The Departure of Jacob
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis 28. We’ll look at the first few verses of this great chapter in which Jacob begins his journey to northwest Mesopotamia, the area where his mother grew up.
We've been studying the life of Jacob. This is the third of our studies in the life of Jacob. So far we have seen God's providence operating in strange and wonderful, mysterious ways. We first saw in Genesis 25, the prediction that the elder brother would serve the younger brother.
But as we studied the story of Jacob and his mother, Rebekah, and his brother, Esau, and his father, Isaac, we found that Isaac was working as hard as he possibly could to make sure that God's word was not fulfilled. And we saw that Jacob's mother, Rebekah, was working very hard that God's word would be fulfilled. But, she was doing it in such a way that she manipulated her husband and she broke God's law. Jacob himself was a supplanter and deceiver. That is very clear in the passages that we've already studied in Genesis 27. And his character was certainly suspect as we reviewed that passage. And Esau himself comes across as a very worldly man, who doesn't care about the birthright, he doesn't care about the blessing, he doesn't see any significance in the covenant of promises.
We saw a family which was in a mess. A family that was characterized by dealing with one another deceitfully through secret plans and strategies, a family characterized by distrust and mistrust of one another. But we saw a family which, if anything, was not a family with anything in it which would attract God's love and grace. But in God's love and grace he had indeed a plan for these people, and we saw it began to be worked out in Genesis 27.
Today, we come to Genesis 28, verses 1 through 9, and the story of Jacob's departure. Isaac sends him away with his blessing. So let's hear God's holy word here in Genesis 28:
Our Father, this is Your word, and You cast it out upon our hearts like seed. We ask that by the grace of the Holy Spirit that this seed would grow up the fullness of faith. Help us to understand the passage, not only in its original setting but to understand what You have to say to us this day, by this Your word. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.
In this passage Jacob departs from his family, never to see his mother again, and to embark upon a journey of faith in which he's going to grow up. The Jacob that we have been introduced to in Genesis 27 is not a pretty sight. And it's going to be interesting watching Jacob grow, because beginning in Genesis 28 and for the next several chapters, you’re going to see a man who sometimes displays flashes of spiritual brilliance and at other times he leaves you scratching your head about how a man who seems to know so much at one point, can act in such a pagan way. And sometimes he surprises you by doing both at the same time. This is a man who has much to learn, he has a long way to grow in his walk with the Lord. And that's exactly what the Lord is beginning to do, even in this passage today, he is sending Jacob out on a journey which is going to make him into a godly man, a man after God's own heart.
Now I want to look at this passage with you very briefly. In verses 1 and 2 you will see Isaac's parting charges to Jacob. The things that He told Jacob to do. In verses 3 through 5 you will see Isaac repeat the covenant blessing. In fact, the blessing that Isaac gives here is far more explicit in terms of the promises of God's covenant of grace even than that original blessing that Isaac had intended to give to Esau, but accidentally gave to Jacob. And then in verses 6 through 9 we will see a classic reaction from a natural man attempting to gain his parents approval. More folly from Esau. Let's look at this passage then together.
I. Isaac's parting charge to Jacob.
First in verses 1 and 2 where we see Isaac's parting charge to Jacob. Isaac, following on the advice and counsel of his wife, Rebekah, exhorts Jacob not to take a Canaanite bride. Now this reveals his and Rebekah's displeasure with Esau's marriages to the two Hittite girls. Turn back with me to Genesis, chapter 26. At the very end of that chapter you will remember that we read in verses 34 and 35, Genesis 26, that when Esau was forty he married Judith, who was a Hittite, and Basemath, who was also a Hittite. They were of the tribe of the land of Canaan. Now given that God had already told Abraham in Genesis 15 that his descendants, one of the things that they were going to do is they were going to come into the land of Canaan, and they were going to bring judgment against the tribes of that land because of their wickedness.
We can see the unwisdom of what Esau had done here. He had mingled the blood of the line of Abraham with the blood of the line of the Canaanites. And more than that, of course, there are spiritual connotations here. These people did not share the same religious background or beliefs with Abraham and his clan. And so there is a spiritual inequality here. This is an unequal yoking. Not only is it polygamy, but it's an unequal yoking. And it immediately brought grief to Isaac and to Rebekah. But this is apparently, here in Genesis, chapter 28, this is apparently the first time that their displeasure about those marriages had been made public and explicit enough for Esau to react. You’ll see if you look all the way down to verse 8 of Genesis, chapter 28, that in reaction to what Isaac says to Jacob, Esau says oh, well it must have displeased my parents that I married those Hittites. And so his reaction is apparently based on the fact that for the first time, after being married for many, many years, it is beginning to dawn on Esau that his mother and father were not pleased with his choice of a mate.
You’re getting a picture here of how dense this man is spiritually. I mean generally we know it when our parents are displeased, even with the person with whom we are going out. This man takes years to figure out that mom and dad don't really like their daughter-in-laws. And so Isaac makes this public utterance to Jacob, and it's something that hits a chord with Esau.
Then Isaac gives Jacob three explicit charges. Look at verses 1 and 2 and you’ll see three charges that Isaac gives to Jacob in those verses. First of all, he says don't take a Canaanite bride. Clearly, this has spiritual overtones just like the choice of Abraham to gain a wife for his son, Isaac, from among their own people had spiritual overtones. That's the first charge. Don't take a Canaanite bride. Don't mingle your family with unbelief.
Secondly, go to Paddan-aram which is basically to say go back to your mom's homeland. Go back to the place from which your mother's family came and find a wife there.
And explicitly he says, thirdly, marry one of Laban's daughters. Go back and marry into our own family line. Back near Haran where we came from. Paddan-aram was near Haran in northwest Mesopotamia. It was literally Rebekah's homeland. Like the family had moved away from whence they had come, and now he's sending his son home. Go back and marry one of those gals from back home. Indeed, marry into our own family. Now through this journey, Jacob is going to grow. And though this journey is going to be ultimately good for Jacob, it is also going to be fraught with trials. And those trials are going to be something that God uses to make him a man. And not only a man, but a godly man.
And we're reminded even when we hear the first instructions of Isaac of how God often works the same way in our own lives. Sometimes, God in his promises sets us on courses of blessing that are mixed with hard trial. Everyone of us who is gathered tonight with this congregation can think back, if we're growing, and maybe not that far back, to trials which the Lord in his providence has appointed for us, they were not things that we would ever choose for ourselves, if we were choosing our own plan. If we had a wonderful plan for our lives and we wanted to chart it out, we wouldn't have chosen those things for us. But we can see how God has used those very trials to prepare us for service and to conform us to the image of Christ.
And this passage itself reminds us that God's charges to redeem sinners are often mixed with trials and blessing. Take your hymnals and turn with me to number 94. One of the hymns that we sing very often here in its second stanza talks about this very thing that God does in his inscrutable providence. Actually if you’ll look at the third and the fourth stanzas of “How Firm a Foundation.” “When through the deep waters I call you to go, the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; for I will be with you, your troubles to bless, and sanctify to you your deepest distress.” This stresses how God will use trials for the purpose of sanctifying us. But it doesn't stop there. “When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie, my grace, all-sufficient shall be your supply; the flame shall not hurt you; I only design your dross to consume and your gold to refine.”
Many of Jacob's problems really he could trace to his own sin. There are very few situations that Jacob would face in the next chapters where he could not say, well, you know if I hadn't done what I did, I wouldn't be in this mess in the first place. Many, many times in the hard things that Jacob would go through he could say that. But at the same time, I want you to understand that God designed those very things, those consequences of Jacob's sin to be a blessing in Jacob's life.
Sometimes God charges us as redeemed sinners to go in a way which is fraught with trial. Well, you need to understand that that very way of trial, if we are redeemed, is a way of blessing. And so as we head towards that ultimate blessing, we ought not to be surprised if there are difficult trials for us on the way. I was thinking during this week about some of the things that I have gone through that really are purely and directly related to my own sin. So I think some of the hardest things that I've had to say, by way of apologies, or by way of simply expressing the truth, that I can pull up and I try not to even pull them up in my own memory, but some of the hardest things that I've ever had to admit or apologize or ask forgiveness for or say are directly resulted from sins that I committed. And I wouldn't have chosen to have to go through those things for all the tea in China. And yet God used those very things to chasten me, and I hope to grow me in grace. And I bet that you can recount the same kind of experiences in your own life. If you’re a growing believer, you must not be confounded by the presence of trial, even when those trials are the result of your own sin. Because God, in his inscrutable providence, designed even the consequences of our sin or blessing. He's going to do that over and over in Jacob's life. And I want you to bear that in mind. Because sometimes even though we know we are forgiven, it's hard to swallow the consequences of sin, and we think Lord, can't you spare me this? I mean, you did forgive me. Can't you spare me this consequence of sin? And yet sometimes in God's goodness, he designs the very consequence of your sin to be that which grows you in grace. And parents do this for us all the time. Sometimes we want more than anything in the world for our parents to spare us the consequences of our sin. And in their wisdom, sometimes they decide not to because they know that by not sparing us the consequences of sin, we will grow up to be the kind of men and women who will be men and women of integrity and who will love God. Bear that in mind. All of us have to bear that in mind as our Heavenly Father disappoints us. That's the first thing that we are reminded of in this passage as Jacob sets out on a journey.
II. Isaac confirms the blessing to Jacob.
In verses 3 through 5 you’ll see a second thing. Here, Isaac confirms that blessing which he had first given to Jacob in the context of deceit. It's a covenant blessing that he confirms here. And we again learn in this passage that believers grow in grace by leaning wholly and only upon the promises of God. Before Jacob is going to be sent out, the rock of his assurance and hope is going to be God's word to him through his father. The constant in Jacob's wandering is going to be the fact that God has made a promise to him. His father has been the mouthpiece for that promise. The promise is the promise of the covenant of grace. The covenant with Abraham. And Jacob is going to have to cling to that promise sometimes when there's nothing else to hold onto. And so we learn by example here that believers grow in grace by leaning wholly and only upon God's word.
Isaac's repetition of the blessing to Jacob in this passage has a three-fold significance. First of all, it shows that Isaac himself recognized the legitimacy of the blessing. I was talking with one of our attorneys after the service last week about the issue of the discovered false pretenses under which the oral blessing was given, and I spoke a little bit about some of the legal system, and we talked during the sermon last week about the fact that an oral blessing was legally binding in this particular culture. But I think a good argument could have been made before a law court, had Isaac wanted to, that the blessing had been obtained by deceit. I think the reason why Isaac didn't attempt to make that argument is that he realized in God's providence he had been fighting against the will of God. And the very way that God took the power out of his hands, in terms of blessing his son, reminded Isaac that he had been fighting against God. And so Isaac was convicted and, therefore, he had no desire to fight the giving of the blessing to Jacob in a court of law. I mean he could have gone before a judge and said my son, Jacob, deceived me. This blessing really should belong to Esau. The reason he doesn't do that is not because he couldn't have theoretically have done that. It was because he realized he had been wrong in the first place to try and give it to Esau instead of Jacob. And so by repeating this promise here in this passage, he is publicly recognizing the legitimacy of that blessing which Jacob and Rebekah conspired to take from him. He's saying yes, in God's sovereignty this was taken from me against my will, but I also realize that in God's sovereignty that it was God's will that Jacob be the recipient of this blessing. He's saying it publicly, so this is a very important thing. He is publicly recognizing the legitimacy of Jacob having received that blessing.
Secondly, by blessing Jacob publicly, he is implicitly saying to his son, Esau, do not interfere. Do not interfere with what I'm about to send your brother, Jacob, off to do. Do not interfere with his mother, do not interfere with the plans, do not interfere with his receipt of the blessing. He's saying, Esau, hands off. That's very important for Jacob.
And thirdly, by repeating the blessing, he is providing a point of assurance for Jacob in his trials to come. Jacob, as we said, will often have only one thing to hang on to, and that is God's word to him. By repeating the words, and we’ll look specifically at what Isaac says in verses 3 and 4, he is giving the word of God to Isaac as the anchor of his assurance. Listen to what John Calvin says about the patriarchs in general and Jacob in particular: “In their wanderings and in their unsettled mode of life, they no less highly estimated what God had promised them than if they had already been in the full enjoyment of it. And this is the true trial of faith when relying on the word of God alone, although tossed on the waves of the world, we stand as firmly as if our abode were already fixed in heaven.” In other words Jacob is going to have to live while he wanders as if these promises had already become true, and were true in the heavenly reality. That's the only thing that's going to enable him to go on. There are going to be times when he has nothing else but God's good word of promise. Man is going to be against him, his relatives are going to be against him, circumstances are going to be against him. He's going to feel like at some point that God's providence is against him. And in those times he has to remember God's word. That's the only thing that he has.
And if we don't respond to that, we won't even be equipped to benefit from the trial of faith. Because what's the purpose of the trial of faith? To build up our faith in the word of God in the first place. Isn't it interesting to you that the way God is going to grow Jacob, the cheat, is to make him learn to trust in a promise.
Isn't that ironic. Jacob, the cheat, is going to be made into Israel, the man of God, by trusting in a promise. But that's how God grows all of us, by forcing us when we have nothing left in us, and nothing outside to say that there is anything good going to happen to us. All we have is the word of God, and we cling to it with all the strength that's left in us. That's the trial of faith, and that's how we grow.
Now, let's look at the specific components of the blessing. I think you’ll see at least five components of the blessing which Isaac gives to Jacob. First of all, he says, “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you.” God Almighty is a special name of the Lord. It was the name especially used by God in the covenant of grace with Abraham. It's the name El Shaddai. God Almighty, the Omnipotent One, the All Powerful One. And by reminding Jacob that his blessing was from God Almighty, he is reminding Jacob that Jacob did not obtain this blessing by deceit, but by divine design. You know, one of the things that could have troubled Jacob for the rest of his life is this thought running through his mind, “You know, I shouldn't even be here in the first place. I cheated my dad out of this blessing.” And Isaac's wondrous, divinely inspired word of blessing to Jacob, lets Jacob know, “Jacob, you’re not that smart and you’re not that good. You couldn't have brought about something that God didn't intend to be brought about.” And the blessing that you are going to experience comes not from your cunning, but from the Almighty God who is more powerful than you, just like He was more powerful than your feeble father, Isaac; just like He's more powerful than all the kings of the earth combined. Your blessing comes from Him. He reminds him of the source of his blessing. And then of course he repeats there the various forms of the Abrahamic promise that you would be blessed, that you would be fruitful, that you would be multiplied. That's the first thing that we see in the blessing.
Secondly, he says, that you may become a company of people. You remember in the Abrahamic promise, God told Abraham that he and his family would become a blessing to all the nations of the earth. Well, in this blessing to Jacob, Isaac again, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, goes a step further. The phrase “company of peoples” and the word “company” here comes from the root word for the Old Testament word for church, “this is the assembly of God.” And this is the first time it's ever used in the Bible, and it's found right here in God's blessing to Jacob, the cheat. And he's telling him that by his design, Jacob's family, through the covenant of grace is going to be an abode, an assembly for all the nations of the earth through which all those who believe on the Lord will worship Him in spirit and in truth. This is a promise, the fullness of which transcends even the prior promises given to Abraham about Jacob and his line, the line of the covenant of grace, one day becoming a church which will entail people from every tribe and tongue and people and nations. What an incredible promise is being given to Jacob.
The third thing we see here is this promise. May he also give you the blessing of Abraham. Isaac is confirming that Jacob has truly received the blessing of Abraham. That was the whole point of the birthright and the blessing in the first place, and Isaac is confirming that Jacob is the actual recipient and now the head of the covenant line.
Now think about this for a moment. Think first of all of the witness of grace this is. What kind of a man is Jacob? And yet God in His grace gives him the headship of the covenant line. He confirms the covenant promises. Maybe you’re a Christian, and you have done things in your past before you became a Christian, or maybe you’re a Christian whose been a prodigal, and you've made a profession that as far as you can tell has been a genuine concession of profession of faith, and yet you have strayed in grievous ways from the way of truth. You may find it hard to believe that you are in a position for God to bless you. Well, I dare you to reflect on Jacob for a few moments. The recipient of the promises of Abraham, Jacob the cheat, Jacob the supplanter, Jacob the deceiver, Jacob the schemer, Jacob the manipulator. God's capacity to bless outstrips even the capacity of His redeemed children to think up new ways to disappoint him. Grace abounds all the more even beyond our sin. That is one of the incredible promises of the covenant of grace. And if you’re a struggling Christian tonight wrestling with just that issue, I charge you to reflect on Jacob. Think of the assurance that this would have been for Jacob. You know, not only for now, but for years and years to come. Jacob could look back and he could see that God's blessing on him was not due to anything that he had done. It was due to the fact that God had simply set his love on him, and gave him without any deserving the covenant which he had given to Abraham.
Then a fourth thing we see here in this blessing to you and to your descendants with you. Isaac here confirms the continuation in and through Jacob's line. Don't underestimate the blessing of this. You remember Saul had been made the King of Israel, but Saul was not given the promise by God that his son would sit on the throne of Israel. Saul was the king, but never was the promise given to Saul that his son would sit on the throne. But to David was that special promise of I Samuel given, “David, I will sit your son on my throne, and his son, and his son, and his son.” You see, the difference between David and Saul was there was this continuation of blessing promised to David because of God's grace. Well, God is saying the same thing to Jacob, and to you and me here. He's promising a covenant succession for David, for Jacob in the promise of the covenant of grace. What a blessing this was.
And then fifthly, Isaac goes on to confirm that you may possess the land of your sojournings which God gave to Abraham. This is again a confirmation of the promises of the land which God had given to Abraham and Isaac before him. And so Isaac sends Jacob away with a blessing instead of a curse. And that in and of itself is a sign of God's grace. And it's a sign of God's grace not only to Jacob that he was dismissed with a blessing instead of a curse. It's a sign of God's grace in Isaac's life. Isaac could have tried by other ways to renege on the blessing to Jacob. He could have gone to a judge or to court. But he didn't because God had done a work of grace in his heart. Isaac himself had been a prodigal in Genesis 27, and he had to come back to submission to the will of the Lord. And that’ exactly what we see here.
By the way, in verse 5 you see a very interesting phrase. Look what Moses says there. “Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.” That's not a slip of the pen. I mean, really it ought to read Rebekah, the mother of Esau and Jacob if we're going to follow the birth order. But this again, is intentional, and it highlights the power of God reversing the natural order of things. God's electing love doesn't work according to the law of primogenitor. And we’ll see it over and over in the book of Genesis. God's election is sovereign and free, and it confounds the way that men would choose, as it did in the life of Isaac. And so in this journey, Jacob, the cheat, will learn the importance of a promise because our character is formed as believers in response to the word of God. Jacob will see days when he has nothing to hold on to but God's word and God's promise, and that is exactly what god will use to grow him. And that's exactly what God uses to grow you and me.
III. Esau's continued folly.
Now one last thing. In verses 6 through 9, we have more folly from Esau. Esau sees that violence and aggressive tactics are going to avail him nothing in this war that he is loosing with his brother right now. And so he attempts another route to appease his parents. But this route, too, will be to no avail. In fact, the spiritual efforts of Esau here and the good works of Esau here show us that the works of the natural man are in vain. Esau is trying his best to appease and please his parents. But while he took the point from his father's displeasure with his marriage, his attempt to do the approved thing was like most of the effort of the natural man, both superficial and ill-judged. Listen to what Calvin says about this passage. “Moses, in this example (the example of Esau) depicts all hypocrites to the like. For as often as the judgment of God urges them, though they are wounded with the pain of their punishment, yet they do not seek a true remedy for having aimed at offering one kind of satisfaction only, they entirely neglect a simple and real conversion and even in the satisfaction offered, they make only a pretense.
Whereas, Esau ought thoroughly to have repented, he only tried to correct a single fault of his marriage. And this, too, in a most absurd manner.” Esau in attempting to please his parents goes now, not to a Canaanite wife, but to an Ishmaelite wife. Maybe that was better than a Hittite, but it wasn't the answer to correct his sinfulness. He needed to flee to his father for repentance and to his Heavenly Father for grace. And instead, he marries another woman, and an Ishmaelite at that.
That is a picture of the natural man trying to earn his way into God's favor. Do you see why Isaiah can tell us that our righteousness is as filthy rags. Our righteousness looks like Esau's righteousness if we are not in Christ. And that's a message to us to look to Christ for grace. May God bless you as you do so. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for this Your word, and we ask that by grace we would appropriate it, walk in the way of truth. For Christ's sake we ask it, Amen.