September 23, 2007
As you interact with family members, look within to see if you are driven by godly motives or human motives.
I. Isaac plans to bless Esau. (Genesis 27:1-4)
II. Rebekah plans to substitute Jacob. (Genesis 27:5-17)
III. Jacob lies to receive the blessing. (Genesis 27:18-29)
IV. Esau weeps to lose the blessing. (Genesis 27:30-40)
Homer Hickham wrote a book called Rocket Boys, a memoir of his teen years. t’s a book that provokes a love of learning and experimentation, theat evokes the atmosphere of the late fifties and early sixties, but most of all for it presents an unvarnished picture of how a not-so-perfect family interacts as each family member tries to pursue their own dreams and yet uphold their responsibilities to others.
Homer Hickham is the second son of John Hickham, the manager of the coal mine that is the focal point of a little West Virginia town called Coalwood. Homer’s mom is Elsie Hickham, a high school beauty who only reluctantly stays in the hills with her workaholic husband. His only sibling is Jim, a football jock with whom Homer is constantly in conflict. Any resemblance to Isaac’s family in Genesis 27 is purely a result of the unchanging complexity of human nature.
The book was made into a popular movie called October Sky, which I can’t recommend for younger viewers due to language and content issues, but which captures the magic of the book pretty well. Let’s get to know the Hickhams and their mixed motives a little bit. This first scene captures a lot of the family dynamic.
Homer’s dad seems to favor Jim, while his mom leans toward Homer, a set-up for inevitable conflict between all the family members.
The tension builds when one of Homer’s rockets goes off course into the middle of town.
Then Homer’s dad has an accident, and Homer has to work in the mine to pay the hospital bills.
Open conflict breaks out when, against his dad’s real wishes, Homer goes back to high school, back to his rockets, and wins a local science fair.
The climax comes when the miners go out on strike at the same time that Homer’s carefully crafted rocket and engine models are stolen in Indianapolis. The only ones who can reproduce the models in time are the mine’s shop workers.
Genesis 27, like October Sky, tells an intimate story of family life set in the midst of much larger themes. It pictures a family we might call dysfunctional, and yet not too different than ours. And as we look at this family I want to focus very intentionally on their mixed motives in life so that we can dissect our own mixed motives, so that we can prayerfully seek to correct them. Looking at this ancient family, my desire this morning is that as you interact with the people in your family, you look within to see if you are driven by godly motives or human motives.
Genesis 27 consists of several nteractions between pairs of family members regarding the blessing of the son by the father. In these one-to-one encounters we glimpse the character of each individual. So we begin with the interaction between Isaac and Esau. Genesis 27:1-4
We don’t know exactly how old Isaac was. Jacob and Esau were born when he was 65 and were already full grown at the end of chapter 25. Isaac doesn’t die until he is 180, long after these events. But he’s already old, certainly over 100, possibly much more. He has lost most of his vision, he seems feeble, and fears he may die soon.
And under the influence of mixed motives, he sends for his son Esau. All of us, I think, operate from a mixture of motives. On the one hand a person may be genuinely motivated by godliness. Whether it is simply showing kindness, or acting to fulfill God’s purposes, this motive has the best interests of others at heart, an attitude like that of Christ Jesus. On the other hand, you may be motived by human motives, human desires and human nature, as seen in specific instances of selfishness, twisting of a situation to address your personal desires, and irritation when you don’t get things exactly your way.
It’s often easier to see this pattern in others. You’ve all encountered somebody professing to desire only goodness, yet immediately under the surface it was obvious that some kind of personal gain was at stake; some selfish or self-satisfying outcome you could see plainly. It could be material gain, satisfaction of pleasures, promotion of some individual or position, or in more extreme cases a desire for power over others or freedom to continue sinful behaviors.
So what motivates Isaac in this chapter? The author of Genesis wants us to notice that Isaac is very motivated by material pleasures. He wants his tasties - literal Hebrew. He wants the good tasting food he likes. Everybody in this drama knows it. The tasty food is mentioned in every paragraph. Isaac, despite the blessings he’s received and the promises God has made, is driven to satisfy worldly pleasures.
We see this motivation frequently. Let me give you a sad example. Over the years I’ve met and counseled several husbands who were leaving their families. All give some reason for their misery, and usually you could sympathize even if you didn’t agree. Then, after months of beating yourself against a hardened heart, you find that they’ve been driven to the edge not by their wives or their circumstances, but by sinful desires; he was already having the affair; he was already pursuing deviancy; he already had the evil habit. Saddest thing in the world - and it happens in miniature whenever personal pleasures become your motivator.
Yet Isaac isn’t entirely motivated by pleasure. It seems clear he did honestly desire God’s plan to go forward. He had that much godliness left. He wanted God to be at work, and believed only God could give the kind of blessing his family needed. He would have said he was trying to do the best thing for God’s line of promise. And he’d have been sincere - at least the people I run into often have a veneer of sincerity to their godly motives. It keeps them from seeing the influence of their human motives. I suspect it’s often true of me. How about you?
The problem is Isaac has decided how God needs to work - through Esau, despite God’s clear indication that in this case the older would serve the younger. But the older son was Isaac’s favorite, partially because of the tasties he could provide. Isaac wanted Esau to get the blessing, even if Esau had already given away the rights of the firstborn, which he had, chapter 25; even if Esau had already taken Canaanite wives in defiance of God’s plan, chapter 26. Isaac’s human motivation is simple favoritism: this is my guy; I’m going to make it happen for him. He’s acting out of his feelings for Esau. He reminds me of many who use feelings to justify all kinds of sin: ‘God wouldn’t allow me to feel this if it wasn’t right’. But when our motives or feelings contradict God’s clear word, it’s our motives or feelings that are wrong.
In verse 4 Isaac promises Esau ‘my blessing’. Esau has already sold his birthright, the right to the largest share of the inheritance. But Isaac’s blessing would now confer to Esau dominion and headship in the family. As one scholar puts it “the elder son becomes the head of the family, the one who carries the family traditions, defining the family’s understanding of itself, speaking for the family and carrying out the family’s direction.” Theologically, for this family, it also means bearing God’s promises into the next generation. Isaac wants to give all this to Esau.
So Isaac has mixed motives: he loves his tasties, he loves his Esau - but he also wants God’s promises to continue. John Hickham had mixed motives in dealing with his sons - he favored Jim, he doubted Homer, but like Isaac, he wanted their success to be according to his plan - football for Jim, the mine for Homer - not necessarily what was really best for each. Motives are like that, a slippery mix of the godly and the human. We need to be critical in examining ourselves for our motivations.
Isaac interacted with Esau. Rebekah interacts with Jacob. Verses 5-17:
Notice something: Esau is constantly characterized as Isaac’s son, and Jacob as Rebekah’s son. The family rivalry and favoritism has split the family in two, and Rebekah is fighting tooth and nail for her guy, Jacob. Again, it’s easy to see mixed motives. On the one hand, from a human level, she is clearly showing favoritism, and even more clearly showing the deceptive nature which, we will find, she shares with her brother Laban. Rather than communicating with her husband and encouraging him to do what God had revealed to be the plan, she connives against her husband and manipulates him into acting against his will. If Isaac is revealed to be a materialist and a sensualist, Rebekah is revealed to be a deceiver and a manipulator.
On the other hand, she does desire that what God had decreed would come to pass. She knows Esau isn’t the one to carry this family name and this line of promise. He had sold his birthright; he had married Canaanite women. So she wants to see Jacob receive the blessing - but her methods are deplorable. She conspires with Jacob to outrageously manipulate Isaac. ‘You go kill a couple of goats, I’ll prepare a meal just the way he likes it, you wear Isaac’s clothes, put on these goatskins, don’t worry about it going wrong, I’ll take the blame, just go in and claim the blessing’.
It’s an elaborate ruse which could only work if Isaac was weak, a little senile, and blind. Apparently he was, and his wife knew it. She is trying to get things to work out the way God said they would, but she uses human means, manipulation and deception, instead of trusting the Lord to keep his promises. We still see this in families today. Elsie Hickham manipulates her husband to get him to settle the strike so Homer can get his new rocket parts. My experience talking to mature Christian wives over the last twenty years tells me they see this issue of manipulation as key. Scripture teaches men to take spiritual leadership in the home, but when someone like Isaac gets more concerned for his tasties than for godliness, it’s a strong temptation for wives to manipulate to get what want, rather than trusting God to provide. If you suspect you struggle with this, let me encourage you to connect to some of the mature women in this body and ask them for counsel and help.
So Isaac operates from mixed motives, human and godly. Rebekah operates from mixed motives and with human methods. In the next section we see Jacob, a deceiver like his mother, and a liar. Genesis 27:18-29
Last week we saw that Isaac struggled with ‘like father - like son’ issues. But Jacob seems more like his mother. He not only carries out the deception she planned, but adds his own flourishes, and when things start to go wrong, he lies to make the deception work. His human failings are that he’s a deceiver and a liar.
Jacob walks into Isaac’s tent with the tasties, with Esau’s clothes, with hairy arms. But nothing can disguise his voice. When he says ‘sit up and eat so that you can give me your blessing’, Isaac is suspicious: ‘How did you find the game so fast.’
Jacob says ‘Oh the Lord granted me success’. That’s blasphemy - he’s making God a co-conspirator in the deception. Isaac says “the voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are the hands of Esau.” He asks flat out: “Are you really Esau”. And Jacob in his guile, doesn’t come clean and simply ask his father to give him the blessing. Instead he compounds the deception with another lie. “I am Esau”. saac, if he suspects, is more concerned about getting his tasties than pursuing the truth. He turns to eating the stew and the bread, and drinking the wine. Finally he invites Jacob to him, Jacob gives him a ceremonial kiss, and he pronounces the blessing.
Isaac’s first words reflect the success of Jacob’s deception - “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.” Even Isaac knows that blessing is ultimately from the Lord “May God give you of heaven's dew and of earth's richness--an abundance of grain and new wine.” Heaven’s dew and earth’s richness are both metaphors for water - dew and rain, so necessary in a dry climate. saac’s words offer Esau abundance. “May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.” Isaac offers dominion and the inheritance of God’s covenant promises - but he’s really shaking his fist in God’s face because he’s pronouncing this blessing on Esau. The blessing was real and meaningful and God would honor it for Jacob, despite the human deception that was used to receive it.
So what have we seen in Jacob? Both mixed motives and mixed up methods. He too has the godly motive of wanting to see God’s promise achieved, but that’s dwarfed by his pride, sibling rivalry and human methods. Jacob’s outright lies and blasphemous implication of God in this plan are appalling. He’s clearly one of those people for whom the ends justify the means. He’s the spittin image of his relatives, Abraham and Isaac who were often guilty of using human solutions when they ought to be trusting God. Homer Hickham is a lot like this in “October Sky”: he sweet-talks Mr. Iverson into welding the nozzle on his first real rocket, and in response his dad sends Mr. Iverson back down into the mine. And you and I can be a lot like this.
But you may wonder “where does taking initiative and pursuing God end and human manipulation and lack of trust begin?” I think the boundary is fairly easy to spot. When you achieve anything by underhanded means, using methods you wouldn’t recommend to others and wouldn’t want used on you, you’ve crossed that line. When you lie, as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did, you have probably crossed that line. If you lie to your family to cover up your behavior you’re Jacob. If you are juggling debt that your wife doesn’t know about, you’re Jacob. If you don’t admit your struggle with porn ‘because I don’t want to hurt her’, you’re Jacob. If you’re a wife covering spending by inflating legitimate expenses, you’re Jacob. Even if your motives are good, if your methods are mixed up, you’re Jacob.
Finally, we return to Isaac and Esau, verses 30 to 40. We’ll look at the last five verses of the chapter next week. Genesis 27:30-40
I’m not entirely sure Esau even has mixed motives in this episode. When Jacob took his birthright, we saw that Esau was a man driven by impulse and surface desires. There is little here to make us suspect any other motive besides personal gain. Esau comes back from his hunting, prepares more ‘tasties’ and goes in the tent. Isaac is understandably confused when Esau announces who he is; he trembles violently. Some scholars think that Isaac realized immediately that he’d given the blessing to Jacob and that he repented of trying to give it to Esau. For the rest of the chapter he takes it as a given that Jacob is the one, that Esau must resign himself to the new situation. It seem to be more than just conformity to a cultural norm - the shock of being tricked appears to have straightened Isaac out, at least for a little while.
When Esau realizes what happened he cries out “Bless me - bless me too.” This could be a simple cry-of-the-heart desire to not lose his father’s favor, but given Esau’s track record up, it sounds more like the fussing of a spoiled child. Isaac says “I can’t do it - I’ve already blessed your brother.” Esau pleads: “He’s a deceiver, just as his name implies. He took my birthright and now he’s taken my blessing.” No doubt crafty Jacob did outwit impulsive Esau, but don’t forget: Esau sold Jacob the birthright. Scripture says he despised his birthright in favor of a bowl of beans. Esau suffers from what I call ‘Responsibility Deficit Syndrome’: “I’m a victim. This isn’t my fault!”
He pleads again “Haven’t you at least saved a little blessing for me.” Isaac says “I’ve made Jacob lord over you and blessed him with provision and dominion. What can I give you?” “Give me a different blessing.” But Isaac can only respond with what Bruce Waltke calls an ‘anti-blessing’ - one that denies Esau both dominion over his brother and a fertile place on the earth: ‘Your dwelling will be away from the earth's richness, away from the dew of heaven above. 40You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck.” This prophecy was fulfilled. 2 Kings 8:20 tells us that “In the time of Jehoram, Edom - Esau’s descendant - rebelled against Judah and set up its own king. . . . 22To this day Edom has been in rebellion against Judah.”
The only godly side that we might see in Esau is his firm conviction that a blessing from his father and from God is desirable. The human side is that Esau is impulsive, driven by personal desire, unwilling to take responsibility, rebellious against God’s decree that in the case of his family, the older would serve the younger.
Thank goodness none of us is like this. We never whine about providence, complain about the way things are, deny responsibility, blame others for our problems or set our feet against what God is doing. And if we did happen to examine ourselves and see just a little bit of this kind of behavior, we would be quick to repent and try to take hold of godly desires. Right? If we were to see any of these traits motivating us, we would prayerfully seek to correct these behaviors and purify our motives. If the pursuit of our pleasures and our tasties is becoming a motivator right up there with the pleasure of serving God, we would want to change. If we are trying to get our way by manipulation we would forsake that path. If we find lies on our lips, justifying the means by the ends, we would confess them. And if we aren’t taking responsibility for our own stuff, but find ourselves whining and complaining about our lot in life, we would seek the one who Scripture says loves us with an everlasting love, and we would look for contentment in his presence alone. At least I hope we would. We should. And I pray that we will.
Do yourself a favor this week: look within to see if you are driven by godly motives or human motives, and then prayerfully seek change where it’s needed.