As the story of Scripture continues, it’s important to remember the promises made to Abraham, which included the promised land of Canaan, the promise of descendants that would be as numerous as the stars and dust of the earth, and great blessing to Abraham’s family, as well as to all nations through his family. These promises would not be fulfilled in Abraham’s firstborn Ishmael (through Hagar) as we saw last week, but would be born through his and Sarah’s own son Isaac. There is much that could be discussed about Isaac, but because he is so frequently taught in Sunday School curriculums, we passed over the bulk of his story for this series.
Again, the focus of this series is to discuss the stories and passages in Scripture that are highlighted over and over by other Scriptural authors. Because of this, we move this week to Jacob and Esau, where we see a theme sprout, regarding the older son serving the younger. In Genesis 25:19–26, we are told that Isaac prays for his wife Rebekah to conceive, and she actually becomes pregnant with twins who are wrestling within her womb. When she inquires of the Lord about the struggle within her, he answers, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (v. 23; emphasis added).
This is a significant promise because it goes against the normal grain of this culture. Traditionally, the oldest son would receive the birthright, or bulk of the inheritance and responsibility, and he would take over the father’s land. However, here the Lord tells Rebekah that it will be the other way around in her family. Jacob, the younger son, would be served by Esau, the older son. As we saw in the video we watched on Palm Sunday, this is a theme that Scripture will continue to develop, and a theme that builds up to the way that Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God being an upside-down kingdom in which greatness comes through humility, service, and sacrifice.
Jacob does indeed receive the birthright and blessing from his father, but not in a way that Scripture seems to praise. Jacob, acting in line with his name that means “deceiver,” essentially steals the birthright and blessing from Esau, his older brother. First, Genesis 25:29–34 tells us that one day, Jacob was making a pot of stew when Esau came back from working in the field and was very hungry. Naturally, Esau asked his brother for some stew, and Jacob saw an opportunity. Rather than simply giving him some stew as a loving brother should, Jacob sells it to Esau for the price of his birthright. Esau, so focused on his present hunger and distress, does not even hesitate, showing that he wasn’t actually considering the greatness of the promises made to Abraham and passed down through his family. In fact, the author of Genesis states, “Thus Esau despised his birthright” (v. 34), something so much more valuable than a short-term satisfaction. The author of Hebrews later condemns Esau’s actions because he was so focused on earthly pleasure and satisfaction that he ignored and failed to inherit God’s great promises (Hebrews 12:15–17).
As the story moves forward from here, in Genesis 27 we see that Isaac is blind and about to die and wants to bless his son. Knowing what we know, we would expect that he would bless Jacob in accordance with God’s promises, but he actually tells Esau to go kill some wild game, make his favorite soup, and then receive the blessing. Rebekah, whose favorite son was Jacob, sees an opportunity and ropes Jacob into more conniving and deceit that will indeed get him the blessing, but at great cost due to the sinful nature of the plan. She has Jacob dress up in animal skins (Esau was much, much hairier than Jacob), kill one of their livestock to be made into stew, and then go to Isaac pretending to be Esau. Sure enough, her plan works, and Isaac pronounces a tremendous blessing upon Jacob, thinking it was Esau.
The blessing that Isaac bestows on him (vv. 26–29) essentially passes the promise to Abraham on to Jacob. He promises that the Lord will give Jacob a great and fruitful land, make him into a nation that other nations would bow down to (including his brother’s descendants), and that he would be a blessing to all who bless him and a curse to all who curse him. God’s promises to Abraham will be fulfilled in Jacob, and God’s promise to Rebekah would be fulfilled as well. However, the deceitful nature through which Jacob seizes these promises for himself (rather than trusting God’s timing) bring a life of running and exile upon himself as he must depart from his father’s house because of Esau’s anger. While God’s promises and faithfulness transcend sin, obedience and trust are always the best option.