But before we read this passage let us look to the Lord in prayer for his help in understanding it.
1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, 4 and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”
5 Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord before I die.’ 8 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. 9 Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. 10 And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” 11 But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. 12 Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” 13 His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me.”
14 So he went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved. 15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.
18 So he went in to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” 20 But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands. So he blessed him. 24 He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” 25 Then he said, “Bring it near to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.” So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank.
26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” 27 So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said,
“See, the smell of my son
is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed!
28 May God give you of the dew of heaven
and of the fatness of the earth
and plenty of grain and wine.
29 Let peoples serve you,
and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”
30 As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. 31 He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” 32 His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” 33 Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” 34 As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” 35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” 36 Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 37 Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.
39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him:
“Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be,
and away from the dew of heaven on high.
40 By your sword you shall live,
and you shall serve your brother;
but when you grow restless
you shall break his yoke from your neck.”
This is the Word of the LORD.
Most commentators have a tendency to sympathize with one or more of the characters. They look at the story and pick which side they will be on. One person condemns Jacob for his actions, another excuses him entirely. Some sympathize with Esau while others chastise him. Some choose the side of Isaac while others are on Rebekah’s side. In reality, all of them are blameworthy. No one in this story is innocent. But through all the deceit and distrust, God remains in control.
The question this passage forces us to ask is whether God approves of Jacob’s cheating. Does God show favor to cheaters? You know…come to think of it. Maybe that’s why teams like the New England Patriots keep winning. Because God shows favoritism to cheaters.
In reality, this story is not much different than our own experience. Remember last week we said that God is sovereign over crisis and conflict even when we bring them upon ourselves. We see that again this week. Each character in the story has their own flaws that we could isolate and focus upon, but in the end, here’s the lesson we see most plainly in this text: The will of God is accomplished through flawed individuals. There’s comfort and hope in that fact isn’t there?
First, we will look at The Stolen Blessing (1-25). Second, we’ll see The Accidental Blessing (26-29). And third, we will note The Squandered Blessing (30-40).
The Stolen Blessing (1-25)
The chapter opens with Isaac appearing to be on his deathbed. He is old and going blind (v.1), and he’s apparently lying down based on the fact that his sons ask him to sit up when they come to him (vv.19, 31). He is somewhere between the age 100-180 and clearly not doing well health-wise.
The term “game” occurs eight times and “tasty food” occurs six times. Isaac is focused on satisfying his appetite rather than blessing the appropriate son. You can see where Esau got his appetite from now. Esau sold his birthright for a meal and Isaac is defying the revealed will of God for a meal.
We also see Isaac going about his blessing in an unusually private manner. He knew what he was doing was wrong or he would have included the family in this important ceremony.
Instead, Isaac is willing to bless Esau, against God’s will (Gen. 25:23), knowing he has already “made life bitter” for them by marrying Hittite wives. As we make our way through the story parental favoritism rears its ugly head again (vv.5-10). Rebekah overhears Isaac’s instructions to Esau and develops a plan to intercept Isaac’s blessing for Jacob.
Jacob is only fearful of being caught and receiving a curse (vv.11-12). He isn’t concerned for his brother. He isn’t worried about deceiving his father in this way. In order to encourage him, Rebekah says she will pay the consequences for their deceitfulness (v.13). The rest of this section is fairly straightforward as it tells the story of Rebekah and Jacob’s deceit of Isaac (vv.14-26).
Something that stands out in all of this is the amount of distrust that is prevalent in their home. James Boice comments, “Isaac did not trust his wife Rebekah, nor she her husband. Jacob knew that his father would not trust him… Neither of the two sons trusted the other.”
Although full of sin, there is a sense in which there actions display obedience as well. Rebekah was probably basing her action on the promises of God. Her fault was in the way she took that promise into her own hands. Jacob’s desire to receive the blessing is a good thing as well. His fault is in agreeing to follow in the deceitful steps of his mother.
But ultimately, we must remember that Esau is the one who despised his birthright while Jacob prized it. Regardless of how mixed their motives were, they appeared to be pursuing the right goal. Esau felt cheated out of *his* blessing, but it was never his to begin with. Jacob may think his (or his mother’s) cleverness won the blessing, but in reality he is merely the unworthy recipient of it.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, speaks of our best works as incapable of saving us because they are only good as the Spirit is at work through us, apart from the Spirit they are “defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment (16.5).” So, even when we “want to do right, evil lies close at hand” (Rom. 7:21).
What we see is that even when our goal is good the means are often flawed. That’s the picture we get of Rebekah. That’s the picture we get of Jacob. That’s the picture we get of ourselves!
But the truth of the text shows that your sin cannot thwart the plan of God. That’s not to excuse sin, but we trust that God is sovereign over your best deeds as well as your worst! Every one of us is an unworthy recipient of God’s grace. The New Bible Commentary says, “Once again, it is God’s mercy, not human merit, that is the ultimate hope of redemption (cf. Rom. 9:10–18).”
Rebekah and Jacob’s plan to steal the blessing led to Isaac giving…
The Accidental Blessing (26-29)
Next we see Isaac intending to bless Esau, but the Lord had already ordained for Jacob to receive the blessing. His covenantal blessing bestowed upon Jacob: A promise of prosperity (28), authority (29a), and influence (29b). In Hebrews we learn that Isaac blessed his son by faith (Heb. 11:20). It didn’t start out that way, but by verse 33, he seems to have been humbled.
How does God bring blessing out of human failure and weakness? In this case, Isaac was intending to bless the wrong person. In other words, his motives were mixed with weakness and imperfections.
Believers continue to receive the covenant blessings whenever we gather for worship. We sit under the preaching of the Word and hear God’s blessing. Then, in baptism and the Lord’s Supper we see God’s blessing on display.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 91 asks: How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation? Answer: “The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them.”
The efficacy of the sacrament is not tied to the person administrating the blessing, nor are the elements special in and of themselves. But, the sacraments are effectual because of “the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them.” Preachers can, and do, fall away. Does that mean the baptisms administered under their ministry become ineffectual?
No! It’s not the quality of the faith of the one administering the sacrament, nor is it the quality of the faith of the one receiving the sacrament. It isn’t about the quality of your faith, but the object of your faith.
What makes the sacrament a blessing is the fact that a sovereign God uses flawed people through the work of his perfect Son. The Lord accomplishes his will through the flawed administration of his blessings. Do you see how remarkable this picture is? That might not mean much to you, but it makes a world of difference to me. As the one administrating the sacrament each week, it is the only reason I’m able to stand before you with any integrity.
This is what makes grace so amazing! Despite your flawed obedience, despite your “good works” that are done with mixed motives, despite your repeated failures and departures from God; He continues to receive you as his child because of the infinite worth of Christ’s obedience on our behalf!
Now, what if you knew with complete certainty that your child would one day rebel against you and the Lord? What if you knew that child would start down the path of unbelief and remain on that path for the rest of his life? What if you knew this son would be the father of a nation that would despise your family and be a longterm enemy? Let’s say you or your spouse received a direct revelation from the Lord about it. Would you baptize him?
Do you realize that is exactly what happened with Ishmael and Esau? Both of them were circumcised according to the command of God (Genesis 17). They received the sign and seal of the covenant that represented their communion with God, their cleansing from sin, and their righteousness by faith. They received the sign and seal of the covenant of grace after it had already been revealed that they would not remain under the covenant of grace! We don’t have time this morning to explain how this plays out in the New Testament, but to my mind, the implications are massive.
Although Isaac accidentally gave his blessing to Jacob, Esau has no one to blame but himself for…
The Squandered Blessing (30-40)
Even though we might have some sympathy for Esau because of his weeping in verse 38 we need to recognize what Scripture teaches about Esau. Hebrews teaches us that Esau was “godless” (Hebrews 12:15-17). He wanted the blessing without the responsibilities of the firstborn son.
Isaac trembled violently at the realization that he had been tricked (v.33). “By showing that the blessing was irrevocable, even by the father who gave the blessing,” writes John Sailhamer, “the writer underscores an important feature of the blessing–its fulfillment is out of human hands.” The will of God is accomplished through *flawed* as well as *false* members of the covenant of grace.
Turn with me to Hebrews 6. The author writes beginning in verse 4, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.”
Now if we were to stop there you might be thinking… “Wait a second. Did the author just say that a Christian can ‘fall away’ and therefore lose his salvation?” We are talking about a person who has been “enlightened”, “tasted the heavenly gift”, “shared in the Holy Spirit”, “tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come”, yet the text says they have “fallen away”.
But listen to what we read in verse 9: “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things–things that belong to salvation.”
Do you see what the author of Hebrews is telling you? An unsaved person can be “enlightened”, “taste the heavenly gift”, “share in the Holy Spirit”, “taste the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come” all the while fooling themselves that they are saved.
Is that not exactly what happened in the case of Esau. It is exactly what happens in the broader church community when someone walks away from the faith and never returns. WARNING: It’s possible to enjoy the external privileges of the covenant without partaking of the internal blessings of the covenant.
What do I mean by that? You can be in the church all your life and never experience true salvation. You can be enlightened about, but never trust in the promises of God. You can taste but never consume the heavenly gift. You can share in the effects of the work of the Spirit, but never receive the indwelling of the Spirit. You can taste the goodness of God’s Word and never respond in true faith and repentance. Don’t deceive yourself! External actions are not proof of internal possession.
Esau wept, but it wasn’t the weeping of repentance. He wept because he lost out on the blessing, not because he felt any sort of remorse for his sin. We read the Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 87 earlier in the service. It says, “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.”
There is a grieving and a hatred for our sin. Weeping is appropriate if it is the result of a softened conscience to our own sinfulness. However, even if Esau’s mourning was a true mourning over his sin, it would still not be enough, because repentance leads us to endeavor after new obedience.
Do not make the same mistake as Esau. Friends, you must wake up! The faith of your children depend upon it! Your faith depends upon it! Where true repentance is lacking, you can be assured that true faith is also lacking.
God has always accomplished his will through flawed means, flawed ministers, and flawed members of the covenant. But what does that mean for you?
Just because you attend church doesn’t mean you’re saved. Just because you have been baptized doesn’t mean you’re saved. If you haven’t placed your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are no better off than Esau.
Esau despised the covenant promises and it left him with murderous thoughts towards his brother. But it didn’t have to end that way. He could have looked to the one Jacob pointed to, the perfect elder brother, Jesus Christ.
You see, Jesus is the better Jacob. Whereas Jacob won the blessing by deceit, Jesus won the blessing through his perfect obedience and sacrificial atonement. Jesus Christ died on the cross in our place, taking upon himself the curse we deserved. And now he freely shares the blessing he won with all who place their faith in him.
Iain Duguid, “Instead of asking whose to blame, remind yourself who it was who bore your blame.”