1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, 4 and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.” 5 Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord before I die.’ 8 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. 9 Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. 10 And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” 11 But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. 12 Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” 13 His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me.” 14 So he went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved. 15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob. 18 So he went in to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” 20 But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands. So he blessed him. 24 He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” 25 Then he said, “Bring it near to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.” So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” 27 So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said, “See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed! 28 May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. 29 Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” 30 As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. 31 He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” 32 His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” 33 Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” 34 As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” 35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” 36 Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 37 Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept. 39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him: “Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. 40 By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck.” 41 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.” 42 But the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah. So she sent and called Jacob her younger son and said to him, “Behold, your brother Esau comforts himself about you by planning to kill you. 43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice. Arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran 44 and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away— 45 until your brother’s anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him. Then I will send and bring you from there. Why should I be bereft of you both in one day?” 46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I loathe my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women like these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?”
In his novel Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy famously wrote: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Genesis 27 is a chronicle of one such unhappy family. It is the story of how God worked through a family, yes, but it is also a story of the deep flaws of the family through whom He worked.
Genesis 27 is, in many ways, a picture of dysfunction. “There are no heroes in this story,” writes R. Kent Hughes, “only sinners.” That is true enough. And we are going to explore the foibles of this family. Even so, let us remember that cracked vessels are the only kinds of vessels God has to work with in the human race and, amazingly, he works through this flawed family just as He works through you and me. Consider now the flaws of Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau. Today we will consider Isaac and Rebekah.
Isaac: Favoritism, Comfort Obsession, and an Assumption of Control
Let us begin with Isaac’s great flaw of favoritism. Our chapter begins with Isaac calling Esau to his side.
1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.”
The terminology “my son” is interesting and loaded because we know from Genesis 25 that Isaac preferred Esau to Jacob.
27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Consider the devastating effects of parental favoritism. Isaac, in his infirmity and dotage, calls his prized child, Esau, to his side. Here Isaac’s priorities are revealed and, concerning his children, his priority is Esau.
It is a terrible thing to favor one child over another. To do so is to set the stage for strife and resentment in the home both when you are alive and after you are gone. Children are perceptive. They know if favoritism is being shown.
One of the stranger cases of parental favoritism has to be that of Arthur Waugh and his son Alec. Arthur, the father of famed British novelist Evelyn Waugh, had an odd fixation on his eldest son Alec, Evelyn’s older brother. He had much less of an attachment to his younger son Evelyn. But Arthur’s fixation on Alec took some strange and uncomfortable turns. For instance, Arthur wrote the following to Alec:
There is a rare sort of crucifix found in one or two Gothic cathedrals in France, in which behind the figure of the Son, as he hangs upon the cross, is vaguely to be discerned the figure of God the Father also. The nails that pierce the Son’s hands pierce the Fathers also: the thorn-crowned head of the Dying Saviour is seen to be lying upon the Fathers bosom. And it is always so with you and me. Every wound that touches you pierces my own soul also: every thorn in your crown of life tears my tired head as well. Be sure of that, as you are also sure (for you must be that) that when your hour of redemption comes, the first to share it will be the father who has never doubted or given way. God bless you Billy.
And later he writes to Alec again:
The nails that pierce the hands of the Son are still driven through the hands of the Father also.
And then again, later:
Dear Boy, I am sure there is some spiritual relation between you and me which transcends the merely material world.
What is concerning about this is not the expression of love for one’s child or even the idea that parents and children are bound together in such a bond that parents truly do suffer when their children do. No, what is concerning is the grandiose baptizing of language of fixation in theological terms that push it all out of proportion. Furthermore, what is concerning is that this kind of attention (unhealthy though it was) was lavished on one son and not the other.
Beware of privilege one child over another!
Furthermore, there is evidence that Isaac had become inordinately concerned with his own comfort and his own desires. Consider what he asks of Esau in Genesis 27.
2 He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, 4 and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”
Isaac’s desire is for “delicious food.” He has truly become a man of preference. He prefers Esau to Jacob and he prefers “delicious food” to lesser fare. This may not seem so sinister at first glance. After all, we’d all prefer to eat tasty food as opposed to bland food. But we have already seen, in Genesis 25, that Esau’s tasty food is actually part of why Isaac prefers him.
28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
This makes Isaac’s favoritism seem even less noble, as if it has less to do with paternal affection run amuck than with the fact that Isaac just really likes what he likes, that is, what brings him pleasure.
Derek Kidner argues that “the real scandal is Isaac’s frivolity; his palate had long since governed his heart (25:28) and silenced his tongue (for he was powerless to rebuke the sin that was Esau’s downfall.” Kidner makes a good point: Isaac was governed by his preferences and desires just as Esau was. R. Kent Hughes writes:
…in the intervening decades something of Isaac’s spiritual edge has dulled. Creature comforts have become center-place for him as represented in his love for food…We get the sense that wild game and savory delights were laid out by his servants to ease his pampered stomach through the night. And as he dreamed, his table was spread again with exotic dishes redolent with garnishes of leeks and onions—moist and succulent.
Beware, parents, the siren call of selfishness, of comfort-obsession, of needing things to make you happy. Beware of seeing your children as the vehicles through which you get what you want.
Frédéric Martel has written a shocking exposé the personal lives of a number of religious leaders. In addition to the various sexual scandals surrounding these leaders many of them, he reveals, had a real obsession with creature comforts. He writes, for instance, of one leader:
Facing the library, the cardinal has his portrait on an easel. A large work, signed by a Russian artist, Natalia Tsarkova, for whom John Paul II and Benedict XVI have also sat. Cardinal Poupard spreads himself out magnificently, sitting on a high chair, one hand delicately stroking his chin, the other holding the pages of a handwritten speech. On his right ring finger: an episcopal ring decorated with a precious Veronese blue-green stone.
‘The artist made me pose for almost two years. She wanted it to be perfect, and for my whole universe to fill the painting. You can see the books, the red biretta, it’s very personal,’ Poupard tells me. Before adding: ‘I was a lot younger…’
Later, Martel writes this about another leader caught in scandal:
Look at his way of life, first of all! According to the testimony…[he] lived in luxury: ‘One day I received a dinner invitation from the nuncio, which I accepted. When I arrived, I realized that I was the only guest. We sat down at a very elegant table covered with silverware. And I said to myself: “this priest wants to show you the meaning of power, of absolute power, and he wants me to understand that I am the lowest of the low”. Because not only was it a luxurious environment, the display itself was ostentatious.’ Many other witnesses remember this way of life, which was far from usual for a priest, even for a nuncio. Sodano did not make modesty a virtue.
‘I remember Sodano very well; he was a prince. I saw him all the time: he enjoyed the high life. He went out in his car with a police escort with a blue light. He went to all kinds of inaugurations and demanded a reserved seat in the first row.
One more example:
Sodano sought the appointment of Juan Francisco Fresno Larraín, a notorious ally of Pinochet and an ‘insignificant’ bishop according to all witnesses.
‘Cardinal Fresno was essentially concerned with his passion for orange cake,’ the journalist Mónica González tells me in Santiago.
How sad, that one’s life could become so consumed by the desire for creature comforts! Isaac, to some extent, had become this way.
I have seen this in less ostentatious ways: parents obsessed with having the best, being the best, having their comfort obsessions satiated and appeased. Beware your need for things, for toys, for luxuries! Beware the danger of allowing your comforts to sully your parenting.
An Assumption of Control
Perhaps more than anything, Isaac demonstrated that he was in the grip of an assumption of control. He wanted to bless Esau especially. He wanted to be in control of who received the blessing. In verses 28 and 29 we see the blessing that Isaac gave to the son who he thought was Esau but who, as we will see, was really Isaac. But hear what he thought he was saying over Esau:
28 May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. 29 Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”
This is as fascinating as it is troubling. Why? Because not only had Esau sold the birthright to Jacob but God had prophesied in Genesis 25 that Esau would serve Jacob.
22 The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”
Some might protest that perhaps Jacob did not know of either the selling of the birthright or God’s pronouncement that Isaac would be first. Frankly, it is hard for me to imagine that he did not know of the other. Later, Esau will speak of Jacob taking the birthright in a way that may suggest it was common knowledge. Regardless, many argue that Isaac certainly had to have known of the prophesy from Genesis 25.
Derek Kidner, for instance, argues that “Isaac, whether he knew of the sale or not, knew God’s birth-oracle of 25:23, yet set himself to use God’s power to thwart it (see verse 29 [“Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”]). This is the outlook of magic, not religion.”
Yes, if indeed Isaac knew of the primacy of the younger son, Isaac, over the older, Esau, then this attempting blessing and call for “your mother’s sons [to] bow down to you” becomes particularly pernicious. This is because such an assertion can only mean that Isaac was trying to go around the expressed will of God to infer the blessing as he thought it ought to be conferred.
In other words, Isaac assumed a control he did not rightfully have.
Parents, beware the assumption of control over your children even over God’s will for their lives!
The greatest act of kindness you can show your children is to release them to God’s will and not tyrannize them with your own. Isaac had obviously drawn Esau into the unhealthy illusion of control. They both thought they could make things be the way they wanted them to be!
Many a child’s life has been waylaid or ruined by an unhealthy assumption of control without regard for God’s will on the part of their parents. Parents, it is not your calling to direct your children’s paths as you see fit. It is your calling to direct their paths to God so that they can see what His will is for them!
There are plenty of reasons to celebrate the greatness of Isaac. Here, though, let us consider his foibles and take care to learn from them.
Rebekah: Favoritism and Stunting Co-dependency
Rebekah, too, was a great woman in so many ways. She was one of the great matriarchs of our faith. She herself had shown amazing faith in agreeing to leave her family and home and travel to a distant and unknown land to marry Isaac. Even so, like Isaac, she offers us some unfortunate examples of what not to do as well.
Rebekah’s first failure was one she shared with Isaac: favoritism. Whereas Isaac Favored Esau, Rebekah favored Jacob. Consider again Genesis 25:
27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
We will not belabor this point as we have already considered why favoritism is so debilitating in a family. However, let us consider how Rebekah’s favoritism went hand-in-hand with another problem.
There is a great deal of evidence in our text that Rebekah fostered an unhealthy co-dependent relationship with her son Jacob that stunted the spiritual maturation of them both. Consider Rebekah’s actions after she heard Isaac’s instructions to Esau:
5 Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord before I die.’ 8 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. 9 Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. 10 And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” 11 But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. 12 Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” 13 His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me.” 14 So he went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved. 15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.
Upon hearing Isaac’s desire to bless Esau, Rebekah leapt into action. Her words were issued as a command: “Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you.” Notice, too, the detail with which she directed Jacob:
- Jacob was to get two goats.
- Rebekah would prepare the food.
- Jacob was to take the food to Isaac.
- Jacob was to receive the blessing.
- Rebekah dressed Jacob in Esau’s garments
- Rebekah took the goat skins and put them on Jacob’s hands and neck.
Truly Rebekah demonstrated amazing skill as a plotter and manipulator in this scene. And, tragically, she used her son Jacob in the process. Her statement in verse 13 is particularly chilling:
“Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me.”
This is a picture of a person who has clearly determined that if something good is going to happen it is up to her to make it so. And the great tragedy of this is that Rebekah (and Joseph!) should have allowed their trust in God’s earlier promise to eclipse the need to manipulate and scheme. God had already said that the older would serve the younger. That should have been enough.
And what of Jacob’s response? The co-dependency of this relationship can be seen in Rebekah’s detailed manipulation of her son and in Jacob’s complete acquiescence to her demands. Parents truly do not help their children when they create this kind of dependency. But here too history has shown us that such unhealthy connections between mothers and their children can indeed happen.
In the late 1800s, a Swiss jurist named J.J. Bachofen argued that there was no joy greater than the joy between a mother and child. And while we applaud and, I trust, can confirm that the love between a mother and child truly is a special thing, we must admit that the lengths to which Bachofen took this were certainly odd.
J. Bachofen, a Swiss jurist…adored his own beautiful mother and declined to marry until long after her death no doubt prompted his vision of a golden time characterized by what he called Das Mutterrecht—mother right— which also meant, in his thinking, mother-rule, or matriarchy. And why shouldn’t mothers rule? “At the lowest, darkest stages of human existence,” he said, “the love between mother and offspring is the bright spot in life, the only light in the moral darkness, the only joy amid profound misery. (First Things, “While We’re At It”)
I very much hope that we all can agree that if a mother raises her son to think that “the love between mother and offspring is the bright spot in life, the only light in the moral darkness, the only joy amid profound misery,” that something has gone bad wrong! A mother would be wrong to foster such thinking and a son would be wrong to think this. Again, a son is not wrong to love his mother and to see the bond between mother and child as special and powerful! But if a son’s love for his mother would make enacting Genesis 2:24 (“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”) then, again, something has gone wrong!
Yes, God does work through cracked vessels. We are all cracked vessels. But we need not be as cracked as we could be at our worst moment. We can give ourselves to God and truly walk with Jesus in obedience and trust and faith. Consider the failings of the great heroes of our faith. Considering these does not make them any less heroes…but they could have avoided a great deal of heartache had they trusted and obeyed!
 Leo Tolstoy. Anna Karenina. (Garden City, NY: Nelson Doubleday, Inc., 3.
 R. Kent Hughes, Genesis. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), p.349.
 Alexander Waugh, Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family. Kindle Edition, Loc. 1176-1181, 1171-1172, 1158-1159.
 Derek Kidner, Genesis. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Vol.1 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), p.167.
 R. Kent Hughes, p.347.
 Martel, Frédéric. In the Closet of the Vatican (p. 155). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid., pp. 214-215
 Ibid. p.216.
 Derek Kidner, p.166.