What will we leave behind us? What will we pass on to the next generation? In this passage of many names, there is a challenging contrast between the influence of Abraham and Ishmael on the next generation. In verse 11, we read, ‘After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac’. In verse 18, we find that ‘Ishmael’s descendants lived in hostility toward all their brothers’. In Isaiah 52:13-53:12, there is a great prophecy concerning the death of Christ. We read of His suffering, as He becomes ‘an offering for sin’. We learn also of His glorious future – ‘He will see His offspring and prolong His days’ (53:10). Unlike Abraham (175 years) and Ishmael (137 years), Jesus did not live a long life on earth (33 years), yet ‘He shall see the fruit of the travail of His soul and be satisfied’ – ‘many’ will be ‘accounted righteous’ (11).
Esau was a fool. He chose his own way rather than the Lord’s way. Jacob was a ‘heel’! ‘Born with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel…, he was named Jacob (Heel)’ (26). A crafty twister, a manipulating cheat, there was nothing about him that merited God’s blessing. He was not superior to Esau. Like Esau, Jacob was a sinner. Esau was not inferior to Jacob. Both were guilty before God. Why, then – in God’s purpose – does ‘the elder’ (Esau) ‘serve the younger’ (Jacob) (23)? The answer is grace, the ‘amazing grace’ of God. Grace lifted Jacob. The glory belongs to God. Grace could have lifted Esau. By grace Jacob valued the birthright (God’s blessing). His way of seeking God’s blessing was devious. Nevertheless, he was seeking for God – and God, in His grace, found him and made him a new man (32:28). ‘Wonderful grace of Jesus, Greater than all my sin!’
‘History repeats itself’. Sin has a ‘like father, like son’ quality about it – Isaac is like Abraham (7; 12:13, 20:2, 12-13), Jacob is like Isaac (7; 25:31,27:19). Grace repeats itself. God is faithful. He gives forgiveness and victory over temptation (1 John 1:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13). He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). Deceived by ‘the father of lies’ (the devil), ‘man’ denies the truth (John 8:44). ‘Let God be true, and every man a liar’ (Romans 3:4). In verses 19-22, there’s ‘the story of the three wells’ – ‘Dispute’, ‘Opposition’, ‘Room’. Things went from bad to worse, then there was progress. There is room for both, when there is no more quarrelling. Isaac worshipped God, and was recognised as God’s man (25,28). We are to be recognised as God’s people, but remember – verse 34 – even the Lord’s people can make mistakes!
The deception of Isaac by Jacob (prompted by Rebekah) is a sad episode, yet God – in grace – really bestows His blessing on Jacob. Beneath Jacob’s deceit, there was a real desire to be blessed by God. To Esau (the late arrival), Isaac says, ‘I have blessed him – yes, and he shall be blessed. I blessed him, and blessed he will remain’ (33). Once the blessing had been given, it could not be recalled. The blessing could not be undone. Power bestowed by God could not be removed. This had nothing to do with ‘Jacob’s righteousness’. It had everything to do with God’s faithfulness. The good work begun by God, will be completed by Him (Philippians 1:6). This was true for Jacob (28:15). It is true for us – ‘All the promises of God find their Yes in Christ’. To this, we say ‘Amen’ and ‘To God be the Glory’ (2 Corinthians 1:20)!
What a tangled web! Jacob has cheated Esau. Now, Esau is saying, ‘I will kill my brother Jacob’ (41). What are we to make of all this? We must look beyond the human scene. Behind it all, there is ‘God Almighty’ (3). God will fulfil His promises. Nothing will distract Him from His ultimate purpose of salvation. We look at the complex series of events involving Rebekah, Isaac, Jacob and Esau. God looks beyond all of that to Jesus Christ. He looks beyond the nation of Israel. His purpose concerns ‘the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). ‘The blessing of Abraham’ refers not only to the ‘land’ (4). There is also ‘the promise of the Spirit’ (Galatians 3:14). We are to live ‘by the power of the Spirit’, and not ‘according to the flesh’ as Esau did when ‘he went to Ishmael (the child of Abraham’s unbelief…)’ (9; Galatians 4:29).