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The Blessing of Esau

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Sep 5, 1999

Genesis 27:30-46

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Genesis 27:30-46

The Blessing of Esau

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis 27. We have been studying Genesis for - I've forgotten how long now. But until last week, we had been studying for a number of weeks the life of Isaac, and last week we began to look more specifically at the life of Jacob together. We had already seen back in Genesis 25, verses 12 through 34 the promise given to Rebekah in the oracle before Jacob and Esau were born that the older was going to serve the younger. In other words, it was promised before Jacob ever was born that he was going to be the one through whom the covenant line of promise was extended and passed.

And so last week we saw Isaac deliberately fighting against the sovereignty of God, deliberately determining with all his might to give the blessing to his favorite son, Esau, in spite of the oracle given to Rebekah. And we said it was a perfect picture of man's ineptitude and weakness juxtaposed against God's sovereignty. To see this man who was blind; to see this man who was confused by the signals that he was getting from his touch when he felt the supposedly hairy skin of Jacob. And he smelled the meal, and he smelled the smell of his son, Esau, on the clothing, and he heard the voice of Jacob, even though everything else was telling him Esau. And all of his senses fool him. It's a picture of man in his weakness attempting to resist the sovereignty of God.

The next time you decide that you’re going to resist the sovereignty of God, you remember that old man, Isaac, with all of his five senses foiled in front of the majesty and the omnipotence of God. Well, we said that that story truly highlights the grace and the sovereignty of God. Everybody in that story comes out looking bad. Isaac resists the will of God. Esau is an utterly carnal and natural man. Rebekah, though she rightly knows that the line of grace is to go through Jacob, resists her husband, usurps his authority, overthrows his dignity, and lies along the way in order to establish her own agenda. And Jacob, well he's the implementer of the deception. And we wonder, Lord, how in the world have You chosen this man to be the reception of the covenant headship. But is not the whole story a picture that God's grace does not triumph because of us, but in spite of us. And His grace is established indeed. And now we see the rest of the story. So let's turn to God's holy word in Genesis 27, beginning in verse 30, and see the other side of the deception:

Genesis 27:30-46

Our Lord and our God, the struggle in this family, which we have been learning of in these last days is deep, and yet it's a reflection of struggles in our own hearts. Speak to us tonight wherever we are that we might heed your warnings and see your grace, for we ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

Last week in the story of Isaac's blessing of Jacob we saw God's sovereignty and goodness overrule man's willfulness and wickedness unto blessing for Jacob. Isaac and Esau plotted to thwart God's counsel. God confounded their counsel. Rebekah and Jacob plotted to deceive and usurp the authority of the head of the covenant household, Isaac. God blessed Jacob, not because of what they had done, but in spite of what they had done. And for the next twenty years, Jacob will be disciplined by the God who loves him too much to leave him like he is. God's goodness and sovereignty overruled man's willfulness and sin. This week the chickens come home to roost. But here again we see God's sovereignty, his grace and his chastening mercy.

Let's look at this passage together. It falls into three parts. In verses 30 through 36 we see the reactions of Esau and Isaac when they find out what Jacob has done. In verses 37 through 41 we see the sad blessing that Isaac subsequently gives to Esau, at his insistence. And then in verses 42 through 46 we begin to see the consequences of this scheme in the life of this family. Let's look at those passages together.

I. Esau's reaction to Jacob's deception.

First, in verses 30 through 36. As we see the reactions of Esau and Isaac when Esau comes in from the field, we learn something very important. And that is that our response to God's strange providences and our response to God's chastenings reveals our heart. When God in His providence chastenings us, when He shows us our sin in the mirror of His word, the way that we respond to that tells us a lot about our hearts.

And isn't it interesting in verses 30 through 36 the utterly different responses of Isaac and Esau. You can see the grace in Isaac's heart. And you can see the utter lack of grace in Esau's heart. The plot that we studied last week had already been hatched and accomplished, and the crime is discovered in verses 30 through 32. Notice the irony of verse 30. As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, in comes Esau. Now they always say truth is stranger than fiction, and no playwright could have written a more ironic plot line than that. The moment Jacob has gone out, in comes Esau with his savory feast for Isaac. And as Isaac discovers that he's blessed the wrong son, who is the right son in God's plan, he knows immediately that he has been fighting against God. You see this in verse 33. There are two things that I want you to see in verse 33. First, we're told that Isaac trembled violently. It's even difficult to translate that in English. The Hebrew indicates that he was shaken to the very core of his being. And it's not simply that he was mad that he had been deceived, it was that he had realized that he had been fighting against the will of God.

And it shook him to the bone to realize the danger of the position that he had put himself in. And this is clear from the very last words that he says in verse 33. This is the second thing that I'd like you to see there. He says, “Yes, and he shall be blessed.” Isaac knew that he had been attempting to bless Esau against the will of God. And having through deception blessed Jacob, He is now saying to Esau let me tell you he will indeed be blessed, because I did my dead level best not to bless him. And God in His wisdom and almighty power and sovereignty and providence arranged it so that I was made a fool of, and I blessed him, and let me tell you one thing, Esau, he will be blessed. Isaac knows that he has been fighting against God.

But look at Esau in verse 34, in 36 and in verse 38. Esau doesn't have a clue. He doesn't even realize he's been in a fight against God. But father, don't you have a blessing for me? Verse 34. “But father, don't you have a blessing for me.” Verse 38. “Do you not have more than one blessing?” Esau knew the answer to that question, but he didn't know the answer to that question. The answer to the question does the father have but one blessing? The answer is absolutely yes. There is only one blessing. There is only one covenant blessing. There's only one birthright. There's only one blessing to the covenant head. Esau knew that, but he didn't know it. Esau here insists - and we’ll see this in the next section - he insists upon his own separate blessing. He had given away his birthright. In giving away the birthright he had given away his right to the blessing of his father as the covenant head. But Esau had worked against that anyway.

Do you see here the sovereignty of God? God continues to rule and overrule in this section. And do you see here the model of repentance in Isaac? When Isaac is confronted with the reality of his sin, he immediately admits defeat before the will of God, and he confesses that God's will is going to be established with him or without him. With him or against him, His will is going to be established. We already begin to see the workings of the Holy Spirit in Isaac's heart toward the full repentance in this section as he realizes what he has been doing. But in contrast we see no sense of repentance in Esau. Esau seems to have no understanding that he himself had despised the spiritual things, the blessings, the birthright. He seems to have no understanding and appreciation of the uniqueness of this blessing. He craves another one. We see no repentance in his heart. In Isaac we see a model of real repentance. And in this passage we see God's sovereignty, but in Esau we see no repentance.

You know when you’re faced with a situation like this, it reveals something about your heart. We have seen over the last few years some amazing things in our public life, haven't we? In some of these public repentances that we have viewed, it is embarrassing sometimes to see them. But there has been a staggering variety, hasn't there? Some people have urged us that we just need to stay out of their private lives and move on. Others have urged us that they are truly repentant, but that there should be no consequences for their sin. Others have said I am repentant, but my sin has cost me my right to hold the position that I hold. We've seen a staggering variety of responses to this in public. Isaac owns up to his rebellion against the will of God. It shakes him to his core, and we see in him the beginnings of a true repentance. But in Esau, we see a man who has not the slightest idea that he's been fighting against God.

II. Esau's insistence upon a blessing.

In verses 37 through 41, Esau continues to insist that his father give him a blessing apart from Jacob, and in these verses we see the blessing that Jacob ends up giving to him. And again, we learn in this passage that those who long for merely worldly blessings often receive them to their soul's detriment. People who want only temporal blessings, God often gives them exactly what they want. You've heard me quote it before, and I’ll probably quote it again a thousand times, if you can survive me. The Greeks themselves used to say. “Whom the gods would destroy, they grant them their wishes.” They answer their prayers. So often it's that way with the natural man. The natural man prays only temporal blessings, and that's exactly what God gives him. God gives him what he wants. And that's exactly what we see with Esau. Isaac acknowledges God's sovereignty and the significance of the blessing. Look at verse 37. Isaac replies to Esau: “Behold I have made him (that is, Jacob) 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?” Isaac is saying there. What can I possibly do? I've given him the blessing of God in accordance with the will of God. What can I possibly do? How can I fight against the sovereignty of God? But Esau in verse 38 persists ignorantly. He refuses to acknowledge his own sin. He persists in demanding a blessing apart from Jacob.

Esau, throughout this passage, and let me say that he is the person probably in this passage that we are most prone to be sympathetic with. We see this man breaking down in tears, convulsing, heaving with weeping and sorrow, we can't help but feel some pity for him. But you need to understand that Hebrews 12 makes it clear that this is not repentance. Oh, he is sincerely upset at what he has lost, but he has not a clue about its spiritual significance. And he's not pretending. He's remorseful, he is thinking, because of the consequences of what he has done. The results are horrendous. He's embarrassed, he's ashamed, he's angry, he's mad, he's ready to kill. But repentance? Nowhere in Esau do you see repentance. This is seen in the fact that he demands that his father give him a blessing apart from Jacob's. Here we see worldly desires in Esau and a worldly remorse in Esau, but we do not see spiritual repentance.

This passage gives us a classic expression of the difference between repentance and remorse. Everybody is sorry when they get caught. Everybody is not repentant when they get caught. Listen to what Calvin says. He says it so beautifully, and acutely in just a few sentences: “That the mind of Esau was affected with no sense of repentance appears this way, because he accused his brother and took no blame for himself.” He did this to me. Somebody else - the finger is pointing out there. My problem is out there. Somebody did this to me. Somebody trapped me. It's “the problem is out there.” I'm a victim. I'm not a perpetrator. Calvin goes on, “But the very beginning of repentance is grief felt on account of sin, together with self-condemnation.” Esau ought to have descended into himself and to have become his own judge, but instead he blames Jacob.

Parents, you have seen this a hundred times in your children. They are caught red-handed. But, but, but mom, he made me do it. It's amazing. They know how to do this from their earliest days. There's always someone else. It's sadder, isn't it, when it's an adult who ought to know better. It's always somebody else's fault.

You see this passage gives us a classic expression of the difference between repentance and remorse. The repentant person sees two things, his sin and God's mercy, and he turns from that sin acknowledging it to his merciful God. Turn with me in the back of your hymnals to page 875. Our Shorter Catechism puts this so beautifully. Eight hundred and seventy-five. Look at the very bottom of the page on the right-hand side. Question 87 of our Shorter Catechism. “What is repentance unto life? Repentance unto life is a saving grace whereby a sinner (and look, out of two things) a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, a new obedience.” You don't see a hint of that in Esau in this passage. He neither sees his sin nor does he see the mercy of God. In fact, isn't it interesting, Esau sees Jacob's sin, and he never sees Jacob's God. Isn't it interesting? He doesn't see either of those things. In remorse we are sorry that we got caught and we're sorry for the consequences, but we don't see our sin, we don't see our responsibility, and we don't see, ironically, the mercy of God.

The sinner that the Holy Spirit is working on, however, sees his sin in bold relief. He does not candy coat it, he sees how ugly it is. But, at the same time, he sees a God who is so incredibly merciful that the only logical thing to do is to flee to His arms. And isn't it interesting that the unrepentant man sees neither of those things. I'm not sinful, and I don't know about this whole God thing. This passage gives us a classic expression of the difference between repentance and remorse.

III. The consequences of sin.

And then we see in verses 42 through 46 the consequences. It's heartbreaking. The consequences of this whole business will remain for many, many years. We learn that there is never impunity for sin. There are always consequences. It's so important for us to realize that when God forgives us, he does not sweep the consequences of our sin under the carpet, and he doesn't sweep them under the carpet in two ways.

First, it is very important for you to realize that every sin that you and I will ever commit, Jesus wore stripes and died for. You need to understand that the full force of the penalty for those sins are visited upon your Savior. And that's why as a believing Christian we can never be flippant about sin because we know what that sin costs our Savior. But there's another way in which we are never able to escape the consequences of sin. And that is if God loves you, He's not going to let you get away with sin without disciplining you, because He doesn't want to see you destroyed by sin. And sin will destroy you, despite how it advertises itself. Sin markets great, but the product is horrible.

Look at the results of sin in this horrendous situation. Just look through verses 42 through 46 and think with me. There are at least six results of sin that I can see very much on the surface of this whole passage. First of all, the result of Jacob and Rebekah's sin was that Isaac was dishonored in the most extreme sort of way. Think of this friends. Isaac, beloved covenant head, as confused and as wrongheaded as he was, was on what he thought was his deathbed. And his son comes in and deceives him and mocks him and steals from him this blessing. Can you imagine anything more offensive? Perhaps you have had the privilege of gathering around the death bed of a beloved parent or grandparent. Can you imagine your brother or your sister carrying on a grand deceit in front of them in that holy setting in which they are expressing their last wishes and telling their final remarks to their family and friends. Can you imagine a situation more sacred that could be violated by lying and deceit? That's exactly what Rebekah and Jacob had done. They dishonored a man who thought he was dying. It doesn't stop there, does it?

The second result is Esau hated Jacob. How can we expect Esau to respond in any other way? When Esau finds out that he has been duped yet again, he takes consolation. Oh, well, I’ll mourn for my father for a few days, but let me tell you what, when he's gone I'm going to kill him. And I'm going to enjoy killing my brother, Jacob. Jacob has a responsibility for that attitude of Esau's. Yes, that's Esau's problem. Yes, Esau's is accountable for that. But Jacob's conduct towards his brother means that he bears some responsibility for the way his brother reacts to him.

There's a third result. Isn't it interesting that Jacob, this man who gains the blessing by deceiving, is going to be sent to his Uncle Laban. And there his Uncle Laban is going to deceive him. The deceiver is going to be deceived. In Dante's Inferno, remember when you were force fed that in high school or college? Isn't it interesting how Dante describes how the people who are in the various circles of hell are doing - they are all paying prices, they are all being punished with punishments that are appropriate for their crimes. And here God, because he loves Jacob, punishes His deception with His feeling what it's like to be on the other end, because God is determined to cure him of that deception.

By the way, have you noticed, Rebekah was the mastermind of this plot. Her brother, Laban, seems be to rather adept at lying, too. What's going on in this family system? What's going on in this family system? They all seem to be very adept at lying. You know my mother used to say; you know, you’d be getting ready to go out with someone and mother would be pontificating on this person that you were getting ready to go out with, and she would always make, sooner or later, this comment: “Son, there's nothing that can replace background.” You know you read this story, and you think you know, there's a lot of truth to that. So when your parents tell you that, you just remember there's some biblical precedence for that. There's some background in this family that comes out even though grace is present.

The fourth result is that Jacob, the heir, the heir to the wealth of Isaac, is going to do hard labor for almost twenty years for his Uncle Laban. And he's not going to be given his fair wages. The fifth result, and this is heartbreaking, is that Rebekah is never going to see Jacob again. Rebekah's words are poignant. My son, go to Haran, go to Paddan-aram. Stay with my uncle. Stay for a few days. Just stay for a few days until your brother, Esau, cools off and then I will call you back here again. He would never see his mother again. You know she said she wanted to send him away because she feared that she might lose her son in one day. She did. Can you imagine the relationship between Rebekah and Isaac from henceforth and evermore. And Jacob she would never see again.

The sixth result, of course, is that Jacob himself in Genesis 33:3 would bow down to Esau. Even though he was the covenant head, he would bow down to Esau because of his fear of Esau's reprisals for his own wickedness. Jacob would be vexed by the sins of the guilt of his sin for twenty years, and he would fear his brother's reprisal. God loved Jacob so much that He was determined not to let him off the hook for his sins.

You know, all of us, and I can speak to those of you who are still under the headship of your mother and father and in their household, all of us are like it when we're spared the consequences of our sin. And most of us don't like it when our parents make us face the consequences of our sin. And it is one of the great curses of this day that there are parents who don't want their children to face the consequences of sin. That is the worst kind of parenting that there could possibly be. Now when you’re on the receiving end of those consequences, you think that your parents are the most unreasonable, most hateful, most unloving people who ever lived.

But God loved Jacob so much that he's not going to allow him to end up in hell because of his sins. And so He's going to discipline him because whom the Lord loves, He disciplines. That's not only applicable to those of us who are still under our parents’ household, that's applicable to all of us. Because all of us still sin and it's precisely because God loves us that He is going to discipline us. Oh yes, God's grace is abundant in this story. His grace is absolutely overwhelming. That Jacob would be the heir to the promises of Abraham is in some ways incomprehensible. And can it be that he should gain an interest in our Savior's blood? But he's going to pay the price for his sin precisely because God not only wants to see him pardoned, God is going to see him conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. May God help us all as we go through that process of discipline together. Let us pray.

Our Lord and our God, the solemnity of this passage grips our hearts and we can all identify to Your chastening hand in our own experiences, whether we be the instrument of your discipline or the recipients of it. We ask, O Lord, that we would see those providences and those chastenings with spiritual eyes, realizing their spiritual ends and accepting them with repentant hearts and with earnest desires to be more like Christ, and to live and walk in the spirit. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

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© First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.