(A) Lessons from Jacob: blessing and call to holiness (v.1-5)
Gen 28:1 begins with the word "then", indicating that the events in this passage follow from the previous chapter. These verses then, continue from Gen 27, where Isaac had blessed Jacob instead of Esau, much to the latter's rage. (See last week's study for the context)
Isaac called, blessed and directed Jacob (v.1). He gave Jacob a specific instruction, which was not to marry a Canaanite woman. To us modern people, this may seem extremely myopic, racist and very prejudicial. Why is this not inbreeding? From all our readings of previous passages, we know that Isaac was not motivated by mere personal preference. Instead, he is thinking about things on a grander and larger scale, and had another agenda (see v3). He was thinking about the covenant.
Isaac's instructions were tied to the covenant and blessing. As the patriarch, Isaac was exercising responsibility and also sought to ensure that the person he handed the promise to lived a life worthy of the calling. What made him continue to live in this way, different from those around him? Remember who Isaac is, and the life that he lived. As a child, he was almost sacrificed to God because of the obedience of his father, Abraham. As a man, his marriage to Rebekah was clearly an act of God's sovereignty. This is the Isaac that has seen God's faithfulness numerous times, and this is the Isaac that continues to seek to obey this faithful God.
Knowing Isaac's motivations helps us understand his instructions to Jacob, as well as their implications. Let us examine them more closely:
- "Must not take a Canaanite wife" (v.1c): Implies a single faith, a covenant purity
- "Go to this place" (v.2a): Separation from the world
- "Go to this family" (v.2b): Covenant exclusion
- "Take one wife" (v.2c): Monogamy (in stark contrast with Esau, who has 2 wives at this point of the passage)
- "Take one woman" (v.2d): Heterosexual marriage
Isaac knew that God's people who have been called to follow Him have been promised blessings (v.3). But the blessing in verse 3 is specific and is a reiteration of Gen 1:22, Gen 9:1, Gen 12. The Bible is not ambigious about what God means by blessing. True blessing is not measured in a material sense, and neither is it a conflict-free, smooth, easy life. Rather, it is living the life we were originally made to -- what God intended for Adam and Eve in Eden before sin entered the world.
And as recipients of these blessings, Isaac knew that they had to live as those set apart, in holiness. In the New Testament, Peter also makes a mention of this call to holiness (1 Pet 2:9). The same concern for holiness applies for us today, as it was for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Peter. As Christians, we have been set apart, therefore, we seek to fight all our sins. We are made holy through faith in Christ so that we can pursue holiness. What about us individually? Are you committed to consecrating yourself for God in all aspects of life, e.g. relationships etc? Whose purposes are you pursuing? To what degree is God's purpose the purpose for your life -- use of time, gifts, relationships, life?
(B) Lessons from Esau: hardened and sinful heart (v.6-9)
We can also learn many lessons from Esau. In verse 6, we read about his actions following Isaac's instructions to Jacob. He saw his father blessing his brother and his brother's obedience, and also saw his parents' dislike of Canaanite women (v.6-7). His response? He went to marry two more women (v.8-9). There are two possible explanations for his actions. He acted either to further displease his parents (i.e. out of spite and rebellion) or as an attempt to salvage the situation (because the women were his cousins, and so, they could be part of the 'family').
Whichever the explanation, we can safely conclude that Esau was thinking purely in terms of horizontal relationships (i.e. man to man). He did not consider God's purposes and plans. In all the passages, we see how Esau was a stark contrast to his twin brother, Jacob. Esau was unholy, unlike Jacob, who was consecrated and set apart. Esau continued to remain unrepentant and closed to God.
Yet, so often, we, like Esau, could choose the same path of envy and unrepentant rebellion. In this new year, we are confronted with the same choice -- to pursue holiness or not. There is no middle ground about this. Heb 3 warns us about the process of hardening of the heart. We often think that the Christian life is static. Yet the Bible continues to remind us that we are going one way or another every day, every moment. We see this in Esau's life, where event after event, he continues in his sin, and his actions reflect a hardening heart. So from the life of Jacob and Esau, we are forced to ponder this question about our own heart and lives today? What is the state of your heart? Are you responding to God?
What, then, is the remedy for a hardened heart? Ezekiel 36 helps us see that the solution is a complete heart renovation and a replacement of the hard heart. It cannot be solved with new resolve or plans. To get a new heart, the old one and the old self must die (Gal 2:20). Look at the cross, and what Christ did. Meditate and soak in it, and let it move our hearts slowly, surely and daily.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.