Wake Up with Jacob sermon series
#2 – Identity Theft
July 1, 2012
Have you ever been involved in a case of mistaken identity? It’s a weird feeling to be thought of as someone other than yourself. Some of us have experienced this voluntarily, but I won’t ask for a show of hands from those among us who used a fake ID to purchase…things we were too young to purchase. And some of us have dealt with this involuntarily through identity theft. To steal someone’s identity is to rob them of their very essence, the core of who they are. If this happened to you, would you be mad enough to get revenge the offender, even kill them?
We continue our sermon series on Jacob today. We started last week by looking at Jacob and Esau’s tumultuous birth, hearing God’s claim that the older son would serve the younger, and witnessing Jacob stealing Esau’s birthright. Today, we’re going to read a pivotal story in their relationship and in Jacob’s development as a dubious and duplicitous character. Because this chapter is so long, instead of reading it first and then talking about it, we’re going to read it and talk about it along the way, so you may want to open your Bibles and follow along.
First, a few words of context before we launch into the story. One of the hardest things to do when we’re reading scripture is to resist the temptation to read ourselves and our modern sensibilities into the story. We read about the dense disciples of Jesus and wonder, “Why didn’t they get it?” or we read Noah’s Ark and think, “Why didn’t people have flood insurance?” But to truly appreciate a biblical story for what it is, we have to suspend what we know and seek to live inside the story itself. So I want to encourage you to forget what you know and follow along in this story like you’re hearing it for the first time.
Last week, we heard how Jacob swindled the birthright from Esau. The birthright was like the inheritance for the first-born son, and came with certain privileges and perks. That now belongs to Jacob. But there’s a difference between the birthright and the blessing. The birthright is material; the blessing is spiritual. The father would bestow a blessing on each of his male children, but would reserve the most prominent and positive blessing for the oldest son.
Here’s our first chance to suspend what we know. Our modern way of thinking says, “What’s the big deal with a blessing? It’s just a bunch of words.” But not for ancient Israelites. The spoken blessing was as binding as a last will and testament. It was a powerful oath that could not be rescinded or transferred. Its power came from being spoken aloud, like God’s original blessing on Abraham. When accompanied with a physical action, like the laying on of hands, a blessing had incredible, genuine and irrevocable power.
So now we’re prepared to move into today’s story. Ready?
1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, “My son.” “Here I am,” he answered. 2 Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. 3 Now then, get your equipment—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. 4 Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.”
Isaac knows the day of his death is coming soon, so he wants to pass on the blessing to his eldest son. Remember from last week that Esau is Isaac’s favorite son, so this is to be a celebration. Isaac instructs Esau to prepare a feast with his favorite foods to mark this occasion. But someone else was standing outside the door eavesdropping and she has other plans.
5 Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the LORD before I die.’ 8 Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 9 Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. 10 Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.”
Aha! So the treachery begins. We know from last week that Rebekah favored Jacob, and she was also privy to the prophecy from God that Esau would eventually serve Jacob. Was she greasing the wheels to make sure this prophecy comes true, or was she just a pawn in the game? We can spend a long time debating that question, but first there are some more urgent questions to be asked.
11 Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. 12 What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.” 13 His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.”
You know you’ve concocted a pretty crazy scheme when even Jacob has reservations about it! I’m sure he loved the idea of having the blessing for himself, but he wasn’t about to risk his father’s anger. So Rebekah lets him off the hook. Because of this, Jacob is now in the catbird’s seat. He either gets the blessing, or his mother shoulders the blame. It’s a win-win situation! Or so he thinks.
14 So he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it. 15 Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. 16 She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. 17 Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made. 18 He went to his father and said, “My father.” “Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” 20 Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?” “The LORD your God gave me success,” he replied.
Oh my goodness! Not only is Jacob going through with this plot, but he’s invoking God’s name to make it happen! Even though he’s blind, Isaac still has his sense of smell, and at this point he smells a rat. But when he questions it, Jacob has no problems namedropping Yahweh to get Isaac to buy into it. This is the guy who’s going to carry on the blessing? But Isaac isn’t completely fooled…yet.
21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.” 22 Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him. 24 “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked. “I am,” he replied. 25 Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.” Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.” 27 So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes – notice all four senses besides sight have been engaged. Touch, taste, hearing, and now smell. The only sense Isaac doesn’t use is common sense – he blessed him and said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed. 28 May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness —an abundance of grain and new wine. 29 May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed. ”
That’s it. The blessing has been bestowed, and Jacob has it. It reinforces that Esau will bow down to Jacob, and it also reiterates God’s original blessing to Abraham and being a blessing to others. Wonder how Esau is going to feel when he finds out what happens?
30 After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. 31 He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, “My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”32 His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?” “I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau. ” 33 Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed! ” 34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!”
This is heart-wrenching! Can you hear the anguish in Esau’s voice? Can you imagine the pain Isaac feels when he realizes his favorite son has been robbed of the blessing? When children hurt, every parent wants to fix it, to kiss it and make it better. But Isaac has already bestowed his kiss of blessing, and there’s nothing he can do for Esau. He is helpless.
35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.” 36 Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob[a]? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?” 37 Isaac answered Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud.
This is a two-tissue moment! Poor Esau. But a blessing bestowed cannot be revoked, so Isaac offers to Esau what little he has left to give.
39 His father Isaac answered him, “Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above. 40 You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck. ” 41 Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”
Now impetuous Esau, who gave up his birthright for a bowl of soup, is murderously mad, and there’s no question he will act on these feelings because of his anger. So Rebekah, who has orchestrated this whole plot, must now act to save her favorite son and the bearer of the blessing.
42 When Rebekah was told what her older son Esau had said, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is planning to avenge himself by killing you. 43 Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran. 44 Stay with him for a while until your brother’s fury subsides. 45 When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I’ll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?” 46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.”
This story is dripping with irony. Jacob, the smooth talker, becomes the hairy one in order to fool his father. Esau, who had Jacob grabbing at his heels coming out of the womb, now arrives on the heels of Jacob, only to find out he’s too late. Rebekah connives to make sure her favorite son gets ahead, but in the end she has to send him away, and she will never see him again. And Jacob, who thinks he’s really gotten a leg up, must flee from his home penniless and on the lam to his uncle Laban, who will give Jacob a taste of his own medicine.
We’ll stop there today, but I leave you with this thought: In this story, we feel pity for Isaac and Esau and we feel contempt for Rebekah and Jacob. And yet, God doesn’t take our feelings into consideration, choosing to work through the scoundrels instead of the saints. You know, life would be easier if God only worked through the people who really deserved God’s grace. But then, who would that be exactly? Maybe if God doesn’t give up on Jacob, there’s hope for him. We’ll find out. In the meantime, because God hasn’t abandoned Jacob, we are reminded that God doesn’t abandon us, no matter how far we stray. God is never finished with us. That is the blessing for us today.