace.

God is at work in your life and my life. He accepts you through his grace and invites you to come and be forgiven through Christ. You don’t have to wait until you are good enough. Rather he saves us in our sinfulness.

God is sovereign in the world. He is working out his purposes even when circumstances appear completely contrary. Trust him. Be part of God’s big plan of salvation.

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