************ Sermon on Genesis 27 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 1, 2013
"Relics of a Bygone Era"
I was sent an article with the same title as my sermon this morning: "Relics of a Bygone Era." A brother and sister were disposing of their late father's earthly debris. The final box was filled with books by Bavinck; sermon tapes on the five points of Calvinism; and men's society essays on election and reprobation, Sunday observance, worldly amusements, adultery and divorce.
During a coffee break they talked about the new normal in church life: praise teams, women clergy, seeker-friendly services, interfaith dialogue, and acceptance of divorced and gay members.
What happens to their dad's relics of the past? What happens to their dad's reflections on the means of grace, the Heidelberg Catechism, and pious living? This outdated orthodoxy will be taken out with the garbage and consigned a place among the sagging bedsprings, broken dolls, and used paperbacks of our throw-away society. After all, they are but relics of a bygone era.
Are my sons going to be the same way someday with my stuff: my sermons, my books, my articles, my paper and electronic files? Will they all be consigned to the garbage heap of dead or outdated orthodoxy?
In our Scripture reading we see all four members of the Isaac family doing the same thing with the faith of their fathers. They treated it as old, outdated, and unimportant in the face of new and pressing issues. But, their sin (and our sin), even while it may have real and lasting earthly consequences, cannot derail God's gracious plan. God's goodness and purpose endures in spite of, and even through, human sin.
Let's look at the four participants one by one.
A Our first participant is Isaac. One of my commentaries calls him an "oblivious father." In the first church I served, I remember talking with the parents of a rather wild young adult who was still living at home and, therefore, was still under parental control. They denied that he partied and drank and got drunk and was a menace on the road. I saw the young man's car keys and challenged the parents to open the trunk of his car. When we did it was filled with half empty beer cases and bottles of whiskey. You know what the dad said to me? "They must belong to friends of his." Here is a reminder that there are parents who overlook the sins of their children. Despite reasonable evidence to the contrary, some mothers and fathers cannot believe that their innocent child is capable of the misdeeds of which he or she is accused. Yet, they are the first ones to pound the table about the sins done by the kids of others. Jesus warns us about seeing the speck of sawdust in a brother's eyes but paying no attention to the plank in our own eye (Mt 7:3-5). Don't be oblivious, congregation, to the sins in your home. Don't turn a blind eye to the sins of your children or grandchildren or even your parents. And, do not condone the wrong that is done by family members.
It is surprising that Isaac is guilty of being one of these oblivious parents. His son Esau has proved himself to be anything but one of Abraham's spiritual sons. He has shown himself to be outside of the seed of the woman (cf Gen 3:15). For instance, Esau willingly surrenders his birthright and the covenant blessings that come with the birthright for the sake of some "red stew" (Gen 25:29-34). Also, he marries two Hittite women who served the pagan gods of Canaan (Gen 26:34-35). Esau lives only for the moment; he is a slave to his appetites; he gives no thought to God and His promises. But Isaac is blind to all this.
B Today's passage begins Isaac's last will and testament. Before he dies, an elderly Isaac wants to bless Esau (Gen 27:4). Meaning what? Meaning that Isaac wants to give Esau the fullness of the covenant blessing first given to Abraham.
Do you remember God's promises to Abraham? God promised Abraham that he would become a great nation, one through whom great blessing would come to all peoples (Gen 12:1-3). God promised descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky (Gen 15:5). God promised the land of Canaan as the future inheritance (Gen 17:8). Best of all, God promised to be Abraham's God and the God of his descendants after him (Gen 17:8). All these promises given to Abraham the Lord repeated to Isaac (Gen 26:24). And now Isaac wants to pass on these covenant blessings and promises to Esau. As far as Isaac is concerned, these promises are not relics of a bygone era. It appears they are as meaningful to him as they were to Abraham. Or are they?
C Note with me that the covenant promises are not Isaac's to give or pass on. They are God's promises and He is the only One Who has the right to pass them on. It is God Who first gave the promises to Abraham (cf Gen 12:3 et al). It is God Who gave the promises to Isaac (Gen 26:24). It is God Who gave the promises to Jacob (Gen 28:13-15). Yet, we see Isaac trying to give God's promises to Esau.
Furthermore, Isaac ignores the word of God at the birth of his sons, which declared that the older would serve the younger (Gen 25:23). In other words, it has always been God's intention that the blessing go to Jacob and not to Esau. Isaac was ignoring God's plan and God's will.
And, Isaac conveniently forgets that Esau despised his birthright when he was hungry – that he sold the birthright for a bowl of red stew (Gen 25:33-34). And, Isaac quickly passes over all the strife and heart-ache caused by Esau's foreign wives (Gen 26:34-35).
D Yet, Isaac wants to bless Esau. Why? Isaac is willing to forget and forgive everything if Esau will bring him one more serving of the tasty food he likes (Gen 27:1-4). You see, Isaac loves Esau because Esau is a skillful hunter and Isaac, we are told, "had a taste for wild game" (Gen 25:28). His faith in the Lord may be authentic, but it is also immature and is ruled by his taste buds. Isaac is willing to circumvent God's Word in favor of his own desires. To a certain extent, then, we see that Esau has learned from his father – living for the moment, a slave to his appetites.
As I said, Genesis 27 is the last will and testament of Isaac. Now, compare this to the last will and testament of Abraham. Abraham's focus was a godly wife for Isaac. Isaac's focus is his stomach and the wild game that he likes. Because of this focus, Isaac is willing to approve of and bless his covenant-breaking son.
Like Isaac, we do ourselves great spiritual harm if we are intent on satisfying ourselves and not our Father in heaven. Like Isaac, we do our family great harm if we are willing to overlook their sins. And, at the end of life do we want to be remembered for our appetites or the faith of our fathers?
E Doesn't the opening verses seem like something out of a spy novel or the IRS play book – something done in secret, something done in stealth? Rebekah knows nothing ahead of time of Isaac's plan to bless Esau. She eventually knows because she happens to overhear; like Sarah before her, she made a point of listening in on conversations (Gen 18:10; 27:5). What a tragic picture: a parent doing something without the other knowing about it. The transfer of the covenant blessing should have been a public affair, in front of the whole household, with appropriate prayers and offerings to almighty God. But, no, this event was happening in secret.
A The second participant is Rebekah. One of my commentaries calls her a "mama bear." Throughout the course of my ministry I have learned that it is never wise to stand between a mother and her children. In fact, sometimes it is downright scary.
When Rebekah hears Isaac's stubborn plan to bless Esau she hatches a plan to deliver the blessing to Jacob. Why? Because Rebekah knows that Jacob has been elected of God (Gen 25:23).
Rebekah's intent was noble but she goes about it the wrong way. It is a good thing to be zealous for God and His promises but even here we need to be just and moderate and holy and obedient. Did you notice how Rebekah changes the words Isaac spoke to Esau? In relaying the conversation to Jacob she omits any reference to Esau's weapons. And, she adds that the blessing is in the Lord's presence.
B Do you remember the temptation faced by Abraham again and again? Abraham kept thinking that Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth, needed his help. Rebekah – like Abraham before her – thinks God needs help to accomplish His purposes. Isaac was giving his last will and testament. The time was short and Isaac's mind was made up. Once the blessing was given, it could not be revoked. So what was a believing wife to do? Doesn't the end justify the means? Wouldn't it be better for her to break a few of God's less important laws to make sure God's purpose comes to pass?
Do you recognize this temptation? It is one of Satan's favorites. He comes to you and me and suggests that God's promises need our help. He comes to you and me with a shortcut that is not entirely holy and ethical in all the details.
Satan did this with Jesus too. Satan came to Jesus in the wilderness and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their splendor, saying, "All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me" (Mt 4:9). It was God's will that Jesus get His Kingdom by way of the cross and the grave. Satan offered a shortcut, a simpler and easier and quicker way. But Jesus emphatically rejected Satan's shortcut. It is not enough for the goal to be right; the means by which we reach the goal must also be right.
As Paul reminds us, for an athlete to win the victor's crown he must not only cross the finish line first; he must also compete according to the rules (2 Tim 2:5). Our calling is to be obedient to God and let Him take care of fulfilling His promises in His way and at His time.
The bottom line question that we have to answer is this: Can God fulfill His promises without our help? Or, to put it another way: Do we have the faith to trust and obey?
C I need to say something about the family life of Isaac and Rebekah. What a dysfunctional, broken family!
We are told that "Isaac spoke to his son Esau" (Gen 27:5). And, Rebekah spoke "to her son Jacob" (Gen 27:6). Did you catch the pronouns? Esau is "his" son. Jacob is "her" son. Moses reminds his audience of what he said earlier: Isaac loved Esau but Rebekah loved Jacob (Gen 25:28). How awful – that parents play favorites with their kids!
We also notice that Isaac and Rebekah do not communicate with one another. I keep telling couples in pre-marital counseling how important it is to communicate; that they need to spend time talking every single day. But Isaac does not communicate his intentions to Rebekah. As for Rebekah, she makes no attempt to convince Isaac to change his mind about Esau. She does not remind Isaac of God's Word about the older serving the younger. As I already said, they keep secrets from each other and undercut each other.
God's will for marriage is that the two become one flesh. God's will for marriage is that husband and wife be a suitable helper for one another. We see little or none of that at this stage in their marriage. Somehow, over the years, sin has crept into the relationship and what started so beautifully has become poisonous.
Looking at our society and, perhaps, our congregation, let me make one observation: we have not learned much about marriage and family in the last 4000 years, have we?
A The third participant is Jacob. He appears as a cold-blooded, conniving schemer. He hesitates, at first, to go along with his mother's plan – not because of any moral scruples on his part but because he is scared he will be caught in the lie (Gen 27:11). The tempter is easily able to reassure him that the plan is fool-proof. So Jacob goes ahead with the plan to deceive an elderly Isaac. He not only dishonors his father but he also blasphemes when he declares that the Lord gave him success in the hunt (Gen 27:20).
B Satan is like this. He is like a fairy godmother making all sorts of promises. What he does not reveal to you is the cost of your sin. Jacob will discover that he is caught in his own sin for many years to come. Look at the results: strife with Esau, Jacob flees for his life, Jacob never sees his mother again (Gen 27:41-45), and many years of grief before the blessing becomes an actuality in his life.
One of the worst aspects of the Fall is our belief that we can sin and not get hurt. We are so easily convinced by Satan that our sin will not come to light and that if it does it will not hurt us. The Bible, however, says, "you may be sure that your sin will find you out" (Num 32:23). How many people have found this to be true from bitter experience? The church or kingdom leader who loses his ministry through adultery, the manager who loses his job through theft, the man or woman who loses peace through the burden of sins like divorce and addiction and pornography and abuse all know that sin hurts and costs and destroys.
C Compare Jacob to God. In Genesis 3, God clothed Adam and Eve in animal skin as a picture of the Gospel. In His grace God covered the sinful shame of the first humans. In contrast, Jacob uses animal skin to cover his sin in a different way. He uses it to to deceive his father. Then he heaps lie upon lie, even invoking the name of the Lord. Has he no shame? We all know this is not the way to achieve God's purposes and secure God's blessing!
A We end with Esau. I see poetic justice. He who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew also loses his birthright by means of a bowl of stew. Though he cries over this outcome, there is no evidence that Esau regrets the loss of spiritual benefits. It is the loss of worldly benefits that causes regret and tears. Never once does Esau show any sign of seeking after God and remaining separate from the world. This becomes plain in his choice of wives. First, he marries two pagan Hittite women (Gen 26:34), and when he realizes how displeasing this is to his father he marries a pagan Ishmaelite woman (Gen 28:8). Esau, we have to say, loves sin.
B Yet, Esau could still have been blessed. God's promise to Abraham still stands: "I will bless those who bless you" (Gen 12:3). On this basis, Esau could have been blessed. But this means his heart has to be changed. This means he needs to seek after God the way he seeks after the world. This means he needs to go to Jacob with tears to share in the blessing God promises through Jesus the promised seed of Jacob.
Lies, lies, lies, and more lies. Every man truly is a liar. Every man and woman in this mess has been false to the core. Each of them has been self-seeking, self-serving, self-trusting, using others, and trying to use God. In their own way, each of the four participants treat with disdain the faith of their fathers. If anything, this sad chapter shows man's desperate need for the Redeemer.
Yet, this chapter also shows the triumph of God's grace. We see that the plan and purpose of God proceeds in spite of and even through man's sin.
To see this, let me turn – again – to Isaac and Rebekah. Once Isaac realizes he has been deceived, he does not attempt to take back the blessing from Jacob that he intended for Esau. Instead, he trembled violently (Gen 27:33). He trembled because his disobedience to God's stated purpose has been exposed. He trembled because his disobedience to God's stated purpose has been defeated by God's sovereignty. He trembled because he knew he had nothing to give to Esau. He trembled because God brings about His purposes not through picture-perfect people but through a long line of sinners.
As for Rebekah, remember her rash words to Jacob? She said, "let the curse fall on me" (Gen 27:13). Rebekah surely did not mean these words. Nor did she know the full depth of what she was saying. But there is One – the Seed of the Woman, a true descendant of Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob – Who did say this and knew exactly what He was saying. Jesus took your curse and my curse so that we might inherit the blessing. The curse that Jacob and Rebekah deserved, the curse that you and I earn every day, was laid upon Him so that the blessing might be given to us.
Ultimately, this is why none of us can forsake the faith of our fathers as relics of a bygone era. How can we forsake Him Who died for us and was cursed for us so that we might be blessed?
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