GENESIS 27:1-17

OCTOBER 5, 2008



            He picked me up on a September morning in 1966.  We were the only two students from our high school graduating class attending UCLA.  Both of us had decided to commute to school our first year from our hometown of Glendale to Westwood, about thirty minute drive, depending on traffic.  Al and I did not know each other real well in high school, but our mutual acceptance to UCLA set us off on a life time friendship.  In fact, a week ago Wednesday, Al and his wife, Diana, drove down from their home in Davis, California to have dinner with us while we vacationed in San Francisco.

            Al and I both intended to enroll in Law School after graduating from UCLA.  Al, did, I did not.  Instead, I had a significant conversion experience to Jesus Christ between my freshman sophomore year that started me on a different vocational path.  After graduation, I began work with the Boise YMCA, and Al headed to Law School at the University of California’s Davis campus.  He eventually settled down in Davis, a suburb of sorts of Sacramento, and still lives there.  A few years ago, he was appointed to the California state bench, and now is a judge.  When we get together I ask him if he still likes sitting on the California bench, and he assures me he does.

            Given how much my friend Al, enjoys being a judge, I thought I would invite you, yourself, to become one today.  Specifically, I want you to hear all the evidence and decide whether Isaac’s wife Rebekah was a saint or a self-centered, cruel manipulator.  I want us to imagine ourselves at a trial this morning.  I want us to imagine Esau bringing suit against his mother Rebekah because of the way she treated him, and the way she conspired to bilk him out of this inheritance.  In our litigious day and age, I’m sure we can imagine such a trial.  In fact, the other day I heard about a man suing a ladder company.  He fell off the ladder and sued the company who made it, even though he had purchased the ladder twenty-five years ago. 

            So bringing our story up to date, let’s imagine Esau suing his mother for the emotional and financial damage his mother caused him by her favoritism.  If we were observing such a trial, I would imagine the plaintiff’s attorney beginning by reminding the jurors of the events, how Rebekah after eavesdropping on a privileged communication between father and son, conspired to deceive her husband and get her husband’s blessing for her favorite son, Jacob.  How she stole Esau’s patented stew recipe to fool her husband, how she dressed Jacob to appear like Esau, how she went to Esau’s closet while he was away, borrowed his clothes and put them on Jacob, and how she covered Jacob’s hands with animal skins so her husband, the blind, aging Isaac would mistake Jacob for Esau, all to get Isaac’s blessing which in those days was irrevocable.

            Then, the plaintiff’s attorney would remind the jury of Esau’s pain and horror when he discovered the deception had taken place, and worst of all, worked.  He would highlight verse 34 in our story, how when Esau returned and discovered what had transpired, how he, well listen to that verse once again ...

            When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, me also, Father.”


            But it was too late.  Jacob had gotten the fortune.

            And I’m sure the plaintiff’s attorney would point out that Esau’s cry was not just an immediate outburst, a frustration of the moment, but a cry which included years of being put down and ignored by a mother he loved so much and had tried so hard to please, but to no avail.  Esau’s cry was a heartfelt wail of pain and then I am sure the plaintiff’s attorney would make the jury aware of the study completed by Harvard Medical School.  It was a study on fathers and mothers relationships with their children, and specifically how they differ.  How fathers are more physical and stimulating, and in general, mothers are more verbal and soothing.  How fathers take less time in care taking tasks and spend more time in play, and yes, Esau had a wonderful relationship with his father, but then the plaintiff’s attorney would point out the punch line of the study, how children are more inclined to play with their fathers, but how we would rather have our mothers than our fathers when we are stressed, something having to do with bonding in the womb, and how Esau was denied that comfort throughout his whole life by a cool, detached mother who clearly favored Jacob over him.  And I imagine the plaintiff’s attorney ending by saying something like, “I know money will not bring the comfort and love that was denied this man all is life, however, money is all we have to give him.  Do not be taken in by this woman.  Give back to Esau a portion of what he deserves.”

            Then, I imagine the defense attorning rising and beginning the defense by saying, “Yes, ladies and gentleman, at first glance this does seem to be an open and shut case of favoritism and deception, but don’t forget the mitigating circumstances.”

            Then she would remind us of them.  She would remind us of the promise given to  Abraham about land and descendants, and we would be reminded of Isaac’s problem, how Mount Moriah had wounded him, how he would get nervous every his father Abraham would take out a knife to carve the Thanksgiving turkey, how it had taken it’s toll on him, and how of all the biblical patriarchs in the Book of Genesis, Isaac was the least interested in the things of God.  Compare Isaac to Abraham or Jacob or Joseph and he will come up short every time.  One theologian describes him as a “shadowy figure” compared to the other patriarchs.  The truth is, Isaac’s light never shined all that brightly.

            It seems Isaac never forgot what it was like that afternoon on Mount Moriah when he was twelve years old, of being tied on that altar and having Abraham, raise that knife to kill him, only to be stopped at the last minute.  Sure, Abraham had tried to explain all this to Isaac later, but Isaac never quite got Moriah out of his mind, and ever since then Isaac kept a safe distance from the God of his father, Abraham.  Oh sure, Isaac and God conversed at times, but only when necessary, but never did Isaac become fast friends with God like the other patriarchs.  Instead, Isaac became the adult who preferred more practical and down to earth concerns.

            Then when the twins arrived Isaac gravitated to the boy most like him, to Esau, one who also was not very interested in spiritual matters.  No, Esau was the kind of guy who preferred fishing and golf to worship, and suddenly the promise to Abraham was in jeopardy.  If left to Isaac and Esau it would have died from neglect, but God foresaw all that and that’s where Rebekah enters the picture.

            Remember how she got involved in the first place?  Remember how she was selected to marry Isaac?  Remember?  In response to the prayers of Abraham and his servant, Eliezer, God hand delivered Rebekah to Isaac.  Because of Isaac’s woundedness and passivity, God needed someone who would push the promise forward, someone with drive, someone with spunk, someone with faith, and boy did she have faith.  We often point to Abraham having great faith, but what about Rebekah?  She, like Abraham, also left her home country, but she with a stranger to marry a man she had never met!  Rebekah was the perfect person for Isaac.  She was someone who would keep the promise alive.

            Then, when she became pregnant with twins, to whom dId God communicate?  Was it Isaac?  Give me a break!  It was Rebekah, and God let her in on a little secret, like he would do with another pregnant woman named Mary, about how the older child would end up serving the younger child, and Rebekah never forgot that word from God.  It became her guiding vision in life, and so that secret, what God had communicated to her that day, explains many of the things she did in the future, that on the surface appears little more than a personal preference for one son over another.  Despite the customs of the day, and the mores of family life, Rebekah knew she needed to obey God, and so she put God and God’s promises above her family and paid the price for it, of being misunderstood, and of never seeing her beloved Jacob again.  When Esau found out what had transpired, he threatened to kill Jacob, so Rebekah sent Jacob away to her brother Laban’s house, and the two of them, Rebekah and Jacob never saw one another again.

            And I can just imagine the defense attorney saying, “So you see, let us not be too hasty in condemning this woman for she was acting out of conscience and she did what needed to be done to further the Kingdom of God.  She sensed a a significance in the promise to Abraham that Isaac, and spiritually dull Esau could not see.  Sure, she may have used other tactics, but remember she had to act quickly, the future was at stake, and despite her questionable tactics, she demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice personally in the service of something bigger than her own life.  So we should not be accusing her today, but praising her for her courage and her willingness to go against the grain of her culture in order to be faithful to a higher law, the promises of God.”

            Well, that’s the case.  What’s the verdict?  How many of you find in favor of Esau in his suit against his mother?  How many of you agree with the works of the theologian Frederick Robertson who had this to say about Rebekah?


            In her ambition for Jacob, Rebekah stopped at nothing.  Rebekah loved her son more than truth and here we see the idolatry of the woman: sacrificing her husband, her elder son, high principle her own soul, for an idolized person, her son Jacob.


            How many of you agree with that assessment?  How many of you side with Esau?   How about Rebekah?  How many of you side with here?  How many of you agree with another theologian, John Claypool? 


            Rebekah’s contribution to our religious heritage was absolutely enormous and largely unrecognized and unappreciated.  She may have had as much to do with keeping the tradition of Abraham alive as any other single person.


            How many of you agree with that?  How many of you would throw out Esau’s suit?

            Well, if Rebekah is indeed guilty the story reminds us that we are never quite so ugly as when we attempt to get our own way, no matter the means.  The psychological terms for it is egocentricity.  It simply means we want to world to revolve around us, and we’ll do whatever it takes to get what we want.  And some of us are especially good at it, and our primary tool is manipulation.  Some of us are “Take Charge Manipulators” thinking we know so much more than others, so we need to run their lives for them telling them what to do and when to do it.  Sort of like Rebekah here with Jacob.

            Others of are are more subtle in getting our own sweet way.  Some of us are “Poor Me Manipulators.”  We get people to do what we want by getting them to feel sorry for us.  We control and influence others with sighs, tears, sickness, even depression. 

            Others of us are “I Must Be Needed Manipulators.”  We get involved in others lives, not so much to help them, but to make ourselves feel important.  For example, someone calls on the phone and we drop everything to run over to their home, and we spend the day “helping,” but we are not primarily helping as much as we are getting our own fix and when they begin to resent all our help we say, “How ungrateful after all I’ve done for you.”  We’re good, real good, at manipulating others, and nothing is quite as ugly as crawling around in the darkness, trying to get our own way, oblivious to or not caring about the cost to others.

            On the other hand, if Rebekah is innocent, then this story reminds us that we are never quite so attractive as when we stand firm, despite the personal cost, to respond to the call of God.  And as I read the Scriptures that’s what a makes a saint, not purity, for the heroes and heroines of the Bible carried a lot of baggage, a lot of dirty laundry around with them, but rather the mark of a saint is courage.  Courage to sacrifice oneself and one’s personal desires to stand with and for God. 

            Oh, by the way, you may have been wondering how I would have voted in the lawsuit against Rebekah.  For what it’s worth, I would have found her “not guilty.”