The serious Bible student cannot help but be struck by the deviousness of Jacob in Genesis 27. If one already expected some underhanded dealings from this twin-born-second whose name means “supplanter” and whose bargaining with his brother for the birthright in Genesis 25 seemed incredibly weighted in his own favor, Genesis 27 leaves little doubt about the kind of man who has come to the fore.
Encouraged by his mother and with her skillful advice, Jacob sets out to steal the blessing which would otherwise belong to Esau. Though his father, Isaac, would rather bestow the great blessing on the older brother, Rebekah has known since before the birth of the twins that the younger would be the one to have the greatest power and would be most blessed by God (Gen. 25:23). Her favor toward the Jacob is unequivocal.
Esau is a hunter, and a good one (Gen. 25:27). When we hear this Hebrew word, our minds return to the only place in Scripture we have heard it used before now—the genealogy of cursed Ham. In Genesis 10:9-10. Nimrod is a mighty hunter who is in the line of Ham, cursed by his father, Noah. Nimrod will go on to be instrumental in the building of two cities that will become archetypal representations of people groups that are driven by world domination and threaten God’s people with extinction—Nineveh and Babylon (Babel; Gen. 10:10-11). To see the title skillful hunter placed on Esau gives the thoughtful reader some amount of pause when considering his potential destiny. Will he be more worldly than godly? In contrast, the reader has already been told that Jacob is “perfect” in 25:27—a word translated as “quiet” in many Bible versions.
Near the beginning of the story, the father, Isaac, asks Esau to go and catch wild game and prepare a meal of it. This is intended to lead to a great blessing being bestowed by Isaac on his eldest son. As Esau leaves to fulfill his father’s apparent deathbed request, Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, puts another plan in motion.
Rebekah has made it her goal to get the greatest blessing the father can bestow given to the younger twin, Jacob. She has Jacob retrieve two goats for her to prepare as a meal for unsuspecting Isaac. (Specifically, “two goats” appearing together in Scripture for a jointly accomplished purpose only occurs in one other context—the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16, a connection noted by Alastair Roberts and James Jordan[i]).
Dressing Jacob in his brother’s clothes and covering his arms and neck in goatskin so that he will feel like his hairy brother, Rebekah tells Jacob to take the meal to his father and pretend to be Esau (27:15-16). He is taking what he reports to be fresh-killed game, offering what is most-pleasing to Isaac and coming in the likeness of Esau.
Isaac’s eyes are dim, but he is not senile. When approached with the food offering, he suspects that the voice is Jacob’s but his closer inspection—feeling of his goat-skin-clad hands and smelling his field-worn garments—leads Isaac to the conclusion that this must be his firstborn.
The ruse works. Isaac is fooled and bestows the irrevocable blessing upon his second-born rather than his first. When Esau discovers the treachery, he is filled with hatred and expresses a desire to kill his younger brother (27:41). HIs murderous jealousy leads to Jacob being sent into a distant territory by his parents to find a bride—the same territory in which his father’s bride was found (27:23; cf. 24:29).
Again, the younger brother has come out on top. It is similar to the story of Cain and Abel, when Abel had God’s regard for his offering over Cain’s, which led to the older brother’s murderous jealousy. It is also like when older brother, Ishmael’s, place of prominence was taken from him by his younger brother, leading to Ishmael “mocking” Isaac and being forced into the wilderness with his mother where he would be taken care of and made into a great nation, though Isaac would always have greater blessing (Gen. 16:10; 17:18-19).
But this is all just a figure of a much later “Jacob and Esau” story to come. How has Jacob gotten the place of prominence? By listening to his mother—the bride of his father—and being dressed by her in his older brother’s smelly clothes. By going before the father who bestows the greatest of blessings to his chosen son and doing so in the likeness of his older brother. By making a perfect “offering” to his father, who then bestows the great blessing (27:25).
It was God’s bride—his people—that (unwittingly) sent the Son before his Father not with a perfect sacrifice, but as a perfect sacrifice (Mark 15:12-15; the Son’s plan all along, John 10:17-18). He came to earth in the likeness of sinful man, going to death on a cross (Rom. 8:3; Phil. 2:7-8). He was the perfect offering (Eph. 5:2; Heb. 12:10; 1 Pet. 1:19). The “older brother” (the legalistic elite) was enraged with jealousy over the greater blessing obviously bestowed upon the younger and sought to take his life because of it (Luke 22:2; John 11:47-48). Peter Leithart also makes the connection of the older brother to Herod, the Edomite—a descendant of Esau—who will play a role in the taking of the chosen Son’s life.[ii] After this, Jesus, too, would go (by His Spirit) to a distant land to a meet his future bride (Acts. 13:46; Eph. 2:13).
Even with all the deception and impure motives displayed in Genesis 27, the story of Jesus still shines through. He is the true Promised Son who said that all the Scriptures were about him (Luke 24:27). The sovereignty of God is in full view. God does not need a person to be good in order to use them to tell the story of his Son. A person with impure motives and a deceptive heart is just as viable for consideration in telling the story of Jesus as any. God can use the person’s heart and motives to bring about his glory and the perfect telling of the Jesus story .
Even the ugly stories are no longer ugly in him. The last becomes first. The “perfect” son takes the place of his older, jealous brother and makes the best offering to the father. The irrevocable blessing is bestowed. Murder almost takes place and ultimately a bride is found in a land more distant that would have first been assumed.
Looking for more evidence of the greatest story line could easily lead us to Genesis 28 where we find Jacob laying with his head on a stone (somewhat tomb-like) while a way is opened between the realms of heaven and earth, and followed still by Genesis 29 where a Jacob himself rolls a great stone away from a hole so that sheep can receive water and he finds and falls in love with his most-beautiful bride simultaneously.
Even if the goatskin were over our eyes, it would seem difficult to miss the Son the text is spotlighting here.
Eric Robinson lives in Lubbock, Texas, and is the author of Jesus in the Shadows and Over Our Heads
[i] Alastair Roberts, “The Cunning Woman and the Righteous Serpent – 40 Days of Exoduses” (Feb. 23, 2013); https://alastairadversaria.com/2013/02/23/the-cunning-woman-and-the-righteous-serpent-40-days-of-exoduses-9/ https://alastairadversaria.com/2013/02/23/the-cunning-woman-and-the-righteous-serpent-40-days-of-exoduses-9/.
[ii] Peter Leithart, “Jacob & Esau” (June 22, 2008); https://theopolisinstitute.com/leithart_post/jacob-and-esau/.
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