Deception carries some built-in consequences. One beautiful Sunday morning a deacon decided to skip church and play a round of golf. The fifth hole was the most challenging of the entire course, but nonetheless the deacon, to his delight, made a hole-in-one. An angel observing this turned to God and asked, “Lord, why would You reward such conduct?” God smiled and replied, “Who is he going to tell?”
Isaac tries to overturn God’s will. Esau is eager to comply. Jacob deceives his own father to gain the patriarchal blessing. His mother Rebekah is a major part of the scheme. A devious family, for sure.
We might ask, “What’s the big deal about a blessing?” We should all “bless” our children, envisioning for them God’s best and doing what we can to see our blessing come to pass. Madeline L’Engle notes: “We take blessings and cursings too casually. We bless those who sneeze because that’s ‘what you say’ and we damn because we’re annoyed. But to bless or damn someone is serious business.” In observant Jewish homes on Friday night, both parents place their hands on their children’s heads and recite a blessing. The children in turn feel secure in their parents’ love and confident in themselves. The covenantal, patriarchal blessing of Abraham’s son Isaac carries a prophetic pronouncement of God’s favor, foretelling a prosperous destiny.
Isaac claims here that he’s near death, but that was hardly the case. His vision was gone, but he was otherwise healthy. He meets secretly with his favored son Esau to plot the bestowal of his blessing. If Isaac knew of God’s pronouncement to Rebekah (that Jacob will be the favored son) he chooses to ignore it. Did Isaac know that Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob? Again, we don’t know. As he secretly schemes, Isaac makes a critical mistake, similar to Esau’s in chapter 25: he lets his appetite get in the way. He sends Esau out to hunt for game, unaware that Rebekah is listening in. And she swiftly turns the tables to preserve the blessing for her favored son Jacob. She “moves the men around her like chess pieces” (Niditch). She obviously didn’t think God was capable of carrying out His promise without her help.
Jacob needs his father’s blessing to make his receipt of the birthright binding (without this the birthright alone is meaningless). He seems to like Rebekah’s plan, but he’s afraid that if found out, he will receive a curse from his father rather than a blessing. He doesn’t seem to fear displeasing God. He’s more concerned about getting caught than doing right. His mother Rebekah is prepared; maybe she saw this coming. In an elaborate ruse, she has Jacob wear a freshly skinned goat’s hide and bring the meat to Isaac, prepared as he liked it…and lie follows lie. Like Judas, Jacob betrays with a kiss. I think he inadvertently reveals his inner spiritual condition when he says to his father in verse 20, “The Lord your God gave me success.” Not “my” God but “yours.” And Jacob was not blindly obeying his mother; he was old enough (27) to know that this was a conspiratorial scheme designed to deceive.
Isaac’s doubts persist; Jacob wasn’t able to impersonate his brother’s voice. But the goatskin does the trick; he feels and smells like Esau! So reassured, Isaac pronounces his blessing. What he confers is a destiny well-thought-out. The brother being blessed will dominate the other. The son he blesses will have from God prosperity, preeminence, and protection.
When Esau returns with freshly caught and prepared game for his father, we’re told that Isaac “trembled” (verse 33). He must’ve thought, “What have I done!” There is but one possible suspect as to who could’ve impersonated Esau. Isaac now realizes that, though he try, he cannot hinder the plan of God. What Isaac hoped to accomplish by secrecy has been compromised by trickery.
After realizing too late what has happened, Isaac accepts the inevitable. The blessing he gave cannot be cancelled or transferred to another. It was a verbal last will and testament and cannot be revoked. Isaac understands that the blessing he mistakenly gave Jacob has divine sanction.
Esau, however, isn’t exactly prepared to quietly or stoically accept the outcome. Jacob has truly lived up to his name, which means “heel-grasper”, or “deceiver”. First he cheated Esau out of his birthright, and now his blessing. Esau bitterly protests and begs his father to give him some sort of blessing, which Isaac does, though it’s barely a blessing, and not nearly what he gave Jacob. There’s not much left for Esau. His lesser blessing is more of a prophetic description of the struggles he and his people will endure. Esau despised his birthright but fully appreciated the value of the blessing he has lost. But he’s not the only loser…
I began by stating that actions have consequences, making Jacob’s successful theft a mixed blessing at best. Outraged Esau intends to kill his scheming brother. The only thing holding him back is knowing the grief this would cause his father…but Isaac has told Esau that he didn’t think he would live much longer (verse 2). Esau could wait--then act. Not much escapes Rebekah, who learns of Esau’s murderous intentions and warns Jacob: “Your brother Esau is consoling himself with the thought of killing you” (42).
Jacob couldn’t stay home to enjoy his prosperity; so as the chapter closes, he departs under the false pretense of finding a suitable wife. He is maneuvered out of danger by his mother who plays on Isaac’s fear that Jacob might marry a Hittite. Jacob departs in haste, never to see his mother again, a painful separation for them both. Things would’ve been far different if mother and son trusted God’s watch-care. Jacob will endure 20 lonely years of exile and hard labor under his uncle Laban, who will trick him into marrying the wrong wife; and Jacob will be deceived by his own sons when they sell his favored son Joseph into slavery while claiming that he was killed by a wild animal. They stain Joseph’s coat-of-many-colors with goat’s blood, the very animal Jacob used to deceive his father. Jacob deceives with a goat and is later deceived by a goat. After all his trials, he confesses: “Few and full of trouble have been my days.” He got what he wanted but lost what he had.
We all need to be wary of becoming envious of others. We may start out wanting what they have, but then we want them not to have it. When we’re not content with life we can fall prey to the temptation of obtaining our desires in unethical ways that are not in line with God’s way. We lower our values when we’re consumed by selfish ambition.
Jacob got what he wanted by deceit. We might respond to this story by asking, “So, is it sometimes OK to lie?” I can think of a better question: “Is it ever not wrong to lie?” First we need to know whether there is such a thing as right-and-wrong. If there isn’t, then it hardly matters what anyone does. If there are no moral absolutes, do whatever you like. But if truth and morality are real, then it matters how we live. If we think God can’t intervene--that we can’t achieve our goals unless we lie--we don’t have the God of the Bible. There are no degrees of honesty; it is never right to do wrong, even with good intentions. Sin has a built-in punishment. Jacob receives “the liar’s punishment, which is not being able to believe anyone else” (Yancey). He assumes everyone he meets will be as devious as he (and many are).
God never approves of Jacob’s deception but allows Jacob to succeed in spite of his lack of character. We might object, but then back off when we examine our own lives. Should God be truly “fair”, none of us would be blessed. God in His grace gives us what we don’t deserve. God loves us as we are--not as we should be. We are all “unentitled beggars at the door of God’s mercy” (Manning). It’s hard to think of anyone less worthy of a blessing than devious Jacob. But because undeserving Jacob had the chutzpah to ask for God’s blessing, we may too.