A large part of the Biblical narrative found in Genesis can be called The Age of the Patriarchs, because the featured characters are Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. A patriarch indicates a father who is a ruler. Final authority over the extended family was invested in the father until his death. This headship included authority over clans and tribes. The main reason for the patriarchal structure was because the people were nomads, constantly moving over the Middle East.
Even heaven recognized this patriarchal motif, for God is identified as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Through these three men the patriarchal blessing is transmitted. The covenant promise the Lord made with Abraham, was carried on through his descendants, Isaac, and Jacob, and then from generation to generation.
Initially, when Abraham was childless, the question of his inheritance was in doubt. One candidate was Eliezer of Damascus, Abraham’s chief servant. “And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? 3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. 4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir” (Gen. 15:2-4).
Once Eliezer of Damascus was rejected, Sarah devised a scheme to have a surrogate child by her handmaiden, Hagar. The result of this unauthorized union was Ishmael, whom Abraham pleaded with the Lord to make him his heir. “And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!” (Gen. 17:18).
Ishmael too was rejected by God as the heir of Abraham and his covenant blessing. God was going to give Sarah and Abraham a son in their old age. “And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.” (Gen. 17:19)
Ishmael became the sojourner, and the outcast. “And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba” (Gen. 21:14).
The conflict that continues to the present hour in the Middle East can be traced back to the conflict between the descendants of Ishmael, the Arabas, and the descendants of Isaac. It was in Isaac that the seed of Abraham was to be called (Rom. 9:7). Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Today, anyone who shares the faith of Abraham is declared to be his descendant, for he is the father of the faithful. “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7).
Because the inheritance of the patriarch was valuable, there was often a lot of scheming to obtain it, reflected in the story of Esau and Jacob. “And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his eldest son, and said unto him, My son: and he said unto him, Behold, here am I. 2 And he said, Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death: 3 Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me some venison; 4 And make me savoury meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die.” (Gen. 27:1-4)
Caught up in the intrigue was Rebekah, the wife of Isaac, who preferred her scheming son Jacob, while Isaac loved his hunter son, Esau, more.
A Scheming Mother
“And Rebekah heard when Isaac spake to Esau his son. And Esau went to the field to hunt for venison, and to bring it. 6 And Rebekah spake unto Jacob her son, saying, Behold, I heard thy father speak unto Esau thy brother, saying, 7 Bring me venison, and make me savoury meat, that I may eat, and bless thee before the LORD before my death. 8 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice according to that which I command thee. 9 Go now to the flock, and fetch me from thence two good kids of the goats; and I will make them savoury meat for thy father, such as he loveth: 10 And thou shalt bring it to thy father, that he may eat, and that he may bless thee before his death.
A Scared Son
11 And Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man: 12 My father peradventure will feel me, and I shall seem to him as a deceiver; and I shall bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing.
A Determined Commitment to Deception
13 And his mother said unto him, Upon me be thy curse, my son: only obey my voice, and go fetch me them. 14 And he went, and fetched, and brought them to his mother: and his mother made savoury meat, such as his father loved. 15 And Rebekah took goodly raiment of her eldest son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son: 16 And she put the skins of the kids of the goats upon his hands, and upon the smooth of his neck:17 And she gave the savoury meat and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.
A Lying Son
18 And he came unto his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I; who art thou, my son?” (Gen. 27:5-18)
Eventually, Jacob received the double portion, he received the blessing, he became the leading patriarch. While the process was sinful, the end product was within the Providence of God, who had decreed the elder would serve the younger.
“And his father Isaac said unto him, Come near now, and kiss me, my son. 27 And he came near, and kissed him: and he smelled the smell of his raiment, and blessed him, and said, See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the LORD hath blessed: 28 Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine: 29 Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.” (Gen. 27:26-30)
From a human point of view, Jacob received the double portion, and patriarchal leadership, because he schemed, with his mother, to receive Isaac’s blessing, and because Esau despised his birthright as a profane person, and sold it cheaply.
The gospel exhortation comes to look diligently, lest any person fail of the grace of God and “Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.17 For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” (Heb. 12:16-17)
From a divine perspective, Jacob received the blessing of Isaac and became the patriarch, because God, in His sovereignty, had foreordained it. It was predestined. “It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (Rom. 9:12-13)
Later, when Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord at Mahanaim, and desired a legitimate blessing apart from deception, “And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok. 23 And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. 25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. 26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” (Gen. 32:22-26)
However, before he could be blessed, the Angel of the Lord demanded Jacob confess who he is. “And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.” (Gen. 32:27)
Jacob could not deceive anyone this time. When asked who he was, he had to confess. “I am what my name means, a chiseler. I am a deceiver. I am a sinner in need of a blessing. My name is Jacob.” In the presence of God, there is nowhere to hide. There is no way to deceive. There is nothing to confess but the truth.
In matchless grace, the Lord honored the honest confession, and gave Jacob the desire of his heart, and more. Such is the nature of grace, it gives, and gives some more. “And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” (Gen. 32:28)
“How long has it been since you talked with the Lord
And told him your heart’s hidden secrets?
How long since you prayed?
How long since you stayed on your knees till the light shone through?
How long has it been since your mind felt at ease?
How long since your heart knew no burden?
Can you call him your friend?
How long has it been since you knew that he cared for you?
How long has it been since you knelt by your bed
And prayed to the Lord up in heaven?
How long since you knew that he’d answer you
And would keep you the long night through?
How long has it been since you woke with the dawn
And felt this day is worth living?
Can you call him your friend?
How long has it been since you knew that he cared for you?”
When a person says, “I am”, and fills in the rest with an honest confession of their personal sin, God’s grace is free to flow. The promise is given, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:9-10)
Let us be like Jacob, and say honestly before the Lord who we are, and then, like Jacob, let us never let the Lord go, except He forgives and blesses.