Genesis 27—The Original Soap Opera
The bulk of the book of Genesis is concerned with the family of Abraham. In fact, Moses wrote Genesis 12 through 50 to explain to Israel their roots as God’s chosen people. God originally chose Abraham to reveal Himself to the world, and God continued to make the same promises to Abraham’s descendants, notably Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Although most people would assume that these “chosen people” would be of the highest integrity and moral character, the stories in Genesis reveal that they are all too human. Lying and deceiving was every bit a part of their stories as it is with all other people. In fact, we find that Abraham’s family perfectly represents the fallen human race that needs a Savior in the worst way. Fortunately for them (and us), God’s most important promise to Abraham is that one of his descendants would be a blessing to the whole world, and the New Testament makes clear He was talking about Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16). Right now, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph are all in heaven because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and definitely not their veracity and high moral character. One of the most interesting and entertaining of these stories about Abraham’s family can be found in Genesis 27, and I believe it was the original soap opera from which all the modern day soap operas get their plot.
The Traditional Birthright and Patriarchal Blessing
As was the case with Abraham and Sarah before them, we learn in Genesis 25:19-34 that Isaac’s wife Rebekah was barren. Therefore Isaac went to God in prayer, and the Lord answered him and they conceived twin boys—not identical but fraternal twins. The point is that this would be yet another miraculous work of God. Early on Rebekah felt a struggle going on within her between the two boys. It must have been painful for her, and she was no doubt concerned, so again she went to the Lord in prayer. He graciously answered her with a prophecy about the relationship between the two boys, which dominates Genesis 27-36. Conflicts between brothers, is a reoccurring theme throughout the Old Testament, and is a continuous reminder of the consequences of the original sin in Genesis 3. The oracle in Genesis 25:23, prepares us for the important role that Jacob and his sons will have in the rest of Genesis. The traditional birthright always went to the first-born son, but God was saying that by His choice the younger son Jacob would rule over the older Esau. The birthright could be broken down into material blessings, spiritual blessings, and political/military blessings. Traditionally, the oldest got a double share of the material inheritance, and the oldest would be the Patriarch of the family who would rule over, protect, and operate the family business. Nevertheless, God is not subject to human conventions, and man’s tradition does not determine God’s grace. People may base their choices on money, status, talent, and physical attributes, but God’s grace recognizes none of those. God’s prophecy about these twins meant that the two boys would not only be in conflict, but they would become two nations that were historically in conflict. Throughout the rest of the Bible, the descendants of Esau became the nation of Edom to the south of Israel who would be a perpetual thorn in Israel’s side. Israel would be greater, more powerful, and be blessed by God, but the conflict would continue. It is interesting to find out that Herod the Great, who was named the king over Israel by Rome during the birth of Jesus, was an Edomite. In Matt. 2:16, Herod sent his soldiers to Bethlehem to kill the baby Jesus.
In Genesis 25:25-34, we have the birth of the twins and a great contrast is given between the boys both as to appearance and lifestyle. Esau was red and hairy so they named him Red and hairy or in Hebrew Esau. Jacob came right behind Esau holding onto Esau’s foot trying to pull Esau back and get in front of him. Therefore they named him “heel catcher”, or Jacob in Hebrew. By this they meant he was trying to supplant or supersede his brother. In time, the name Jacob would come to mean “deceiver”. In Genesis 25:27, the contrast of the two boys continues. Esau was a “macho man”, an outdoorsman who was skilled in hunting and fishing, while Jacob was a quiet guy who stayed close to home, like a Momma’s boy. In my imagination I see Esau as a High School football hero, while Jacob stayed home practicing on the piano. When they watched TV, Esau watched “Yukon Men” or “Swamp People”, while Jacob watched Oprah and the cooking channel. More important to the story is that the parents Isaac and Rebekah promoted their favorites among the boys. Our first example of their differences is in 25:29-34. Isaac was like the father who lives vicariously through his son’s exploits, so he liked Esau best; but Rebekah liked Jacob best. At this point, before we choose sides, it is important that before they were even born, God chose Jacob to be the child of the promise through whom He would bless the world. Paul, with great hyperbole, made that clear in Romans 9:11-12 by quoting God in Malachi 1:2-3, “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I hated”. Before you flip out that God could hate someone, you must realize that Malachi was predicting the fate of the two nations Israel and Edom. Because Edom had done great evil in God’s sight, He was going to righteously judge them.
In Gen.25:29-34, we see our first glimpse of the character of the two boys as young men. Esau comes home from a trip famished and begged Jacob for the stew that he made. Jacob, sensing an opportunity at Esau’s weakness, traded him the stew for Esau’s birthright. The text says that this proved Esau’s lack of regard for the birthright, but truth be known, we will find out that Esau wanted his cake and eat it too. Esau was impetuous and didn’t think things through, only living for self- gratification, and later would renege on that deal. We should not miss that there are no heroes here, because God had already promised the birthright to Jacob, yet he ran ahead of God to manipulate what God had promised. This begs the question, “Can you steal what God has promised to give you?”
No Heroes in this Story
The fact is that if given a choice between the two sons of Isaac, we might all choose Esau. Esau was athletic, virile, and tough; but Jacob was devious, a schemer, and a momma’s boy. Genesis 26: 34-35 gives us some insight into Esau’s character when we read that against his parents wishes he married not one, but two Canaanite women who were no doubt pagan idol worshippers. Hebrews 12:16-17 confirms this as a major problem by teaching that Esau was “an immoral godless person who sold his birthright for a single meal”, and “when he desired to (still) inherit the blessing, he was rejected (by God), for he did not repent.” Not only did Esau not deserve the spiritual blessing, but God had determined before they were ever born that Jacob would be the child of the promise and not Esau. Therefore you have both the responsibility of man and the sovereignty of God at work. Many struggle to understand Paul’s point of view that God chose Jacob over Esau before they were ever born (Romans 9:11), but the Bible’s point of view is different than man’s. The Bible points out that no one is deserving, and therefore the amazing thing is really why and how God showered Jacob with His grace.
In Genesis 27:1-4, in spite of God’s prophecy and Esau selling his birthright, Isaac decided that he was going to give the blessing to Esau. The birthright ceremony would normally have been a celebration with everyone invited, but here Isaac was secretive, so this is one way we know that Isaac knew that Rebekah and Jacob would have protested and prevented it. Imagine him trying to keep it a secret at the same time she was shadowing him and listening in on all his conversations. Isaac called Esau in, and told him that since he was very old and might die soon, Esau should go out and hunt up some of Isaac’s favorite wild game for the ceremony. We also learn here that Isaac was practically blind at that time, and I imagine his other senses were dulled as well. Rebekah was listening in on all this, and she hatched a plan of her own to counteract Isaac. In Gen.27:5-17, Rebekah told Jacob to bring in two choice goats, and she would prepare them in such a way that they would taste like Isaac’s favorite meal. Then she got some of Esau’s smelly clothes for Jacob to wear, and even put goat hair on Jacob’s hands and arms so he would feel like Esau. I imagine they also practiced for Jacob to speak like Esau with a deep macho voice, which was the one part of the plan that didn’t work. All this elaborate plan was to deceive Isaac, and get him to bless Jacob and not Esau.
If you are like me and think that this seems like an absurd story that they could trick Isaac, then consider the greater absurdity that they believed they could help God, and run ahead of God, and steal what God had promised to give. I’m guessing that the carnal plan worked in the short run because Isaac’s senses were dulled and he was throwing down a lot of wine (v.25). If you have any doubt that what they did was wrong, then notice that Jacob lied three times, and the second time he even used God’s name to verify his veracity. Therefore, let’s recap this story and try to identify the heroes. Esau was a lustful self-indulgent fornicator, a godless bigamist that had no regard for his birthright, and he reneged. Isaac had a blatant disregard for God’s will, played favorites with his sons, and deceived his own wife. Rebekah was sneaky, nosy, scheming, a liar, and tried to take what God had promised to give. Jacob was also a liar and deceiver, and profanely used God’s name. The problem was they all believed the blessing and birthright were Isaac’s to give.
The Domestic Fraud
Enough of their sneaky plan worked to convince Isaac he was blessing Esau when he was really blessing Jacob. I think the great food and guzzling wine overcame his doubts. Jacob had “supplanted” Esau. In verse 28-29 we can read the nature of the blessing. It was the blessing of becoming the master of the house and family business, and that he would “be the master of your brothers”. It was also the blessing and promises of God being passed from Isaac to Jacob. In Gen.27:30-43, we find out that all their immediate plans were thwarted by God. Esau lost his supposed birthright, Isaac blessed Jacob instead of Isaac’s favorite son, and Jacob had to flee 450 miles away to Haran where he had to live as a servant for 20 years. Rebekah never saw Jacob again. One question that Esau had as well as we might ask, why couldn’t Isaac change it, dump Jacob, and re-give the blessing to Esau? I think that it is clear in the discussion of Isaac and Esau that Isaac was then convicted that this was God’s will that the blessing go to Jacob. He knew that in spite of his previous desires, it was the providence of God that Jacob be the child of the promise. Hebrews 11:20 confirms this by saying, “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau”. The blessings on Esau refer to what Isaac said after the seismic shock of what had happened sunk in. God led Isaac to give a prophecy and blessing to Esau in Genesis 27:39-40 that Esau would settle outside of Canaan and free himself of his brother’s rule.
Sow the Wind, Reap the Whirlwind
Everyone wanted the blessings of God without submitting to God, so everyone lost, but somehow God would make it all work for good. The consequences of Jacob’s deceit were that Esau vowed to kill him, and Esau was not the guy that Jacob wanted to tangle with, so Jacob had to flee for his life and take refuge with his Uncle Laban up in Haran. Hebrews 12 tells us that God disciplines who He loves, and Jacob certainly received the discipline by spending 20 years with his crooked Uncle Laban. Esau had reinterpreted Jacob’s name to mean deceiver, but Jacob would spend 20 years getting deceived by Laban. Sin always takes you further than you want to go, keeps you longer than you want to stay, and costs you more than you want to pay. Nevertheless, all of God’s promises of blessing would eventually come to Jacob, which begs the question, “How could God allow this deceiver to succeed? We see in most of the Bible stories that God may allow success in sin because He has a greater lesson to teach at another time. None of us gets an immediate response from God every time we sin, therefore sin may seem to bring temporary success, but success in sin is always short lived. Jacob’s deception seemed to be successful because he got the birthright, but the deceiver would live 20 years with a greater deceiver until Jacob was humbled, submitted to God and returned to follow His will.