Description / Transcription
It’s one of the most famous openings to a novel in all of literature, “Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” That is the first sentence to Leo Tolstoy’s 1878 novel Anna Karenina. It’s lots of hundreds of pages, and I’m a pretender in giving this opening illustration. I haven’t read it. But I’ve been to school and so I’ve read people who have read it.
The story is about Anna’s extramarital affair and how her search for happiness ends in despair and leads to the unraveling of her life and so many families within the story. One of the ironies is, in sort of keeping with often Russian literature, there’s actually really no happy families in the whole story.
The story is told in the past tense and this opening sentence is given in the present tense, which makes it function as a kind of timeless maxim: Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. That’s the timeless proverb, and then the whole story is to give an illustration in the complicated tale about all that unfolds with Anna Karenina.
The first line, if you think about it, presents a dichotomy that most modern people do not like, and this is on the cusp of the modern world and Russia modernizing at the end of the 19th century and liberation movements and revolutions in the air, because you think about that opening line, it presents to us a choice that modern people do not want to make. You can choose happiness or you can choose to go your own way and be utterly unique, because that’s the choice. Happy families, he says, are alike, and unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.
We’d like to think the message we get bombarded with a hundred times a week is “you be you, you do you, you find your own one special niche in life, you follow, you march to the beat of your own drummer, and you do you. Whatever is unique, you be true to your own truth, and you follow that, and true happiness is found in marching out your own path, finding out your own course.”
And this opening line presents just the opposite. Well, there are a lot of ways to find unhappiness, but there are certain fundamentals that must be in present, must be present if you are to be happy, at least as he’s thinking about a family.
You know, any coach in any sport will tell you you’ve gotta get down the fundamentals. Or any teacher teaching, whether it’s math or history. There’s certain things. You know, if you’re going to play basketball, before you can get to the NBA, you need to know how to box out and you need to how to do this with your wrist when you take a shot, and you need to know how to… You need to know certain fundamentals of the game, and yes there’s many ways after that to excel, but until you have those, you’re not going to be any good.
Part of what Tolstoy is saying is yeah, of course, there’s lots of different happy families, but they all have certain things in common, and if you try to go about things in your own way, you’re going to find a myriad of paths that lead to unhappiness.
It’s interesting that the book has as its epigraph, you know, on the title page, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” from Romans 12:19, which tells you something about the impetus and the aim of the book.
Now this passage in Genesis 27. It’s certainly about more than family life, but it’s not less than that. And you can see it from the macro structure of the passage. If you’re not there already, turn to Genesis 27. Like so many passages in Genesis, there’s a bookend. We’ve seen this many times, that the story has at the front end and at the back end the same sort of message or the same kind of event. It’s a bookend, on your bookshelf you have that hold the books together. Well, you have it here.
Look at chapter 26:34-35. I said last week this is a transition between 26 and 27: “When Esau was 40 years old, he took these Hittite women to be his wives.”
So the story starts with Esau marrying two Hittite wives. Now, flip the page to 28, verses 6 through 9, and you see the heading: Esau Marries An Ishmaelite. So the story here bookending this passage begins with Esau marrying two Hittite women and it ends by Esau trying to make up for that mistake because his parents were very unhappy, and so he marries a daughter from the line of Ishmael. In other words, the story starts with a bad decision in the family, namely Esau marrying the wrong sort of wife, and it ends with Esau trying to undo this bad decision, but by the time we get to end of the story, we all know it’s already too late for Esau to undo all that has been set in motion.
So the bookends to this story tell us that yes, this is going to be more about than a family, but it’s not less than that.
And in between those bookends, we have a narrative which is comprised of seven dialogues. As is usually true in Hebrew narrative, the dialogues are all between just two people. When you think about it, it is hard to think in the Old Testament stories where there is dialogue with multiple, you know, three, four groups of people at the same time. It’s almost always in pairs.
And so we have seven dialogues: Isaac and Esau, Rebekah and Jacob, Isaac and Jacob, Isaac and Esau, Rebekah and Jacob, Rebekah and Isaac, and then finally Isaac and Jacob.
Our outline is very simple. We’re going to work through reading each of those seven narratives, giving some explanatory points along the way, and then we will finish by drawing out three lessons from this story.
So follow along as I read, and here we are in chapter 27, verse 1, with the first of these seven dialogues between Isaac and Esau.
“When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.””
So here’s Isaac, he’s old, he’s blind. He’s still controlled by his physical appetites. It’s really a sad picture of Isaac, nearing the end of his days. Now we know he actually goes on to live quite a bit longer, but he doesn’t know, and he’s still controlled by his physical appetite. He’s thinking about food. And so he says, “Esau, I want you to go out, take your weapons, your quiver, your bow, go out, field, hunt game.” Many men are going to say in the weeks ahead, “See, it’s right there in the Bible. I gotta go hunting.” But it is Esau, so, you know, it’s, you got some pluses, you got some minuses.
It raises the question, did Isaac know what the Lord had said to Rebekah? We’re never quite told, remember back in chapter 25, the Lord said to her two nations are in your womb, and the younger will be over the older, the older will serve the younger. Did that get passed on? Did Rebekah share that with Isaac? We don’t know. Surely he must have known about what we read at the end of chapter 25, namely Esau selling his birthright. That would have been hard to have kept secret all these years. Surely that was known. But we’re never exactly told.
But the picture here is not flattering, because Isaac proceeds along the same path he’s always been on. Whatever had happened, whatever promises had been given, whatever exchange had been made with the birthright, Isaac is still thinking, “This is my favorite son and I love this son because he gets me the yum yum. He gets me all the good food that I like and he gets me the meat just the way I like it, and I want to eat and I want to bless him.”
We come to the second dialogue, between Rebekah and Jacob. Verse 5.
“Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord before I die.’ Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me.””
“So he went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved. Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.”
Rebekah is really the principal actor in this story, but unfortunately her actions are unprincipled. Perhaps it’s not incidental that after this story she drops off almost entirely from the book of Genesis. We know that she’s buried in the cave of Machpelah, but strangely her death is not mentioned. Instead, Genesis 35:8 mentions the death of her nurse, Deborah, so might there be some reason that here Rebekah, who shows herself to be a very strong woman, and yet as she is the principal character here, she is unprincipled, and so we don’t hear from her.
The risk, as she conceives of this plan, is great for Jacob, and Jacob’s initially nervous, not so much because he perhaps has a heart that’s sensitive to the Lord, but he understands that I am conducting myself in order to get the blessing in a way that is really deserving of the curse. “This is high risk, high reward, Mom. If this goes wrong and let me tell you how it can go wrong. Have you ever looked? Have you noticed how smooth my skin is? Have you seen Esau? See what a furry guy he is when he’s at the beach? You see that?”
This is going to go really bad, and so mom says, “I got it. I’ll figure it out. I got his clothes. Put this on, you’ll be furry. Don’t worry about it. And if anything goes bad, okay, I’ll take the curse.”
Next, scene three. Isaac and Jacob. Verse 18.
“So he went in to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands. So he blessed him. He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” Then he said, “Bring it near to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.” So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank.”
“Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said,
“See, the smell of my so is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed! May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!””
So despite God’s Word to Rebekah and despite the exchange of food for the birthright, Isaac is still intent on blessing Esau. Esau is his firstborn, his favored son, but as we see in a comedy of errors, he gives Abraham’s promised blessing by mistake to the younger son Jacob.
Now we know that this was God’s foreordained plan, but this was not the means that God desired for the plan to be carried out. Jacob is a deceiver. Look at verse 19. We’ve moved away from Abraham sort of convincing himself, “Well, she’s my sister, after all, she’s kind of a half-sister” to Isaac lying about his wife and now we have absolute deception. “Who are you?” “Mmm, I am Esau.” There’s no way to spin that. That’s not just truth-adjacent, that is a lie.
First lie is a deception. The second lie is blasphemy, taking the Lord’s name in vain, verse 20: “How did you get this done so quickly?” He brings the Lord’s name into his lie. “Well, the Lord your God, Yahweh, granted me success.” It is to compound his sin in deception that now he blasphemes the name of the Lord and claims that the reason this has happened so quickly is because of the Lord’s favor. He’s multiplied his offense.
The focus here has shifted from the birthright to the blessing. If you go back to chapter 25 you can see the focus there is on the birthright. We see it in verses 31, 32, 33, 34, all about the birthright. Now we have the blessing. We see it in verse 12, verse 35, verse 36, verse 41. The Hebrew words almost sound alike. It’s actually a fortuitous event in the English language that our words “birthright” and “blessing” also start with the same letter, because in Hebrew “birthright” is “bekorah” and “blessing” is “berakah.” You can hear that they almost sound identical, bekorah, berakah. Birthright and blessing were overlapping ideas but they were not identical.
The birthright went to the child, usually the firstborn son, who was to receive the material inheritance. The birthright was about who would receive the possessions, or the lion’s share of the possessions. That’s the birthright and it normally went to the firstborn son, and we’ve already seen how Jacob schemed to get that inheritance birthright.
The blessing was the patriarch’s prerogative to project into the future what would happen to the son and his family. So the blessing in one sense is more ambiguous, but also more important.
The birthright has to do with physical, material inheritance and possessions. The blessing has to do with what is going to become of this man and of his family.
And you notice, in verses 28 and 29, Jacob, or rather Isaac, calls for three things for Jacob in the blessing.
Number one – may God give you prosperity. That’s verse 28. The dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, grain and wine.
You know, we would say, “May you have houses and cars and bank accounts full of money. May you be blessed with prosperity.”
Number two: May Jacob have prominence over the nations and over his brothers. That’s the first part of verse 29.
And then the third part of the blessing is the reciprocation at the end of verse 29, “Cursing upon those who curse you, blessing upon those who bless you.”
So there’s threefold to this blessing: Prosperity, prominence, and reciprocation.
Now before we go to the next scene, notice something here that surely is deliberate. The picture that’s painted of Isaac is of a man who is completely at his wit’s end. He’s a weak man. And how do we see that? Notice all five of his senses have failed him in this debacle. Well, his sight. We know that he can’t see anymore. That’s what starts this all. But then his taste. Well, his taste buds are what led him into this mess in the first place, because he favored Esau because he liked the taste of the food, and that’s what led him, “I want to bless you and I want one more of your great meals from your hunting.” So his sight has failed him, his taste has led him astray.
His touch has deceived him. He comes and he touches the hands of his son, but he’s fooled and he concludes that it’s Esau when it’s really Jacob. And then his ears, his ears are the only thing that actually work. He says, “Ah, it is the voice of Esau [sic]” but he allows his other senses to override his sense of hearing and he says, “Well, I guess I must be hearing incorrectly because the voice is Esau but the hands are, you know, vice versa, Jacob, but it’s Esau.” My speech is failing me.
And then finally, as if that’s not enough, look at verse 27, even his sniffer gets in the mix. “He came near and kissed him and Isaac smelled the smell of his garments.” Remember, he’s wearing Esau’s clothes, and he says, “Mmm, you smell like my son.”
His sight, his taste, his touch, his hearing, his smell… All five senses have let him down.
The picture is of a weak man, thoroughly duped by his conniving wife and son, but more than that, he’s also fooled by his own passions, his own appetites, and as we’ll see at the very conclusion, the contrast here is meant to show us this is when you live your life controlled by your five senses.
What’s the alternative? To live a life controlled by faith.
I’m going to go by what I can hear and see and touch and smell, my five senses. They fail him catastrophically, because he is no longer living the life of faith that he should have lived.
We come to the fourth scene, the dialogue between Isaac and Esau. Verse 30.
“As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting.”
You can almost see this playing out in a film or in a play, that Esau has rushed back with success from his hunt, and as he’s ready to go in, he sort of sees Jacob go out and sort of curious, “What were you doing in there? Why are you wearing my clothes? Why do you have those silly goat skins on your hands? But never mind.” And he rushes in and what he finds is devastating.
“He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.”
“Then Isaac his father answered and said to him: “Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck.””
In every way, it is a pitiful scene. It’s pitiful to hear father having been duped and oldest son having been tricked, and it’s also full of pity in that our hearts can’t help but grieve with Esau and his grief. He weeps, but not with tears of genuine repentance, but with bitter tears of regret and loss. He wants what he gave away and cannot have.
This is what is meant by Hebrews 12:17, which says, “After Esau desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected for he found no chance to repent though he sought it with tears.”
That’s a hard verse to get. It almost sounds like Esau was saying, “I’m so sorry. Would you forgive me for my sins?” and God says, “No, I won’t forgive you.” But that’s not what is meant. The key is to understand that repentance there is really thinking of worldly grief, regret.
It’s in the Lord’s providence that tonight is 2 Corinthians chapter 7, which makes this important distinction.
What Esau has here is not a regeneration where he says, “Oh, I’ve sinned against the Lord. I’ve been such a fool in my life. God, have mercy on me.” No, it’s what is all too human for us. A profound sense of regret, “My life has been ruined. I ruined it, my brother ruined it. Father, don’t you have something left for me?” It’s a worldly grief. It’s a profound sense of regret, and Hebrews tells us what we read in Genesis 27 that no, the blessing had already been given to Jacob and Isaac has nothing left for his firstborn son except in verses 39 and 40 what we might call an anti-blessing.
If not a curse, it is surely an ironic sort of blessing. Your blessing is to be away from the fatness of the earth, away from the dew of heaven, just as we read in verses 27 and 28 that Jacob will delight in God’s provision from heaven, so Esau will be far from it. He will live the sword, he will serve his brother, he will go restless and break the yoke from his neck. All that his father has left for him is anti-blessing.
It’s hard for us to understand and this is a cultural moment. It’s also a spiritual blessing, so we don’t want to think, those of you who have many siblings, that your dad can only really give good to one of you. And in fact, we see later that Jacob has a variety of different blessings for his children. But here, this one blessing of the Lord’s favor that would go from Abraham to Isaac can only fall on one son, and it falls on Jacob instead of Esau.
Quickly, as we come to the end of the story, the fifth scene is with Rebekah and Jacob, verse 41.
“Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” But the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah. So she sent and called Jacob her younger son and said to him, “Behold, your brother Esau comforts himself about you by planning to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice. Arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away — until your brother’s anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him. Then I will send and bring you from there. Why should I be bereft of you both in one day?””
Esau utterly hates Jacob, and he comforts himself with the thought that, “My dad’s not going to live forever. I won’t do this to dad, but once dad is gone, I’ll get my chance to murder my treacherous little brother.”
But Rebekah is once again looking out for Jacob, so she sends him back to the homeland, a long journey away up to the north and to the east, into the land of Assyria and there he will be safe and she says, “Just stay a little while. Your brother’s anger will pass and then I’ll send for you and you can come home.”
The sixth scene is in verse 46, the dialogue with Rebekah and Isaac.
“Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I loathe my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women like these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?””
We should have anticipated this remark from chapter 26:34 and 35. We already know that Esau’s wives were a great thorn in the side for his parents.
But Rebekah’s doing something more here. She’s using this as a convenient excuse because how else do you explain sending your son on what might be a months’ long journey far away to your brother, what other reason could he have for going there? So she says, “Oh, you know, Isaac, how much these Hittite women are just driving me mad. I hate my life because of them, so we better send Jacob away and he better get a wife from my family.”
And then finally the seventh scene is the dialogue with Isaac and Jacob.
“Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women. Arise, go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take as your wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” Thus Isaac sent Jacob away. And he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother.”
“Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women,” and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram. So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father, Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.”
The theme in this last section should not be difficult to find. Five times we see the word “blessing,” verses 1, 3, 4, and then two times in verse 6. What we have here is Jacob officially, publicly designated as the true heir of Abraham’s blessing. It could not be any clearer.
And then there is a final contrast between Jacob and Esau. You notice verse 7, “Jacob obeyed his father and mother.” He was a trickster, but at least in this matter he obeyed his father and mother and went back to Haran to find himself a wife, which in one last pitiful act prompts Esau. You can understand the human emotion of it.
Here’s a man, “My mother has never been crazy about me, but my dad likes me, but he likes me for my food and they can’t stand my wives and Jacob’s doing the right thing, so let me see if I can make this right, and I’ll get a wife among my own people.”
And did you notice, not surprisingly, Esau, Isaac’s favorite, goes to his dad’s side of the family to get a wife, to his brother, while Jacob, who’s Rebekah’s favorite, goes to his mom’s side of the family. So even there the favoritism is playing out in where they go to find a wife from their own family.
And so we have the story of Jacob not only stealing and cheating the birthright but the blessing.
Finally, then, as we draw to a close, let me give you three lessons from this sordid tale of rivalry, favoritism, and deceit.
Here’s the first lesson, and I hope it’s obvious: This is not how a family is supposed to function.
All of the characters are at fault. It is like a good Russian novel in that way. Isaac is controlled by his stomach, he plays favorites. Esau made an oath. Remember he made an oath to Jacob and he breaks that. Esau ends the story a bitter, spiteful brother, ready to kill. Rebekah and Jacob go about their plot with deception and blasphemy. All four members of this family come out at the end of this story looking even worse.
And we’d like to say that they’re not a normal family, but sadly they are sort of a normal family. They’re what real sinful families are too often like.
This story would be comical if it weren’t so tragic. It’s like one of those old-timey movies where there’s a, you know, a mad caper and everyone is hunting for the buried treasure, or looking for the money, and It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World or however “mads” there are in that title, and they’re all looking for it and it’s a series of happenstances and catastrophes and comical events.
Well, this would be comical if it weren’t so tragic. It’s all about who’s going to find the blessing. The blessing is Isaac’s to give, and Esau wants it, but Rebekah wants it for Jacob, and Esau’s upset for losing it, and Jacob schemes to get it, and Isaac gives it to the wrong person by accident. It is a comedy of errors.
This is not the way family is supposed to work. Sadly, it’s how families sometimes do operate.
Have you noticed, maybe this is significant, in each of these scenes, you never have the family all together. That’s part of the problem. Don’t you, reading from the outside, just want to say, “Would you four just sit down and talk this out? Come on.” They only have two people ever talking and then someone overhearing and then someone else and then they’re plotting behind the scenes.
In a healthy family what would have happened? Well, the wife would talk to the husband, “Honey, remember, did I tell you about the dream and about what the Lord told me about the older will serve the younger? Remember what happened with the birthright? What are you doing here?” She would have talked to him. The son would have talked to his father. The brothers would have talked to each other. But ever since mom and dad had their favorites, there was trouble.
And do you see here what’s happened to this marriage? Remember chapter 24, a marriage literally made in heaven. It was God’s providential design, such a beautiful picture of Rebekah there coming and their eyes meet for the first time and she covers herself and they go into the tent and their husband and wife. It began so romantically. And it’s deteriorated so considerably. By this point Rebekah is manipulative, complaining, she usurps her husband’s authority, and Isaac for his part is weak, governed by his passions, he does lead in a God-ward direction, he’s most concerned about just getting his favorite food to eat. It is unfortunately a marriage pattern that has played itself out myriad of times in history.
Now to be sure, there are all sorts of ways to be bad husbands and be bad wives, and there are abusive, authoritarian husbands and we condemn that. Scripture condemns it in the strongest terms possible.
What we have here, however, is also very common, and you have Rebekah, who instead of talking to her husband. We don’t know happened over the years. What happened to get to this point where they just, where the wife is just scheming behind her husband’s back? What happened that she wouldn’t sit down and say, “Honey, we gotta talk about what’s going on here with the sons.”
At some point, what began so romantically has deteriorated. So she’s conniving, she’s scheming, she’s deceiving. She’s not showing respect, she’s not showing reverence to her husband.
And Isaac is like too many husbands. He’s weak. He should be taking the lead. He should have long ago said, “Rebekah, we gotta go for a walk here, or let’s ride camels together for a while. What’s going on? Okay. We can all see it. The boys can see it. I like Esau, you like Jacob. We gotta figure this thing out. This is going in a bad direction. Honey, we got to talk about this. Tell me what’s happening.”
What went wrong that this family has disintegrated like this? So that the husband now, he’s not thinking about spiritual things, he’s not leading his family in faith. He’s like too many husbands, he’s just, you know, you can be passionate about food, football, fishing, the three F’s, that’s what you got.
Not faith. Not leading his family. This scenario has played out over and over again. Here you have an unhappy family. Why? They don’t talk about things in the open. You don’t see them together. They don’t communicate. There’s no repentance. There’s no forgiveness. One of the sons has entered into unwise marriages.
This is sadly all too common. This is not the way families are supposed to function, and if you find yourself resonating with too many of these elements, would you at least take the simple first step and that is to talk? “Hey, what is going on? I love you.”
And men, this is what it means, this is part of being the head of the household, is you need to take that relational leadership and say, “What’s going on? Can we just talk about this? Honey, I want to see that we don’t end up like Isaac and Rebekah, because we started like Isaac and Rebekah, I don’t want to end up like Isaac and Rebekah.” You gotta talk to each other. You gotta be in the same place. You gotta be sitting down, you have to be communicating. This is not the way a family is supposed to function.
Number two: God’s sovereign purposes cannot be thwarted.
We see that lesson here. You see, they should have trusted. Rebekah is panicking because she knows the promise. Jacob is going to get the birthright and the blessing. She knows that. But instead of trusting God’s sovereign, she takes things into her own hands. They should have trusted. “Okay, I don’t see how, but God somewhere, sometime, somehow is going to get this done.”
And so looking back we can see why Rebekah, why Jacob, did you do it this way? God’s plans were not going to be overturned. He can do it in His own time, in His own way.
Kids, you ever had that with a parent who promises you something? Maybe a special treat at the end of the day, or a special trip, and you go through the day and you’re waiting and you keep bugging them about it and asking them about it, and it seems like they’ve forgotten about it, and you have no idea. They really said it was going to be some special treat and it never happens and you’re continuing in your own head to think about, well, you’re going to have to do this for mom and dad ’cause they’re never going to do it. They’re not going to be true to your promise, and then sure enough at the last moment of the day, you know, grandma or grandpa or some friend, some special person flew in and surprise, they’re here on your birthday. Oh, it really did happen. I should have trusted that they had a way to make this happen.
If we can do that even with our imperfect parents, how much more should we with our perfect heavenly Father?
See, it comes down to this. When you look at what God’s doing in your life, or doing in the church, or doing in the country, or whatever your view is, do you believe, really believe He’s smarter than you? Do you believe He’s better than you? Do you believe He’s bigger than you?
Because if He really is smarter and better and bigger and stronger, then okay, even though Isaac’s sending out Esau to get his food, and this looks like the blessing’s going to the wrong place, God, you’re going to figure it out. God’s sovereign plans cannot be thwarted.
And then a final lesson, which is really the flipside: We should not seek to accomplish God’s ends by the world’s means.
The ends do not justify the means. We can look back and say, “Well, God is sovereign and look, there it is. Jacob got the blessing, just like he was supposed to, just like God had planned.” But this was not the way that Jacob and Rebekah were supposed to go about it. Jacob, the supplanter, the grasper, the deceiver. He reached for this blessing on his own time on his own terms.
And notice although Jacob will receive the blessing, just as God had purposed, yet he also reaps the negative consequences of his actions. The chosen family would reap the appropriate fruit for trying to accomplish God’s ends through their own means. The family would suffer.
And just as Exodus will later tell us, that God will visit the iniquity of the father to the third and fourth generation, now that’s not a mathematical formula, but it’s a generalization, you see that here. The sin was evident in Isaac’s generation, it was evident in Jacob’s generation, down to Joseph and his brothers’ generation until they finally ended up in Egypt, three or four generations.
We see the same thing when David sinned. It affected David and his generation, it meant that his infant son died, it meant conflict with Absalom and the half-brothers and that generation, and then the third generation of Rehoboam and then after that the kingdom is divided. To the third and the fourth generation.
Rebekah would never see her beloved Jacob again. There is a sadness here. She says, “Go away to my brother. Get a wife. It’ll be a short time and I’ll come and send people and you’ll come back.” He never sees his mother again.
Jacob, who was supposed to be the one to inherit the great estate of his father, has to run out of home with barely a staff, let alone his inheritance. And the conflict between Jacob and Esau is only postponed by his fleeing.
And so we see that though they get what God has purposed, the blessing, they also get a whole lot of trouble with it.
And for the rest of this book, we will see trouble enveloping and enfolding this chosen family, and here is where it went off the rails.
You want something good in your life, I know. There’s many of you. You have a good desire. You want a spouse, you want a baby, you want to provide for your family. Maybe you’re a ministry leader, you want the church to grow or you want your country to turn back to God. Or you want justice in your life. You want good things. Those are good things.
But friends, the ends do not justify the means. We ought not go at those good ends by whatever means we can devise. We should not seek to accomplish God’s good ends by the world’s wrong means. You must trust God in His timing, in His way, somewhere, somehow, sometime He will be true to His Word.
We will see later in chapter 32, Jacob wrestling with the angel of God until he gets a blessing from God. So you see, it’s not bad that you want a blessing. That’s the whole point of Genesis, isn’t it? To get a blessing. But the blessing comes by faith, not by sight.
And this is the lesson reinforced over and over. How am I going to have a child in my very old age? Well, you’re going to have to believe. It’s by faith, not by sight. How will this child, whom I’m about to kill, be brought back from the dead? Well, it’s by faith, not by sight. How is this blessing, which is supposed to go to Jacob but right now is in danger of going to Esau, how will this happen? Well, you have to live by faith, not by sight.
That all of the promises are yes and amen in Christ. Cling to Him, run to Him, depend upon Him. Seeking God on His terms, in His time, in His way will always bring to us God’s blessings and God’s fruit and God’s favor.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, thank you for Your Word for all that we see about ourselves, our families here. Would You work in our families? Lord, surely some of us, we’re on this dangerous path, so we take comfort to know that even the chosen family here was a mess, and so our families can be so messy as well. Forgive us, save us, get us talking, get us looking away from the past and the sins and the hurts and looking toward Christ, from whom all blessings flow. In His name we pray. Amen.