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Genesis 27 - Commentary by Rev. John Schultz
Genesis 27 This chapter tells us a strange story of deceit, human intrigue, greed, indulgence, hatred and a complete lack of faith in God. Yet the topic is the promise and blessing that God had given to Abraham and that was passed on to Isaac and was supposed to be given to Jacob according to what God had told Rebekah.
The Word of God that is the subject of human manipulation. What is done with it is unbelievable. Under a guise of piety, human beings pursue their own interest as if they were identical with God's interest; and yet God is nowhere to be found in this. That God comes out victorious is one of those miracles that is beyond our comprehension. It is clear, however, that God is not behind this intrigue or that He approved of any part of it. What is being done is sinful, and God hates sin.
In the light of this chapter it seems difficult to reconcile these events with the statement of Hebrews: "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future."[ 1 ] We have to look very closely to see where this faith of Isaac becomes evident. It seems more that Isaac demonstrates a complete lack of faith. We shall see later that probably Isaac's words at the end in vs.33 where we read that when Isaac discovered what he has done, he starts to tremble violently, but he confirms: "I blessed him; and indeed he will be blessed!"are a demonstration of dormant faith.
Isaac is getting old. The commentators disagree on the actual age. The Pulpit Commentary says about this: "And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old.- According to the generally-accepted calculation, in his one hundred and thirty-seventh year. Joseph, having been introduced to Pharaoh in his thirtieth year (ch.41:46), and having been thirty-nine years of age (ch.45:6) when his father, aged one hundred and thirty (ch. 47:9), came down to Egypt, must have been born before Jacob was ninety-one; consequently, as his birth occurred in the fourteenth year of Jacob's sojourn in Mesopotamia (cf. ch.30:25 with 29:13,21,27) Jacob's flight must have taken place when he was seventy-seven. But Jacob was born in Isaac's sixtieth year (ch.25:26); hence Isaac was now one hundred and thirty-seven. There are, however, difficulties connected with this reckoning which lay it open to suspicion. For one thing, it postpones Jacob's marriage to an extremely late period. Then it takes for granted that the term of Jacob's service in Padan-aram was only twenty years (ch. 31:41), whereas it is not certain whether it was not forty, made up, according to the computation of Kennicott, of fourteen years' service, twenty years' assistance as a neighbour, and six years of work for wages. And lastly, it necessitates the birth of Jacob's eleven children in the short space of six years, a thing which appears to some, if not impossible, at least highly improbable. Adopting the larger number as the term of Jacob's sojourn in Mesopotamia, Isaac would at this point be only one hundred and seventeen."
However interesting the above calculations, we will leave it at that. The point is that Isaac felt he was nearing death because of his blindness. So he decides that preparations must be made for what we would in modern times call, a will. The difference, however, is that the blessing he was going to pronounce in the Name of YHWH would be irrevocable. It would not be like a human testament that could be changed. If it is true that Isaac was 137 years old when this story starts, he still had 43 years ahead of him, because according to ch. 35:28 he passed away at the age of 180. Evidently his blindness and consequent isolation created and enforced a death wish, but his general physical condition must still have been good. It seems, however, that Isaac at this point had given up on life. He was confined to bed because he confined himself to it. It seems to me that this is a trap old people should avoid. It must be miserable to spend forty years of one's life wishing to die. Yet I know people who live lives like that.
But the death wish Isaac nurtured did not spoil his appetite. He thoroughly enjoyed gourmet cooking, and he somehow links God's blessing to such a kind of meal. It sounds like identifying Christmas with a Christmas dinner. It is true that if we are not fully alive while we still live, we need some compensation, and good food may often serve the purpose. I realize, as I am growing older myself, how important it is to look constantly at yourself in the light of the Lord and ask Him to keep our testimony pure. There is nothing against good food. But if it becomes the focus of our enjoyment, something in our fellowship with the Lord has been lost.
Then there is Isaac's disobedience to the revealed will of God, regarding who should receive the blessing as the oldest son. There can be no doubt about it that Isaac was aware of what God had said to Rebekah. He may not have heard it personally, but he had no reason to doubt, since the revelation was given even before the children were born. Yet Isaac is attracted to his son Esau to the point where he blatantly shows favoritism. Isaac's attitude shows how little he was a priest in his home. He was the recipient of God's richest promise; his life had been completely dedicated to the Lord, and yet he had done nothing with these spiritual possession. In Ephesians we read: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ."[ 2 ] The question we have to ask ourselves is what we do with "every spiritual blessing in Christ." Our obedience and testimony begin at home! It would profit us little if the whole world would see Christ in us, but our children don't.
Not only was something wrong in the relationship between Isaac and his children; there was also no communication between husband and wife. Rebekah learns of Isaac's plan to bestow the blessing upon Esau by eavesdropping. Isaac had not talked his plan over with his wife. There may be situations in which a husband should overrule his wife's objections in certain matters, but the general principle should be that there is agreement, especially in spiritual things. The whole atmosphere in Isaac's household was one of broken relationships, mutual secrets and outright deceit.
Rebekah is just as much to blame as Isaac. She should have gone to her husband and talked to him. After all she had heard the Word of God herself. She should have reminded Isaac of the prophecy. There is no indication she even tried. We get the impression that Jacob inherited the ability to scheme from his mother. She is a mistress of deception. If there ever had been any love between Isaac and Rebekah it had evidently died long before this point. Love cannot deceive.
Esau makes no attempt to tell his father that he sold his birthright to Jacob. Either he had never taken the deal seriously or he was embarrassed about it or he had conveniently forgotten it. Jacob probably never forgot things like that. But he does not counter his mother's plan by claiming his right, since he paid for it with a bowl of soup. There was most likely some embarrassment on his side also. That may be the only positive part in this chapter. He offers no moral objections to his mother's plan to deceive his father. The only reservation he has is the fear of discovery. In verse 12 he makes the understatement of all understatements: "What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing," or as the KJV puts it: "I shall seem to him as a deceiver." What did he consider himself to be?
His mother says that the curse would fall upon her. She does not seem to take her husband's curses too seriously. One wonders in that case what she thinks of his blessings! If this chapter wasn't dealing with the issue of God's promise, of His revelation and ultimately the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, this story would be a comedy of the first order. As it is, it makes a mockery of God. Nobody takes the Word of God seriously. Nobody thinks that God is able to bring about what He had promised. Everybody deceives everybody else and ultimately himself or herself the most. The devil is behind all these schemes, and he laughs his head off. There is in this family nothing left of the faith of Abraham, which God imputed to him as righteousness.
Once again, how can the writer to the Hebrews say: "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future?"[ 3 ] What faith? Ironically, this is the only incident in Isaac's life that brought him into the hall of fame of the Hebrew epistle. That is where the relationship between faith and grace comes in. Isaac, Jacob and Esau all had to receive forgiveness. Isaac was the first one to confirm that the blessing he accidentally pronounced on the wrong person would stand as an act of God. He implied in this that God had overruled his foolishness. For Jacob it took years before he faced God at Peniel, where he wrestled with God and asked for forgiveness. Hosea's comment, as we read it in "He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor,"[ 4 ] [actually says in Hebrew "he wept and asked for his forgiveness"] shows that he did receive cleansing.
And in ch. 33:4 we see that a change had taken place in Esau. "But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept." The only one whose repentance is not mentioned is Rebekah.
So the plan to deceive Isaac is actually Rebekah's. She does not seem to have too much trouble to talk Jacob into it. He has no moral objections. It never dawns on anybody that a spiritual blessing cannot be obtained by deceit. The mere supposition throws a shadow on the character of God. Maybe the most awful feature of this story is that God does not intervene in this diabolic plot. God is often most merciful when he punishes sin on the spot. Man is put in a dangerous position when God permits sin to accumulate.
The plan is also a sin against the person of Isaac. It is true that Isaac did wrong in going against the prophetic Word of God regarding Jacob's birthright. Although the law inLeviticus, which says: "Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD,"[ 5 ] was written much later, the principle must have been known in Isaac's day. Rebekah and Jacob must have had no fear of God when they conceived this plan and put it in practice.
Nobody ever asked the question why God did not let Jacob come out of his mother's womb first, if he was to receive the blessing of the first born? It never occurred to anybody that God might have a special plan in this reversal. God put these people to the test and they all failed.
The Bible does not explain specifically why God chose Jacob over Esau. The Apostle Paul gets close to the mystery when he says: "Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad; in order that God's purpose in election might stand: Not by works but by him who calls; she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.' Just as it is written: 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.' God's purpose in election might stand ... not by works but by Him Who calls."[ 6 ] God is sovereign. A birthright is no right in the strictest sense of the word. No one is born by his own choice, so why should we lay claim on any privilege? The beginning and the end of our lives as well as what is in between is in God's hand. This is an established fact; it should be an accepted fact also.
One wonders what went on inside Jacob as he deceived his father. Isaac has doubts from the very beginning. The first question he asks is "Who is it?" Jacob succeeds to pull the wool over his father's eyes on every point, except his voice. Twice Jacob says that he is Esau, and once he invokes the Name of the Lord in saying that the LORD gave him success. What finally convinces Isaac is the smell. A man can fake almost every facet of his life and show himself different from what he is inside. But a smell can not be faked. I am not talking about the physical phenomena, which can be overruled or changed by cosmetics. Our character spreads an odor that is beyond our control. That is why Paul can say "For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life."[ 7 ] In the natural we all are odious, and spiritually even more so before God. Jacob's wearing of Esau's clothing is an illustration in the negative of our being clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The only way we can be an aroma of Christ among men is if God smells Jesus Christ in us. May be the worst part of Jacob and Rebekah's deception was that Jacob was wearing Esau's clothes.
Isaac catches the smell of Esau when Jacob kisses him. Nowhere else, but in Judas' betrayal of Jesus, is there a larger distance between affection and a kiss than in Jacob's act here. Jacob had probably not intended to fall that deeply. But once we start falling we are out of control. One cannot just sin a little bit. The devil will drag us down till we hit the ground and be crushed. The wages of sin is death.
It is easy, of course, to pronounce our condemnation upon Jacob. But we miss the point if we do not look at his sin that is spread out so openly before us here and not compare ourselves with it.
Then Isaac pronounces the blessing, which later he makes irrevocable: (vs.27-29) "Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed. May God give you of heaven's dew and of earth's richness; an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed." There are no echo's of the blessing God bestowed upon Abraham in these words, are there? It sounds rather earthly. If this is a deterioration or a deviation, we cannot tell. Abraham never blessed Isaac, as far as we know. This is the first incident in which a father blesses his son. But it is apparently not the passing on of a divine mandate. Yet this is what the writer to the Hebrews claims it to be. Hebrews says: "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future."[ 8 ] It boils down to a confirmation of God's prophecy to Rebekah. "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger."[ 9 ]
The only link with God's blessing to Abraham is in the words "May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed." In ch. 12:3 God had said to Abraham: "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." It seems that in omitting the last part of the blessing, Isaac shows he had lost the vision of the coming of the Messiah. Or maybe his doubts as to whom he was blessing had not been completely alleviated.
We may presume that Jacob left in a hurry after he had received what he came for. One wonders how much satisfaction he received. How blessed did he feel? He clears the place just in time because immediately afterward Esau enters. Isaac has no doubt about Esau's identity. This time he knows his son. The shock of the discovery is almost too much for the old man. We read:"Isaac trembled violently and said, 'Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him; and indeed he will be blessed!'"[ 10 ] The only part of the deception that does not penetrate immediately is that he had a meal of goat meat instead of game. His body betrays what his heart had not wanted to admit over the years. He had obstructed God's purpose with his insistence to bless Esau over Jacob. He breaks down to the point where he loses control of his limbs. Isaac's reaction must have been a pitiful sight, but there is nobody present to pity him. Esau is too much involved in his own loss to pity his father. However pitiful Isaac may have been at this point, it is here that faith is rekindled in his heart. His trembling signifies surrender to God's ways and a giving up of his own. That is why the author of Hebrews can say, "By faith Isaac blessed..."
Esau's reaction is "a loud and bitter cry." This strong specimen of masculinity melts down like wax and cries like a child. The child has probably always been there, hidden by the rough exterior. The only words he can utter are: "Me too... me too!" They may have been the first he learned to say. They must have been his early defense against his feeling of being inferior to his brother Jacob. Here everything comes to a head. Esau behaves more like a wounded animal than a human being. He cries like the animals he used to shoot himself.
The author of the Hebrew Epistle sums it up for us by saying: "See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears."[ 11 ] He calls Esau "godless" and he implies that Esau's tears were not tears of repentance.*
The question is how can one receive a blessing without a personal relationship with God? The fact that Esau is called "godless" implies that he did not know God; neither did he care. The same question can be asked in regard to Jacob also. How godly was he? The fact that the essence of the blessing was the lineage of the Messiah is completely lost in this tragic-comedy of deceit. Not even Isaac mentions this. Everybody is only interested in himself and wants to get out of God as much as he can without strings attached.
Isaac sees through the deceit now. He realizes that the one with Jacob's voice was Jacob. We never read that Isaac called Jacob and scolded him on account of his deceit. It seems that the father had played little or no role in the growing up of his boys. If he occupied himself at all with his sons, it must have been mainly with Esau and that on account of Esau's ability to hunt the kind of animals Isaac like to eat, as we read in Ch. 25:27.
Esau catches the essence of Jacob's character by saying: "Is not he rightly named Jacob?" Jacob means "he grabs the heel," as the footnote of the NIV says both here and in chapter 25:26. The idea developed into "he trips people up." A modern nickname for Jacob would be "Jack the tripper."
Esau makes a distinction between his birthright and the blessing. It seems to me that the two should not be separated, but evidently they were. In the above quoted verse from Heb.12 they are treated as one. The birthright guaranteed the largest portion of the father's earthly possessions, but the blessing was the divine touch that gave value and content to these possessions. It is on this last point that the people involved in the events of this chapter lost all sense of reality. A. B. Simpson wrote the song: "First it was the blessing, now it is the Lord." This development is absent here. The Lord is not in this at all. There is a strong odor of superstition in this whole story.
It is amazing to see how the living faith and personal relationship with God that Abraham possessed, has deteriorated to a pious veneer that covered an animistic worldview. Syncretism is almost as old as man is.
In blessing Esau, Isaac predicts Jacob's dominion over him. But there is also a promise of release as the result of a great effort on the part of Esau. The phrase rendered in the NIV with "But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck," is open for various translations. The KJV says: "and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck." And the RSV translates it as:"but when you break loose you shall break his yoke from your neck." The Hebrew appears to be obscure. The probable intent is that eventually Edom would be able to shake off Israel's yoke in a revolt. History bears this out.
Another example of conflicting translations is found in the beginning of the blessing. The KJV translates verse 39 as: "Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above," while the NIV says: "Your dwelling will be away from the earth's richness, away from the dew of heaven above." The RSV agrees with the latter. According to The Pulpit Commentary, the Hebrew grammar allows for both translations. It seems, however, that the negative sense, the one that withholds earth's richness and heaven's dew from Edom, fits more in the context. It is true that Mal.1:3 describes the country of Edom as a wasteland, but this may not have been the original condition of the place. (Mal 1:3 "But Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.")
Obviously, Esau is very unhappy with the blessing he receives. The NIV says: "Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, "The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob." (vs.41). The KJV puts it much stronger and is probably closer to the real feelings Esau had toward his brother. We read: "And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob."
There is little doubt as to whether Esau was serious or not. His hatred for Jacob was so intense that he would have committed murder. It would probably have meant his own death as well as Rebekah clearly understood. In verse 45 she says: "Why should I lose both of you in one day?" But Esau was not the person to think things through. He was not a Jacob, a plotter.
Actually we have come to the end of Isaac's story at this point. His death is mentioned in chapter 35:28, 34 years later. Between here and then he fades out of the picture. The last time we see him is when he sends Jacob away to Rebekah's family in Haran. The rest of the story is Jacob's.
How do we sum up Isaac's life? We gave it the title "The sacrificed life" and we hold on to that. But we do get the impression that over the years Isaac had taken several pieces of the sacrifice off the altar. He certainly did not live consistently with the Lord. We believe that his trembling at the discovery of the mistake he had made in blessing Jacob meant a return to spiritual reality. Heb.11:20 seems to confirm this. God identifies with Isaac by revealing Himself as the God of Abraham and Isaac. But Isaac did not have the living, heroic faith of his father. Nowhere is he called "a friend of God." It is evidently possible to put yourself on God's altar and yet achieve very little of a testimony. Maybe the sacrifice of his life was more his father's sacrifice than his own. He put himself on the altar as a young man. Growing up and growing old is hard. We have to do it very carefully and walk with God as we do it.
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