“Isaac's Blessing”

Categories: Bulletin Articles, M. W. Bassford

We often remark how reassuring it is that the great men and women of faith in the Bible are so obviously flawed. However, at some point, these flaws stop being reassuring and start becoming cringey! For me, this is the case in the narrative of Genesis 27.

It’s one of the many places in Scripture where we see the dysfunction of a godly family on full display. Isaac and Rebekah have two sons, and Isaac prefers the elder while Rebekah prefers the younger. Rebekah takes advantage of Isaac's blindness to procure the blessing for her favorite, Jacob, even though Isaac is clearly mistrustful and suspects that something funny is going on. In the end, he is forced to give his favorite, Esau, an inferior blessing.

Admittedly, Rebekah did know that God had predicted that Esau would serve Jacob. However, rather than being straightforward and trusting God to fulfill His promise, she takes matters into her own hands. Sadly, this is nothing unusual. Indeed, from Genesis 12 on, nearly every member of Abraham's family (everybody except Benjamin) engages in subterfuge and deceit to pursue their goals. This reminds us of the antics of a clan of rednecks out in a trailer someplace, except the stories are of tent-dwelling nomads from 4000 years ago.

However, the bad behavior that sets our teeth on edge is a vital theme of the story. As God says a few hundred years later in Deuteronomy 9:5, He does not give the Israelites the land because of their righteousness or integrity. Instead, it is entirely because of the promise made to the fathers.

Similarly, the promise is not made to the fathers because of their righteousness or integrity either. It is because they had faith, and their faith was reckoned to them as righteousness. Whenever we start questioning our salvation because we think we're not good enough, we should remember that the heroes of faith definitely weren't good enough!

It is easy to overlook the presence of faith in the story of Genesis 27, but it's there too. After all, the blessing that Rebekah and Jacob schemed to obtain for him wasn't anything as tangible as a herd of camels or a flock of sheep. Instead, it was a promise that the descendants of one man would grow into a mighty nation, and that the people who didn't own any more property than the family cemetery would inherit the entire land. Both Rebekah and Jacob would die centuries before the promise was fulfilled, but it mattered deeply to them anyway.

 The same is true for Isaac. He played favorites with his sons and tried to pass his wife off as his sister, but he was a man of faith too. As Hebrews 11:20 shows, the very act of giving a blessing at all is an act of faith. He had no reason to believe that anything he said was more than spit in the wind except that God had promised him otherwise. Absent faith, this story of petty behavior simply doesn't happen.

This should hearten every Christian whose family life is not picture-perfect. Yes, it would be good if everyone in all of our families behaved uprightly, but we don't inherit the blessing because of our good works. What matters is our untiring faith in God. If we spend our lives seeking Him, no matter how imperfectly, it will be well with us.