A major theme in Genesis is God’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 12; 15; 17; 22). The promise was fourfold:
I will make you a great nation,
I will bless you to be a blessing
I will make your name great;
I will give (your descendants) this land. (Gen 12:2-3, 7)
The rest of the Old Testament follows that promise as it is partially fulfilled by people in the Old Testament (Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David). Ultimately the promises all find their fulfillment and completion in Jesus Christ (2 Cor.1:20; Matt. 5:17; Heb. 4:7-8; etc.)
In Genesis 25-28, we see the fracture of relationships affecting those receiving the promise: Isaac vs. Rebekah, Isaac and Esau, Rebekah and Jacob, and Esau vs. Jacob. Sadly those kinds of fractures occur throughout the Old Testament, the New Testament, and even today. It might be tempting for us to think we can avoid that pitfall in relationships. But if we are honest, we fail just as much as Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau. In reality, the promises are not dependent on the faithfulness of any of them. Rather, it is God who was, who is, and who will be faithful. The people in the Biblical narrative receive the benefits of God’s faithfulness.
The conflict between Esau and Jacob begins in the womb (Gen. 25:22-3). The animosity increases over the years. Sadly Esau despised his birthright and traded it for lentil stew and bread (Gen. 25:34). Not to be outdone in sin, Jacob connived with his mother, Rebekah, and by deceit stole the blessing that was rightfully Esau’s (Gen. 27:30-40).
Even in the choice of wives, the brothers were at odds. Esau married to grieve his parents (Gen. 26:34-5; 28:6-9) Isaac, through Rebekah’s suggestion, sent Jacob away. Rebekah’s purpose was to protect Jacob from Esau’s intent to kill Jacob (Gen. 27:41).
Climbing Jacob’s Ladder?
When Jacob leaves he has a dream. God once again reiterates the promise to Jacob that was given by Isaac to Jacob. He sets up a pillar as a memorial to God’s appearance to him,. Interestingly Jacob never climbs the ladder in the dream.
He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. (Gen. 28:12).
If anyone were to descend and climb that ladder of perfection, it would be Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:15). Or as Paul put it:
But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:6–10)
From a human perspective, these four chapters are discouraging. Conflict, deceit, manipulation, marriages full of distrust, marriages because of anger and resentment, not as God intended.
From a divine perspective, nothing is outside of God’s fulfilling His own promises. No lies are too big for God to work around. No antagonism between brothers can frustrate God’s plan for perfect harmony and peace.
Thus, these chapters reflect the effects of sin, and more God’s triumph over sin, even death, and lurking behind all, the schemes of Satan. So Paul wrote:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-9)