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Tag Archives: Isaac

The Death Of Isaac

“Isaac breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.” (Genesis 35:29)

The Book of Genesis is a book of beginnings. It is actually a book all about the beginning of God’s Creation. The story of man’s origins here on Earth unfolds through the accounts of individuals. As one person takes center stage, those preceding them fade into the background and are eventually taken by death. From Adam to Abel, to Seth, to Noah, to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, and finally to Joseph; as one person comes to prominence, another fades into the background. Eventually, that person fades away and dies and someone else comes along with whom God will deal and work through.

As much as Genesis is a book of beginnings and new life, it is also about endings and death. The words of the Lord to Adam saying, “In the day that you eat from it, you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17b) come to a complete and horrific realization with the passing of each personage from the narrative; just as they come to a horrific realization every time we ourselves lose one who is dear to us. Death spares no one, as we all know, regardless of that person’s position, importance, wealth, fame, and even their standing with God Almighty. Death is the final enemy that remains to be crushed under the feet of our precious Savior (1 Cor. 15:26), and until it is none of us shall escape its reach — save that our Lord returns beforehand.

Issac, whose life was offered up by Abraham so many years before, has finally reached the end of his days and is laid to rest beside his father in the Cave of Machpelah. Genesis 35 opens up with the revival of Jacob and his family and the fullness of their coming to God, but it proceeds and concludes with the deaths of Deborah, Rachel, and Isaac. What a solemn reminder to us all that even our justification and right standing with God will in no way shelter us from the potential loss of our loved ones. Temporal tragedies will yet visit us even after our souls have found new life in God. Rachel looks down at her newborn son and calls his name Ben-oni, son of my sorrow. The baby takes his first breath even as his mother takes her last. Jacob grieves his beloved Rachel, but the boy will not forever bear the testimony of his mother’s death; for his father shall call his name Ben-jamin, son of my right hand. After the loss of Rachel and the later loss of his favorite son, Joseph, Jacob will lean his right hand upon this boy and his love for the child will seem to be all that sustains him (Gen. 42:38).

One of the most intriguing aspects of this entire chapter is the fact that it is at this time that Isaac passes away, and that he has survived to this point. We were told back in Chapter 27 that Isaac was old at that time and that his vision was failing him (Gen. 27:1). “Behold now, I am old“, he stated, “I do not know the day of my death” (Gen. 27:2). However, no less than 43 years have transpired between that statement and his death! Since we are told very little about Isaac between his sendoff of Jacob in Chapter 28 and his death in Chapter 35, we are left to wonder if he accomplished anything at all during that period of nearly half a century.

So many of us reach a point in our own lives when we conclude that our hour has passed, our time of usefulness has ended, and the days where the Lord can work through us are no more. We retire from service to God and settle down to live out the balance of our days in quiet repose. But is God ever truly done with us while life remains in us? Is our work here on Earth ever really done before we go on to be with the Lord? Not that any of us should attempt to keep up the grueling and demanding schedules of our younger days as we reach our twilight years — the time comes to pass the torch for our most challenging tasks to a younger person whom God is leading to take over — but I seriously doubt that the Lord really intends any of us to simply “close up shop” entirely and retreat to a peaceful corner to await our death.

My own grandfather was a preacher for some 40 years before he suffered a debilitating stroke in his seventies. After he began to regain his faculties and could communicate again, one of the first things he had brought to him in the nursing home was his Bible. Lying in a weakened state and struggling to “relearn” how to do even the most basic of tasks, who could have blamed this man for wanting to live in undisturbed peace and quiet for the few remaining years he had left? Nevertheless, he continued to do what he had spent the prime of his life doing: serving God and preaching His Word. Though his legs would not support him to stand in a pulpit, though the stroke had left his speech slurred and his hands shaky, he continued to do what God had called him to do. He preached. The church pews filled with worshipers dressed in their Sunday best had been replaced by feeble octogenarians adorned in pajamas and bathrobes, but it did not matter who the audience was. He preached to them just as he had to the parishioners. By the time my grandfather went to be with the Lord at the age of 80, no fewer than 15 persons at the twilight of their own lives had come to know Christ by the testimony of this man who refused to retire.

At times it can be amazing, at other times it can be amusing, but we have all heard the complaints of those bemoaning their own advancing years. It seems that what we each consider old is relative and ever-changing as we get older ourselves. The teenager looks at anyone over 30 as ancient while the 60-year old says that they would give anything to be 40 again. The milestones of life that we once looked forward at with trepidation will one day be looked back upon with fondness, nostalgia, and perhaps a tinge of regret. What might I accomplish today if the strength and vigor I possessed then remained with me! If only I had not wasted that time with the notion that I was too old and too weak to do anything worthwhile then.

The truth is, it is never too late to serve God and work for Him. Even if you have never done so before, there is no better time to begin than now. After all, Moses was 80 years old when God first called him (Exodus 3:2). If we have a willing heart and a humble spirit, if we pray for God to show us how we may serve Him, He will show us what He wants us to do, regardless of our age. May we all make the best use of the years that God has given us so that we may bring glory to Him.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published August 4, 2010]

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

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Acting Like A True Believer

“And Esau went to Ishmael, and married, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.” (Genesis 28:9)

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).

May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.” (Genesis 28:3-4)

As if the magniloquent blessing bestowed upon Jacob back in Genesis 27:28-29 was 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.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published May 26, 2010]

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

The Stolen Blessing

“But Isaac replied to Esau, “Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?” (Genesis 27:37)

Last time, we spoke of Isaac’s commendable devotion to the Lord and his steadfast dedication to pursuing the things of God. It is good that we were shown such a wonderful picture of Isaac’s faithfulness in Genesis 26 because if we were left with only the account of the events of Genesis 27, we might have come to quite a different conclusion about his character. In fact, the whole sordid affair of the “stolen blessing” casts such a despicable shadow across this entire family that it gives us pause when we reflect upon the fact that they were the lineage through whom our Lord Jesus would ultimately arise. Yet we know that we serve a perfect God Who is in no way dependent upon “perfect” people, and thus we are reminded that even the Patriarchs of old were not without their faults.

“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

As we read through the details of this incident, the treachery and deception of Jacob’s ruse, carefully rehearsed to him by Rebekah, his mother, makes it readily apparent that neither the woman nor her son are blameless. Rebekah is guilty of conspiring to defraud Isaac, while Jacob perpetrates what is perhaps the world’s first case of “identity theft.” We know that they are in no way innocent. But Isaac and even Esau are no less blameworthy of wrong-doing in the eyes of God.  Let us consider the role of each player in this very sad and deplorable scene:

Isaac

As is so often the case, the head-of-the-household is where the occasion of familial folly can be traced. Isaac calls his favorite son (Gen. 25:28), Esau, to his side and tells him that he is old and will soon be dead; therefore, the time has come to pass on the mantle of blessing in order that Esau might assume the role of his father (Gen. 27:1-2). But why does he do so? Has the Lord appeared to him again as He did previously (Gen. 26:2, 26:24), instructing Isaac to do this? No. It seems that this notion has arisen solely from the heart and mind of Isaac. He tells Esau that he fears that the days of his life are at an end, but God has certainly not given him this idea. No less than 43 years will transpire before we read his “obituary” in Genesis 35:29!

Isaac reacts out of fear and panic that his time is short and that those things which must be done can wait no longer. So he decides that he shall take it upon himself to pass the blessing on to Esau at once. But we can be certain that Isaac was not ignorant of the oracle which the Lord had told Rebekah those many years before: that Jacob would be the blessed son (Gen. 25:23). How is it, then, that he should seek to circumvent the will of God in order to accomplish his own purposes?

“And prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.” (Genesis 27:4)

Like so many parents throughout history, Isaac seems to have intertwined the value of Esau with Esau’s meeting his expectations. How many fathers have we known who withhold their love and approval save that their own sons fulfill the desires which they have for them? Genesis 25:28 tells us plainly that Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his son’s venison. As Esau had been willing to sacrifice the blessing of his father in order to satisfy his own fleshly appetites, so is Isaac willing to “sell” the birthright to the son which will satisfy his. What a picture of two men being led about by their own appetites, preferring to serve the god of their own bellies (Phil. 3:19), if but for a season, rather than remaining mindful of the things of the Living God.

“Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” (Genesis 27:33)

Isaac’s response when he realizes that he has been duped is very interesting. He does not become angry. He does not recant the blessing which was extracted from him under false pretenses. He trembles. Is this not the response of any of us when we are reminded that we are powerless to override the plans of God? So often we know the will and desire of God, yet we try to supersede it with our own. And when the sovereignty of the Lord of Heaven moves upon our own lives in those instances, trumping our actions with His own, we, too, are left with no response but fear and trembling. Ashamed that we have even tried to superimpose our own will over that of our precious Lord’s, we are left with no viable recourse but to throw ourselves on His mercy and accept the course of action that He has set in motion.

Rebekah

If we could have asked Rebekah the day that this happened, she very likely would have told us that she had really done nothing wrong. After all, she had already been told that God had chosen Jacob to receive Isaac’s blessing, what was the harm in making sure that this happened? As she overheard Isaac and Esau discussing the giving of the blessing to occur after Esau returned from his hunt (Gen. 27:5), Rebekah must have surely been gripped with desperation. She must have felt compelled to do something to prevent this from happening. But what to do? There is an age-old philosophical question that asks: “Is an evil deed truly evil if the end result is good?” Or, “Does the end justify the means?” In the eyes of God, we know the answer to this question. We are never justified in resorting to trickery, deception, lies, or any other sinful behavior in order to bring about any perceived “greater good.” We serve an all-powerful God in Whose hands all things are upheld. We must trust that He will bring about all things according to His will.

Rebekah had heard the Word of God which clearly told her that Jacob would be the son of blessing, not Esau. It was not up to her to ensure that this would happen; God would cause it to come to pass. Yet how often do we do likewise? We have the promises in God’s Word to us (the Bible) and we still resort to all sorts of measures that conflict with His holiness in order to ensure our own “success.” We must trust in the One Who has made the promises to bring them to pass. Any suggestion as to what would have happened that day had Rebekah not intervened would be pure speculation. I do know one thing, though: the blessing most definitely would not have been passed on to Esau.

Jacob

Like his mother, Jacob’s greatest fault is believing that he is personally responsible for making sure that God’s will is carried out in his life, regardless of the method. We already saw Jacob behave less than honorably when he took advantage of Esau’s low regard for the blessing back in Genesis 25:27-34. So, really, his despicable actions here do not come as any surprise. But there can be little doubt that he has definitely taken things quite a bit further by moving from extortion to out-and-out deception. He lies repeatedly to his father with a coolness that leaves little doubt that he was one with much practice in lying and manipulating others. Two aspects of this make things particularly heinous: that he is deceiving his own father, and that he is doing so in the name of God.

“Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?” And he said, “Because the Lord your God caused it to happen to me.” (Genesis 27:20)

Few things are more distressing than when a person attempts to validate their own misdeeds by applying the endorsement of God to them. They equate the success of their own endeavors, no matter how deplorable, with the approval of the Lord. Or else they seek to elevate their own wicked agenda to a level of unwarranted respectability by fabricating the confirmation of Heaven behind it. “God has told me to do this”, or “The Lord wants me to do that”, they will claim. They do things in the name of God which God has nothing to do with. Perhaps Jacob really believed that the blessing of God was with him during this tragic event, but we can be certain that this was no plan of His. How the will of God comes to pass is every bit as important as whether or not it comes to pass at all.

Esau

“For you know that even afterwards, when [Esau] desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.” (Hebrews 12:17)

Esau blames Jacob for stealing his birthright (Gen. 27:36), though he had willfully given it to him for the price of a bowl of soup. That thing which had previously been of absolutely no value whatsoever to Esau now was something he was exceedingly bitter and angry over. Why the change of mind? Sadly, it is not that Esau now has a higher regard for the things of God; he has not acquired a higher level of spirituality. But he is now standing face-to-face with the consequences of his decisions, and that is what disturbs him. Many people, when faced with the consequences of their sinful behavior, will cry out in despair, but it is not because they have suddenly realized that they have offended the holiness of God. It is for no other reason than they sincerely desire that the results of their bad decisions be abated. Esau has no more interest in serving in the priestly role of the family than he did before, but he is interested in the “grain and the new wine.” Oh, to enjoy the blessings of God without having to yield one’s will to Him! To eat the delicious red stew and receive the blessings of Heaven! To sing with the drunkards on Saturday night and with the church choir on Sunday morning! This is what Esau is so bitter about.

Conclusion

Finally, it must be noted that, although each of the four members of this family were selfishly going about to pursue their own desires, the will of God is not frustrated. Though they were all in error, though they all were guilty of trying to do things their own way rather than God’s, the end result was exactly what God said it would be. This was not how God planned for it to come about, but His purposes were realized, nonetheless. Rebekah would never again see Jacob after she sent him away (Gen. 27:43), Esau would end up living away from his homeland in the land of Edom (Gen. 32:3), and, ironically, Jacob, who had just received such a magnificent blessing from Isaac, being the heir to all of Isaac’s wealth, would flee from his home and the wrath of Esau with no more than the clothes on his back and the staff in his hand! What a price they paid for their sins. We do well to be certain that we do things the way that God would have us do them.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published May 20, 2010]

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

Isaac, Digger Of Wells

“Then Isaac dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the same names which his father had given them.”(Genesis 26:18)

Isaac is a very unique figure in the Book of Genesis. A full 14 chapters are devoted to the life of Abraham. Ten chapters chronicle Jacob and 12 feature Joseph as the most prominent person. As for Isaac, Chapter 26 is pretty much it. Sure, he is spoken of as early as Chapter 12 when God promises his father Abraham that he will become a “great nation.” In fact, Isaac’s impending birth is a key subject throughout the life of Abraham. But what are we told once Isaac finally arrives? Remarkably little.

The details given to us in Chapter 26 of the prime of Isaac’s life (the following chapter opens up with Isaac in his old age) are at first glance quite mundane. But what we are shown are truly the highlights that are of the greatest importance. Unlike his father Abraham, there are no great journeys undertaken, no wars waged. His life is not portrayed as his son Jacob’s: filled with intrigue, deception, and family struggles that would rival the most riveting of soap opera plots. But the events of Chapter 26 are precisely the things which God finds important. These are the things that really matter.

God’s Covenant Is Confirmed

In Verses 1-5, and then again in Verse 24, God appears to Isaac and confirms His promises that He had originally made to Abraham. I am with you, I will bless you, I will multiply your descendants. God does not actually appear to very many people in the Bible, Isaac was one of the few. If we were told no more than this, it would serve to fix Isaac’s as one of the most extraordinary lives ever lived.

Like Father, Like Son

“The Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 26:2)

There are several uncanny similarities between the events in Isaac’s life and Abraham’s. So much so that some have questioned whether or not the details were maybe muddled over time and confused before they were written down. Famines, kings called Abimilech, army commanders named Phichol, lies about wives really being no more than sisters. As baseball great Yogi Berra said: “It’s déjà vu all over again!”

But it seems that the names Abimilech and Phichol were more likely titles given to men in those positions (such as “Commander-in-chief” or “Pharaoh”). Famines were definitely a common occurrence, and we are specifically told that this famine was in addition to the first famine in the days of Abraham (Verse 1). When famine strikes in the land this time, Isaac’s first instinct is to do what his father had done and go down into Egypt. But the Lord restrains him from doing so. When he arrives in the land of Gerar, he also emulates Abraham’s actions and tells the locals that Rebekah is his sister. Isaac not only learned the noble and commendable traits of his father, he learned the sinful and baser tendencies, as well. We learn here that Isaac was not a perfect man, and we are reminded of the importance of modeling godly behavior in front of our own children.

Patience And Meekness

 Now all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped up by filling them with earth.” (Genesis 26:15)

We glean two very exceptional (and very rare) attributes of Isaac when we read of how he patiently re-dug the wells of Abraham which the Philistines had covered. They are the virtues of patience and meekness. No sooner does he strike flowing water beneath the valley floor than the local herdsmen run him off and claim the well as their own. He does not threaten, he does not retaliate (compare 1 Peter 2:23); he simply moves on. He digs a second well, and the same thing happens again. But patiently and peacefully Isaac moves to yet another spot. There, at the Well of Rehoboth, Isaac praises God that He has provided a place in the land for him.

Busy Digging Wells

Finally, the whole tone of this chapter, indeed of Isaac’s whole life, is that he busies himself with the digging of wells. In the face of opposition, in the face of strife, in the face of trouble and turmoil: Isaac digs wells. Though there are those who would fill his wells with earth, though there are those who would try to steal the precious, life-giving water found beneath them: Isaac continues to dig wells. In good times and bad: Isaac digs wells.

When we consider that we have a Well ourselves, a Well that is the Lord Jesus Christ, filled with living waters (John 4:10), waters that we may drink of and never thirst again; we realize that our lives, too, are best spent with the patient digging into this Well. Digging deeper into the Well of His Word, coming to know Him better. Even when others would seek to steal the life-giving water that we find in Him (though no man can), even when others strive with us as we press on — digging ever deeper.

The digging of wells may not seem to be the most exciting of undertakings, in fact, we know that it takes a great deal of persistent effort. It can be back-breaking, exhausting, and downright heartbreaking when we have dug and dug and still failed to strike water. But Isaac is perhaps best known as a digger of wells. May we all be.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published May 13, 2010]

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

Esau Sells His Birthright

And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.)  Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” (Genesis 25:30-31 ESV)

In Genesis 25:23, the Lord tells Rebekah that the reason that the twins in her womb are struggling against one another is that they are “two nations”, and “two manner of people.” They are different in every way. We do not read much farther before we see exactly what He means.

Esau was a hunter: a man of the field. Jacob was a quiet man and spent his days indoors. Esau was brawny, muscular, and athletic; Jacob was fair-skinned and soft. Because of this, the boys’ father preferred manly Esau, while Rebekah doted on Jacob, the “Mama’s boy.” But while these are the initial distinctions between the two young men given to us in Genesis 25:27-28, we learn that there is much more to it than that when we come to Verses 29-34:

Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” (Genesis 25:29-34 ESV)

At first glance, it seems that Jacob is blackmailing Esau by threatening to let him die if he does not surrender his birthright immediately. But let us consider for a moment what is actually going on here. First of all, Esau comes in from hunting and is exhausted. I am certain that he was very hungry at this point and it seems that he hadn’t had any luck in his hunt, coming home empty-handed. So, he smells the stew that Jacob is making and asks him for some of it. Jacob tells him the price that he requires for giving him some, to which Esau replies that he is about to die, so what good is his birthright anyway? We should bear in mind that the two boys were living in the house of their father, Isaac, who had inherited all that his own father, Abraham, had (Gen. 25:5). This house was without a doubt filled with food and servants who could have happily brought Esau something to eat. Jacob is not holding Esau captive; he is not the only one who can provide him with food. It is doubtful that Esau was actually in any danger of starving to death at this moment (these were his words, not the writer of Genesis), but even if he had been, he certainly had other options.

So what made Esau surrender something so valuable for such a trivial price? The text says: “Thus Esau despised his birthright” (V. 34). It was of no value to him whatsoever. Why not at least get a bowl of hot soup out of the deal since it was something he didn’t really care about anyway? So we have here a further distinction between the two boys that went beyond their occupations and physical prowess. Jacob valued the birthright while Esau did not. What exactly, then, did the birthright entail? In the days before the Law of Moses was given, the firstborn son in each family would not only inherit a larger portion of their father’s possessions, he would also serve as the priest of the family. God would set apart unto Himself the Levites under the Mosaic Law (Numbers 3:12), but before this, the position of priest within each household fell to the firstborn son as part of their birthright. It seems that Esau really had no interest in taking on this role and placed no value in serving God at all. After eating the stew, Esau does not so much as pause a moment to reconsider his oath but heads off on his way.

Both men were in the wrong that day, but at least Jacob had his eye on receiving the blessing of God. His methods were clearly improper, but his objectives were at least commendable. As his grandfather Abraham had done so long ago when he sought to take matters into his own hands and conceive a son through Hagar (Genesis 16), Jacob sought to circumvent the timing and methods of God by resorting to trusting in his own ingenuity to bring about the promise of God. Never is it necessary to rely on our own strength in order to bring about the promises of God in our lives, especially when it involves dishonesty, trickery, and taking advantage of those who are unspiritual. God had promised that Jacob would obtain the birthright when He assured his mother that “The elder shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23). We can be certain that this maneuver on Jacob’s part was not God’s intended manner for the birthright to be transferred.

Esau, on the other hand, was guilty of being a faithless and carnal man; placing no worth on the things of God. By man’s standards, it might seem that he was the nobler of the two brothers at this point in time, but God knows the heart of man. Lest we are too rash to pass judgment on Esau, however, we must ask ourselves at what price we have been willing to sacrifice our own relationship with God? Our position with God in Christ is secured and upheld by Him alone, that is without question, but have we not at times behaved much like Esau: preferring the momentary pleasures of this world to our eternal “birthright” in Christ Jesus? We smell the stew of sin’s gratification and are so often willing in that moment to forsake the precious priesthood to which God has called us (1 Peter 2:9) that we might partake of it. Esau sold his position with God for the price of a bowl of soup, what are we willing to take for it?

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published May 7, 2010]

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

*English Standard Version (ESV)The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

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