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.'”
Often, when scripture uses a phrase like “his eyes were dim so he could not see”, it is not just a reference to physical blindness, but more a commentary on the person’s spiritual state. So the same is said of Eli in the book of Samuel:
 

“At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place.”
What we are being told is that Isaac at that time was basically spiritually blind (that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a believer – just not spiritually discerning). Everything by that time was pointing him to the fact that Jacob, not Esau, was now the one through whom the promises would come. Esau had rejected his birthright for a bowl of stew. And at the end of chapter 26, he marries a couple of Hittite women who not only made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah, but which was further evidence of his despising the covenant.
 
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.

8 thoughts on “Rebekah Brings Blind, Backslidden Isaac to Repentance

  1. One of my most prized books is a collection of hymns written by John Newton. Yesterday I happened to come across the following hymn, which is like a sermon, catechism, and Bible reading rolled into one!

    Poor Esau repented too late
    That once he his birth-right despised;
    And sold, for a morsel of meat,
    What could not too highly be prized:
    How great was his anguish when told,
    The blessing he sought to obtain,
    Was gone with the birth-right he sold,
    And none could recall it again!

    He stands as a warning to all,
    Wherever the gospel shall come;
    O Hasten and yield to the call,
    While yet for repentance there’s room!
    Your season will quickly be past,
    Then hear and obey it today;
    Lest when you seek mercy at last,
    The Saviour should frown you away.

    What is it the world can propose?
    A morsel of meat at the best!
    For this are you willing to lose
    A share in the joys of the blest?
    Its pleasures will speedily end,
    Its favour and praise are but breath;
    And what can its profits befriend
    Your soul in the moment of death?

    If Jesus for these you despise,
    And sin to the Saviour prefer;
    In vain your entreaties and cries,
    When summoned to stand at his bar:
    How will you his presence abide?
    What anguish will torture your heart?
    The saints all enthroned by his side,
    And you be compelled to depart.

    Too often, dear Saviour, have I
    Preferred some poor trifle to thee;
    How is it thou dost not deny
    The blessing and birth-right to me?
    No better than Esau I am,
    Though pardon and heav’n be mine;
    To me belongs nothing but shame,
    The praise and the glory be thine.

  2. Rob and Phil
    Thanks for the replies. I’m better now 🙂
    Rob you made the wrong comparison. First you cannot compare what Rebecca did with a lie to the Nazi’s because there’s no coercion here and by not lying to the Nazi’s you would harm your fellow man which is also a sin (there’s a conflict).
    More importantly you open the door of Pandora and to a series of neverending questions and assumptions. Does a Palestinian who lives in Gazacaust have the right to stab a Jew? Do not soften Gods rules because we’re not able to oversee all the consequences of a lie, even one that seems innocent.
    What Rebecca did was godless but that didn’t make her a witch. It shows that we all sin even with good intentions. And God understood but didn’t approve. She was punished harshly as she lost contact with her dear son (for a mother this must be the worst that could happen)… do notice here that God didn’t really punish her but that she bore the consequences of her mistakes. But God forgave her and blessed her because she did have faith and repented, I’m sure of that.
    This story shouldn’t really be in the Bible because it doesn’t seem to have any real added value in relation to Gods promise. Nevertheless it is very remarkable it is in the Bible.

    1. Good to heard that GV.

      If it’s any consolation, being converted from atheism, it took me a long, long while to be reconciled to the Bible and much of what it says. Long after I became a Christian, I would have terrible days when I came across a verse or a passage that I couldn’t understand, or couldn’t cope with, or just couldn’t accept. It would put me in a stinking mood sometimes for a few days, and my thoughts were along the lines of “I can’t accept this, and I don’t want to be a Christian. I want out.” And then in his grace, God would calm me down, often leading me to find the answers to the questions I had in a book or from a friend, but more often than not just making what seemed like mountainous problems and insurmountable errors/contradictions in the Bible melt away.

      15 years or so on, I don’t get days like that any more. Not that I don’t come across difficult and challenging passages, but I’m more calm about coping with them now (I think).

      So my advice is: stick with it, my friend. Keep asking God to show how his grace works through, even in those difficult passages, keep seeking answers to your questions, and keep knocking on his door to find the peace of God that passes all understanding. And I am confident that he will lead you there.

      Blessings,

      Rob

  3. Okay problem solved. I got some help.
    Isaac’s family made a complete mess of it. They should have been patient and rely on God to solve the issue that not Esau but Jabob was the one God had chosen to continue his promise.

    1. Yep, you could read it like that, i.e. not only that Isaac messed up by trying to give the blessing to the wrong son, but also Rebekah messed up by trying to force the issue and using deception to do so. That is probably the view I would have taken a while back. It’s a far better reading of the passage than the “Isaac was a victim of Rebekah the wicked witch” idea that many seem to have.

      However, the more I have read the passage and thought it through, the more I am inclined to take the view that Rebekah acted correctly and that God blessed her for it.

      Together with your earlier comment, the question is this: is deception ever the right thing to do? The answer is surely yes. Imagine, for example, you had been hiding a Jew or Jews from the Nazis. The Nazis come knocking on your door. They begin to ask questions. What do you say? Some Christians say that you should always tell the absolute truth and leave the consequences up to God. I don’t think that’s at all the right or the biblical answer. The real answer is that you tell the best lie you can think of to send them packing. In other words, at that point, the preservation of life way outweighs any duty you have to tell the truth to Nazis. Remember, the command states not that “Thou shall always tell the absolute truth”, but “Thou shall not bear false witness against your *neighbour*”. In other words, bearing false witness against your enemy is sometimes necessary and the correct thing to do.

      And so back to Rebekah. Isaac is deliberately defying God and his plan of redemption for the whole world for the sake of his erring and wayward son whom he preferred because he made him nice food. Isaac is, at that time, playing the part of the serpent. And so what Rebekah does, is takes it upon herself to defy the serpent’s plan, thus giving him eye for eye, defiance for defiance. And she is willing to do it even if it costs her life:

      “His mother said to him, ‘Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me.'”

      So I see her as playing the role of a saviour, over and against the plans of her husband to defy God, and as I mentioned in the actual post, I think this view is borne out by her husband’s absolute acceptance in chapter 28, which leads me to believe that her actions have brought her to repentance.

      But of course I understand if you don’t see it that way.

      Best,

      Rob

  4. Rob, thanks for elaborating on this issue and I’ve the impression you’re right.
    Though I must admit it has a serious adverse effect on me. Some months ago when I started reading the Bible I needed to set aside some issues that prevented me to do so, in the hope that I would receive an answer later. Instead of reducing the issues, they increase. Now I notice that God has no problem with deceit and lies either, at least as long as it serves His purpose and as long as the liar helps Him to fulfill his promesse (does He really needs that help?).
    My brain is not wired like that and that’s not the God I want to worship. I’ve the impression that by the time I really understand the Bible God will have tresspassed every rule of His Ten Commandments.

    1. Hello gv,

      Just a few of my thoughts in case they help.

      Studying the Bible is often a baffling experience, and perhaps that is to be expected. See this article: https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/how-does-the-spirit-help-us-think-critically-about-the-bible/
      If you read the Bible to resolve the issues you are wrestling over but then find those issues increasing, maybe God is stretching your faith in Him. It needs to be stretched/tested/exercised in order to grow. Can you still love, trust, and obey Him even though many things about Him puzzle you? Has He plainly shown you enough of His character in those things you can understand to convince you He is trustworthy in all the other things that you don’t yet understand? It feels disconcerting to continue to believe in Him when human logic is screaming at you that you are in error, but that’s how faith gets stretched and thus strengthened. (I’m not saying it is irrational or illogical to believe in God — I think there are very solid objective reasons for believing Christianity is true — but faith in God is more than being convinced logically.)

      You say you started reading the Bible some months ago. In God’s scheme of things, a few months is not a long time. Joseph spent 2 years in prison in Egypt, Moses reached the age of 80 before God used him to rescue the Israelites from Egypt, and Paul spent many years locked up in Roman prisons, unable to continue his missionary expeditions. Joseph, Moses, and Paul were probably tempted to feel frustrated, impatient, abandoned, and desperate, but they persevered and behold how things turned out!

      Regarding God deceiving people, I think God treats people according to their own attitude. Psalm 18:25,26 says:
      With the loyal you show yourself loyal;
      with the blameless you show yourself blameless;
      with the pure you show yourself pure;
      and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
      If anyone is sincere and earnest in searching for truth and righteousness, I believe God will lead that person on a straight path. But if someone is devious and deliberately shuts his eyes to the light he has in order to pursue his sinful desires, then God may lead that person astray. The punishment fits the crime, so to speak. And because God knows our hearts He can distinguish accurately between those who are genuine and those who are hypocritical. But we human beings cannot see inside one another’s hearts and therefore cannot act like God in judging.

      As Rob pointed out, some people in the Bible were commended for their deceit, but in those cases the context seemed to unambiguously warrant it.

      Does God need the help of liars to achieve His purposes? I don’t think so. Strictly speaking I don’t think He needs man at all but it seems that most of the time He chooses to use man rather than bypass him. For example, He did not give us the Bible as a finished product, fresh off heaven’s printing press and parachuted down to earth. Instead He inspired human authors to pen His words and then He worked providentially through the early Church to assemble the inspired books in to a single volume. The formation of the Bible canon was a very messy, ragged phenomenon. It appears quite arbitrary and subjective at a human level. Another example is summed up in the words of Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world… Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

    2. gv commented: “Now I notice that God has no problem with deceit and lies either, at least as long as it serves His purpose and as long as the liar helps Him to fulfil his promises (does He really needs that help?)”

      Hello gv,
      You probably won’t notice this comment due to it being attached to an old post. But just in case you happen to look back, I wanted to add something more about the point you raised regarding God using liars to achieve his purposes.

      I was thinking of the example described in the book of Job. They are three actors: God, Satan, and certain human beings (hordes of Sabean and Chaldean pillagers). All three of them act according to their own unilateral designs without being manipulated like puppets, and yet somehow everything turned out according to God’s purpose. It was not a case of God merely watching from the sidelines while the Sabeans and Chaldeans despoiled Job’s property and then God got involved afterwards to clear up the mess and make the best of a bad job. Rather the Sabeans and Chaldeans acted sinfully by stealing from Job without any awareness of God’s plans, while simultaneously God says in chapter 2 that he himself inflicted Job by devastating his property. We can’t grasp the mechanics of how this works but the Bible abounds in similar examples, in all of which sinful men have no excuse for their sin and the holy God is not contaminated by the sin of the sinful men through whom his will is effected. It leaves me amazed at the power and glory of God that he is able to accomplish this – he is not merely like a man albeit much stronger but he is in a different dimension and whose powers exceed anything we humans can imagine. It inclines me not to treat him complacently or presumptuously.

      The supreme example in the Bible of the convergence of God using sinners to achieve his goals is the death of Jesus. It was God’s purpose that his Son should die on a cross for the forgiveness of the world. The Bible says that God bruised his Son, that God struck the Shepherd, and that even the trivial details of Jesus’ death (e.g. the dividing up of his garments) was a fulfilment of the Old Testament scriptures. But at the same time Jesus’ crucifixion was put into effect by evil men who hated Jesus and maliciously contrived his execution for their own grubby purposes.

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