RUSHING AHEAD OF GOD Genesis 25:19–28:22
“Look, I am about to die. . . . What good is the birthright to me?” (Gen. 25:32)Unlike his twin Esau, Jacob placed a high value on God’s covenant promise. But Jacob showed little spiritual sensitivity as he schemed and lied unnecessarily to obtain what God was already committed to give him. In rushing ahead of God rather than waiting on the Lord, Jacob brought pain and alienation to his family.
Before the birth of her twin sons God told Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, that the older twin would serve the younger (25:19–26). Esau, the older, sold his birthright—his right to inherit the covenant God made with Abraham—to his younger brother Jacob (vv. 27–34). Isaac’s experience shows how vital the birthright is (26:1–35). Years later Jacob and his mother schemed to steal Esau’s blessing, through which the birthright would be transmitted (27:1–40). This antagonized Esau and forced Jacob to flee (27:41–28:9). At Bethel Jacob had his first direct personal experience with the God of the covenant, and committed himself to serve the Lord (vv. 10–22).
Understanding the Text
Isaac. Less is told of Isaac than any other patriarch. He is significant primarily as the bridge between his father Abraham and his son Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel. Personally Isaac seems to have been a rather indecisive and passive person, without great spiritual insight. These traits are seen in his flight from conflict with Abimelech, and in his preference of Esau because he “had a taste for wild game” (25:28). Even though Isaac was overshadowed by both his father and his son, Isaac experienced God’s grace, and at the end faith triumphed over personal preference as he acknowledged God’s choice of Jacob over Esau and confirmed transmission of the covenant promises to his younger son. “The older will serve the younger” Gen. 25:19–26. Romans 9 emphasizes the importance of God’s statement to Rebekah before her twin sons were born. God’s choice of Jacob, the younger, to inherit His covenant promise was made before the boys were born. This showed that the choice did not depend on what either did. God is free to choose as He wills. The fact that Esau proved to be uninterested in spiritual things shows how wise God’s choices are. “What good is the birthright?” Gen. 25:27–34 The firstborn son had the right to inherit most of his father’s property and also any intangible possessions, such as title or position. Here the “birthright” that Esau sold so lightly included his natural right as eldest to the covenant promise of God. Archeological finds have shown that in patriarchal times the eldest son could and sometimes did sell his birthright. In selling his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew, Esau showed how unimportant he considered God’s promises to be. The word “despise” here (bazah) means to “place little value on” something and actually implies contempt. Jacob’s character was flawed, yet he did value his relationship with God. God can work with people who see Him as important, despite their weaknesses. God could not work with Esau, for Esau had no place in his thinking for God. “The Lord appeared to Isaac” Gen. 26:1–34. The story in this chapter might seem to be a digression. But it is vital in developing Moses’ theme. Isaac possessed the covenant promises that Esau despised. What value did the covenant really have? First, God’s guidance (vv. 1–6). The Lord appeared to Isaac and directed him to stay in Canaan rather than go to Egypt. He stayed in Canaan, on coastal land then occupied by the Philistines. Second, God’s protection (vv. 7–11). Even though Isaac showed the same lack of active faith that led Abraham to lie about his wife in fear that he might be killed for her, God protected Isaac and his family. The “Abimelech” here is not the person Abraham lied to a century or so earlier. Most believe the name is a title, like Pharaoh. In Hebrew the name means “my father is king.” Third, the covenant assured God’s blessing (vv. 12–22). God made Isaac rich, multiplying his wealth. Fourth, God’s intervention (vv. 23–35). When land and water rights disputes drove Isaac to move again and again, God spoke to him, urging him not to fear. The Philistines finally made a treaty with Isaac because “we saw clearly that the Lord was with you.” In each of these incidents we see—and Esau and Jacob would have observed—how important possession of God’s covenant promise truly was. With the covenant came God’s commitment to guide, to protect, to bless, and to intervene. Spiritual realities seem irrelevant to some. But in fact they are far more important than anything the materialist can touch, see, or feel. Isaac’s blessing Gen. 27:1–40. In ancient cultures blessings given by parents or by one in authority were viewed as having great power. The deathbed blessing was equivalent to a last will, by which a person transmitted his tangible and intangible possessions to the next generation. Thus Isaac’s blessing was eagerly sought by Esau and jealously desired by Jacob. Jacob and his mother panicked when Isaac announced he was about to give Esau his blessing. They plotted together to deceive Isaac and to steal the blessing by passing Jacob off as his older brother. They did succeed in deceiving a then sightless Isaac. But they alienated Esau so greatly that he determined to kill Jacob after Isaac died! The tragic thing about this story is that their deceit was unnecessary! Before the boys’ birth God had announced to Rebekah that He intended to exalt her younger son over the older (25:23). Panic drove Rebekah and Jacob to lie and cheat to obtain something that God had promised He would give them! How foolish to run ahead of God. Our situation is never so bleak that we have to adopt wrong or sinful means in a desperate effort to achieve good ends! “Esau then realized” Gen. 28:1–9. Esau was not a bad person. He was simply one of those human beings whose eyes are so filled with images of this world that they cannot glimpse spiritual realities. After Jacob was sent (fled) to Paddan Aram to find a bride among relatives, it finally dawned on Esau that his parents were less than delighted with his Canaanite wives. In an effort to please them, he found another wife from among Ishmael’s descendants. How touching, and yet how tragic. Esau did do the best he could. Yet his choice of Canaanite wives had been a symptom of his spiritual insensitivity, not the cause of his rejection. We can find admirable traits in those who have no concern for God. Yet however they try, they will always fall short. Their self-effort itself shows how little they know of Abraham’s God. “I am the Lord” Gen. 28:10–22. Jacob had seen the importance of a relationship with God in his father Isaac’s experience. He had been aware of the value of the spiritual. Now, however, Jacob himself had a personal experience with the Lord. At Bethel (which means “house of God”) the Lord confirmed transmission of the Abrahamic Covenant to Jacob (vv. 13–15; cf. 12:1–3, 7). Jacob’s words, “If God will be with me” (28:20–22), are not a bargain struck with God. They are instead a faith response to God. Since God has committed Himself to Jacob and will surely carry out His promises, then Jacob will be committed to the Lord. Jacob’s words are significant to us in two ways. First, Jacob shows us the basic benefits of a personal relationship with God (vv. 20–21). God is with us. He watches over us on our life journey. He provides the basic necessities. He gives us others with whom we can have a family relationship. Second, Jacob shows us the basic response that is appropriate. We honor the Lord as God. We set aside times and places to worship Him. And we express our commitment by giving.
“And Indeed He Will Be Blessed”(Gen. 27:1–33)
This is one of those Bible stories in which we generally focus on one character, and ignore the others. In this tale of the trickster, we give our attention to Jacob and perhaps to his mother, Rebekah, who schemed with him. Sometimes we think about Esau, whose tears and anger are both so understandable. Seldom do we look at Isaac. Yet I suspect that Isaac is the one who learned most from the incident, and is the only one who acted with faith and nobility. You see, Isaac had always favored his son Esau. Esau was the out doors man, the athlete. He was, if you will, the “jock”; the virile athletic type his dad had always wanted, and perhaps had always wanted to be. Jacob, a mama’s boy, just wasn’t the kind of son that a dad dreamed of! Jacob was the kind who’d rather play the piano than baseball; who’d rather go to some museum than hunt or fish. And so, because Isaac was so drawn to his older son, he was blind to Esau’s weaknesses, and unable to see Jacob’s strengths. In fact, for some 40 years Isaac had been blind to the fact that Esau cared nothing for God, and that Jacob did at least value God’s blessing. Up to the very end Isaac persisted in his opinion. Up to the very end Isaac intended Esau to inherit the divine promise. And then Isaac was tricked into pronouncing his blessing on Jacob! When he found out he had been tricked, Isaac might have been angry. He might have withdrawn the blessing and replaced it with a curse! Instead, Isaac finally realized that for all those years he had been wrong! He realized that God intended Jacob to have the blessing and that Jacob at least cared about covenant relationship with Isaac’s God. Realizing all this, Isaac acted in faith and with nobility. He confirmed the blessing he had just uttered, telling Esau, “and indeed he will be blessed.” You and I need to be as open and noble as Isaac proved to be. How willing we need to be, especially in our own families, to examine our attitudes—toward our spouses, our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters. If we have judged others on superficial criteria, we need to be ready with Isaac to acknowledge our mistake. As Isaac shows us, it’s never too late to change. Personal Application
It is especially important to be realistic about our children and to value each one for his or her special qualities. Lord, help us to be as open and noble as Isaac proved to be.