After deceiving Isaac into passing his blessing of the first-born onto Jacob rather than Esau (Genesis 27), Rebekah learns that Esau intends to kill Jacob as soon as their father is dead (Verse 41). Under the pretense that Jacob must not marry from amongst the “daughters of Heth”, that is, the local peoples among whom the family is living, Rebekah plants the idea into her husband’s mind that Jacob must be sent away, back to her own people in Padan-Aram to find a suitable bride from among them.
A successful con artist will tell you that the most effective tool of their craft is to persuade others to do what you want them to do and make them think the idea to do so is their own. Rebekah does just that. Genesis 27:43 tells us that she intended Jacob to go to her hometown of Haran and stay with her brother Laban until Esau’s wrath subsides. Yet she makes no specific mention of this to Isaac, but merely laments their family’s prospects if their son is left to wed one of these Canaanite girls. Her cunning is demonstrated in this maneuver just as it was when she instructed Jacob to deceive his father; for Isaac gives heed to her distress and makes the “suggestion” that the young man ought to go to his Uncle Laban and find a bride from his household (Gen. 28:2).
“And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham.” (Genesis 28:3-4)
As if the magniloquent blessing bestowed upon Jacob back in Genesis 27:28-29 were not enough, Isaac again pours out upon his son beautiful words of adulation before his departure. Still humiliated and seething in quiet anger, Esau witnesses this conversation between his father and brother and carefully notes the instructions that Jacob is given.
Esau’s response is quite interesting, for he does what so many who have felt the sting of self-inflicted rejection have done before and since. He seeks to precisely emulate the behavior which seems to carry the promise of approval. If God shall require an offering, then Cain will bring one (Gen. 4:3), if God is pleased with sacrifice, then King Saul shall offer it (1 Sam. 15:15), and if God’s blessing shall rest upon the son who marries daughters from the lineage of Abraham, then Esau will do likewise. But the hearts of each of these men were far from the Lord! The carnal man has ever sought to secure the approval of God through careful attention to the deeds and acts which God has prescribed, all the while withholding the one thing which God cherishes above all else: a love for Him. They perform in a way that they believe will endear them to the Lord, but they inwardly despise all that God is.
Just as Cain and Saul, Esau’s “obedience” to the expectations of the Lord was perverse and deficient at that. Genesis 28:9 tells us that Esau married a descendant of Ishmael (Mahalath), but he had already married two Hittite women, much to the dismay of his parents (Gen. 26:34-35). What a tragic portrait of the worldly man who desperately seeks to fool God into applauding his piety, but in the end has only deluded himself. For Esau is like those who will not “divorce” their own commitments to the things of this world, nor sever their ties to the deeds of their own flesh; but rather they will merely attempt to add some sort of righteous observance atop their lifestyle of sinfulness. “I will go to Church”, they say, “But I will not cease to go to the bars and taverns.” “I will read the Bible, I will pray, I will be baptized”, they declare, “But I will not stop reading pornography, cursing, nor will I change the lifestyle to which I am accustomed.” Let me add these things to my daily practice, let me take on these new habits, but do not ask me to forsake any of the old.
It is the rankest of hypocrisy to suppose that sanctimonious behavior actually sanctifies. To presume that marching abreast of God’s people will indeed make someone one of God’s people is to deceive only one’s self. It was not the marrying into the Semitic line that gained the approval of God, it was the grace of God that gained Jacob His approval. Esau made the error that so many who know nothing about the things of God make: he believed that God looks upon the outward appearance, just as man does. He was fully willing to go through a particular ritual, to marry a new wife if that meant that he might gain God’s (and Isaac’s) blessing. But he was not willing to surrender himself to the Lord and accept His grace. He was willing to act like a true believer, so long as that did not mean that he must become a true believer.