Last week we focused on Jacob the schemer- and how he played on his older brother's appetite for instant gratification and taunted him into giving up his birthright for a bowl of meaty red stew.In the end, Jacob got the birthright, Esau a bowl of lentil soup. Two thing we didn’t talk about:
1. To give up one's birthright, as Esau did, for food, or anything for that matter, was a very big deal.It not just was stupid on Esau's part, but it showed lack of respect for family heritage and tradition.It was as if Esau said, none of this family stuff means anything to me anyway- I'm doing what I want, and right now I want to eat.
2.Bargaining birthrights between the boys was one thing- but the arrangement could not be made legal until their father (Isaac) formally blessed Jacob. Isaac would have to grant to Jacob all the rights and privileges of the eldest son. That meant Jacob had a bit more scheming to do; deal or no deal, Esau was still Isaac's favorite. But he would take his time.
Years passed, and Esau picks up a couple of wives, and unfortunately for Esau, both parents are disappointed with his choices. The ladies he chose were Hittites. Just as Abraham had very specific parameters on where his servant would find a wife for Isaac, Esau and Jacob were also under strict guidelines on who they could marry- and they knew it. But Esau, again showing lack of respect for family tradition, broke the rules and married girls from the wrong region.
While Jacob stays single and grows even closer to Rebecka; Isaac grows older and almost blind. On what appears to be his death bed, Isaac asks Esau a favor. Rebecca overhears this and decides the time is right to put a plan into action which will secure Jacob's future as inheritor. She tells her favorite son: “Listen. I overheard your father say to Esau, 7 ‘Bring me some wild game and prepare me a delicious meal. Then I will bless you in the Lord’s presence before I die.’(He is going to get the birthright!)8 Now, my son, listen to me. Do exactly as I tell you.9 Go out to the flocks, and bring me two fine young goats. I’ll use them to prepare your father’s favorite dish.10 Then take the food to your father so he can eat it and bless you before he dies.”
Now, Jacob isn't stupid, and he argues... “But look,” ...“my brother, Esau, is a hairy man, and my skin is smooth. 12 What if my father touches me? He’ll see that I’m trying to trick him, and then he’ll curse me instead of blessing me.”
Now I want you to notice something here.Jacob isn't avers to stealing the birthright- he is only worried about being caught...and cursed.This is another trait we'll see in Jacob over and over- he wants to insure his own safety- he has no more respect for family tradition that Esau; but he sees a gold ring and he's grabbing at it... he just wants to make sure he doesn't get cursed in the process.
13 But mom gives him what he asks for, “Then let the curse fall on me, my son! Just do what I tell you. Go out and get the goats for me!”
Knowing he is in the clear, Jacob retrieves the items for his mom; Rebecca cooks the meal and then disguises Jacob by putting Esau’s clothes on him...oh, and the skins of two baby goats over his hands and the smooth part of his neck… (what must Esau have looked like?) Jacob the nervous wreck, takes the tray into Isaacs room and says, “Dad?” And Isaac, who has no doubt heard his son Jacob’s voice a million times over the years, answers… “I’m over here… who are you? Jacob or Esau?”
And Jacob says, “I am… Esau… your firstborn. I did what you told me to do… um… I hunted… and I cooked this goat, I mean, this thing I shot with an arrow... now sit up and eat it, so you can bless me.”
But Isaac (sharp as a tack) said to his son, “How did you do it so quickly, my son?” And Jacob, now trembling, spits out the only thing he can think of… “The Lord… your God… made me go fast.” Now it’s interesting to note here, not only is Jacob lying through his teeth, but he is also calling God, 'YOUR God'… as if to say, "hey, you're the one who believes in this stuff…not me... you deal with how it happened"
But Isaac isn’t quite sold- and he says to Jacob, “Come over here and let me touch you, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” So Jacob goes up to his dad, and old blind Isaac feels his hands- the ones covered with goatskin… but something isn’t quite right… Isaac muses... “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau,” And after a while, Old Isaac doesn’t know what to think… but his hands were hairy, and Esau’s hands are hairy; so he blessed him. Partly. After the first half of the blessing, he starts having second thoughts… and Isaac stops and asks Jacob again… “Are you really my son Esau?” Halfway home is not good enough for Jacob- “Of course!” he flips. And I'm not sure Isaac is sold, but just like Esau with the stew, Isaac’s appetite starts to get the better of him... and he says to Jacob, “OK just bring me the food so I can eat... and then I’ll bless you.” So he brings it to him, and he eats; and he brings him wine, and he drinks... and drinks.
Then, maybe in an effort to convince himself, or maybe in an effort to deny what he was about to do… Isaac asks for confirmation a third time, “Come over and kiss me, my son.” And by this time, Jacob is short on patience, and probably figures he has nothing to lose, and he goes over and kisses his old man; and Isaac smells his clothes, " Esau"- he is satisfied, and he says…“Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed."
And he pours out the complete blessing on Jacob… “May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. 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!”
Interesting isn’t it? How the blessing was won through deception? But then again, maybe not so interesting; look at the four characters of this story- First, there is Isaac- he held the promise God gave to his father, yet the man, is no Abraham. Granted, he isn’t the most savvy of personalities, but even so, he did little if anything at all to set up a good life and future for his sons. Abraham understood the covenant, and took steps to insure that it would be passed on. Abraham intentionally disinherited Ishmael and all of his other children, giving everything to Isaac- the promised one. Abraham arranged for Isaac to have a proper wife, from a proper region, from a proper family- again, to protect the family and insure the covenant. Why did Isaac not do the same for Esau if he were to be the proper heir?
Second, there is Rebecca- so full of life... but whether it was living with Isaac that did it to her, or whether it was just a part of her personality she inherited from her crafty family, she was the mastermind of this deception with Jacob. We don’t know if she was hearing from God, or if she had prayed for direction, or if she was just acting like a manipulative Mom championing her favorite son, but her actions not only deemed her guilty, but implicated her son Jacob as well.
Third, there is Esau… I've always felt a little sorry for Esau... but then again, from the looks of it he didn’t care much for the values of his family either- he thinks so little of what his father has to give him that he trades it for a quick meal. Then he goes against the family traditions and expectations again, and marries not one woman, but two, both Hittites- clearly forbidden... So would he be my choice to carry on the promise of God? Not by a long shot! I don’t want anyone who is that fixated on instant gratification and exhibiting such spontaneous behavior responsible for anything that needs to last…
And fourth, there is Jacob. Jacob the lying, deceitful one is not a great choice to do anything of value in my book. Not only has he shown himself to be a cheat and a manipulator, but a chicken as well! Rebecca comes to him with a plan, and he wants the prize…he wants the inheritance… but he wants security… and he won’t go into that room till Mommy makes the plan almost fool proof (or at least, Isaac proof, if you will)
So on all sides of the story we see people who are at the very least, less than honorable, and self serving- putting their own agenda in front of God’s plan for the eternal covenant. Heck, Jacob, the one who ends up with the blessing, doesn’t even claim to believe in God at this point. Right to his father’s face he declares that this is something that he hasn't bought into!
I believe that all of this is intentional on the part of the author- I believe that whoever wrote Genesis wanted us to know that this promise, this covenant, has nothing to do with people's ability to carry it out. I believe that the author wants us to know from the beginning, that this covenant was created, initiated and is sustained by God!
We get so crazy sometimes when we look around the world and we see so much bad news- and we hear about people doing evil things and hurting or cheating one another- greed and deception everywhere… everyone appears to be out for themselves; countries after their own interests, corporations influencing government for their own gain, people manipulating people for their own purposes… And we think to ourselves (at least I think to myself) 'this isn’t how God wants it to be… and how can God work through all of this mess when we are so intent on getting our own way and doing things our own way? How can we continually turn our backs on God and expect, or at least hope, that God will keep loving us? '
And then I remember this story. Because as much as we turn our backs on God, God never turns God's back on us. That as much as we think that we are the 'make it or break it' keepers of the covenant, and that we have this responsibilityas the heirs of the promise to make things happen, and act right, and live right and BE right… my friends, the truth is we don’t hold anything at all… God does. God holds the covenant, God keeps the covenant. You and I are heirs… we are the beneficiaries of God’s benevolence. We are the recipients of God’s grace…
We have no more power to break the promise God made to us than a baby does to stop us from picking it up out of a crib. We live in God’s hands… we walk in God’s promise… we grow only because of and in response to, God’s love and grace. That’s the beauty in all of this.
Next week you’ll see Isaac finally start to act like the heir to the promise that God intended... Jacob, well, he still has a way to go. And for most of us, we fall more in the Jacob category than being there with Isaac or Abraham at this point- but here’s the good news… we’re not done yet. And God isn’t done yet.
And everything that we aspire to be and that God yearns for us to be in still within us; even though we may try to disguise it with a goatskin, or are just plain blind to what’s going on, God is still working! And every once in a while we recognize that truth inside each of us that can't be covered up... that God has more in store for us than just our own agenda… that God’s love trumps anything that we can want and is richer than anything we can dream up for ourselves. That’s when things change… that’s when shalom begins…. And when we can listen and respond to that truth... everything is possible!