This sermon is part of the sermon series "A Messy, Blessed Life". See series.
Do you live a blessed life? I did a Google search on the phrase, "I live a blessed life." I stumbled upon one guy who wrote, "I live a blessed life. The people that I keep close are worthy, spontaneity governs my path, and luck is always on my side. I have no responsibilities and I am defined by freedom. I have known great love. On a superficial level, I like who I am." That's how he would describe a blessed life. How would you describe the blessed life? And is your life blessed?
Everything in our passage revolves around "the blessing." The blessing is God's promise to bring certain benefits into the life of the holder: prosperity and peace; a permanent homeland and descendents blossoming into a great nation; the promise that throughout life those who bless him will be blessed and those who curse him will be cursed; and best of all, that the Lord will be his God. That's a blessed life, and everyone in our story wants a piece of that blessing.
What we're talking about is God's blessing to Abraham. It is the centerpiece of the Book of Genesis, and the drama in Genesis is what people do when that blessing is threatened. Our story is about what four people do for that blessing: Isaac, Rebekah, and their twin sons, Esau and Jacob. All four manhandle God's blessing, and because of that, all four are case studies we need to examine. As Christians, we also have a God-blessed life. We put our faith in Jesus. He is our friend and advocate, our Savior and Lord. The Bible says he has made us "rich in every way." We have a "peace that passes all understanding." We enjoy and convey the love of God. We have been given a purpose for life. We are part of a great holy nation of God's people. We have the hope of eternal life. But like the four people in our story, we often manhandle our God-blessed life, till all we have left is a shadow of what God wanted to give us.
You'll manhandle God's blessing on your life if you grow blind to holiness.
Let's first look at Isaac. Isaac led a blessed life—a life he inherited from his father, Abraham. God blessed Isaac with a beautiful wife—Rebekah—and twin sons—Esau and Jacob. Genesis 26:12-13 speaks of his enormous success as a farmer (even in times of famine). Genesis 26 also says the rulers that surrounded Isaac wanted to stay on his good side. They often said, "You are blessed by the Lord." And if all of this isn't enough to convince you of Isaac's blessed life, consider that the Lord himself appeared to Isaac and said, "I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham." That man had a blessed life!
But notice the strange bridge to the story before us today: Genesis 26:34-35. We have already watched Esau sell his birthright for a bowl of stew. God didn't matter to Esau. Now we see more evidence of that reality: Esau married pagan wives who shared nothing of his godly heritage. Their gods were idols. Furthermore, the text tells us that Esau and his wives "were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah." With all of this in mind, what would you expect to read next? I don't think you would expect what actually happens! Genesis 27:1-4 tells us that Isaac decides to give his blessing to Esau—and all for a little food! Isaac is the first person in this story to sabotage God's blessing.
God's blessings come in all forms: good crops, new babies, good health, etc. But his better blessings are peace, joy, a clean conscience, a mind shaped with noble thoughts, a rock-solid hope for the future you cannot see. But only a holy heart can receive these better blessings, and Isaac's heart was as blind as his eyes. For one thing, his stomach ruled his dark world. Over and over we come to this phrase: "tasty food." Isaac loved Esau because he loved the wild game Esau brought him to eat. There were multiple reasons why Isaac knew Esau should not receive God's blessing—even if Esau brought home "tasty food." Yet none of that mattered to Isaac. He had grown blind to holiness. When you prioritize life by your senses—when God's Word is no longer your final word—you are no longer fit to receive, nor give, the blessings of God's holiness.
Isaac had lost sight of holiness, and what you cannot see, you cannot enjoy. In Psalm 29:2, the psalmist says, "Worship the Lord in the beauty of his holiness." That is the greatest blessing of the God-blessed life. It's not the crops or the health or kids. Seeing God's holiness—seeing how beautiful God is, something displayed for us in Jesus Christ—is life's best blessing. But when you can no longer see what is holy, you can no longer see God. That is the blessing Isaac lost. Be careful what you choose to overlook in your life, lest you go blind to God.
You'll manhandle God's blessing on your life if you have more faith in yourself than you have in God.
The next scene in the story focuses on Rebekah. We find her persuading Jacob to carry out a scheme that will allow him to gain Isaac's blessing through trickery.
When we first met Rebekah in Genesis 24, she was a beautiful young maiden who lived in the home of her oil-slick brother, Laban. She was energetic and enterprising—a real take-charge kind of person. Here those qualities are alive and well. But whereas the first time she used them to gain a husband, this time those same qualities poison her two sons.
Do you see how strong Rebekah is in this story? She forms an audacious plan and then commands her grown son to do what she says. Never mind that it is the death knell for her marriage! Never mind that she cares nothing for Esau's welfare! Never mind that she is willing to guide her favorite son, Jacob, into deception! She has lost her grip on respect, on honesty, on love. She surrenders all the things God values in a person to get God's blessing!
In verses 11-13, we learn that Rebekah's behavior makes Jacob nervous. He says, "I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing." Jacob is imagining Isaac's reaction if this cockamamie plan goes south. Isaac's curse is as potent as his blessing. In verse 13, though, Rebekah is willing to let the curse slide off of Jacob and onto her. You can see how much this means to Rebekah. She is willing to pay any price. So, she does everything that needs to be done to carry out her plan. She dresses her grown son in her other son's best hunting clothes. She puts goat hair on his exposed skin to mimic Esau's hairy body. She puts food and bread into Jacob's hands and sends him on his way.
Remember that Rebekah had been told by God that "the older will serve the younger." But as time went on, Rebekah doubted the certainty of that promise, thinking, Yes, but my old fool of a husband is about to ruin all of that! But can someone ruin what God has promised? Does she actually think Isaac is going to outwit God? It seems she does!
Rebekah had one thing right: something had to be done. What Isaac was going to do was going to be disastrous—especially for Jacob. But could she have done something else? Some might think she did the right thing, because they can't think of any other options. Some will reply, "She could have prayed." But for take-charge people, when push comes to shove, they have more faith in themselves than they do in God. If they can't see any other way to solve a problem, they assume God can't either.
It isn't wrong to take action when good things are threatened. It was the kind of action Rebekah took that was wrong. Everything she did was toxic with deceit, manipulation, and disrespect. When she had suffered through a painful pregnancy, Genesis 25:22 says Rebekah inquired of the Lord. But not this time! Because she had a plan. She was fighting for God's blessing while caring nothing for God's honor.
As you make your way through the rest of the story, Isaac is eventually tricked. Still, he never calls down a curse on anyone. But make no mistake: Rebekah's life was cursed ever after. Two parts of our story prove this to be true. First of all, after this incident Rebekah has to tell her beloved Jacob to flee because Esau wants to kill him. She never saw her son again. By the time he comes home many years later, she is dead and gone. Imagine the life she lived, left home alone with only Isaac and Esau. Another reason we know Rebekah was cursed is that when she dies, the Bible doesn't set aside any space for this great matriarch's obituary. Her death is never mentioned, which is a clear sign of dishonor.
What should Rebekah have done in this desperate situation? Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." We'll never know how God would have solved this problem, but it would have been a far sweeter story than the one we have. If God had been allowed to make this way straight, neither Rebekah nor Jacob would have walked the twisted paths they walked. Had God done things his way, it is much more likely that Isaac and Esau would have dealt with their sin. In the end these two scoundrels felt they were the victims.
When you find yourself in a desperately difficult situation, beware of trusting your own instincts more than God. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." He may have you act, or he may have you wait. But God's way is the only way.
You'll manhandle God's blessing on your life if you sacrifice your integrity, which costs you your identity.
The focus of the next scene is Jacob, the con artist. Six times in verses 18-27, Isaac expresses suspicion, and each time he draws Jacob deeper into a lie. In verse 18, Isaac asks, "Who are you, my son?" That's a pregnant question for a son who has taken on the identity and the sin of the son who once "despised his birthright." Who are you, indeed, Jacob? Deceit always makes you someone else, someone false. It was true that Esau despised his birthright, but Jacob despised his integrity.
The thing that confounds us, of course, is that in spite of all of this, Jacob still managed to get Isaac's blessing—and what a blessing it was! Later in the story we will see God himself come to Jacob on more than one occasion, drawing him into a deeper faith (though those encounters are a bit painful). Jacob will get the girl of his dreams (though it will take some time). His flocks will multiply (though under the thumb of the devious Laban). He will have 12 sons (though they will deceive him, plunging his old age into sorrow). In the end Jacob—the man who surrendered his integrity and his identity to get what God would have given him for free—will describe his years as "few and difficult."
The blessings of God only bear fruit in the person who is not a hypocrite, who is not an actor. They come only to the person who lives with integrity and humility and trust. That person is blessed. First John 1:6-7 reminds us, "If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."
Of course there is one family member left—Esau. He is the one who never had God's blessing because he didn't want it. We'll look at him more closely in another sermon. I want to close with a challenge.
When it seems like the God-blessed life is slipping away from you, what will you do? It is at that very moment that we must step back, pray, and let God work in his way, no matter how hard that may seem. Check yourself for signs that you are manhandling God's blessing. Have you lost sight of what it means to be holy? Do you have more faith in yourself than you have in God? Are you sacrificing your integrity in the pursuit of what you want?
Pastor and author Gordon MacDonald tells about a time he and his wife were visiting South Africa. A Methodist bishop there told him about a pastor in his district whose home had been firebombed one night. Early in the morning, the bishop went out to the township and found the pastor and his family standing at the front of their destroyed out home. Nothing was left but the chimney. All personal belongings, furniture, books, and sermon notes were gone. Only the clothes they were wearing were left. As the bishop looked at the ruins of the home, he suddenly noticed that the pastor had done one thing that might reveal the determination of his heart. There on the chimney wall, the only part left standing, the pastor had taken a lump of charcoal and written the words that were spoken as a vow by all the Methodist pastors each year at the District Conference:
Put me to what you will
Put me to doing,
Put me to suffering,
Let me be laid aside for you,
Let me have all things,
Let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield
All things to your pleasure and disposal.
That is a God-blessed life!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.