Curse and Deception
Genesis 26:34 - 27:45
Curse & Deception
The great Reformers ...
You may know that it’s 500 years this year, since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31st or thereabouts, in 1517, a German monk and scholar named Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, protesting against error and heresy in the medieval church.
Such is the significance of this anniversary that October 31st has been declared a public holiday in various European countries, and travel companies and everyone else are getting in on the action.
Even the German toy company Playmobil, has branched out from the normal range of pirates and princesses, and they’ve released a limited edition Martin Luther figurine, complete with his translation of the New Testament into the common German of his day.
And I’d like to point out that is an historical model, it’s not a toy!
And we owe a great debt to men and women like Luther, Calvin in Geneva, Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer in the UK and countless others, who paid, often with their lives, for rediscovering and promoting the truths of the gospel of Jesus.
But so we don’t ever put these human leaders on a pedestal, let me read to you from John Calvin, probably the greatest theologian of the Reformation,
The very first line of his commentary on Genesis 27 says this: “In this chapter Moses,” the author, “recounts, at length, a narrative that does not seem to be very useful.”
Well, I think Calvin may have softened his position as he went on a bit! Because this narrative is very useful, as we’ll see.
How not to find a wife (36:34 – 35)
Remember Genesis 24, when we saw how Isaac and Rebekah met?
Abraham sent his most trusted servant out of the Promised Land, back to Abraham’s homeland,
There was swearing of oaths,
And long prayers,
And camels loaded with jewellery!
It was well-planned and carefully executed!
There was lots of detail, and it’s the longest chapter in all of Genesis.
Well, here’s the contrast, isn’t it?
Esau, was forty years old, the same age as Isaac when he was married,
We’re supposed to think of them side by side, and yet when we’re mindful of all that care and effort that went into finding a wife for Isaac, who wasn’t from among the pagan nations of the land, now we’re told, Esau makes no such effort.
he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite.
No concern to find a woman to marry who’d be a good influence, who’d keep reminding him of the promises of God.
No, Esau chooses a wife from among the nations whom God has determined to drive from this land because of their wickedness.
And I’m sure you noticed, he marries not one Hittite woman, but 2.
He’s stepped outside Gods’ pattern for marriage, so we shouldn’t be surprised when we read, these two foreign wives were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.
Again, let me say, it’s not that God doesn’t like you marrying someone who was born in a different country to you!
This is about not marrying someone who leads you away from God.
We got the longest chapter in Genesis to tell us how it could be done. And all it takes is 2 short verses, to show us how poorly Esau has chosen in comparison.
But if you’ve got the NIV in front of you, you’ll see that the editors have put the paragraph heading before these couple of verses, and lumped them in with chapter 27.
And I think the reason they’ve done it, is to show us just how foolish Isaac is, in persisting with his favouritism of Esau.
Esau has such disregard for the things of God, and yet Isaac still wants him to receive the blessing and be the leader.
Not to mention the fact that God’s already said that’s now how it’s going to be.
We’d never make that kind of mistake would we?
Persisting in our chosen course of action, despite every sign we need to turn around and go back?!
Well, let’s see!
Rather than work our way through this story, I thought that we would look at each of these 4 characters in turn, to see what we can learn from them.
Isaac is blind. To sin.
Let’s start with Isaac. We learn that he was blind. verse 1.
He called for Esau his older son, and said “I’m getting old. Go and hunt some game for me, verse 4, 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.”
But in the story so far, God’s already told us, it’s not Esau who will lead the family, and inherit the blessing. It’s Jacob, the younger of the 2 brothers.
God chose Jacob, to make it obvious that we don’t come into relationship with God, we don’t become useful to God, by anything good that we do, or because of anything that we can offer to God.
And if we’re ever tempted to think that we can,
Or that we sought God out because of our cleverness, or that we realised our need for God on our own, or anything like that, we just need to step back into the ultra-sound room when Rebekah was pregnant with her twins, and as she saw them on the screen jostling in her womb, God announced that he had chosen Jacob, even before he was born.
And Esau’s turning his back on the things of God certainly confirms God’s choice of Jacob, and his passing over of Esau.
Now we’re not told back in chapter 25, whether Isaac is informed of this message from God about his sons. I think naturally we’d say, yes, he would have known.
My wife Kathy and I tell each other when one of us gets a message from school about our children, let alone if it came from God!
But even more so, look down at verse 29,
I think this gives us reasonable grounds to say that Isaac knew what God had said about two nations, in your womb, and the older will serve the younger.
As he blesses the son who he thinks is Esau, he says,
29 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.
He’s deliberately matching the language, trying to counter what God has said.
But also, I think he knows exactly what he’s doing, ‘cause look at the secrecy.
Years later, in Genesis 49, when Jacob is about to die, he gathers all of his 12 sons in one place, at one time, and they each get a blessing, and they all hear everyone else’s blessing.
Some of you will come from families where at Christmas time, when it comes to opening your presents, you all sit around in a big circle, and starting maybe with the youngest person, one person opens one of their presents, while everyone watches,
And then the next person opens one present and everyone watches, and so on, and so on, around the family, until there’s nothing left under the tree.
And if you’ve got a big family it takes all afternoon to get through!
That was the more normal pattern for the giving of blessing in the ancient world.
In this case, Isaac calls for Esau his older son
He thinks no one is listening in.
Both when Jacob comes in and when Esau comes back, there’s still no one else around,
Isaac’s trying to do this thing in secret, and yet it’s the secrecy that enables Jacob to pull of the swindle!
If they’d all been sitting around the Christmas tree together, Jacob couldn’t have done it, could he?
I think it’s what we call being hoisted on your own petard!
Isaac disobeys, and in doing so, creates the opportunity for Jacob to be blessed.
Remember we saw last week, God can use even our foolish, sinful choices, to achieve his purposes
God used the crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of sinful men, to bring about the very blessing and relationship that he was working towards here.
God can use even our sinful choices to achieve what he wants to for us, and in us.
God had said, “It’s going to be Jacob. He’s the one through whom I’m going to work,
It’s his family line that’s going to climax in Jesus.
Isaac tries to flip that on its head, and in doing so, creates the very context for God’s plans and purposes to come about.
It should give us great confidence in God’s sovereignty, and his ability to work all things for our good, even if, in our sin and blindness, we’re not actually working for our good!
God still is.
The author wants us to be convinced that Isaac knows he’s setting himself up in opposition to God’s plans and purposes.
Isaac is blind, but not just to which one of his sons is bringing him his lunch.
We were told back in chapter 25 that Esau’ was Isaac’s favourite child, and that’s linked to Isaac’s taste for wild game.
That is, Esau’s his favourite, because Isaac prefers the emu pie to the beef pie.
He picks kangaroo sausages over lamb chops, and so he prefers Esau over Jacob.
He’s thinking with his stomach.
And so even though Esau has rejected the things of God,
Even though he’s married these two pagan women who cause untold grief for Isaac and Rebekah, he still can’t see the problem.
There’s no correction for his sin.
There’s no rebuke of Esau for his faithlessness,
Isaac is blind, to Esau’s sin.
I think we can be blinded to sin, our own or others, because of our preferences,
Or because of our desire to maintain relationships.
If I go up to Esau after church, and ask him about his faithlessness, his lack of trust in God,
If I urge him, gently, graciously, to repent,
Well, that might cost the relationship, mightn’t it?
He might not cook the food I like anymore.
So we look the other way,
We become blind to sin.
And if all that were not bad enough, remember that Isaac was not the first son born to his father, Abraham.
Isaac is only able to bestow these blessing, because God had said, “it’s going to be through Isaac that my blessings are going to come!”
The prosperity, the wealth, that Isaac wants to pass on to Esau, that he thinks he is passing on to Esau, verse 28, May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness—
an abundance of grain and new wine.
He only has that to pass on, because of God’s super-abundant blessing to him.
What an affront it is, to use the blessings that God has given you, to try and usurp God’s own plans and purposes.
Do you see what’s he’s doing?
He’s using the gifts that God’s given him, to, basically give God the finger.
Imagine using the things that God had given you, for your own purposes,
For your own preferences,
For your own comfort,
Without any regard for how God has said, he wants these things to be put to use.
We’d never fall for that, would we?
Esau can’t see his own sin because of his brother’s
Well, let’s come back to Esau.
I do feel a little bit sorry for him.
See verse 30, when Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting, it’s kind of like one of those pantomimes where someone come on stage, just as someone goes off stage on the other side.
But my sympathy gets muted a little, when I remember that Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew,
He despised the things of God,
And thought how I feel now,
What I want now, is more important than what God has said he wants for my life.
We’re not immune from it, are we?
To think that the here and now is what matters,
And whatever goal God has for me, it’s less important than what I feel I need now.
And of course, in those sorts of situations, the here and now is very tangible and real,
For Esau it smelt good!
The here and now things seem real and tangible, and the things of God can often seem less real,
Knowledge of God’s will and purposes,
Money in the bank,
My name in the right kind of conversation, that can all seem much more real and pressing.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament tells us that in selling his birthright, Esau sold his right to this blessing.
But see verse 36, Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob?, remember that Jewish nickname for “deceiver”, This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!”
No, Hebrews says, you sold that, and you sold this.
Esau joins in with Isaac’s plan,
He goes along with the secrecy,
He asks for the blessing,
All in violation of the oath that he swore to his brother.
Sure, Jacob was a scumbag to say “I’m not going to give you any food unless you sell me your birthright”,
But Esau agreed,
He swore an oath,
But now he schemes to get out of that, to break his oath.
Esau has become just as much a deceiver as Jacob is, and yet he puts all the blame on his brother.
Have you ever been in a situation where you can’t see your own sin because somebody else’s sin is so obvious to you?
We see it sometimes relationships break down between people.
Husband and wife,
Or between friends,
Sometimes people in church,
Person A blames the problem entirely on the sin of Person B.
While Person B sees it as caused solely by Person A, and their sinfulness.
We so often can’t see our own sin, because the sins of others, or even the supposed sins of others, seem so glaring and obscene.
And I’m certainly not immune from this. And so I’ve found it helpful, to look back at these kinds of situations, some point later, not to dredge it all up again,
But because I find with hindsight, and a little bit of distance, my eyes get much better!
I can see my own sin much more clearly.
Have you ever noticed that?
It almost always happens!
And so what I need to do, although I don’t do it often enough, is when I’m in the midst of that situation, to ask God to show me my own sinfulness, and selfishness, so I don’t have to wait until however much further down the track, before I realise what my sin is actually contributing to the situation.
My sin was bad enough, that Jesus had to die, in order for me to have a relationship with God.
I can’t kid myself, that other people’s sin is so much worse than mine!
Rebekah seeks God’s outcome, her own way
OK, so let’s have a think about Rebekah.
Again, I have some sympathy.
What’s she trying to achieve?
She’s trying to wangle it, so that Jacob gets the blessing.
Now, what does God want?
God wants Jacob to get the blessing.
So Rebekah wants the same outcome as God, doesn’t she?
And that’s good, right?
Wanting what God wants?
I don’t know that we can say that she wants it because it’s what God wants. Certainly the natural read of the story is just that she likes Jacob more. He’s spent more time in the kitchen with his mum.
It’s more of a coincidence that this is also what God wants.
It’s sort of a “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” kind of thing.
Yes, she has her heart set on God’s outcome,
But probably just because it’s convenient. What God wants, suits her for the time being.
And I quite appreciated the reminder of this, this week. Because we often encounter people, who look like they’re committed to God’s outcomes,
And they talk like they’re committed to God’s outcomes,
And maybe they are committed to God’s outcomes,
But if we scratch the surface a little, we see that it’s really just a coincidence that what they want to achieve lines up with what God has said.
And we might say, “well, shouldn’t we just be pleased?” I mean, the Apostle Paul was pleased in Philippians when people were preaching the gospel of Jesus, even though they were doing it specifically to make life difficult for him!
But the question is, what happens when God wants and what they want no longer line up? Which one wins?
Well, they were never actually submitting to God’s will and God’s purposes, so that’s not going to start now.
An example of this is in church denominations and the attempts being made to redefine marriage, and whether the church should bless same sex marriages.
In some parts of the Anglican church around the world, for example, the leaders have said, “in our part of the church, marriage is between one man and one woman.”
And we think, “good, that’s pretty much what God has said he thinks marriage is.”
But scratch the surface and we discover, they may not hold that position because that’s the pattern for life that God has revealed, but simply because it’s politically expedient,
It’s where the votes fall at the moment,
It’s the way to avoid the biggest headache,
Whatever it might be.
And, we can give thanks to God for that,
But we gotta remember, what’s politically expedient will change,
The popular position, will change,
What people perceive as the biggest headache, will change,
And if someone only lined up with God because it was convenient,
Then they’ll step away from God’s path, when those paths diverge.
This here is a warning to be discerning.
And it’s a question to ask ourselves, am I, submitting to God’s Word in obedience, or merely, heading in the same direction for a period of time.
See even Rebekah, she’s committed to the same outcome as God, but she’s not content for God to achieve his ends as he sees fit.
We’re told in verse 5 that she was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau.
It’s the language of intrigue, ears to the keyhole and all of that!
She knows they’re trying to detour around what God has said he wants.
So what does she do?
Does she burst into the tent, turn all the lights on and rebuke Isaac and Esau for their disobedience?
Or if that’s a bit much, probably most of us wouldn’t do that! Does she just gently remind them of God’s Word.
God’s spoken. He’s said exactly what’s going to happen, how his blessings are going to be enjoyed in the next generation and beyond.
I mean, that’s kind of the Christian response, isn’t it? We might be able to muster that up.
Someone we know’s being disobedient, we might be able to take them to God’s Word, and say, “this is what God has said, let’s work out how to live in the light of it.”
But there’s no “let’s work out what God’s way might be”, instead Rebekah dreams up a counter scheme, to combat the first scheme!
Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 9 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. 10 Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.”
And if he gets busted, verse 13, “My son, let the curse fall on me.
Though, in the end, she doesn’t stand by him, does she?
She sends him off to her brother Laban in Harran, and she seems to go on with life as normal.
Rebekah is committed to God’s outcome,
But for her own reasons,
And she’s not willing to wait for God’s plan to unfold,
For God to do things his way,
She uses whatever means she can, to achieve what she wants, and the end result is a disaster for her family,
One son wants to kill the other,
Her favourite son, flees for his life, and she never sees him again.
Jacob lives up to his name, Deceiver
And so we come to Jacob.
Certainly the scheme to take the blessing was his mother’s idea, but he was a willing participant.
He lives to his name, the Deceiver.
Remember we called him the multi-millionaire Nigerian email guy.
But here he even seems to deceive himself. When Rebekah explains her scheme, Jacob replies, “but Esau is hairy. What if Dad touches me. Verse 12, I would appear to be tricking him”
No, Jacob, you wouldn’t appear to be tricking him! You would actually be tricking him!
The deception is quite detailed!
We’re down to the level of touch and feel.
And I think of that line from Walter Scott’s Marmion,
Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!
Esau is so hairy that the best disguise is to wear goat skin. Now I’ve seen goats. They’re pretty hairy!
So Esau was a pretty hairy bloke!
It’s a bit like strapping on a lambs wool car seat cover in order to pass yourself off as someone else
But he’s willing to do it!
The deceiver is into the deception, boots, and all! dressing up in Esau’s clothes, verse 15, to complete the swindle.
Verse 27, So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him.
When I worked at the University of Adelaide, in the Anatomy Department, I helped embalm a lion that had died at the zoo. And when the zoo brought her into the lab, she’d only been dead a few hours, she was still warm. I stood back, let my superiors go first. I just wanted to be sure she was really dead!
But this enormous lion smelt, like Africa. I’ve never been to Africa! But that was exactly what I imagine Africa smells like!
And since then I’ve always imagined that that’s what Esau smelt like.
While Jacob was a bit more of a bergamot and lime scented man, I think.
The deception is detailed and thorough.
When he’s all dressed up and smelling right, Jacob comes into Isaac with the food.
I mean, he must have looked a sight, mustn’t he? Someone else’s clothes!
Goat skins strapped on!
Carrying a tray of food!
Knees knocking, probably!
18 He went to his father and said, “My father.”
“Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?”
19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn.
We’ve moved from I would appear to be tricking him, to an out and out lie, haven’t we?
That’s often the way with deception, isn’t it?
It seems small,
Then we’re in deep, and we become the deceiver.
No one wants to be the millionaire Nigerian email guy,
But we can be just as deceptive.
But Jacob keeps digging, doesn’t he?! Isaac’s surprised that Esau could have hunted, prepared, and cooked a meal so fast, verse 20,
“How did you find it so quickly, my son?”
“The Lord your God gave me success,” replies Jacob.
Bring God into your lie! That’s always a good idea!
There’s lie, After lie, After lie,
With apparent impunity.
I would have dropped the roast goat and run out the door in a panic as soon as Isaac said “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau”, I’d be terrified! But Jacob carries on, not even batting an eyelid that he’s now involved God in his lie.
He really is the deceiver.
He’s a nasty piece of work.
And yet he is the one, God uses, to father a nation, that blesses the world, and from whom one day will come Jesus, who dies in the place of sinners just like Jacob, and just like us, so we can know and enjoy the many blessings of God.
If there’s things in your life that you’re not proud of,
If you’ve treated people badly,
Treated God badly,
Put yourself first, and, really not cared about what happened to others while you got what you wanted,
If maybe you’ve wondered if that kind of background eliminates you from those whom God can use or bless.
Then Jacob is a good person for you to look at!
His family, becomes the means of God’s blessings coming to all the world through Jesus.
You can’t defy God without consequence
Our kids enjoy watching the Buck Denver what’s in the Bible DVDs, put together by one of the guys who developed Veggie Tales. They’re a terrific resource, to teach kids, and grown ups, the story of the Bible, and to help them learn the good news of Jesus.
There’s one song on the DVD that says
You can’t a train, by standing in the tracks,
You can’t stop an avalanche, by yelling, ‘hey, turn back’!’
And standin' in the way of what God is going to do
Will be really, really, really, really
Not so good for you!
You can’t defy God and expect to get away with it!
I always wondered why Isaac doesn’t just kind of undo the blessing.
I once worked for a bloke who was fond of saying, “anything that’s been done in law, can be undone in law”
But Isaac certainly seems to think it’s done and dusted, doesn’t he?
The finality of verse 33 Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing”.
He doesn’t even try to salvage some of the blessing for Esau, in 39 and 40, Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness,
away from the dew of heaven above.
And so I wonder if the way Isaac seems to resign himself to what’s happened is because he’s come to the realisation that he’s been fighting against God,
Which of the characters of Genesis is almost totally absent from chapter 27?
God! We don’t hear him speak at all! Which is a stark contrast to last week where he spoke to Isaac on multiple occasions.
As far as everyone here has been concerned, God is absent.
But of course he’s not.
And I think perhaps Isaac realises that.
And so maybe that’s a good word for some us, who perhaps have been ignoring God,
Living in God’s world as if God is absent.
And if it wasn’t too late for Isaac to come to that realisation, even after all this,
Then it’s not too late for any of us today, to come to that realisation and to stop opposing God, and in fact to fall into God’s gracious arms of blessing.
And maybe this can be an encouragement to us in another way,
Because we see people, don’t we, setting themselves up in opposition to God.
And sometimes that can be disheartening. Sometimes it seems that people can defy God, and get away with it.
Whether it’s at a kind of national political level,
Or columnists in the newspaper,
Or people in our workplaces, who are determined to try and thwart God’s plans, and are sometimes very open about.
Well let’s ask Isaac,
Let’s ask Esau,
Let’s ask Rebekah, who never saw her favourite son again,
Let’s ask Jacob, who had to flee for his life out of the Land of Promise that he was supposed to dwell in,
Let’s ask them whether you can defy God with impunity.
Let’s ask them whether a person can thumb their nose at God’s purposes, and expect to get away with it, ultimately.
Let’s ask them whether those who oppose God knowingly, can escape the consequences.
We know what they’d say, don’t we?
You don’t defy God, without consequence.
But this dreadful episode finishes on a beautiful note of grace. Jacob has to run for his life, Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran.
Verse 44, 44 Stay with him for a while until your brother’s fury subsides.
This is the very family that Abraham sent his servant to, to find a wife for Isaac.
That’s where Jacob is now going, that there he, too, finds a wife.
The section opened so badly with Esau’s poor choice of wives, and here’s the note of hope;,
It’s not the blessing of parents, or humans wrangling and scheming that determines the outcome, but God bringing his plans and purposes to bear, working always for the good of his people.
Isaac made a mistake,
He was deceived,
And yet God used that to achieve exactly the outcome that he wanted;, Jacob being the recipient and means of his blessing.