I had some good comments on my piece about Esau the other day, and once again I thought it would be helpful to post one of my responses which was fairly lengthy, but which is worth an airing here as it will probably prove to be quite surprising, and more than a little thought-provoking to anyone interested in such things.
So here’s a summary of the questions, which were once again posted by Phil:
When Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew, did he think he was only discarding the covenantal promise of begetting a messiah but still expected to retain the temporal blessings of being the firstborn? Otherwise, why was it subsequently necessary for Jacob to disguise himself as Esau and trick Isaac into pronouncing a (temporal) blessing over Jacob instead of Esau? … Presumably Isaac knew that Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob but Isaac still intended to pronounce abundant temporal blessings on Esau as though he were still his firstborn son… And on another point, when Isaac realised he had unwittingly blessed Jacob instead of Esau, why was his blessing of Jacob irrevocable? In his spirit he had intended to bless Esau. Why did his literal words override his heart’s intentions?
The key here is the first verse of Chapter 27 of Genesis:
“When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, ‘My son’; and he answered, ‘Here I am.'”
“At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place.”
But despite all this, when we come to chapter 27 Isaac still favours Esau. Even though Esau has forfeited the blessing, Isaac doesn’t see this, or rather won’t see it because Esau is his favourite, and so he intends to give it to him anyway.
So the two villains of the piece are, at that time, Isaac and Esau. Esau for despising his birthright, but also Isaac for insisting on giving him the blessing. The hero of the piece — or rather the heroine — is Rebekah. She is the one who truly believes God and his covenant promises, and she knows that they are to come through the one who has the birthright — not the one who rejected it.
So when she hears her husband concocting his plan to bless Esau, what does she do? She concocts her own scheme to make sure that the right son gets the blessing. And she does so because she, unlike her husband, is walking in faith.
This will be shocking to many, if not most, Christians who have Rebekah down as the villain of the piece. She deceived her husband didn’t she? Yes she did, but she did so because her husband was being utterly foolish and disobedient to God’s covenant. He was about to put his favourite son ahead of the one whom God had chosen, and he ignored the truth which should have been plain to see.
And in any case, the Bible is pretty clear that deception is not always a sin. In the epistle of James, Rahab is praised for her faith and specifically for her decision to deceive the soldiers of Jericho about the Hebrew spies. The Hebrew midwives are specifically praised for their faith, even though they deliberately deceived Pharaoh. And in 1 Kings 22, God’s prophet, Micaiah, declares that God himself “has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your [Ahab’s] prophets” in order to bring about the destruction of Ahab.
And nor was Rebekah at fault because it was her husband. Abigail goes against the wishes of her husband Naboth, but she does so to stave off the bloodshed that is coming from David and his men as the result of her husband’s folly, and she is praised.
Not convinced? Rebekah’s righteousness is confirmed in the following chapter of Genesis, where we read the following:
“Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and directed him, ‘You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women. Arise, go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take as your wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!’ Thus Isaac sent Jacob away.”
You see what happened? Isaac, who in chapter 27 was so blind that he could not see who the blessing of God was to come upon, can now see clearly. Not only does he once again bless Jacob, but he instructs him to get a wife the same way that his father got him a wife, and not a Canaanite woman/women as Esau did. But more than this, he also acknowledges that the Abrahamic blessing is to come upon and through Jacob, not Esau.
In other words, though Rebekah’s actions might at first sight seem to us to be an outrageous deception upon poor Isaac and Esau, read the whole passage carefully and you will see not only that it is Isaac’s actions that are outrageous – insisting the blessing is to come upon the one that God rejected – but that through her actions, Rebekah not only ensures the blessing comes upon the right son, but she also brings Isaac to repentance so that by the time we come to chapter 28, he is restored and once again sees clearly.