Jacob, Esau, and the Covenant of God
Chapters 25-28 of Genesis begin with a list of Abraham's new wife and their descendants, the generations following Ishmael, and the death of Abraham before coming around to the birth of Jacob and Esau. From the womb itself it is evident that the sons of Isaac will not get along – the Lord tells Rebekah as much. Sure enough, one day Esau sells Jacob his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew.
There is another famine in the land and Isaac settled in Gerar, the land of the Philistines at the direction of the Lord who reaffirms the covenant made with Abraham – that he (the Lord) would bless Isaac and all his offspring, make them as numerous as the stars in the sky and give them all the land. Isaac settles in the land and makes a very familiar mistake; he tries passing off his wife Rebekah as his sister, fearing that if the people of Gerar knew she was his wife they would kill him. The king of the Philistines, Abimelech, figures out what is going on and confronts Isaac who then secured a promise from the king that whoever touches Isaac or his wife would be put to death. Isaac then goes about in the valley of Gerar, re-digging the wells his father had dug, wells that had been filled in by the Philistines.
Chapter 27 tells of Isaac’s old age and how Jacob, with his mother's prompting, steals his brother's blessing before his father dies. Esau is angry with Jacob and plots to kill him. This is made known to Rebekah who insists that Jacob flees to the dwelling of his uncle Laban. On the way there, Jacob spends the night isolated and alone, his head resting on a rock for a pillow. As he was asleep the Lord met him in a dream showing a ladder from heaven to earth with angels ascending and descending on it. The Lord speaks of Jacob and reaffirms the covenant made with Isaac and Abraham.
“Good men have gone very wrong when they have thought of aiding in the fulfillment of promises and prophecies. See how Rebecca erred in trying to get the promised blessing for Jacob. We had better leave the Lord’s decrees in the Lord’s hands.” (Spurgeon)
Are we beginning to see a pattern? How many times thus far in Genesis have people strayed from the Lord’s commandments and taken matters into their own hands? In these few chapters we see a remarkable amount of self-centeredness. Jacob (which means he cheats or supplanter) is too clever for his own good and lives up to the meaning of his name, Esau spurns his spiritual birthright and sells it for some stew, Isaac makes the same foolish mistakes his father had made earlier, and Rebekah manipulates things behind the scenes to get the best outcome for her favourite child.
Two things stick out to me: first is the flippancy with which Esau regards his spiritual birthright which he sells for no more than a meal (of lentils, no less). He does not take into consideration the far-reaching implications of giving up the blessing given him as the firstborn, the inheritance of the promises made to his father. He only truly mourns when he finds that his physical blessing, the one that would let others serve him and put him above his brothers, has been snatched.
The second is how God works his purposes despite the actions of the people he has called. His faithfulness and forbearance are on full display as he patiently brings his plans to fruition. Even in the covenant made with Jacob at Bethel, Jacob responds with his own conditions in Genesis 28:20-21 “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God …” Jacob can’t help but make himself the focus of this covenant instead of the Lord, but we’ll see in the next few chapters just how effectively the Lord humbles him and rids him of such selfishness.
It is so easy to be inward focused on our walk with Christ. It is easy to forget the importance and meaning of our adoption into his kingdom, our birthright. So often we can lose sight of what and who is most important: that we live our lives for God in his timing and at his direction for his purposes, not our own. Both Jacob and Esau were too caught up in getting what they wanted that they failed to value the one who does the giving of all good things!
How have you let personal ambition and desire overcome your desire for more of God? If you take all your hopes, dreams, and plans, could you lay all those things down for Jesus’ sake? Does he have your trust? Is he enough for you?
Thank you, Father, for not giving up on your promises. Thank you for bringing me along in the security of your love, for your Holy Spirit, and for adopting me into your kingdom. Help me to not lose sight of you and keep me from letting the things of this world blind me to what you would have me do. I pray all these things in Jesus’ name, amen!
Mountain – by Strahan (click here to listen)
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.