Iâ€™m looking for a role model this week. As I studied Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob, I couldnâ€™t help but think, â€œWhat is wrong with these people?â€ First they give us an excellent example of walking with God, then they give us a horrible example. These are the great patriarchs of the bible, yet they make one bad decision after another.
In the last couple of weeks, we studied Abrahamâ€™s journeys and how God promised to make him the father of many nations. Then Abraham and Sarah had a son Isaac, and before Abraham died, he sent his servant Eliezer to find a wife for him. Last week, Chris taught us that Eliezer first prayed for a woman that would offer to take care of his camels because, as we know, if you can take care of a camel, a man should be easy.
Eliezer brought back Rebekah, and Isaac and Rebekah immediately fell in love and got married. Godâ€™s covenant with Abraham will be fulfilled through these two. At the ripe old age of 175, in Genesis 25:7, Abraham dies, and heâ€™s buried next to Sarah. Altogether, Abraham had 12 sons, but it will be through Isaac and Rebekah that God will extend his blessings.
In Genesis 25:19, we pick up the story of the Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac is 40 years old, just a puppy, really, and he and Rebekah are having trouble conceiving, just like Abraham and Sarah did. Isaac goes to the Lord in prayer.
Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.
The LORD said to her, “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.”
So far, so good. Isaac has a concern about Rebekah and immediately goes to the Lord in prayer. Rebekah has a concern about her pregnancy, and she immediately goes to the Lord in prayer. The Lord answers their prayers and reveals His will to them; Rebekahâ€™s going to have twins, and the older one will answer to the younger one. So why am I having trouble finding a role model this week?
Well, one reason is I think these are perhaps the last good decisions weâ€™ll read about today. After this, the behavior of Isaac and Rebekah and their children becomes less God-oriented and more self-oriented. Letâ€™s read ahead, verses 24-26:
When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.
â€œEsauâ€ is a Hebrew word that means â€œhairy,â€ and â€œJacobâ€ is a Hebrew phrase that means, â€œhe grasps the heel,â€ and also an idiom for â€œhe deceives.â€ The boys grew up; scripture tells us that Esau was Isaacâ€™s favorite and became a skillful hunter. A real outdoors man. A manâ€™s man. Thatâ€™s perfectly natural since it sounds like he looked like a big red hairy bear. And Jacob was content to stay home with Rebekah and cook and do the housework and stuff. It says in verse 27-28,
The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Rebekah probably loved Jacob either because Jacob helped out with the housework or because Rebekah had to shave him less. And Isaac, who loved wild game, loved Esau more because he looked and smelled like wild game.
Man, Iâ€™m thirsty today. Does anybody have a spare bottle of water? (At this point I trade my entire wallet to Glenn for a bottle of water.)
I know what some of you are thinking. Youâ€™re thinking, â€œWow. â€˜He grasps the heelâ€™ can also mean â€˜Glenn.â€™â€ The rest of you are wondering how much money was in that wallet.
Weâ€™re about to see that Esau makes a similarly expensive purchase. Genesis 25:29-34,
Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom. )
Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.
What was this birthright? Weâ€™re not really sure, though tradition tells us that itâ€™s 2/3rds of the fatherâ€™s estate. Esau as the older son was to inherit the bulk of Isaacâ€™s land and livestock.
But remember what the Lord said? The Lord told Rebekah earlier that â€œthe elder shall serve the younger.â€ This was pretty strong language at the time; not only was Rebekahâ€™s two sons destined to found two great nations, but the younger son would be the leader. In Isaacâ€™s time, tradition held that the elder was always the one who inherited the estate.
But God does not respect manâ€™s traditions. God is almighty and all seeing, and He has plans for us individually and as a group that often conflicts with the plans we make for ourselves. God has already decreed that Jacob will be the leader of these two sons.
We know that Rebekah already knows Jacob will be the blessed son. Did Jacob know? I think itâ€™s likely since Jacob was her favorite. Perhaps Jacob thought that by stealing Esauâ€™s birthright, he was just helping Godâ€™s plan along. â€œFirst sell me your birthright.â€ I believe Esau must have been unsuccessful at hunting that day, otherwise he could have fed himself. But Jacob definitely takes advantage of Esauâ€™s hunger. What should be the Christian response? Right, just give Esau some stew. But Jacob bargains with him instead and makes an unfair, lopsided trade. Jacob takes advantage of Esau.
Esauâ€™s definitely hungry, and he exaggerates by saying heâ€™s about to die. What is worth more, his birthright or a bowl of stew? But Esau is so focused on meeting his immediate, material needs that by comparison he â€œdespisesâ€ his birthright. Just for the record, I do not despise my birthright, and Iâ€™d like my wallet back.
We can look at Esau and see what a bad choice heâ€™s making. Heâ€™s trading away a blessing that he would inherit for immediate gratification. Heâ€™s hungry. But I think the lesson for us as Christians is powerful. What is the blessing that God promises to us? What are some examples of immediate needs that we satisfy instead of relying on the blessing God promises?
God will accomplish His will, with or without us. He gives us life and waits to see what we will do with that life. His will is that we dedicate our love to Him and dedicate our love to others by placing our faith in Him and being obedient to His Word. But we come up with every excuse to satisfy our immediate â€œneedsâ€ first.
Time passes. Genesis 25 turns to Genesis 26, and there is a famine in the land. God appears to Isaac and reassures him that the promise God made to Abraham is being fulfilled with Isaac and his children. There are some parallels here with Jacob and his father Abraham. When famine came, Abraham went down to Egypt and gave a half-truth to the Pharoah that Sarah was his sister. When famine comes this time, God tells Isaac in Genesis 26:2-3, donâ€™t do that. Stay here and live in the land I gave you. So Isaac stays in Gerar. And some of the Philistine who live there ask Isaac, just like Pharoah asked Abraham, â€œwho is this woman?â€ And Isaac says, â€œRebekah is my sister.â€
This isnâ€™t even a half-truth. Rebekah isnâ€™t his sister. But Isaac lies because he thinks that because Rebakah is beautiful that the Philistines will kill him so they can have her. And what happens when Isaac is caught in a lie? Verse 10, the king says, â€œWhat the heck do you think youâ€™re doing?â€ Isaac is a man of God, caught in a lie, and being chastised by a pagan. How humiliating.
I see a couple of lessons here. One lesson is that every promise God makes comes with a test to see if we are faithful. The test and Godâ€™s promises are a packaged set. God made a promise to Abraham, and then tested him with a famine to see if Abraham remained faithful. God told Abraham to occupy a new land â€“ the promise â€“ and Abraham was obedient. But then God tested him, and Abraham sinned by leaving the land God promised him and going to Egypt. God makes a promise to Isaac and tested him with a famine to see if Isaac remained faithful. And Isaac was faithful by remaining in the land, but then he sins by lying about Rebekah. As we mature in our Christian faith, we need to remember that with every promise of God comes a test. Unless we truly trust God, it isnâ€™t really faith, is it?
We all balance faith with fear. Abraham and Isaac are not lesser people because they failed the test, but it does emphasize that we cannot pass all the tests. Abraham fled to Egypt because he didnâ€™t trust that God could deal with natural disaster. Isaac trusted that God could deal with the natural disaster, but felt he had to â€œhelpâ€ God when dealing with Philistines. When God tests us, the only proper response is to obey the Lord and trust in Him, and each of us will find that, between our fear and faith, we will fail that test. And that is why God had to send a savior for us. Because we cannot do it alone. Jesus will do it for us.
Another lesson is that God instructs our father, and then He instructs us. God tests us each individually; we each have our own test before God. The successes and failures that Abraham experienced cannot spare Isaac from being tested. Parents cannot take endure these tests on behalf of their children, and children cannot rely on the test their parents endured. Every one of us has a promise from God, and every one of us has our faith tested in a unique way. Some of the tests I face are similar to the ones you face. And some of them are uniquely different.
Was Jesus spared these tests? Did the fact that He was Godâ€™s son spare Him? No, he was tested in every way, from 40 days in the desert to his death on the cross. Letâ€™s turn to Hebrews 5:7-9,
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
Jesusâ€™ prayers were answer because ofâ€¦ reverent submission. Is that the same as willing obedience? And where did Jesus learn obedience? Through suffering, through the individual tests He endured. And what did these tests that led to His death produce in Him? He was made perfect and became the source of eternal salvation.
When we are disobedient, God accomplishes His will without us. Itâ€™s unfortunate that as a person of God, Isaac was caught in a lie and then chastised by the pagan king. Itâ€™s unfortunate that when we sin, God uses people to correct us. If weâ€™re fortunate, we are caught by forgiving Christians. If weâ€™re less fortunate, weâ€™re caught by unforgiving Christians or even pagans. Either way, God will accomplish His will.
But when we are obedient, God blesses us. Christ was obedient unto death and was made perfect by His sinless life, the tests He endured, and His obedience through suffering. When Isaac returned to obedience in Genesis 26 verse 12, God blesses him.
Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy.
So be thankful for the tests that you are enduring. They increase your faith. Be obedient, for that pleases God and He will bless you. But most of all, thank Jesus that when you fail, He did not.
Isaac lived a good long life, and by Genesis 27, Isaac is old and weak. Genesis 27:1-4,
When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, “My son.”
“Here I am,” he answered.
Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. Now then, get your weaponsâ€”your quiver and bowâ€”and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.”
Do you recall the promise God made to Rebekah? The elder will serve the younger. And do you recall who Isaacâ€™s favorite son is? Weâ€™re getting ready to see a rapidly unfolding series of events with everybody trying to get their own way. In these first few verses, we see Isaac trying to bestow his blessing on Esau, even though he knows it is Jacob that should receive the blessing.
Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the LORD before I die.’ Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.”
Would you just look at all the bad behavior happening. First, Isaac tries to impose his will over the Lordâ€™s and giving his blessing to Esau. Now we see Rebekah overhearing Isaac and deciding that since Isaac is being disobedient, Rebekah is going to have to be disobedient. She is going to have to impose her own will over her husbandâ€™s. Rebekahâ€™s favorite son is Jacob, he should get the blessing, so no doubt she feels justified in tricking her husband to get her way. After all, in the end, sheâ€™s just trying to fulfill Godâ€™s promise, right?
Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I’m a man with smooth skin. 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.”
His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.”
Jacob knows itâ€™s wrong and heâ€™s afraid of getting caught. His mother knows itâ€™s wrong, too. But theyâ€™re so bent on getting the blessing for Jacob that they donâ€™t stop to consider if lying and cheating is what the Lord would have them do. God never has us commit a sin in order to accomplish His will. The end never justifies the means. Two wrongs do not make a right. Three lefts make a right, but thatâ€™s a completely different thing altogether.
Rebekah and Jacob work on their deception. Jacob gets two young goats from the flock, and Rebekah cooks it up just the way Isaac likes it. Jacob dresses up in Esauâ€™s clothes, and Rebekah covers Jacobâ€™s hands and neck with goatskin so he will feel just as hairy as Esau.
Then in verse 18, Jacob lies to his father. Verse 18-20,
He went to his father and said, “My father.”
“Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?”
Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing.”
Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”
“The LORD your God gave me success,” he replied.
Not only is Jacob lying, but heâ€™s invoking the name of God in his deception. Isaacâ€™s suspicious because he hears Jacobâ€™s voice and tells Jacob to come closer. Isaac canâ€™t see very well, but the goatskin on the hands and neck makes the deception complete. Isaac gives Jacob his blessing.
In verse 30, Esau returns from hunting, prepares a tasty dish for his father Isaac, and asks for Isaacâ€™s blessing. The deception starts to unravel here; verse 32, Isaac says, â€œWho are you?â€ And Esau says, â€œIâ€™m your son, your firstborn, Esau.â€
Isaac has a fit at this point, and he realizes heâ€™s been deceived by Jacob. Isaac has made Jacob lord over Esau and given Jacob all the servants and grain and wine. Esauâ€™s mad, too; in verse 41, Esau promises that when Isaacâ€™s dead, heâ€™s going to kill Jacob. And then Rebekah finds out about Esauâ€™s plans; in order to save Jacob, she tells him to flee to his uncle Labanâ€™s house.
So many things gone wrong in this story. What happened to that godly man Isaac who prayed to the Lord for his wife to have a child? What happened to that godly woman Rebekah who went to the Lord with her concerns about her unborn children jostling inside her? Isaac, because of his love for Esau, tries to disobey God and give his blessing to Esau. Rebekah tricks her husband and justifies it because of her love for Jacob. She may have even justified it by thinking sheâ€™s doing the Lordâ€™s will for Him. But Rebekah and Isaac have their personal favorites that set Isaac and Rebekah on opposite goals. Jacob dishonors his father, lies to his father, and even lies that the Lord is blessing him. Esau is tricked, becomes angry, and wants to kill his brother. The family disintegrates. Rebekah send her favorite son away, and the bible never mentions if Rebekah gets to see Jacob ever again. Jacob is on the run, fleeing for his life. All of these tragedies, all of these sins, all borne from Isaacâ€™s sin. Itâ€™s a chain reaction.
Isaac tried to have his own way. So did Rebekah. So did Jacob. So did Esau. In the end, Godâ€™s plan prevailed, but because of manâ€™s disobedience, all of these people brought harm to themselves. Their lives are in chaos. Godâ€™s plan will prevail no matter what we do, but when we are in obedience, God blesses us, and when we are selfish, we cause harm to ourselves and to the ones we love. God knows best if we will just trust in Him.
After studying this weekâ€™s lesson, I found the role model from todayâ€™s lesson. And it wasnâ€™t Abraham or Isaac or Rebekah or Esau or Jacob. The role model is Jesus. No matter how bad we are, how selfish we are, how disobedient we are, God keeps His promise. God teaches us as only He can, by rewarding our obedience with His blessings, by testing us to increase our faith, by using our failures to show us our weakness, and by saving us by giving us a savior.
We have a champion. Someone we can place our faith and trust in. Our awesome God who always keeps His promises.