Great Moments in Bible History
A Dire Emergency?
Have you ever been in a situation where it seemed like it was such a dire emergency that it was necessary to do anything possible to save the day? Even something really bad would seem to be OK if you could only avoid the disaster that was coming.
Such situations happen very rarely for most of us, but every so often God sends us something so challenging that it gives us a chance to see what is in our heart. Such a situation occurred in Genesis 27. The story involved four people and it had a dramatic effect on each of them. They felt the consequences of that situation and how they reacted to it for the rest of their lives—even into the lives of their children who were not even born at the time.
The emergency began in a quiet way. We learn in verse 1 that Isaac was old and blind. He wanted to bless his son before he died, so he asked his son Esau to go hunting and prepare a nice meal for him. At the end of that meal he would give him the blessing, since he was his firstborn son. But behind that seemingly quiet story was a big problem. Isaac intended to bless the wrong son. Esau was indeed his oldest son (by a few minutes), but before his sons were ever born, God had announced that “the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23). It was the younger son Jacob who was supposed to receive the blessing. Furthermore, Esau had actually sold his rights as the firstborn to his younger brother Jacob. He had sold them for the paltry price of a single meal. God’s opinion of that sale was that “Esau despised his birthright” (verse 34). And if those two facts were not enough to convince Isaac, there was the further fact that Esau had married two Canaanite women who “made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:35). In so many ways it had been shown that Esau was not the one who would inherit the blessing God originally gave to his grandfather Abraham.
For Isaac, though, there was one thing that trumped all of those negative issues. Isaac loved to eat. Esau was his favorite because he was a hunter and brought his father delicious food (Genesis 25:28). So Isaac was prepared to bless the wrong son because he enjoyed good food!
When Rebekah heard her husband tell Esau that he was going to bless him as soon as he returned from hunting, she knew she had a dire emergency on her hands. She had to act fast. She told her younger son Jacob (the one she knew was supposed to get the blessing) to fetch her a couple of goats from the herd. She would cook them into a delicious meal for Isaac. Before Esau could get back from hunting, Jacob would take the meal to his father, pretending to be Esau. Since Isaac was blind, Jacob could deceive him and get the blessing intended for the older brother.
It did not occur to either of them that God did not need their trickery and lies to enable Him to keep the promise He had made about Jacob before He was born. I’m sure as far as they were concerned, they were helping God out with their scheme.
Jacob did not seem to have any moral qualms about lying to his father, but he was worried about what could happen if his father discovered the deceit. He was afraid that in that case his father would curse him (verse 12). But his mother felt that it was worth the risk. Furthermore, she seemed to have all the bases covered. To fool Isaac’s sense of smell, she put some of Esau’s clothes on Jacob. To fool his sense of touch she put goat skin on his hands and the back of his neck (because Esau was hairy while Jacob was smooth). The only thing she could not disguise was the sound of Jacob’s voice. That almost destroyed the plot, but Jacob’s lies were convincing, and the smell of Esau’s clothes and the feel of his hairy goatskin-covered hands carried the day.
So Isaac blessed Jacob, thinking he was blessing Esau. “May God give you of the dew of heaven.” “Be lord over your brothers.” (He knew God did not intend that to be said to Esau, but he chose to ignore the fact.) “Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you” (verses 28-29). That last sentence was almost verbatim from God’s blessing to Abraham (Genesis 12:3). Clearly, that blessing was not something he should have given to Esau (as he thought he was doing). Wasn’t it a good thing that Rebekah and Jacob worked their trick so that Isaac would end up blessing the right son (even if he thought he was blessing the wrong one)?
Moses (the author of Genesis) does not offer any editorial comments on whether God approved of Jacob’s lying to his father, but he does not leave us in the dark about it. The events that follow this story show clearly God’s disapproval of that scheme. First of all, Esau was so angry when he discovered Jacob’s trick that he immediately began making plans to murder his brother. Jacob had to run for his life. He ended up being gone 20 years. His mother never got to see him again. (Do you think she may have regretted her sinful scheme?) Then, a few years later, Jacob himself was deceived and lied to in a situation very similar to what he had done to his father. That story will be told in Genesis 29. So we don’t have to guess that God was displeased with Rebekah and Jacob, even though what they were trying to get was only what God had already promised.
Unfortunately, it is all too common for us believers today to behave the same way. The results are tragic. Marriages are destroyed. Churches are torn up. God’s name is insulted. All because believers do not have the faith to wait for God to deal with their situation. Jacob eventually learned (after many years and a lot of pain) to trust God. I pray that we will learn it sooner than he did.
Rebuked by God
In the previous article we looked at the situation from Jacob’s perspective. But how do you think his father felt when he discovered that his younger son had lied to him? He didn’t have to wait long to discover the lie. He had barely finished blessing Jacob when Esau came back from his hunt, oblivious to what had just happened. Esau prepared a nice meal and took it in to his father. “Who are you?” Isaac asked him. “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” Isaac trembled very violently (Genesis 27:33).
Wouldn’t you love to know what was going through Isaac’s mind just then? No doubt part of the cause of his trembling was the painful realization that his younger son had lied to him. But I don’t think that is all of it. His answer to Esau tells us something more was going on. “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.” Why did he say, “Yes, and he shall be blessed”? Why didn’t he say, “Well, of course that blessing doesn’t count since I thought I was blessing you, not him”?
In the previous article we saw that prior to this Isaac had numerous ways to know that Esau was not the son he was supposed to bless. Isaac had plenty of evidence to know that he was going against God in his determination to bless his older son. But he pushed back those doubts and moved ahead anyway, his stomach winning out over his better judgment.
So, when he learned he had been deceived and that he had actually blessed his younger son, I have no doubt that he recognized the hand of God in it. That trembling was more than just trembling that he had been wronged. He was also trembling at the fact that he had been rebuked by God because he was going the opposite direction that God had told him to go.
The question is not just how did Isaac feel when he found out his son had lied to him. It is also (and more importantly), what was he going to do now that God had rebuked him? Happily, Isaac did not have to think twice about the answer. He was determined to turn around and obey God. That was why he said, “Yes, and he shall be blessed.”
Accepting a rebuke from God takes real faith. God still gives such rebukes to His children today. May we have the faith to accept those rebukes, painful as they may be.