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The Birthright and the Blessing

Date: Aug. 19, 2018

Author: Michael Mark

Genesis 26:34-27:40

Key Verse: Genesis 27:36

Esau said, "Isn’t he rightly named Jacob?  This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!" Then he asked, "Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?"

How many of you here are the oldest or only child?  How many of you have older brothers or sisters?  For the eldest children, how many of you feel like you should get what your parents leave behind?  For younger siblings, how many of you feel that the older siblings don’t deserve it, and that you should get it (joking)?  In Bible times, and perhaps maybe still in some cultures today, being the firstborn, especially a firstborn son, comes with special privileges and responsibility.  The firstborn son was to carry on the family name, and he would be the new head of the family.  Because of this, they usually received a larger portion of the inheritance, sometimes even a double portion.  This is their right, they are entitled to it, and it is known as the birthright.  But if you are a younger sibling, or if you are the eldest but you feel like your inheritance will be small, or even if you know your inheritance will be large – God has promised us even greater things than this world can offer.  Even if you don’t have a birthright, or don’t know what it is, I pray through this passage you may come to know and receive the birthright that only God can give to you, and one that no one can ever take away.

We are currently going through the book of Genesis, with the theme: Beginning.  The beginning of all things start here: the beginning of the Bible, the beginning of the universe, the beginning of life, and the beginning of our history.  We hope this also is a nice beginning to the school year.  We have learned how God created the universe, the heavens and the earth. About Adam, and Eve, and how sin and death entered the world.  We saw how the world was drowned in a flood, because of wickedness – how God saved one family and from Noah the world was repopulated.  This still did not wipe out sin from the planet.  But from there we meet Abraham, and through him God’s plan to save and to bless the world was set into motion.

Beginning with Abraham, a unique birthright was given by God.  Birthrights, inheritances and legacies already existed in the time of Abraham, but Abraham’s legacy to pass down was different.  While all other inheritances were temporal and worldly, Abraham’s blessing was not only physical but spiritual.  The blessing Abraham passed down included eternal blessings for his descendants – but only those descendants whom God has chosen to be considered Abraham’s offspring.  This blessing was passed down to Isaac, who now felt it was time to hand it down to the next generation. 

Isaac had two sons, twins – the older twin was Esau, and the younger, the one who came out second, was Jacob.  Verses 34-35 set the scene: “When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.”  At this point in time, the birthright passed down from Abraham was very fragile.  The birthright was the beginnings of the eternal kingdom of God, the inheritance of a nation of holy people.  Those who received the birthright were to be careful to obey and follow God.  But we see here that Esau married 2 Hittite woman.  The Hittites worshipped their own gods that were not the God of Abraham and Isaac.  The birthright could not be safe in such an environment.  The idolatrous culture of Esau’s 2 wives probably caused most of the grief Isaac and Rebekah were experiencing.

We now come to the time Isaac has decided to pass on the blessing.  Look at v.1-2, “When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, ‘My son.’ ‘Here I am,’ he answered.  Isaac said, ‘I am an old man and don’t know the day of my death.’”  Many commentaries have calculated that Isaac was 137 years old at this time.  Esau and Jacob were born when he was 60 years old. This means that they are both 77 years old now, and Esau has been married to the Hittite women for 37 years. Isaac feels like he is about to die. His brother Ishmael lived 137 years, so Isaac may have felt that his time was near.  We do learn later in Gen 35:28 that Isaac would live to be 180 years old, but right now Isaac does not know when his time will come, and he feels like it would be soon.

Isaac calls in Esau and instructs him to go and hunt some wild game, and to prepare his favorite wild game stew, so that he can give him the blessing.  This would be no ordinary blessing, but this would be the blessing passed down from Abraham; this is the inheritance, the legacy.  The stew would be part of the ceremony, where the son may bless the father, so that the father can enthusiastically bless the son. In Biblical times, these oral blessings near the times of death were considered legally binding.  If Isaac spoke the blessing to Esau, legally the blessing will belong to him.  Isaac was set to deliver this blessing to Esau, but there are 2 problems with this.  1 – Esau has 2 Hittite wives that caused major grief in the family, and 2 – before Esau and Jacob were born, God had made it clear that he had chosen Jacob to receive the birthright (Gen 25:23). Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau.  In addition, because Esau was the older, the birthright was supposed to go to him. But this was opposed to the will of God, who determined Jacob should receive the blessing before he was even born. Isaac was the guardian of this trust, the seed of God’s kingdom – what was he doing with it now?

Rebekah, his wife, decided to take matters into her own hands.  She may have remembered God’s word she received before they were born. But she also simply favored Jacob, and would rather have him receive the blessing.  Verse 5 begins, “Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back,” Rebekah called for Jacob and told him everything Isaac told Esau.  Then she briefed Jacob on her plan.  He was to deceive his father Isaac by pretending to be Esau and receive the blessing for himself.  Jacob at first had an objection, look at v.11-12, “Jacob said to his mother, ‘But my brother Esau is a hairy man, while I have 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.”  What was Jacob’s concern?  That he would be discovered and cursed.  He didn’t say, “Mother!  What a deceitful scheme!  Shame on you!”  Instead he said, “But Esau is hairy.”

Look at Rebekah’s reply in v.13, “His mother said to him, ‘My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.’”  Mom! Such confidence!  Mama’s in charge.  “Just do what I say.”  Rebekah may have not been afraid of the curse, maybe because of her faith in God’s word, or, she was willing to risk it if Jacob could get the blessing, or she was presumptuous and being a bit hasty.  This was enough to remove Jacob’s doubts, and he went and did everything she said.  Rebekah prepared the food, then gave Esau’s best clothes for Jacob to wear, and put on goat skins on his hands and neck to simulate the hairiness of Esau.  They were going all out in this deception. Esau must have been a really hairy guy. But these goats in the Middle East, some of them had long smooth hair, that the Romans would even use them for fake human hair.  So it could be possible, maybe if she trimmed them a bit, to make it feel like human hair. It may be hard to imagine – one 77 year old man went hunting, the other might still live at home and is putting on goat skins to be like his brother.  Jacob did live to 147 years old so he still had 70 more years after this.

Jacob now proceeds with the deception.  Look at v.18-19, “He went to his father and said, ‘My father.’ ‘Yes, my son,’ he answered, ‘Who is it?’  Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn.  I have done as you told me.  Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” The lies seem to come easy now, after there are no more reservations.  This is the danger we can get into when we harden or disobey our consciences when they tell us something is wrong.  Jacob’s lies are bold, and he is saying this in the face of his father, who cannot see.  He says, “I am Esau, your firstborn.” 

Isaac has some suspicions.  First, it might usually take longer to hunt some good game.  Something doesn’t seem right.  So he asks in v.20, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?” Jacob replies, “The Lord your God gave me success.”  Oooh!  Now he is using the Lord’s name in vain.  See how you need more lies to cover up a lie.  And here he says God did something that he didn’t do.  Notice also, “The Lord your God.”  He could not say “The Lord my God, or the Lord our God,” while lying. But also, it would take Jacob a while to acknowledge God as his own, and for several years he referred to God as “the God of my father.”  Isaac was still suspicious, and asked Jacob to come closer to touch him.  His eyesight was gone but his hearing was still accurate.  He heard the voice of Jacob, but the hands that he felt were like Esau’s.  So he asked again, “Are you really my son Esau?” And Jacob replied, “I am.”

Look at v.25, “Then he said, ‘My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.’  Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank.  Then his father Isaac said to him, ‘Come here, my son, and kiss me.’”  Rebekah had some culinary skills.  She was able to make goat taste like wild game.  Goat already tastes a little gamey, but I would imagine the wild animal that Esau hunted might taste even gamier.  This stew satisfied the taste of Isaac, who now called in his son for a kiss. This was a kiss of paternal affection. Jacob proceeds to kiss the father to take the blessing.  Isaac caught the smell of Esau’s clothes, and was now convinced this was Esau.  All 5 senses sight (which did not work), sound, touch, taste and smell had been tricked.

Isaac proceeded to give the blessing, from v.27b, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.”  This is not an ordinarily blessed field, but one that God had blessed. Verse 28, “May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness – an abundance of grain and new wine.”  Rain was extremely important to grow crops, and here the blessing calls for great physical prosperity.  The blessing concludes in v.29, “May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you.  Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.  May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.”  This concerns the future blessings.  All nations will serve Jacob.  As God promised Abraham, his descendants will take over the land of Canaan.  All the Canaanite nations will be subject and subservient to Israel, which is another name for Jacob.  Ultimately, this will be fulfilled in the Messiah, the descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who will be the eternal king, when the kingdoms of earth will come under the reign of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  Isaac also inadvertently makes Jacob lord over Esau in this blessing, as he is declared lord over his brothers.  The closing of this blessing echoes God’s first promise to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  The birthright and blessing from Abraham, to Isaac, has now been handed down to Jacob.

Now look at v.30, “After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting.”  Oooh, so close.  Jacob just barely escaped getting caught, or Esau just missed his blessing by minutes. But this was all in the hands of God. He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father, and said to him, “My father, please, sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”  Imagine the horror of Isaac, after pouring out a heartfelt benediction, to hear this greeting.  Isaac asked, “Who are you,” and Esau replied, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.”

Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me?  I ate it just before you came and I blessed him – and indeed he will be blessed!” (v.33).   Isaac trembled violently.  That is an understatement.  The original sense is that Isaac trembled with a great trembling exceedingly.  Part of it may have been in shock that he had been so deceived to give out such a great blessing.  The other part of it may have been a conviction and a fear, realizing that he had opposed the will of God for all this time regarding the blessing. He acknowledged God’s will to bless Jacob, and affirmed, “Indeed he will be blessed!”  He did not call down curses on Jacob, or revoke his blessing, but submitted, “Indeed he will be blessed!”

When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me – me too my father!”  But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.” (v34-35). Esau continued to plea, but Isaac could not take back what he had done.  Esau continued to weep, and he wept aloud.  Isaac this time did not give in to his carnal affections for his son. He favored Esau, to be sure, but in terms of the blessing, he could only give what God allowed.  So he answered Esau, and these words were prophetic too because of his faith, in v.39-40, “Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above.  You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother.  But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck.”  As for this prophecy, Esau and his descendants would be settle in a hilly country of Edom, perhaps not a very fertile land.  They would become subjects of Israel under King David (2 Sam 8:14), and would constantly revolt until one day they set up their own king and have their independence about 150 years later (2 Kings 8:20).  If you look ahead in Gen 33 and 36, God actually does bless Esau physically, so much so that Esau and Jacob cannot live together, but the great portion of physical blessing, the abundance of grain and wine, the eternal inheritance and birthright of the firstborn went to Jacob.

We know that it was God’s will to give the birthright and the blessing to Jacob from Gen 25:23, when God said this to Rebekah before Jacob and Esau were even born: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” So even though it was God’s will, did this make Rebekah and Jacob’s deception right?  Were they justified in using lies to secure the blessing God intended for Jacob?  What happens later will show us that God did not approve of this deception.  The consequences are that Esau now wanted to murder his brother.  Jacob would be forced to go into exile and be away from his family for over 20 years. Because of this, he would never see his mother again.  His own uncle, Rebekah’s own brother, would deceive and take advantage of him many times while he was away from home, and his family would enter into much conflict. God could have easily prevented Isaac from blessing Esau in an infinite number of ways.  Though Rebekah had some faith, she erred in being rash, impatient and using dishonest ways.

Jacob was not innocent either, as he played the star in this drama.  Esau was godless, and Isaac’s partiality to Esau blinded him to God’s will.  So why was Jacob blessed?  It was not because Jacob was any more righteous, or that he was in any way better than Esau.  Jacob did not deserve to be blessed any more than Esau.  Jacob was blessed because of God’s own grace and mercy.  As it says in Rom 9:16, “It [God’s blessing] does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”  Some people might not like to hear this.  Some people want some measure of control.  But the fact that you are here in this church is God’s mercy to you.  The fact that you believe in Him is God’s mercy to you.  May God open your eyes to see that the mercy he has shown you is greater than you can comprehend.  Like Jacob, like Esau, like Isaac, like Rebekah we are all slaves to sin.  We have no rights, we have no birthright, we belong to death that has a claim on every one of us.  But God, in his great mercy, sent his one and only Son, who was the Son of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to redeem us from sin and death.  We were redeemed not by silver or gold, but by the precious blood of Christ, who paid the price for our sins so that we may be set free.  He paid the cost of our redemption so that we may be released from the bondage of sin and be brought into the family of God. This was all done by God’s free grace. 

John 1:9,12,13 says, “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world…Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name [the name of Jesus], he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Jesus has given us all a new birthright: the right to become children of God.  And this is not only for firstborns or males, but men, women, boys and girls of all nations and ages, can receive this birthright when they believe.  John gives us more assurance in 1 John 3:1 – “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!”  When you repent of your unbelief and believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, yours is the kingdom of heaven.  And God will be your God.  The birthright and blessings are yours, and they cannot be taken away.  And the birthright you receive is not an ordinary inheritance, but the full rights of a firstborn, as you share in Christ’s blessings.

Esau sold his birthright, this blessing, for a bowl of soup.  When he wanted it back, he found he could not change what he had done. How much do you value the birthright you have been given?  Will you cast it aside for worldly treasures and pleasures?  Especially for those beginning college.  Temptations may abound.  Will you say, “I’ll give up Christianity for a few years and taste the world?”  Be careful, or you may be hardened to a point that you will no longer cry out for God, but for his blessings which you may also lose.  Esau sought the blessing with tears, but he could bring about no change. Though there were tears, this was not real repentance.  He harbored a murderous grudge against Jacob.  He had no desire for God, he wanted God’s blesings.  But how can you cherish this birthright?  By living at peace with everyone, as God has made peace with you.  And to be holy, because without holiness no one will see the Lord.  Be holy – flee from immorality, worldliness and lusts, and come to Christ in prayer and in His word.  He is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, infinitely wise, and powerful and just to help you in your need.  Remember his love and mercy upon you, and how he has given you His Kingdom as your birthright and blessing, to be with him forever.  Heb 12:28 says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken [it can never disappear or be taken away], let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

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