Isaac tells his oldest son Esau to go hunting and make a meal of wild game for him. Over that meal he wanted to give Esau his blessing. Esau leaves to go hunting. As soon as he leaves his mother Rebekah sends his brother Jacob in to pose as Esau. She wants to trick Isaac into blessing Jacob instead (Isaac is old and his eyes are failing). So Isaac falls for it and Jacob walks away with Esau’s blessing. Esau comes back in and both he and his father discover the trick Jacob pulled on them. Jacob gives Esau what is essentially a curse and Esau leaves plotting to kill Jacob. Rebekah gets wind of it (she seems to hear and know everything going on in the house) and sends Jacob away to her relatives.
GET READY TO BLESS (1-4)
Isaac is very old now and he wants to bless his son Esau. This is a special moment for Isaac the father and his eldest – who is also his favorite son. (No doubt Esau has been looking forward to this blessing since he foolishly traded away his birthright). Isaac instructs him to go hunt and prepare a meal and serve it to him. Isaac loved to eat the wild game that Esau hunted. Could there be a better way to give his blessing than over a delicious meal from his son’s hand?
It’s interesting how the blessing would take place: privately and verbally. It wasn’t written down like a will. Isaac didn’t have a large feast with everyone attending and publicly give his blessing to Esau in their presence. It was done privately one on one. Over a shared meal. Then Isaac would set his utensils down, push his plate away, wipe his mouth, sit back and then look at his son and speak his blessing to him.
So Esau leaves on cloud nine no doubt and Isaac rests while waiting for his son to return for their moment.
What is “the blessing?” Just exactly what is happening here? Is the blessing the same as the Abrahamic covenant? Is the blessing the same as the birthright? Are all 3 of these things one and the same? At first it seems so. But looking again these are all three different things: the Abrahamic covenant, the birthright and the blessing.
We can ask: “How are the birthright and the blessing different?” First, because the chapter treats them as distinct in verse 36. Esau complains that he has been cheated twice by Jacob, first for the birthright and now for the blessing. If the birthright and blessing were one and the same then he would not have been cheated twice but only once.
The other reason is because the substance of the two are different. The birthright appeared to be the material possessions and assets, and whatever honors go along with that. His “double portion” of material and status blessings was to be enjoyed in his own remaining lifetime. The blessing however involves his legacy and what would become of his name and his descendents. It seems that the blessing was larger in scale and more than just well-wishes. It was prophetic. (27:27-29…compare 48:15-20 and 49:1-28)
Neither of these are equivalent to the Abrahamic promises and covenant. For two reasons. First, the blessing and the birthright are things the father gives to the son. But the Abrahamic covenant is something God gives to the son. We see birthrights and blessings happening all the time in Scripture, one man giving them to another man, a father to his son and so on. But the Abrahamic Covenant is all God. It’s his choice, which means Isaac could not confer those covenant promises to Esau. And remember that God had already chosen the younger Jacob, as 25:23 says. Turn there with me….. (and Romans 9:10-12). The other thing to remember is that the substance of the Abramic covenant is specific: land, descendents, Messiah, all nations blessed, etc. There are similarities, but the specifics distinguish them.
So Esau leaves and heads out hunting.
REBEKAH’S RUSE (5-17)
Next we see Rebekah’s Ruse. Follow along in verses 5-17 with me…
So while Isaac and Esau are talking Rebekah is eavesdropping. Rebekah is Isaac’s wife and Esau’s mother. As soon as Esau leaves she finds Jacob and fills him in on her plan. She wants Jacob to get the blessing rather than her other son – whom she also carried for 9 months and whom she also birthed, and whom she also nursed and raised. Remember though in 25:28 it said, “Isaac loved Esau but Rebekah loved Jacob.” So on one hand you have to admire the woman going after all she can get for her boy. Still, deceiving your husband like that? Robbing your own son, your own flesh and blood like that?
Yesterday Annie and I and a couple kids were talking about this passage and I said, “Man, there were some marital issues going on there.” And Annie said, “Maybe he shouldn’t have pretended she was his sister.” Ah! Good point isn’t it?! Ah watch out a woman doesn’t forget! But the way Annie said it I had to ask her, “Are you and I okay?”
Now you’ll notice that Jacob does not immediately jump on board. He has to be pushed a little. Rebekah was quite driven in that moment and hard to refuse I imagine. Heck, I think if Jacob refused she would have dressed up herself and gone in to get the blessing. But you’ll notice that it isn’t Jacob’s probity that makes him reluctant. It isn’t the fact that Jacob is struggling with how unethical and immoral the plan is. His deep sense of integrity isn’t what is making him pump the brakes.
No, it was not any of that. Rather it was that Jacob saw the weakness of the plan. He identified right away the one thing that would expose them and blow the whole scheme. He said in verse 11-12, “….” “If you we’re gonna do this and pull it off Mom then we have to come up with a way to make me hairy!” He doesn’t say, “Whoa Mom, are you nuts? That is so wrong. Lying would bring dishonor on us and reflect badly on our God. How could we sin against God and lie like this and treat our own flesh and blood so bad.” That’s not what he said at all! No he liked the idea she came up with. He just pointed out that she needed to fix this one part of the plan.
And of course she’s already on it. She had the food ready to go and his costume. So she gets him all dressed up like Esau, spritzes him with some of Esau’s cologne (probably something manly like “Elk In Rut” or “Campfire Smoke”)…then she shoves a bowl of soup in his hands, turns him around and shoves him into his father’s room.
SUCCESSFUL THEFT (18-29)
Now we see the success of the theft. Follow along in verses 18-29 with me…
Jacob walks in. Isaac no doubt smelled the delicious food and perks up. But he immediately he senses something isn’t right. Two things make him pause. First, it seems his son has returned home from his hunt way too quickly. His hunts normally take longer. So how is it that he is home already? Jacob answers like a skillful liar, “The LORD your God gave me success.” (Which is interesting in how Jacob is now invoking God’s name in this little scheme).
And as soon as he answers the second thing that seems “off” about the situation arises for Isaac: the voice isn’t Esau’s, but that of Jacob. So he has him come close and Isaac touches him. No doubt he was trying to feel for the hair on Esau’s body – a distinguishing mark of his favorite son.
This is the moment of truth! Jacob’s probably wincing and his heart racing… Rebekah is probably in her listening post in the next room listening, holding her breath, fingers crossed….. and as bad as it sounds she was probably praying that her husband Isaac was fooled. Which would mean that like Jacob, she is trying to get God “in” on her little scheme too.
Well it works. Isaac believes the lie. He wolfs down the soup and then gets down to business. In verses 27-29 Isaac gives his blessing – the blessing intended for Esau, the son he thinks he is talking to right now. But in fact it is Jacob who is receiving the blessing.
Isaac began by taking in a big whiff of his son’s outdoor aroma. You can imagine a large smile coming over his face as he closes his eyes, maybe even imagining being in the outdoors again, which he can’t see because of how bad his eyes had become. Maybe the smell stirred up memories of him and Esau’s many outdoor hunts and adventures together.
As a sidebar, isn’t it interesting how all 5 senses are at work in this passage? You have sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Isaac can’t see, but he hears Jacob’s voice, he touches his hairy hands, he tastes the food and he smells his sons aroma. They are all portals of information, delivering delightful sensations in their own unique way. Reading this chapter with its sensory details really is what makes you feel like your in the scene – like you too can touch and taste and smell and hear what’s going on with Isaac.
Anyway: then the next two verses detail the blessing. Verse 28 emphasizes the blessing of material prosperity, “….” Then verse 29 emphasizes the blessing of power and prestige, “….”
Question: Does the blessing really count for Jacob if it was meant for Esau? If Isaac meant for Esau to receive this blessing how could Jacob slip in there and steal it and it stands as done and over and no one could change it? We all are probably sitting here thinking “Well why didn’t Isaac just call Jacob in and have a family meeting, revoke the blessing, give it to Esau and punish Jacob?” How can Isaac mistakenly give the blessing to Jacob and it still stands?
I tried thinking this through and had very little success. I tried consulting the commentaries and had very little success. No one asks the question and therefore no one answers it. But I owe you an attempt at an answer. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try and answer the question. Here’s my answer: Prophecy and Providence.
The blessing is a package of prophecies. And these prophecies therefore do not originate in men, but in God. So somehow God’s hand is in this. Somehow God is at work in this family drama. Let me show you this idea of blessings being prophecies. Because they are.
Notice the focus on the future in verses 29:
- May nations serve you…..no nations served Jacob in his lifetime. It must mean something future beyond Jacob’s own lifetime. It is prophetic.
- Be Lord over your brothers…Jacob had one brother: Esau (Gen 35:29). This must then be indicating that Jacob’s descendents would rule over Esau’s descendents. Keep in mind what God told Rebekah about Jacob and Esau: “the older will serve the younger.” (25:23).
So this is Isaac giving blessing-prophecies regarding his son. Turn to Genesis 48:17-20. Notice that the blessings Jacob gave to Ephraim were prophecies. They concerned Ephraim’s future far beyond his own lifetime and related to what would become of his descendents. Blessings are prophecies.
But if you look right there at chapter 49 verse 1 Jacob has some more “blessing-prophecies”to give. Verse 1 says, “….so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come.” And as you read through chapter 49 at the blessings given to each of his 12 sons you realize these are prophecies about each tribe. Jacob spoke beyond his 12 sons to the descendents of his 12 sons.
What is the point of all this? Well, what I can make of it is that if the blessings being given are in fact prophecies, which they are, then these blessings are being spoken by the Spirit of God. Remember what 2 Peter 1:21 says? Turn there with me and follow along. “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The point is this: these blessings concerning the futures of these individuals are prophecies that don’t come from a man but find their source in God. God is behind these blessings. They are in fact prophecies.
So that is prophecy, now then there is also Providence. God was using this circumstance to further his own purposes. That’s the thing about God: He can take the events in our lives and coordinate them to lead us long to different “destinations” in life. Here we are down here making decisions, living life, choosing paths, going this way and that. And God knows it all – everything we do and will do. And He incorporates it into His own perfect plan to achieve His own perfect purposes. That’s God’s providence.
Now think about the providence of God in this situation like this: God knew Isaac was going to try and bless Esau with those blessings. And if you are paying attention to verse 29 you will notice that Isaac in that moment was trying to make Esau rule over Jacob. Isaac thinks he is talking to Esau when he says, “…lord over your brothers…” But remember God had already said it was the other way around. God already said back when the boys were born that Esau would serve Jacob, not rule over him. In other words, Isaac, knowing all this, was essentially rebelling against God’s revealed plan. He was trying to assert his own plan for the boys over and against God’s. While Isaac was trying to subvert God’s plan God used that exact situation to subvert Isaac’s plan.
Think about this: God was not obligated to protect Isaac from his deceptive wife and son when Isaac himself was not being honest. Isaac was doing with God what Rebekah and Jacob were doing with him. God was not obligated to prevent Isaac’s plans from being foiled when those very plans of Isaac were meant to foil God’s plans! In a way Isaac deserved it for trying to assert his own will for the boys over God’s. I may have mentioned this before: God does not owe protection to anyone who runs unrepentantly and stubbornly in an evil lifestyle. No one who shoves God out of the way to go down immoral and evil paths has any right to expect God to protect them. None.
APPLICATION: It is the height of stupidity to think we are smarter than God. God will not be outwitted. God’s plans are going to happen. No plans can succeed against the LORD Proverbs says. Who can come against Me? God says. Remember that when you look at this world and you’re tempted to think God’s plans aren’t happening. Remember that when you look at your own life and are tempted to think the same thing. Remember that every purpose of God stands and will come to pass.
So that is my best attempt to try and answer the question “How could this ‘accidental’ blessing stand?” On a human level it was accidental. On a divine level it was on purpose.
ESAU’S LOSS (30-41)
Finally we come to Esau’s Loss, verses 30-41…..
So Jacob is in the next tent over taking the goathair off and trying to sneak Esau’s clothes back in his closet. And as he’s doing this Esau goes into Isaac. Both Isaac and Esau realize Jacob stole the blessing through deception. In all the commotion Isaac speaks a prophecy about Esau, which is essentially the opposite of what he told Jacob. So it wasn’t a blessing at all. It was bad news for his future and that of his descendents.
The chapter ends with Esau leaving with murder in his heart towards Jacob. But I have to believe that the rest of the chapter has been lost to history. I really believe there is at least a paragraph that was included in this chapter that we don’t have anymore. I want to know what happened between Isaac and Rebekah after Esau left! Did Isaac suspect she was behind this? Did Isaac rant about Jacob to her and his devious deed and did she defend him…did she tell him her part in the story?! Where is the missing paragraph from this chapter?! 🙂
- Our perfect God uses imperfect people to accomplish His purposes.
- We need to trust God will get done everything He said.
- God is all-wise. No one else is.
- God is under no obligation to protect people who defy Him.