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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 27". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ genesis-27.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 27". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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Isaac was old and his eyes were dim
Isaac in the near prospect of death
HE HAS WARNINGS OF HIS APPROACHING END.
1. His advanced age.
2. Signs of weakness and decay.
II. HE SETS IN ORDER HIS WORLDLY AFFAIRS.
1. Duties prompted by the social affections.
2. Duties regarding the settlement of inheritance and property. (T. H.Leale.)
Isaac’s preparation for death
1. His longing for the performance of Esau’s filial kindness as for a last time.
(1) Esau was his favourite son; not on account of any similarity between them, but just because they were dissimilar; the repose and contemplativeness and inactivity of Isaac found a contrast in which it reposed in the energy and even the restlessness of his firstborn.
(2) It was natural to yearn for the feast of his son’s affection for the last time, for there is something peculiarly impressive in whatever is done for the last time.
2. Isaac prepared for death by making his last testamentary dispositions. They were made, though apparently premature--
(1) Partly because of the frailty of life and the uncertainty whether there may be any to-morrow for that which is put off to-day;
(2) Partly perhaps because he desired to have all earthly thoughts done with and put away. When he came to die there would be no anxieties about the disposition of property, to harass him. For it is good to have all such things done with before that hour comes. Is there not something incongruous in the presence of a lawyer in the death room, agitating the last hours? The first portion of our lives is spent in learning the use of our senses and faculties, ascertaining where we are, and what. The second in using those powers, and acting in the given sphere, the motto being, “Work, the night cometh.” A third portion, between active life and the grave, like the twilight between day and night (not light enough for working, nor yet quite dark), nature seems to accord for unworldliness and meditation. It is striking, doubtless, to see an old man, hale and vigorous to the last, dying at his work, like a warrior in armour. But natural feeling makes us wish perhaps that an interval might be given; a season for the statesman, such as that which Samuel had on laying aside the cares of office in the schools of the prophets, such as Simeon and Anna had for a life of devotion in the temple, such as the labourer has when, his long day’s work done, he finds an asylum in the almshouse, such as our Church desires when she prays against sudden death; a season of interval in which to watch, and meditate, and wait. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
The blind father
1. Now very aged. One hundred and thirty-six years old. Feeble. Ought to have been specially reverenced, both as a father and because so aged. Reverence due to old age. What more beautiful than old age (Proverbs 15:31)? See the Word of God concerning old age (Leviticus 19:32; 2 Chronicles 36:17; Proverbs 20:29).
2. Helpless. Forced to sit in the house while his sons were actively employed. Dependent on the kind offices of others.
3. Blind. And therefore should have been specially reverenced, and treated with most respectful tenderness,
4. Felt his end approaching (Genesis 27:4). Should therefore have been treated with the greater consideration.
5. About to impart the covenant blessing. A most solemn act. To be given, and received, in the fear of God.
6. Would signalize it with a feast. The last he might have; and his own beloved Esau should prepare it. (J. C. Gray.)
The day of death unknown
I have read a parable of a man shut up in a fortress under sentence of perpetual imprisonment, and obliged to draw water from a reservoir which he may not see, but into which no fresh stream is ever to be poured. How much it contains he cannot tell. He knows that the quantity is not great; it may be extremely small. He has already drawn out a considerable supply during his long imprisonment. The diminution increases daily, and how, it is asked, would he feel each time of drawing water and each time of drinking it? Not as if he had a perennial stream to go to-”I have a reservoir; I may be at ease.” No: “I had water yesterday, I have it to-day; but my having it yesterday and my having it to-day is the very cause that I shall not have it on some day that is approaching.” Life is a fortress; man is the prisoner within the gates. He draws his supply from a fountain fed by invisible pipes, but the reservoir is being exhausted. We had life yesterday, we have it today, the probability--the certainty--is that we shall not have it on some day that is to come. (R. A.Wilmot.)
Isaac, the organ of Divine blessing
It is a strange and, in some respects, perplexing spectacle that is here presented to us--the organ of the Divine blessing represented by a blind old man, laid on a “couch of skins,” stimulated by meat and wine, and trying to cheat God by bestowing the family blessing on the son of his own choice to the exclusion of the Divinely-appointed heir. Out of such beginnings had God to educate a people worthy of Himself, and through such hazards had He to guide the spiritual blessing He designed to convey to us all. Isaac laid a net for his own feet. By his unrighteous and timorous haste he secured the defeat of his own long-cherished scheme. It was his hasting to bless Esau which drove Rebekah to checkmate him by winning the blessing for her favourite. The shock which Isaac felt when Esau came in and the fraud was discovered is easily understood. The mortification of the old man must have been extreme when he found that he had so completely taken himself in. He was reclining in the satisfied reflection that for once he had overreached his astute Rebekah and her astute son, and in the comfortable feeling that, at last, he had accomplished his one remaining desire, when he learns from the exceeding bitter cry of Esau that he has himself been duped. It was enough to rouse the anger of the mildest and godliest of men, but Isaac does not storm and protest--“he trembles exceedingly.” He recognises, by a spiritual insight quite unknown to Esau, that this is God’s hand, and deliberately confirms, with his eyes open, what he had done in blindness: “I have blessed him: Yea, and he shall be blessed.” Had he wished to deny the validity of the blessing, he had ground enough for doing so. He had not really given it; it had been stolen from him. An act must be judged by its intention, and he had been far from intending to bless Jacob. Was he to consider himself bound by what he had done under a misapprehension? He had given a Messing to one person under the impression that he was a different person; must not the blessing go to him for whom it was designed? But Isaac unhesitatingly yielded. This clear recognition of God’s hand in the matter, and quick submission to Him, reveals a habit of reflection, and a spiritual thoughtfulness, which are the good qualities in Isaac’s otherwise unsatisfactory character. Before he finished his answer to Esau, he felt he was a poor feeble creature in the hand of a true and just God, who had used even his infirmity and sin to forward righteous and gracious ends. It was his sudden recognition of the frightful way in which he had been tampering with God’s will, and of the grace with which God had prevented him from accomplishing a wrong destination of the inheritance, that made Isaac tremble very exceedingly. In this humble acceptance of the disappointment of his life’s love and hope, Isaac shows us the manner in which we ought to bear the consequences of our wrong-doing. The punishment of our sin often comes through the persons with whom we have to do, unintentionally on their part, and yet we are tempted to hate them because they pain and punish us, father, mother, wife, child, or whoever else. Isaac and Esau were alike disappointed. Esau only saw the supplanter, and vowed to be revenged. Isaac saw God in the matter, and trembled. So when Shimei cursed David, and his loyal retainers would have cut off his head for so doing, David said: “Let him alone, and let him curse; it may be that the Lord hath bidden him.” We can bear the pain inflicted on us by men when we see that they are merely the instruments of a Divine chastisement. The persons who thwart us and make our life bitter, the persons who stand between us and our dearest hopes, the persons whom we are most disposed to speak angrily and bitterly to, are often thorns planted in our path by God to keep us on the right way. (M. Dods, D. D.)
Go now to the flock, and fetch me from thence two good kids of the goats; and I will make them savoury meat for thy father, such as he loveth
Rebekah’s cunning plot in favour of Jacob
THE HUMAN ELEMENT IN IT.
1. The partiality of a fond mother.
II. THE RELIGIOUS ELEMENT IN IT.
1. It seemed as if the oracle of God was likely to become void.
2. The crisis was urgent. (T. H. Leale.)
Crooked measures to obtain a worthy object
This is a mysterious affair. It was just that Esau should lose the blessing, for by selling his birthright he had despised it. It was God’s design, too, that Jacob should have it. Rebekah also knowing of this design, from it having been revealed to her that “the elder should serve the younger,” appears to have acted from a good motive. But the scheme which she formed to correct the error of her husband was far from being justifiable. It was one of those crooked measures which have too often been adopted to accomplish the Divine promises; as if the end would justify, or at least excuse the means. Thus Sarah acted in giving Hagar to Abraham; and thus many others have acted under the idea of being useful in promoting the cause of Christ. The answer to all such things is that which God addressed to Abraham: “I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be thou perfect.” The deception practised on Isaac was cruel. If he be in the wrong, endeavour to convince him; or commit it to God, who could turn his mind, as he afterwards did that of Jacob when blessing Ephraim and Manasseh; but do not avail yourself of his loss of sight to deceive him. Such would have been the counsel of wisdom and rectitude; but Rebekah follows her own. (A. Fuller.)
Use of unscrupulous meals by religious persons
To this day the method of Rebekah and Jacob is largely adopted by religious persons. It is notorious that persons whose ends are good frequently become thoroughly unscrupulous about the means they use to accomplish them. They dare not say in so many words that they may do evil that good may come, nor do they think it a tenable position in morals that the end sanctifies the means; and yet their consciousness of a justifiable and desirable end undoubtedly does blunt their sensitiveness regarding the legitimacy of the means they employ. For example, Protestant controversialists, persuaded that vehement opposition to Popery is good, and filled with the idea of accomplishing its downfall, are often guilty of gross misrepresentation, because they do not sufficiently inform themselves of the actual tenets and practices of the Church of Rome. In all controversy, religious and political, it is the same. It is always dishonest to circulate reports that you have no means of authenticating; yet how freely are such reports circulated to blacken the character of an opponent, and to prove his opinions to be dangerous. It is always dishonest to condemn opinions we have not inquired into, merely because of some fancied consequence which these opinions carry in them; yet how freely are opinions condemned by men who have never been at the trouble carefully to inquire into their truth. They do not feel the dishonesty of their position, because they have a general consciousness that they are on the side of religion, and of what has generally passed for truth. All keeping back of facts which are supposed to have an unsettling effect is but a repetition of this sin. There is no sin more hateful. Under the appearance of serving God, and maintaining His cause in the world, it insults Him by assuming that, if the whole bare, undisguised truth were spoken, His cause would suffer. The fate of all such attempts to manage God’s matters by keeping things dark, and misrepresenting fact, is written for all who care to understand in the results of this scheme of Rebekah’s and Jacob’s. They gained nothing, and they lost a great deal, by their wicked interference. They gained nothing; for God had promised that the birthright would be Jacob’s, and would have given it him in some way redounding to his credit and not to his shame. And they lost a great deal. The mother lost her son; Jacob had to flee for his life, and, for all we know, Rebekah never saw him more. And Jacob lost all the comforts of home, and all those possessions his father had accumulated. He had to flee with nothing but his staff, an outcast to begin the world for himself. From this first false step onwards to his death, he was pursued by misfortune, until his own verdict on his life was, “Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life.” (M. Dods, D. D.)
Ahead of Providence
Luther was very importunate at the throne of grace to know the mind of God in a certain matter; and it seemed to him as if he heard God speak to his heart thus: “I am not to be traced.” One adds, “If He is not to be traced, He may be trusted; and that religion is of little value which will not enable a man to trust God where he can neither trace nor see Him. But there is a time for everything beneath the sun; and the Almighty has His ‘times and seasons.’ It has been frequently with my hopes and desires, in regard to Providence, as with my watch and the sun. My watch has often been ahead of true time; I have gone faster than Providence, and have been forced to stand still and wait, or I have been set back painfully. Flavel says, ‘Some providences, like Hebrew letters, must be read backwards.’” (J. G. Wilson.)
God will not have His kingdom maintained by carnal policy
We must walk in simplicity, sine plicis, for though the serpent can shrink up into his folds, and appear what he is not, yet it doth not become the saint to shuffle either with God or men. Jacob got the blessing by a wile, but he might have got it cheaper by plain dealing. (W. Gurnall.)
A lie not permitted to man
The minister of the seminary at Clermont, France, having been seized at Autun by the populace, the mayor, who wished to save him, advised him not to take the oath, but to allow him to tell the people that he had taken it. “I would myself make known your falsehood to the people,” replied the clergyman; “it is not permitted me to ransom my life by a lie. The God who prohibits my taking the oath will not allow me to make it believed that I have taken it.” The mayor was silent, and the minister was martyred.
Upon me be thy curse, my son
Rebekah’s imposition on Isaac considered
This language plainly shows that she thought her conduct justifiable, and thus we have a melancholy instance of the way in which good people sometimes deceive themselves, and suffer their judgments to be misled by carnal reasonings, and the counsels of the natural heart.
I. The OBJECT which she had in view. She wished the blessing to go, not to Esau the first-born, but to Jacob, her younger son. And what, may we ask, was the reason of this preference? Did she love Jacob best? It is probable that she did. But Rebekah might have another motive for wishing that the blessing should be given to Jacob. She knew that he was fittest for receiving it. She knew that he highly valued it, not merely for the sake of any worldly benefit annexed to it, but on account of the spiritual promises contained in it. Esau, on the contrary, had repeatedly shown the greatest contempt for the blessing and its promises. But even this reason, however sufficient it might have been, was not, we may conjecture, the chief motive by which Rebekah’s mind was influenced. She had a still stronger reason for wishing to defeat her husband’s purpose. She felt assured that in this design he was opposing the will and purpose of the Almighty. Her desire, then, was good, and her attempt praiseworthy. The end which she proposed to herself was to prevent her husband from acting contrary to the divine will, and to assist in turning the blessing where God intended it should go. So far, then, as the object which she had in view was concerned, far from finding any thing to blame, we see much to commend. It sprang from her faith and piety, and showed her zeal for the glory of God. Let us consider.
II. The MEANS which she used for attaining this object. Here we are forced to withhold our commendation; nay, we must go farther, we must positively condemn her conduct, and declare it to have been utterly without excuse. We say nothing of the probability which there was of a discovery, and of the dangerous consequences which might have followed. Admitting that a discovery was very unlikely to take place; admitting that her plan was most wisely laid, with every prospect of success; yet of what kind was her wisdom? Was it that wisdom “ which is from above, and which is first pure, and then peaceable, full of good fruits, and without hypocrisy”? Or rather, was it not that wisdom” which descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish”? (James 3:15; James 3:17.) Was it that wisdom whichour Lord prescribes when he says, “Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves”? Or rather, was it not the crooked policy of the old Serpent, who is a liar and the father of lies? Rebekah, indeed, could not but know that to impose on her husband by means of his infirmity, and to tempt her son to the commission of falsehood and deception, were acts which in themselves were highly sinful. What may we suppose, then, were the arguments by which she would probably defend and even justify her conduct? She would say to herself, “I am placed in very extraordinary circumstances. Here is Isaac about to act in direct opposition to the Divine Will. Here is the blessing, which God has designed for Jacob, on the point of being given to Esau. Is it not my duty to prevent the purposes of the Almighty from being defeated? Though the means to which I may have recourse are such as on a common occasion might not be lawfully used, yet does not the necessity of the present case allow and even require me to use them?” But how vain and false would such reasoning be! What permission had Rebekah received “to do evil, that good might come”? Her duty was to be learned, not from the purposes, but from the precepts of the Almighty. Did she suppose that God could not complete His designs without her committing sin in order to fulfil them? Or, did she think that sin would not be sin, because she dressed it in this specious covering? In all cases the Law of God is to be our rule. In no case can we claim the privilege of setting it aside. Rebekah’s sin, however she might excuse it to herself, was sufficient to have ruined her soul; and unquestionably, unless through God’s grace she had afterwards repented and obtained forgiveness, it would have ruined her soul. Such is the case with every sin. Whatever good may come of the evil which we do, that good will not excuse the evil, nor make it less. But it may be further said, “Rebekah’s plan succeeded. Jacob, by his deception, obtained the blessing; and thus God, by making the means successful, showed that He approved them.” It is true that God permitted Rebekah’s plan to be successful; but it does not therefore follow that He approved it. Indeed, it is utterly impossible that He could approve falsehood in any shape or in any case. He permitted it to be practised, and He overruled it for the fulfilling of His own purposes; but this is a very different thing from approving it. Nay, if we attentively examine the whole matter, in all its effects and consequences, we shall discover clear marks of God’s displeasure against both her and Jacob for their parts in this transaction. Sin ever brings along with it shame and sorrow, and those who permit themselves to do evil that good may come will surely in the end deplore their worldly wisdom and presumptuous conduct. It may yet, however, be further asked, “What ought Rebekah to have done? Was she, knowingly, to have let her husband act contrary to the Divine intentions, without endeavouring to prevent him? Was she to have taken no steps in order to have procured the blessing for Jacob? “I answer, there were means which she might lawfully have used for the attainment of her end; and to these she ought to have confined herself. She should have reasoned the mutter with Isaac. She should meekly have pointed out to him the mistake which he was on the point of committing. She should have reminded him of the revelation which God had given of His will in this affair; and thus, by persuasion and argument, she should have endeavoured to turn him from his purpose. There is reason to think that such a conduct would probably have succeeded. Isaac, when he afterwards discovered what had been done, appears to have suddenly recollected himself; and, shuddering at the danger from which he had escaped, in a very striking manner, confirmed the blessing to Jacob: “Yea and he shall be blessed.” It is, therefore, likely that he would before have yielded to a mild remonstrance, affectionately urged. At any rate, Rebekah should have added also to it strong faith and fervent prayer. These are the weapons of our warfare. (E. Cooper, M. A.)
Influence of woman
Samuel Morley’s mother was a woman of rare piety. He was wont to say concerning her, “I am much what my mother has made me.”
1. Faith pursueth God’s oracle through the worst of difficulties and fears.
2. Fleshly passion may mix with faith in its strongest operations.
3. Affection may make mothers adventure to bear a curse for their sons.
4. Natural affection may be instant to have things done irregularly upon a ground of faith. (G. Hughes, B. D.)
And he went, and fetched, and brought them to his mother
Rebekah’s cunning plot accepted and carried out by Jacob
REVEALS SOME QUALITIES OF JACOB’S CHARACTER.
1. He was a weak and pliable man.
2. He lacked the power of self-determination.
3. He was fearful of consequences.
4. He could long indulge the thought of that which was forbidden.
II. REVEALS THE GRADUAL DEBASEMENT OF JACOB’S CHARACTER.
1. He overcomes difficulties in the way of sin.
2. He learns to act a falsehood.
3. He proceeds to the direct falsehood.
4. He allows himself to be led into sin under the idea that he is carrying out the purpose of God. (T. H. Leale.)
The stolen blessing
I. THE TEMPTATION ORIGINATED IN A SENSUOUS REQUEST OF ISAAC.
II. THIS TEMPTATION WAS PRESENTED TO JACOB THROUGH THE UNSCRUPULOUS LOVE OF REBEKAH. We cannot but admire her love. But it was not based upon principle.
III. THIS TEMPTATION WAS GREEDILY RESPONDED TO BY THE WEAK AND CRAFTY NATURE OF JACOB. (F. B. Meyer, B.A.)
I. JACOB’S CONDUCT UNFOLDS THE STRENGTH OF EARLY PREFERENCES.
II. JACOB’S CONDUCT SHOWS PROGRESS IN A WRONG DIRECTION.
III. JACOB’S CONDUCT LETS US SEE SOME OF THE INFLUENCES WHICH IMPEL MEN TO GREATER EVIL.
1. One is that of relationship.
2. Another influence worked in the man himself. Jacob had a vehement craving for the blessing.
IV. JACOB’S CONDUCT PROVES THAT THERE MAY BE MORE RELIGION ON THE LIPS THAN IN THE LIFE (Genesis 27:20). (D. G. Watt, M. A.)
I. THE POWER OF PARENTAL INFLUENCE AND THE DANGER OF PARENTAL PARTIALITY.
II. THE PROGRESS OF MORAL DETERIORATION. This is seen--
1. In Isaac.
2. In Rebekah.
3. In Esau.
4. Especially in Jacob.
1. That mere fondness is not affection.
2. To beware of encouraging or countenancing the appearance of untruth.
3. That no righteous purpose can justify an unrighteous act.
4. To avoid the beginning, “the very appearance of evil.”
5. To beware what thoughts we cherish.
6. Success does not avert the moral consequences of wrong-doing. (A. F.Joscelyne, B. A.)
The blessing fraudulently obtained
I. THE SPIRIT OF DOUBT AND MISTRUST LEADS MEN TO PRACTICE DECEIT.
1. It was deceiving a relative.
2. Deceiving an infirm relative.
3. Deceiving an infirm relative in spiritual matters.
II. IT DEADENS MEN’S MORAL SENSIBILITIES.
1. It creates indifference to man’s moral culture.
2. It renders one insensible to the greatest danger.
III. IT INVOLVES PAIN.
1. Loss of peace.
3. Humiliation. (Homilist.)
The blessing obtained by fraud
1. Many of the most serious evils in life must be traced to parental mismanagement.
2. No end, however good, will sanction bad ways of accomplishing it.
3. Our history illustrates the prolific nature of sin. The commission of one crime makes another necessary, in order to supply what is lacking in the first.
4. The sins of youth have often a long and lasting influence. (A. McClelland, D. D.)
I. THE CONSPIRACY.
1. Its nature.
2. Its cause.
(1) Precariousness of Isaac’s life.
(2) Rebekah’s fear that patriarchal blessing would be bestowed on Esau, though God had declared that it should be given to Jacob.
(3) The nature and importance of the patriarchal blessing.
II. THE DISCOVERY.
1. Its suddenness.
2. Its effect. Practical lessons:
1. That sad consequences ever follow the practice of duplicity, whether in the family or elsewhere.
2. That a mother should teach a son to deceive his father is full of warning.
3. That such wrong should be perpetrated in the name and for the promotion of religion suggests the importance of scrutinizing our motives.
4. That the consciences of pious persons should allow them to justify themselves in such conduct suggests the blinding power of unbelief that God will fulfil what He has promised. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
The sin of Isaac and his family
I. Look at ISAAC.
1. His sin lay in aiming at a wrong object--he wanted to set aside the will of God.
2. Mark the punishment of Isaac. It was two-fold. First, his object was defeated--Esau lost the blessing. And man will always be defeated when man struggles with his Maker. He vindicates His authority in an unexpected moment and by unexpected means, and then where and what are we? Our schemes, and efforts, and hopes, are all laid low; and worse than this--they are all turned against ourselves. And so was it here; for notice another part of Isaac’s punishment--not only was his object defeated, but in aiming at it, he brought much sin on his family and much anguish on himself.
II. We may turn now to REBEKAH.
1. Her sin was altogether different in its character from Isaac’s. It consisted in aiming at a right object by sinful means.
2. The punishment of Rebekah may appear slight, and yet to a fond mother like her, it must have been deeply painful. The curse was indeed on her, and it came in a form she little anticipated--she lost the son for whom she had plotted and sinned. Her example speaks plainly and solemnly also to all who are parents amongst us. It tells us that children are easily led into sin. Deceit and falsehood are bound up in the heart of every child that breathes, and it is as easy to call them into action as to get their tongues to speak or their feet to move. It is easy also to find motives that seem good, for prompting the lie, or sanctioning the lie, or concealing the lie; but as surely as there is a God living in heaven, the evil we prompt or encourage or tolerate in our children will come down in the end on our own heads. The curse of it will be on us. The blow may at first strike others, but in the end it will recoil on ourselves. Our poor children may themselves sting us to the quick; or if not so, the hand of God may be on them. We may see in their undoing at once our own punishment and our own sin.
III. Let us turn now to JACOB. The instant we look at him, we are struck with this fact, that the nearer a man is to God, the more God is displeased with any iniquity He sees in him, and the more openly and severely He punishes it. Of all this family, Jacob was the most beloved by Him, but yet, as far as regards this world, he appears to have suffered from this transaction the most bitterly.
1. His sin was of a complicated character. To a hasty observer, it might appear light. Certainly much might be said in palliation of it. He was not first in the transgression. The idea of it did not originate with him. His feelings revolted at it when it was proposed to him. He remonstrated against it. Besides, it was a parent who urged him on, a fond and tender mother. And we must remember, too, that all those motives which led Rebekah to form this plot would operate also in Jacob’s mind to lead him to execute it. It was furthering the will of God, it was saving a father from sin. Let young persons see here what a single deviation from truth can do. In one short hour it made the pious Jacob appear and act like one of the worst of men.
2. As for the punishment of Jacob’s sin, we must read the history of his life to see the extent of it. It followed him almost to his dying hour. He was successful in his treachery; it obtained from his deceived father the desired birthright; but what fruit had he from his success? We might say none at all, or rather he sowed the wind and he reaped the whirlwind. His fears were realized; he did bring a curse on him and not a blessing.
IV. We come now to the case of Esau. Alive to the present and reckless of the future, he preferred to it the momentary gratification of a sensual appetite. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
How Jacob stole his blessing
I. ISAAC’S OBSTINATE PARTIALITY.
II. REBEKAH’S CRAFTINESS, AND JACOB’S FRAUD.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE FRAUD. Isaac’s vain regret. Esau’s murderous malice. Rebekah’s fear for her favourite son. Jacob’s hasty banishment. Conclusion: What may we especially learn for ourselves?
1. Not to resist God’s will, like Isaac. We may sometimes think we know what is best; yet, if we listened to God’s word, we should not do the very thing we perhaps most like to do.
2. Not to forfeit God’s favour and blessing, like Esau. It was Esau’s own recklessness and worldliness that led to his being rejected, and to “the blessing” being withheld from him. He had shown himself to be incapable of deeper thoughts and religious faith.
3. Not to do wrong that good may come, like Rebekah and Jacob. God’s promises will be fulfilled in due time. But we must neither murmur, nor be hasty (comp. Hebrews 2:3). (W. S. Smith, B. D.)
The wily supplanter
Jacob, whose nature was at this time true to his name.
1. Receives a hint from his mother. Sad that her maternal love should have prompted such an act. Esau, as much her son as Jacob. She was equally bound by natural obligations to care far one as the other. No apologies seem to be a sufficient vindication of conduct that was in its very essence wrong.
2. Closes with his mother’s recommendation. He ought to have resented it; to have expostulated, and over-ruled it. He rather suggests difficulties (Genesis 27:11) to prompt her ingenuity.
3. Adopts the disguise she prepared, and followed her directions. Deception; and self-deception the worst of all. Perhaps thought it well, even by such means, to gain the blessing.
4. Repeated falsehoods. Again and again assured his father that he was Esau.
5. Obtained the blessing. Yet how could that bless which had been so obtained? God, in His mercy, ultimately brought good out of the evil Otherwise the father’s blessing, so obtained, must have been a curse. (J. C. Gray.)
Appearances often deceptive
“The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” We cannot always depend upon appearances. When, at the time of the gunpowder plot, the Parliament houses were searched, only coals and fagots were found in the cellars beneath. But, on a more careful search, barrels of gunpowder were found under the coals and wood, as well as Guy Fawkes with his preparations to blow up the king and his parliament. Many a fine-looking tree is rotten at the core; some who are very healthy in appearance are secretly and fatally diseased; gilding or paint sometimes covers really worthless rubbish; so the lives of some who profess to be “the epistles of Christ “ are really a forgery, for they are not what they profess to be. Many who speak in religious services, or at other times and places, with “Jacob’s voice,” or as saints, really have “the hands of Esau,” for they are living in the practice of wickedness. (G. Hughes, B. D.)
The deception of Isaac
It is often forgotten that Jacob was divinely appointed to be the inheritor of the blessing. The omission from the calculation or thought of that one fact is likely to lead not only to mental perplexity but to moral confusion. You find the proof of the assertion in Genesis 25:23. The Lord said unto Rebekah, in view of the birth of her children, “The one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” The mystery, therefore, is Divine. Jacob was a destined man; Jacob was destined before he was born; what, then, was his error? Not in feeling, how mysteriously soever, the pressure of his destiny, but in prematurely taking it into his own hands. We must not force Providence. Is there not an appointed time to man upon the earth, in a much wider sense than in the sense of marking out the day of his death? Is there not a time for the rising of the sun and the going down of the same? Is there not a seed time in the year, as well as a harvest day? We are tempted to force Providence, thus to do the right thing in the wrong way, and at the wrong time. Right is not a question of a mere point; it gathers up into its mystery all the points of the case, so that it is not enough to be going in the right road; we must have come into that road through the right door, at the right hour, and by direct intervention and sanction of God. It is tempting to natures like ours to help ourselves by trickery. We do like to meddle with God. Granted that the mother saw the religious aspect of this whole case, and knew the destiny of the boys, she had no right to force Divine Providence. Was Rebekah moved by the consciousness of destiny, or was she excited by the spirit of revenge? It is easy for us to mistake our revenge for religion. Some men pray out of spite; some men preach Christ out of envy; it is possible to build a church upon the devil’s foundation, and to light an altar with the devil’s fire. Jacob was pre-eminently a destined child, a man with a special mark upon him: how he will come out of this we shall see; but God will be King and Master, and right shall be done. What, then, is to be our attitude under the consciousness of destiny, and under the suggestion of tempting events? Our attitude is to be one of perfect resignation. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The temptation of destiny
Although the prediction of the fact did not entitle her or her son to bring about its fulfilment, yet it makes some slight difference in the case. For we see even now that when a nation or a man once feels that it is “manifest destiny” to do a certain thing--predetermined--he feels free to do that thing, no matter how unjust it is.
We see the same delusion in a thousand other cases. Shakespeare recognizes it in the great drama of “Macbeth.” The prediction, “Thou shalt be king hereafter,” did not justify the murder, but it seemed to give to it a certain supernatural countenance, marshalling the murderer the way that he was going. If this can be the case when the supernatural soliciting comes from below, how much more strong when it was felt to come from above--from God Himself! Then remember, besides, that there was somethingnot altogether evil in Jacob’s passionate coveting of the birthright. For it was a sacred good, and eagerly to appreciate it as he did was itself a sign of some fitness for it; while to despise it as Esau did marked the man as unworthy of it. (A. G. Mercer.)
The selection of Jacob
But now hear me for a moment in defence of that Divine Providence which allowed the substitution of this particular man, Jacob, in the place of this particular man, Esau, as the third of the patriarchs. The importance of a right choice here is not easily over-rated. For several reasons the character of the patriarchs was to influence and mould the character of the Hebrew race more than could be done by any of the whole line of law-givers, princes, prophets, and warriors--Moses, perhaps, excepted, To have the right man, then, was indeed important. But was Jacob he? or, at least, was he more fit than Esau? He was. What was Jacob? Let us see. A man may be described by three things--whether he has ends--what they are--and how he reaches them.
1. Whether he has ends. Esau had not, He was one of a class of characters who live without any distant ends to reach--who live very much from day to day, working perhaps energetically for their little daily plans, or floating from interest to interest. Jacob was, above all things else, a man of purpose.
2. The next question about a man is, What are his ends? Two traits in a man’s ends lift up the man--the remoteness and the generosity of his ends. If very remote--that is, if a man takes into his vision the whole scope of his life, and with a masterly power brings under his whole existence to that far-oft end--that man, even though his ends are selfish, is a superior person. Now Jacob was certainly that man. Show me such a man anywhere, and I will show you his equal here. Seven years of the hardest service he served for Rachel, and counted them but as seven days--and then seven more. He wore through twenty years of the hardest life,carrying on his design that he should be the successor and heir of Isaac, and though he was of a timid nature, never yielding that purpose, even when he stood in the presence of the avenger Esau himself. Never was there a more patient, tenacious soul. This was singular, for remember that primitive men may be persistent in passions, but not in purposes, save in that one passion and purpose--revenge. But Jacob had all the calmness and tenacity of an advanced age. His end, however, may have been a selfish one. Self-advancement? Yes. But, considering the age and place, self-advancement was one of the higher forms of virtue, especially when we know that the end Jacob sought had a certain sacredness about it--the hope, namely, that he should be in the line of God’s special favours--should take eminent place as His servant.
3. The third test of a man is the means he uses to reach his ends. Jacob’s were bad enough. Remember, however, that the rule, the end does not justify the means, was unknown to Jacob--is, in fact, a great and modern discovery in morals, not fully known even yet. And remember, besides, that whatever his means were, they were always effective, and never gratuitously wicked. On the whole, then, here was a mixed character as to its excellence, but a high character as to its ability. Nay, besides--this very mixture, the very defects of character, made Jacob a fit instrument of the Divine purposes. He was, even in his weakest points, far better fitted to lay the foundations of a family and kingdom than the impulsive and purposeless Esau. Had he been a more purely excellent man, he would have been less fitted. A style of character purely excellent cannot lay a permanent grasp upon the men of early ages, or men of any age not high enough to receive it. The powerful great man is the one who is at once above and yet along-side of his fellows. Hence we see, as a matter of fact, that among the patriarchs, though Abraham is most revered, Jacob has been the truly influential man with the Jewish masses. He has moulded the mass of the Jewish people into his own image. I regard this as specially providential. Thus the purer and higher were led to God and held to God through the high spirit that was in Abraham; the body were held to God and their religion through the lower soul of Jacob. They could be inferior Jacobs when they could not be properly children of Abraham.
So, through lower and higher instruments, the purposes of God are worked out.
1. Among the thoughts suggested by the subject, notice first the effect of success in the judgment of character. Esau, once gone under, holds no place.
2. Notice, again, how poorly we judge of mixed characters. The same Jacob who over-reached his father, his brother, and I might say destiny itself, the supplanter, the robber, who “from a shelf the precious diadem stole, and put it in his pocket,” was yet the same who wrestled all night with God. Truly we are all of different natures, marvellously mixed--a worm, a god! This should teach me at least some things, such as humility to myself. I know by this that the statues of the demi-gods stand on clay feet--that my best moments, my best feelings, are but a part of me--that I have a whole world of things to repent of, and to be ashamed of, before God. That, and nothing of soul growth, was especially the fact with Jacob. His character was unlike that of the other patriarchs in this: Abraham and Isaac, such as we see them at first, are very much such as we see them at last. But Jacob only becomes his real, that is, his higher self at the last. At the bottom of his young and eager ambition and selfishness there was at the very first, as I have said, something good, the root of a great tree of right--namely, the real sense that God’s blessing and favour were above allvalue--and so in his blind, but most earnest way, he went to work to grasp them.
3. There is one test every man should solemnly try himself by, one test of what our ultimate selves and our ultimate destiny will be--Does the good part of our characters grow? (A. G. Mercer.)
God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine
Isaac blessing Jacob
WITH TEMPORAL BLESSINGS.
1. A fertile soil.
2. Abundance of provision.
3. Political pre-eminence.
II. WITH SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS.
1. The channel of spiritual blessing to mankind.
2. A test of character. (T. H. Leale.)
Isaac’s blessing--the parent’s warning
I. First, we shall consider WHEREIN ISAAC’S BLESSING CONSISTED.
1. Plenty, heaven and earth combining to enrich the happy possessor.
2. Power, almost unlimited, especially over his own brethren.
3. And last, though not the least, a mighty influence with God and a great interest in the courts of heaven. “Cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.” Or, in other words, “Let God be an enemy to all thy enemies, and a friend to all thy friends.”
4. Now these, doubtless, were very desirable mercies, and they belonged, by right, to the first-born; though God was pleased sometimes to revoke that taw, and to transfer these blessings from the elder to the younger, as instanced in the case before us, and also in that of Cain and of Reuben. These, I say, were very desirable mercies, and, when accompanied with the Divine sanction, of untold value. But still, after all, they were but temporary. They lasted only for this life; and Jacob, I doubt not, might have managed very well without any one of them. The blessing of Isaac, therefore, must have comprised something more than what we have here recorded; otherwise we may be well assured that Jacob would never have risked so much to obtain it, nor would his mother ever have placed him in so hazardous and perilous a situation. But the fact is, these temporal blessings were but the “shadows of better things to come.” They were, to use an apostolic phrase, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” They included all those good things which were more particularly specified to Abraham when God entered into covenant with him. They intimated, for instance, in the first place, that from him should descend the Messiah--He who was to be the “Prince of the kings of the earth . . . before whom all nations should come and worship . . . and who was to rule them with a rod of iron, and to break them to shivers as a potter’s vessel.” And, in the second place, that from him also should come the church that was to be specially owned and blessed by God; and consequently we find Isaac, when afterwards confirming the blessing to Jacob, calling it the “blessing of Abraham.”
II. What were THE MEANS THAT REBEKAH ADOPTED to secure the blessing for her favourite son Jacob. They were little else than a tissue of lies and deceit.
III. Let us now see what LESSONS we may gather up from a contemplation of the whole subject.
1. In the first place, then, it reads a very solemn and affecting warning to parents. It teaches the folly and danger of making invidious distinctions between the different members of your families--of showing an undue partiality for one child more than another. It is a withering curse. It introduces discord and dissension into every family wherever it finds a footing, and it is the fruitful source of all evil, social and moral. Whenever, therefore, you feel its chilling influence beginning to steal over you, oh, remember Rebekah, and in the name and strength of your God shake it from you. Give it no encouragement; or, if you must, keep it to yourself. Let no one else ever see or feel it. In the second place, learn from this subject the way in which our Heavenly Father will have us to seek for His blessing. We must come to Him for it in and through our Elder Brother. We must come clothed in His “goodly raiment,” even that pure and spotless robe which He wrought for us on Calvary. There is no other way under heaven whereby we can be saved. And if you ask me by what means we are to get this goodly raiment--this pure and spotless righteousness, I answer, simply by asking for it. “Ask,” says your God and Saviour, “and you shall have.” And although it cost Him a great price--even His own precious blood--yet He offers it to you without money and without price. Oh, go to Him, then, and ask Him for this precious gift; for “the gift of God is eternal life.” (E. Harper, B. A.)
Isaac blessing Jacob
1. That parents ought to bless their children; too many do curse, and not bless them.
2. Children ought to fear the causeful curses of their parents. The better son feared the curse of his father (Genesis 27:12).
3. Parents ought rather to gather a stock of Divine promises, that they may bless their children more out of faith than out of form, praying for them out of a promise, as Isaac did then for his son Jacob, praying that the blessing of Abraham might come upon him (Genesis 28:4).
4. A wishing our children’s weal customarily without a praying for them believingly, is neither enough for parents, nor is it all (or at all) that is warranted by Isaac’s blessing Jacob here. There is much difference between a formal wish and a faithful prayer for their good.
5. Spiritual blessings must be sought and sued for in their proper season. Here Esau came too late for the blessing, which was bestowed before he lost the right season (which is a part of time above all other parts, even the shine and lustre of time), so could not obtain it, no, not with tears Hebrews 12:16-17). (C. Ness.)
And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father
No one can read this chapter without feeling some pity for Esau.
All his hopes were disappointed in a moment. He had built much upon this blessing; for in his youth he had sold his birthright, and he thought that in his father’s blessing he would get back his birthright, or what would stand in its place. He had parted with it easily, and he expected to regain it easily, tie thought to regain God’s blessing, not by fasting and prayer, but by savoury meat, by feasting and making merry.
I. Esau’s cry is the cry of one who has rejected God, and who in turn has been rejected by Him. He was
(1) profane, and
He was profane in selling his birthright, presumptuous in claiming the blessing. Such as Esau was, such are too many Christians now. They neglect religion in their best days; they give up their birthright in exchange for what is sure to perish and make them perish with it. They are profane persons, for they despise the great gift of God; they are presumptuous, for they claim a blessing as a matter of course.
II. The prodigal son is an example of a true penitent. He came to God with deep confession--self-abasement. He said, “Father, I have sinned.” Esau came for a son’s privileges; the prodigal son came for a servant’s drudgery. The one killed and dressed his venison with his own hand, and enjoyed it not; for the other the fatted calf was prepared, and the ring for his hand and shoes for his feet, and the best robe, and there was music and dancing. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
Esau’s late repentance
I. The character of Esau has unquestionably a fair side. Esau was by no means a man of unqualified wickedness or baseness; judged according to the standard of many men, he would pass for a very worthy, estimable person. The whole history of his treatment of Jacob puts his character in a very favourably light; it represents him as an open-hearted, generous person, who, though he might be rough in his manners, fond of a wild life, perhaps as rude and unpolished in mind as he was in body, had yet a noble soul, which was able to do what little minds sometimes cannot do--namely, forgive freely a cruel wrong done to him.
II. Nevertheless, it is not without reason that the apostle styles Esau a profane person. The defect in his character may be described as a want of religious seriousness; there was nothing spiritual in him--no reverence for holy things, no indications of a soul which could find no sufficient joy in this world, but which aspired to those joys which are at God’s right hand for evermore. By the title of profane the apostle means to describe the carnal, unspiritual man--the man who takes his stand upon this world as the end of his thoughts and the scene of all his activity, who considers the land as a great hunting-field, and makes the satisfaction of his bodily wants and tastes the whole end of living.
III. Esau’s repentance was consistent with his character; it was manifestly of the wrong kind. Sorrow of this world; grief for the loss of the corn and wine. (Bishop Harvey Goodwin.)
Esau disappointed of his blessing
I. HE IS OVERWHELMED BY A HEART-RENDING SORROW
II. HE REFERS HIS WRONGS TO THEIR TRUE AUTHOR.
III. HE PLEADS PATHETICALLY WITH HIS FATHER.
IV. HE IS CONTENTED WITH AN INFERIOR BLESSING. God’s blessings without God. Nothing of heaven enters into it. (T. H. Leale.)
The deceived father and the defrauded son and brother
I. ISAAC’S CONDUCT.
1. Remark, first, the double blessing--Jacob’s containing temporal abundance, temporal rule, and spiritual blessing, the main points plainly being the rights of primogeniture; Esau’s, in the first part identical with his brother’s, but different afterwards by the want of spiritual blessing: God’s gifts without God, the fruit of the earth and the plunder of the sword, but no connection with the covenant of God. Of course the destinies of Israel and Edom are prefigured in this, rather than the personal history of Jacob and Esau. For the predicted liberty of Edom, the breaking the yoke off the neck, did not take place till the reign of Jehoram, long after Esau’s death 2 Kings 8:22). So that when it is written, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” the selection of nations to outward privileges is meant, not the irrespective election of individuals to eternal life. Now in these blessings we have the principle of prophecy. We cannot suppose that the Jacob here spoken of as blessed was unmixedly good, nor the Esau unmixedly evil. Nor can we imagine that idolatrous Israel was that in which all the promises of God found their end, or that Eden was the nation on whom the curse of God fell unmixed with any blessing. Prophecy takes individuals and nations as representations for the time being of principles which they only partially represent. They are the basis or substratum of an idea. For instance, Jacob, or Israel, represents the principle of good, the Church of God, the triumphant and blessed principle. To that, the typical Israel, the promises are made; to the literal Jacob or Israel, only as the type of this, and so far as the nation actually was what it stood for. Esau is the worldly man, representing for the time the world. To that the rejection belongs; to the literal Isaac, only so far as he is that.
2. Next observe Isaac’s adherence to his promise. If anything can excuse a departure from a promise, Isaac might have been excused in this case; for in truth he did not promise to Jacob, though Jacob stood before him. He honestly thought that he was speaking to his first-born; and yet, perhaps partly taught to be punctiliously scrupulous by the rebuke he had received in early life from Abimelech, partly feeling that he had been but an instrument in God’s hands, he felt that a mysterious and irrevocable sacredness belonged to his word once past, and said, “Yea, and he shall be blessed.” Jesuitism amongst us has begun to tamper with the sacredness of a promise. Men change their creed, and fancy themselves absolved from past promises; the member of the Church of Rome is no longer bound to do what the member of the Church of England stipulated. Just as well might the king refuse to perform the promises or pay the debts of the prince whom he once was. Therefore, let us ponder over such texts as these. Be careful and cautious of pledging yourself to anything; but the money you have once promised, the offer you have once made, is irrevocable--it is no longer yours; it is passed from you as much as if it had been given.
II. ESAU’S CONDUCT.
1. Remark his contentment with a second-rate blessing: “Hast thou not another blessing?” &c. These words, taken by themselves, without reference to the character of him who spoke them, are neither good nor evil. Had Esau meant only this: God has many blessings, of various kinds; and looking round the circle of my resources, I perceive a principle of compensation, so that what I lose in one department I gain in some other; I will be content to take a second blessing when I cannot have the first. Esau would have said nothing which was not praiseworthy and religious; he would have only expressed what the Syro-Phoenician woman did, who observed that though in this world some have the advantages of children, whereas others are as little favoured as dogs, yet that the dogs have the compensatory crumbs. But it was not in this spirit at all that Esau spoke. His was the complaining spirit of the man who repines because others are more favoured than he; the spirit of the elder son in the parable, “thou never gavest me a kid.” This character transformed outward disadvantages into a real curse. For, again I say, disadvantages are in themselves only a means to more lustrous excellence. But if to inferior talents we add sloth, and to poverty envy and discontent, and to weakened health querulousness, then we have indeed ourselves converted non-election into reprobation; and we are doubly cursed--cursed by inward as well as outward inferiority.
2. Remark Esau’s malice (verse 41). “The days of mourning for my father are at hand, then will I slay my brother Jacob.” Distinguish this from the resentment of righteous indignation. Resentment is an attribute of humanity in its original, primal state. He who cannot feel indignant at some kinds of wrong has not the mind of Christ. Remember the words with which he blighted pharisaism--words not spoken for effect, but syllables of downright, genuine anger; such expressions as peculiarly belong to the prophetic character, in which indignation blazes into a flame; the prophetic writings are full of it. Very different from this was Esau’s resentment. Anger in him had passed into malice; private wrong had been brooded on till it had become revenge, deliberate and planned vindictiveness. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Esau and the blessing
I. This narrative SUGGESTS A WARNING AGAINST THE UNDER-VALUING OF PRIVILEGE.
II. This narrative SUGGESTS THAT GOD IS ABLE TO BLESS EVERY DESIRING SOUL. Eternal life for all. See the inexhaustible nature of the Divine riches exemplified in--
1. The vast numbers who have been made partakers of it already passed from mortal sight.
2. The multitudes on their way at this moment to the same heavenly kingdom who have “ obtained like precious faith.”
III. This narrative REMINDS US THAT ONE MAY SEEK THE BLESSING TOO LATE. Though Esau obtained at last a blessing, he did not realize the blessing. (F. Goodall, B. A,)
The cry of one man representing the wail of many
I. There is here THE SENSE OF AN IMMENSE LOSS. A holy character is the highest birthright. We have all to lament the loss of this.
II. THE SENSE OF A GREAT INJURY. Victimized by his own brother. Far worse to bear than an injury from an enemy.
III. THE SENSE OF REMORSE.
IV. THE SENSE OF APPROACHING HOPELESSNESS. Conclusion:
1. What we have all lost. Our birthright--the image of God.
2. What we should all chiefly struggle for. The restoration of the Divine image. Our loss is not, like Esau’s, irremediable. We can, by faith in Christ, regain it. (Homilist.)
The repentance of Esau
I. CERTAINLY WE ARE NOT TO GATHER HENCE THAT ANY TRUE PENITENT CAN TURN TO GOD AND BE REJECTED OF HIM. ESAU’S rejection was no such contradiction of God’s love as the rejection of any one weeping penitent upon earth would surely be. For, first, there is about Esau’s very cry itself, loud and bitter as it was, no sign of true penitence; and, next, when he uttered it, so far as that which he had then lost is concerned, his day of probation was already over, his time of trial closed, his hour of judgment come. There is doubtless, as we shall see hereafter, a true counterpart of this before every impenitent man, with horrors aggravated above any which waited upon Esau’s sentence, as far as time is exceeded by eternity, and temporal disadvantage by the death of the enduring soul. But there is not one word in it to make any one who, in this his day of grace, turns to the Lord, and cries to him for cleansing and for pardon, doubt the full certainty of a most gracious acceptance by Him who suffered the woman that was a sinner to wash His blessed feet with her tears, and to wipe them with the hair of her head.
II. This, then, certainly is not the lesson which is taught us here; but just as certainly IT IS THAT WE, TOO, MAY CAST AWAY GOD’S MERCY TO US; that we, the true children of promise, bred in the family of One greater than Isaac--that we, the inheritors of a birthright greater far than Jacob sought for or Esau despised--that we, the children of God’s grace, may reject His grace, and cast profanely from us our more blessed birthright. Such awful cases the experience of every parish priest has, I suppose, brought before him. I have seen them and have trembled. I have seen the fearful paroxysms of a loud and violent despair. I have seen what is more awful still, the obstinate sinner, calmly, deliberately, determinately put from himself the hope of salvation, and declare that in a few hours he shall be in hell. And so indeed it must be. For if this were not so, what could the warning mean, “Look diligently, test any man fail of the grace of Christ.” Surely it must mean that the time of hopeless lamentation will come to every obstinate despiser of God’s grace; that His Spirit does not always strive with any man--that there is a limit to the trial of every man. Can we not, as we gaze with awe upon the fearful picture, see in some measure why this doom is irreversible? For must it not of necessity happen that the very perfection of this miserable wickedness sets the seal of hopeless continuance upon such spiritual wretchedness? For such a spiritual being with such a nature must hate the good; must, above all, hate supremely God, the All-Good; must see in Him the highest and most absolute conceivable contradiction of itself, and so must recoil infinitely from Him, and in recoiling from Him must choose the evil with an ever-renewed iteration and ever-increasing intensity of choice. Nor does the perfection of the misery which such a soul endures at all incline it to any breath of penitence; it only deepens the blackness and the malignity of its despair. There is nothing in itself purifying in suffering.
III. But if we would learn one true lesson from this portion of God’s Word, we must not only note the general warning of looking diligently lest we fall from God’s grace, but we must see further AGAINST WHAT SPECIAL FORMS OF EVIL THIS WARNING IS PECULIARLY DIRECTED. And indeed, for many here, as everywhere, this is a lesson needing very signally to be learned. For remember what were Esau’s circumstances and Esau’s trial. Born to the inheritance of a certain birthright, exercising, as to his first title to it, no volition regarding it; having centred in his own person the mysterious privileges which ordinarily belonged to the first-born son of the heir of promise--he cast these away; not from special or marked depravity of character, but from yielding to the temptations of appetite.
This one special attribute of sensuality is clearly shadowed forth in this example; we see its direct tendency to lead to delaying repentance until true repentance is impossible. For its gratifications fill for a season, and occupy the degraded soul. Thus the first drawings of the blessed Spirit are resisted, His first tender motions on the soul are quenched; and it is in yielding to these, instead of resisting them, that there is the only possibility of any true repentance. So it was with Esau, when, under the overmastering impulse of a sensual temptation, he was led to cast all good away--for “thus Esau despised his birthright.” Surely the application is too explicit to be missed. Is not the warning plain against exactly that whole class of sins of the real guilt of which the world takes least account? Is it not as much as saying that indulged sensuality does build up barriers against true repentance, which are all but impassable? Does it not meet the man possessed, by natural endowment, of high spirits, of frankness, of cheerfulness, of all that makes him a popular companion--with strong passions, with great powers of enjoyment--who flings himself freely into life, is the leader of a set, and, from there being a certain look of generosity about his vices, is lauded perhaps for his unselfishness; who has naturally a far more attractive character than the less courageous, less spirited, less frank, more self-conscious, more self-watchful man beside him? doest it not meet this man in his hours of sensual temptations, and say, Thou hast a birthright, beware of despising it, beware of bartering it? Does it not say to him, “Thou, too, art a son of Abraham”? yea, and more, “Thou art a son of Christ”; without thy choice, before thy knowledge, of God’s mere love and mercy, that blessed privilege was made thine. His love yearned over thine infancy, His Spirit has striven with thy youth, His care is watching over thee now, and thou, too, art tempted to barter these inestimable blessings for the mess of pottage. In thee, too, appetite craves for indulgence; before thine eyes a sensuous fancy paints her glowing pictures of the mad delight of gratified desire, of the feast, of the revel, of the impure orgy, of the satisfied sense. All these she sets before thee, and thy spirit, faint often and weary in this struggle, whispers to thee, Lo! I die in this abstinence; and what good shall this birthright do me? Oh, then beware--for then is the tempter nearest, closest, most dangerous. Then, under the form of what he whispers to thee is a common practice, a slight evil, the yielding to an irresistible temptation; then is he tempting thee, too, after this example of the old profaneness of Esau, to despise thy birthright. Nor can you tell that in any one of these allowed instances of sensual indulgence you may not actually sell your birthright. It is the very secret of the power of the temptation, that in each separate instance it looks so inconsiderable in its future consequence, compared with the pressing urgency of the present desire. It is the gusty impulsiveness of your nature which exposes you so certainly to the danger. You become profane without knowing it; you meant but to gratify appetite, and lo! for appetite you have bartered your soul. Here, then, is God’s warning to you. He sets, from the beginning, the end before you. He shows you what such conduct really is, and whither it must lead you. He lets you hear the loud and bitter cry. (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
I. To respect and reverence old age, and commiserate its infirmities.
II. To cultivate a spirit of truth, honesty, and honour in our dealings.
III. To shun every occasion of household strife.
IV. To seek the blessing of our heavenly Father, in the full confidence that all He has given to others has not so impoverished Him that there is not a blessing left for us. (J. C. Gray.)
An accurate view of individual history--the history of real life--is always interesting.
I. THE FACTS HERE STATED.
1. Notice the individuals concerned; these are, Isaac and Rebekah, and their twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Isaac was the child of promise, given to Abraham in his old age, through whom the blessing pronounced on Abraham was to descend to an innumerable multitude. He married Rebekah, his cousin, the grand-child of Abraham’s brother; and the offspring of their union were these twin children, Esau and Jacob. All that is recorded of the parents impresses us with the conviction of their piety. In the short notices of their life, we observe that, with sufficient evidence of their partaking of human infirmity, we have abundant testimony to their devotional habits, their submission to the dispensations of Providence, their peaceable and liberal disposition, and their prosperity under the blessing of the Lord. Esau and Jacob, their children, were characters widely differing from each other.
2. The blessing that Jacob obtained. It was a blessing which was inherent in the posterity of Abraham, and which one of the sons of Isaac was consequently to inherit.
3. The means which were used for the obtaining of this blessing. Isaac was on the point of conferring the blessing of the first-born upon Esau, contrary to the Divine intimation, contrary to the warrantable expectations of Rebekah, and contrary to those predilections which she seems to have cherished for the younger son, and which his regular and domestic habits appear to have strengthened. Acting under the influence of unbelief, she immediately suggested to Jacob the plan of supplanting his brother by fraud. Jacob’s objections appear to have been those of prudence rather than of principle; they yielded to a mother’s earnest entreaties; and the result shows him to be no inapt scholar in the ways of deception. There is something very humiliating in the whole of Jacob’s interview with his father. Every succeeding step is marked with grosser hypocrisy and deeper guilt; and though, in the mysterious providence of God, the promised blessing was permitted to rest on his head, yet the guilt of that scene must afterwards have been like a barbed arrow in his conscience, and given increased severity to many of his subsequent sufferings. The promise was given to Isaac with this recognition of Abraham’s character, “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Isaac did the same. He entered into the spirit of the covenant, and lived a life of obedience. On what reasonable ground, therefore, could Esau, knowing this, expect the blessing? He was a “profane person, a fornicator,” a mere sensualist. It is in this light, therefore, that we should regard him, and by these things that we must measure his tears.
II. The circumstances that have come before us suggest SOME VERY IMPORTANT AND USEFUL PRACTICAL REMARKS. We notice--
1. The evil of parental partialities. The selection of one child for favouritism is altogether inconsistent with the sacredness of parental duty, and with the strict justice which is essential to parental discipline. In the present instance, the fondness of Isaac for his first-born, and of Rebekah for her younger child, led both themselves and their children into sin.
2. The fearful results of one deviation from rectitude. One vice entails another. One instance of error or untruth frequently places a man in circumstances in which he is led to commit many to bring him off without suspicion; and he who tells one lie will not scruple much, in a very short time, blasphemously to call the name of God to witness it. “And he said, Because the Lord thy God brought it to me.” Let every one, then, beware how he approaches the first appearances of evil, or oversteps in the least degree the line of propriety. “We cannot hope to be preserved when we have placed ourselves in questionable circumstances; and we have not strength to keep ourselves.
3. The character of the over-ruling providence of God. It was said of Jacob and Esau, “the elder shall serve the younger.” But the ways of God are very mysterious. The same result is brought about by a series of natural events, on which we could not have calculated; events, however, which are in no respect the results of an absolute fatalism, but which are seen to arise fairly out of the elements of character and habits of the parties concerned. “we see each character developed in its peculiarities by the course which it is permitted to pursue; and to each, in the sovereignty of Divine Providence, a moral discipline is applied, calculated to forward the best interests of the soul.
4. The melancholy character of the sorrow of the world. While, therefore, the afflictions of Jacob, though they were the consequences of his sins, led him to draw near to God in his solitude, the grief of Esau was merely the regret consequent on worldly disappointment. The privation of the blessing of the first-born was only lamented by him as the ruin of his best earthly hopes. It was the downfall of his ambition. It was a limit prescribed to his indulgences. It was merely that sorrow which often seizes on ungodly men in the course of Providence, and in which they know not where to turn for consolation, because they will not turn to God.
5. Observe the immeasurable extent of the Divine compassion. It is only on the mercy of God that Jacob or Esau, or any character similar to either, can rest a sure and certain hope of deliverance at last. (E. Craig.)
Godly and worldly sorrow
I suppose that when we read the account of Esau’s grief, of his affecting appeal to his father and of its ill success, we begin to think it an instance of the fruitlessness of repentance. Those who have thrown away God’s gifts of grace, who have despised them in former days, and sold them for some mess of pottage, who are now wishing to have them back and to return to God, are apt to be disheartened and dismayed by such a passage in God’s Word. The fear springs up lest they also should find no answer to their prayers, lest theirs should be fruitless tears, lest the cry should be made by them in yam, “Bless me also, O my Father.” But however natural such thoughts from the first impression of the scene, a closer study of the passage may serve to drive away the clouds. We may learn to see that there was something wrong and faulty in Esau’s sorrow, great as it was, something in the nature of his distress of mind not altogether satisfactory or right. If we examine his conduct at the time, we fail to see any religious element in it at all. It was a worldly sorrow, a burst of natural but worldly grief; there was no confession of his former sin, no acknowledgment that the blessing had been justly lost, no word of self-condemnation, no avowal like the penitent thief upon the cross, that he, indeed, was justly suffering for past misdeeds, and was reaping as he had sown; no allusion to his faithlessness, to his contempt of the promise of God in selling his birthright for the mess of pottage, no turning to God, no mention of God at all, or of God’s just anger for his past offence. And hence we may conclude that he took a mere worldly view of his loss, that he felt mere worldly sorrow--sorrow for the loss of some temporal advantages to himself and his descendants, and perhaps mingled with this keen sense of worldly disappointment--sorrow at having missed a father’s benediction, especially as he believed it, in his case, to carry with it some unusual power. If this is a right view of Esau’s state of mind, we see at once that he is not to be regarded as a true penitent, that he is not presented to us as such, and that therefore no feelings of true penitence are to be chilled or checked in their growth by the treatment which he received. The great truth still stands out as clearly as ever, quite unclouded by any instance in Scripture to the contrary, that God does receive back the penitent; that godly sorrow, if it lead on to the after acts and fuller development of repentance, never rends our hearts in vain; not in vain does any wandering child of God draw near, and kneeling down at the foot of the cross exclaim, “Bless me also, O my Father.” Whenever the sorrow of the heart is true godly sorrow, and the conscience-stricken bow themselves in genuine compunction at the mercy-seat of God, mercy comes forth from the throne of God, and the penitent is blessed. But all sorrow--and it is this which the history of Esau impressively proclaims--is not godly sorrow, and has not its blessed fruit. Men may grieve over losses, disasters, reverses brought on them through sin, without grieving altogether for the sin, without being grieved and angry with themselves for sinning. And what harder burden to bear than this worldly sorrow, when the heart is dry and dead to the influence of grace, when the soul has no light in its dark place, when God is not confessed in time of trial, when chastisements for sin fail to create the sense of sin, or to break the will of the disobedient child, when there is no mark of the Cross of Christ, but when it is the fruitless cross of the world, which cannot heal? If we are in any suffering, under any trial through transgressions, whether lately or long since done, we can find blessings springing up amid the thorns, should we own the hand of God and sorrow after a godly sort; but if we steel our hearts, and go through trial without taking it as from our Saviour’s hands, without owning “rod lamenting the sins and errors and neglects, the worldliness and the foolishness from which the trial grew, then indeed it is a heavy weight to bear, and there is a still heavier burden to be laid upon us hereafter. (Bp. Armstrong.)
Esau, the man of nature
While in Jacob’s conduct the high and noble aims which he pursued were in most discordant contrast with the ungenerous means which he employed, Esau was fluctuating and contradictory within himself; though the general tone of his mind was indifference to spiritual boons, his sentiments were spontaneous and profound whenever the voice of nature spoke; he despised the birthright (Genesis 27:34), but regarded himself always as the first-born son (Genesis 27:32); he slighted the prophecy of God (Genesis 27:23), but coveted most anxiously the blessing of his father; he attributed to the latter a greater force than to the former; he hoped to to neutralize the effect of the one by the weight of the other; he could not comprehend or feel the invisible, but he was keenly susceptible of the visible; his mind was not sublime, but his heart was full of pure and strong emotions; he saw in his father only the earthly progenitor, not the representative of the Deity--he was, indeed, the man of nature. As such he is described in the affecting scene of our text; tie is designedly placed in marked contradistinction to his brother Jacob: nature, simplicity, deep and genuine affection on the one side; shrewdness, ambition, and indefinite, soaring, but unsatisfied intellectual craving on the other. This contrast not only implies the kernel and spirit of this narrative, but forms the centre of all Biblical notions. Hence Esau’s vehement disappointment will receive its proper light; he deeply repented that he had sold his birthright, but only because he believed that he was for that reason justly deprived of the father’s blessing due to the eldest son (Genesis 27:36); he beard without envy or animosity, that Jacob’s descendants had been declared the future lords of his own progeny; leaving that prerogative ummurmuringly to his brother, he exclaimed: “Hast thou but one blessing, my father?” and bursts forth into another flood of tears. (M. M.Kalisch, Ph. D.)
Esau’s irreligious envy of Jacob
It was not that he desired to be a servant of the Lord, or that his posterity should be His people, according to the tenor of Abraham’s covenant: but as he that should be possessed of these distinctions would in other respects be superior to his brother, it became an object of emulation. Thus we have often seen religion set at nought, while yet the advantages which accompany it have been earnestly desired; and where grace has in a manner crossed hands by favouring a younger or inferior branch of a family, envy and its train of malignant passions have frequently blazed on the other side. It was not as the father of the holy nation, but as being “lord over his brethren,” that Jacob was the object of Esau’s envy. And this may further account for the blessing of Isaac on the former dwelling principally upon temporal advantages, as designed of God to cut off the vain hopes of the latter, of enjoying the power attached to the blessing, while he despised the blessing itself. When Esau perceived that Jacob must be blessed, he entreated to be blessed also: “Bless me, even me also, oh my father!” One sees in this language just that partial conviction of there being something in religion, mixed with a large portion of ignorance, which it is common to see in persons who have been brought up in a religious family, and yet are strangers to the God of their fathers. If this earnest request had extended only to what was consistent with Jacob’s having the pre-eminence, there was another blessing for him, and he had it: but though he had no desire after the best part of Jacob’s portion, yet he was very earnest to have had that clause of it reversed, “be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee.” If this could have been granted him, he had been satisfied; for “ the fatness of the earth” was all he cared for. But this was an object concerning which, as the apostle observes, “he found no place of repentance” (that is, in the mind of his father), “though he sought it carefully with tears.” Such will be the case with fornicators and all profane persons, who, like Esau, for a few momentary gratifications in the present life, make light of Christ and the blessings of the gospel. They will cry with a great and exceeding bitter cry, saying, “Lord, Lord, open unto us!” But they will find no place of repentance in the mind of the Judge, who will answer them, “I know you not whence ye are: depart from Me ye workers of iniquity!” Esau’s reflections on his brother for having twice supplanted him, were not altogether without ground; yet his statement is exaggerated. He lost his birthright because he himself, despising it, sold it to Jacob. (A. Fuller.)
Late and false tears
Why did he not rather weep to his brother for the pottage than to Isaac for a blessing? If he had not then sold, he had not needed now to buy. It is just with God to deny us those favours which we were careless in keeping, and which we undervalued in enjoying. How happy a thing is it to know the seasons of grace, and not to neglect them! How desperate to have known and neglected them I These tears are both late and false. (Bp. Hall.)
Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing.
I. IT WAS CARNAL.
II. IT WAS OVER-RULED FOR GOOD. (T. H. Leale.)
1. Esau’s wicked hypocrites hate always bitterly those whom God loves dearly.
2. God’s blessing on His own is the cause why the wicked do so much hate and curse them.
3. The hearts of the wicked are meditating mischief, and their tongues belching it out against the righteous.
4. Pretended mourning for the dead is the hypocrite’s cloak for the death of the living.
5. Mischievous hypocrites in the Church, stick not to hasten the death of parents when they hinder from their ends.
6. Resolutions of the wicked are for the slaughter of the righteous and blessed, were it in their hands. (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. Providence ordereth the counsels of the wicked to be revealed that they may be prevented.
2. God maketh sometimes the instruments of their straits to be instruments of deliverance to His. So Rebekah was to Jacob.
3. It is but meet that such who bring into danger should be solicitous to prevent it.
4. Timely advice for safety should be taken with greatest heed, as given with greatest care.
5. The murder of the innocent is the comfort of the cruel and wicked man. Revenge comforts the hypocrite, when no harm is done to him (Genesis 27:22).
6. The mother’s voice must be heard when it tends to the good of children.
7. Flight from danger into exile is many times the lot of persecuted saints.
8. God can make the wicked’s habitations sometimes shelters to His people (Genesis 27:43.)
9. Gracious parents and children would part but for a little time if it might be.
10. Time wears out anger and memory of all pretended injuries in the wicked (Genesis 27:44).
11. Tender mothers long to preserve the lives of children, evil and good.
12. To be childless, or bereft of all, is an evil deprecated by the saints (verse Jeremiah 31:15). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
I am weary of my life.
--Throughout the whole of man’s marvellous pilgrimage on earth, or at least from the time that he became truly intelligent, the same haunting mysteries hover around him; the same unappeasable hunger, the same quenchless thirst, and the same abiding restlessness characterize all human life. One blood circulates throughout the whole family of man. And so, in these words of our text, Rebekah speaks for us all. She anticipates the inquiry of Mr. Mallock. “Is life worth living?” She discloses a difficulty which we still feel, a difficulty which all the mighty discoveries of modern science are powerless to remove, or even to alieviate. We are still as far as Rebekah was from finding on earth any real and abiding object for our lives. Illusion spreads itself over our whole life. Our present is for ever discrediting our past, to be itself also discredited in its turn. Our different moods of mind have not the smallest faith in each other. Youth finds out the illusions of childhood; manhood finds out those of youth; and old age finds them both out, and too often sheds all further belief or hope, as trees shed their leaves in autumn. It often seems as if nature took a kind of pleasure in deceiving us, or sporting with us. In the realm of nature nothing is, but all things are becoming. Nature is a sort of embodied illusion. She tempts us to take refuge in utter sceptism. We no sooner get accustomed to some of her ways, than forthwith she proceeds to alter them. As soon as we find out one of her illusions, she immediately presents us with another. She makes us laugh and cry almost in the same moment. Nature mocks at the staid seriousness of the human soul. But not in nature is our chief or strongest hope of finding a settled home for our spirits. Man is far dearer to us than nature can ever be. “A man” would indeed be to us a “hiding-place,” if only we could find a real and genuine man. Rebekah is not much troubled by the spiteful duplicity of nature, so long as she has the heart of Jacob her son entirely for her own. Sublime and full of prophetic glory are the grand illusions of the human heart. What tender, fervent soul has not at some time thoroughly believed in them? Every deep human affection has its strange mystic transfiguration on the high mountains of exalted nobleness. Earth appears the very vestibule of heaven; and we gratefully exclaim with St. Peter, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” Here we seek to make tabernacles, in which to entertain for ever the celestial visitants. But by and by the vision vanishes. The voice of the prophets is heard no more. The sterile bleakness of the mountain discloses itself; and affection such as we had dreamed of appears a romantic impossibility. Down we come from our mountain of transfiguration, to tread with perplexity and weariness the old dusty road that seems to lead to no particular goal. “Our silver is become dross, our wine mixed with water.” Our sacramental elements are common bread and common wine. Jacob is sent away from his mother; and the very soul of Rebekah becomes inert and objectless. And so we learn how essentially solitary the human soul is here on earth. We learn that no one human being is adequate to the complete and permanent satisfaction of any other human being. We learn that Rebekah was not wise to seek the true centre of her life in the unstable heart of Jacob her son. We learn that souls, like atoms, never really meet or coalesce, that every human spirit is in truth an island surrounded by the dark waters of innavigable seas. It is only on certain rare, sacred days that divine miraculous ships of the Lord affords a means of communication to these lonely islands. We pilgrims must learn to live on such divine mana of human affection as God may send us from day to day. We may not store it up in great strong barns of our own devising; for it will not keep. Earthly friendships are only “ brooks in the way,” of which we may drink freely now and then during our long dusty pilgrimage, and so “ lift up our heads,” and walk with freshened energy towards the far-off land of changeless realities. The friendships of earth are but transient foregleams of deep, unchanging, mystic glories in the world to come. Failing, then, to find an anchor for the soul, or a real centre in the hearts of our brethren, can we find it in work, in some great aim which shall occupy all our energies, and lift us up above the fret and worry and the vain longings of life? Without religion I think that we cannot; and even with this aid we can only do so to a certain extent. The pilgrim must still remain a pilgrim. The simple fact that we ourselves are always changing, always growing, never “continuing in one stay,” obviously renders it impossible for us to find permanent satisfaction in any one pursuit. Of each successive object of man’s devotion and attachment we may truly say, in the sad language of the Psalmist, “In the morning it is green, and groweth up; but in the evening it is cut down, dried up, and withered.” An ever-tantalizing, ever baffling limitation mars and spoils all human objects of pursuit. We need God’s dew from heaven to revive and water even our fading and languishing ideals. (A. Craufurd, M. A.)
1. Good wives are ready in straits to unbosom themselves to good husbands.
2. Good mothers are in great trouble for the good and safety of their children.
3. Gracious women are burdened with the impieties of rebellious and wicked allies in their families.
4. Wicked matches are burdens to the very life of gracious parents.
5. God sometimes makes gracious mothers more solicitous to stir up fathers for right disposing of their children (Genesis 27:46). (G. Hughes, B. D.)