28 September 2015

“He did not recognise his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him.” (v. 23)

Psalm: Psalm 99


This popular Sunday School story has a ring of comic farce about it, almost like a pantomime.

Scene 1 (verses 1-4): The father, Isaac, sends his eldest (and hairiest) son Esau out to hunt - to prepare a meal for him, "so that he can bless him". Eager for his dad's blessing, the firstborn twin rushes out to the fields.

Scene 2 (verses 5-17): The eavesdropping wife, Rebekah, conceives a deceptive plot! While Esau is out, she finds some of his smelly clothes, gets Jacob to kill some goats and then makes a meal she knows Isaac will love.

Scene 3 (verses 18-29): Enter Jacob, dressed in his brother's clothes, and covered in goat's hair, carrying a bowl of his mum's delicious hotpot! He hasn't mastered Esau's voice though.

"That was quick, son!"
"God gave me success, Dad."
"Hmm, really? Come a bit closer, so I can check you out."
"Well, you certainly are the goat-haired smelly one, even if you do have Jacob's voice!"
"Here, dad, I've prepared you a meal."
"Delicious! You cook just like your Mother! Now, son, let me bless you…"

This is a complicated and dysfunctional family. The lies and deception probably arise from mistrust and favouritism within the family unit. Isaac favours Esau, while Jacob the second-born twin is Rebekah's favourite. Although they hadn't been written at that stage, Jacob possibly breaks five of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20): He desires the favour his brother had with his father (no. 10: coveting), this leads him to lie to his father (no. 9: false testimony), he thus dishonours his father (no. 5: on parents), and uses the name of God for immoral purposes (no. 3: blasphemy). As part of the deception, he also borrowed his brother's clothes without asking (no. 8: stealing). (The goats would argue he also broke no. 6: murder!)

There is a certain irrational jealousy in Jacob, driven by his mother, to take this blessing away from Esau. What we need to remember, is that earlier in the story Jacob had already taken advantage of his brother in a vulnerable state to get him to hand over his birthright as first-born son (Genesis 25:29-34). Whether we agree with the privilege given to this status or not, Jacob has already deprived Esau of something extremely precious. Although he is the second-born, he owns the status and right of the first-born. Why is he then so insecure as to desire the final blessing old Isaac wanted to give Esau? A family psychologist would have a field-day!

Scene 4 in this pantomime turns it rather more tragic (Genesis 27:30-45), as we witness the devastation of Esau, returning with his offering, when his father reveals he only had one really good blessing to offer, and once the words were spoken he couldn't take them back. Instead he offers only words of resignation, inevitability and a glimmer of consolation.

But what of the blessing Jacob received? Well, it stands - regardless of the morality of the circumstances! There is a sense of the undeserving receiving a precious and life-giving gift, and where that comes in the context of God's chosen family we usually call it 'grace'. God does not operate on the basis of merit. Jacob didn't deserve his blessing; how often do we? And the words of Isaac to the 'wrong' son, turned out to be prophetic for Jacob, who would become Israel. They were prophetic for him, for his son Joseph, for the nation that would bear his name, and even possibly for the one true Firstborn Son, who would become the true Israel: Jesus. By God's grace alone, it is Jacob's family line that carries forward the blessing and purposes of God.

To Ponder

  • How would you feel if you were Esau? How would you react?
  • What blessings have you received, which you didn't deserve? What example can you see of God's grace in your life?
  • Families are rarely perfect, rarely uncomplicated! In your own family, where might God be working through the strife and difficulty to bring out blessing? 

Bible notes author: The Revd Andrew Murphy

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