Let us look at the two sons who were to receive the blessing. They are first brought before us in Genesis 25:20-26 - "And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan-Aran, the sister to Laban the Syrian. And Isaac entreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren and the Lord was entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they called his name Esau. And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was three-score years old when she bare them." We reserve our comments on this passage until our next article on Jacob, and pass on now to the well-known incident of Esau selling his birthright.
"And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob. And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright." (Gen. 25:27-34). There is far more beneath the surface here (as in all Scripture) than meets the eye at first glance. Esau and Jacob are to be considered as representative characters. Esau typifies the unbeliever, Jacob the man of faith. Every line in the brief sketch that is here given of their characters is profoundly significant.
Esau was "a cunning hunter" (v. 27). The "hunter" tells of the roving, daring, restless nature that is a stranger to peace. A glance at the concordance will show that the word "hunter" is invariably found in an evil connection (cf. 1 Samuel 24:11; Job 10:16; Psalm 140:11; Proverbs 6:26; Micah 7:2; Ezekiel 13:18). "Search" is the antithesis, the good word, the term used when God is seeking His own. Only two men in Scripture are specifically termed "hunters,'' namely, Nimrod and Esau, and they have much in common. The fact that Esau is thus linked together with Nimrod, the rebel, reveals his true character.
Next we are told that Esau was "a man of the field" (v. 27). In the light of Matthew 13:38- "The field is the world"- it is not difficult to discern the spiritual truth illustrated in the person of Esau. He was, typically, a man of the world. In sharp contrast from what we are told of Esau two things are said of Jacob:- he was "a plain man; dwelling in tents" (v. 27). The Hebrew for "plain" is "tam," which is translated in other passages "perfect," "upright," "undefiled." The reference is to his character. The "dwelling in tents" denotes that he was a stranger and pilgrim in this scene; having here no abiding city, but seeking one to come.
"And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field and he was faint." Here again the contrast between the two sons of Isaac is sharp and instructive. Jacob was occupied with the affairs of the house, cooking a meal, and enjoying his portion, whereas Esau was again connected with the "field" and is "faint." Remembering what we have seen above, namely, that Esau is to be viewed as a representative character, a man of the world, this next line in the picture is highly suggestive. Esau returns from the field without his venison, hungry and faint. Such is ever the case with the worldling. There is nothing to be found in the "field" which can satisfy, or, to drop the figure, the world affords nothing that is able to meet man's spiritual needs, for be it noted, that man in contrast from the beasts, is essentially a spiritual being. No; over all the systems of this poor world it is written "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again." It cannot be otherwise. How can a world into which sin has entered, which is away from God, and which "lieth in the Wicked One" furnish anything which can truly meet the need of the heart that, consciously or unconsciously, ever panteth after God! Esau's experience was but that of Solomon at a later date, and of many another since- vanity and vexation of spirit is the only portion for those who seek contentment "under the sun." So it is now. Only the Jacobs- the objects of God's grace- possess that which appeases the hunger of the inner man.
"And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage for I am faint." It is a pity that the translators of our noble King James Version should have obscured the meaning here by inserting in italics the word "pottage." As it so frequently the ease the words in italics, put in to convey a better sense, only hide the real sense. So it is here. In Genesis 5:29 the word "pottage" is employed by the Holy Spirit to denote the portion which Jacob enjoyed. But here in Genesis 5:30 what Esau really says is "Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red," and this was all he said. He was ignorant of even the name of that which was Jacob's. No doubt he was thoroughly versed in the terms of the chase, but of the things of the house, of the portion of God's chosen, he knew not - "Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not" (1 John 3:1).
"And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright," etc. (v. 31). Here Jacob offers to buy from Esau what was his by the free bounty of God. A word now concerning this "birthright." The birthright was a most cherished possession in those days. It consisted of the excellency of dignity and power, usually a double portion (see Genesis 49:3 and Deuteronomy 21:17). In connection with the family of Abraham there was a peculiar blessing attached to the birthright: it was spiritual as well as temporal in its nature. "The birthright was a spiritual heritage. It gave the right of being the priest of the family or clan. It carried with it the privilege of being the depository and communicator of the Divine secrets. It constituted a link in the line of descent by which the Messiah was to be born into the world." (F. B. M.)
Esau reveals his true character by saying "Behold, I am going to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?" These words show what a low estimate he placed upon "the blessing of Abraham." This birthright he contemptuously termed it. We think, too, that in the light of the surrounding circumstances Esau's utterance here explains the word of the Holy Spirit in Hebrews 12:16- "Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright." Surely Esau did not mean he would die of hunger unless he ate immediately of the pottage, for that is scarcely conceivable when he had access to all the provisions in Isaac's house. Rather does it seem to us that what he intended was, that in a little time at most, he would be dead, and then of what account would the promises of God to Abraham and his seed be to him- I cannot live on promises, give me something to eat and drink, for to-morrow I die, seems to be the force of his words.
The next time Esau is mentioned is at the close of Genesis 26: there we read "And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite: which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah." We cannot do better than quote from Mr. Grant:- "This is the natural sequel of a profanity which could esteem the birthright at the value of a mess of pottage. These forty years are a significant hint to us of a completed probation, In his two wives, married at once, he refuses at once the example and counsel of his father, and by his union with Canaanitish women disregarded the Divine sentence, and shows unmistakably the innermost recesses of the heart."
We are now ready to look at the sad scene which Genesis 27 presents to us. "And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his eldest son, and said unto him, My son: and he said unto him, Behold, here am I. And he said, Behold now, I am old,! know not the day of my death: Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me some venison; And make me savory meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die" (Gen. 27:1-4). Why was it that Isaac desired to partake of venison from Esau before blessing him? Does not Genesis 25:28 answer the question- "And Isaac loved Esau because he did eat of his venison." In view of this statement it would seem, then, that Isaac desired to enkindle or intensify his affections for Esau, so that he might bless him with all his heart. But surely Isaac's eyes were "dim" spiritually as well as physically. Let us not forget that what we read here at the beginning of Genesis 27 follows immediately after the record of Esau marrying the two heathen wives. Thus it will be seen that Isaac's wrong in being partial to Esau was greatly aggravated by treating so lightly his son's affront to the glory of Jehovah- and all for a meal of venison! Alas, what a terrible thing is the flesh with its "affections and lusts" even in a believer, yea, more terrible than in an unbeliever. But worst of all, Isaac's partiality toward Esau was a plain disregard of God's word to Rebekah that Esau should "serve" Jacob (Gen. 25:23). By comparing Hebrews 11:20 with Romans 10:7 it is certain that Isaac had himself" heard" this.
"And Rebekah heard when Isaac spake to Esau his son . . . and Rebekah spake unto Jacob her son . . . Now therefore, my son, obey my voice according to that which I command thee. Go now to the flock, and fetch me from thence two good kids of the goats; and I will make them savory meat for thy father, such as he loveth: And thou shalt bring it to thy father, that he may eat, and that he may bless thee before his death" (vv. 6-10). How like Sarah before her, who, in a similar "evil hour" imagined that she could give effect to the Divine promise by fleshly expediencies (Gen. 16:2). As another has suggested "they both acted on that God dishonoring proverb that ‘The Lord helps those who help themselves,'" whereas the truth is, the Lord helps those who have come to the end of themselves. If Rebekah really had confidence in the Divine promise she might well have followed tranquilly the path of duty, assured that in due time God would Himself bring His word to pass.
"And Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man: My father peradventure will feel me, and I shall seem to him as a deceiver; and I shall bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing" (vv. 11, 12). How the character of Jacob comes out here! He reveals his native shrewdness and foresight, but instead of shrinking back in horror from the sin, he appears to have been occupied only with what might prove its unpleasant consequences. "And his mother said unto him, Upon me be thy curse, my son: only obey my voice, and go fetch me them. And he went and fetched, and brought them to his mother: and his mother made savory meat, such as his father loved. And Rebekah took goodly raiment of her eldest son, Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son: And she put the skins of the kids of the goats upon his hands, and upon the smooth of his neck: And she gave the savory meat and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob" (vv. 13-17). It is difficult to say who was most to blame, Jacob or his mother. Rebekah was the one to whom God had directly made known His purpose respecting her two sons, and, be it noted, the wife of Isaac was no heathen but, instead, one who knew the Lord- cf. "She went to inquire of the Lord" (Gen. 25:22). Her course was plain: she should have trusted the Lord to bring to nought the carnal design of Isaac, but she took the way of the flesh, plotted against her husband, and taught her son to deceive his father. Yet in condemning Rebekah we are reminded of Romans 2:1, "Therefore thou are inexcusable O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things."
We refrain from quoting at length the verses that follow. Jacob complies with his mother's suggestion, and adds sin to sin. First he impersonates his brother, tells lies to his father, and ends by going the awful length of bringing in the name of the Lord God (v. 20). To what fearful lengths will sin quickly lead us once we take the first wrong step! A similar progression in evil is seen (by way of implication) in Psalm 1:1: the one who "walks" in the consul of the ungodly will soon be found "standing" in the way of sinners, and then it will not be long ere he is discovered "sitting" in the seat of the scornful.
At first suspicious, Isaac's fears were allayed by his son's duplicity, and the blessing was given, "and he came near and kissed him: and he smelled the smell of his raiment, and blessed him, and said, See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed: Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine: Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee" (vv. 27-29). It is to be noted that the "blessing" which Jacob here receives from the lips of his father was far below the blessed string of promises which he received directly from God when wholly cast upon His grace (see Genesis 28:13-15).
We need not tarry long on the pathetic sequel. No sooner had Jacob left his father's presence than Esau comes in with his venison and says, "let my father arise and eat of his son's venison, that thy soul may bless me." Then it is that Isaac discovers the deception that has been practiced upon him, and he "trembled very exceedingly." Esau learns of his brother's duplicity, and with a great and exceeding bitter cry says, "Bless me, even me also, O my father," only to hear Isaac say, "Thy brother came with subtlety, and hath taken away thy blessing behold I have made him thy lord." Esau renews his request saying, "Hast thou but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me, also." Then it was that Isaac uttered that prophecy that received such a striking fulfillment in the centuries that followed- "Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above; And by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother: and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck" (vv. 39, 40). For Esau "serving his brother" see 2 Samuel 8:14 (David was a descendant of Jacob); and for "thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck" see 2 Chronicles 21:8.
Above we have noticed that when Isaac discovered that he had blessed Jacob instead of Esau he "trembled very exceedingly." This was the turning point in the incident, the point where, for the first time, light breaks in on this dark scene. It was horror which was awakened in his soul as he now fully realized that he had been pitting himself against the expressed mind of Jehovah. It is beautiful to notice that instead of "cursing" Jacob (as his son had feared, see Genesis 5:12) now that Isaac discovers how God had graciously overruled his wrong doing, he bowed in self-judgment, and "trembled with a great trembling greatly" (margin). Then it was that faith found expression in the words "And he shall be blest" (v. 33). He knew now that God had been securing what He had declared before the sons were born. It is this which the Spirit seizes on in Hebrews 11:20, "By faith Isaac blest Jacob and Esau concerning things to come."
Many are the lessons illustrated and exemplified in the above incident. We can do little more than name a few of the most important. 1. How many to-day are, like Esau, bartering Divine privileges for carnal gratification. 2. Beware of doing evil that good may come. What shame and sorrow they do make for themselves who in their zeal for good do not scruple to use wrong means. Thus it was with Rebekah and Jacob. 3. Let us seek grace to prevent natural affections overriding love for God and His revealed will. 4. Remember the unchanging law of Sowing and Reaping. How striking to observe that it was Rebekah, not Isaac, who sent her beloved child away! She it was who led him into grievous sin, and she it was whom God caused to be the instrument of his exile. She, poor thing, suggested that he find refuge in the home of Laban her brother for "some days." Little did she imagine that her favorite child would have to remain there for twenty years, and that never again should she behold him in the flesh. Ah! the mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small, and we might add "surely." And during those long years Jacob was to be cheated by Laban as he had cheated Isaac. 5. Learn the utter futility of seeking to foil God: "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy" (Rom. 9:16); either Isaac's "willing" nor Esau's "running" could defeat the purpose of Jehovah. "There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord that shall stand" (Prov. 19:21). Man proposes but God disposes.
Finally, have we not here, deeply hidden, a beautiful picture of the Gospel. Jacob found acceptance with his father and received his blessing because he sheltered behind the name of the father's firstborn, beloved son, and was clothed with his garments which diffused to Isaac an excellent odor. In like manner, we as sinners, find acceptance before God and receive His blessing as we shelter behind the name of His beloved Firstborn, and as we are clothed with the robe of righteousness which we receive from Him thus coming before the Father in the merits of His Son who "hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savor" (Eph. 5:2).
 Note in 2 Kings 4:38-40 “pottage” was the food of God's prophets.
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