Genesis 25:19–28:5. Anatomy of a Theft.
Key Notes: Isaac is a pale copy of Abraham. The birthright and the four family members who were involved. Esau's wives. God chooses.
How the legacy of the family passed from the older to the younger son of Isaac is like a detective story. Jacob acquired the birthright by taking advantage of his brother’s foolishness, but when we examine the evidence on the giving of the final blessing, we will find four culprits, not just one. But first, some back-ground.
25:1–6 Abraham went away from his grieving over Sarah to marry Keturah and have concubines as well. He was still fertile when Sarah died and evidently energized by a younger woman. He raised six more boys. These sons were sent away from the family compound with gifts, but the estate was given to Isaac.
25:7–11 Abraham died at 175 and was buried by Isaac and Ishmael who had remained in contact. He was laid to rest next to Sarah at Machpelah.
25:12–18 Ishmael also died, the father of twelve sons, each forming a tribe. He died in old age, 137, but he was not buried with his father and mother. His family and legacy fade from the Biblical narrative.
25:19–21 Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah, the sister of Laban. She had no child for 20 years. (25:26). Isaac prayed for a child, and Rebekah was soon pregnant with twins!
25:22–24 There was such commotion in her womb, as if the twins were fighting, that she asked the Lord for an explanation. She was told that two nations would be born from these two babies, the younger ruling over the elder. So fighting would characterize their relationship.
25:25–26 Esau (“red”) was first-born, and named for his reddish birth-hair. Jacob (“heel-grabber”) was so named because he came out of the womb holding his brother's heel.
25:27–28 Esau was an outdoors-man, a hunter, his father's favorite. Jacob was sedentary, favored by his mother Rebekah.
25:29–34 One time Esau came in from hunting so hungry that he traded his birthright to Jacob for a dinner of lentils and bread and sealed the bargain with an oath.
Comment: What a bargain! Knowing what a lentil stew tastes like, one can understand the temptation. The birthright gave the eldest son twice as much of the inheritance (Deut.21:15–17) as other sons, but Esau probably thought he would eventually get what he wanted, anyway. His father was on his side. Money, and property were involved, but also the headship of the family. Esau did not care about the title, and he was a hunter anyway.
26:1 Chapter 26 is an interlude in the story, showing Isaac's life and character. Its four incidents closely resemble events in Abraham's life except that Isaac appears more easily pushed around.
26:2–5 During famine, God forbade him to go to Egypt. He promised to multiply his descendents because of Abraham's obedience to God's charge, His commandments, statutes, and laws. These are the same words later used by Moses (Deut.11:1) suggesting that the patriarchs had a working knowledge of the law of God before they were written on tablets of stone.
26:6–11 The next verse finds Isaac not believing what God had just told him. Living in Gerar among the Philistines, Isaac called his wife his sister for fear that they would kill him and take her. Like father, like son! Could the prophecy be fulfilled if he were killed? Although Rebekah was not seized, the people noted their affection and Abimelech rebuked Isaac. (A public display of affection in the Middle East!) He warned his people not to touch either of them.
26:12–16 Isaac became wealthy raising crops--the first mention of settled agriculture by the patriarchs. Eventually the Philistines felt threatened and asked him to move away. Planting crops implied ownership of land.
26:17–25 Like Abraham, Isaac dug wells, but also he had to re-dig all Abraham's wells that the Philistines had plugged. He was forced to retreat from two of these wells by Philistine herdsmen, unlike Abraham who probably would have fought them off. (See Gen.21:33 where Abraham wrested control of the well at Beersheba from the Philistines and called on the Name of the Lord there.) At Beersheba he built an altar and called on the Name of the Lord. God renewed the covenant with him.
26:26–33 Abimelech and Phicol, leaders of the Philistines, came to make a treaty with him because they knew that God was with him. They had made a similar treaty with Abraham. 21:22
26:34 The chapter closes with the bad news that Esau had married two Hittite women. These women made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah and I think they form part of the motivation for what follows.
27:1–4 In his old age, with sight gone, Isaac asked Esau to make a venison dinner for him with the promise of the patriarchal blessing.
27:5–29 Rebekah decided to deceive her husband by setting Jacob in Esau's place. Jacob put on his brother's clothes, kid's fur gloves and a furry scarf, carried in his mother's venison stew, and lied about his identity. But he could not disguise his voice. Isaac was confused, but went ahead and blessed Jacob with the richness of the earth, power over nations and the family, and blessing for all who blessed him.
27:30–40 Esau then came with his venison stew and discovered the deception. Although Isaac was greatly agitated, he acknowledged that the blessing had already been given and was permanent. Why did he not retract what he had said, claiming fraud? Esau cried bitterly because he realized what he had lost and could never recover. Isaac gave Esau just the opposite of what he gave Jacob: a place with no richness of the earth, combat and subservience to Jacob, with only the promise of independence in the end.
27:41–28:5 Esau decided to kill Jacob. Rebekah heard the rumor and sent Jacob away, to return to the ancestral home with Laban. As he left, Isaac gave him the blessing of Abraham, completing the transfer of the patriarchal legacy to Jacob. So we have a spiritual link of Abraham with Isaac and now with Jacob. And it will be through Jacob’s fourth son, Judah, that the final blessing, the Branch of Messiah will grow.
We are witness to a deception and fraud.
Jacob has the reputation for being a liar and schemer, stealing his brother's blessing as well as his birthright, as Esau accused him: "He has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright and behold, now he has taken away my blessing." Most of us are prone to point the finger at Jacob. An analysis of the story suggests that there were four parties to the theft of the blessing.
Isaac appears least guilty because he was the one deceived. Could he have forgotten the oracle given to Rebekah years before that "the elder would serve the younger"? Did he intend to over-rule or ignore the prophecy? Did he not know that Esau had sold the birthright to Jacob for a pot of beans? Did he not understand the spiritual implications of Esau's marriages to pagan women? They had made his life bitter. Had his sensuous affection for Esau blinded him to Esau's insolent attitude--"despising" the birthright (Gen.25:34)? Did he not know in his heart that it was really Jacob he was blessing, when he later confirmed his decision to Esau?
Esau also seems innocently deceived. But did he forget the oath he had made to Jacob to give him the birthright in exchange for that good dinner? Did he not know that he had forfeited spiritual leadership of the family by his pagan marriages? What did he think of God's prophecy given to his mother that he would serve Jacob? Did he now expect to receive the blessing because his father forgot the prophecy? Surely he would have tried to ignore it.
Rebekah is most remarkable. How could she so easily deceive her own husband? Had their preferences for their two sons driven them apart? Obviously she felt she had nothing to lose in undermining her husband’s authority. Could she not have thought of another way to persuade Isaac to bless Jacob other than using a scam, a hoax? She was teaching Jacob to lie and cheat.
Jacob won the birthright too easily. Should he not have refused to lie to his father in spite the intrigues of his mother Rebekah? Should he not have agreed to share more with Esau after he had time to think about it?
In retrospect, Isaac as the spiritual leader is probably the chief culprit, a victim of his own denial. But the Scripture says that God was behind the result, because He had chosen Jacob before he was born.
The doctrine behind this story is called election or predestination. Paul uses Jacob and Esau to illustrate God's sovereignty in human affairs. (Rom.9:10–13). Romans says that God chooses those who will serve Him, even before they are born. (Eph.1:4). He uses sinners, schemers and thieves to accomplish His purposes. He calls, justifies, conforms them to the image of Christ and will glorify them. They are not necessarily glorious when they are carrying out God’s purposes. Although we all love this verse (Rom.8:28–30), we do not like predestination. [We call it Calvinism.] We are children of our age, sentimental Arminians, preferring free will, free choice, self-determination and self-actualization to the over-ruling sovereignty of God.
But Jesus said "You did not chose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit." (Jn.15:16).
We are chosen, not because we are good, but because God put His love upon us. Praise Him.