The Failure of Human Scheming and the Triumph of God's Grace
The Life of Jacob 2
Genesis 27:1- 28:22
The Bible is an amazing book. It never covers over the faults and weaknesses of even the famous men and women of faith. As we read their stories we come to realise that they are so very like us. They are real human beings with real struggles. From them we can learn so much about our own hearts and our own need for God's grace.
Jacob is a classic case of someone who, despite clever scheming and despite huge effort, could not reach his dreams or fulfill his deepest ambitions - on his own. He wanted God's blessing, he knew there was something more to life than mere existence, but only when he came to meet God face to face did he begin to discover how to find the things he was seeking.
A Family Divided
The incident in Genesis 27 where Jacob deceives his father Isaac in order to obtain the blessing shows the tragedy of a divided family. Here is a home full of jealousy and in-fighting. There was no love in this home. God had revealed Himself to Abraham and also to Isaac. Rebekah too shared faith in Abraham's God. Both Jacob and Esau, the twin brothers, knew something about the God of their fathers. Sadly, however, these religious people did not live out their faith in everyday life. Rather than being filled with God's love, their home was filled with intrigue and disunity. Isaac and Rebekah may still have loved each other but their communication skills were almost zero.
In verses 1-4 we read of Isaac, now old and blind, secretly planning to pronounce his patriarchal blessing on his favourite son Esau. “Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.” v.4. Isaac knew the blessing was to be given to Jacob. However because he preferred Esau and maybe too because he was hungry for a good meal, he tried to take things into his own hands. It was a big mistake. How could he think he could go against the clear plan and purpose of God? A father and husband must be an example in the home. He must take a spiritual lead. He must obey God and make God head of the home. Sadly, Isaac knowingly went against what he knew was God's plan.
Esau went along with his father's suggestion, even though he was very well aware of the fact he had already sold his birthright to Jacob. The birthright only came into force when the father pronounced the blessing anyway. So Esau simply ignored his oath to Jacob as if it was irrelevant. When later, in verse 34, he discovered that Jacob had cheated him out of the blessing, “he burst out with a loud and bitter cry”. That cry was not so much because he valued the spiritual blessings of the birthright and the blessing which he had lost. It was more the fact he had been cheated and had lost the material benefits that might have come his way in the short-term. Esau had little if any interest in the spiritual side of the blessing.
A Father Deceived
Verses 5-17 outline the role played by Rebekah, the boys' mother. She overheard Isaac talking to Esau and quickly got Jacob to act. “Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you the blessing before he dies.” v.9, 10. She may have had a good motive – trying to preserve the blessing for Jacob. She may have felt God's plan was in danger of becoming unstuck. Her mistake was in the way she tried to rectify the situation. We cannot excuse Rebekah for what she did even if we can understand her distress. God does not need us to help Him out, and certainly not by taking the law into our own hands. Again, the fact there was so little trust and such poor communication in the family led only to trouble.
Jacob himself was also not without fault, although he did hesitate in agreeing to his mother's plan. He said, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I'm a man with smooth skin. What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.” v.11, 12. Sadly, although Jacob knew his mother's plan was not right, he seemed more concerned about being found out than about the fact he would be doing wrong. Once he went along with the plan you notice that one lie led to another lie. First of all, in verse 19, he lied to his father saying he was Esau. Then when Isaac expressed amazement that he had come back so quickly from hunting, Jacob told another lie. He said, “The Lord your God gave me success”. That was a mockery. He tried to sound spiritual. Sometimes when people cover up sin they use fine sounding, even spiritual, words to impress others. One Christian worker I know felt so hurt by the treatment he received from a senior colleague that he finally resigned. The person who had caused the hurt in the first place wrote up a glowing tribute to the colleague who had resigned. I guess he didn't want anyone to think he had anything to do with the person resigning. We may deceive others but God is not mocked. He knows everything. We cannot hide our sin from God. Jacob's lies didn't end there. His father suspected he was not Esau. The animal skin covering which Rebekah had prepared may have in the end fooled Isaac. He said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” However Isaac still had his doubts and went on to ask, “Are you really my son Esau?” Once again Jacob told a straight lie. “I am,” he replied.
Jacob was still the schemer. He desired blessings from God, which was good, but he needed to realise that to receive those blessings he should do things God's way. In our personal lives, in our homes, at work, in our church life, and in our work for God in the community and the world, if we want to know God's favour and blessing - we must do what is right and truthful. If we do not we not only forfeit His blessing but we bring dishonour to His Name.
The Truth Revealed
Something else we can learn from this sad story is: if we try to keep our sin covered, the truth will sooner or later come out into the open. All those in our story today – Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob, all discovered this. None of them was ever the same again. This event virtually broke up the family. How much better it would have been if they had all been living in the light of the truth! When we desire above all to love and please God, He is absolutely able to bless us and make us a blessing. We do not have to scheme and struggle to get hold of His blessing. In fact He longs to bless us. The other thing to remember is God is sovereign and He knows when and how to bless us. In Proverbs 16:9 it says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” In the same chapter in Proverbs, in verse 3 it says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Verse 7 says, “When a man's ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies live at peace with him.”
Isaac may have tried to change God's plan but he ended up blessing Jacob. At least Isaac seemed to recognize that there was nothing he could now do. He knew God would indeed bless Jacob. Look at verse 33, “...I blessed him – and indeed he will be blessed.”
Yes, and Jacob need never have tried to scheme his way to blessing. He still had to learn a lot about the God of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. Up till now it had all been hearsay. Very soon he would encounter God in a personal way. Things were to move very fast.
Esau was so angry that he determined to kill Jacob at the earliest opportunity. His anger blinded him to the fact he himself was at fault in despising and giving away his birthright in the first place. Rebekah heard about Esau's anger and his plan to murder Jacob and, like her scheming son, she too came up with a scheme. She urged Jacob to escape. “Flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran. Stay with him for a while until your brother's fury subsides. When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I'll send word for you to come back from there.” v.43-45. Rebekah also persuaded Isaac to support her plan by pointing out the fact Jacob could get a wife from their relatives in Haran rather than marry someone from amongst the Canaanites. Esau's Canaanite wives were a cause of real heartache to both Rebekah and Isaac. The Canaanites did not share their faith in God and instead worshipped various other deities. In fact all through the Bible believers are warned not to marry non-believers. It seldom works out well. But Esau was not someone who took his faith at all seriously so to him it seemed not to matter who he married.
Before Jacob left home for Haran, Isaac pronounced an amazing blessing on him. In chapter 28:3 he said, “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May He give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien, the land God gave to Abraham.” With such a blessing, Jacob surely need never have tried to deceive his father into blessing him in the first place! The word Isaac used for God Almighty was El-Shaddai, which is the same name God used for Himself when he made the covenant with Abraham in 17:1.
Jacob set out on the long 400 mile journey north to Haran in Paddan Aram, the plains of Aram, which was where Rebekah's family lived, and from where Abraham, Jacob's grandfather, had also come to Canaan. Little did Jacob or his mother Rebekah realise it, but they would never see each other again.
Imagine how Jacob felt leaving home. Unlike his adventurous brother Esau, Jacob preferred his settled, cozy life at home. He loved the comfort of his own bed and familiar surroundings. He must have felt very lonely and apprehensive about the journey ahead and worried about what might happen to him. His was a most uncertain future. At the end of his first day of travel he settled down for the night, sleeping rough in the open, for there was no where else to stay. For his pillow he had a stone. Little did he know what would happen that night as he slept exhausted and far from home!
The Lord Intervenes
“He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” v.12. As on many other occasions in the Bible, God spoke through a dream. God was now for the first time communicating directly and personally with Jacob. It was all God's gracious initiative. Jacob saw a stairway leading up to heaven and on this stairway was a stream of messengers going up and down. Jacob noticed that the Lord Himself was standing at the top of the stairway. It must have been an awesome sight. God wanted to communicate with Jacob. Up till this point Jacob had only heard about God. His father had told him about this awesome God, and deep down Jacob longed to know more, but there had been no personal encounter. As someone has said, “It is not enough to hear wonderful stories about Christians in your family. You need to become part of the story yourself.” Jacob was about to meet the God of his father and grandfather. God was now showing Jacob there was a way open between heaven and earth. There was access to God. Interestingly Jesus Himself used this same picture in John 1:51. He told Nathanael, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God descending and ascending on the Son of Man.” Jesus was saying He was the way between heaven and earth. He is the One who makes it possible for man to communicate with God. It is through Jesus that you and I can come to know God.
In his dream Jacob heard God say, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth. ...All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” v.13-15. God revealed Himself to Jacob. He promised to bless him and make him a blessing. He promised to be with Jacob and to protect Jacob. It was a totally overwhelming revelation. Jacob the schemer and the grabber now experiences the undeserved grace and mercy of Almighty God. What Jacob had struggled to grab for himself, and failed, God was now graciously and unconditionally promising to him. God takes our mistakes and sins and breaths forgiveness into our lives. He takes up even the tangled, messy threads of our lives and makes them into a beautiful tapestry. He does not need our clever scheming. All He wants is our response in love and obedience.
The dream must have woken Jacob. He thought, “'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, 'How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven.'” v.16, 17. Jacob must have fallen back to sleep but early the next morning he set up a pillar and made an offering of oil on it, and called the place Bethel – which means the “house of God”. Jacob's encounter with God that night was an experience that would change his life. He had a lot to learn and also a lot to “unlearn” but he had now begun a new life. He had come to know God in a new and personal way. His promise to make the Lord his God and to give a tenth of all he had was a sincere expression, I believe, of Jacob's desire to love and serve God in a new way. No longer was it mere external religion or head knowledge that Jacob had. He now had a relationship with the living God.
Do you know God in this same personal way? Is Jesus just someone you have read about or is He your own personal Lord and Saviour? He wants to open up the stairway of communication with you today, as He did with Jacob. He wants to come into your life and bless you and make you a blessing. Will you let Him?