The Marvelous and Mysterious Ways of God

26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” 27 So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said,

“See, the smell of my son
    is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed!
28 May God give you of the dew of heaven
    and of the fatness of the earth
    and plenty of grain and wine.
29 Let peoples serve you,
    and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
    and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”

30 As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. 31 He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” 32 His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” 33 Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” 34 As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” 35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” 36 Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 37 Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.

39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him:

“Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be,
    and away from the dew of heaven on high.
40 By your sword you shall live,
    and you shall serve your brother;
but when you grow restless
    you shall break his yoke from your neck.” Genesis 27:26-40 ESV

Rebekah’s clandestine plan had worked to perfection. Her elderly and half-blind husband had been so thoroughly fooled by Jacob’s slipshod disguise that he truly thought he was about to bestow a blessing on his eldest son, Esau.

Having satiated his appetite with the food that Jacob had prepared, the old man called his son to his side and kissed him. And because Jacob had followed his mother’s advice and was wearing Esau’s clothes, Isaac’s dulled senses were fooled yet again. Esau was an outdoorsman and a hunter, so his clothing carried a unique scent. Isaac described it as “the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed” (Genesis 27:27 ESV). Along with an affectionate fatherly kiss, Isaac bestowed a blessing upon his son. But little did he realize that his blessing was being stolen right from under his clouded eyes.

But completely oblivious to the fraudulent nature of the moment, Isaac placed his hands on his son and passed on the blessing of the firstborn.

“From the dew of heaven
    and the richness of the earth,
may God always give you abundant harvests of grain
    and bountiful new wine.
May many nations become your servants,
    and may they bow down to you.
May you be the master over your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
All who curse you will be cursed,
    and all who bless you will be blessed.” – Genesis 27:28-29 NLT

This blessing would have been of great value to Isaac because it had been passed down to him by his own father. There had been a time in Isaac’s life when Abraham had declared these very same words to him, and now he was passing them on to his eldest son – or so he thought.

The words contained in the blessing are a reiteration of the promise that God had made to Abraham. In fact, on the day that Abraham obeyed the word of the Lord and prepared to offer up the life of Isaac as an offering, God had intervened and repeated His covenant promise.

“Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.” – Genesis 22:16-18 NLT

That is the core message behind Isaac’s blessing of Esau. It contains the promises of land, fruitfulness, and power. Isaac is declaring his belief that, even after his own death, God will continue to fulfill every aspect of His covenant promise. But while Isaac’s heart was in the right place, his hands were on the wrong son. He was inadvertently bestowing the blessing on Jacob instead of Esau. But despite Isaac’s confusion, God’s will was actually being fulfilled. This convoluted mess was turning out just as God had planned.

God had declared his intentions regarding these two brothers long before they were born. While Rebekah was still carrying them in her womb, He had revealed their preordained destinies.

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

God had already predetermined that Jacob would be the greater of the two. And while Esau had been the first to exit the birth canal providing him with a legal claim to the birthright and the blessing of the firstborn, God had other plans.

This passage provides a powerful reminder that God’s ways are beyond our limited capacity to understand. He declares of Himself, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” and then He adds, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV). God is not required to explain Himself. And Moses provides no explanation for God’s actions in this story. We are not told why God allowed Rebekah to do what she did. There is no rationale given for why God permitted the deceptive and manipulative Jacob to steal his brother’s blessing. 

Each of the characters in the story comes off as fatally flawed and seemingly out of step with the will of God. And yet, God’s will was being done in spite of them but, more importantly, through them. Each of them had been driven by their own selfish agenda, but their wills were completely subject to the sovereign will of God.

Isaac’s misplaced blessing would prove to have long-term implications, but the outcome would be in keeping with God’s predetermined plan. Jacob, the younger, would be blessed so that he might be a blessing. He would inherit the right to rule over his brothers. And his descendants would enjoy the divine protection of God Almighty. Those who cursed them would be cursed. Those who blessed them would be blessed.

It’s difficult to reconcile this news when one considers the ungodly actions of Rebekah and Jacob. They employed deceit, manipulation, and fraud to accomplish their objective. But God was working behind the scenes to ensure their less-than-righteous actions produced good rather than evil. It is the same message that will be conveyed later on in the story of Genesis, when Joseph, a son of Jacob, confronts his own brothers who, out of jealousy and spite, had sold him into slavery. Through the sovereign will of God, Joseph ended up in Egypt and rose from slavery to the second-highest position in the land. And when his brothers came seeking food because of a severe famine in Canaan, Joseph confronted them about their ill-treatment of him.

“But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.” – Genesis 45:5-8 NLT

Joseph could see the hand of God in all that had happened in his life. His brothers had been guilty of selling him into slavery, but Joseph recognized that it had all been a part of God’s sovereign plan. And it is important to remember that Joseph was a son of Jacob, the man who stole the blessing from his own brother. And, even at the end of his life, Joseph was able to reiterate to his brothers his belief in God’s sovereign plan.

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. – Genesis 50:19-20 ESV

But the story of Jacob and Esau is still difficult to read and even more difficult to justify. It all seems so unfair and indefensible, especially when Moses relates the impact it had on the unsuspecting and seemingly innocent Esau. He ultimately comes home to find that his blessing has been stolen and he is beside himself with frustration and anger. This is the second time his brother has taken advantage of him and he declares his well-justified resentment at this most recent injustice.

“…he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” – Genesis 27:36 ESV

Esau demands to receive a blessing, but Isaac sadly informs him that Jacob has received it all.

“I have made Jacob your master and have declared that all his brothers will be his servants. I have guaranteed him an abundance of grain and wine—what is left for me to give you, my son?” – Genesis 27:37 NLT

There is nothing left to give. Esau’s brother now owns his birthright and his blessing. And when Isaac hears Esau’s anguished pleas to be blessed, all he can do is restate the negative impact that the blessing of Jacob will have on Esau’s life. It is less a blessing than it is a curse.

“You will live away from the richness of the earth,
    and away from the dew of the heaven above.
You will live by your sword,
    and you will serve your brother.
But when you decide to break free,
    you will shake his yoke from your neck.” – Genesis 27:39-40 NLT

While this story is intended to leave the reader with a sense of dissonance, it should also remind them of the unfathomable nature of God’s ways. There are things going on behind the scenes that we cannot see or comprehend. The dysfunctionality of this family is appalling, but even their worse actions are no match for God’s best-laid plans. The fulfillment of His will is not dependent upon their faithfulness. Jacob did not deserve the blessing, yet it was his. Rebekah’s unrighteous behavior is in no way justified by the outcome it seems to have produced. And she will live to regret the division her behavior has created within her own household. Her sins will have consequences. And, as the story unfolds, it will become painfully clear that Jacob’s sins will have serious consequences as well.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

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