Isaac and Esau

“Isaac answered and said to Esau, ‘Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?’” (Gen. 27:37).  

- Genesis 27:30–38

Unlike Abraham and Jacob, Isaac’s adult life is not covered in great length. Moses only records detailed information about it in Genesis 26 and 27, and even there Isaac is not pictured in a positive light. Being led by his stomach, Isaac overlooks Esau’s ungodly, disastrous marriages (26:34–35), and he foolishly makes his benediction dependent on food his eldest son could prepare (25:28; 27:1–29).

Nevertheless, Isaac is a man of faith (Heb. 11:20), and this is apparent in today’s passage. Upon learning that he has not blessed Esau, he trembles “very violently” (Gen. 27:33) because he can see God’s hand in these events. Isaac, no doubt, recalls the oracle of salvation concerning his sons (25:23) and realizes that it has come true despite his efforts to make Esau the covenant heir. Isaac finally sees that he has been trying to overrule the Lord and shudders at the fate that may have come if the Almighty had not stopped him from crossing the line by allowing Jacob to supplant Esau.

Recognizing God’s power and seeing his ill-conceived attempt to bless Esau for what it was, Isaac responds with words revealing a repentant heart. He affirms that the Lord’s will is sovereign, not his own, when he makes the unqualified assertion that the blessing on Jacob will come to pass (27:33) and says no real blessing is left for Esau (v. 37). Matthew Henry writes, “Isaac acquiesced in the will of God, though it contradicted his own expectation and affection.”

However, Esau responds far differently. True, his claim that Jacob cheated him out of his birthright (v. 36) is not entirely unfounded. But Esau conveniently forgets that he willingly sold his status as the covenant heir to Jacob, thus despising God’s favor (25:29–34). He could have humbly admitted his error and sought forgiveness from the Lord of the covenant. John Calvin points out that he could have submitted to His will for Jacob and earn the covenant benefits that come to the willing servants of God’s chosen man. Instead, Esau laments his loss of status, not his sin (27:34, 38b; Heb. 12:15–17). Calvin comments: “Since Esau rushes forward, destitute of faith and repentance, to ask a blessing, there is no wonder that he should be rejected.”


Coram Deo

Calvin further writes: “The wicked, when punishment overtakes them, bewail the salvation they have lost; but, meanwhile, do not cease to delight themselves in their vices; and instead of heartily seeking after the righteousness of God, they rather desire that his deity should be extinct.” Esau’s crocodile tears and hatred of God’s chosen man show the hardness of his heart. When you confess your sin, acknowledge its offense to God that you may not be hardened.

Passages for Further Study

Job 42:1–6
Ps. 51
Jer. 18:1–11
2 Cor. 7
Rev. 2:2–7

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