“That We Might Have Hope” (Rom. 15:4)
Genesis Chapter Twenty-four
Jacob and Esau
In Genesis 24 we are introduced to Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Like Abraham’s wife, Sarah, Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, was barren for many years. Knowing the promised Savior was to come from his seed, Isaac pleaded with God to bless them with a child. His prayers were answered and Rebekah became pregnant.
During her pregnancy Rebekah became concerned when she felt as if a struggle was taking place within her womb. She inquired of the Lord: “Why is this happening to me?” The Lord revealed to her that she had “two nations” within her. He also made known His will that the older child would serve the younger. Normally, in the society of that day, the older son had the position of privilege in the family. It was the firstborn who received a double share of the inheritance and became head of the clan.
The day of the birth arrived. Esau, a hairy child with a reddish complexion, was born first. Jacob, meaning “heel- grabber,” was born clasping Esau’s heel. Each boy grew up and developed different interests and personalities. Esau was an outdoorsman, a skillful hunter. Jacob was a quiet man, preferring indoor work. Unfortunately each parent had a favorite child, for we re told that “Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”
Esau, who apparently still believed he possessed the promises and rights of the firstborn, demonstrated a callous disregard for them through his actions. Once being famished after a long hunt, Esau begged Jacob for some lentil stew. Jacob made Esau swear to sell him his birthright in exchange for a meal. Esau did so. Esau also put his spiritual welfare in jeopardy by marrying two heathen Hittite women who were “a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah.” He seemed to attach no real value to the promises of God made to Abraham and Isaac.
In spite of God’s clear command, Isaac still planned to bless Esau as his firstborn. He commanded Esau to go hunting and prepare a meal for him. Overhearing Isaac’s plans, Rebekah told Jacob to kill two goats which she would prepare for Jacob to give to his father. To deceive Isaac, she also dressed Jacob in Esau’s clothes and placed goatskin on his hands and neck. Isaac, being old and nearly blind, was confused b a person who felt like Esau but sounded like Jacob. After repeatedly lying to his father, Jacob gained his father’s confidence and received the birthright and blessing.
Shortly afterward, Esau returned from hunting and brought Isaac food, expecting to be blessed. Isaac trembled when it became clear to him how he had been deceived. Esau wept and pleaded for a blessing. Isaac would not bless him, but prophesied that his descendants would lead a rough life and live by the sword. Blinded by anger, Esau plotted vengeance against Jacob. Rebekah instructed Jacob to leave and stay with her relatives until is was safe to return.
Lessons For Us
This story teaches us several important lessons. First, we should learn from this account that God’s will is done despite sinners who try to prevent it. Both Isaac and Esau were wrong in trying to prevent the clear will of God from being done. Isaac allowed his feelings toward his favorite son Esau to stand in the way of his carrying out God’s will. Esau, who at one time despised his birthright, was willing later to accept it, despite his knowledge that it was not God’s will that he receive it. How often do we, like Esau and Isaac, fight against the will of God for us? How often don’t we feel we know better than God what is best for us? Help us, Lord to say and live: “Thy will be done.”
A second lesson we can learn from this account is that God’s will is not accomplished through disobedience to His will. In other words, the end does not justify the means. Both Jacob and Rebekah were wrong in using deceit to obtain the birthright. Rebekah felt that she had to do something, even if it was wrong, in order for God’s promise to be fulfilled. Jacob, too, felt he needed to “buy” a birthright that God had already promised him. He felt he needed to lie to his father so God’s promise could come true. This lesson is especially relevant in today’s world where “situation ethics” is so prevalent; where “right and wrong” is not determined according to the Ten Commandments, but according to the situation one is in at the time. Our God is all- powerful. He does not need or desire for us to sin to accomplish His will.
So Isaac and Esau were wrong in fighting against God’s will, and Rebekah and Jacob were wrong in feeling it necessary to sin to accomplish God’s will. Two wrongs did not a birthright make.
However, this account also provides hope to us sinners. We can see how we often commit the same sins as our spiritual forefathers. Despite their faults, the birthright and promise were passed on to Jacob, and through his descendants a Savior was born. This Savior died to atone for their sins and ours. Thanks be to our gracious God whose will is done in spite of us sinners.
Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways To keep His statutes still! Oh, that my God would grant me grace To know and do His will! (TLH 416:1)
— Teacher Joseph Lau