There comes a time in the life of every family when the young grow up, when they must leave their mother and father, get married and start their own homes. This is the account of Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah.
How we had wished that they would present us with a godly picture and model of marriage and parenthood. We will be disappointed. Instead, we see a compromised and a divided home. We see a marriage that did not always work well. Isaac distrusted God’s leading in the matter of his sons. It is a recipe for trouble, when a family head’s faith in God’s is dysfunctional. As a result he distrusted his family. Isaac favoured Esau whilst Rebekah favoured Jacob. The family dynamics are explained in 25:27,28 , “When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob”.
Now we understand that according to custom the oldest son inherited ‘the blessing’ – the covenantal promise. However, it was made clear from the beginning, that Jacob the twin, (younger, by virtue of the fact that he was born a few minutes after Esau) was the one destined to inherit the covenantal promises by way of a prophetic word from God, “the older shall serve the younger” (25:23).
Rebekah knew this but dealt deceitfully with her husband in order to obtain the outcome. Isaac refused to acknowledge this, because he, according to his natural instincts favoured Esau. God ultimately sovereignly overruled in the matter, but all this does not excuse the terrible behaviour of the family. This dysfunctionality would bring trouble for many years to come. Actions have consequences and sometimes we have to live with the consequences of our actions for the rest of our lives. Isaac and Rebekah sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7).
And so, we ought not to be surprised as we read the story of the venture of their boys into married life. It is hair-raising! Esau married two Hittite women. They made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah (26:34). Esau was an unprincipled, rash and worldly man. He had no desire after the God of His grandfather Abraham. He doesn’t care about his birth-right. And yet, he becomes insanely jealous of his brothers status and blessing. He corrects his mistakes with another mistake. In our text we shall see that Esau, because he knows that his parents are displeased with his choice of Hittite wives, shall take yet another wife, and again, she shall not be from the line of the covenant, but from Ishmael’s family. More about that in closing...
As for Jacob, we shall see in the 29th Chapter that he lands up marrying two wives, Leah and Rachel. This is another story of deceit, controversy and betrayal. This is not a story of sinning to begin with, but of being sinned against. This is the nature of life in this world. We ought to be constantly amazed that God works out His purposes amidst such messy and sinful relationships.
And so, with the encouragement of his parents, Jacob begins his journey to Paddan–aram in North Western Mesopotamia, to the place and home where his mother grew up. Sadly, he will never see his mother again. When he returned from Mesopotamia twenty years later afterwards, his mother lay buried in the cave of Machpelah (49:31), whilst Isaac will still be alive (35:27).
Jacob will now embark upon a long spiritual journey in which he will learn to trust God. He has yet a long way to grow into a man after God's own heart. I am fascinated by the story of Jacob the deceiver, who was later renamed Israel (35:10 “He strives with God”. There are so many valuable lessons from the life of Jacob for our own edification, and I intend to explore them with you. We begin with the first nine verses.
29:1-2: Isaac's parting words to Jacob.
29: 3-5: Isaac repeats the covenant blessing.
29: 6-9: Esau’s foolish response.
1. 29:1-2 Isaac's parting words to Jacob.
Isaac, finally persuaded and now and listening to Rebekah (see her concern in 27:46), strongly exhorts Jacob not to take a wife from among the Canaanites. Esau’s marriage to Judith and Basemath, Hittite women (a part of the Canaanite race) had brought enough trouble into their family.
In Genesis 15 we learned that the Canaanites were a cursed race. We must understand that the Canaanite were the reference point for unspeakable evil in the Bible. So, when God instructs Moses to write the holiness code (Leviticus) for His people, it is with reference to the evil of these Canaanite people that God speaks and says repeatedly, “you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you” (Lev. 20:23). The history of the Canaanites is hair-raising stuff, but Esau disregarded all this. However, when he overhears the conversation of his father and mother with Jacob, concerning their low view of Canaanite women, something begins to dawn on him. But more of that later …
Isaac counsels Jacob to get a wife from Paddan-aram near Haran in NW Mesopotamia, his mother’s home. She was the daughter of Bethuel, and Jacob is told to marry one of her brother’s daughters. Again, we must emphasise that Jacob is not going to find a perfect wife there. But Isaac and Rebekah know that the fear of the LORD, and thus a sense of common grace, associated with a culture that fears God, would be found there.
What is more however is that these parents shall set Jacob on a journey that is ultimately going to be very good for his spiritual development. That is why I would like to trace this journey with you in terms of a series of sermons, which may sound a little like John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress. It is going to be a journey with many ups and downs, a journey of joys and fears and sorrows. But in all these things God works to make him into a godlier man. The Lord often works the same way in our own lives to conform us to the image of Christ.
Many of Jacob's problems, and indeed our own problems can be traced to his and our own sin. But there is a difference between the sin of an Esau and a Judas, and the sin of a Jacob and a Peter. In the case of an OT Esau and a NT Judas their sin leads them away from God. In the case of an OT Jacob and a NT Peter, both are called by God and both are covenant children of God, and therefore the LORD turns their sins into opportunities for growth and blessing. James, the brother of Jesus reminds us in this regards that trials of various kinds (i.e. induced by our own sinfulness and otherwise) are not designed to destroy us, but to further our growth in spiritual maturity (Jas. 1:2,3). That is what we shall see in Jacob's life. And God, like a wise and loving Father will not necessarily keep us from making mistakes. He shall not necessarily keep us from our wilful want to sin. But, He will lead us, refine us, mature us and sanctify us through and in it all.
2. Isaac confirms the blessing to Jacob. (28:3-5)
Now, Isaac is also learning from his own mistakes. And here Isaac confirms that covenant blessing, which God first had made with his father, Abraham, and which he had first given to Jacob, sadly in the context of deceit. However, by confirming this promise to Jacob, Isaac affirms the legitimacy of that blessing, despite the fact that it was originally obtained through deceit.
This covenant blessing will make all the difference in Jacob’s journey from now on. Covenant means that God is holding on to Jacob, even when Jacob will at times feel abandoned and alone. And in those times he has to remember God's word- God’s promise, for that is the only thing that he has to hold on to at times.
Remember and internalise the Word of God! Feed on it and let it sustain you when there is nothing left. We all experience times such as these. The God of the covenant shall carry you, dear believer, when you have no hoarded resources left. I know. I have also been there. This is the way in which God grows us. This is the way in which we gain assurance of faith. In the proverbial lion’s den we learn the nearness and the presence of God.
The covenantal blessing
“May God Almighty (El Shaddai) bless you. No-one less than the Almighty, the Everlasting God was promised here to be with Jacob.
…and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples.” This is in line with the Abrahamic promise, in which God told Abraham that he and his family would become a blessing to all the nations of the earth. Well, in this blessing to Abraham, Isaac and now Jacob, the promise of God continues. The phrase “company of peoples” (Hebr. qahal) is the root word for the Old Testament word for ‘church’ or ‘assembly’. This is the first time it is used in the Bible. This is a great promise, and the fulfilment of it is found in the continual line of the covenant of grace, becoming the ekklesia the church of the NT and eventually the assembly of God’s people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation will be found before the throne in heaven (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). What an incredible promise is being given to Jacob.
May he give you the blessing of Abraham to you ... Isaac is confirming that Jacob has now become the new head of the covenant line. Jacob the deceiver! Imagine that. But that just shows you what Paul shows us also in the NT. God’s grace is truly amazing. If you are a struggling Christian, then reflect on the life of Jacob. The race is not yet finished for you, my dear brother and sister, and God may yet make more out of you than you think. Try not resist God in this process.
...that you may possess the land of your sojournings which God gave to Abraham. This is Canaan, the promised land of the Hebrew people, but it is more. It is the promise of a better country ( Hebr. 11:8-10
28:5 With these words Isaac sent Jacob away. And now this interesting phrase ... "And he went to… the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother .” Birth order is not followed here, and it shows us the sovereignty of God in reversing the natural order of things. God's electing love doesn't work according to man- made laws. God’s election is always sovereign and free, and we see it time and again in the Bible (i.e.the way in which David is chosen as king over Israel)
3. Esau's continued folly. (28:6-9)
Esau has overheard this conversation between his parents and he heard Isaac repeating the blessing to Jacob. And so he attempts another route to please his parents. Whereas, Esau ought to have repented, and submitted to God, he now attempts to correct the matter of his marriages to Canaanite women, now marrying Ishmaelite wife. Maybe that was better than a Hittite, but it wasn't the answer to correct his sinfulness. He needed to flee to God for grace.
So, there we are. We put our hands before our mouths. The apostle Paul in Romans 9-11, reflecting on the electing grace of God (and in particular with respect to the story of Jacob and Esau) ends his reflection with these words,
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" 35 "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.