Read Genesis 27:30–28:9
In the first part of Genesis 27 we read of events in a covenant home where no one seems to trust the other members, where parental favoritism sets into motion some very ungodly actions, and where we are embarrassed to think of these people as our spiritual ancestors. Again, we must wonder: why does God even bother with such? Yet He does, because He is rich in mercy. When Isaac had planned to give the covenantal blessing to Esau, his favorite son, Rebekah then counters this with a plan of deception in which Jacob brings the goat-meat dish to his father. Once a suspicious father Isaac has the reasonable assurance that it is Esau who is before him, he pronounces the rich blessing upon his son… Jacob! Isaac believed that this blessing would truly bear its intended fruit as God would fulfill His own word through the blessing.
Deception revealed (27:30–33)
Rebekah and Jacob had to work quickly to prepare their meal of goat meat and to camouflage Jacob with Esau’s clothes and goat skins. What if God had given Esau quick success in the hunt (as Jacob would claim for himself; verse 20)? Indeed, Jacob has barely left his father’s presence when Esau returns from his own hunt. The story reads almost like a soap opera and a cliff-hanger at that. We can only imagine what a scene that would have erupted if Esau had come back even earlier and entered father Isaac’s tent, only to discover twin brother Jacob dressed in disguise!
Esau cooks up a delicious venison dinner (does goat taste like venison, if probably cooked with spices?). He invites his father to the dinner table, so to speak, as he enters the tent. But now comes a tremendous shock to father Isaac as the deception becomes known. Verse 33 says that he trembled violently. It hits Isaac with great force as this reality dawns upon him: he, as covenant head and father, has given the blessing, so full and rich, to someone not his favorite firstborn son, Esau. The deed is done; the word has been spoken, and that oral contact was now legally binding. No turning back now! Isaac tells the equally surprised Esau, “I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed.”
It may very well be the case that Isaac (and Esau as well) are stunned back into reality, God’s reality, at this point. If we may safely assume that Isaac had become aware of the Lord’s prophetic word in Genesis 25:23—although to this point he has acted contrary to it— yet now he must face this stark reality: Jacob, the younger son, has received the great covenant blessing. There is nothing that Isaac can do about it, for in those days one could not say on such an occasion, “Oops! I made a mistake.” Isaac’s words are valid, as today we would say, “That is his signature; it is his handwriting.” Isaac believed that the promised blessing of God would go to the son he blessed. Only, Isaac meant it for Esau, but God’s will is done here: Jacob will receive the blessing. The truth of Proverbs 19:21 is seen in this story: “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Both Isaac and Esau have now been stunned into seeing God’s reality, His truth. But can they handle the truth? How will they handle this truth?
“Though he sought the blessing with tears” (27:34)
If Isaac is stunned by these events, so is Esau. This 77-year old man now bursts into tears. He had wanted this blessing as a lasting confirmation of his father’s love but also as a means to prosper in the future. Esau too was going along with his father’s ungodly scheme, but the news that their plan had ended in ruin brings about this pathetic scene as the enormity of his loss becomes clear to him. Esau sobs because he realizes his dreams for a prosperous future via the blessing were gone.
Read Hebrews 12:16–17. The Word of God warns us to reject immorality and godlessness. Esau is a prime example of godlessness, such covenantal carelessness. He sold his birthright, despising it, rejecting his high calling, privilege, but also his important responsibility. Yet he wanted the material prosperity. In other words, he wanted all the benefits of God’s Kingdom but none of the serious effort. Does this sound familiar in our day as well? Esau had forfeited his claims to the blessing, but he retained a strong sense of entitlement. “Bless me—me too, my father!” he cries.
God’s covenantal rule of His world does not operate this way. All Esau’s sighs and tears will not change this situation. These are not the tears of repentance, a sorrow that leads to godliness. These are the bitter tears of sad disappointment that sweep through the soul of one who has just lost a great fortune.
Esau is left with leftovers (27:35–40)
Isaac sees Jacob’s actions as deceitful (verse 35), and Esau readily agrees. In fact, Esau sees in the meaning of Jacob’s own name (“heel”) the innuendo of deception. The brother who had grabbed the heel at birth, has obtained both the birthright and the blessing. Esau calls his loss of the birthright earlier a deception, but we argued in lesson 2 that there was no deception then. For a bowl of soup, Esau sold his birthright, a foolish deal indeed. Jacob did not deceive him then. But this latest stunt was deception, not of Esau first of all, but of father Isaac.
We should not forget that Esau could enjoy God’s blessing if he now submitted to God’s will as that became apparent in this episode. Jacob has the great patriarchal blessing. If Esau had submitted to Jacob, thanked the Lord for His guiding hand, and lived in obedience to God’s will from now on, he could have enjoyed the Lord’s goodness in the ascendancy of Jacob. Throughout the Old Testament we see again and again that when people keep themselves joined to God’s chosen man or His people, they may share in those blessings. Recall that Lot prospered when he and his herdsmen were close to Abram, but when they separated in Genesis 13, Lot made his way toward the wicked city of Sodom.
Esau begs for whatever blessing his father may have left to give. In his blessing to Esau (verses 39, 40), Isaac uses many phrases from his earlier blessing to Jacob, but now they have a slightly different nuance. The land of Edom would not be as fertile as Canaan would be. The Edomites would be forced to submit to the Israelites, but they would fight back, often revolting against Israel and living in enmity with the Israelites. This “blessing” indicates that the Edomites, Esau’s children, would not be a weak nation, but in the end they would always be a restless nation.
Beware the root of bitterness
It appears that neither Isaac nor Esau find out that Rebekah was the instigator of Jacob’s actions. Isaac does not confront his wife or denounce her, but neither does he blame his younger son or denounce him in anger. In fact, it seems that Isaac submits to the situation, and by Genesis 28 he appears ready to move on. Esau as well does not ask his mother why she did such a thing. Both the reader and Jacob know it, but it may very well be that Isaac and Esau do not know that the deception was Rebekah’s idea.
Instead, Esau holds a grudge against Jacob. But he does not need to act with haste. He can bide his time. He is prepared to wait until his father is dead (which will not occur for 43 more years!). At least Esau wants to spare his father the emotional devastation that would surely follow when brother kills brother. Isaac has shown favoritism to Esau, and Esau is prepared to repay such love by waiting. Ironic, isn’t it: even a cold-blooded murderer can have a streak of kindness, provided it is for a mutual friend or ally.
Bitterness and disappointment can grow roots that sink into the soul. Weeds are easy to uproot when they first appear, but if weeds are neglected and are allowed to grow, the roots sink deeper into the soil, and weeds become more difficult to uproot. The same is true with the roots of bitterness.
Esau hates Jacob. Notice in verse 41 that Esau does not identify Jacob as “my enemy” (which he is in his wicked heart), but he calls him “my brother.” We clearly hear an echo of the Cain and Abel story (and even an echo of Ishmael and Isaac’s conflict in Gen. 21:9). In Genesis 4 we read that two brothers are divided by God’s righteous favor as well as unrighteous jealousy and hatred against the other. Cain killed righteous Abel in cold blood. Esau prepares to do the same to Jacob, the man whom God loves in His covenant. God loves Jacob, not on the basis of Jacob’s actions, but on God’s own sovereign choice, His own mercy.
“Life really is all about me,” is a confession and religious worldview that lives in the hearts of many people, even people who sit in Christian church pews week after week. That attitude of the soul will inevitably lead to disappointment, frustration, and then hatred, especially when events do not go our way, or someone else has something that is just a little better, a little nicer, than what we have. Hatred need not express itself as emotional raging and loud outbursts all the time. Hatred can show itself in a very cool, low-key way that looks for the opportunity to insult, harm or belittle someone. Or, maybe even kill him. Think of how hypocritical Pharisees plotted to attack and destroy our Lord Jesus Christ at an opportune moment. Guard your hearts lest any root of bitterness appear in your soul (cf. Eph. 4:22, 31).
Mother knows best (27:42–26)
Rebekah is informed of Esau’s murderous plot, perhaps by a servant, although we cannot be sure. She moves into action. Her actions here show her again taking the initiative to seek protection for her beloved son Jacob. Earlier Rebekah sprang into activity to enable Jacob to obtain the covenantal blessing, and now again she must strategize in such a way to protect Jacob from her older son Esau, who is seething with hatred. Her words in verse 42 suggest that Esau will not be content (“consoled”) until Jacob is dead. Does Esau think the blessing will then automatically fall to him if Jacob is dead? Does he imagine that he is the “first runner-up” in some kind of covenant blessing contest? Or, does Esau harbor the idea that, “if I can’t have it, then nobody may have it”?
In any case, Rebekah takes charge, and again she tells Jacob to do what she says (verse 43; cf. vv. 8, 13). Jacob must flee to her brother, Uncle Laban, in the Haran region, at the northern part of the Fertile Crescent. Her aim is to allow Esau a “cooling off” period. In her mind, time will heal Esau’s hurt feelings, he’ll forget the whole episode, and then he will be willing to move on. You know: “forgive and forget.” After all, “out of sight” (Jacob gone) will lead to “out of mind” (Esau changing his thinking). If only conflict resolution were that easy.
Rebekah is afraid of losing two of the men in her life (verse 45). It is likely she means that soon after Isaac dies, then Esau will carry out his murderous plot and kill Jacob. Another understanding is that if Esau were to kill Jacob, then the “avenger of blood” would have to execute Esau. Either view seems possible, although I favor the first interpretation.
Rebekah tells a “white lie” to her husband Isaac. She brings up the matter of Esau’s Hittite wives to him. On the surface, her complaint is believable. Genesis 26:35 already told us about the irritation that Esau’s Hittite wives brought to the parents. Yet Rebekah only mentions her own disgust, allowing Isaac to draw the proper conclusion and to give the appropriate directions. Rebekah had said nothing to Jacob about going away to get a wife, but that will be the operative story for anyone who asks why Jacob has left. The presenting story will be, “Jacob is gone to get the proper wife,” but the real story is, “Jacob is fleeing for his life.”
Rebekah has used her wiles to advance Jacob so that he will get both: his life and his wife (actually two wives!). But she will never see Jacob again. Too much time will elapse before an “all-clear signal” can be given, but by then Rebekah will have passed away. That signal in fact will never come.
Jacob sent away with blessing (28:1–9)
When we read these verses, we are struck with the impression that Isaac has come around to accept God’s will in this matter. Jacob is God’s beloved choice. We do not hear any tone of anger or recrimination. True, the issue of getting an acceptable wife is not the real reason that Jacob must leave. Yet he takes his leave with rich words of blessing (again!). Read how many times in verses 1–5 the idea of blessing appears. Jacob receives an even richer expression of blessing here, words embodying the great content of fruitfulness in terms of descendants and possession of the land, “the land God gave to Abraham.” See similar promises in Genesis 15, 17, and 22. Isaac has come around to God’s will.
Esau, on the other hand, thinks that if Jacob is out to get a wife that will please his aged parents, he will take a third wife, one from Ishmael’s family. Has he learned nothing yet? Esau just does not seem “to get it.” He remains spiritually stunted at this point.
Lesson 4: Points to ponder and discuss
Thus this story ends here on a mixed note. Jacob has the blessing, but he also has a brother who hates him, whose anger stews in his heart, as Esau waits for the moment to kill him. Jacob leaves for his family in Paddan-Aram. He has God’s blessing, and thus he is a rich man indeed. But he is fleeing his own brother.
1. Some modern commentators have used the word ing, but he also has a brother who “dysfunctional” to describe Isaac’s family. What is hates him, whose anger stews in meant by that kind of language? And would you agree his heart, as Esau waits for the that this accurately depicts Isaac’s family? What is the moment to kill him. Jacob leaves source of this family’s internal struggles and troubles for his family in Paddan-Aram. How does each character contribute, either willingly or He has God’s blessing, and thus unknowingly, to the problems this family experiences?
2. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Thy will be done.” What was God’s will for Esau and Jacob with regard to the blessing? How do we understand this prayerful petition today? Does God’s will in this prayer refer to His secret (decretive) will, or to His revealed will? See Deuteronomy 29:29; Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 49 (Q/A 123); WLC, Q/A 192; WSC, Q/A 103.
3. Is Esau’s response to Jacob’s actions understandable? Is this reaction justifiable?
4. God’s word in Ephesians 4:22, 31, is that we take care not to allow the root of bitterness to develop among us. But he is addressing the church, God’s holy temple, the body of Christ. Do these admonitions from the Apostle Paul even need to be said to Christians? How can disappointment lead to frustration, and even to bitterness? What does God’s Word say about how to deal with this?
5. Esau is angry with his brother Jacob, but he controls its expression—for the time being. How do you handle angry people? What does the Bible say should be our response if we know that somebody has something against us?
6. Hebrews 2:1–3 warns against ignoring a great salvation. Older translations say neglect salvation. Many people would not openly reject salvation. They want it, in fact! But they neglect it by ignoring the means of God’s grace. Is Esau an example of such an attitude? How can such a spiritual indifference show up in Christian churches, and how can we address this as Christians?