Reading Time: 7 mins

Receiving a Blessing We Don't Deserve

Reading Time: 7 mins

Like Jacob, sinners approach the Heavenly Father wearing the clothes of their older brother, Jesus.

The narrative of Genesis 27 is one of the most familiar sequences in Scripture, as it regularly appears in kids’ Bible lessons. It is also a scene that feels as though it was ripped right out of a television sitcom. Two characters, a mom and her son, craft an elaborate ruse to get the husband/dad to believe that the younger son is actually the older son by dressing up in the older son’s clothes, pasting animal furs to the younger son’s limbs, and cooking up the dad’s favorite meal — all before the older son returns home from work. If it was not written down, I would scarcely believe it to be true. 

This is not a “nice” story, nor is it even a moderately “happy” one. Even though Genesis 27 records the events that lead to Jacob receiving the “blessing of the firstborn” in fulfillment of God’s Word (Gen. 25:23), the entire account is laden with animosity, betrayal, and deception, as a family full of liars, backstabbers, and sinners has its dirty laundry aired out for all to witness. This isn’t exactly a recipe for the progression of God’s blessing and hope. Neither is this how we would expect the next patriarch of God’s people to receive his call to carry on God’s Word of promise. Consequently, this story blows to smithereens the idea that the Bible is just a collection of tales meant to convey some moral or virtue, à la Aesop’s Fables. When there is no “shining example” to follow or moral hero to aspire to, we are compelled to cry for Someone Better to instill in us the hope we so desperately crave. 

As Chapter 27 opens, it is another time of transition in the family of promise. Isaac’s body is failing; his age is catching up to him. At this point, he is approximately 137 years old, and his twin boys are in their 70s. Therefore, the ensuing conflict is not due to immature adolescence; it is just plain old sin. With Isaac feeling his age, he calls on Esau so that he can bless him before he dies, which, no doubt, was music to Esau’s ears (Gen. 27:1–4). The day he had long waited for had finally arrived. At long last, he was about to receive the honor of being the head of the family, replete with all of the social, spiritual, and physical advantages that accompany that title. This is more than a little disconcerting, though, since Esau had already sold his birthright decades prior (Gen. 25:29–34), which meant that this blessing wasn’t his to receive. Furthermore, God had already determined that Jacob, not Esau, would be the one to receive this blessing even before they were born (Gen. 25:23). 

When there is no “shining example” to follow or moral hero to aspire to, we are compelled to cry for Someone Better to instill in us the hope we so desperately crave. 

Accordingly, Isaac’s intention to bestow the blessing of the firstborn to Esau can be explained by the fact that either he is old and senile or he is ignorant. Either he was a stubborn old geezer who was a stickler for “tradition,” or he never knew what God had in store for his two knucklehead sons. Scripture never tells us whether or not Rebekah told Isaac what the Lord revealed to her all those years ago when she was pregnant. However, both of their actions seem to reinforce the notion that she didn’t. Indeed, the apparent lack of communication between Rebekah and her husband exacerbates the disconnect and motivates her gambit to secure the family blessing for her favorite son (Gen. 27:5–10). 

After eavesdropping on Isaac’s dialogue with Esau, Rebekah quickly confers with Jacob since she cannot let the Lord’s blessing fall into the wrong hands. She determines to help God out because “God helps those who help themselves.” This, of course, is flatly false. God’s promises need neither our manipulation nor intervention in order to come true. God alone is the sovereign superintendent over his plans and purposes, which means that just as Jacob’s scheming was unnecessary, so, too, was Rebekah’s subterfuge. But rather than wait for the Lord to work out what he promised, Rebekah gets to work to make sure everything stays on schedule. As she conveys her plans to Jacob, we get a glimpse, perhaps, at where his penchant for scheming came from. But instead of raising concerns over his mom’s questionable morals or ethical barometer, Jacob only raises concerns over what might happen if he should get found out (Gen. 27:11–12). Despite how obviously diabolical this scheme was, Jacob couldn’t pass up the opportunity to obtain what he always wanted — and since he already had the birthright, with the blessing of the firstborn in hand, his resolve to supplant his brother would be complete.

She determines to help God out because “God helps those who help themselves.” This, of course, is flatly false.

Rebekah hastily dismisses her son’s worries. “Let your curse be on me, my son,” she says, “only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me” (Gen. 27:13). “You leave that to me,” she tells him. At once, this mother-and-son team of tricksters buzzes around the estate like a pair of worker bees (Gen. 27:14–17). Jacob rushes out to the field to start butchering two goats from the family herd. Meanwhile, Rebekah multitasks as she raids Esau’s closet, sews some animal furs together, cooks a delicious entrée of lamb chops, and even bakes a fresh batch of bread. Everything appears to be going according to plan as Jacob dons the furs and his brother’s garments and makes his way to Isaac’s bed-chamber. Not thirty seconds in, Jacob is already lying! “So he went to his father and said, ‘My father.’ And he said, ‘Here I am. Who are you, my son?’ Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn’” (Gen. 27:18–19). 

In their haste to pull this ruse off, Rebekah and Jacob neglected a key detail: the timing. They failed to wait long enough to make a hunting trip believable, and Isaac took notice. “Isaac said to his son, ‘How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?’” (Gen. 27:20). Good thing Jacob was quick on his feet, or else he would have been ruined. He credits his hunting success to divine intervention, effectively taking the Lord’s name in vain in the process, which is another example that God didn’t ordain this ploy. 

Pitiful old Isaac is confused. Something is definitely afoot. He summons Jacob to come close to him so that he can verify his son’s identity with his hands. Isaac’s ears alert him to the subterfuge, but his fingers betray him. “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau,” he says (Gen. 27:22). Once more, he requests to know the identity of his bedside visitor, prompting Jacob to lie to his dad’s face again. “Are you really my son Esau?” Isaac asks, to which Jacob answered, “I am.” He is in too deep to turn back now, not that he would have entertained such a notion, leading to a truly significant moment wherein Isaac unknowingly blesses Jacob (Gen. 27:25–29).

This is not some deathbed speech. This is the divine promise of peace and blessing being passed down to Jacob’s entire family line — the line from which the Messiah, the true and better Son of Promise, will one day come. God, of course, had this in mind all along (Gen. 25:23). Did he intend for the blessing to be bestowed in this way? Hardly. But isn’t it just like our God to take a scene as messy, seedy, duplicitous, and corrupt as this one and still see that his plans succeed? In many ways, this narrative is like a real-life version of what Paul says in the New Testament, that “all things work together for good . . . according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). The point is that God himself is the one who works all things out for good, not us. His promises do not require the least amount of manipulation or intervention from us to come true. Indeed, no matter how messy, convoluted, and chaotic our circumstances, God is not looking for us to take matters into our own hands. Rather, he is just looking for us to trust him. 

In many ways, this narrative is like a real-life version of what Paul says in the New Testament, that “all things work together for good . . . according to his purpose.”

This is what it means to be a disciple of the Living God — namely, it means putting our faith in him and his word even when it doesn’t make sense. It involves putting our trust in his timing, expertise, and plans for us instead of clinging to our own, which might be one of the hardest lessons of life to learn. We are not good at trusting someone else to come through for us. More often than not, we live as if it is true that God does, indeed, help those who help themselves. Part of following the Lord, though, means giving up our plans, purposes, and timetables as we receive his by faith. In other words, God was going to accomplish his purposes with or without Rebekah and Jacob’s “help.” But because they intervened, they made things so much worse.

No sooner did Jacob leave his dad’s bedroom than Esau returned “from his hunting” trip and excitedly began preparing the venison for his father. Soon, he would receive the blessing and step into his future, or so he thought. Esau enters Isaac’s bed chamber, identifies himself, and proceeds to give his dad a bona fide panic attack (Gen. 27:33). The realization that he has been duped causes Isaac to convulse “violently.” A sense of resignation follows this since he has already bestowed the blessing. “He shall be blessed,” Isaac says stoically. As you can imagine, this sends Esau into a tizzy (Gen. 27:34–38). The older twin goes into full self-preservation mode as he pleads with his father to make it right. He grasps at straws as he watches his status, livelihood, and future get snatched away right in front of his eyes. But despite his pitiful appeals, Isaac’s hands are tied. Once this blessing of the firstborn was conferred, it could not be rescinded. 

Esau is crushed. A rush of bitterness and outrage fills his heart, stirring him to seek revenge on his brother. “Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, ’The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob’” (Gen. 27:41). This is what the impatience and deceitfulness of Rebekah and Jacob yielded: the implosion of their entire family unit. 

There is an abundance of sin in this twisted narrative. To use Paul’s words again, “No one is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). But ours is a God who has a habit of taking what is twisted and setting it right again. He delights in taking broken things and putting them back together, in taking dead things and giving them life. His life. After all, he is both the great deliverer and great disentangler of all our sinful and detestable lives. “In ways we will likely never realize,” writes Chad Bird, “the Lord of redemption can create something good and beautiful out of the junkyard of our spoiled pasts” (31). Even here, in this mangled mess of a story, God reveals something about how he makes sinners holy.

This episode of Jacob fooling his father into giving him the blessing is like a photo-negative of our absolution. Like Jacob, sinners approach the Heavenly Father wearing the clothes of their older brother, Jesus. It’s his robes and his smell on us that lead to our reception of the blessing, a blessing that we surely do not deserve. Unlike Jacob, however, we don’t have to resort to deception to receive this gift, nor is that even a remote possibility. Indeed, unlike Isaac, our God is not ignorant nor is he duped into giving the blessing of his righteousness to us. Neither are we encouraged to flee afterward. Rather, God in Christ calls us close so that he can freely, willingly, and knowingly give us a gift that we don’t deserve — namely, the unending overflow of his grace (John 1:16). Accordingly, Jesus endures as the ultimate example of God’s ability to untwist our lives of sin and make us righteous. It is his gospel, after all, that tells us all about our truer and better Older Brother who revels in giving us what is rightfully his.