Gripped by Grace: Over my Scheming and Masquerading (Gen. 27:1-45; 28:1-9)
One of the joys I have of fathering little girls is that they love to play dress up. It’s cute and fun, until they try to dress me up! That’s where I draw the line, though I admit I have crossed the line several times. Every day without fail, I help these little women feel like the center of the universe. They have bracelets, necklaces, shoes, purses…the whole deal! To give you an idea of how obsessive they are with this, one day I asked Abbie as she was asking me to help her put her princess dress on, “Do you want to wrestle with Dada?” She pouted, “Ok. But then can we play dress up after?”
Another time I remember Abbie approaching me all dressed up. “Dad, do you like my princess dress?” I said, “Wow. It’s beautiful! Very pretty!” Then all of a sudden, I hear these little feet stomping quickly into the room in hero own princess dress. Though just two and can’t quite talk yet, Annabelle walks in batting her eyelashes and patting her chest with both hands, going up and down, smiling and looking for my approval. I immediately thought, “Girl, you are barely two years old. Shouldn’t you be finding a raisin underneath the couch or something?” But I acknowledged her as well, reminded that this was only the beginning of hailing these two “queens” for the rest of my life.
You know, it didn’t matter that some stranger said they were pretty. It meant everything that it came from someone who is quite important in her circle. Yes, it happens as early as two. It is in our nature to have a need of someone who is deeply important to us look into our soul and declare something about who we are. This is what the Bible would call a blessing. This word is all over this chapter. In fact, the root word occurs no less than 22 times in this chapter, 17 times as a verb and 5 times as a noun. We were made for this blessing. Remember in Genesis 1 God saw and “it was good’? That’s God’s benediction or blessing. We lost it when Adam and Eve sinned and have been trying to get it back since.
Our idea of blessing is very shallow. What does blessing mean? In our culture, you are blessed if you sneeze. Or we say, “Oh, bless his heart,” when someone is nice. It’s shallow and it’s more of a well-wish or warm feeling. But when you study this chapter, you notice this concept of blessing is something very significant and more valuable than a wish. People actually try to steal it because it is so important. In fact, once it is given, if you noticed, it cannot be taken back. So we have two people in this story devastated when it was given to the wrong person. What is this thing that is so powerful? This blessing is also connected to the idea of birthright, though we are not exactly sure how they are related.
A birthright means that the firstborn holds a position of honor within the family. The firstborn has privileged status (see Gen. 43:33; 49:3), receiving a double portion of the father’s inheritance (Deut. 21:17). The father’s inheritance is divided among the number of sons, and the firstborn always has right to two of these portions. So, for instance, if there are nine sons, the firstborn receives two portions and the other eight split seven portions. If there are only two sons, the firstborn inherits everything. Jacob stole this and Esau foolishly traded it for lunch. Esau got nothing of the estate.
But apparently though Esau lost the birthright, he can still get what is called the “deathbed blessing.” When the father of a clan dies, he gathers everyone together, there is a special meal involved and proclaims to everyone what seems like the destiny of their sons. It was a legal transaction, which is why it cannot be taken back. It is not exactly prophecy, but with God’s people He would use the deathbed blessing to accomplish His purposes. It seems like God speaks through the patriarch’s deathbed blessings. So this blessing was huge. It meant:
1) Transfer of the leadership of the clan to the next generation.
2) Administration of the estate. The administrator had significant control of the estate…Jacob (and Rebekah on his behalf) would desire this because it was also in the administrator’s hands to approve the timing for the division of the inheritance. If Esau were the administrator, he could presumably delay the division indefinitely and thus deprive Jacob of the advantage of the double share of the inheritance.
3) Spiritual declaration and discernment of who the person is. It would be an opportunity for the most important person in the community to speak life and power into a person.
Though Esau did not own the stuff of the family, he could still have the blessing of the firstborn in other ways. We also understand the last part. Some of us have had words spoken to us that are still working in our hearts. Often they were negative words or offhanded comments that, like a virus in a computer, linger around in the background, affecting everything you do. Ravi Zacharias, famous apologist, recalls his story: “I came to know Christ on a bed of suicide when I was seventeen—desolate, desperate. My father just finished telling me I’d be a total failure in life. I was a born failure, he said.” Later, his father apologized, but Ravi never forgot those heartbreaking words. Tim Keller says,
“Words of blessing from a significant figure have tremendous power to shape one’s life. We could reshape the well known nursery rhyme along biblical lines, as such: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can make or break my very soul.” We know that off handed comments and casual comments (both words of blessing or cursing) made to us/about us, affect us more profoundly than we care to admit: “You’re useless. You’re ugly. You’re stupid. You’re a loser.” These words are still operating like a power in our life today, though they were uttered just once decades ago. These words are still programing and dictating our lives. Words have a power to them, especially words of affirmation/blessing/valuing, or words of condemnation/criticism/cursing. These words move into us; they go to the very depths of our being. They become a part of us. They shape who we are.”
Jacob’s life is a struggle to get this blessing, this word of value into his soul. We all need this blessing. We cannot bless ourselves. We need someone from the outside to bless us. Now Jacob, like us, tries the wrong way to get it, until God grips him by grace and shows him how to get it. Like most of my sermons, this one is inspired by Tim Keller.
Let’s begin with this:
I. We scheme our way for blessing (vv.1-13)
When I think of scheming and manipulation, besides the devil, I think the character of Ben Linus from the show LOST, that was on television for a while, though it ended a couple of years ago. Ben is a manipulator to the core. He is probably one of the most brilliant minds you will find on the island. Ben refers to himself and the rest of the “others” as the good guys, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s right. Good guys don’t kidnap people, run tests on children, and manipulate people to reach your own goals. A skilled manipulator can get what he wants when he wants it. Thankfully there is some redemption at the end, but for most of his life, he’s a schemer.
Notice the scheming in this chapter. Look at what happens in vv.1-4. Isaac is old. So far we know that Esau is a godless guy. Back in Gen. 26:34-35, we see him marrying godless women. Abraham, his grandfather, went to great lengths to get a believer in Rebekah for his father, Isaac. Here, he disregards anything that God wants. He is also a man after his own appetites, selling his birthright. But compared to Jacob, Esau is an angel. Jacob is worse than Esau at times but in the end the finally surrenders to the Lord. Rebekah, the mom, as well as Isaac know that God’s hand is on Jacob’s life, though we don’t see it yet. Isaac is probably in his 100s, which means Jacob and Esau are in their 40s or 50s. Isaac would actually live to 180 (Gen. 35:28).
The text says his eyes were dim, meaning he may have cataracts or something, but not totally blind. He calls Esau over. Esau is Isaac’s favorite son. Bad idea for parents to have favorites! Esau is a man’s man. If it was today, Esau would drive a truck and have a gun rack in his house. He also wears a cowboy hat. Even though Esau is godless and not the carrier of the promise, Esau can hunt and bring home some good food. And Isaac loves game or we would call it venison. So though Isaac’s eyesight is bad, his appetite is still very strong! And not surprisingly, Esau became just like his dad! Isaac loved Esau because of what Esau can do for him. It is a bad thing when parents use their kids to get something they love for themselves. Boy, this family is putting the fun in dysfunction here!
Isaac is afraid he would die and not give the deathbed blessing. Notice he says, “my soul.” The use of “my soul” as the subject emphasizes that the blessing will be made with all Isaac’s desire and vitality. He has no shame about this. He wants it for Esau and not Jacob. Who cares what God says! But he is afraid he might die before he can. I think around 30 you start to see things falling apart (like my hips which were hurting in India) and you think you’re going to die. But remember you are supposed to give this blessing in public, but notice here that it’s a secret thing between Isaac and his favorite boy, Esau. Isaac is scheming to get this blessing to his son, knowing full well that it should belong to Jacob. Here is a sign you like to scheme for somebody to give you or show you value or approval:
I remember when I was in high school that I wanted to get into a relationship. Why? Because my friends had relationships and I wanted to feel cool and accepted and loved (this is struggling for blessing!). And finally in college when I did, it was secretive. I never told anyone. I schemed with my parents. I saw it as this was my blessing, my sense of value and was afraid someone was going to tell me it was not good for me. So I hid. When I met Jenny, she was like, “Let’s spend time with all of the people I love and let’s meet my parents.” Wow…a godly woman who lives in the light!
Here notice Isaac and Esau with a secret conversation. Not only them, but notice Rebekah and Jacob in vv.5-10. They are scheming as well. Rebekah was listening like Sarah did in the tent (Gen. 18:10) and starts to scheme in secret. By the way notice, “his son Esau” and “her son Jacob,” instead of “their son.” The narrator is showing us how parents play favorites. In addition, The Hebrew form of the word “listening” suggests that this was a habit, a pattern of behavior, not a happenstance. Her behavior gives us an idea of the level of mistrust and poor communication they had in their family.
Do we live scheming lives? Deceiving our loved ones? A lot of that is because we are scheming for blessing. Secret relationships. Secret habits. Secret fantasizing. Faith means living without scheming. It means being transparent and open with others. Sin, like mold, always grows in the dark. Bring it out to the light! Bible says expose unfruitful works of darkness! (Eph. 5:11). Secondly,
With secrets, there is always disobedience to the Lord right behind or attached like a Siamese twin. Rebekah and Isaac are not communicating. Their division of their sons causes them to be divided as well. Isaac provides zero spiritual leadership here. He is really a passive character in Scripture, except when it comes to eating and it ends up destroying his life. He is just consumed with his appetites that his appetite for food is stronger than his appetite for what God wants. He knows about the prophecy about Jacob back when Rebekah was pregnant (Gen. 25:23). He doesn’t care what God thinks. He wants what he wants, which is Esau to carry the blessing and blatantly disobeys.
Rebekah sees something wrong going on here. What does she do? Does she pray? Does she confront lovingly? No she secretly schemes herself. Rebekah is also disobedient because she thinks God does not care about the means, just the end. God cares just as much as the way you do something than just that you do something. He cares that how you work and not just that you work. He cares how you are a spouse than just that you are one. He cares how you serve here than just that fact that you are faithful in serving. And so scheming to get this blessing brings out disobedience.
Notice she says, “Obey my voice as I command you” in Gen. 27:8. And again, “Only obey my voice” in v.13. What? How about we obey God’s voice first Rebekah? The modest Rebekah, willing to pour water for camels for hours, is now domineering, self-absorbed and cold-hearted. Don’t you find this strange that Jacob is this old and no one talks about his marriage until Esau is about to kill him? Here is a 50 year old guy living with his mom, who takes out a wooden spoon and says, “Do what I say!” This is kind of strange. This is just weird (or is it?). No mention of God. No mention of prayer. No repentance. She, like Sarah and like Eve, takes the matter into her own hands.
How does Jacob respond? “Ok. Let’s rip my brother off and deceive my blind foolish dad, but what if I get caught? After all, I can’t even grow facial hair if I wanted to.” What is he concerned about? Consequences. Fear of punishment. Fear that his brother will beat him up into a pulp if he finds out and his dad will curse him. This is us in our scheming. We do not think of offending God. We are more afraid of the consequences. John Calvin says the mere fear of punishment should not restrain us from sin. Instead we must love and revere God as our father, honoring and obeying him as our master, although there were no hell, we should come to the point to revolt at the very idea of offending him.
No, we like Jacob, have a very low view of God and sin. Like Jacob, we think, how can I avoid the consequences? I’ll lie, cheat, deceive and fool everyone to make sure I don’t suffer and get what I want. Isaac is like that. Rebekah is like that. Jacob is like that. We are like that. These are not heroes, people!
All for what? Blessing. Scheming to get blessed and disobeying the Lord. As Warren Wiersbe says, “Faith is living without scheming.” All of our attempts to scheme and control our lives leaves us tired and weary. It never works out in the end as we see even this family fall apart. The cost of obedience is always less than the cost of disobedience.
c) Driven by appetites
Interestingly, the word “game” is repeated eight times and “delicious food” six times. This emphasis suggests that Isaac is ruled by his senses and so is his son. Furthermore, a “delicious” is the object of Isaac’s “love.” In this story of a fractured family, the word “love,” which is usually reserved for relationships, appears only in the context of food. He is more driven by his appetite for food than God. We looked at this before in Gen. 25, but it is worth thinking about here as well. It is not that our appetite for smaller loves is so strong, but that our appetite for the love of God is too little. Isaac, because of his disordered love, ends up destroying his family.
I also see, in talking to people and looking at my own life as well, that our parents desire for honor, status and recognition in the community can drive them and is such a strong taste in their heart that children are mere pawns to use to get that. And we struggle because we feel like our parents love us for what we do and not who we are. And I think that is Jacob’s struggle here. He wants Isaac’s approval so bad and that taste in his mouth drives him just as much as Isaac’s taste for food. I pray we will not do the same with our children and always seek to bless them in Jesus name!
Are we driven by our appetite for the Lord or our appetites for the world? Are we scheming? C.S. Lewis says, “A little lie is a like a little pregnancy.” After a while, there is no hiding it. In what areas do we see ourselves scheming to get that value and approval and sense of worth? Secondly,
II. We mask our true selves to earn blessing (vv.14-29)
Not only do we scheme for blessing, we masquerade as people we are not to earn it. Look at what happens. Rebekah is a good cook. She can make goat taste like deer or antelope. She gets the clothes ready. By the way, Israel as they read this would be shocked for not only the lying and scheming that’s going on, but at the expense of a blind person! (Deut. 27:18).
This family is messed up. I was picturing an old lady dressing up her 50 year-old-son. Is this an episode of COPS? I love my mother, but I hope in 20 years, she is not dressing me (unless something really serious has happened). Anyway, she furs him up even on his neck, because he probably cannot grow a beard. With a plate in his hand, fur all over his body, Jacob walks up to his father. Can you picture this scene?
You want to stop the story again and talk to Jake. Jacob, what are you doing man? Jacob looks at you and says, “There is nothing I want more than my father to bless me. I should be the one receiving this blessing. Me! All I have been seeing is my father, the most uniquely valuable person in this community, being the patriarch, always looking upon my brother in approval and favor. I want that! When is it my turn? I want him to smile upon me. I want him to tell me that there is no one like me that I am loved like no one else. I want this blessing and all that comes with it!” And you say, “You would do anything Jacob? Even act like someone you’re not?” He nods his head in response. Jacob wants the uniquely valuable person in his community saying to him, “You are uniquely valuable to me.” Isn’t that what we all want? We don’t want to be a line of clones and get general blessing from people. We want someone that we admire to say something admirable about us. We want a smart person to say we’re smart. This is in all of us.
Notice something here. Isaac doesn’t ask, “Who is it?” when Jacob comes in Gen. 27:18. He asks, “Who are you?” This is a great question in this story. It’s a question for Jacob. Who are you? “I am a scared, needy, broken sinner scheming and masquerading as someone I’m not to earn the ultimate blessing.” And how does Jacob respond? “I am Esau your firstborn.” Compare this to when Esau comes by later, when Esau says in v.32: “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” Notice the difference. The last word highlights what is on the person’s mind. What is it for Jacob? Firstborn. Give me formally what you’ve been giving informally to Esau. I want it!
And here we see the human predicament. Insecure Jacob, poisoned by his father’s favoritism, dresses up in a way to earn his father’s blessing. He is hiding behind a persona. He and his mom do all they can to hide the true Jacob to get this blessing. And isn’t that what we do? We dress up as somebody else to earn blessing.
He became somebody else. We are all doing that. How are we getting what we really need? We don’t let people see who we are. We don’t let people see our fears, our flaws and our weaknesses. Some have taken jobs they don’t really like, but it gives them status so we can get the world or our parent’s approval. We go on dates literally dressing up as someone who we are not, spending hours on makeup and clothes and hair. We dress up as a really good Christian in churches. We don’t have too many problems, too many temptations, or fears. No, I’m great. I’m special. I’m not needy. I was struggling, but not anymore! We share the testimony AFTER the trial is over. We post ourselves on facebook as people who have it together. We smile in our pictures after we fight. We are calm on the phone when someone calls, when we were just screaming at our children. Magazine covers are airbrushed and photoshopped. We are always playing dress up, putting forth a persona of someone we are not. Why? To earn people’s blessing.
In Gen. 27:18-25, we see that one lie covers up another lie. Deception can only be defended by more deception. “What a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive,” as Sir Walter Scott once said. But Isaac is not dim and dumb as we thought. First he is surprised Esau comes so quickly. Jacob’s answer is lame. Notice Jacob moves from deceit to blasphemy, making God his accomplice (notice also “your God” instead of “my God.” He will call God his God later). Is this the seed of the woman? Is Jacob going to be the one who will called to represent God? Whose name will be used to introduce God (God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?). God’s grace is outrageous isn’t it?
But Isaac keeps testing Jacob, but notice he doesn’t pray. He simply uses his senses: hearing, tasting, touching and smelling. But hearing Esau’s voice, which sounded like Jacob’s, makes him doubt again. Something is not right. Jacob noticing this, starts talking less by responding with a short “I am” in v. 24. But the longer Isaac waits, the more he smells the food. And finally gives in. Finally, Jacob thinks! His father comes and kisses him. As he kisses him, he smells Esau. A big smile comes upon Isaac’s face. Isaac’s face is radiant and full of joy and delight in his son. Jacob finally gets the blessing of prosperity, prominence and protection. Jacob saw the look of his father that he had always wanted–the look of pride, affection, affirmation–the radiant look of joy that he had always wanted to see from his dad toward him, and the words from Isaac’s lips that he always wanted to hear. But does this change him? Does it make a difference?
I don’t think so, because Jacob knew it wasn’t really him that Isaac was blessing. When we dress up for people and pretend to be someone we are not and we get blessed, it is a fake blessing. It will not satisfy. So in what areas are we dressing up for blessing? Did we come dressed up even at church today? When was the last time you shared your sin, your temptations, your fears or your true self to someone? Lastly and quickly:
III. Our scheming and masking brings destruction instead of blessing (27:30-28:9)
All of this ends up with everyone’s life falling apart. In the remaining section, Esau comes back and the whole deception is revealed. Loved ones, our God is a God of grace, but do not forget that if we sow to the flesh, we will reap to the flesh. We always reap far more than we sow. Paul says “Do not be deceived. God will not be mocked” (Gal. 6:7). Isaac doesn’t even get his delicious meal that he wanted. He loses Esau to Esau’s hatred for Jacob. Esau’s heart is full of anger and revenge and like Cain, plots to kill his own brother. He even goes to his uncle Ishmael and hurts his father even more by marrying more women outside of the covenant (Gen. 28:6-9). Rebekah sends her son away, in fear for his safety and will never see him again. Jacob ends up with nothing. He runs away penniless. In fact, he will be deceived all his life as well, by Laban and even his own sons.
Look at Esau’s great and bitter cry. We sort of feel bad for him. But this is not repentance. This is remorse and regret (Heb. 12:16-17). He takes no ownership at all at his part in all this. The narrator makes Esau look like a better guy than Jacob in this chapter. God’s grace works even against the taste of the author. Esau is like a little kid. “Bless me! Me too?” Jacob is awful. Abraham has bad chapters, but then he’s got a bunch of good chapters. Jacob has no good chapters in his life. He is cold, calculating, manipulative swindler. But Esau does not turn to the Lord either. And a lot of us like Esau, in competing for people’s blessing today are full of anger that others are blessed. We live our lives reacting to the lack of blessing in our lives. Some of us hated the pressure put on us by our parents, so we did the complete opposite to get back at them, but we are still controlled by them. A lot of us are controlled by others in our season. Social media gives us an avenue to compare with other singles, or people about to get married or newly married or married and kids. Wow, all those people get “the blessing.” What about me?
Esau is running to his father for blessing and it has run out. Jacob’s scheming for blessing has not worked either, even if he gets material blessing or an inheritance, because he never was able to get his father’s approval. It will not be until Gen. 32:26, when he wrestles Notice Isaac’s turn in his heart in v.33. He surrenders finally that he has been trying to get his way. He wanted to follow the world’s way of blessing the older son. He followed his own preference of wanting the man’s man Esau rather than the mama’s boy Jacob. He realized he has been resisting the whole approach of grace, for he likes the stronger one, the better one, the older one, the more appealing one, but he doesn’t like the weaker one, the less likable one, the younger one, the marginal one, the failed one. But finally he surrenders to God and His grace.
Now how can get the blessing the right way? Centuries later, we see God’s beloved Son. He is called the “firstborn” (Col. 1:15). Not that He was created, as that is a title symbolizing His position. He had His Father’s delight. His Father called him “beloved.” He was robed in His father’s righteousness, love, affection, significance and delight. He had His Father’s smile. He had it all. All of the blessing of the firstborn given to Him.
But Jesus left it all. On the cross, He cries out, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” He doesn’t even call Him Father. He gave up all of the privileges of the firstborn. The Bible says, “Christ redeemed us by being a curse for us” (Gal. 3:14-15).
At that moment, Jesus dressed up like us and became a curse for us. He became sin. He dressed up like us for our sins so that when we believe in Him, we can be clothed like Him. When we believe in Jesus, we receive what is too hard to believe and too good to be true: we get the firstborn blessing. Heb. 12:23, says, “to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.” What kind of family has nothing but firstborn? How can a parent with 12 kids have all firstborn? What this teaches us is that the love, blessing, affirmation we experience from the Father when we stand on the basis of Jesus’ work and righteousness, and what he did for us on the cross, makes us feel like we are the only one in the world, and the most loved person who ever lived. We experience exactly what it feels like to be the firstborn. God makes us feel like “there is no one like you.” God forever treats us like a firstborn!
So, we can stop running everywhere for our firstborn blessing. We can stop scheming and manipulating and pretending. We don’t have to “dress up” in that sense in front of people anymore. We can admit our faults and we can accept criticism. And when we believe we have the firstborn blessing already in Christ, we are free to bless others. We no longer have to compliment people as a way to get them to like us. That is not blessing, but using. Instead, we can carefully look into people, see how God has made them, is working in them and speak His truth in their lives and bless them, because we have been truly blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3).
Hamilton, V. P. (1995). The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18–50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (226). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Waltke, B. K., & Fredricks, C. J. (2001). Genesis: A Commentary (363). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Walton, J. H. (2009). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament) Volume 1: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (105–106). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Zacharais, Ravi. “National Day of Prayer Address 2008,” http://www.rzim.org/justthinkingfv/tabid/602/articleid/10018/cbmoduleid/881/default.aspx accessed 31 May 2012.
Adapted from sermon notes of Keller, T. “The Power of Blessing,” http://westloop-church.org/messages/old-testament/15-genesis/178-the-problem-of-blessing-gen-271-35 accessed 31 May 2012.
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Krell. K. “Trick or treat,” http://bible.org/seriespage/trick-or-treat-genesis-2634-289#P20_8798 accessed 31 May 2012.
Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
As quoted in Wiersbe, W. W. (1997). Be Authentic. An Old Testament study. (26). Colorado Springs, Colo.: Chariot Victor Pub.
Keller, T. Ibid.