Jacob’s magic sticks? Admittedly, what Jacob begins to do in this passage is strange. You might be thinking, “What’s up with the sticks?” That’s a great question. This is before research on genetics and heredity. Those who bred animals at the time did not know exactly why animals were born with certain traits. They knew a goat was a goat and that it woul more than likely have a lot of the traits as the parents but why were some weak when the parents were strong, or how could you have two white sheep produce a speckled sheep they did not know. I read that there was a belief at the time that if a female animal was shown a certain image when it conceived it would impact the child. Perhaps this is why Jacob decides to take all of these sticks and tries to manipulate the breeding of the animals as he does. Whatever Jacob is thinking here we know that these are not magic sticks. Jacob is not the reason why his flocks begin to grow and Laban’s become weak and fewer in number. Jacob increases greatly. Look at the last verse. “Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks.” Okay, this makes sense. Jacob is out there with the animals. He’s selectively breeding them. This statement follows the rest of the story. But then we read that he had female and male servants and camels and donkeys. Wait a minute. Who said anything about servants, camels, and donkeys? Not only was he accumulating sheep and goats, but as the good businessman that Jacob was, he was trading them for servants and other animals. The fact that he had camels is very telling. At this time, camels were not yet domesticated so if you had multiple camels that was like having a bunch of luxury vehicles in your garage. We do not want to miss the fact that we have already been told that this would happen. God entered into a covenant with Abraham and God blessed him and he had, “he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.” Isaac comes along and God blesses him and “he had possessions of flocks and herds and many servants.” God told Jacob that he would bless him. Jacob’s stick peeling scheme was of little importance when it came to his prospering because the promise of God had already been given. We will see this more clearly in chapter 31.
In verse 31, we see the beginning of Jacob’s and Rachel’s marriage summed up in one word, “barren”. Like the women that came before her, Rachel would have to learn through the struggle of barrenness. We’ll look more at this topic in the next section but I wanted to point this out before we move on. The introductory sentence to the explanation of where the twelve tribes of Israel begins with God opening Leah’s womb and keeping Rachel’s closed. We believe in the sovereignty of God in all things. But it takes on an inescapable weight and meaning when it comes to having children. In a culture where having children and many children was highly prized to barren was a crushing blow. Some of you know all too well that infertility is still a struggle that God uses to teach his people his lessons. This verse, though it is surrounded by the free actions of the people in the story, brings us back to the reality that God’s plan is what is unfolding before our eyes. None of this has happened by chance or luck but exactly as God has ordained. This is a lesson that this family of Jacob will have to learn.
And so we leave Jacob here, heading out into the unknown armed with the promise of God. Will he trust in the God of Abraham and Isaac? Will he fair better than his brother Esau? Those are the questions that we will see unfold over the rest of the book. Now, what must we learn from this passage? First, God is obviously in charge of everything. You can’t read this passage and see the foolish actions of the people being used as tools in the hand of God to accomplish what he wants. We must learn that God is in control in all of life’s situations. He is the Almighty God, the El-Shaddai. His promises stand no matter what people do. His will cannot be thwarted. That’s why we are commanded to not be afraid or anxious about anything because God is the Almighty, he will not fail. That’s why we take our anxieties to God in prayer because he is the one that has brought the thing that is causing you anxiety into your life. We don’t demand we get our way, which only causes more anxiety, but we lay it at his feet, saying not mine but your will be done. We also learned about how the worldly person thinks. Matthew Henry summarized it this way: “Carnal hearts are apt to think themselves as good as they should be because, perhaps, in some particular instance, they are not so bad as they have been.” It’s the “I try to be a good person” argument. That doesn’t work with God. God doesn’t say, “oh, you tried to be better in these few areas? That deserves my love and entrance into my perfect holy presence. Come on in.” No, that’s a cheap view of God’s love and holiness. If we make it into heaven it is only on the merit of Jesus Christ’s atoning death on our behalf. Not because of our good works, or my choice to follow him or my perfect church attendance but because of God’s mercy, grace and love. That’s it. Anything less would be a mockery of who God is. If you’re not a Christian today. Stop trying to win God’s favor. You can’t. You just look like an idiot. Stop what you are doing, fall on your face and beg God for mercy. Brothers and sisters, stop trying to make God love you more. You can’t. You just look like an idiot. Do what pleases God because you love him and you want what he wants. He loves you with an infinite love. You can’t improve upon that.
We come to the end of our passage and we see Esau’s reaction to everything that is going on. He witnessed the blessing of Jacob. He heard the commands of Isaac that Jacob was to go to Paddan-aram and to take a wife from there. He also heard his father say that Jacob should not marry a Canaanite woman. Esau also saw that Jacob obeyed his father, packed up his goods for the trip, and left. What does Esau do? a. Esau’s Righteousness? First, he recognizes that Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father. He is just now realizing this? He already has two Canaanite wives. And we know that those two women made the lives of Isaac and Rebekah bitter. Rebekah says that she hated her life because of Esau’s wives. And you’re just now figuring this out, Esau? Come on man! It’s a little too late, don’t you think? But Esau sees this and he tries to make amends. He tries to do what pleases his father. And so he decides to…marry an Ishmaelite. What? That’s your answer, Esau. You marry a third wife? That’s already a bad idea. And sure, you didn’t marry a Canaanite, but you married an Ishmaelite. Do you remember who Ishmael was? The one that mocked your father. The one who was banned from the family. The one who is half the line of Shem and half the line of Ham. Is this really a better choice? What makes you think this is going to please your father? b. Our Righteousness? Interestingly, Esau would try to win his father’s favor by doing the “good” thing. It is almost embarrassing when you think about it, but that is exactly what we as humans think when we try to use our righteousness with God. We think that God will see our righteous deeds and just overlook that they are all tainted by sin. Isaiah talks about our righteousness is like filthy rags or polluted garments. We come before the holy God with a few good deeds next to a mountain of evil and say, “God you must accept me because of these few things.” How silly that is. How low a view of God’s love do we have if we think we can win his love by doing a few good things? How many hours of Bible study over a lifetime is equal to the love of God? How many hours of community service? How many prayers? Does walking to the front of a church and praying win the perfect and infinite love of God? No, nothing can gain the love of God. God is free to give or not to give his love to anyone because no one has earned it.
Now we move on to Isaac’s public confirmation of the blessing of Jacob and we need to consider two things: its importance and its content. a. It’s Importance. First, what was done in secret needs to be brought to light. Remember, that the blessing of Jacob was done through deception and against the will of Isaac. This second pronouncement of the blessing establishes what has been done. Everyone in the family would be expecting Esau to be the one to receive the blessing but this announcement would set everyone straight. There could be no debate or delegitimizing later on after Isaac’s death. Though Jacob received the blessing through underhanded means Isaac has placed the legal stamp upon it. The second thing that this public blessing accomplishes is that it warns Esau to stand down. Jacob is now the blessed and the owner of the birthright. To go against Jacob would invite the wrath of God. Thirdly, this blessing is an encouragement to Jacob. He is leaving his home, his mother, his inheritance, everything to go live with his uncle. Jacob needs to hear the blessing that this journey will not end in destruction away from the land but in all that God has promised. Even though Jacob, up until this point, had been trusting in his skills as a con man he now must trust in God. b. It’s Content. Let’s take a brief look at the content of the blessing from Isaac. Isaac says that God Almighty bless you. This ought to remind Jacob that the blessing is not ultimately from Isaac and not because he cheated his brother but because God is El-Shaddai, the all-powerful one. The omnipotent one has chosen to bless him. God does not have to bless him because he is El-Shaddai and is constrained by no one. This blessing is coming despite Jacob’s actions not because of his treachery. The blessing contains the three main blessings we have seen repeatedly through the stories of Abraham and Isaac: people, land, and blessing to the nations. But as we have learned God continually lifts the veil on how momentous this blessing is. Look at the phrase “you may become a company of peoples.” We haven’t seen this before. The expansiveness of this blessing is growing. Now we are seeing another side of this blessing to the nations. Jacob will become an assembly of nations. Paul in the book of Romans tells us that Jacob is like the root of a tree. Some of his descendants will trespass God’s law and will be cut off but God will ingraft the Gentile nations like a wild olive shoot into Jacob’s tree. Isaac is saying that the blessing of God, the blessing to the nations is the assembly of nations or the church. Paul explains this in Galatians 3:8 when he says, “and the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” If you are a Christian, then by faith, you have become one of those people in Jacob’s assembly of nations. Let us also consider what Isaac says about the land. “That you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham.” Isn’t it interesting that the land was given to Abraham but here, his grandson, is sojourning? If it’s Abraham’s land why is Jacob a sojourner? Why does Isaac speak of taking possession of it when it belongs to the family already? The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived in the land of promise as in a foreign land. They knew that they were “strangers and exiles on earth,” not just in the promised land. These three men were waiting for a “city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” They were seeking a homeland, but they weren’t “thinking of the land from which they had gone out, they would have had an opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” Because they felt this way God is not ashamed to be called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And because of their faith in a heavenly homeland God has prepared a city for them.
1. BE SEPARATE 1-2 At the end of chapter 27, Rebekah files her complaint with Isaac that if Jacob were to marry one of the women of the land her life would be worthless. Isaac has now come to his senses and has given up his foolish and disobedient desire to see Esau be the chosen of God. He has repented of his actions and now takes leadership of the family as he rightfully should. Isaac pulls his son aside and gives him three commands. a. No Canaanite Women. We have talked about this idea before. This command has roots in the spiritual. Abraham and Isaac are not racists. There is nothing physically wrong with women of that area. The problem is that those women were descendants of Noah’s son Ham and grandson Canaan. They were a people cursed by God. God told Abraham that one day the iniquity of this people would come to its end and his wrath would be poured out on them. These people had turned away from the God of their father Noah and had turned to false gods and demon worship. Paul picks up this idea in the New Testament when says, “What partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16.) So there he is comparing the two sides to show that these two things ought not to be linked together because, in reality, they cannot be. They must be separate from the Canaanites. b. Live in Your Grandfather’s House. Now, this was the command that Rebekah gave to Jacob back in chapter 27. Esau was breathing murderous threats and Rebekah told Jacob that he should flee to her brother Laban until Esau had a chance to calm down. She tells him that Jacob needs to stay there until she sends for him. Unfortunately, for Rebekah, that day never came. And so, Isaac tells his son that he should go to Rebekah’s family, to the house of Bethuel her father. But his command is not tied to Esau or the need to flee for safety. No, it is tied to his third command. c. Marry a Cousin. Isaac says that Jacob should take a wife from one of the daughters of Laban his mother’s brother. Apparently, Isaac and Rebekah have had more communication from the homeland than Abraham did. Isaac knew Rebekah’s family were still in Paddan-aram and that Laban had multiple daughters. The journey that Jacob is being sent on is a mission to marry one of his cousins. That’s the goal.
As we have studied Genesis, we’ve been tracking several different storylines that God has been interweaving into history. Starting in Genesis 3, we’ve followed the promise of the one offspring of the woman that would crush the head of the serpent. We have watched the other promise that the offspring of the serpent would be at war with the offspring of Eve. When we read Abraham’s story we began pulling at a new part of the same thread. The covenant promises of Abraham were attached to the first promises and we have already seen that these promises were passed from Abraham to Isaac. Recently, we read through the story of how the promises were passing from Isaac on to his second-born son Jacob. In Genesis 27, Moses shows us that Isaac and his family were a mess. Isaac was trying to bless Esau against the word of God given before his birth that he would serve his younger brother. Esau was working to try to undo the earlier selling of his birthright and tried to earn his father’s approval but had no regard for God’s approval. Rebekah tried to follow the word of God but used deception and the undermining of her husband to accomplish it. Jacob wanted the blessing of God but was willing to throw everyone under the bus to get it. How easy has it been to identify with this family? They have been chosen by God. God has a plan for this family that he will work out in time. He will use their sinful choices and override them according to his will. God’s grace, mercy, and love for these people will direct their paths. In today’s passage, we start the story of Jacob’s journey from home. This is more than just a change of address for Jacob. He is about to embark on a spiritual bootcamp. God will take the one whose name means “cheat” and grow him into a man of God. Jacob will become Israel, the one who wrestles God. And by the end of this training the great El-Shaddai, the God of Abraham and Isaac, will be Jacob’s God. In Genesis 28:1-9, we will first see that Jacob is given the charge to leave home to go to Rebekah’s family and there find a wife. Then we will hear Isaac pronounce the covenant promises over Jacob as he leaves home. And finally, we’ll see the actions of Esau as he responds to his father.
In Isaac we find that place that all Christians find themselves; always hovering between faith and sin. By faith, Isaac gave his blessing at the same time he was sinning in trying to bless Esau and not Jacob like God had said. Paul describes this in Romans 7, “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand…I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members…Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” This is the daily battle between our flesh and our saved souls. The soul longs and delights in doing what God has said but our flesh still desires sin. When we are confronted with sin we respond as Isaac did and tremble at our sin and foolishness. We repent and place ourselves back into obedience to the sovereign Lord. We may have to pay the consequence here, but in the end, our guilt and shame and eternal consequence of our sins are removed from us. Let’s consider Jacob before we conclude. The buying of the birthright and the stealing of the blessing will set the trajectory of Jacob’s life. God has a lot of work to do in Jacob before he calls him home. We will many times, and rightly so, wonder why is Jacob the recipient of God’s favor? Why is he allowed to be the God-wrestler? Listen to what AW Pink says about Jacob. “God took Jacob as the one through whom he could best show forth His grace and power. What more suited for the display of His grace than the chief of sinners! Whom shall He take up to exhibit His power but the one who by nature was the most intractable! And the God of Jacob is our refuge. He is the God of Sovereign election, the God of matchless grace, the God of infinite patience, the God of transforming power! This is the One “with whom we have to do.” Those of us who have already “passed from death unto life” already know something of His wondrous grace and marvelous forbearance. May we experience more and more of His might transforming power!” We sing the song And Can It Be by Charles Wesley but when was the last time that you stopped and thought about the words. He opens with a set of questions. Can I gain an interest in the Savior’s blood? Can I receive a share of what Jesus did on the cross? Would he die for me the one that caused his pain and death? My sin drove him to the cross and he would die for me? Since I’m the cause of his death why would he die for me? Amazing love! Then Wesley explains the gospel. All that Jesus did was to show the depth of God’s love. Jesus left the throne above and emptied himself and took on a human body. He died for Adam’s helpless race. It as all about his immense and free mercy. And that mercy came to me because I was in the prison of my sin. But then the light of the gospel shown in that dungeon and the chains of sin fell off, and my heart was set free. Then I got up and followed Jesus. Now that I am saved, I don’t fear God’s condemnation. Jesus is mine and everything is in him. I’m alive in Jesus who is the Head of all things and the church and me. I am clothed in the righteousness of Jesus and so I can boldly approach the throne of grace. I claim the crown of life, through Christ who is my own.
a. There is Always a Price. We need to remember that there are always consequences for sin. For the Christian who sins, the greatest consequence is that Jesus died for those sins. Christ died for Isaac’s defiance, for Rebekah’s deception and dishonoring of her husband, and for all of Jacob’s lies. This is the most costly consequence. Though the eternal consequence is paid by Jesus there are also earthly consequences for God’s children. God, being the perfect loving father, does not allow his children to be consumed by their sin. And so, God disciplines his children in many different ways. For the unbeliever, sin consumes them, destroying their ability to reason and eventually leads to eternal punishment. As we come to the end of this story we should consider the many consequences that come to the family of Isaac. b. Consequences in the Family. First, is the sad story of how Isaac, the blessed of God, is treated by his family. They all think that he is dying, but of course, we know he has another 6 decades left. But they think his end is coming and so they deceive and lie and demand from a man who they think is dying. They make a fool of the one who holds the covenant promises. And Isaac, because of his sin, finds that all of his senses and reason fail. It is sad to see this happen to Abraham’s son. Second, look at the relationship between Jacob and Esau. Their sins against each other lead Esau to become murderous and Jacob to run in fear. What could have been, at least, an amicable relationship would always be one of suspicion and fighting. For the sins that Rebekah committed she will be separated from he favorite son. Sure, Jacob received the blessing and he would live but she would not have her beloved son with her. Interestingly, the death of Rebekah is not recorded in Scripture. The death of her nurse Deborah that came with her from Mesopotamia is recorded. But all we find of Rebekah’s death is found in Genesis 49 that she was buried in the family crypt at Machpelah. Finally, there are many consequences for Jacob. He must flee for his life and he lives in fear of his brother for the next twenty years. When they finally meet again the fear and tension are still there and is their relationship ends in suspicion and finally in alienation. Also, Jacob is the one who stood to inherit the family estate and the leadership of the family must leave it all behind when he runs. He ends up in Mesopotamia with nothing but what he carries with him. He has to move in with his uncle. Then there is uncle Laban. He is a consequence in and of himself. The cheat will be cheated over and over again. Jacob will always live in the shadow of his sin.
a. Esau Seeks the Blessing. If you turn over to Hebrews chapter 12, we get some insight as to what is going on here. In Hebrew 12:15 it says, “see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. Who is given as an example of this? Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. When he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected. Esau asked Isaac for the blessing and Isaac said no I gave it to someone else. Esau said bless me too. Isaac said, no, your brother took your blessing. Esau asks, “have you reserved a blessing for me?” Isaac says, “No, I put him in charge and sustained him with grain and wine. What else is there I can give you?” Esau tries again. Have you but one blessing? Bless me anyway.” And then Esau breaks down and weeps. Isaac blesses Esau but it doesn’t sound like a blessing, does it? You’ll struggle in making a living. You’ll always be fighting. You’ll serve your brother. But when you grow restless you will break his yoke from your neck. b. Esau’s Remorse In verse 41, we see the difference between Isaac and Esau. Isaac trembles in repentance at the finding out of his sin. Esau weeps in remorse. Remorse is not repentance. Go back to Hebrews 12:17. Esau, “found no chance to repent, though he sought [the blessing] with tears.” So we see the tears but we see no sign of repentance for his sin. As we see in verse 41, the bitterness turns to hatred. It says that Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing he received. Again, who demanded the blessing? Who asked over and over again? Esau hated Jacob because of his blessing. And so Esau consoles himself, not by seeking the favor of God, but by plotting the murder of his brother. He says to himself that he will wait until his father dies, then he will kill his brother. Little did Esau know that day would be long in coming.