A Family Divided
Genesis 25:27-34; 27:1-40
God chose Abraham, and promised to bless him and through Abraham to bless the whole earth. After Abraham, the blessing passed to Isaac and then to Jacob. The blessing then was passed down through the descendants of Jacob through David until the birth of the promised Messiah. Jesus is the promise personified. It is through Jesus that all the nations on earth are blessed. It is Jesus that Abraham accepted and looked forward to by faith.
The story of the fulfilling of the promise is one of incredible miracles, providence and provision. It is also one of sorrow and heartache.
For example, Abraham’s firstborn son was actually Ishmael. Abraham pleaded with God to bless Ishmael and God told Abraham that He would bless Ishmael, but the promise would be through Isaac. The story of Ishmael reflects the sorrow and heartache of which I speak. From a strictly human point of view, this might be explained because the boys had different mothers.
However, the story of Esau and Jacob also reflects sorrow and heartache. Isaac wanted to bless Esau with all his heart. He loved Esau. But, the sorrow and heartache came through Esau. It is a complicated story filled with family intrigue and betrayal. It is a very human story. Isaac and Rebecca, husband and wife, are not on the same page. Esau despises his birthright and Jacob steals the blessing meant for Esau.
Behind and above it all are the sovereign purposes of God. The story of Esau and Jacob is a story of Divine sovereignty and human choice. It is beyond us to unravel all the mysteries, but there are some valuable lessons we can learn by examining the story of Esau and Jacob found in Genesis 25 and 27.
The story begins at the birth of the twins. Genesis 25 tells us:
21Isaac pleaded with the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was unable to have children. The LORD answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins. 22But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the LORD about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked.
23And the LORD told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.”
If we focus on verse 23, we see that it is God’s purpose that the older will serve the younger. This is confirmed in Malachi 1:2&3 and in Romans 9. Let’s look at Romans 9 verses 11-12:
11But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; 12he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.”[i]
For His own reasons God chose Jacob.
However, Isaac loved Esau. Let’s look at part of the blessing that Isaac gave.
29May many nations become your servants,
and may they bow down to you.
May you be the master over your brothers,
and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Genesis 27:29
You will notice he says, “may your mother’s sons bow down to you.” It is important to note that Isaac thinks he is blessing Esau. His purpose then in this blessing is contrary to the direct word of God. Isaac’s love for his son set him at cross-purposes with God.
The same situation had existed with Abraham, but Abraham had submitted to the will of God. Scripture tells us it distressed him greatly (Genesis 21:11), but he obeyed and sent his son Ishmael away.
This does not justify what Rebecca and Jacob did. Rather than taking things in their own hands and lying, they should have waited on the Lord. Their lies and deceit bore terrible consequences and added to the sorrow and heartache in the family.
Jesus, our example, prayed, “Not my will but Thine be done.” (Luke 22:42) He also taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Both sides in this family took action that was contrary to God’s revealed will. Isaac set himself at cross purposes with God by trying to give to the older what God said belonged to the younger. Rebecca and Jacob violated God’s standards by lying and deceiving to gain what God said He would give.
The most common place this scenario is carried out in today’s world is in regards to salvation. We have loved ones and friends who do not know Christ or accept that salvation comes by trusting in Jesus alone. The very thought of someone we love being condemned to hell is too horrific to contemplate. The thought fills us with horror.
It is this thought that caused the Apostle Paul to write:
1With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. 2My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief 3for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them. (Romans 9:1-3)
I am sure Isaac and Abraham would have felt the same way about the children they loved. We all do. When faced by the bitter sorrow and unending grief caused by the loss of someone we love, we can pray like Abraham and Jesus, “Not my will but thine be done. Or, like Isaac we can set ourselves at cross purposes with God, and/or lie, steal and deceive like Jacob and Rebecca.
In Romans 9 the Apostle Paul addresses a few of the issues. One thing he says is:
14Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! 15For God said to Moses,
“I will show mercy to anyone I choose,
and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.”
This whole idea of God being fair is behind the teaching that God will save everyone. This is a teaching that requires us to reject large portions of the Word of God, including the example of Jacob and Esau.
The Apostle Paul says:
18So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.
19Well then, you might say, “Why does God blame people for not responding? Haven’t they simply done what he makes them do?”
20No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction.
Let’s consider the patience of God.
God gave Pharaoh 10 chances to soften his heart and let the Israelites go, but he would not.
Esau was born with the birthright and had his father’s favor, and yet Genesis 25 tells us that he despised his birthright and was willing to sell it for a bowl of stew.
2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” God wants everyone to repent. He invites everyone to believe in His Son. He invites everyone to come, and yet many, many refuse to come that they can have life.
The purposes of God, the blessing of God and the passing of that blessing to the next generation divided Isaac’s family.
It still divides today. The blessing of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ is at the center of what divides us. The Islamists say that Jesus was a prophet but not the Son of God. They are at cross-purposes with God. The Jews say the Messiah is yet to come. They also are at cross-purposes with God. The atheists say there is no God. They too are at cross-purposes with God. Many that call themselves Christian say we have to live by the law. They are not at cross-purposes. Rather, they are like Rebecca and Jacob who would lie and deceive to try to gain the promise on their own terms.
Salvation and God’s blessings are free and available to all who will accept them. However, they do not come on our terms. They come on God’s terms. God’s terms are:
9If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. 11As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 12Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.