Genesis 24–27: With this section we read about the promise to Abraham passing to Isaac. Of the three patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), the least is written about Isaac. What looks to be a promising start, however, for him takes a downward turn regarding his sons, Jacob and Esau.
The fascinating story of the Abraham sending his servant to find a wife for Isaac reaches its climax when Rebekah leaves her family to be with Isaac. While it was (and is) common in the Middle East, in our western culture, to be married to someone, sight unseen, never having phoned, texted, skyped—unthinkable. Yet they are matched for God’s work of salvation.
One interesting note is that it almost seems that Rebekah is a replacement for Sarah in Isaac’s life. That seems a little odd. It makes sense for someone to be a replacement of Sarah for Abraham, but not Isaac. Note this:
And Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah and took Rebekah to be his wife. Isaac loved her, and he was comforted after his mother’s death. (24:67)
Genesis 25 is a transition chapter wrapping up the previous generation and the shift from Abraham to Isaac is complete. Abraham has another wife and sons, who receive gifts from Abraham, but not in the sense of his heritage and all that it entails that he gives to Isaac. Abraham then is buried where Sarah had been buried. Ishmael, Hagar’s son and family is dispensed in a short family history (25:12-18), and the closing words on his life are sad: “He lived in opposition to all his brothers” (25:18, see 16:12).
Rebekah was like Sarah in another way: childless (Isaac was 40 when they married and 60 when she gave birth, 25:20, 26). So Isaac prays for her, and Isaac and Rebekah are blessed with twins sons, Esau and Jacob. But the blessing is a mixed blessing. Even in the womb they struggle with each other. The prophecy of the LORD to Rebekah points ahead to God’s pattern of choosing the unlikely one for his saving purposes.
Two nations are in your womb; two people will come from you and be separated. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger. (25:23)
See how this works throughout Biblical history: Genesis 27:29; Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:12.
The contention between the brothers deteriorates after Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for some stew. This means that Esau forfeits his rights to the greatest share of Isaac’s possessions. In Genesis 27, through the help of Rebekah, Jacob steals the blessing from Isaac as well.
Between these two forfeitures by Esau we see Isaac following in the same path as his father. Isaac receives the promise once again of the blessing (26:1–6). Isaac lies about his relationship with Sarah to protect himself, even as his father Abraham had done. Water rights in terms of wells that had been dug cause conflict with Abimelech and the Philistines. And so Isaac must move on. Even so, God reassures him of the promise:
and the LORD appeared to him that night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your offspring because of My servant Abraham.”
So he built an altar there, called on the name of Yahweh, and pitched his tent there. Isaac’s slaves also dug a well there. (26:24-25)
And the response of Isaac is one of faith, like Abraham: he built an altar (see 12:7 and 13:8).
Jacob means “he who grasps the heel” (25:26) or “deceiver.” In chapter 27, we see that attribute come to forefront in taking the blessing from his father. However, we need to remember that Rebekah also was behind this. Note carefully this passage after the birth of Esau and Jacob:
Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for wild game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. (25:28)
How often will we see the repercussions of such favoritism by parents? In fact, notice how the love for one results in hate by the other:
Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. And Esau determined in his heart: “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” (27:41)
The story of Cain and Abel comes around again (4:1-8). This hatred will affect their relationship for decades to come. Rebekah’s short-sighted “solution” of the circumstance, that is, to protect Jacob, will not be a quick fix to the problem of Esau’s anger.
Flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, and stay with him for a few days until your brother’s anger subsides— until your brother’s rage turns away from you and he forgets what you have done to him. (27:43–45)
It will be more than 20 years before Jacob returns. While Rebekah managed to arrange the circumstances for Jacob to receive the blessing, she could not fix the anger and hatred of Esau. Only God will be able to do that.
How often do we try to manage circumstances and fix people? More often than we want to admit. God does much better at both: He manages circumstances to match his perfect will, and only he can fix people by changing their hearts.