Read: Genesis 27
Consider: Paul mentions Isaac, Abraham and Sarah’s son, as the next example of faith in action. The story of Jacob and Esau is not a happy one. Jacob and Esau were twins, with Esau being the elder. In the society into which they were born it was normal for the birthright (inheritance) to pass to the eldest son (even if only by a few minutes). Additionally, the eldest son would expect to receive a blessing from the father, indicating their future (almost a prophetic utterance about how they will turn out) . Yet we know from the story of Esau that he didn’t value his birthright and sold it to Jacob for a plate of food (see Genesis 25:29-34).
It is uncomfortable reading about how Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, encouraged Jacob to pretend that he was Esau so that he would receive his father’s blessing. Fortunately there is no need for us to approve or disapprove of what was done. Our focus is on Isaac and the blessing that he gave his sons.
Having realised his mistake and the deception Rebekah and Jacob had participated in, he could have chosen to relent on his blessing and instead give it to Esau. However, we are told in Genesis 27:33 – Isaac trembled violently and said, ‘Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him – and indeed he will be blessed!’
The outcome of this was that Isaac’s blessing on Jacob indicated that he (and his descendants) would be preeminent over his brother Esau (and his descendants) and that the older brother would serve the younger.
Rebekah’s motive seems quite clear in that she had been specifically told by God that her children would become two nations, with the elder child serving the younger. This is recorded in Genesis 25:23 as follows: The LORD said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the elder will serve the younger.’
In Romans 9 Paul uses the example of Rebekah, Jacob and Esau as evidence that God’s purposes will come to pass. He speaks of it in this way: Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ (Romans 9:10-12).
I was wondering why Paul decided to use Isaac as the example of faith in action, rather than Rebekah. Surely Rebekah had been spoken to directly by God about her children’s futures and her scheming resulted in what God wanted anyway. However, the end does not justify the means. I think Isaac was chosen for a number of reasons:
- he himself had received an indication from God that he would be blessed and his descendants would be numerous (Genesis 26:24);
- he acted honourably in giving his blessing to his sons, even if he was deceived in giving it;
- we know that throughout scripture God is referred to as ‘The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’.
What are we to get from this? I think it is that we should act honourably at all times, trusting in God to bring about what he has promised. Even when things don’t look as if they are working out the way we would plan them, we should be prepared to allow God to bring his purposes to reality. It is clear that God can use any situation to fulfil his purposes; he does not have to do things our way. This does not give us license to do wrong things, but rather that as Christians we should live godly and holy lives, trusting wholly in God.
Pray: Father, forgive us when we think we need to scheme to ensure that we get what we want. Help us to trust wholly in you for fulfilment of your promises. May our lives truly reflect your Son, Jesus, at all times. Amen