41 Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” 42 But the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah. So she sent and called Jacob her younger son and said to him, “Behold, your brother Esau comforts himself about you by planning to kill you. 43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice. Arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran 44 and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away— 45 until your brother’s anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him. Then I will send and bring you from there. Why should I be bereft of you both in one day?”
46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I loathe my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women like these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?”
1 Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women. 2 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. 3 God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4 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!” 5 Thus Isaac sent Jacob away. And he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother.– Genesis 27:41-28:5 ESV
Rebekah got exactly what she wished for, and much more than she could have ever imagined. She had helped her favorite son swindle the blessing from his older brother. Now Jacob had it all – the birthright and the blessing – making him the legal heir to his father’s inheritance and the next in line to rule over their clan. He was destined to be a wealthy and powerful man. On top of that, with his mother’s help, he had managed to become the sole beneficiary of the covenant that God had made with his grandfather, Abraham. But what Rebekah failed to consider was the reaction of Esau. It is as if she thought he would take all of this lying down. But she was in for an unpleasant surprise.
Esau was furious, and rightfully so. In a sense, he had been cursed, and he was partly to blame. Years earlier, he had willingly sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. He had allowed his immediate physical appetites to make an impulsive decision that would have long-term ramifications. Now, his future had taken another hit because his own brother and mother had stolen the blessing that had been rightfully his as the firstborn son. He had nothing to look forward to except the prospect of living in his brother’s shadow for the rest of his life.
What nobody in this story seems to recognize is the hand of God working behind the scenes to accomplish His divine will. They seemed to believe that they were operating as fully autonomous free agents without any responsibility to answer to God for their actions. At no point does anyone seek God’s input or approval for their decisions. Driven by their emotions and depending upon their own wisdom, each decision they make only seems to make matter worse. And yet, Moses would have his readers understand that this soap-opera-like story is actually an illustration of how God’s sovereignty and man’s autonomy interact in daily life. Rebekah, Isaac, Jacob, and Esau are each making independent decisions, but the ultimate outcome is in the hands of Almighty God. According to Scripture, the will of God cannot be thwarted by the plans of men.
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. – Proverbs 19:21 ESV
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. – Proverbs 16:9 ESV
A man’s steps are from the LORD, so how can anyone understand his own way? – Proverbs 20:24 BSB
Angered over his most recent loss, Esau made plans to murder his brother. Frightened over the news that Jacob’s life was in danger, Rebekah made plans to protect him. Distraught over the prospect of Jacob marrying a Hittite woman, Isaac made plans to send him to Haran. Everyone was making plans for the future, but no one realized that it was God who was establishing their steps. This was all according to His divine will.
But these people were not operating like mindless automatons, helplessly and unwilling fulfilling God’s relentless will. No, they were each doing exactly what they wanted to do. God was not forcing or coercing them against their wills. But He was sovereignly and providentially orchestrating the outcome of their decisions. What they meant for evil, God would use for good. Esau’s evil intentions to kill his brother would be used by God to send Jacob away from the smothering influence of his mother. Rebekah’s manipulative attempt to promote the prospects of her favorite son would actually result in his blessing by God.
Yet, while God was turning their evil into good, He would still hold them accountable for their actions. They would each suffer the consequences for the decisions they made without God’s input or blessing. In a sense, God was going to redeem their unrighteous behavior in order to produce a fully righteous outcome.
Rebekah seems to have been caught off guard by Esau’s over-the-top reaction to his loss. So, when she caught wind that he planned to kill Jacob, she was forced to come up with yet another plan to protect her favorite son. She immediately called Jacob and shared with him her latest and greatest idea.
“Look, your brother Esau is planning to get revenge by killing you. Now then, my son, do what I say. Run away immediately to my brother Laban in Haran. Live with him for a little while until your brother’s rage subsides. Stay there until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I’ll send someone to bring you back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?” – Genesis 27:42-45 NET
She realized her relationship with Esau was dead in the water. There was no way she was going to mitigate the damage she had done. So, the best thing she could do was keep Esau from murdering Jacob. It’s obvious that she took Esau’s threat seriously because she was willing to send Jacob away. And she was able to convince the somewhat oblivious Isaac to agree to her plan by portraying it as a quest to find Jacob a bride. Neither she nor Isaac had been thrilled by Esau’s decision to marry two Hittite women (Genesis 26:34). In fact, Moses states that these marriages “caused Isaac and Rebekah great anxiety” (Genesis 26:35 NET).
So, Rebekah convinced Isaac to send Jacob back to her hometown of Haran so that he might search for a bride from among her brother’s family. This plan pleased Isaac because that had been how his father had found Rebekah for him. So, Isaac agreed to send Jacob back to Haran so that he might find a wife. But neither Isaac nor Rebekah had any idea just how long this separation was going to last. She seemed to believe that, with Jacob out of the way, Esau’s anger would quickly subside. So, she assured Jacob that his exile in Haran would only be “for a little while” (Genesis 27:44 NET).
Once again, Esau is going to find himself as the odd-man-out. He would wake up one day to find that his plans for killing his brother had been thwarted by his conniving mother, and his father, Isaac, had been complicit in the whole affair.
In rather short order, Jacob found himself on his way to Mesopotamia with instructions to find a wife among his grandfather’s relatives.
“You must not marry any of these Canaanite women. Instead, go at once to Paddan-aram, to the house of your grandfather Bethuel, and marry one of your uncle Laban’s daughters.” – Genesis 28:1-2 NLT
Isaac views this trip in a totally positive light, believing that his son will return with a bride who will help Jacob fulfill the conditions contained in the divine covenant. He even reiterates the terms of the covenant, putting them in the form of a blessing.
“May God Almighty bless you and give you many children. And may your descendants multiply and become many nations! May God pass on to you and your descendants the blessings he promised to Abraham. May you own this land where you are now living as a foreigner, for God gave this land to Abraham.” – Genesis 28:3-4 NLT
Rebekah must have smiled as she heard these words. It was all she had ever wanted for Jacob. But Esau must have fumed as he stood back and watched his younger brother ride away with his birthright, his blessing, and his father’s best wishes for a prosperous future.
Isaac, Rebekah, and Esau stood and watched as Jacob and his caravan rode off into the distance. And little did they know that 20 years would pass before they saw him again. There are those who believe that Rebekah never saw Jacob again. The timing of her death is not mentioned in Scripture, but neither is her reunion with Jacob. It seems that her plan to promote her younger son over his brother had worked, but it came at a great cost. The boy she loved so dearly would be taken from her and she would never live to meet his wife or see the birth of her grandchildren. Her days would be marked by pain and regret, as she was forced to consider the cost of her actions. It’s likely that her relationship with Esau was beyond repair. In her misguided effort to protect the one thing she loved more than anything else in the world, she had actually ended up losing it. But God was working behind the scenes and He had great plans for Jacob. The days ahead would be difficult. The next two decades would be filled with pain and sorrow. And Jacob, the deceiver, would find himself getting an unexpected and unpleasant dose of his own medicine – all for his own good and God’s glory.
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.