In Genesis 25, we are told two things about Isaac’s sons. First, they will be enemies. God tells Rebekah that there will be division between them and their offspring, and that Esau will serve Jacob (v. 23). Second, their parents played favorites (v. 28). Notice, also, that we have not been told whether or not Rebekah told Isaac of what the Lord revealed to her.
Flash forward to our passage today. Isaac is old and isn’t sure how much longer he has to live. He wants to eat of Esau’s game one more time and give his eldest son his blessing. This shows us that Isaac wanted to pass the promise onto Esau, not Jacob. This leaves us two possibilities. First, Isaac knew of God’s plan to pass the promise through Jacob and insisted that it should be Esau. Second, Isaac was unaware of what God told his wife, and was passing on the blessing to his eldest son per normal, accepted practices. And depending on the case, Rebekah is either being dishonest to her husband to protect him, or she has never quite been honest with him. Any way you slice it, there is sin. And yet, God’s purpose stands.
And notice Jacob’s objection. He is not objecting to deceiving his father and “stealing” the blessing. He is afraid of the fallout and how it might affect him. But as soon as his mother takes responsibility for it, he’s all in. Again, even though there is sin, God’s purpose stands.
In the blessing (vv. 28-29), we see Isaac pray for earthly greatness for his son. We also see echoes of the blessing Noah pronounces on Shem as the father of the godly line (Gen 9:26), and a clear reference to the promise of God to Abraham (Gen 12:3). Even after realizing he had been deceived, Isaac declares that the blessing of Jacob will stand (v. 33). Again, reception of the promise is not based on works. And notice Esau’s response. While he has been cheated here out of what he believes is rightfully his, he feels the same about the birthright he willingly exchanged for the stew (v. 36). Esau does not take responsibility for his own actions.
As Isaac prophesies over Esau, he pronounces the same temporal blessings on him (compare v. 39 with v. 28 – in the Hebrew, the wording is almost identical, so while some translations make v. 39 a curse and say “away from” the fatness of the earth and the dew of heaven, it would be better to translate it as it is in v. 28, “of” the fatness of the earth – see also Heb 11:20). But whereas Jacob would rule, Esau will serve, at least for a time.
Then, Rebekah again deceives Isaac. After hearing of Esau’s plan to kill Jacob, she gets Isaac to send Jacob to her family, citing her desire for him to not marry a Hittite (see Gen 26:34-35). And, yet again, even though there is sin, God’s purpose stands. And, yet again, we see history repeat itself, and a wife is sought for Jacob the same way one was sought for Isaac, once more showing us the purity God’s people are called to. The Hittites are Canaanites* and symbolize the lost, whereas Abraham’s family line symbolizes the elect.
And in chapter 28, Isaac again reiterates the passing of the promise to Jacob. And Esau, seeing the blessing, tries to please his father by marrying a non-Canaanite. But Esau misses the point. It isn’t the Canaanite heritage, per se, because physical lineage is not the point. The physical points to the higher spiritual truth.
And we see that when God now, like with Isaac before him, establishes the covenant with the next generation in Jacob. God again promises the land, the offspring, and the blessings of the whole world. But note that there is the addition of the spreading abroad of the offspring. Additionally, the ladder or stairway that Jacob sees is a type of Christ Who will span the gulf between heaven and earth (Christ applies this to Himself in John 1:51). This vision is a picture of the Gospel of Christ going into all the world as the means of blessing.
Notice Jacob’s vow (vv. 18-22). While this may appear to be Jacob bargaining with God, or even promising to obey Him if He first gives Jacob what he wants, that is not the case. After seeing his vision, Jacob expresses the faith of Abraham (see his reaction to the vision in vv. 16-17). He says something closer to “since God is with me…I will come again to my father’s house in peace and the Lord shall be my God.” Jacob saw Christ, and he believed.
In chapter 29, Laban is back. We got a foretaste of his faithlessness in chapter 24, and here we see it in full effect in his dealings with his nephew, Jacob. Deception runs in the family. Yet, God’s purpose stands. Note that in verse 10, the formula of “Laban his mother’s brother” is repeated three times to emphasize the purity of the bloodline. In Laban’s offer to pay Jacob for his service, we see a sense of justice in Laban. In his deceiving Jacob, we see his selfishness. Laban’s hemming and hawing is habitual (remember the back and forth of our buddy Job?). Our passage ends by telling us that, after marrying both sisters, Jacob plays favorites, like his parents before him (and we will see this again with his own sons!).
In whom in this passage do you see yourself the most? Rebekah, the deceiver who can justify it because it is for someone else’s good? Jacob, whose sense of right and wrong is all about what happens to him? Esau, who takes no responsibility for what he has done and hates others because of it? Laban, who fights between doing what is right and doing what benefits him the most?
Either way, the point is that God’s purpose will stand, and He works through the faith of those He has called. God doesn’t need us perfect to work through us. He just needs faith.
* Hittite is literally “son of Heth” or, like here, “daughter of Heth” in the Hebrew. Heth was Canaan’s second-born son (Gen 10:15).