The Birthright Blessing

Jacob, Esau, and the blessing… Most of us are familiar with the account of the two brothers and the saga of the elusive birthright blessing. Now, the birthright in the early Middle-Eastern culture was a very interesting thing. You see, the blessing of the birthright involved much more than simply extra land and possessions. The birthright also meant that you inherited the responsibilities of spiritual leadership for the family. It meant you were to become the priest of the family. That’s why Esau “despised” his birthright. He probably didn’t mind the idea of extra land and possessions, but he wanted nothing to do with the spiritual responsibilities for the family clan. Of course, we all remember how things went down in Genesis 25. Esau agreed to sell his birthright to Jacob for a mere bowl of lentils!

The mother Rebekah, of course, remembered this whole time how God had told her in Genesis 25:23 that Jacob, the younger son, was to receive the birthright blessing instead of Esau. She, Jacob, and, apparently, God were all on the same page. There was just one problem: Isaac wasn’t quite on board with the plan. Isaac still intended to give the birthright blessing to Esau, who had apparently forgotten about his arrangement with Jacob. And so, just like Abraham and Sarah, Rebekah and Jacob had a choice to make: let God work things out or try to make things work themselves. Sadly, she and Jacob chose to use bribery and deception to “make God’s plan happen.” Genesis 28 chronicles the elaborate birthright heist and Jacob’s subsequent flight for his life! Their plan did not work out quite as expected.

But even in the midst of this sad account of lies and deceit in Genesis 28, I think there is some fascinating spiritual symbolism at work here. Just think for a moment on this story’s spiritual implications for us today: Jacob receives the blessing of the father because he puts on the clothing and assumes the nature of his elder brother. You see, like Jacob, we don’t deserve our Father’s blessing either. But when we allow ourselves to be clothed with the garments of righteousness of our “Elder Brother” – when we allow ourselves to be covered by His forgiveness, when we allow ourselves to be filled with His Being – then, we find ourselves fully accepted into heaven’s family!

Of course, in Jacob’s case, his father was blind. Isaac unknowingly bestowed the blessing on the undeserving heir. But, in our case, our Heavenly Father absolutely knows everything we are and everything we have done! God is not fooled. He can look at us and see every ounce of filth in our lives and every taint of impurity in our hearts. But God doesn’t look at us that way. He, instead, simply chooses to look on us and see the goodness of His beloved Son Jesus Christ! “He has not seen iniquity in Jacob. Neither has he seen perverseness in Israel” (Numbers 23:21, WEB). “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons [to receive the birthright blessing!] through Jesus Christ [through Jesus’ provision for us, because of His garments of righteousness over us], in accordance with his pleasure and will [because he wanted to and because it gave Him great pleasure to do so for us!]” (Ephesians 1:4-5, NIV).

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Of Wells and Promises

As our journey with Abraham closes, we embark next on Genesis 26 with Isaac. Genesis 26 is a really interesting chapter that basically consists of Isaac retracing his father’s steps. There is again famine in the Promise Land. Isaac moves and settles in the land of the Philistines – just like Abraham. When the Philistines take notice of the beautiful Rebekah, Isaac resorts to deception to save his own skin – just like Abraham! (Parents, take note! Your children will follow the example that you set for them.)

But we also watch as Isaac follows in his father’s steps of faith. You may have noticed that Genesis 26 has a lot of wells in it. I find these wells particularly fascinating. Verse 18 reads, “Isaac reopened the wells his father had dug, which the Philistines had filled in after Abraham’s death. Isaac also restored the names Abraham had given them” (NLT). As I think about wells from a modern-day, life-application perspective, I think of digging down into the origins of our faith – of tapping into the legacy our early Christian parents and pioneers have left us. Wells also symbolize drilling down and setting our roots deep into our own personal relationship and communion with God. Of course, the enemy tries to stop up these wells, doesn’t he? But we are to keep building new wells and digging deeper and deeper until our soul’s thirst is at last satisfied by “living” water.

As we all know, Isaac made some mistakes in his life. I get annoyed, for instance, that this whole “lying that your wife is your sister” business keeps popping up – not just twice but three times in Genesis! What in the world is their problem? Why doesn’t God handle things a little more sternly? But I really like what Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh has to say when he points out that the deception is really just a “symptomatic sin and not the root sin” (Bible.org). Deception, in these cases, is merely a side-effect of a root problem of fear. “This fear was the product of an inadequate concept of God.” And that’s what I love so much about Genesis 26:24. After Isaac has finally returned to the heart of the Promise Land following a really, really long detour, God appears to Isaac that very same night and confirms a simple but amazing promise: “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you.” You see, God doesn’t punish and condemn Isaac for his mistake. Instead, He responds by re-introducing Himself to Isaac! God introduces Himself as a Protector and a Promise-Keeper who desires a personal relationship with Isaac.

“So Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord, and he pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well” (vs. 25). Isaac responds with worship, by calling on the name of the Lord. Up to this point, I think Isaac has known God as the God of his father Abraham, but now Jehovah is his God – the God of Isaac! And then, guess what. Isaac digs another well. This well will be named Beersheeba – that is, “Well of Oath” or “Well of Promise,” forever reminding Isaac and us of a God who is an eternal Covenant-Keeper.