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A Blessing Stolen

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Aug 29, 1999

Genesis 27:1-29

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Genesis 27:1-29

A Blessing Stolen

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis, chapter 27. As you do so, I want to invite the Williams to join me at the front of the sanctuary after the service, and for all of you to come and give them the right hand of fellowship and express to them your support and prayer support for their ministry in Austria. Genesis 27. We have been for a number of weeks in the life of Isaac. And tonight we begin a new series in the life of Jacob. The focus turns now from Isaac the father, who will live and linger for many, many years to come. It turns now from Isaac now to Jacob, his son.

As we looked at Genesis 25 we saw the legacy of Ishmael recorded there. But we also saw two very important events in the line of Isaac. First, we saw in Genesis 25, verses 12 through 34 recorded the birth oracle at the time when Esau and Jacob were born. And God told Rebekah at that time that the elder would serve the younger. It was made clear there that God's plan was for Jacob to be the covenant head of the household succeeding Isaac. We also saw in that passage Jacob's gaining of the birthright from the worldly-minded Esau. So even in the early encounters between these two brothers, it was clear that God had something special in view for Jacob, however, he obtained that birthright.

Tonight, we see that oracle which God had given at the birth of Esau and Jacob brought to fruition in a most surprising way. Isaac is going to oppose God's word with all his might. Rebekah and Jacob are going to sully God's word with their scheming. But God's holy will is going to prevail. Let's look then to Genesis, chapter 27, beginning in verse 1, and we’ll read through verse 29. This is God's word.

Genesis 27:1-29

Father, we do ask that You would give us eyes to see and ears to hear Your word for our hearts. Open our eyes that we might behold wonderful things in Your law. And by the spirit awaken us to the spiritual realities contained therein, applying it according to our own situations and circumstances, as You please. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

This story is a sad story. It is a pitiful tale. But, it highlights the grace and the sovereignty of God. Everybody, every single major player in this story comes out looking bad. Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob. Their sins are found out, as God reveals this whole incident in His word. But He uses even this to magnify His sovereignty and His grace. And I'd like you to look at that with me tonight very briefly.

The passage you see breaks into four parts. In verses 1 through 4 we see Isaac's plan to bless Esau. In verses 5 through 13 we see Rebekah's plans to see that Jacob is blessed. In verses 14 through 25, we see Jacob carrying out Rebekah's plan. And then in verses 26 through 29 we see the fruition of the oracle that God had given at the birth of Jacob; that he would indeed be the one who would carry the covenant line as the head of the household. Let's look at these together tonight.

I. Isaac's plan to thwart God's will.

First, in verses 1 through 4. In those verses we see Isaac's plan to thwart God's will, and to appoint Esau as his heir and the head of the covenant. In those verses we see both Isaac and Esau's sins. We learn something very important. We learn that God calls us to live by divine revelation, rather than mere convention or natural affection. In this passage, Isaac, whether he knew of Esau's deal with Jacob in Genesis 25, verses 31 and following or not, he certainly knows of the oracle which God had given in Genesis 25, verse 23.

And yet here in this passage he sets out to go directly against the will of God. He acts out of local custom and convention. It would have been the normal pattern to bless the elder son. And of course, he acted out of fatherly affection. Isaac clearly loves Esau very much, just like Abraham clearly loved Ishmael very much. And yet he allows his fatherly affection and, in fact, his worldly preference of Esau over Jacob to blur his obedience to God's will and command. Esau, on the other hand, is not blameless himself. It is often said that Esau in this passage comes off looking better than everyone else. And there's a sense in which that is true.

But let's remember two things about Esau. First of all, Esau has already despised his birthright. He has already valued more a cup of soup or broth over the birthright of the covenant. In Hebrews, chapter 12, verses 16 and 17, assesses this spiritually and tells us that this tells us something about Esau's heart. This is not just a passing incident in his life. This is a deep insight into Esau's character. He's a worldly man. He cares more about food than he does eternal, spiritual blessings, and relationship with God. That's the first thing we see.

We also see Esau here acting directly against the oath that he had taken with Jacob in Genesis 25, verse 33. He had agreed with Jacob to hand over the birthright. And here we see him secretly going behind the back of his brother and against the oath that he had taken with him and attempting to gain the blessing of his father anyway. Perhaps later in life, he's decided that birthright was more important than original, and he wants the blessing of his father. This blessing is very significant indeed. We know from ancient cultures around the time of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob that the final oral blessing of the father was often binding in judicial or legal processes in terms of determining inheritance. If a son could show that a father had given him a final oral blessing, and that could be attested in some way, the judges would render according to the final oral blessing of the father. So this is a very significant action which is going on here.

But I want you to see two other things in these verses. First of all I want you to see Isaac's worldliness. Isaac promises Esau the final oral blessing in exchange for some venison. Son, go and hunt game so that I may bless you. Does it remind you of anyone? Esau had sold the birthright for pottage. Now Isaac promises the blessing for venison. And he does it on a son who shows no spiritual interest in the meaning of the covenant of grace itself. The worldliness of Isaac is shocking.

But I also want you to see that Isaac here is a picture of man trying to resist the decree of God. Isaac's will and senses are set over against the plan of almighty God in verses 1 through 4. And I want you to look at this picture. Isaac has one sense gone - his sight, he's blind. Three of his senses are deceived in this passage. His taste is deceived. He wanted venison or game. His wife gives him a tasty dish of kid. He doesn't know the difference, though he prides himself on his taste buds. His touch is deceived. He's suspicious, but his touch is deceived, and he thinks that he identifies Esau with his hands. His smell is deceived. Jacob smells like Esau. Isaac is suspicious, but ultimately his smell is deceived. And his one remaining sense - his hearing is uncertain. The voice he says sounds like Esau, but all his other uncertain senses testify the voice sounds like Jacob, but his other senses tell him that this is Esau. And so we have a picture of a man trying to resist the decree of God. All his senses betray him. His plan is spoiled. He's going to bless Esau no matter what God has said in his word. And every single one of his senses failed him in the attempt.

This is a picture of the futility of resisting the decree of God. Indeed, in this passage we see not only God's decree effected, we see it effected against Isaac and Esau's will to establish their own purpose. So this is not only a picture of God's sovereign election, it's a picture of God's warning the counsel of men in order to establish his sovereign election.

I'd like you to look at a couple of passages with me. First, in Romans, chapter 9. In Romans, chapter 9 the apostle Paul comments on this passage. He says this, beginning in verse 10. He's talking about the principle that not everyone who has descended from Abraham is a true Israelite, an Israelite of spirit. And he begins to use the example of Esau and Jacob. He says not only this, but there was Rebekah also. Verse 10, “When she had conceived twins by one man our father, Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I hated.” In this passage Paul makes it clear that one of the things that God was doing in the life of Esau and Jacob is he was showing that His purpose of grace stands not according to our deeds, not according to what we deserve, but according to His electing purposes.

But this passage before us, in Genesis 27 goes even further than Paul takes it there, doesn't it? Turn with me to Acts, chapter 4. I want to show you an interesting passage which picks up somewhat of this theme. In Acts, chapter 4, Peter, in preaching to the multitudes, in verse 27 says this: “For truly in this city, there were gathered together against Thy holy Servant, Jesus, whom thou didst anoint. Both Herod and Pontius Pilate along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur.” They wanted to do their will. They wanted to have their way against the Messiah. They wanted to thwart Jesus’ ministry, and they were used how? To do everything that God had predestined to occur. That is exactly what is happening in the story of Isaac and Esau and Jacob and Rebekah. Isaac and Esau have one plan. To go against what God has clearly revealed in His word, and He is going to use them to exult His own sovereignty.

The Shorter Catechism, in answer to question 11, 'What are God's works of providence?', gives us that beautiful definition that God's works of providence are His most holy, wise, powerful, preserving, and governing of all His creatures and all their actions. But in the passage on providence in The Confession, we are taken one step further. Take your hymnals out and turn with me to the back of the hymnals and let me point you to this. In the back of the hymnals we have a copy of The Westminster Confession. If you turn to page 851 in your hymnals, you’ll see the chapter on providence. Chapter 5, and if you look down to section 3, you’ll see something very interesting that fits right in with this passage before us. “God in His ordinary providence makes use of means.” That is, even though God rules the world by His decree, He uses means or instruments: sometimes our wills, our choices. But it goes on to say what? “Yet is free to work without.” God can work without means, he can work directly and miraculously if He needs. He can work above. That is, while human instruments are working at one level, He can work at an entirely different level, or look at this word. “Against them, at his pleasure.”

That is exactly what is happening in Genesis 27. Isaac and Esau are working in this direction, and God is using their working in this direction to go in that direction. God is sovereign. You cannot escape it when you read Genesis 27, verses 1 through 4. When we choose to trust in ourselves and to lean on our own understanding, rather than being ruled by scripture, we are placing ourselves right where Isaac is here.

And that is a dangerous place to be, because Christians must live by divine revelation, not by local conventions or by natural affections. We must be ruled in our hearts by the dictates of God in His scripture. You know there will be many students in the months to come, whether you’re in high school or college or somewhere else right now, who will be tempted to do something that you know is wrong. There is a real danger of deliberate sin. Isaac would meet that danger in this very passage. We’ll see him tremble in the second half of this chapter at the realization of what he has done.

I want to charge you if you are in that position where you are tempted to go directly against what you know, the word of God commands or forbids, don't go there. You may be tempted to underage drinking. You may be tempted to sexual immorality, and your mind tells you it's wrong, but your desires tell you do it anyway. Don't go there, or you’ll be right where Isaac and Esau were. Spiritual discernment is also counsel to us in this passage. Isaac was not assessing things in a spiritual way. His natural desires were more decisive than his recognition of the spiritual values relative in Esau and in Jacob, and it led him to make a very bad decision of his preference in his sons. And, of course, it led him to pose his own will against the will of God. Don't go there.

II. Rebekah's plan to usurp Isaac's authority.

Secondly, if you’ll look at verses 5 through 13 we see Rebekah's plan unfolded to usurp her husband's authority and to gain the blessing for her favorite son. If we saw Isaac and Esau's sins in verses 1 through 4, then we see Rebekah's sin laid there in verses 5 through 13. And again there's a moral in this passage, and the moral is that Christians must learn to trust God and do what is upright. You can't do the right thing the wrong way. And we learn that in reverse in this very unfortunate passage.

Rebekah has a just cause. She has had the word of God in her own ears tell her that Jacob is to be the son of blessing. But she apparently never approaches God. She never takes this to Him in prayer. She never goes the way of faith. Instead, she takes matters into her own hands: Lord, I can fix this is Rebekah's response. She is the mastermind of the plot, but her plot results in hatred, dissention and more. Have you ever noticed that apparently no one in this house trusts one another? Isaac and Esau have to sneak off by themselves to hatch this plot for Isaac to give Esau the blessing. Rebekah, meanwhile, is eavesdropping. She then pulls Jacob apart to plot their own strategy. No one in this household trusts one another. There's an integrity problem here. And if we see Jacob as a deceiver, let me tell you he learned it from some professionals. God is going to have to work long and hard on Jacob to rid him of this integrity issue. And he learned it in his home. That strikes close, doesn't it? There are little eyes and little hearts watching us. And they will learn what we do.

But Rebekah's fundamental problem is spiritual. She lacks faith in the justice and sovereignty of God. And so, she takes her cause into her own hands, thinking that she will be able to fix it better than almighty God. Bebo Elkin would call this Arminian withdrawal. Lord, you just let me handle this. I’ll take care of it. And we all suffer from it.

What's the application of this passage? You’ll find it in Proverbs, chapter 3, verses 1 through 8. Here's the application of this passage. I give you the words of Scripture. “My Son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life, and peace they will add to you. Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body, and refreshment to your bones.” That's the application of this passage. Rebekah trusted in herself and leaned on her own understanding and look what she got. We’ll look at it more closely the next time we are together. We will get a taste of it in the next section that we read.

But look what she got from doing what she did. She trusted in herself, and she leaned on her own understanding, instead of trusting in the Lord with all her heart and leaning not on her own understanding or strategy or agenda. That's the Arminian response to problems.

III. Jacob's part of the plan to defraud his father.

In verses 14 through 25 we see Jacob's implementation of this plan to defraud his father and to gain his brother's blessing. Here we see Jacob's sin. We've seen Isaac and Esau. We've seen Rebekah in the first thirteen verses of the chapter. Now we see Jacob's sin displayed and it is not a pretty sight. He implements a plan to deceive his own father who, for all Jacob knows, is on his deathbed. He invokes the name of God, he lies to him repeatedly, and he, like his mother, does not trust in the Lord to provide for him. Now we must not excuse this crime. And we must not excuse our sins by saying that it all worked out in the end. No. There was enormous cost involved in what Rebekah and Jacob did. Let me just give you three examples.

First of all, do you realize that as a result of this Jacob is going to have to leave the Promised Land and sojourn in a strange country for twenty years. Secondly, do you realize that Jacob is going to leave the wealth of the household of the headship of the covenant to live in relative poverty for years and years. And finally, Jacob himself, the deceiver par excellence, is going to be deceived repeatedly by his Uncle Laban. There are consequences to our sins. By God's grace, he so often overcomes sin in our lives. But there is always consequence to sin. We should never, ever excuse our sins by saying oh well, God will make it right anyway. We can never be presumptuous like that. And God loves Jacob enough not to let him off the hook for what he did. And Jacob bears the marks in his body for years to come, for the rest of his life.

One of the reasons we must not pursue the right goal by the wrong means is that one of God's key purposes for all of us - I don't have to know anything about you to know that God wants this for you. He wants to break us of our willfulness. And if we go about the right thing in the wrong way we are cultivating our willfulness, and God loves us too much to allow that to happen. And that's why young folks, when you want something, it's so important for your parents to guide you in those areas. Sometimes they will approve. Sometimes they will not. When they do not approve, you’ll resist it. And because they love you, they will resist you even more. Because willfulness is something that your parents want to break in you because God wants to break it in you, so that your will will be conformed to His will. And that's a struggle for all of us. And so God is simply not going to allow us to pursue the right end or goal by the wrong means or way. One last thing, friends.

IV. The triumph of God's sovereignty.

In verses 26 through 29 we see the triumph of God's sovereignty. This is a glorious passage. It makes your heart want to dance. God's plan is fulfilled in spite of Isaac's plan; and it's fulfilled in spite of Rebekah and Jacob's wicked scheme. And Christians ought to make a study of the undeserved blessings of the covenant of grace as they are set forth in this passage.

Moses intends to show us at least two things in verses 26 through 29. First of all, he wants us to see that God's will is fulfilled in spite of man's will. So often we think that God's will can't be fulfilled unless we help Him out. And in this passage we are reminded that God's will is fulfilled in spite of man's will. That's why John - if you’ll turn with me to John, chapter 1 - can make this comment about those who come to know Jesus Christ as Savior. John, chapter 1, verses 12 and 13. He's speaking of the fact that so many of Jesus’ own people did not receive Him. And then he says in verse 12: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name: who were born not of blood (they didn't get it because they were in the family line), nor of the will of the flesh (not their own fleshly, carnal desires), nor of the will of man (perhaps referring to the will of the husband), but of God.” How were they born? By the will of God. “Not of blood, not the will of the flesh, not the will of man, but of God.” God's will is established in spite of man's.

And then Moses also wants to teach us here that Jacob's receiving of the covenant promises just like Isaac's before him, was the undeserved product of unconditional election. This passage is all about God's undeserved favor. His grace. Contrast this passage, Genesis 27, with Isaac's receipt of Abraham's promises in Genesis 26. You remember in that passage Moses emphasizes that Isaac receives the covenant blessing and promises, not because of Isaac, but because of God's love for Abraham. It shows God's grace to Isaac. And furthermore in verses 28 and 29 of Genesis 26, Moses shows us how even a pagan king recognized that God's hand of blessing was on Isaac.

Now, contrast that in Genesis 27. A pagan king in Genesis 26 acknowledges the covenant of grace. In Genesis 27, the son of the household tries to steal the covenant of grace. Now we just sang Psalm 1, “That Man Is Blest Who, Fearing God.” You couldn't confuse Jacob with that man in this passage. And yet God's hand is on him. He's God's choice. That the election of grace may stand not by works, but by the will of God. It's awesome. And God's love and grace in Jacob's life is going to change him in time. But God doesn't love Jacob because he's loveable. And He sure doesn't love him because he's godly in this passage, because he's far from it. He's anything but godly.

Moses is setting forth the case for divine election. It is not because of Jacob's righteousness or faith that he is chosen, it is because of God's undeserved love. Never forget that. The doctrine of election humbles us. You know, if you don't like this doctrine, you don't like Moses and you don't like Paul. And you don't like much else in the Bible, because it's there every time you turn around. And the doctrine is a humbling doctrine.

You know a lot of our friends who don't believe in the doctrine election will say, “Well, you’ll be prideful if you believe in election.” Read Genesis 27 and come back and talk to me about pride. What is there to be prideful about when you’re the sons and daughters of Jacob? It's not you that is responsible for your election. It's God. How can you be prideful about that? If you misunderstand election, you may be prideful, but if you have any inkling of it at all, it's the most humbling thing in the world. The doctrine of election encourages us. It's not by our works that we stand, it's by God's grace and love. And the doctrine of election helps us to appreciate the extravagance of God's saving favor.

You know the key word in the blessing that Jacob is given here in verses 28 and 29 is God. May God give you - you know the main distinction between the blessing that Jacob will receive and the blessing that Esau received later in the chapter, is that in Esau's blessing God's name is never mentioned.

The key blessing, the big difference between Jacob and Esau was not that Jacob was a righteous man and Esau wasn't. It was that God for some unexplicable and explicable and undeserved purpose set His love on Jacob. And that love eventually transformed him into a man of God. It was the blessing of God that made the difference between Jacob and Esau. We should never, ever forget that, and we ought regularly to study the undeserved blessing of the covenant of grace. May God bless His word. Let us pray.

Our Lord and our God we again have come to a passage which we can hardly do justice to, and yet it is so great and suggestive that we ask that by the spirit You would apply it continually to us in the days to come as we meditate on it, as we reflect on it, as we chew it and digest it. We pray that the result would be that Your people would be humble, and that Your grace would be exulted through Jesus Christ our Lord. We ask it in His 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.