Isaac: Earthly Pleasures vs. the Eyes of Faith
Genesis 25:11 – 27:46
Isaac. Less is written of Isaac than of Abraham, Jacob, or even Joseph. Yet there is much to learn from his life, and from his place in the purposes of God. As we trace the history of Isaac’s father Abraham, we find the principles of calling out (separation), promise, election, and justification by faith. Isaac was the promised son and heir. Abraham and Sarah had tried to fulfill the promise in the energy of the flesh, and the result was that Ishmael was born. Isaac was born according to promise, as Galatians 4 explains. As the promised son and heir, Isaac is a type of Christ in the latter chapters of Abraham’s life. Abraham is called to offer up Isaac at Mount Moriah, and he obeyed, “Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” (Heb. 11:19). On the basis of the burnt-offering and Abraham’s obedience, the promises are confirmed with an oath to the promised Seed, which Galatians 3 shows is really Christ Himself. After the death of Sarah, which speaks of the suspension of God’s dealings with Israel, Abraham seeks a bride for His Son. Rebecca is a type of the assembly, the Bride of Christ. In Gen. 25:11 we come to the beginning of Isaac’s personal history. Isaac is the patriarch who was born in the land of Canaan. He is a type of a believer seated in heavenly places in Christ. The one great thing Isaac struggled with was his weakness for earthly things. He loved the savory venison that Esau made for him. This blinded Isaac to the purposes of God with regard to Jacob. It speaks of how earthly interests and pleasures can dim our spiritual eyesight, and take our focus off of Christ and our portion in the heavenly places.
O U T L I N E
|– Isaac: Earthly Pleasures vs. the eyes of faith||Genesis 25:11 – 27:46|
|– Isaac’s Early Years: Family Struggles||Genesis 25:11-34|
|– Isaac’s Middle Years: World Bordering||Genesis 26|
|– Isaac’s Later Years: Blindness||Genesis 27|
Isaac Blessed by God (25:11)
11 And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac dwelt by the well Lahairoi. v.11 Isaac Blessed. With the words “And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac”, the narrative changes, and Isaac comes to the forefront. God now begins to take up a special dealing with Isaac, as He had with Abraham. To be blessed by God in a world of sin and suffering is a wonderful thing. Isaac pictures a believer in the full Christian position: in possession of all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3). We have these blessings by virtue of our position in Christ, but our enjoyment of them depends on our obedience. Isaac dwelt “by the well Lahairoi”, which speaks of submission, as we noted in ch.16. The path of enjoyment of our blessings is the path of submission.
The Generations of Ishmael (25:12-18)
12 And these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s bondwoman, bore to Abraham. 13 And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael by their names according to their generations: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam, 14 and Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa, 15 Hadad and Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedmah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, in their hamlets and their encampments — twelve princes of their peoples. 17 And these are the years of the life of Ishmael: a hundred and thirty-seven years; and he expired and died, and was gathered to his peoples. 18 And they dwelt from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite to Egypt, as one goes towards Assyria. He settled before the face of all his brethren. vv.12-18 The Generations of Ishmael: His Death and Burial. This is one of ten generations mentioned in Genesis, all beginning with the words “the generations of”, etc. Read more… We have another in v.19. Ishmael is carefully distinguished as the son of Hagar the Egyptians, Sarah’s bondwoman. Ishmael had twelve sons who became princes, and they lived in “hamlets” or “encampments”. This means that each son was head of a nomadic tribe. They settled “from Havilah to Shur”, which covers what is modern day Saudi Arabia. Later on we will find that Esau married into the Ishmaelites (Gen. 28:9). It says “He settled before the face of all his brethren”, which seems to be a fulfillment of the prophecy in Gen. 16:12, spoken to Hagar. This could be translated “in the face of all his brethren”, which could indicate that the Ishmaelites would be an aggravation to others.[Kelly, William. Isaac.[/efn_note] No doubt “all his brethren” refers to Isaac and his descendants, as well as the sons born to Abraham and Keturah, such as Midian. Ishmael died at 137 years, but no mention is made of his burial, as with Abraham and Sarah. One thing we will realize, as we read next of the generations of Isaac, is how quickly and easily Ishmael reproduced and spread. For one thing, it was the fulfillment of the promises made to Hagar (Gen. 16:10) and Abraham (Gen. 17:20). But as a type of the flesh, Ishmael seems to have no difficulty having twelve sons, while Isaac, as a type of one walking in the Spirit, goes childless for twenty years before having two sons. So it is with the flesh; its wages are earned quickly. Meanwhile, he who walks in the Spirit waits on God’s timetable, trusting in Him to fulfill His promise.
The Generations of Isaac: the Birth of Jacob and Esau (25:19-26)
19 And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham begot Isaac. 20 And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebecca as wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan-Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian. 21 And Isaac entreated Jehovah for his wife, because she was barren; and Jehovah was entreated of him, and Rebecca his wife conceived. vv.19-21 Rebecca’s Conception. The generations of Isaac are given after those of Ishmael; “that which is spiritual was not first, but that which is natural, then that which is spiritual” (1 Cor. 15:46). It seems that Ishmael had twelve sons relatively quickly, but the family of faith had to wait twenty years for children (v.20, v.26), and at that, not without Isaac entreating Jehovah for his wife. Barrenness seems to have plagued the family of faith. The trials that God allows in the lives of His people is the catalyst for faith to spring into action, as it did for Isaac. God tries faith. Isaac’s trial wasn’t nearly as deep as Abraham’s, but it was a trial nonetheless. The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebecca conceived. Isaac and Rebecca were preserved from bringing a concubine into their lives, as Abraham and Sarah had done. How wonderful that the type of Christ and the church be preserved in the harmony of this marriage – though imperfect – yet one man and one woman!
22 And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of Jehovah. 23 And Jehovah said to her, Two nations are in thy womb, And two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; And one people shall be stronger than the other people, And the elder shall serve the younger. vv.22-23 Two Nations. When she felt unexpected movement in the womb, Rebecca was perplexed. Her nurse no doubt was at a loss (Gen. 35:8). She turns to the Lord, as faith properly does. Trouble with children and babies often puts parents on their knees faster than any other trial. Rebecca’s question “why am I thus?” may be better translated “do I live?”, although it is not clear. Perhaps the struggling was so violent that Rebecca thought she was dying of complications. This was a frequent result of double pregnancies in those days. Medically speaking, there is a condition that Rebecca may have had. Twin-to-twin transfusion occurs when twins in the womb share a placenta, and when an imbalance develops in the blood supply to each baby. The result can be large amounts of fluid created by the over-supplied baby, and extreme pressure on the babies and on the mother. Frequently, twins with this condition do not survive to full term. When the twins do survive to full term, the over-supplied baby may come out with a reddish hue compared to the under-supplied twin who is comparatively pale. This was the case with Esau and Jacob (v.25). However, we cannot be sure about the medical condition, and it was allowed of God for a specific reason. The Lord answered Rebecca’s inquiry, calmed her fears, and revealed that it was twins, who would indeed survive, and would descend into two distinct nations. The boys were having their first ‘wrestling match’ in the womb! It is interesting that often a person’s character can be detected in them early, even as an infant. It is interesting that this revelation was made to Rebecca, and we never read that she shared this with Isaac. It could have saved them tremendous strife in their family if husband and wife had been on the same page about their sons. It isn’t until the end of Isaac’s life (ch.27) that he finally learned what Rebecca was told before the boys were born; that the elder would serve the younger.
Predestination and Election. In Romans 9:10-12, the sons of Isaac and Rebecca are mentioned as an example of God’s ways with men. Long before they were born or had grown up, the Lord knew the destiny of these two men, and the destiny of their progeny. In Romans 9, having already shown that God chose Isaac over Ishmael, in spite of Isaac being the younger, Paul makes a further point with regard to the sovereignty of God. God’s election of Isaac proved that blessing did not flow through the paternal link, but perhaps the Jew could argue that it flowed through the maternal link; through Sarah. Paul argues that Esau and Jacob had the same father and mother, and still God chose the younger for special blessing. The natural order would be for the younger to serve the older; but God’s sovereignty not not run along the lines of nature. This principle is found all the way through scripture. In fact, Jacob struggled his entire life with this issue. Jacob thought he was the reason he was blessed. But finally at the end of his life, through many difficult trials, Jacob learned his lesson. When he, by faith, blessed the sons of Joseph, he crossed his arms (Gen. 48:14), giving the younger son Ephraim the greater blessing. Joseph protested, but Jacob insisted that this was God’s will, although it went against the lines of nature. He had learned his lesson! The pronouncement “I have loved Jacob, and I have hated Esau” (Mal. 1:2-3) is said in hindsight, after they had lived their lives, had children, and the two families had proved their true character: Esau’s was a character of hatred and bitterness, Jacob’s was a character of faith. Jacob valued the promise of God, even though he connived to get it thought the flesh. But Esau despised it, and his descendants were characterized by bitterness toward Jacob. God has moral grounds for His hatred of Esau after history was played out. But the superiority of the younger was pronounced while the twins were still in their mother’s womb.
24 And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 And the first came out red — all over like a hairy garment; and they called his name Esau [‘hairy’]. 26 And after that came his brother out; and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob [‘heel’ or ‘supplanter’]. And Isaac was sixty years old when they were born. vv.24-26 The Birth of Esau and Jacob. The firstborn twin came out red with hair all over his body. An abundance of hair often speaks of the outgrowth of nature. It was advanced growth. Jacob came out afterward, but his hand was on Esau’s heel. This gives a hint as to Jacob’s character. From the womb he was reaching for the firstborn’s place. This is how Jacob got his name ‘supplanter’, because of this character. But God had already told Rebecca that “the elder shall serve the younger”. Jacob’s greatest struggle in life would be in striving to gain the blessing of God through his own strength.
The Early Years of Esau and Jacob (25:27-34)
27 And the boys grew, and Esau became a man skilled in hunting, a man of the field; and Jacob was a homely man, dwelling in tents. v.27 Occupations. Just as the two boys were different in appearance, so they were different in their chosen occupations. Esau was an outdoorsman and a hunter, preferring the rugged lifestyle. Jacob was more civilized, and dwelled in tents. Who in prior history were known for these two occupations? Nimrod was a mighty hunter, and Abraham was a tent-dweller. Esau’s occupation fit his character as was later revealed. He loved excitement, and tended to act rashly. Jacob on the other hand was more cultured, though still fleshly. Yet he seemed to value the pilgrim lifestyle in some way, content to wait for “the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God”.
28 And Isaac loved Esau, because venison was to his taste; and Rebecca loved Jacob. v.28 Favoritism. Next we find that family tendency which the chosen people struggled with for generations to come; i.e. favoritism. Parents should never have favorites with their children. This was a serious mistake, and it eventually resulted in the division of the family. Isaac loved Esau, and the reason given is not elevated; “because venison was to his taste”. This really shows a weakness on Isaac’s part. The lusts of the belly affected his heart. He was not able to get clear of this tendency until he was very old. Rebecca loved Jacob, but no specific reason is given. Perhaps she pitied Jacob as his father was showing favoritism to Esau. Perhaps she remembered the prophecy in connection with Jacob’s birth, and loved him for that reason. But perhaps Rebecca loved Jacob because he was so much like her. We will find in ch.27 that mother and son shared the same conniving determination. In any case, favoritism in families is never healthy.
29 And Jacob had cooked a dish; and Esau came from the field, and he was faint. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with the red — the red thing there, for I am faint. Therefore was his name called Edom [‘red’]. 31 And Jacob said, Sell me now thy birthright. 32 And Esau said, Behold, I am going to die, and of what use can the birthright be to me? 33 And Jacob said, Swear unto me now. And he swore unto him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 And Jacob gave Esau bread and the dish of lentils; and he ate and drank, and rose up and went away. Thus Esau despised the birthright. vv.29-34 Esau Sells His Birthright. This account marks the character of Jacob and Esau. Jacob was at home cooking, and Esau was in the field, presumable hunting or working. Esau came in “faint” with hunger, and wanted to eat the dish Jacob had made. Knowing the character of Jacob, it is quite possible that he knew ahead of time that Esau would be hungry, and perhaps did this on purpose, although this is uncertain. Either way, it does not lessen the craftiness of what Jacob did next. Rather than simply share the dish with Esau, Jacob proposed a trade. Esau’s birthright, all of his privileges as the firstborn son of Isaac, Jacob wanted in trade for the dish, which was a simple meal of lentils, or beans. Jacob was unkind in this; there is no excusing it. But what Esau did was unthinkable. Speaking rashly, he says “I am going to die, and of what use can the birthright be to me?” How easily Esau traded away his birthright! Hebrews says that Esau, “for one meal sold his birthright” (Heb. 12:16). Jacob wanted to formalize what his brother hastily agreed to. “And he swore unto him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.” This shows the great difference between Jacob and Esau: one valued the birthright, and the other despised it. It is interesting that Esau was born red all over (v.25), but his family’s name Edom, which means ‘red’, is not given until this incident, when Esau called the dish “the red thing there”. Red is the color of the earth, and it speaks of nature. Adam also means ‘dust’ or ‘red’. Adam was made from the earth, Edom turned to the earth. Esau sold his greatest possession to satisfy the cravings of nature, and he proved his character before God.
The Birthright and the Blessing.
In Deut. 21:17 we read about the birthright, that that natural order in families was that the oldest son would receive "a double portion of all" that a man possessed. The birthright has to do with the immediate inheritance of the older son. The blessing is different. In Hebrews 11:20 it says "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come." The blessing therefore has to do with the future; i.e. extending to the descendants of the one who was blessed. Hebrews 12:16 speaks of how Esau sold his birthright. Hebrews 12:17 speaks of how he sought the blessing and was denied. Esau proved by his actions regarding the birthright that he didn't care for the portion that was promised to faith.
Esau as a Type of Israel. Esau is a type of the Jews who rejected Christ (their birthright) in order to curry favor with Romans. Like Esau, they were very shortsighted; willing to sell their Messiah for next to nothing (John 11:48). In this vein Esau is held out as a warning in Hebrews 12 to the Jews who had heard the gospel, not to sell their birthright.