Genesis 27:1-46: God’s Triumphant Purpose
Topic: Default Passage: Genesis 27:1–46
Genesis 27:1-46: God’s Triumphant Purpose
We’ve been working our way passage by passage through the book of Genesis, and today the next passage we come to is Genesis 27:1-46, so I’ll be reading a selection of verses from that passage. It says,
1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, 4 and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.” 5 Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord before I die.’ 8 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. 9 Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. 10 And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” 11 But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. 12 Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” 13 His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me.” 14 So he went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved. 15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob. 18 So he went in to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” 20 But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands. So he blessed him. 24 He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” 25 Then he said, “Bring it near to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.” So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. 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!”
May God bless the reading of his Word.
Let’s pray: Father, we’re gathered around this text of Scripture today because we want to hear from you. And we want to hear from you because we want to know you more and love your more and be more conformed to your image. So, please, bless our efforts and glorify your name. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen. One of the most perplexing subjects that people often wonder about is the question of how God relates to evil. Unfortunately, we live in a world that’s filled with different kinds of evil—everything from terrorism to war to human trafficking to corruption—and even things that are beyond direct human control, such as various diseases and natural disasters. So, how does God relate to these things? Does he control them, or are they beyond his control?
And, for many people, these kinds of questions aren’t just theoretical questions either but deeply personal ones. Because there are a lot of things that we experience in our own lives that are incredibly painful and difficult to get through. So, someone might wonder, for example, “Where was God when I was going through the abuse I went through as a child?” “Where was God when that drunk driver took the life of my loved one?” Or even, “Where was God when I was mistreated at work or when the stock market crashed and I lost most of my life savings or when my marriage fell apart or when I had a miscarriage?”
It’s really not that uncommon for us to find ourselves in the midst of these kinds of situations and asking these kinds of questions. And, of course, some would say that God doesn’t have direct control over these things. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, a famous rabbi named Harold Kushner died. He was the author of an enormously influential book entitled When Bad Things Happen to Good People. In this book, Kushner argued that we shouldn’t hold God responsible for all of the unfair things that happen in the world—because there are a lot of things that happen that are just beyond God’s control. He’s up there, and he’s doing the best he can, but he just can’t prevent a lot of bad things from happening—or so Kushner argues. So, is that the way we should view God? And, if not, how should we view him and his relationship to evil?
That’s the subject we encounter in our main passage this morning of Genesis 27. To give some background, God had promised Abraham three things: that he’d become a great nation, that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan, and that, through him, all the families of the earth would one day be blessed. Then, when Abraham died, these promises were passed on to Abraham’s son Isaac. God chose Isaac, over his brother Ishmael, to be the recipient of these covenant blessings. And, when Isaac’s wife Rebekah was pregnant with twins, God had indicated which of the twins he had chosen to be the next heir of these covenant blessings. God had said to Rebekah in Genesis 25:23, “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.” So, the older child, Esau, will serve the younger child, Jacob, God says—meaning that Jacob would be the one to enjoy God’s special blessings.
So, it’s with all of that in the background that we come to Genesis 27. And this chapter revolves around Isaac seeking to bless his firstborn and favorite son, Esau, but instead being tricked into blessing his younger son, Jacob. By the way, as the story was being read a few moments ago, perhaps you wondered why obtaining this blessing was such a big deal. Why did it matter so much whether Jacob or Esau obtained this blessing?
And the answer is that this blessing is being viewed as something that’ll determine the respective futures of Jacob and Esau. It appears as through this blessing was functioning as a kind of prophetic prediction about future events. In effect, God was guiding Isaac as he spoke the words of this blessing so that Isaac would predict the things God intended to do. In addition, it also seems appropriate to view this blessing as a prayer addressed to God—a particularly powerful prayer that was enormously significant in shaping the future.
So, just know that this blessing isn’t some sort of ancient equivalent of the fortune cookie message that you or I might get at the Chinese restaurant down the street, alright? This blessing actually has real significance and real power to shape the future. It’ll establish the identity of the son—Jacob or Esau—who will inherit the covenant promises originally given to Abraham.
Now, Isaac’s desire, as we’ve said, is to pronounce this blessing on Esau. Look at verses 1-4: 1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, 4 and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”
So, Isaac wants to bless Esau. And his insistence on blessing Esau rather than Jacob is actually the foundational sin recorded in this passage. Because God had clearly communicated back in Genesis 25:23 that Jacob was the one he had chosen over Esau. “The older shall serve the younger,” God had said. But here in Genesis 27, we find Isaac stubbornly resisting what God had revealed to be his will. And, as we’ll see, that rebellious decision wreaks havoc on the entire family.
Yet, the most obvious and pronounced sins in this chapter are those of Jacob and his mom Rebekah. Look at verses 5-10: 5 Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord before I die.’ 8 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. 9 Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. 10 And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.”
So, that’s what they do. The subsequent verses describe how Rebekah and Jacob go to great lengths to disguise Jacob so that he even feels and smells like his brother Esau. And it works. Jacob goes in to see his father Isaac, pretends to be Esau, and successfully obtains Isaac’s blessing. Of course, in order to do so, he tells three bald-faced lies to his father. But, hey, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, right? So, Jacob does. He obtains the blessing by lying to own father. He even blasphemes God’s name in one of his lies. When Isaac asks him how he was able to find the wild game so quickly, Jacob says, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.”
Isaac then blesses Jacob in verses 27-29. He says, 27 …“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!” So, as you can see, this is no small blessing. Isaac goes far beyond requesting material prosperity for his son and instead, as one commentator phrases it, requests an entire empire for him. Isaac requests, in verse 29, that entire peoples would serve his son and that entire nations would bow down to him. Isaac then requests—again, thinking he’s speaking to Esau—that he’d be lord over his brothers. And, of course, that was directly contrary to what God had revealed his will to be. But that’s what Isaac was determined to seek.
So, basically, everybody in this chapter is functioning in rebellion against God. Isaac’s actively resisting God’s will, and Jacob and Rebekah are at fault in an even more egregious and pronounced way in the way they shamelessly deceive Isaac into pronouncing his blessing on Jacob. And, as we see later in the chapter, Esau also is at fault for his own resistance to God’s will and his utter hatred for Jacob. And not let’s forget about Esau’s polygamous marital relationships mentioned at the end of the chapter, either. So, this entire chapter is filled with characters who are functioning in a state of rebellion against God. There’s no hero, humanly speaking, in the story of Genesis 27—only sinners. We’re dealing with a whole brood of sinners in this chapter—all sinning in their own unique ways. It’s kind of like a reality TV show, when you think about it. I mean, who needs reality TV when you’ve got the book of Genesis, right? There’s just as much jealousy and scheming and shameless deception and general rottenness in Genesis 27 as there is in your average reality TV show.
Yet, here’s what’s striking about this passage. In the midst of all of these sinful people and their sinful decisions, God accomplishes his purpose. In fact, we could even go beyond that. God doesn’t just accomplish his purpose in the midst of these people and their decisions but actually accomplishes his purpose through these people and their decisions. Think about that. God actually uses the sinful behavior of these characters in the story to accomplish his own sovereign purpose. And that’s the main idea of this passage. God uses people’s sinful behavior to accomplish his sovereign purpose.
That purpose was for Isaac to pronounce his blessing on Jacob so that Jacob would indeed be exalted over Esau and be established as the recipient of God’s covenant promises. That was God’s goal the whole time. And he worked not just in the midst of people’s sinful behaviors or in spite of their sinful behaviors to bring that about. He actually worked through their sin to accomplish his purpose.
You know, a few weeks ago, in our examination of Genesis 24, we explored what’s often called the doctrine of God’s providence. Providence means that God’s not only in control of everything but also working through everything to accomplish his purposes. He’s not only sovereign but purposeful in that sovereignty. That’s providence.
Yet, here in Genesis 27, we come to an even deeper understanding of providence since we see that it even extends to the sinful decisions that people make. God’s providential workings in this world include the evil that takes place in the world. And I know that’s hard to swallow, but that’s what we see—not only in Genesis 27 but in numerous other scriptures as well.
For example, consider what God says in Isaiah 45:7. He states, “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.” So, not only does God “form light,” he also “creates darkness.” Not only does he “make well-being,” he also “creates calamity.” He’s the one who “does all these things.” In addition, consider Amos 3:6, which asks, “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” Again, “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” The implied answer, obviously, would be no. We also read this in Ecclesiastes 7:14: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other….” God’s the one who’s made “the day of adversity.” Then, lastly, consider Lamentations 3:37-38, which says, 37 Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? 38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?
So, I think these scriptures make it pretty clear that God’s involved in some way and to some degree in bringing about the evil that takes place in this world. His providential workings include the evil deeds that people do and the evil events that take place.
Now, it’s also critical to understand that the Bible also teaches that God is good and only does what’s good and never does what’s evil. 1 John 1:5 states that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” And in Psalm 5:4, the psalmist says to God, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.”
So, the question is, how do we reconcile these scriptures with the scriptures we just looked at that teach about how God brings about evil? And let’s just acknowledge that that’s not an easy thing to do. It requires a lot of thought and consideration and nuance. I think the most helpful way to describe it is to say that God is indeed responsible for both good and evil, but not in the same way. We might say his relationships to good and evil are asymmetrical. The way he relates to good is different than the way he relates to evil.
Essentially, God relates to good in a direct way. He directly causes things that are good to come about. However, he relates to evil is an indirect way. He only indirectly causes things that are evil to come about. The beings directly responsible for evil are God’s creatures, such as people as well as Satan and his demons. Here’s the way Martin Luther describes it. He writes, “When God works in and by evil men, evil deeds result; yet God, though He does evil by means of evil men, cannot act evilly Himself, for He is good, and cannot do evil; but He uses evil instruments, which cannot escape the impulse and movement of His power.”
So, when evil occurs, both God and his creatures are involved in that evil act. However, only the creature is guilty of that evil act since it’s the creature who related to that evil act in a direct way. God’s relation to acts of evil is always indirect and is always driven by good intentions and good purposes and therefore isn’t morally blameworthy. So, God does bring about evil but not in any way that would make him guilty of evil and only when it serves to accomplish his good purposes. As a result, we can say that God deserves the credit for good but not the blame for evil.
So, in our main passage of Genesis 27, Jacob and Rebekah are 100% at fault for their lies and deception. They bear the entirety of the blame for their sinful behavior. However, at the same time, God was at work through their sinful behavior to accomplish his good purpose of establishing Jacob as the recipient of his covenant promises.
All of this also reminds me of a story that occurs later on in the book of Genesis—the story of Joseph. After Joseph’s brothers commit an act terrible evil against him by selling him into slavery, he says to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” So, even though what Joseph’s brothers did was unquestionably wrong and terribly unjust, Joseph recognizes that God was actually the one who was ultimately behind their actions and was using everything that happened to accomplish his perfect purposes.
And I know much of this can be difficult to swallow. I imagine many of you are listening to these things and feel the weight of the Bible verses I’ve referenced but still aren’t quite sure how you feel about all of this. And that’s understandable. However, you might find it helpful to ask yourself, “Is there any other understanding of the way things work that could possibly be more comforting than this?” I mean, is the alternative to this—saying that God isn’t sovereign over evil—really any more comforting than saying he is sovereign over evil? I don’t think so.
And neither does John Piper in his book entitled Providence. Piper writes, “Is it more comforting to think that the powers of life and death are ultimately in the hands of one who hates us rather than [one who] loves us? Is it more comforting to think that there is no guide and ruler at all, but that the events of nature are random—meaningless, without design or purpose—and [that] not even God can turn the course of things for the good of his children?”
Piper then shares a letter he once received from a 27-year-old father whose trust in God’s providence was put to the test. The father writes, “My wife and I packed the car to go to our first ultrasound. [Our plan was to] get the news [about whether it was a boy or a girl and] then grab smoothies and celebrate….But as we sat in our appointment, we watched as the happy chatter of the [ultrasound] tech quieted to a focused, silent gaze at the screen. Why was she looking so intently at the images? …She [then] got up and left the room, making some excuse about printing something off…. Finally the doctor entered. He said he regretted to inform us that the ultrasound was quite conclusive…. Our daughter had Spina bifida. There was also the potential of genetic disorders known as trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) and 18 (infant death syndrome)…. [All of a sudden, the subject of God’s providence was] not theory anymore; [it] was a real-life-I-need-some-answers-now moment. Did God ‘allow’ this? Worse yet, design it? Certainly He could not be the architect of so much pain. And then I read of your mother’s death.” That’s a reference, by the way, to the story of John Piper’s mother dying in a car accident when she was impaled by a load of lumber. The bus that she was in collided with a truck carrying lumber, and the lumber crushed her.
The letter from the young father then continues, speaking to Piper, “You wrote, ‘I took no comfort from the prospect that God could not control the flight of a four-by-four. For me there was no consolation in haphazardness,’ and it hit me…neither did I [find comfort or consolation in haphazardness]. No matter what I had thought I believed in the past…the only place where hope was found, in that moment, was in the hands of a sovereign God who is in control and ordains the falling of a sparrow and the electing of kings and the flights of four-by-fours and the spinal development of our precious daughter. It was here that hope was found. And hope, being the seed-bed for joy, began growing in our hearts a joy that could truly be shaken by no pain.”
So, I ask again: In the midst of extreme pain and suffering and tragedy, is it really desirable to maintain that those terrible events are outside of God’s sovereign control? Is there really any comfort or consolation in that? I can’t see how there would be. Instead, it would seem to be exponentially more comforting to embrace what the Bible says about God being sovereign even over evil in such a way that evil ultimately works out for good.
I mean, where is greater comfort found—in saying, “This terrible event was totally random and without any purpose whatsoever and was beyond God’s ability to control” or to say, “This event, as terrible as it is, was ordained by a good God for a good purpose and won’t fail to accomplish that good purpose no matter how difficult and painful things might be right now.” I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the second scenario over the first any day of the week. I’d much rather grapple with the purposes and ways of God in a certain event than to be left in the utter darkness and hopelessness of suffering without purpose. Suffering isn’t ever easy, but, with God, we can have the confidence that not one drop of the suffering we experience is ever wasted.
As Romans 8:28 so famously says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good….” “All things work together for good.” That means, dear friends, that everything we encounter is like a tile in the beautiful mosaic of God’s perfect plan. We may not be able to see how that tile fits into the mosaic and contributes to the beauty of the mosaic, but it does. And if we could see the full mosaic the way God sees it, we’d understand why each tile is so necessary. I’m anticipating that when we get to heaven, we will have that understanding. But for now, we simply take God’s word for it and rest in his promise that “all things work together for good.”
So let me encourage you to trust in God’s sovereignty and goodness and wisdom even when you can’t understand what exactly he’s doing in your life. Someone once said that even when we can’t trace God’s hand, we still need to trust his heart. And that trust is a very active thing. A theologian named Jerry Bridges writes that, “Trust is not a passive state of mind. It is a vigorous act of the soul by which we choose to lay hold on the promises of God and cling to them despite the adversity that at times seeks to overwhelm us.”
In addition, I’d also like to encourage you not to neglect praising God for his many blessings. You know, so often, we allow ourselves to focus exclusively on the things in this world that are difficult and therefore fail to recognize all of the ways in which God providentially watches over us and causes things to go well for us.
Going back again to John Piper’s Providence book, he writes, “I can’t help but pause here to make an observation about the way the world responds to God’s providence. If there is a storm at sea and an ocean liner is sunk, or if a hazardous weather condition brings down a commercial airliner and lives are lost, there is often an outcry…about the failure of God to prevent this disaster…. But where is the corresponding emotional intensity, or even mild recognition, of God’s providence when one hundred thousand airplanes land safely every day? That is roughly how many scheduled flights there are every day in the world. And that does not include general aviation, air taxis, military, and cargo. Where is the incessant chorus of amazement and thanks that today God provided ten million mechanical and natural and personal factors to conspire perfectly to keep these planes in the air and bring them to their desired destination safely—and most of them carrying people who neglect and demean God every day?” And, you know, that’s a great question. Should we not be just as fervent in our praise and thanksgiving to God for all of his innumerable blessings that we experience every single day as we are in our struggles and prayers when tragedy strikes?
And, lastly, as we think about God’s relationship to evil and, specifically, in Genesis 27, how God used people’s sinful actions to accomplish his sovereign purposes, we understand that the greatest example of God using evil to accomplish good is the gospel itself.
You see, the biblical teaching of God using evil to accomplish good isn’t some peripheral truth that only shows up in obscure passages like Genesis 27. It’s a truth that’s at the very heart of the gospel. The gospel is the message of Jesus coming to this earth, living a perfectly sinless life, and then being crucified on a cross. And the whole series of events that led to Jesus being crucified was terribly unjust. From the false accusations made against Jesus to the kangaroo court that was held in the middle of the night to the way Pontius Pilate turned Jesus over to the Jews even though he knew Jesus was innocent of any criminal behavior—everything that happened to Jesus that led to him dying on the cross was a gross miscarriage of justice. Without question, it was evil. And, of course, the most horrendous act of evil was the crucifixion itself.
Yet, God was at work through it all. In Acts 2:23, as Peter’s speaking to the Jews of Jerusalem about Jesus, he states that, “[T]his Jesus, delivered up [on the cross] according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” So, there you have it. The most evil act in the history of the world—the murder of the sinless Son of God—was indeed carried out by people. As Peter says, “you crucified and killed [him] by the hands of lawless men.” Yet, we also read that the crucifixion ultimately happened “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” From the very beginning, God planned it. God was at work through people’s sinful actions to accomplish his sovereign purpose.
And that purpose was to rescue his people from their sin. You see, in his death on the cross, Jesus bore the punishment for our sins. Basically, we had sinned, and somebody had to suffer the just punishment for that sin, and typically that “somebody” would be us. But in his love, Jesus voluntarily stood in our place and suffered on our behalf. And it’s in that way that God used the horrific evil that the Jews and Romans committed against Jesus to accomplish the greatest rescue this world has ever known.
Yet, in order for us to benefit from what Jesus has accomplished on the cross and also in his subsequent resurrection from the dead, the Bible teaches that we have to put our trust in him to save us. That involves acknowledging not only our sin but also our utter helplessness to save ourselves from the punishment we deserve and then placing our full confidence in Jesus and him alone for rescue. So, if you haven’t yet done that, I’d like to invite you to do so before you even leave here today. There’s nothing more important or more urgent that we could ever do than to make sure that we’ve been rescued from our sins and made right with God.