The New Deal (Genesis 30:25-43)

In 1983 Heidi Roizen founded a small software company with her brother, Peter. Shortly after, Heidi found herself in Steve Jobs’ office, trying to negotiate a deal with the infamous CEO. Her company would be distributing a word processing application that had been developed by some of her employees who who were working for Jobs. It was a complicated situation, but boiled down the deal was that Heidi’s company would do the work but they would have to pay a royalty back to Jobs’ company NeXT. In the negotiation, Heidi pitched Steve the standard 15% royalty. He tore up the contract, handed her the pieces and said, “Come back at 50%, or don’t come back.” Heidi writes, “I was stunned. There was no way I could run my business giving him 50% of my product revenues…I slogged down to my car feeling like I had just blown the biggest deal of my life.”

Luckily, someone followed her out of the meeting. It was a friend who was working in the background of the deal. He gave Heidi this advice: “Make it look like fifty percent…Figure out a way to make a contract that you can live with that also says 50% at the bottom.”

That’s exactly what Heidi did. She moved figures, adjusted calculations – all legal – but made the contract say Steve Jobs would receive a “50%” royalty on all the software shipped. They inked the deal, but Steve Jobs would later joke that he “made more money collecting interest on his bank account” than on the deal he had forced on Heidi. That’s ok. In the end, everyone was happy, the partnership was a success. Heidi even went on to work as a VP at Apple.

In our text tonight there’s a tense business negotiation. But, it doesn’t culminate in a mutually-beneficial partnership. In this new deal, each participant has very different goals. Jacob is trying to build up enough resources to leave Haran. Laban has no interest in letting him leave. And so, he uses his position to not only cheat his son-in-law, but try to ensure that Jacob will never have enough resources to set out on his own. It’s an ugly situation. Luckily Jacob has a Friend working in the background Who has his best interests in mind and shows him what to do.

Genesis 30:25 – 25 After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me on my way so that I can return to my homeland.

After years of passiveness, Jacob becomes animated and decisive. Something about Joseph’s birth lit a fire under him. Maybe he was worried that, without a child, Rachel might choose to stay with her family rather than travel with Jacob and the others. More importantly, we learn in chapter 31 that Jacob had received a dream from the Lord and in it God had said, “Get up and go home!” Like the Prodigal Son, Jacob finally starts coming to his senses. We can almost hear him saying to himself, “What am I doing? This isn’t my home. I’ve got to get free and get back.”

Genesis 30:26 – 26 Give me my wives and my children that I have worked for, and let me go. You know how hard I have worked for you.”

It’s clear that he did not feel free to go. He speaks to Laban, much like Moses spoke to Pharaoh, saying, “Let my people go.” The previous agreement he made with Laban was finished. He worked 14 years for Rachel, rather than for money. Jacob still owned nothing in this foreign land. Imagine having the responsibility of providing for four wives and at least a dozen kids but you have no money, no flocks, no property, and no prospects other than getting back to your actual inheritance 500 miles away.

Genesis 30:27 – 27 But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor with you, stay. I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you.”

Laban has no intention of letting Jacob go. In fact, he will angrily insist that Rachel and Leah and Bilhah and Zilpah and all the kids belong to him, not Jacob. Laban does everything he can to keep Jacob from scratching a living together. And he tells us why: “The Lord has blessed me because of you.” Laban had become a very wealthy man, thanks to God’s blessing and he has no interest in turning that tap off.

Let’s also not forget that Jacob is 100 years old at this point. Laban is probably thinking, “I’m already working this guy to the bone…he’s got one foot in the grave. If I string him along a little while longer, he’ll be dead and I’ll have everything anyway.”

Notice this about Laban: He’s happy to benefit from contact with God, but has no interest in worshiping Him. He’s a lying, cheating pagan. Your translation may say, “I have learned by experience that the Lord has blessed me,” or it might say that he discovered this through divination. Scholars are divided. But Laban is a pagan. He has his household idols. He serves the god of greed. But, he’s happy to have this Almighty God of Abraham increasing his flocks. But we don’t get to pick and choose which parts of God’s presence we want and just ignore the rest.

There are pundits and debaters out there right now, many of them politically conservative, who talk about the benefits of a society built on the Judeo-Christian worldview. Popular speakers like Jordan Peterson and Dave Rubin, for example, will say things like they are “convinced that societies run better when they operate under a belief system that stems from timeless age-old biblical truths,” but they say “don’t want people to be religious, per se,” it’s just about the benefits of a moral society. Rubin says, ”Individuals can be godless and still be good.” Peterson says it would take multiple books and lectures for him to simply answer the question, “Do you believe in God?”

This attitude is similar to Laban’s approach to God. “I want the advantage without the allegiance. I’ll sign up for the free grace, but don’t talk to me about bowing my knee to the King of kings.” Now, Jordan and Dave have some interesting things to say. But by their own admission they are concerned with economics and politics, just like Laban was.

Genesis 30:28 – 28 Then he said, “Name me your wages, and I will give it.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? They’ve had this talk before. Jacob knows his father-in-law can’t be trusted. Notice how Laban tries to control the conversation – he tries to control the language used – always to keep Jacob subservient and in a position of weakness.

Genesis 30:29-30 – 29 So Jacob said to him, “You know how I have served you and how your livestock has been with me. 30 For what you had before I came was little, and it has increased to a great amount; the Lord has blessed you since my coming. And now, when shall I also provide for my own house?”

They both acknowledge that God is the One blessing Laban’s house. That makes it all the more sad that Jacob has shown so little interest in the Lord. It’s the Lord Who has reached out to Jacob in a dream – twice now. We still haven’t seen Jacob pray or worship. He made a little rock monument, but that was hardly a moment of great praise or devotion. So, here’s God, actively involving Himself in their lives, but their response is to bicker and jostle and figure out who’s going to cheat who.

Genesis 30:31-33 – 31 So he said, “What shall I give you?” And Jacob said, “You shall not give me anything. If you will do this thing for me, I will again feed and keep your flocks: 32 Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from there all the speckled and spotted sheep, and all the brown ones among the lambs, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and these shall be my wages. 33 So my righteousness will answer for me in time to come, when the subject of my wages comes before you: every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and brown among the lambs, will be considered stolen, if it is with me.”

This is not a friendly agreement. Jacob calls Laban out and says, “You’re not giving me anything.” And, in the end, it’s a hostile arrangement. “If I have non-speckled sheep, then treat me as a thief.”

Jacob picked these terms because they were revealed to him in a dream from the Lord. On the surface, it’s a really bad deal for Jacob. You see, speckled and spotted weren’t the kind of livestock that were prized. But, more importantly, they were a small minority in any flock. Archaeologists have discovered some ancient, Babylonian shepherding contracts from this time period. They found that the regular deal was that the owner would keep 80% of the flock and the shepherd would be given 20%, plus a percentage of the wool and dairy products. Jacob is asking for much, must less, even if Laban doesn’t cheat him, which he does. Why would Jacob set these terms?

It was God’s idea. There will be times when God asks us to do things that look very foolish in the eyes of the world. But if we are walking by faith, it means we’ll have to do some things that make no worldly sense. David fought with no armor. Daniel wouldn’t eat the good food. Naaman had to dip in the Jordan seven times. Paul had to make tents and Timothy had to be circumcised as an adult. They didn’t do those things in order to appear foolish – being believers isn’t about putting on a show – but as they followed the Lord there were times when they were asked to exercise faith and do something conventional wisdom would never allow.

Genesis 30:34-36 – 34 “Good,” said Laban. “Let it be as you have said.” 35 That day Laban removed the streaked and spotted male goats and all the speckled and spotted female goats—every one that had any white on it—and every dark-colored one among the lambs, and he placed his sons in charge of them. 36 He put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob. Jacob, meanwhile, was shepherding the rest of Laban’s flock.

Laban agrees and then immediately violates their contract. As time went on, he would randomly and change the terms of the deal again and again, each time to benefit himself.

What’s amazing about Laban is how brazenly he cheats people. Back when he sent Leah to be married instead of Rachel, he did so in front of the whole community, making Jacob a laughingstock. The same thing happens here. Jacob already was Laban’s shepherd. He knew how many speckled and spotted animals there were in those flocks. He showed up to work the next day and, what do you know? They’re all gone! Meanwhile, word would’ve travelled fast that Laban’s sons were a few hills away, guarding an all-speckled flock. This was incredible, blatant fraud. But, for once, Jacob seems to trust the Lord. He’s put all his chips on this dream and waits it out. It takes time for little sheepies to be born and grow up and make a bigger flock. Jacob will wait for six years before finally making his move to free himself from Laban’s tyranny. And they were six long years. Remember: Jacob effectively had two full-time jobs now: Watching his own fledgling flocks and overseeing Laban’s, too. After awhile he had money to hire servants, but not at first. It’s all him.

Genesis 30:37-42 – 37 Jacob then took branches of fresh poplar, almond, and plane wood, and peeled the bark, exposing white stripes on the branches. 38 He set the peeled branches in the troughs in front of the sheep—in the water channels where the sheep came to drink. And the sheep bred when they came to drink. 39 The flocks bred in front of the branches and bore streaked, speckled, and spotted young. 40 Jacob separated the lambs and made the flocks face the streaked sheep and the completely dark sheep in Laban’s flocks. Then he set his own stock apart and didn’t put them with Laban’s sheep. 41 Whenever the stronger of the flock were breeding, Jacob placed the branches in the troughs, in full view of the flocks, and they would breed in front of the branches. 42 As for the weaklings of the flocks, he did not put out the branches. So it turned out that the weak sheep belonged to Laban and the stronger ones to Jacob.

It’s hard to know what to make of this whole business. Is Jacob following the science, or is he being superstitious, or is he obeying what the Lord told him to do? We’re not given enough information to know for sure. We’re never told that God gave him this peeled branches plan in the dream. But, there were times when the Lord asked people to do strange things as evidence of their faith. Paint blood on your doorposts. Strike the ground with a bundle of arrows. Gather as many pots as you can and start filling them with oil. Scholars seem to be afraid that the Bible is suggesting this as a scientific method. Others say Jacob knew all about recessive genes and how to breed them out, so he used this striped stick thing as a fake out! Others scold Jacob for giving in to magic like Laban had. We just don’t know what the motivation for the stick thing is. What we do know is that God was specifically calling Jacob back into a life of faith. And a life of faith is going to demand a willingness to allow God to direct according to His methods and purposes. And it might take a great amount of time, it might seem very counter-intuitive, it might make us wonder why and when and, “Lord, can’t we just do this a simpler way?” But we must remember that God has called us by name. He has prepared beforehand a life for us to walk in and without faith it is impossible to please God.

Scholars reveal that where we read the word “white,” the Hebrew term is “Laban.” That’s what Laban’s name means. Bruce Waltke writes, “As Jacob took over [Esau] by red stew, so he takes over Laban by white branches.”

Should Jacob have done this? It was God’s intention to build him a flock of his own. But what about actively weakening Laban’s flock at the same time? Certainly, Jacob had an ethical responsibility to do his job well and his job was not just to build himself a flock, but also to maintain Laban’s.

There is an element of Divine justice here. Laban is reaping what he sowed. Eugene Roop reminds us that, in their previous agreement, Laban had cheated Jacob, giving him the weaker, unwanted wife. And now, the weaker, unwanted flocks are being given back to Laban.

But does that mean we should give ourselves the go-ahead to “fight fire with fire?” My boss did something unethical, so am I released from my own responsibilities? Our political leaders lie, cheat, and steal, so does that mean we have to play the game, too? The Bible consistently tells us as Christians to do the opposite. That we’re to love our enemies, pray for them, bless them, and even help them – not to do evil, but to treat them as we want to be treated.

Theophilus of Antioch, a second-century bishop and apologist wrote, “Be it far from Christians to conceive any such deeds; for with them temperance dwells, self-restraint is practiced, monogamy observed, chastity guarded, righteousness exercised, worship performed, God acknowledged; truth governs them, grace guards, peace screens them, and the holy Word guides.”

From the beginning, God told Abraham that His goal was for this family to be a blessing to the whole world. Yes, enemies would arise, and God promised to give protection and victory to His family of faith, but the point wasn’t supposed to be “us vs. them.” The goal was that the whole world be blessed and be exposed to the gracious glory of God and to be shown how they, too can be redeemed.

So this is a raw deal going sideways, but for us it’s a reminder of the calling we have as we navigate an unbelieving and sometimes hostile world. We’re to be a blessing, even to pagans. Not at the expense of our righteousness or integrity, but we’re to live the kind of lives in our society that makes the Labans of life admit, “God is obviously with you and we’re lucky to have you around.” That doesn’t mean we’ll be treated fairly or with respect. Jacob certainly wasn’t. But even if we find ourselves under some Laban, we remember Who are real Master is. That brings us to our final verse.

Genesis 30:43 – 43 Thus the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.

God’s plan for Abraham’s family did include material prosperity. That might not be part of His plan for your life. But there’s something more significant than money going on in this verse. Did you notice how Jacob is not referred to by name here, but as “the man.” That seems less personal when we read it, but there’s something lovely here.

Jacob is being called “ish,” which means “man”, but is also what Adam was called back in Genesis 2. It’s a word that emphasizes individuality and “reflects God’s desire to provide man with a companion.” We’re reminded that God made us in His image. We’re reminded of the value He places on every single life. Adam’s, Jacob’s, yours, and mine. This wasn’t just about economic success. This was about something much deeper. This was about the tender, personal intentions God has for every single day of His child’s life and how, most of all, He wants to be in an intimate friendship with them.

You see, to Laban, Jacob was a laborer to be exploited, nothing more. To Esau, Jacob was an enemy to be destroyed. To Leah and Rachel, at least during this period of time, Jacob was little more than a prop or a prize to be fought over. To Isaac, Jacob was the disappointing other son who had supplanted his favorite.

But to God? Oh, to God, Jacob was treasured and loved unconditionally. God was always there, always watching, always helping, always offering. Sadly, Jacob spent many long years ignoring this God Who loved him so. Instead, he slaved for a master like Laban. But look at what kind of Master the Lord our God is. Look at His kindness. Look at His faithfulness. Look at His grace and generosity and attentiveness. Look at how He bends heaven and earth to do exceedingly above what we could ever ask or imagine. Which Master do you want to serve? Don’t serve Laban, whether that’s some Laban in your life or the Laban that lives inside your human heart. Serve the Master who bought you with His own blood. The One Who loves you with the same powerful, personal, marvelous love we see here. To follow Him means to answer His call, to walk according to His word and to trust Him with your whole life.

Baby Blues (Genesis 29:31-30:24)

Some contests aren’t worth winning. Have you heard of the “Rolling in the Grits” competition in St. George, South Carolina? How about the Shin Kicking World Championship? There’s a World Bog Snorkeling Championship, and many ‘wife-carrying’ contests can be found all over the world, from Kazakhstan to our own state of Maine. Wife-carrying contestants compete to win the wife’s weight in beer and five times her weight in cash.

Tonight, we sit ring-side at one of the saddest wife-carrying contests ever. Leah and Rachel spend years battling for position and their husband’s affection by seeing who could bear the most sons. We watch in astonishment, but we shouldn’t forget this was a real family and these were long years of gloom, unhappiness, and strife. When we left off we were told that Jacob did not love both of his wives. His heart belonged to Rachel. His marriage to Leah was an unwelcome technicality. Now, the ugly drama plays out.

Genesis 29:31 – 31 When the Lord saw that Leah was neglected, he opened her womb; but Rachel was unable to conceive.

This passage covers between 7 and 13 years of time. During that time, Leah was neglected by Jacob. Your version may say “hated” or “despised” or “unloved.” This is a heart-breaking reality for Leah. She loves her husband and yearns for him to love her back, but he doesn’t.

We aren’t the only ones watching. The Lord was, too. And with tender kindness He shows the love and affection that her husband refused to give. God would not neglect or despise her.

In this culture a woman’s social standing was tied to whether she bore sons. But there were other layers that would’ve made this particular situation even sharper. First, Rachel had been cheated by her sister just as much as Jacob. Second, Jacob would’ve told them about his meeting with God at Bethel and how the Lord had made promises of their offspring being like “the dust of the earth.”

Genesis 29:32 – 32 Leah conceived, gave birth to a son, and named him Reuben, for she said, “The Lord has seen my affliction; surely my husband will love me now.”

The race was on. As we watch it play out, notice how absent, how silent, how impotent Jacob is. Even though he is the leader of the family, he refuses to take up his calling as a follower of God or as a faithful husband. He does not lead, he does not comfort, he does not pray, he does not correct, he doesn’t make peace, he doesn’t instruct. He becomes a prop in this rivalry. Even in the record of each conception, we do not have the usual inclusion of the husband. Earlier in Genesis we read things like, “Adam was intimate with his wife, Eve and she conceived,” or, “Abram slept with Hagar and she became pregnant.” But where is Jacob? Obviously he is the father, but it’s as if he’s completely lifeless.

Husbands and fathers have an essential and unique responsibility. Of course, wives and mothers do, too, but the Bible explains that the family must work together, each member fulfilling their calling, with particular regard to fathers so that the family can grow and thrive and become strong.

Unfortunately, the United States has the highest rate of single-parent households in all the world. That’s not a judgment on anyone here, it’s simply a reminder to us all of the fact that we do not live in a Christian culture. We don’t live in a society that loves the Lord and loves His Word. The voters of Kansas proved that last night. But we don’t want to settle for the world’s standard. We don’t have to be like Jacob in Haran. We can walk by faith and trust that God will do His good work. And if you find yourself in a family situation full of strife, like we’re reading about here, be encouraged that you, you can walk with God. You can go His way even if your family does not.

Genesis 29:33 – 33 She conceived again, gave birth to a son, and said, “The Lord heard that I am neglected and has given me this son also.” So she named him Simeon.

Both times, Leah acknowledges the Lord’s part in gifting her these sons. Of all the characters in our story tonight, she’s the most spiritual of the bunch – at least in this phase. So, Jacob had been telling her things things he had learned from Abraham and Isaac, and yet he fails to live by those truths. He never prays. He never worships. He never serves. The result is the collapse of his family.

Despite Jacob’s shortcomings, Leah knows the Lord. She calls Him Yahweh and is confident that He not only sees, but that He hears her – meaning she had a prayer life with Him – and she knew Him to be kind, compassionate, and generous.

Genesis 29:34 – 34 She conceived again, gave birth to a son, and said, “At last, my husband will become attached to me because I have borne three sons for him.” Therefore he was named Levi.

Leah’s story becomes more and more heart breaking. Look at her “at last” there. She’s trying to keep hope alive – hope that her husband would start to have any kind of warmth toward her. But it never happens. In the entire passage, he never speaks to Leah. He only visits her out of obligation.

Genesis 29:35 – 35 And she conceived again, gave birth to a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she named him Judah., Then Leah stopped having children.

Finally, after years of misery, Leah has stopped hoping in Jacob. Instead, she hopes in the Lord. “This time I will praise Yahweh.” But, notice: At the same time that she’s growing spiritually, her personal life becomes more painful. She doesn’t win over Jacob and she stops having children.

Wait – I thought I have struggles so that I can become more spiritual and once I become more spiritual then God can deliver me from suffering? That’s not what the Bible teaches. What it teaches is that, because of God’s grace and power, we can learn to be content in any situation and that we can be strengthened in suffering – His strength being made perfect in our weakness.

Why did Leah stop having children? Did God close her womb? It’s more likely that Rachel demanded that Jacob stop sleeping with her sister. Rachel was a sore loser.

Genesis 30:1 – When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she envied her sister. “Give me sons, or I will die!” she said to Jacob.

Jealousy is a terrible thing. It feels natural to us, because it’s part of our sin nature. But in these sisters we see how it is never satisfied, how it will always find a reason to gnaw at your heart if you let it. Leah had spent so much of her life being jealous of her pretty little sister, Rachel. She was jealous that Jacob loved Rachel. But now, we’re brought into Rachel’s room and we see she’s just as jealous of her big sister – jealous that she has babies. It’s eating her up inside.

Proverbs 14:30 – A tranquil heart is life to the body, but jealousy is rottenness to the bones.

Rachel’s exclamation reminds us of when Esau said, “Give me that red stuff or I’ll die!” That time, Jacob was happy, because he was able to take something from his brother. But now he’s powerless to help the woman he loves.

But Rachel’s outburst reveals more than a desire for a child. Is it possible that she’s worried Jacob will stop loving her once that beauty begins to fade? What was his love for her based on? We can also sense Rachel’s hatred of her sister. As one commentator notes, she can’t bear to accept Leah as an equal, so she becomes obsessed with bearing sons, plural.

Genesis 30:2 – 2 Jacob became angry with Rachel and said, “Am I in the place of God? He has withheld offspring from you!”

This was a big fight. Scholars say that Jacob raged at Rachel with a hot anger. Their family relationships continue to break down. Jacob becomes alienated from both of his wives.

He spews out that God Himself was withholding children from Rachel. Even if that were true, we have to ask why Jacob didn’t do the thing his own father had done and intercede for his wife? Isaac had prayed and the Lord was receptive and the result was Jacob, himself! But Jacob essentially says, “Not my problem.” So, not only is he refusing to pray, it’s clear he also doesn’t really care about the promise God had given him at Bethel. If God was withholding offspring, that’s a big deal when it comes to this family. It seems like you’d want to find out why that was happening.

Genesis 30:3-4 – 3 Then she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah. Go sleep with her, and she’ll bear children for me, so that through her I too can build a family.” 4 So Rachel gave her slave Bilhah to Jacob as a wife, and he slept with her.

Rachel should’ve gone to the Lord with her problem. Instead, she went to her slave. Undoubtedly she knew the saga of Sarah and Hagar and Ishmael, but decided to try then scheme again.

Bilhah and Zilpah are called “wives” in this passage, but they were not treated equally. In reality, they were concubines. Family life is not improving.

Genesis 30:5-6 – 5 Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. 6 Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; yes, he has heard me and given me a son,” so she named him Dan.

Rachel was not vindicated. She was completely wrong in her pronouncement here. Leah called out to God with a broken heart, wishing for love. Rachel was angry that her sister would dare have a child. God is gracious to this family, but this is not an action He is pleased by. The story of Hagar shows God does not sign off on this kind of human scheming. Other sons would be born of Bilhah and Zilpah, but isn’t it interesting that the first, Dan, is left out when Israel’s descendants are listed in 1 Chronicles 1 through 9? Dan is not included in the 144,000 of Revelation 7. Dan’s tribal land was where Jeroboam would set up one of his golden calves that led Israel into idolatry. Herbert Lockyer writes, “The history of the tribe of Dan is darker than the history of any other of the twelve tribes of Israel…Persistent idolatry clung to the Danites from first to last.”

When we place ourselves on the throne of our hearts, the result is idolatry. God cannot be pleased by this kind of selfish, human scheming. We need to cast out the mentality that leads to Dan.

Genesis 30:7-8 – 7 Rachel’s slave Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8 Rachel said, “In my wrestlings with God, I have wrestled with my sister and won,” and she named him Naphtali.

Tammi Schneider writes, “Although Rachel is prettier than Leah, she doesn’t seem to be nicer.” This was about dominating her sister – it was about crushing her. We see how envy has poisoned Rachel. She was blamed Jacob for her infertility (even though he could, obviously, produce sons with any other woman). She’s in an all-out brawl with her sister. And here she admits she even is wrestling with God Himself. She’s blinded by envy and has made everyone her adversary. She’s not realistic at all about the situation. “I’ve won” she said. Excuse me? Check the scoreboard, lady. It is 4 to 2. And your 2 has an asterisk on it.

She’s flailing spiritually. As one commentator notes, she’s simultaneously raging at God, but also boasts in having His favor. She doesn’t acknowledge God’s generous grace, as Leah had, but congratulates herself for “winning” these boys.

We see how this kind of selfishness breeds worse selfishness in the next generation. Bruce Waltke points out that Laban had treated his daughters as pawns and now they’re treating their many sons even worse. The sons would grow to have the kind of jealousy that led them to violence, murder, and trafficking their own flesh and blood.

Genesis 30:9 – 9 When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her slave Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife.

Years into this fight, Leah seems to have drifted away from the Lord. No longer is she a woman of prayer and spiritual hope. She decides to take the low road. She had taken her sister’s identity on their wedding night, now she’ll take her idea to score a few more points.

Genesis 30:10-11 – 10 Leah’s slave Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” and she named him Gad.

This is one of the sadder moments in the text. Leah, who had been the one person who was praising God, is now much more pagan in her behavior. “Gad” was the name of a Middle Eastern deity who brings good luck.

Genesis 30:12-13 – 12 When Leah’s slave Zilpah bore Jacob a second son, 13 Leah said, “I am happy that the women call me happy,” so she named him Asher.

Their family strife has spilled out into the wider community. We get an image of the ladies of the land talking together, picking sides. What was the family of faith supposed to be doing? Rather than blessing the world, more and more people are being objectified and exploited and dragged downward to serve the jealousy and selfishness of Leah and Rachel. Just when it seems like this contest can’t go any lower, sin finds a way.

Genesis 30:14 – 14 Reuben went out during the wheat harvest and found some mandrakes in the field. When he brought them to his mother Leah, Rachel asked, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”

Little Reuben finds a fruit that were known as “love apples.” At the time they were thought to be an aphrodisiac and to aid in fertility. Rachel must have been desperate to come to her sister with a “please,” asking for this favor. It was a humiliating moment and Leah wasn’t about to let it pass.

Genesis 30:15 – 15 But Leah replied to her, “Isn’t it enough that you have taken my husband? Now you also want to take my son’s mandrakes?” “Well then,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.”

So, it seems that Rachel “set the schedule” for Jacob. Which makes sense of Leah’s words, “you have taken my husband.” But surely, the man of the house, the man who has seen a vision from God, will draw a line in the sand and bring his family back from the brink of this madness…

Genesis 30:16 – 16 When Jacob came in from the field that evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come with me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So Jacob slept with her that night.

Jacob again is silent, powerless, enslaved, all because he simply wouldn’t do what was right. He could’ve put a stop to all of this, but he didn’t because he wouldn’t. He was still a spiritual coward, always running, never facing his own responsibilities, letting others direct him instead of the Lord.

Genesis 30:17-18 – 17 God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my slave to my husband,” and she named him Issachar.

Leah no longer calls God Yahweh. She uses the less personal term Elohim here. But, after her backslide of verses 10 and 11 we see she is praying again and there is God, ready to hear, ready to embrace her and show her mercy.

Jacob, the blessed son who had been given everything by God, was reduced to being a hired hand for his uncle Laban. Now, he’s just a hired hand to his wives. This story is no longer an adventure or a comedy, it’s a tragedy. What will it take for Jacob to turn to the Lord?

Genesis 30:19-21 – 19 Then Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 “God has given me a good gift,” Leah said. “This time my husband will honor me because I have borne six sons for him,” and she named him Zebulun. 21 Later, Leah bore a daughter and named her Dinah.

Leah is an interesting character to study in this text. She started miserable, watching her hope die. She learned to trust the Lord and accept His love as enough. But then she gives in to jealousy and it causes her to drift from the Lord. She no longer prays, she no longer resembles the faithful woman she once was. Finally she starts coming to her spiritual senses and drawing nearer to God, but the progress she had made was lost. She’s back to her focus on Jacob’s affection. “Maybe he’ll honor me.” He wouldn’t. We’ll see him do something pretty ugly in chapter 33 showing exactly how he rated Leah.

Jacob had other daughters not listed here. Dinah is singled out because of what’s going to happen in a few chapters.

Genesis 30:22-24 – 22 Then God remembered Rachel. He listened to her and opened her womb. 23 She conceived and bore a son, and she said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” 24 She named him Joseph and said, “May the Lord add another son to me.”

So, it seems Rachel has finally turned to prayer, rather than just jealous complaining. But she still needs a heart correction. Even when she delivers a son, her reaction is to name him, “Now give me another son!” She’s not ready to surrender. Little does she know, that next child will cost her her life. Contentment is a lot more important than we think it is.

We love to watch dysfunctional families on TV. We laugh at the Simpsons and the Bunkers and the Bluths, but living in dysfunction isn’t something we enjoy. If you’re in a family where some members won’t follow the Lord, take comfort from this story. The Lord sees, the Lord knows. He hears your prayer. He still has a future for you. The Psalmist wrote:

Psalm 27:10 – 10 Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord cares for me.

For your part, follow the Lord. Take the high, heavenly road. Walk with Jesus toward contentment and strength.

As we close, I’d like to say a few words about the implications of this text when it comes to pregnancy and infertility. Many people in this room have been touched by that unique hardship. What are we to make of this passage? Is God playing games with who gets kids and who doesn’t? If these characters were so carnally motivated, why did God allow the contest to continue?

While the Bible is clear that God is the Author of Life and the One who knits us together in our mother’s womb, that does not mean He always, specifically closes wombs. For example, our text does not say God closed Rachel’s womb like He did to the women of Abimelech’s house. We’ve seen other characters in Genesis struggle with infertility. It’s been happening since the fall of man when sin started mangling the goodness of Creation. That ruin continues today. Why does God grant children to some and not others? We can’t answer that. What we know is that God is more gracious than any of us deserve. Rachel didn’t “deserve” any kids. Neither did Leah. Neither do we. But, we know God is gracious and generous. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him. If the Lord is allowing infertility in your life, know it is not because you are not good enough or important enough or spiritual enough. The Lord’s love for you is everlasting, unqualified, and unyielding. The Word of God brings this encouragement: That we should not give up on praying and petitioning our Father. We can continue to rejoice in hope because the Lord He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. This is His promise. He sees you and hears you and will never reject you.

Sister Wives (Genesis 29:14-30)

It is very unlikely that you will be struck by lightning this year. You’ve got a one-in-a-million chance. Though, over the course of your life, the odds move quite a bit. Live to be 80 and your chance is one in fifteen thousand.[1]

Being attacked by a shark is even less likely than getting zapped in a storm. The chance that Bruce will make a meal of you is one in 3.4 million.[2] If you still don’t like those odds, I can help you: Don’t go in the ocean. Problem solved.

The life-changing misfortune we’ll read about in Genesis tonight is even more unlikely than a lightning strike or a shark attack. I’d go as far as saying the con Jacob falls victim to is something that can’t happen to us. Laws against polygamy and indoor lighting play a big part in that. But even though this story feels outlandish, it still teaches us quite a few principles about God’s love, God’s justice, and how we should conduct ourselves as faith-filled people.

We may not be tribal shepherds who enter into marriage contracts for multiple wives, yet these verses speak directly and authoritatively to each of us listening tonight. 1+1 still equaled 2 four thousand years ago, and God’s truth revealed in Scripture remains the same yesterday, today, and forever. A passage like this one, which feels so far removed from modern life, is a wonderful testament to the fact that God’s Word is alive and powerful. It is never irrelevant or outdated.

So let’s take a look at this shocking turn of events.

Genesis 29:14a – 14 Laban said to him, “Yes, you are my own flesh and blood.”

Some commentators believe Laban was, unofficially, ‘adopting’ Jacob,[3]Bible Knowledge Commentary while others think the Hebrew indicates that Laban had to be convinced that Jacob really was who he said.[4]NET Study Bible Notes

We know that Laban is not a loving, family man. He’s greedy and self-centered. He treats his two daughters not as treasures but as stock to be milked for material gain. Even their names betray Laban’s mindset. The name Leah means ‘cow.’ Rachel means ‘ewe.’[5]Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary

Genesis 29:14b-15 – After Jacob had stayed with him a month, 15 Laban said to him, “Just because you’re my relative, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”

One source writes: “Among pastoral people a stranger [was] freely entertained for 3 days. On the fourth he [was] expected to tell his name and errand. If he prolonged his stay after that he must set his hand to work in some way.”[6]Commentary Critical And Explanatory On The Whole Bible

Bruce Waltke points out that a blood relative would work for free. Instead, Laban approaches Jacob as if he were any other contracted employee. From the start, we see a business-like tension among these two men.

Jacob was staying in Laban’s home, freely eating the food and dressed from Laban’s closet. After all, Jacob had no money or resources of his own at the time. And so, Jacob was doing the honorable and decent thing to work and not freeload. But Laban sends a message that says, “Don’t get too comfortable. This isn’t your house.”

Genesis 29:16-17 – 16 Now Laban had two daughters: the older was named Leah, and the younger was named Rachel. 17 Leah had tender eyes, but Rachel was shapely and beautiful.

Your translation may say that Leah’s eyes were ‘delicate,’ or ‘weak,’ or that they had ‘no sparkle.’ Some scholars think Moses was saying she had pale or blue eyes.[7]ibid.
See also Rober Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary

The focus on the physical reminds us that Jacob still has not knelt to pray. He spends no time seeking the Lord or seeking His will. He’s more interested in Rachel’s figure than the walk of faith.

Genesis 29:18 – 18 Jacob loved Rachel, so he answered Laban, “I’ll work for you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”

For all my criticism of Jacob, it really is true that he loved Rachel. He had one of the most romantic and dedicated loves ever recorded. This offer would be double the going rate for a bride price.[8]R. Kent Hughes Genesis: Beginning And Blessing

Traditional American lore says a fellow should pay three months’ salary for an engagement ring. Jacob says, “Make it seven years’ salary!”

Jacob spent those years working with Laban’s flocks. Dr. Henry Morris points out that he would’ve been able to spend a lot of time with Rachel, the shepherdess.[9]Henry Morris The Genesis Record And so, Jacob’s love grew and developed over that time.

You unmarried folks – especially the young ones – don’t rush into marriage. Three times we’re told in the Song of Solomon (which is all about love and marriage): “do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time.”[10]Song Of Solomon 2:7, 3:5, 8:4

How did Rachel feel about it? The text doesn’t tell us, but we know Rebekah had a say in whether she would marry Isaac or not. And so, we can guess that Rachel either fell in love with Jacob or, at very least, was not unwilling to marry him.[11]John Goldingay Genesis

Before we move on, let’s pause to remember the situation Jacob has made for himself. Jacob is a rich man. He’s the patriarch of a great house in Canaan. He is a powerful sheik, or at least he should have been. But, like the prodigal son, he finds himself penniless in a faraway land, forced into servitude under an uncaring master because he went his own way.

Often we’re convinced that God is going to withhold something from us – that He isn’t moving at the proper speed or that we know the best way to a better life. But that’s what landed Jacob and the prodigal into their predicaments. Meanwhile, God our Father wants life for us and that more abundantly. We’ve got to trust Him and wait for Him and follow His leading, rather than try to cut our own path through life.

Genesis 29:19 – 19 Laban replied, “Better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay with me.”

Laban certainly doesn’t come off like father of the year. He also doesn’t exactly sign on the dotted line. That’s because he’s hatching a plan and knows he’s got Jacob on the hook.

Genesis 29:20 – 20 So Jacob worked seven years for Rachel, and they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.

This is one of the most captivating verses in the Old Testament. Of course, when only applied to Jacob, it becomes a little tarnished by his shortcomings and the scandal that’s about to unfold. But take this verse and remind yourself that it uncovers only the smallest sliver of Christ’s love for you. It is an unfailing, unlimited, active love. Jesus said, “My Father is still working, and I am working also.”

Like Jacob, the Lord works tirelessly because of His love for you. Not for seven years, but for more than 6,000 years! Before time began, the Lord started His work to love you and save you and make you His own. The Bible says those thousands of years are like a few days to God. And so, from heaven’s perspective, it has seemed like only a few days because of God’s love for us.

Jesus has done much more than herd some sheep. For the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross! You were worth that job. He’s still waiting, still working out of His love for you, waiting for the consummation of all that work, when His Bride will finally be presented to Him in eternity.

Genesis 29:21 – 21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Since my time is complete, give me my wife, so I can sleep with her.”

It seems Laban was dragging his feet. But Jacob? He was counting down the days. He already considered Rachel to be his wife. But, notice this: Even before the Mosaic Law, even in these primitive, loosely administrated times, God’s people did not have sex before marriage.

God’s righteous standard for sexual activity has always been the same. That standard is met always and only in the confines of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Anything else is rebellion against God our Father and Creator and falls short of His standard and command.

Genesis 29:22-24 – 22 So Laban invited all the men of the place and sponsored a feast. 23 That evening, Laban took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and he slept with her. 24 And Laban gave his slave Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her slave.

The wedding feast would last for seven days. I don’t think we can overestimate how scandalous this trick of Laban’s really was. Think of how embarrassed Jacob would’ve been any time he was around any of these other men in the community. He had been made a public spectacle, a patsy.

Leah, for her part, must have been a willing participant in the scheme.[12]Hughes She could’ve revealed herself that night in the tent, but she didn’t. It seems that she had fallen in love with Jacob. Later in this chapter, we’ll see she pines for his love and hopes to win it through childbirth.[13]Genesis 29:32

People are quick to say that Leah was veiled and the tent was dark, and maybe Jacob was drunk. We’ll never know, and that’s ok. But isn’t it telling that Jacob didn’t even take a moment to look into those pale eyes of Leah’s, which would have immediately given her away?

There’s something more important going on here than the scandal, and that’s a Biblical principle that still applies to you and me today – a person will reap what they sow.

God is a God of justice, of retribution, and discipline. Jacob’s mother had convinced him to steal his sibling’s identity and deceive a man who could not see in order to secure his financial future. And now, the same is happening to him.

Paul spells out this eternal truth very plainly in Galatians 6.

Galatians 6:7-8 – 7 Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap, 8 because the one who sows to his flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.

Being a believer doesn’t mean you are exempt from this rule. If anything, it is applied more to us, because those the Lord loves He disciplines. We reap what we sow. Sow to the Spirit!

Genesis 29:25 – 25 When morning came, there was Leah! So he said to Laban, “What have you done to me? Wasn’t it for Rachel that I worked for you? Why have you deceived me?”

Jacob is shocked and confused, but his own words provide the answer he’s looking for – at least spiritually. Linguists point out that the same word is used for “deceived” to describe what he did to his own father. Of course, the schemer isn’t happy when the scheme is played on him.

Genesis 29:26-27 – 26 Laban answered, “It is not the custom in our country to give the younger daughter in marriage before the firstborn. 27 Complete this week of wedding celebration, and we will also give you this younger one in return for working yet another seven years for me.”

Laban is stone cold. Look at how casual he is about this. He’s ruthlessly conned this guy, made him a sucker in front of the whole community, and now has the guts to say, “You’re gonna work for me seven more years.”

In the end, Jacob would work 14 years for Rachel, four times the going rate for the bride price. But, he’d effectively end up with four ‘wives,’ as Zilpah and Bilhah become his concubines.

Laban is another one of those terrible Bible dads. There are a few guys in the running for worst dad. Lot is probably the worst. Jephthah and David are on that list, but Laban is, too. As one commentator points out, he effectively ensures that his two precious daughters would live out their days in animosity, resentment, and rivalry.[14]John Calvin Genesis

So, what would Jacob do?

Genesis 29:28a – 28 And Jacob did just that.

What could he do? Who would he petition for help? Everyone would’ve said, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Haran-town.”

Plus, how could Jacob complain after what he had done to his father? There’s a great scene in the classic movie The Sting where the villain tries to cheat Paul Newman at cards, but Paul Newman cheats him first. While the bad guys are trying to figure out what to do, the boss shouts: “What was I supposed to do? Call him for cheating better than me?” It was time for Jacob to face what he’d done – to reap what he had willingly sown.

Genesis 29:28b-30 – He finished the week of celebration, and Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife. 29 And Laban gave his slave Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her slave. 30 Jacob slept with Rachel also, and indeed, he loved Rachel more than Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.

Jacob didn’t have to wait seven more years before he married Rachel. They tied the knot at the end of the weeklong feast then he worked seven more years to pay off that debt.

A great story of romance was sullied by selfishness. It reminds us that even good things will invariably be corrupted if we don’t walk with the Lord. Everything had been going so well as far as Jacob was concerned, but suddenly he’s got himself set up for a lifetime of strife, family trouble, and emotional baggage.

So, how does this story speak to us in the here and now of our experience?

First, it shows us how not to treat the family around us. Not just our blood relatives, but the family of faith. When we live for self, when we’re always looking for our own benefit, when we follow convention and desire instead of the Lord’s leading, things are going to wreck. People are going to become commoditized and collateralized. Christians should never interact with each other the way Jacob and Laban and Leah and the other guests at the party act. The Christian life is about serving others and honoring them and speaking the truth and not manipulating and not cheating.

Second, this story may be old, but the principle of reaping what you sow is still current. Our conduct matters and our choices matter. The Lord wants to lead us down a path that leads to fulfillment, spiritual abundance, peace, and joy, but if we want those things, we have to sow to the Spirit and cultivate accordingly.

The third message from this text is the most important and so that’s what we’ll end on. Consider God’s incredible love for you. Jacob’s passionate, sacrificial, hard-working love for Rachel is nothing compared to how God feels about you. He has worked for you from before the foundation of the earth. He didn’t just clock in a certain number of days. He laid down His life. And, unlike Jacob, He wasn’t coerced or tricked into taking you, like some Leah He never wanted. No, the Lord has loved you always and His love for you does not abate. He is still working hard for you, day by day, waiting patiently for that moment when we’re finally presented to Him. Knowing that day is coming, let’s reflect often on the significance of God’s personal love for us, and let’s keep ourselves ready for the day He finally comes to take us home.


3 Bible Knowledge Commentary
4 NET Study Bible Notes
5 Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
6 Commentary Critical And Explanatory On The Whole Bible
7 ibid.
See also Rober Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary
8 R. Kent Hughes Genesis: Beginning And Blessing
9 Henry Morris The Genesis Record
10 Song Of Solomon 2:7, 3:5, 8:4
11 John Goldingay Genesis
12 Hughes
13 Genesis 29:32
14 John Calvin Genesis

The Old Man And The Sheep (Genesis 29:1-13)

At first glance, our passage tonight reads like a classic “boy meets girl” story. Against steep odds and with the help of chivalry and the serendipitous crossing of paths, our characters find each other and live happily ever after. Except, we know they don’t exactly live happily ever after. There are many long years of resentment and manipulation and disappointment ahead.

The story also reads like a classic Biblical archetype: The life-changing meeting at a well. Abraham’s servant and Rebekah. Moses and Zipporah. Jesus and the Samaritan woman. And here, Jacob and Rachel. But again, we notice that this story lacks something. There’s no personal interaction with the Lord. No prayer. No praise. No acknowledgment of God’s grace, no thanks given to Him.

Upon examination and comparison, we can’t help but be disappointed with Jacob in this scene, as we are in so many others during this portion of his life. That’s because these are not stories of a man walking by faith. We’re still reading the saga of a man contending with God and those around him. He’s not driven by a desire to glorify God. He isn’t concerned about his own responsibilities. He’s a very self-oriented man, blown about by his circumstances and whatever he needs to do to avoid the consequences of his selfishness.

We have no idea how the story might have gone if Jacob had responded to God in faith and humility and surrender. What we do know is that he is making decisions that lead to a lot of hardship. At the same time, we see that man’s failure cannot overthrow the faithfulness of God. What a great hope that is.

Genesis 29:1 – Jacob resumed his journey and went to the eastern country.

The Hebrew indicates that he had a “spring in his step.”[1](John Goldingay Genesis (Baker Commentary On The Old Testament Pentateuch), Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary) He’s feeling great. But why is he heading east? It’s because he’s on the run. He’s fleeing a scandal. He’s left behind the land of promise even though the Lord has made it very clear that He wants this family in the land of Canaan.

Some commentators say he’s joyful because he knows God is with him and that knowledge has lifted away all his cares. But we haven’t seen him transformed. He hasn’t worshiped. He set up a marker, not an altar. When God professed His lovingkindness to Jacob, Jacob responded by saying, “We’ll see. If You do this, that, and the other thing, then You’ll be my God.”

But there he is, heading east, with a spring in his step. In Genesis, movements to the east are generally not a good thing. Adam and Eve were exiled east out of Eden. Cain went out from the Lord’s presence, living to the east. Those God-rejecting peoples who built the tower of Babel settled in the east. Lot separated from Abram and went to the east.

Jacob may have been cheery, but he’s fooling himself if he thinks he’s making good progress in life. He’s going to a pagan land, to a pagan people, to become one of them for 20 years.

God had checked in with Jacob, but it made little difference in his direction. We see those tender moments in the Old Testament where the Lord would come to someone on the run and say, “Hagar, where have you come from and where are you going?” He came to Elijah and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Those are moments when people are invited to surrender to God.

What if the Lord asked you those questions in your life right now? Can we answer, “Lord, I’m going where You’ve led. I’m doing Your business.” Or are we making decisions in a way more like Jacob?

Genesis 29:2-3 – 2 He looked and saw a well in a field. Three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it because the sheep were watered from this well. But a large stone covered the opening of the well. 3 The shepherds would roll the stone from the opening of the well and water the sheep when all the flocks were gathered there. Then they would return the stone to its place over the well’s opening.

This stone covering the mouth of a well becomes a major plot point. Rocks are a big part of Jacob’s life story. He used a stone as a pillow. This stone features prominently. Later there will be a significant use of stones in his feud with Laban.

The association of stones with Jacob is interesting when we think about the other patriarchs. Abraham was known for building altars and for planting a terebinth tree. Isaac was known for wells. Altars and trees and wells are useful things that bless and benefit. But rocks? We see Jacob sort of moving stones around, monuments to his misunderstandings and contentions. He reminds me of Charlie Brown in The Great Pumpkin, opening up his pillow case to see what sort of candy he’s got from trick-or-treating only to find rocks.

Genesis 29:4 – 4 Jacob asked the men at the well, “My brothers! Where are you from?” “We’re from Haran,” they answered.

Jacob greets them with a warm friendliness…that is until we remember how he treats his brothers.

The locals are very curt in their replies.[2](NET Study Bible Notes, R. Kent Hughes Genesis: Beginning & Blessing) But try to imagine the scene. They all know each other. Then, out of the desert, walks a lone guy. No camel, no wagon. He asks, “Where am I?” It’s also likely that the shepherds were youths.[3](Henry Morris The Genesis Record) So I get why they were curt.

Genesis 29:5-6 – 5 “Do you know Laban, Nahor’s grandson?” Jacob asked them. They answered, “We know him.” 6 “Is he well?” Jacob asked. “Yes,” they said, “and here is his daughter Rachel, coming with his sheep.”

Again the shepherds say very little. Maybe they were suspicious of this strange wanderer. Or maybe they didn’t say much about Laban because they knew him too well. What did Thumper’s mom say? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

When people are generous and kind, we like to tell the story, right? Shaquille O’Neal was in the news recently because he went to a restaurant for dinner and paid $25,000 to cover every meal at every table.[4]( People like to spread that story. It refreshes us to hear about generosity.

“Do you know Laban?” “Yeah, we know him.”

It’s a reminder to us that our lives are a fragrance. It’s not that we live to please people, but we want to be like our Lord. Gracious like our Lord. Generous like our Lord. Forgiving like Him. Welcoming like Him. The fragrance of Christ in a needy world. Not everyone will appreciate the smell, but we don’t want to stink like Laban must have to the community around him.

Back to our scene: Here’s Rachel! Boy meets girl. Although, it’s not exactly boy meets girl. It’s old man meets girl. Jacob is at least 70 years old[5]( and Rachel is maybe in her twenties.[6](Though we have no Biblical record, the Midrash tradition is that Rachel was 22 years old. She was young enough to not be married, to tend sheep, and to still be of child-bearing age for quite a few … Continue reading) I’m sorry if that ruins anything for you.

This is probably not how Rachel would want to meet a potential suitor. It’s hard for either of them to make a good first impression while sweaty, grimy, and smelling like livestock.

But before Jacob introduces himself to Rachel, he takes the time to wrestle with these strangers he’s just met.

Genesis 25:7-8 – 7 Then Jacob said, “Look, it is still broad daylight. It’s not time for the animals to be gathered. Water the flock, then go out and let them graze.” 8 But they replied, “We can’t until all the flocks have been gathered and the stone is rolled from the well’s opening. Then we will water the sheep.”

Many commentators brand these shepherds as lazy.[7](See CSB Study Bible Notes, Morris, Bible Knowledge Commentary, Waltke) They say they were “shiftless,”[8](Hughes) “unreasonable shirkers.”[9](Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary) Maybe. Or maybe this was the custom of that locale. Yes, Jacob made the case that it would be better for the sheep to water and graze differently. But the shepherds say here, “We can’t.” To suggest it was only laziness seems unfair. Sheep were their livelihood. I doubt any of them wanted to starve or be beaten by unhappy masters.

I’ve done a little bit of traveling to South America. They do some things very differently there than we do in the United States. There have been times when we thought, “The way we do things is better and that’s how it should be done.” But we hold our tongues because it’s rude to act that way!

Think of it this way: If you were out doing yard work or gardening and some stranger walks up to you and said, “You’re doing it wrong. You should do it the opposite of how you’re doing it.” Are you encouraged by that? Do you say, “Wow, thanks desert hobo who I’ve never seen before and who doesn’t even know where he is! What else should I do differently?” That’s what Jacob is doing because that’s who Jacob is! He’s a heel-catcher – someone who trips up in his dealings.[10](See Bible Knowledge Commentary, Kidner) A wrestler, convinced his way is the only way. But how is that working out for him?

Bruce Waltke points out that this is a beautiful demonstration of God’s perfect providence. Jacob didn’t even know where he was, but he has met the right people at the right place at the wrong time. According to his wisdom, they shouldn’t even be at the well during this hour, yet here they are, as the Lord goes before him to provide him with help and shelter, being faithful to the faithless.

Genesis 29:9 – 9 While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess.

Rachel is the first shepherdess mentioned in the Bible. She would’ve been young but tough and experienced. She would’ve been a very hard worker and a great problem solver. She would’ve had to know how to find pasture and lead her lambs to it.[11](Funlola Olojede Rachel: The Shepherdess Among Shepherds) But looking ahead we learn that she was not paid for these long days of dangerous work. She will tell Jacob she had no portion or inheritance from her father. In fact, she’ll say that Laban considers her as an outsider to be sold away.[12](Genesis 31:14-15)

We’ll find that, in many ways, she is very like Jacob. They both deal deceptively. They both manipulate. They both have strained family relationships. They’ll both cheat to get a victory over others. But they were both loved by God, redeemed by Him, and ultimately transformed into vessels of honor. God can do incredible things with inadequate people. That’s very good news!

Genesis 29:10 – 10 As soon as Jacob saw his uncle Laban’s daughter Rachel with his sheep, he went up and rolled the stone from the opening and watered his uncle Laban’s sheep.

Some say this was a Herculean feat – that it would’ve taken immense strength to move the stone. Maybe, though no one in the text marvels at it. Certainly, Jacob had a lot of vigor and strength, even at 70 years old.

We immediately remember how Rebekah worked so tirelessly to water the 10 camels back in chapter 24, but there’s a significant difference. Jacob ignored the other flocks. Rather than being an act of servant-hearted grace, this was presumptuous, maybe even unlawful. The shepherds had just said, “Here’s how we have to do things.” Jacob just takes what he wants. Rebekah had made sure all the animals had their fill. Jacob cuts in line with no regard for the other thirsty sheep.

The watering of Abraham’s camels had been the sign that God had brought the servant to the woman the Lord intended for Isaac. Jacob’s watering here seems to be done as a way to ingratiate himself to Laban, not Rachel. Look at verse 10 again and notice the perspective: “Laban’s daughter….Laban’s sheep.” Jacob’s mind is not on marriage, he needs a place to stay and food to eat. And, remember, he has nothing to offer. No gift. No camels. No money. He’s there to mooch off of his mom’s family and so he elbows his way to the front of the water line. He could’ve waited – Rachel wasn’t going anywhere – but he is always looking out for number 1. When Shaq bought all those dinners, he was there on a date. That probably made a pretty good impression. Now imagine if, instead, he had gone to the cook and said, “I’m important. Stop cooking anyone else’s food and serve me first.” Not quite as romantic.

Genesis 29:11 – 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel and wept loudly.

Commentators want to say it was love at first sight, but then are quick to say, “But this wasn’t a kiss of love, just a familial kiss of greeting.” Either way, it would’ve been a shock for Rachel. It is, by the way, the very first kiss between a man and a woman mentioned in the Bible.[13](CSB Study Bible Notes)

Again we contrast this moment with Rebekah and the servant of Abraham. Waltke writes, “Unlike Abraham’s servant, [Jacob] offers no praise, for he has made no petition. On the surface all seems well, but underneath lurks dark trouble.”[14](Waltke) Jacob’s emotional outburst signals, perhaps, this is a man who is not peacefully established in his personal life.

Genesis 29:12-13 – 12 He told Rachel that he was her father’s relative, Rebekah’s son. She ran and told her father. 13 When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him, hugged him, and kissed him. Then he took him to his house, and Jacob told him all that had happened.

It had been almost 100 years since Abraham’s servant had come and fetched Rebekah.[15](Rebekah was unable to have children for 20 years after marrying Isaac and now Jacob is somewhere in his 70’s.) Last time someone from the house of Abraham showed up there were many camels, laden with wealthy gifts.

Now? One guy with nothing. “Oh I have a big inheritance back home…but I can’t go there because my brother will kill me. You’ve got food and shelter and clothing for me, right?”

Compared to the original find-a-lady-at-the-well story, this feels like when Disney makes a direct-to-video sequel to a beloved classic. We expect better given how much potential the characters have.

As we watch Jacob we see that he has great strength and vigor, he has boldness and knowhow and determination and decisiveness and endurance and depth of emotion. He had so many wonderful components that could’ve been used for great spiritual benefit. But he wasn’t living for the Lord. He’s still trying to go his own way.

And, you know, after 70 years of life, what does he have to show for it? A family he can’t see. An inheritance he can’t enjoy. A promise he’s left behind. A God he’s ignoring. A few rocks in his pillowcase.

All those great aspects of who he was were being spoiled because he was living an un-faith-filled life. His strength was going to be spent for 20 years in service to a man who constantly cheated him. His boldness kept getting him into trouble, causing him to have to run for his life – twice! His brash decisiveness leads to strain and misunderstandings. His depth of emotion is unchecked and unbridled, making him act somewhat strange and erratic. He was knowledgeable, but in his selfishness he just became a know-it-all, as we see him speaking to these shepherds here.

Jacob didn’t need a change of scene. He needed a change of heart. He needed to believe God and stop trying to helm his own life. He needed to pause and listen and recognize that God had spoken to him and then say, “Let’s go along with God instead of doing our own thing.” Sadly, Jacob spends 20 years somewhere the Lord didn’t really want him to be. Jacob had a lot of ideas about how sheep should be shepherded, but he wasn’t willing to listen to his Shepherd. The result was not exactly green pastures and still waters.

But God wasn’t going to abandon His little lamb. He wouldn’t cut His losses. No, as He promised, He stayed with Jacob and ultimately brought him back to that good pasture, the one Jacob had wandered away from.

Let’s be sheep who trust our Shepherd and go where He leads us.


1 (John Goldingay Genesis (Baker Commentary On The Old Testament Pentateuch), Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary
2 (NET Study Bible Notes, R. Kent Hughes Genesis: Beginning & Blessing
3 (Henry Morris The Genesis Record
4 (
5 (
6 (Though we have no Biblical record, the Midrash tradition is that Rachel was 22 years old. She was young enough to not be married, to tend sheep, and to still be of child-bearing age for quite a few years.
7 (See CSB Study Bible Notes, Morris, Bible Knowledge Commentary, Waltke
8 (Hughes
9 (Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
10 (See Bible Knowledge Commentary, Kidner
11 (Funlola Olojede Rachel: The Shepherdess Among Shepherds
12 (Genesis 31:14-15
13 (CSB Study Bible Notes
14 (Waltke
15 (Rebekah was unable to have children for 20 years after marrying Isaac and now Jacob is somewhere in his 70’s.

Are You Gonna Go My Way? (Genesis 28)

I was not interested in my gen-ed, Intro To Sociology class. So, when I had to report on a classic essay titled Body Ritual Among the Nacirema,[1]( I paid very little attention to what I was reading. The essay was about a strange tribe’s disturbing customs concerning things like medicine men, holy waters, and oral health. I was annoyed by the essay and, as I recall, I made it a point to scoff at the absurdity and unbelievability of the article.

Imagine my surprise when my professor returned my graded report – quite low if memory serves – with a curt note at the top: “Nacirema is ‘American’ spelled backwards.”

Body Ritual Among the Nacirema was written to give a different perspective on our own (American) behaviors and rituals. In my haste and indifference I had missed the point completely.

In our text tonight we see some people missing the point. The family of faith continues to crumble, after the birthright meltdown of chapter 27. We watch these characters grope around to find solutions, but none of them stops to seek the Lord. None of them pause to consider God’s ways. The results are predictably disappointing. In the midst of human failure we again see Divine faithfulness. The Lord will never cut and run – not with the patriarchs, not with us. No, He stays just as present, just as tender, just as gracious, showing us the way forward. The question is whether we’ll listen and follow or whether we’re hoping He will just sign off on the plans we make ourselves.

Genesis 27:46 – 46 So Rebekah said to Isaac, “I’m sick of my life because of these Hethite girls. If Jacob marries someone from around here, like these Hethite girls, what good is my life?”

Esau’s wives were trouble, but that’s not really the problem. Just above, you see that Rebekah is trying to find a way to get Jacob out of town until his brother’s murderous rage cools off. She uses the family tension in order to manipulate Isaac into sending Jacob somewhere far away.

Christians are not to manipulate, even if we think the goal is good. Not in ministry, not in family, not not in friendship, not in business. God has commanded us to be defined by truthfulness and to think of others as more important than ourselves.[2](Philippians 2:3) The selfish deceptiveness of manipulation is not consistent with new life in Christ.

There is an irony here: Rebekah uses the wife-strife as a pretext to get Jacob away. Where does he end up? In a situation where there are not two but four wives who become rivals, making family life very hard for a very long time. Meanwhile, Rebekah is worried about losing her son, but her plan to save him will cost her dearly: She wouldn’t live long enough to see Jacob ever again.

Genesis 28:1-2 – So Isaac summoned Jacob, blessed him, and commanded him, “Do not marry a Canaanite girl. 2 Go at once to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father. Marry one of the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.

We sense a coldness in Isaac’s demeanor. He “summons” Jacob. When he sends him away, he sends him alone. No servants or attendants to help him on his journey.

Why hadn’t Isaac provided a wife for Jacob yet? Back when Abraham was nearing the end of his life he had an urgent concern that his son find the wife the Lord intended for him. But Isaac demonstrates a physical and spiritual apathy toward this issue. He doesn’t say, “Find the wife the Lord has consecrated for you.” He says “Go marry one of Laban’s daughters.” Were they monotheists? Were they women of Godly character? That didn’t seem to matter to Isaac. They were boiler-plate acceptable – just not Hethites. Not Canaanites. Good enough.

Isaac of all people knew that God has a providential concern for who we marry. That had been very clearly revealed by the way Isaac ended up with Rebekah. But Issac has slipped into a manly mindset, rather than a Godly one. Good enough, rather than God abundant.

Genesis 28:3-5- 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you so that you become an assembly of peoples. 4 May God give you and your offspring the blessing of Abraham so that you may possess the land where you live as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” 5 So Isaac sent Jacob to Paddan-aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.

It’s significant that the promise of blessing is repeated, this time in full view, no one wearing any costume.[3](John Calvin Genesis) No one could suggest that the covenant didn’t really, truly belong to Jacob.

We notice that Isaac did not seek the Lord in this scene. No offering or worship. Instead, he falls back on what had already been said. We should remind ourselves of what God has already spoken, but, even in his spiritual lethargy, a problem is revealed. “God wants you in this land. So go ahead and leave this land.” These are bad solutions. Often, Christians make decisions and say God is leading them, but when you stop and evaluate what they’re doing, it isn’t consistent with what God has said. Rather than leading, it’s that we want something or we’re trying to solve some problem and we assume that as long as we think it’s a good idea then God must think it’s a good idea. God had told Abraham, “Stay in the land.” Abraham had told his servant, “Don’t let Isaac leave the land.” God had told Isaac, “Stay in the land, don’t go to Egypt.” So, now what does Isaac say? “Leave the land.” Not only did Isaac send Jacob with no retinue, he sent him with no warning about what sort of trouble he might encounter in Laban’s house. We may have some sort of Esau problem right in front of us, causing us stress, but remember: There are dangers other than Esau out there.

Genesis 28:6-9 – 6 Esau noticed that Isaac blessed Jacob and sent him to Paddan-aram to get a wife there. When he blessed him, Isaac commanded Jacob, “Do not marry a Canaanite girl.” 7 And Jacob listened to his father and mother and went to Paddan-aram. 8 Esau realized that his father Isaac disapproved of the Canaanite women, 9 so Esau went to Ishmael and married, in addition to his other wives, Mahalath daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son. She was the sister of Nebaioth.

Oh, Esau. He wants approval. He wants to enjoy the benefits of God’s blessing in his life. And yet, he consistently refuses to do what God actually requires. He doesn’t humble himself or repent. He just thinks, “Oh, you want us to marry a cousin? That earns a blessing? Ok, I’ll marry a cousin.”

Derek Kidner points out that Esau’s attempt to gain favor through marriage to an uncle’s daughter is exactly like every religious effort.[4](Derek Kidner Genesis) “I will go and do something that I think will earn me a blessing. I will perform an action to purchase my place. I won’t actually listen to what God says and I won’t put away my sin and my selfishness, but I jumped through this hoop, so now God owes me.”

But religion, like Esau’s marriage here, is counterfeit currency. It is worthless. Jacob goes to Laban, so Esau goes to Ishmael – the AntiUncle. Ishmael had already been driven out, disqualified in God’s eyes. But Esau thought it was the act of marrying within the “family” that mattered. It wasn’t.

Genesis 28:10-11 – 10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He reached a certain place and spent the night there because the sun had set. He took one of the stones from the place, put it there at his head, and lay down in that place.

Jacob would travel 500 miles alone.[5](CSB Study Bible Notes) He’s pretty oblivious as he goes. He knows the danger behind him but doesn’t know what sort of trouble waits ahead. Bruce Waltke notes that he’s between a “death camp and a labor camp.”[6](Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary) He doesn’t know that the Lord is going with him – he’ll make that very clear in a moment. And he doesn’t even seem to realize that he’s camping in a place that was very significant to his grandfather, Abraham.[7](Genesis 12:8, 13:3-4) He stops near Bethel, not because of its history but because he was out of daylight. And there he sets up a makeshift camp.

We’re fond of saying that Jacob used this stone as a pillow, but that might not be it. After all, he was a “civilized” man who stayed in the comfort of the tents.[8](NET Study Bible Notes) Are we to think he set out on a 500 mile trip and didn’t pack a pillow? In fact, it’s possible that Jacob wasn’t using this stone as a pillow, but as some sort of pagan rabbit’s foot to keep him safe.[9](ibid)

Genesis 28:12 – 12 And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground with its top reaching the sky, and God’s angels were going up and down on it.

Translators struggle with the word translated as “stairway” (or your version may say “ladder”). It’s a unique Hebrew word, only used here.[10](See Alter, Waltke) Some call it a ramp, others believe it’s meant to be a ziggurat. What it looked like isn’t the point. The point is the function. It was sent from Heaven to earth as a way that God might accomplish a great deal of work through the efforts of angels and, we’ll see, through God Himself.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus would specifically say that He is the stairway.[11](John 1:51) So, put together, this vision reveals important truths to us about how humans can relate to God. We cannot build a ladder or a ziggurat of our own (like the Babylonians tried to do in Genesis 11). No, God has established a way and He has sent it down from heaven. That Way is Christ Himself – the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no one comes to the Father but by Him. By Christ heaven is opened. There is no other avenue, no back alley, no secret port through which a person can access eternal life.

God is exclusive, but He is always willing to add you to the guest list. At Babel we watched as men tried to bypass God. At Bethel, we watch as God works to join men.

Genesis 28:13-15 – 13 The Lord was standing there beside him, saying, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your offspring the land on which you are lying. 14 Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out toward the west, the east, the north, and the south. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

God’s grace is incredible. As far as the record of Genesis goes, Jacob had never pledged himself to God, never built Him an altar or brought Him a sacrifice. But God loved Jacob and kept reaching out to him. God included him and revealed Himself to Jacob.

In His speech, the Lord shows how different He is than the pagan gods men loved to worship. It was believed they were limited by geography.[12](Waltke) Think of Poseidon, the god of the sea. In 1 Kings 20 there’s a funny moment where the enemies of Israel say, “Their God is a God of the hills, so let’s fight them in the valley and we’ll win.” When the battle was over, 100,000 Aramean foot soldiers had been cut down in a single day.[13](1 Kings 20:23-29)

Our God is with us wherever we go. That doesn’t mean every place is equally good for us. Jonah can testify to that fact. But there is nowhere we can go where the Lord cannot reach us with His presence.

Genesis 28:16-17 – 16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.”

Some commentators feel this is a great prayer of praise. I have a hard time getting there. God’s revelation was about Himself – His presence and withness – Jacob just keeps talking about the place. Bethel wasn’t the house of God. It wasn’t the gate of heaven. The point was that God was with Jacob, not that God was in Bethel. J. Vernon McGee reminds us that Jacob is not a man on pilgrimage here, he’s on the run: On the run from his brother and, frankly, on the run from God.

When we think about what God was trying to communicate to Jacob, we have to conclude that Jacob missed the point. Perhaps that’s why he was afraid, rather than comforted.

Genesis 28:18-19 – 18 Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that was near his head and set it up as a marker. He poured oil on top of it 19 and named the place Bethel, though previously the city was named Luz.

Now here we start to see embers of belief. Had the stone been a good luck charm the night before, now he’s setting it up as a reminder that the God of his fathers was real and alive and present. By pouring oil, he was consecrating that place.[14](Kidner) But notice: Jacob says: “God revealed Himself to me. This is God’s house. This is the very gate of heaven.” But then he packs his bags and hits the road. But not before he makes a little speech.

Genesis 28:20-22 – 20 Then Jacob made a vow: “If God will be with me and watch over me during this journey I’m making, if he provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s family, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone that I have set up as a marker will be God’s house, and I will give to you a tenth of all that you give me.”

God, in His grace, had said, “I will, I will, I will,” to Jacob. Jacob responds back, “If You, if You, if You.” If You keep me safe and bring me back AND give me food and clothing, then You can be my God. And I’ll offer something back to You, as long as You first give more to me. Wow.

God spoke in a profound way to this man and it seems like his response was, “We’ll see. Now I’ll be on my way.” Compare his reaction to those of Abraham when God spoke. Abraham wasn’t perfect, but he had faith and he believed God and he submitted himself to God’s revelation. When God spoke to him in Genesis 17, Abraham fell facedown in worship. When God made promises Abraham didn’t understand, he sometimes would ask a question like, “How can I know?” But then would move in obedience. When God spoke, Abraham listened and oriented his life around those words.

But Jacob? He’s not following the Lord yet. He’s going his own way. And it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

When we miss the point of what God has said to us it leads, invariably, to mistakes, disappointment, even disaster. God speaks with purpose and He also has specific purposes for your life. A major theme of Genesis so far has been that when we go our own way, making decisions that we think are good but do not include God, the results are terrible. Going God’s way is the way that leads to life. Adam and Eve went another way, the result was ruin. Noah went God’s way, the result was life. Whether it’s Cain or Abel, Shem or Ham, Abraham or Lot.

God is not just along for the ride we want to go on. He is Master and Maker and King and Friend and Helper and the source of all wisdom. Wouldn’t you rather be Abraham in Genesis 22 than Jacob in Genesis 28? What’s the difference? Not God. Not His grace. The difference is between the people. One who trusts God enough to follow, the other who thinks he’s got a handle on how to navigate life. Let’s walk with God instead of wrestle with him.


1 (
2 (Philippians 2:3
3 (John Calvin Genesis
4 (Derek Kidner Genesis
5 (CSB Study Bible Notes
6 (Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
7 (Genesis 12:8, 13:3-4
8 (NET Study Bible Notes
9 (ibid
10 (See Alter, Waltke
11 (John 1:51
12 (Waltke
13 (1 Kings 20:23-29
14 (Kidner

Who Are You? I Really Want To Know (Genesis 27:1-45)

Rebecca D’Antonio of Orlando found true love online. ‘Matthew’ told her he was a widower, raising a 5 year old son. Rebecca said, “We just had a lot in common. We liked to try new foods. It was like there was definitely a connection.” During their year-long relationship, Matthew would never agree to video calls or meetings in person. But, when he asked, Rebecca agreed to start sending him money. In the end, she sent him over $100,000, leading her to financial ruin, empty bank accounts, eviction, and a near-suicidal state. When she told Matthew she was considering taking her own life his response was, “Well you have to do what you have to do.”[1]( Rebecca was one of 1,700 people who reported being catfished in Florida in 2021. The average loss was $40,000. By the way, data shows Californians are the most likely to fall victim to catfishing scams.[2](

In our text tonight Rebekah isn’t the victim, she’s one of the perpetrators of a catfish scheme that cons Isaac into giving Jacob the birthright blessing instead of Esau.

Genesis 27:1-4 – When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could not see, he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son.” And he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Look, I am old and do not know the day of my death. 3 So now take your hunting gear, your quiver and bow, and go out in the field to hunt some game for me. 4 Then make me a delicious meal that I love and bring it to me to eat, so that I can bless you before I die.”

There are aspects of this story that I hadn’t considered before. Like, how old are Isaac and Esau? I think of them as being strapping, young men, about to set out on their own. But, when we do the math from the end of Jacob’s life, we figure out that he and his brother are probably in their 70’s![3]( Jacob was 91 when he had Joseph. Joseph was a baby or a little boy when Jacob leaves Laban. He was with Laban 20 years. So, Jacob is at least 70 years old here, and Isaac is probably around 130.

It looks like Isaac was bedridden at the time. He was getting on in years and he was blind. Your version may say his eyes were “dim,” or “too bleary to see.”[4](Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary) He had no clarity to his vision. No light for sight. That provides a great devotional thought. What did Paul say? Right now we see “dimly.” Another version says, “Now we see a blurred image in a mirror.”[5](1 Corinthians 13:12 (see ESV, GWT)) We look forward to eternity where we will see the Lord and all truth clearly, face to face. But, in the here and now, we need to have the eyes of our heart enlightened by the Holy Spirit and the Word. We can’t navigate well without it.

Isaac can’t see, but he’s going to try to do his own navigating anyway. He decided that he was not going to follow God’s directions. God had said, very plainly, “Esau will serve Jacob.” But, Isaac does his best to evade that plan. He’s tries to sneak this blessing ceremony under the wire and in private. But there’s a flaw in Isaac’s plan: It’s his selfishness. “Me first,” he says to Esau. “Go get me a delicious meal so that I can bless you.” That provides an opening for someone else to maneuver. Isaac laying on his bed is a far cry away from the devoted young man who laid himself down voluntarily on the altar of Moriah. But he’s stopped caring about the word and will of God. When we follow our own vision – when our human hearts are steering the ship of our lives – we invariably sail into the shoals of selfishness.[6](A shoal is a sandbank or sand bar in the bed of a body of water, especially one that is exposed above the surface of the water at low tide.) And, when selfishness is in charge, we don’t like the plans of God. We may even resent them and try to find an end run around them. It would be much better for us to admit that we do not have adequate vision and instead trust the Lord to guide us.

Genesis 27:5-10 – 5 Now Rebekah was listening to what Isaac said to his son Esau. So while Esau went to the field to hunt some game to bring in, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Listen! I heard your father talking with your brother Esau. He said, 7 ‘Bring me game and make a delicious meal for me to eat so that I can bless you in the Lord’s presence before I die.’ 8 Now, my son, listen to me and do what I tell you. 9 Go to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, and I will make them into a delicious meal for your father—the kind he loves. 10 Then take it to your father to eat so that he may bless you before he dies.”

Moses shows the bitter rivalry in this family. Esau is called Isaac’s son, Jacob is called Rebekah’s son.[7](Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary) She had a plan not only to get her favorite across the finish line, in accordance with what God had prophesied. But, even though her goal aligned with God’s, her methods absolutely did not. God is not pleased when we use sinful practices to accomplish good goals. But she thinks she has all the answers. In this chapter, she keeps saying to Jacob, “Listen to me!”

A few passages back we were told that Isaac had such a taste for wild game.[8](Genesis 25:28) But his tastes were not as discerning as he thought. He could be tricked with simple goat meat. Rebekah knew what spices to put on the plate to convince Isaac he was eating something exotic – something special.

We are not as sophisticated as we think. Our earthly palates can be easily tricked. This is why we welcome the Lord to transform even the desires of our hearts – so that our lives can be sated with peace and truth and Godliness rather than be a mark for the cons of sin which don’t satisfy.[9](Isaiah 55:1-5)

Genesis 27:11-13 – 11 Jacob answered Rebekah his mother, “Look, my brother Esau is a hairy man, but I am a man with smooth skin. 12 Suppose my father touches me. Then I will be revealed to him as a deceiver and bring a curse rather than a blessing on myself.” 13 His mother said to him, “Your curse be on me, my son. Just obey me and go get them for me.”

Jacob isn’t worried about doing what’s wrong, he’s worried about getting caught.[10](See Alter, Bible Knowledge Commentary) He acknowledges that there is a Divine element to what they were stealing. This wasn’t just about maybe wrecking a relationship between father and son or brother and brother (those were already ruined). This was about God’s providential work through the life of a specific lineage, leading ultimately to the Savior. Jacob has some grasp of God’s Personal involvement in this saga, yet he is willing to be a part of the heist anyway, risking wrath from his earthly and heavenly Fathers.

Genesis 27:14-17 – 14 So he went and got the goats and brought them to his mother, and his mother made the delicious food his father loved. 15 Then Rebekah took the best clothes of her older son Esau, which were in the house, and had her younger son Jacob wear them. 16 She put the skins of the young goats on his hands and the smooth part of his neck. 17 Then she handed the delicious food and the bread she had made to her son Jacob.

Rebekah raided Esau’s closet. This is, perhaps, the first recorded case of identity theft.

Here’s something else I had never considered before: The skins of these goats had not been dried or cured. Maybe they hadn’t even been fleshed – time was of the essence. No, I think the skins Jacob put on were still warm and oozing with the gore of slaughter.

We’ve seen Bible characters clothed with skins before in this Book. In the Garden, the Lord God tenderly covered the sin of Adam and Eve. Here, the skins become not a covering but a costume. Rather than a propitiation, they are a prop to help Jacob in his theft.

In Isaiah and Zechariah we learn that, from heaven’s perspective, you and I are clothed in filthy rags. Even the best person is wearing garments of death, like Jacob. All your self-righteousness, all your accomplishments, all your promises and intentions are these goat skins – slimy with the gore of sin. We need a Savior who will take away our filthy rags and give us a clean robe of righteousness, and that’s just what Christ has done.[11](Isaiah 61:10)

Genesis 27:18-20 – 18 When he came to his father, he said, “My father.” And he answered, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob replied to his father, “I am Esau, your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may bless me.” 20 But Isaac said to his son, “How did you ever find it so quickly, my son?” He replied, “Because the Lord your God made it happen for me.”

After perjury and fraud we can add ‘blasphemy’ to Jacob’s charges.[12](See Waltke, CSB Study Bible Notes) He says it was an act of God. Is nothing sacred? Jacob stole his brother’s identity, conspired against his dad and lied to him. Now he even invokes God in his ploy. Let’s pause to see again how gracious God is to this family and to all of us. They’re insulting God, provoking Him. But God’s faithfulness and love toward them continues. You and I are no better. We were dead in trespasses but He has given us life. We were hostile toward Him, at war with Him, but He offers peace. We cannot overestimate God’s grace.

Genesis 27:21-27 – 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come closer so I can touch you, my son. Are you really my son Esau or not?” 22 So Jacob came closer to his father Isaac. When he touched him, he said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he blessed him. 24 Again he asked, “Are you really my son Esau?” And he replied, “I am.” 25 Then he said, “Bring it closer to me, and let me eat some of my son’s game so that I can bless you.” Jacob brought it closer to him, and he ate; he brought him wine, and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Please come closer and kiss me, my son.” 27 So he came closer and kissed him. When Isaac smelled his clothes, he blessed him and said: Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.

Two questions: Just how hairy was Esau and how bad did this guy smell?

Isaac’s radar was blipping like crazy. He suspected a trick, but fell for it anyway. He could’ve easily escaped this con if he would’ve simply called a servant in to verify who was standing before him. But Isaac was trying to accomplish his own will, despite knowing what God had decreed. And so he relies only on himself – his smell, his touch, his cross-examination – and so he is deceived.

Genesis 27:28-29 – 28 May God give to you—from the dew of the sky and from the richness of the land—an abundance of grain and new wine. 29 May peoples serve you and nations bow in worship to you. Be master over your relatives; may your mother’s sons bow in worship to you. Those who curse you will be cursed, and those who bless you will be blessed.

This is amazing, because, on the one hand, Isaac is absolutely defying God. He thinks he’s talking to Esau and he says, ‘Be master over your relatives.’ That is the antithesis of what God commanded. At the same time, we have an incredible demonstration of God’s grace and providence. When God decrees something, it cannot be undone. He uses the astounding power of His providence to accomplish His will. At the same time, look at God’s grace. Though Isaac was trying his hardest to do the opposite of what God wanted, God still used this man to be a blessing.[13](John Calvin Genesis) And, in the future, God would continue to identify Himself as “the God of Abraham” and “the God of Isaac.” In this moment, Isaac deserved no such affiliation or friendship with God. But God’s grace is abundant. Now we do not want to receive that grace in vain. We don’t want to fall short of it. We want to walk in grace, participate in providence, and trust that the Lord’s way is the only way that leads to hope and glory and fulfillment of all good things.

Genesis 27:30-32 – 30 As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob and Jacob had left the presence of his father Isaac, his brother Esau arrived from his hunting. 31 He had also made some delicious food and brought it to his father. He said to his father, “Let my father get up and eat some of his son’s game, so that you may bless me.” 32 But his father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am Esau your firstborn son.”

Esau identifies himself as the firstborn, but he is not the firstborn – not legally. He had willingly sold that right to his brother. He signed on the dotted line, preferring soup to sanctification.

Edward VIII abdicated the throne of Britain in 1936. He made his choice. But he could no longer go around saying, “I’m King Edward.” No you’re not! He had walked away from that position.

Esau had no right to the blessing – not spiritually, not prophetically, not legally. But he and his father were trying to bypass all of that behind closed tent-flaps. But what they meant for self, God worked for Sovereignty.

Esau says, “Here’s my delicious food!” He assumed that would be enough to buy a good fortune, along with having been his dad’s favorite. Esau had cut God out of the equation of his life. Instead, he relied on his ability to please his dad with his skills and talents. But, in the end, life is more than skill or charm or ability. Beauty fades. Popularity wanes. Skills dull. Abilities slack. We want to live lives defined by the presence and strength of God who give our lives eternal significance.

Genesis 27:33-36 – 33 Isaac began to tremble uncontrollably. “Who was it then,” he said, “who hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it all before you came in, and I blessed him. Indeed, he will be blessed!” 34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me too, my father!” 35 But he replied, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.” 36 So he said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob?, For he has cheated me twice now. He took my birthright, and look, now he has taken my blessing.” Then he asked, “Haven’t you saved a blessing for me?”

Hebrew scholars tell us that Esau is screaming excessively.[14](See Alter, NET Study Bible Notes) He had assumed that he’d just be handed the blessing, despite his refusal to go God’s way, despite his selling it to Jacob years ago. Isaac is also disturbed – he’s shaking in his sandals as he recognizes that he has been found out by God and God has overruled his sinful plan to give to Esau what God appointed for Jacob.

Genesis 27:37-40 – 37 But Isaac answered Esau, “Look, I have made him a master over you, have given him all of his relatives as his servants, and have sustained him with grain and new wine. What then can I do for you, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” And Esau wept loudly. 39 His father Isaac answered him, Look, your dwelling place will be away from the richness of the land, away from the dew of the sky above. 40 You will live by your sword, and you will serve your brother. But when you rebel, you will break his yoke from your neck.

Esau isn’t looking for any great spiritual future or place in God’s plan. He wants a material blessing. And now that he realizes it’s gone, everything crumbles. What a sad, spoiled, shameful man.

Isaac has been rebuked by God. To his credit, he immediately falls in line with what the Lord has done. He says, “What can I do?” He doesn’t try to go against God any more than he already has. He now takes up the prophetic Word of God and agrees with it and submits to it.

Genesis 27:41-45 – 41 Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. And Esau determined in his heart, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” 42 When the words of her older son Esau were reported to Rebekah, she summoned her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Listen, your brother Esau is consoling himself by planning to kill you. 43 So now, my son, listen to me. Flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, 44 and stay with him for a few days until your brother’s anger subsides—45 until your brother’s rage turns away from you and he forgets what you have done to him. Then I will send for you and bring you back from there. Why should I lose you both in one day?”

“Stay with him a few days.” Their little swindle would cost a lot more than that. Jacob would be gone for 20 years. It’s doubtful he ever saw his mom again.

What should the family of faith have done in this strange situation? We get a great redo at the end of Jacob’s life, where he, too, has been told by God to bless Joseph’s younger boy over the older. And it’s no big thing. He crosses his hands and does it. When Joseph protests, Jacob says, “I know what I’m doing. This is God’s will.” And it’s done! Simple faith, simple trust, simple obedience.

There is an important question asked twice in this passage: “Who are you?” Isaac asks it of each of his sons. Who are you? That’s a good question for all of us.

If Isaac answered that question honestly, he would’ve said, “I’m the one who doesn’t like God’s plan and am going to try to avoid it. I can do it all myself.”

Rebekah would’ve said, “I’m the one who believes, but isn’t willing to wait for God or trust Him to accomplish His will. I have all the answers and the end justifies whatever means I may use.”

Jacob would’ve had to say, “I’m the one who is scamming my dad, cheating my brother, blaspheming against God so that I can get ahead in life. I’ll do what I gotta do to get what I want.”

Esau should’ve said, “I’m the one who doesn’t care about anything except my own comfort, my own wealth, my own here and now. I don’t think about God or spiritual things.”

Who are you? One thing this story reveals is just how much we need God’s directions, God’s decisions, God’s designations in our lives. We don’t know what we need to know to make it on our own. Look at how everyone thought Isaac was about to keel over. They all assumed he was at death’s door, including Isaac. But he went on to live another fifty years! We need God to direct us and to speak to us and to show us which way to go. He will, if we’re willing to listen and surrender. All of these people wanted to go their own way toward their own destinations. Not of one them were seeking the Lord in their decision making. And look at the wreckage. Look at the cost.

Be a believer who can answer the “who are you” question this way: I am a child of God, in the service of God, following the word of God, walking the way of God, with full confidence in God.


1 (
2 (
3 (
4 (Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary
5 (1 Corinthians 13:12 (see ESV, GWT
6 (A shoal is a sandbank or sand bar in the bed of a body of water, especially one that is exposed above the surface of the water at low tide.
7 (Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
8 (Genesis 25:28
9 (Isaiah 55:1-5
10 (See Alter, Bible Knowledge Commentary
11 (Isaiah 61:10
12 (See Waltke, CSB Study Bible Notes
13 (John Calvin Genesis
14 (See Alter, NET Study Bible Notes

Like Father, Like Son (Genesis 26:1-35)

Did you see the footage of Mike Tyson pummeling a fellow passenger on a recent flight? It was decided that no criminal charges will be filed.[1]( Watch the whole video and you see that the man kept tormenting Iron Mike. He even threw a water bottle at him.[2]( In the aftermath many said the guy got was coming to him. After all, he wouldn’t stop provoking the champ.

In our text tonight, Isaac is provoked a lot. His antagonists don’t throw any water bottles at him, but they do ruin his water wells. Isaac is provoked by famine, fear, foes, and even his own family. As we see him react to these situations we can see where he was successful and where he came up short.

This passage is interesting because it is the only chapter where Isaac is the main character. But, everything in it is a repetition of something his father, Abraham, dealt with in his life.

When we watch a movie sequel, we expect them to do some new things. Reviewers get angry when it’s just the same old plot done a second time. Think Home Alone 2 or the Pirates sequels.

But, when we’re talking about our regular lives it’s good to remember that there’s nothing new under the sun. No difficulty you and I face is a new experience that God has never had to deal with. No challenge is uncharted, no provocation is unprecedented. They may be new to us, but they’re not new to the Lord. He’s given us the record of Scripture so that we can receive His navigation for the challenges that we will face. Paul referenced these Old Testament stories and said, “These things happened as examples, and they were written for our instruction.”[3](1 Corinthians 10:11) So, we see the same thing happening to Isaac that happened before, but that’s good because similar things are going to also happen to us! Let’s examine Isaac, who faced a variety of provocations in chapter 26.

Genesis 26:1 – There was another famine in the land in addition to the one that had occurred in Abraham’s time. And Isaac went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, at Gerar.

We’re not given enough details to be sure when this took place. Some think it was before Isaac had his boys, some think it was after. It was at least 40 years after Abraham had his interactions with Abimelech in Gerar. So, this is likely the next Abimelech, the son of the one we met before.

Isaac finds himself in the midst of a famine. When we are provoked by something out of our control – like a famine – what should we do? Isaac packed up and set off toward the coast. It’s what his father had done before. But there’s a spiritual component, too:

Genesis 26:2-6 – 2 The Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt. Live in the land that I tell you about; 3 stay in this land as an alien, and I will be with you and bless you. For I will give all these lands to you and your offspring, and I will confirm the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky, I will give your offspring all these lands, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring, 5 because Abraham listened to me and kept my mandate, my commands, my statutes, and my instructions.” 6 So Isaac settled in Gerar.

Perhaps Isaac was on his way to Egypt and so had to be told not to go down there. After all, that is what his dad had done. In multiple ways we’ll see Isaac following in his father’s footsteps, but he seems to have a selective memory. He doesn’t seem to remember that some of these ideas his dad had ended up causing big problems.

But here we see Isaac provoked by a famine, a high level crisis. What was he to do? In that situation, the Lord provided leading. He had to go somewhere otherwise his flocks might die. So where should he go? He shouldn’t go to natural place (Egypt), but to the place of the Lord’s choosing.

One scholar points out that the word for “live in the land” is the Hebrew word that conveys the idea of “tent there temporarily.”[4](Bruce Waltke Genesis:A Commentary) It reminds us that anywhere we find ourselves in this life is just a temporary lodging place till we make it home. Don’t become so wrapped up in anything here that you forget where your real citizenship is.

When Isaac was provoked by famine, he received the Lord’s leading and obeyed. And in this sweet interchange we see the faithfulness, the graciousness of God, as we always do. Abraham may have been gone, but the covenant was still on. The Lord was still present. He was still going to do everything He said. And, best of all, He said, “I will be with you!” This is always what God has wanted. He wanted to be with Adam and Eve in Eden. He is Emmanuel, God with us. We’re told that in the New Jerusalem we’ll see His face – that He’ll be so close to us, He’ll be our light. We’ll have no need for the sun or the moon or the flashlight on our phones.

Revelation 21:3 – Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples,, and God himself will be with them and will be their God.

Notice: if Isaac wanted to enjoy that with-ness, he would have to listen and trust and obey. Had he gone down to Egypt, the Lord wouldn’t have abandoned him, but Isaac wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the blessing that God wanted to give. The Lord said, “Here’s where you’re going to find Me.”

Genesis 26:7 – 7 When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he was afraid to say “my wife,” thinking, “The men of the place will kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is a beautiful woman.”

After the famine, Isaac was provoked by fear. Once again, he follows in the example of his dad. I guess he forgot how those stories ended. A word to those of us who are parents in the room: Your example matters. You’re teaching your kids how to deal with life by the way you deal with life. Show them how to trust God and go His way.

When provoked by fear, Isaac chose to lie. Here’s the thing: Lying does not help you. More importantly, God hates it. In Proverbs, the Holy Spirit says lying is detestable to the Lord.[5](Proverbs 6:16-19, 12:22)

When provoked by fear, Isaac should’ve decided to be true. He had just received strong promises from God. That thing he was so worried about needn’t have bothered him at all if he remembered what God had already revealed and accomplished on his behalf.

Jesus has told us, outright, that we do not need to be afraid, even of those who can kill our bodies. He’s given us His peace as a gift. And so, in this kind of situation, we must walk in the truth. The Apostle John was so glad to hear that the Christians he was writing to were walking in the truth. In fact, he said that he had no greater joy than to hear that.[6](3 John 3-4)

Genesis 26:8-11 – 8 When Isaac had been there for some time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked down from the window and was surprised to see Isaac caressing his wife Rebekah. 9 Abimelech sent for Isaac and said, “So she is really your wife! How could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac answered him, “Because I thought I might die on account of her.” 10 Then Abimelech said, “What have you done to us? One of the people could easily have slept with your wife, and you would have brought guilt on us.” 11 So Abimelech warned all the people, “Whoever harms this man or his wife will certainly be put to death.”

Isaac would’ve had to get the king’s permission to live in Gerar. In those sort of negotiations it wasn’t unheard of for the man in Isaac’s position to have to give up a woman into a harem.[7](CSB Study Bible Notes) Still, we have to conclude that Isaac surrendered to fear. He would’ve known about the two times this same thing had happened with his dad and how the lie never worked and how God had miraculously protected the family. But, we see that even though he was being obedient to stay where God had him, he wasn’t really trusting God in faith.

As a result, Isaac crashed on the rocks of hypocrisy. One of the biggest complaints the world has about Christians is that we’re hypocrites. And sometimes we are! That doesn’t mean we have to be perfect – that’s impossible – but we should note how damaging hypocrisy is to our witness.

One way to avoid hypocrisy is to avoid lies. Don’t lie to others and don’t lie to yourself! Remember: God has led us to a specific place to tent and His desire is that we spread righteousness there. Abimelech says, “you’re bringing guilt to all of us!” And that throws into relief what the servant of God is supposed to be doing in the community – that’s bearing fruit, spreading righteousness. In 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul says, “always pursue what is good for one another and for all.” Isaac fell way short of that when he was provoked by fear.

Genesis 26:12-16 – 12 Isaac sowed seed in that land, and in that year he reaped a hundred times what was sown. The Lord blessed him, 13 and the man became rich and kept getting richer until he was very wealthy. 14 He had flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, and many slaves, and the Philistines were envious of him. 15 Philistines stopped up all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of his father Abraham, filling them with dirt. 16 And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Leave us, for you are much too powerful for us.”

Before we look at the provocation here, pause to enjoy God’s grace. His representative had really blown it, but God isn’t vindictive. He stays yoked with Isaac and still works in his life.

Having come through the provocation of famine and fear, now Isaac will enter a period of life where he is provoked by his foes. In this first wave, the people he had been living among for quite some time have grown jealous of his success, and so they not only push him away, they actually come against him – vandalizing and ruining his water wells.

Wealth brings problems. We all would like to have a little more than we have, but the more we have, the more trouble we’re bound to face. And the problems could become very acute very quickly. The more flocks Isaac had, the more water he would need, right at the time where his access to water was being shut off.

As a side note, we saw how lying doesn’t help you. Here God’s Word shows us that envy doesn’t help you, either. By stopping up these wells and driving Isaac away, these Philistines were hurting their own economy! Don’t let jealousy into your heart. It’s only going to hurt you in the end.

Derek Kidner points out that, in this provocation, Isaac is trapped between a hostile city and a waterless countryside. What would he do? What can we do when friends turn to foes?

Genesis 26:17-22 – 17 So Isaac left there, camped in the Gerar Valley, and lived there. 18 Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the days of his father Abraham and that the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died. He gave them the same names his father had given them. 19 Then Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found a well of spring water there. 20 But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek because they argued with him. 21 Then they dug another well and quarreled over that one also, so he named it Sitnah. 22 He moved from there and dug another, and they did not quarrel over it. He named it Rehoboth and said, “For now the Lord has made space for us, and we will be fruitful in the land.”

Today, Christians are still being driven from their homes in places like Laos[8]( and even Israel.[9]( We are not facing that sort of outright persecution. Maybe we will some day. If we do, it won’t be easy, but we can be sure the Lord will be with us. Look at Isaac: He sets up camp in a dried river bed. He’s got hostile enemies actively destroying his access to water. But the Lord’s touch on his life cannot be thwarted. The Lord was with him on the coast, He’s still be with him in the valley.

Isaac did not retaliate, he moved on. Then moved on again. He shows a remarkable level of patience. He had trained fighters. Out in the wild, I’m sure you could make a few herdsman disappear without too much trouble. But Isaac just kept digging. The people around him were unreasonable and unfriendly. He comported himself like a gentleman, giving up some of his rights in order to keep peace.

Generally, we can be at peace with a hostile world. Not always. At some point persecution becomes so serious that God’s people have to take flight. But, in our regular lives, facing foes who are stealing clients from us or cutting in line or making accusations, we’re called to live at peace as far as it is possible for us. We do so by responding to provocation with calm and patience and even generosity toward those who come against us. Bless and do not curse.

Genesis 26:23-25 – 23 From there he went up to Beer-sheba, 24 and the Lord appeared to him that night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your offspring because of my servant Abraham.” 25 So he built an altar there, called on the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there. Isaac’s servants also dug a well there.

As the Lord had spoken His promises multiple times to Abraham, so now He speaks multiple times to Isaac. Sometimes we look back at the book of Acts or historic times of revival and wish God would do things like that again. That’s ok, but through Isaac’s example we see that God’s heart is to speak to us here and now, just as He’s spoken before. He’s not withdrawn. He’s just as excited about you as He was about the Church in Acts. He’s with us and loves us.

The Lord said: “Don’t be afraid.” I imagine Isaac felt pretty vulnerable there in the wilderness, surrounded by people who hated him. But no matter how weak our physical position is, we are safe in the Lord’s hands. We may have our wells destroyed, but nothing can separate us from His love.

In the midst of this provocation, Isaac not only showed patience and meekness, but we see he responded with worship. He built an altar. He called on the name of the Lord. He focused his attention on his faith rather than his foes.

Genesis 26:26-33 – 26 Now Abimelech came to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army. 27 Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me? You hated me and sent me away from you.” 28 They replied, “We have clearly seen how the Lord has been with you. We think there should be an oath between two parties—between us and you. Let us make a covenant with you: 29 You will not harm us, just as we have not harmed you but have done only what was good to you, sending you away in peace. You are now blessed by the Lord.” 30 So he prepared a banquet for them, and they ate and drank. 31 They got up early in the morning and swore an oath to each other., Isaac sent them on their way, and they left him in peace. 32 On that same day Isaac’s servants came to tell him about the well they had dug, saying to him, “We have found water!” 33 He called it Sheba. Therefore the name of the city is still Beer-sheba, today.

Abimelech claims they had only done good to Isaac, but he knows that isn’t true. He has to admit there is no reason Isaac should be thriving, given all the trouble the Philistines have caused. And yet, it’s clear that God is with him. God wants to make His with-ness clear in your life. In a sense, God wants to magnetize your life, drawing the hard, metally hearts of unbelievers toward you so that they can hear about Who God is and what He’s capable of and how He saves.

Isaac was gracious enough to be trusted by Abimelech, even after being caught in a lie. Isaac was willing to receive his foes. He was willing to endure an offense. He was generous to overlook some issues for the greater good. He doesn’t bring up the wells to Abimelech. That’s one way he was different from his dad. Isaac doesn’t want to harm his enemies, he wants to be at peace with them and even bless them. So he gives them a feast and a place to stay. The fact that Abimelech stayed the night is a testimony to Isaac’s graciousness. The king wasn’t afraid he’d get his throat cut while he slept.

And we note Isaac’s diligence in the face of provocation. He just kept digging wells. There in verses 32 they put another hole in the ground and the Lord meets him there with provision.

So, Isaac is sort of 1.5 for 3 when it comes to dealing with provocation. He’s seen it from famine, from fear, from his foes. But there’s one more: His family.

Genesis 26:34-35 – 34 When Esau was forty years old, he took as his wives Judith daughter of Beeri the Hethite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hethite. 35 They made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.

It’s hard to believe that Isaac would’ve been negligent about his sons’ wives, especially when you consider the saga about how his dad dealt with getting him a wife. It says Esau “took” his wives, signaling, perhaps, that he refused to be under his dad’s authority on this issue.

The terms used for “making life bitter” can mean these ladies “defied and provoked” Isaac and Rebekah.[10](Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary) In the end, we cannot force our family to do what is right or what is Godly. But, when provoked by family we should remain faithful. As we saw last time, toward the end of his life it seems the Isaac slacked off in spiritual things. He becomes more like Esau and less like Abraham. And it leads to greater family division. We want to follow through in God’s grace and power, doing our part to live out the faith for the good of our families.

Are you being provoked by famines or by fears or by foes or by family? God has equipment for you. Don’t go all Iron Mike on those around you. Instead, be led, be true, be patient, be gracious, be faithful.


1 (
2 (
3 (1 Corinthians 10:11
4 (Bruce Waltke Genesis:A Commentary
5 (Proverbs 6:16-19, 12:22
6 (3 John 3-4
7 (CSB Study Bible Notes
8 (
9 (
10 (Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary

Turning Red (Genesis 25:19-34)

A legend is told of a man who traveled through southeast China many centuries ago. He kept all his food in a clay jar. When it was time for a meal he would put the jar over a fire and warm what was inside. The jar held a variety of ingredients, but – being near the coast – one night it had shark fins, scallops, abalone and ham, along with a grab bag of other items.

After setting up camp just outside a Buddhist monastery, the man began to warm his meal. The smells wafted up to where the Monks were meditating. Though bound by their religion to live as vegetarians, the delicious smell proved to be too great a temptation for one hungry fellow. He ran from the monastery, jumped over the wall, and asked for a bowl of what has since become a celebrated but controversial delicacy known as Buddha Jumps Over The Wall.[1]( Back in 2005 you could get a bowl from a restaurant in London, but it would set you back about $200.[2](

In our text tonight we’ll take a look at the most famous soup in the Bible. There are others: Gideon offers soup to the Lord in Judges 6. In 2 Kings 4 a bunch of prophets get food poisoning from one. But Jacob’s red stew is the signature soup of the Old Testament. It’s why Esau picks up the name ‘Edom,’ which would become the name for an entire nation! Over this soup the course of history changes. Talk about a power lunch!

This soup scandal is the culmination of a family that has drifted into selfishness. Both sons and parents show themselves to be driven by self-centeredness in this text. They’ve drifted away from a spiritual mindset. The result is strife, rivalry, and taking advantage of one another. Meanwhile, God remains faithful. God remains gracious and accessible, showing us His way is the better way: Better for us, better for our families, better for our nation, better for everyone around us and after us.

Genesis 25:19-20 – 19 These are the family records of Isaac son of Abraham. Abraham fathered Isaac. 20 Isaac was forty years old when he took as his wife Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan-aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.

In the passages that follow we’ll get a little more of Isaac’s story, but really the book is pivoting to focus on Jacob now. The truth is, we don’t have a full picture of Isaac. We know the circumstances of his birth. We admire his submission to Abraham in chapter 22. But beyond a few, small pieces, we don’t have a great assessment. Reading between the lines, it seems like his spiritual beginning was better than his end. It’s hard to finish well. Not impossible – not only something a few really special Christians can do. We all can do it, but often we lose pace with the Lord, we drift from our first love, we take up legalism or license or laziness and become slack in our pursuit. It seems that happened to Isaac. We want to be the kind of Christians who guard against that and run hard to the end.

Genesis 25:21 – 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife because she was childless. The Lord was receptive to his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived.

Isaac was the only patriarch who was monogamous.[3](Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary) To his credit, when Rebekah was unable to conceive, Isaac did not make the Hagar mistake. He didn’t say, “Well, God promised me that I would have kids, so I’ll go find someone else.” No, it was clear that the Lord intended Isaac and Rebekah to be together. One commentator calls them “a marriage made in heaven.”[4](ibid.) So, rather than try to solve his problem with human planning, Isaac went to the Lord in prayer.

It took 20 years for Rebekah to have kids. This scene raises some questions about God’s work and our prayers. Did Isaac pray for 20 years or did he wait for 20 years and then finally get to praying? If he prayed for 20 years, and God was ‘receptive’ to his prayer, does that mean that God is sometimes withholding of His good work in our lives? Doesn’t Psalm 84 say:

Psalm 84:11 – the Lord God…does not withhold the good from those who live with integrity.

If we’re not getting what we pray for, does that mean we must be failing in some way to do what God wants? After all, God said He planned on Isaac having kids. That was a good thing. So why the hold up? What about those situations you’ve been praying for month after month, year after year?

The Bible is clear that God hears our prayers. 1 Peter 3:12 says His eyes are on us and His ears are open to our prayers. The theological reasons why we do not always get a “yes” to our prayers are, first, that God works according to a specific timeline which takes into account an innumerable combination of particulars that we cannot possibly know. The second theological reason why it often seems like God is ‘withholding’ a good thing from us, even when we pray again and again about it, is because what seems obviously good to us may actually not be good at all!

Consider King Hezekiah of Judah. He got sick. Very sick. Isaiah came to him and said, “You’re going to die.” Hezekiah prayed like he never prayed before that he would be healed. And the Lord gave him 15 more years. During that time, Hezekiah made some terrible, terrible mistakes, which led to the destruction of the nation of Judah. He could’ve spent those years in Paradise. Instead, that which he thought was obviously good was actually the opposite.

We can trust God to do what is right and good, because He cares for us more than we care for ourselves. We can trust His timing, even if we have to pray about something for 20 years.

But, maybe Isaac waited and then, two decades into this thing, he finally prayed about it. Does that mean God acts on whims? That He was just waiting around until someone prayed about Rebekah’s situation? Well, we can’t know for sure what was going on in the Lord’s mind, but, we are reminded of what James said: In some cases, we have not because we ask not. Prayer really matters. Think of those times in the Bible where someone came to Jesus and He said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Now, I don’t mean to suggest that God has set Himself up as a Genie or a cosmic butler or Someone who exists to do what we want. James goes on to say, “[Sometimes] you ask and don’t receive because your motives are wrong.” At the same time, the Bible shows that prayer matters. One of the shortest verses in the Bible is 1 Thessalonians 5:17. It simply says, “Pray constantly.” Paul goes on to say that is God’s will for you. Because prayer is a significant part of how the Lord matures us and teaches us to walk in faith. It is something we can do which brings our thoughts and our desires and our choices into their proper place, which is in trusting submission to God.

Isaac’s prayer shows us the tender grace of God. The Lord promised to give children to this family, but He waited until Isaac partnered in prayer. God didn’t need to wait. He didn’t need Isaac’s help or approval or interest. But He wanted to include His servant. So, Isaac gets to enjoy spiritual dividends by prayerfully involving himself in the Lord’s work.

Then something unexpected happens:

Genesis 25:22 – 22 But the children inside her struggled with each other, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.

They got what they prayed for, but they didn’t expect it to be hard. Rebekah didn’t expect to suffer. Her prayer is a desperate one. She says, “Why me!?!”[5](Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary) She had wanted a pregnancy, but she wanted it a different way. That’s natural. God doesn’t want us to desire suffering. But this verse shows a weakness of our humanity. Even when we get what we want, we often don’t like the way we have it. “God, give me this job.” Then He does, then it’s, “Well, give me a different boss.”

To Rebekah’s credit, in her frustration, she seeks out the Lord. She is looking for God’s perspective on her suffering. And He is faithful to give it. Now, as Believers in the age of grace who have the completed revelation of Scripture, we should have a transformed mentality when it comes to suffering and difficulty. Rather than thinking, “why me,” we want to train ourselves to think, “What God wants, I want.” That way our focus isn’t on suffering, but on following God’s leading in our lives.

Genesis 25:23 – 23 And the Lord said to her: Two nations are in your womb; two peoples will come from you and be separated. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.

When we seek God, we will find Him. The Lord was ready to reveal answers to Rebekah. He loves to explain Himself and to show us how His work is bigger than the circumstance we’re in. This wasn’t just a pregnancy, something much greater was going on.

Now, this message would’ve been a hard one for a family to deal with. God is demanding that human conventions be tossed out. He’s changing what would’ve been the normal, go-with-the-flow dynamic of parents and sons and brothers. But He’s the One in charge. And they should’ve made it a point to rally together around this prophecy. Instead, it seems like everyone started drifting from the Lord into selfishness, and though the passage starts with parents in prayer, by the time we turn the page, there’s a lot of self-centeredness and dysfunction.

Genesis 25:24 – 24 When her time came to give birth, there were indeed twins in her womb.

As usual, this Bible prophecy was fulfilled literally and actually and physically.

Genesis 25:25-26 – 25 The first one came out red-looking, covered with hair like a fur coat, and they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out grasping Esau’s heel with his hand. So he was named Jacob., Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.

They had a sense of humor in naming the boys. Hairy and Heel![6](Waltke) Esau looks like a little animal when he comes out. His name speaks of his carnal nature.[7](Bible Knowledge Commentary) He had no interest in spiritual things.

Jacob’s name, on the other hand, has different shades of meaning. It can mean “heel grabber,” or, “the one who trips up.” It can also mean, “May God be your rearguard.”[8](See Bible Knowledge Commentary, Kidner) And certainly, we’ll see that God had this man’s back, even though Jacob didn’t deserve it.

Genesis 25:27 – 27 When the boys grew up, Esau became an expert hunter, an outdoorsman, but Jacob was a quiet man who stayed at home.

Based on this description, it seems like these guys ended up being trust-fund kids. Who is tending the flocks? Who is planting the crops? Instead of carrying on that calling, we have Esau hunting game day in and day out, while Jacob dabbles as a chef and stay in the tents. Personality-wise, the boys are presented as opposites. One loved the fields, one loved the finer things. Esau would grow to be a bit wild, Jacob a bit wiley.

Genesis 25:28 – 28 Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for wild game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

This is a sad verse. There really aren’t a lot of examples of good parents in the Old Testament. A statement like this should remind us that when Christ comes into our hearts, He transforms who we are and intends to reshape everything about us, including our relationships. He enables us to love the way He loves – unconditionally. There’s no place for this kind of favoritism in a Christian home.

We’re told Isaac loved Esau “because he had a taste for wild game.” The Hebrew says, “For the game in his mouth.”[9](Alter) And so we have to conclude that Isaac has become somewhat carnal and materialistic. Even in his favoritism – he doesn’t prefer Esau because of who he is, but because of what he does. If Rebekah’s line was, “Why is this happening to me?” Isaac’s is, “What have you done for me lately?” So we’re seeing these flashes of selfishness in each character.

Bruce Waltke points out that Adam failed in eating, Noah failed in drinking, Isaac failed in tasting. Those moments where God’s people chose to give in to sensual temptation, they really fouled up what should’ve been glorious, spiritual experiences. John, in his first epistle, warns us about the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life and, in the end, says, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” When we let those sinful seeds into our minds, they will grow and reroute our thinking and will pervert our relationships and cripple us in our walk with the Lord.

Genesis 25:29-30 – 29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field exhausted. 30 He said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, because I’m exhausted.” That is why he was also named Edom.

Now let’s think for a minute: Esau comes from the field, but where does he come to? He comes into a home with astounding wealth, tons of servants, no lack of provision. He was worn out, but he could’ve walked into the next room where there was a sack of grain or some raisin cakes. Instead, he saw some soup right in front of him, and that became his focus. Esau was about immediate gratification.

Esau and his descendants and the region where they lived with forever be known as Edom. “Red stuff.” It reminds me of when George Costanza orders a T-bone steak, hoping his coworkers will give him the nickname “T-bone.”

Genesis 25:31 – 31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

Jacob was ready to exploit his brother’s weakness for his own gain. Whenever there’s a natural disaster the news inevitably runs a story about price gougers. Esau just wants what’s in front of him, Jacob has a longer view in mind. He wants that position that he had been fighting for since he was in his mother’s womb. He wanted the birthright, granting him a double portion of the inheritance and the place of honor and leadership in the family. His price tag here is selfish and uncompassionate. After all, his brother is hungry, and he has a full pot of stew.

Had this family submitted to God and trusted in His commands, all this rivalry and posturing and resentment could’ve been avoided. According to God, the birthright already belonged to Jacob. But, clearly, the parents were not moving in that direction. And, though Jacob wanted something that God had said he would ultimately have, he was trying to snatch it up in a fleshly, immoral way.

If we use selfish, worldly methods to try to do God’s work, it’s not God’s work.

Genesis 25:32 – 32 “Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die, so what good is a birthright to me?”

This is stupid. He’s not about to die. He is simply too selfish to even walk into the next room. Hebrews 12 tells us that it was’t about hunger – but that Esau was a godless, immoral man who cared nothing about the birthright, particularly when it came to the covenant of God that passed through that birthright. Hebrews says, outright, “make sure you don’t live like Esau!” He cared about the single meal in the here and now. What about 10 years from now? What about his family or the generations after him? None of that crossed his mind. Instead, he was all about his belly.

Genesis 25:33-34 – 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to Jacob and sold his birthright to him. 34 Then Jacob gave bread and lentil stew to Esau; he ate, drank, got up, and went away. So Esau despised his birthright.

Lunch that day was like a meal at Panera. You get a soup, a sandwich and a drink but spend a lot more than you should have.

Interestingly, we note that Esau didn’t consider his promise to be worth very much. Later on when it’s time to receive the blessing, he still expects to get the firstborn share. He’s a selfish man, driven by physical appetites. God doesn’t matter. His family doesn’t matter. His words don’t matter. He just wanted immediate, physical satisfaction. But living that kind of life never leaves you satisfied.

Now, Jacob did a trashy thing and we’ll spend a bunch of weeks seeing him make mistakes and how the Lord brings him back from spiritual ruin. But, as Derek Kidner comments: “The chapter does not [close with] ‘So Jacob supplanted his brother,’ but ‘So Esau despised his birthright.’” This was a significant historical moment. It was a major turning point for this family and for the drama of redemption. Jacob’s price gouging is not so wicked as Esau’s contempt of covenant.

But when we look at these verses, we have to conclude that selfishness has infected this family. Rebekah says, “Why me?” Isaac says, “What have you got for me?” Jacob says, “Why wait for what God has promised?” Esau says, “What good is a birthright?” Everyone is thinking about self and it leads them down these sad roads where parents are preferring one kid over another, where brothers are taking advantage of each other, where individuals aren’t thinking at all about how their choices might impact their families and futures. So, the great “family of faith,” at this point in time, is defined by individualism.

Had this family paused and remembered the Lord, remembered His will and His ways and His revelation, remembered to worship, they would’ve known the satisfaction they each wanted. Their suffering would’ve been put in perspective. Their waiting would’ve had purpose. Their relationships would’ve been healthy and fruitful. And, in the end, they would not be a family torn apart but one thriving in the grace of God.

What happened? Well, they drifted into selfishness. They didn’t think it was necessary to pay attention to what God had said and then orient their lives around it. They started to prize temporal gratification over spiritual growth. The Bible tells us – plainly – don’t go that way. Don’t jump over the borders of God’s leading to get your hands on some soup. It’s not worth the cost.


1 (
2 (
3 (Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
4 (ibid.
5 (Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary
6 (Waltke
7 (Bible Knowledge Commentary
8 (See Bible Knowledge Commentary, Kidner
9 (Alter

No One’s Ever Really Gone (Genesis 25:1-18)

In The Last Jedi, the Skywalkers and company deal with passing the torch from the older generation, who are dying off, to the younger, amidst significant family drama. In the movie, Luke Skywalker famously says, “No one’s ever really gone.” That may have been a screenwriter’s attempt at being profound, or it may simply be that Disney wants to be able to bring back any marketable character when necessary.

Our text tonight catalogs the death of two characters and the passing of the torch to the next generation. Of course, we Christians already know that death is not the end. That is a truth that secular science is once again starting to admit. Recently the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences published a piece examining rarely-studied phenomena at the time of physical death.[1](

Though clinical death is marked as the moment the heart stops beating, brain signals continue for a time after cardiac arrest.[2]( “Researchers found the presence of gamma activity and electrical spikes when people are technically dying. This is typically a sign of a heightened state of consciousness.”[3]( The lead author of the piece writes, “The advent of [CPR] showed us that death is not an absolute state.”

The Bible reveals that death is not an absolute state. It is a passageway from this life to the next – the ultimate life, where we are gathered together among one of two groups. Tonight, Abraham and Ishmael are both “gathered” into the afterlife, while the family lives on and God’s work continues.

Genesis 25:1 – Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah,

Who is Keturah and where did she come from? When did she and Abraham get together? We’re not told any of these details. Scholars fight it out over whether she came on the scene before Sarah died or after, and over whether Abraham should’ve been in a relationship with her or not. But the text does not comment on it. Apparently it’s not important for us to know, or perhaps it’s simply better for us to meditate on the situation and have the Lord speak to us through it.

Should Paul have allowed John Mark to go with him on another missionary journey or should Barnabas not have invited him? The Holy Spirit doesn’t take a side in the text, so we assume that there are things we can learn from either perspective. In a similar way, the Bible doesn’t endorse or condemn Abraham’s relationship with Keturah. It simply gives us something to think about.

Genesis 25:2-4 – 2 and she bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. Dedan’s sons were the Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 And Midian’s sons were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were sons of Keturah.

A few of the names are recognizable – Midian, as well as Sheba and Dedan who show up especially in the book of Ezekiel. Asshurim here is not the Assyrians we meet later in the Old Testament.

There are 16 descendants listed. And in them we see a literal fulfillment of some of the promises God had made to Abraham. He had told Abraham that He would multiply him greatly and that many nations would come from Abraham.[4](Genesis 17:2, 5) That has been proven true. In fact, in this passage we see at leasts 6 specific promises that were truly and literally fulfilled for Abraham. There are the promise of multiplication and many nations, but also that Abraham would live to old age,[5](Genesis 15:15) that even though he would produce many nations, his truest offspring would be traced through Isaac,[6](Genesis 21:12) that Isaac would be his heir,[7](Genesis 15:4) that Ishmael would produce 12 tribal leaders,[8](Genesis 17:20) and that Ishmael would settle near his relatives.[9](Genesis 16:2) All these promises were specifically made and particularly fulfilled.

God really keeps His promises! Not halfway. He doesn’t move the goal posts. He never fakes us out. He keeps all He has promised for this world, for Israel, for you, and for me.

Keturah’s descendants settled in places we identify today as Arabia and Syria.[10](See Waltke, Kidner) And some of them would have dealings with the children of Israel, generally acting in hostility toward them.

Genesis 25:5-6 – 5 Abraham gave everything he owned to Isaac. 6 But Abraham gave gifts to the sons of his concubines, and while he was still alive he sent them eastward, away from his son Isaac, to the land of the East.

In verse 1 Keturah is called a wife, but her legal status was that of a concubine, which means her offspring would not have any right to inheritance.[11](Genesis 25:6, 1 Chronicles 1:32) We feel weird about that, but our modern view on family is different than it was in previous generations, really up to even the recent past.

For example: I was surprised to learn that until 1969 in Germany, children born out of wedlock weren’t even legally considered to be related to their father. As far as the law was concerned, they had a right to sustenance, but not to inheritance.[12](Josué J. Justel The Rights Of A Concubine’s Descendants In The Ancient Near East)

Now, admittedly, in the Old Testament we are heartbroken when we see parents playing favorites with their kids. Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. It’s not a good thing in light of how God has taught us to love now that Christ has come and given us a new perspective on what it means to be a loving human being – what it means to be a spouse and a parent and a new creation in Christ.

At the same time, we recognize that the Old Testament is the story of God’s faithfulness to deliver the Messiah. There’s a lot more to learn, but that is the great theme of the Bible: God reconciling man to Himself by sending His Son. He did so through a specific nation which came from a specific family which bottlenecked down to one guy from time to time. Abraham was one guy. Isaac was one guy. And our enemy the Devil has wanted to derail the work of God from the beginning. Throughout the centuries, there has been a concerted effort to destroy that one, specific family through whom the Lord would bring the Messiah. And so, it was important that Isaac be protected and preserved. These other sons might threaten Isaac or be incentivized to attack him.

Now, on a devotional level, this sending away of Keturah’s sons gives us at least four things to think about. First, we are reminded that God the Father does not owe us anything. These sons had no claim on anything that belonged to Abraham. And that would not have been a surprise to them.

You and I deserve nothing from God but to be sent away from His presence. In fact, that leads us to our second devotional thought: In the end, there are those who seem like they are children of God, but the Lord will ultimately say to them, “I never knew you, depart from Me, you lawbreakers.”[13](Matthew 7:21-24) Many will play the part, but in reality are not members of the new covenant given by Jesus. Just as these sons of Keturah were not covenant sons and so were sent away, so too, those who do not do the will of the Father in heaven will be sent away from the Kingdom, denied heaven’s inheritance.

But, that leads us to the third devotional thought: Consider what God has done for sinners. We were like the these sons. We have no right to heaven. We should be sent far from the presence of the Father because only the true Son of Promise deserves the glory. But, God, in His grace, has adopted us. He redeemed us and adopted us by His good pleasure![14](Galatians 4:5, Ephesians 1:5) You see, in the ancient world, when a father adopted a son he had with a slave or a concubine, then they were legitimized and made heirs of the household. Then they were made citizens of the city and given access to those things they had no right to claim for themselves.[15](Justel) No longer were they slaves, no longer were they outcasts, they were now family members who enjoyed inheritance. This is what God has done through us, not in spite of His only begotten Son, but with full participation with the Son.

And the fourth devotional thought here: God gives us everything but still has more to give. I love how it’s phrased: Abraham gave everything he owned to Isaac and he still gave gifts to these other sons. God’s supplies of grace and peace and wisdom and help cannot be exhausted. He gives to the full and then keeps giving. He gives us everything that is required for life and godliness and we can continually supplement our faith day by day with the more that He gives.

Genesis 25:7 – 7 This is the length of Abraham’s life: 175 years.

I was thinking about these long lifespans in the Old Testament. Young earth creationists give the earth an age of about 6,000 years.[16]( Abraham lived for 3% of that time. Adam lived for 15% of the entire history of earth!

We tend to think God is taking too much time to accomplish His promises. But the days of our lives really are a vapor in comparison to the unending span of eternity. Paul tenderly reminds us that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.[17](Romans 8:18) God is not slow or slack, He’s right on time.

When Abraham died, Isaac was 75 and his twin boys (Jacob and Esau) were 15.

Genesis 25:8 – 8 He took his last breath and died at a good old age, old and contented, and he was gathered to his people.

Sometimes we talk about a person going out “in a blaze of glory.” Abraham went out in a blaze of contentment. Your version may simply say “full” with ‘of years’ in italics, meaning that was added by translators. What made his life full and contented? It was the Lord! Because Abraham walked with God and kept his heart near to the Lord, God was able to bring great things to Abraham’s life and through his life. In chapter 24, Moses wrote that the Lord had blessed him in every way. Even unbelievers looked at his life and said, “God is obviously with you, helping you in everything you do.”[18](Genesis 21:22) That’s what gave a vulnerable nomad peace in an unpredictable world. He made mistakes, he made miscalculations, but he walked with God, and God led him to fullness and contentment.

Commentators point out an important theological idea in this verse. Abraham was not buried with his ancestors – only Sarah was in that tomb – so “gathered to his people” means there is a life after this one. Abraham took one last breath in 2,000 B.C., Canaan and woke in eternity. Awaiting him were Adam and Noah and Abel, the very first inhabitant in that abode we call Hades. It must have been an interesting moment, because that place where Abraham went was named after him! Sometimes when people die we name auditoriums or hospital wings or stretches of freeway in their honor. Abraham got down to Paradise and someone would’ve told him, “Welcome to Abraham’s bosom! Let us show you around!”

It speaks to us of how much care God takes to prepare a place for us. You and I may not have a chamber named after us in eternity, but on the other hand, we might! God does not love and reward us generically. He has a deep, personal, individualized affection for us. In Revelation 21 we’re told that the names of the Apostles are written on the foundations of the city walls in the New Jerusalem. We need to not think less of God’s love for us and His future plans for us.

Genesis 25:9-10 – 9 His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hethite. 10 This was the field that Abraham bought from the Hethites. Abraham was buried there with his wife Sarah.

I wish we knew more about this dynamic. At age 89, Ishmael, the exile, returns to join with Isaac in burying their dad. The other sons do not seem to be there. By this point, Ishmael was an established clan leader. Perhaps he arrived with an entourage, whereas Isaac had only a wife and two teenage boys who don’t get along very well.

Genesis 25:11 – 11 After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who lived near Beer-lahai-roi.

After Abraham’s death, I’m guessing Isaac felt a little exposed. From one perspective he was weakest among the brothers. The ‘second son’ who usurped the firstborn. He was no archer, he had never battled against Chedorlaomer. He had no face-to-face meals with the Angel of the Lord. But we don’t have to worry about building ourselves. Instead we walk with the Lord and He strengthens us and blesses us in whatever ways He knows we need.

Genesis 25:12 – 12 These are the family records of Abraham’s son Ishmael, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s slave, bore to Abraham.

We’re reminded of several things here. First, that Ishmael was not who God had appointed for His purposes. Ishmael represents for us the work of the flesh – man’s scheme to do God’s work for Him.

Second, we’re reminded that even though he was the son of the slave, God had not failed to reach out to him. God involved Himself in Ishmael’s life. He saved his life there in the desert. He did not reserve grace only for Isaac, but showered it on Ishmael as well.

There is common grace God pours out on all people. Jesus said, “God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God is a God of unfailing grace and goodness, even to the undeserving. That doesn’t mean everyone receives His saving grace – that is received through faith in Jesus. But God shows kindness to unbelievers as well.

Genesis 25:13-16 – 13 These are the names of Ishmael’s sons; their names according to the family records are Nebaioth, Ishmael’s firstborn, then Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These are Ishmael’s sons, and these are their names by their settlements and encampments: twelve leaders, of their clans.

The prophecy that Ishmael would father 12 tribal leaders was literally fulfilled. God is in charge of the flow of human history, the rise and fall of clans and kingdoms. That does not negate free will, but God knows and, in many cases, has reported to us future history. His will cannot fail.

Genesis 25:17-18 – 17 This is the length of Ishmael’s life: 137 years. He took his last breath and died, and was gathered to his people. 18 And they settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt as you go toward Asshur. He stayed near all his relatives.

Will we see Ishmael in eternity? I’m not sure. It causes us to think about where we will be gathered when we pass from this life to the next. There are only two peoples we can be gathered to: The saved and the lost. It gives our lives great purpose to consider where we’re headed and how we want to be received when we get there. Do we want to be saved “as through fire?” No. We want that fullness of contentment and reward that God wants for us. We want to finish well, the way Abraham finished well.

We seem to live in a time when many Christians are not finishing well, at least not many prominent Christians. It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do, but it should be a natural development as we walk with the Lord. Or, really I should say, it should be the expected supernatural culmination of our lives as we follow the Lord and submit to His guidance and commands.

When we go the way of Abraham, we can take great comfort in the facts that life greater than we’ve ever known is waiting for us on the other side and that we can trust God to care for those loved ones we leave behind. He always got more to give to us, He keeps His promises, He will lead us home at gather us into glory at just the right time.


1 (
2 (
3 (
4 (Genesis 17:2, 5
5 (Genesis 15:15
6 (Genesis 21:12
7 (Genesis 15:4
8 (Genesis 17:20
9 (Genesis 16:2
10 (See Waltke, Kidner
11 (Genesis 25:6, 1 Chronicles 1:32
12 (Josué J. Justel The Rights Of A Concubine’s Descendants In The Ancient Near East
13 (Matthew 7:21-24
14 (Galatians 4:5, Ephesians 1:5
15 (Justel
16 (
17 (Romans 8:18
18 (Genesis 21:22

The Runaway Bride (Genesis 24:1-28)

Every year, around 10,000 mail-order bride marriages occur in the United States.[1]( Maybe, like me, you didn’t know that in 2005 the US instituted the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act. One news article trying to put a positive spin on this practice wrote, “The idea that men are buying women and the women have no say and no free will is not true. The mail order brides are very much in control – or at least, they should know what they’re doing.”[2]( Not very reassuring.

Genesis 24 gives us the longest, single episode in this book.[3](Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary) It tells the saga of Abraham’s servant leaving Canaan to find a wife for Isaac. As we go with him, we’re swept away in a story about God’s fabulous providence, human faith, and the hard tensions we face when seeking the will of God.

Genesis 24:1 – Abraham was now old, getting on in years,, and the Lord had blessed him in everything.

What does it mean to be blessed? At 140, Abraham was wealthy – he had a great house with servants and riches and flocks and all that – but the best blessings of his life were spiritual. He was the friend of God. Being blessed didn’t mean that Abraham continually got more of everything. After all, he still only had one son and he didn’t own any of the land other than a single field and tomb. God’s blessing for us isn’t necessarily more stuff. Psalm 1 describes a blessed life as one that is continually growing in understanding of the Lord and His ways – one full of heavenly success.

Genesis 24:2-4 – 2 Abraham said to his servant, the elder of his household who managed all he owned, “Place your hand under my thigh, 3 and I will have you swear by the Lord, God of heaven and God of earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live, 4 but will go to my land and my family to take a wife for my son Isaac.”

In this text, the focus is on this nameless servant, sent out by the father to do his duty on behalf of the son. He is a wonderful type for us of our own service to the Lord. He’s a fantastic example of how to serve faithfully, expectantly, prayerfully, and effectively, while also having to navigate real-life tensions we face in the exercise of Christian faith.

It’s essential to Abraham that Isaac not marry a Canaanite woman. Once again Genesis gives a subtle teaching on Biblical marriage: Don’t marry outside the family. Of course, we’re applying these examples on the spiritual level. In First Corinthians Paul says, “[a woman] is free to be married to anyone she wants – only in the Lord,”[4](1 Corinthians 7:39) meaning only a born again Christian. You single people looking for a spouse, stay within the spiritual family of Christians, don’t settle for a Canaanite. It won’t go well for you.

We notice two things about this commission Abraham gives his servant. First, the master invests a great deal of authority in him. He lets the servant act as his agent, going in his name, on a very significant quest. We’ve, too, have been given great authority to go in the name of the Lord and do His will. You may feel unqualified, you may have a lot of questions, like this servant did, but the Master is confident that you are adequate to do what He has asked you to do. And He provides guidance and principles to direct you in your efforts.

Second, this commission would be a long haul. The servant would be traveling over 450 miles,[5](Bible Knowledge Commentary) down new roads with lots of uncertainty along the way. The Christian life can be described the same. It’s a long road, but the Master knows the way, He knows where we’re headed and so we have to follow His guidance in order to get where we need to go.

Genesis 24:5 – 5 The servant said to him, “Suppose the woman is unwilling to follow me to this land? Should I have your son go back to the land you came from?”

One of the things I enjoy about this servant is that he’s a regular guy with honest questions. He’s not cynical, but he’s also not unrealistic about what might happen. He’s thoughtfully working through the situation. But he’s also full of faith. He believes in the quest. He believes God will go before him. He believes God answers prayer and directs and will provide. Even here we see his faith. He calls this mystery bride “the woman.” He believes there is a specific woman whom God has prepared for Isaac and one that he (the servant) will be able to identify.

But he also acknowledges that human beings are free to choose. “What if she is unwilling?” She might say no to his offer, just as those we go out to fetch into God’s Kingdom might say no to us.

Genesis 24:6 – 6 Abraham answered him, “Make sure that you don’t take my son back there.

Another translation puts it this way: “Watch yourself!”[6](Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary) Abraham is very serious about Isaac not leaving the promised land.

We need to think about what God prioritizes in our lives. Those priorities will often not be in the same order that we naturally place things. For example: Does God prioritize your school district over which church He wants you to be a part of? Which is more important to Him: Your neighborhood or your workplace? I can’t answer that for you, because those answers will vary from person to person and I’m not the Holy Spirit. But, we see that, in this case, it would be better for Isaac to not have a wife than to leave the promised land to get one. God has priorities for you. And you are responsible to discover what they are.

Genesis 24:7-8 – 7 The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from my native land, who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘I will give this land to your offspring’—he will send his angel before you, and you can take a wife for my son from there. 8 If the woman is unwilling to follow you, then you are free from this oath to me, but don’t let my son go back there.”

It’s clear Abraham believes in God’s providence, but does not believe in what is called “meticulous determinism.” God is not forcing humans to do the things they do. We are free moral agents and God is so sovereign and so powerful that He is able to both do His will and allow for us to choose. To those determinists who say our view of free will limits the sovereignty of God, we would answer, that they limit the power of God, not to mention the goodness, justice, and mercy of God.

There is wonderful comfort in verse 7. When God calls us into service, He goes before us. That’s why it’s so important that we concern ourselves with where He’s leading us individually. Abraham had lots of servants. Only a few were meant to be about this particular business.

Christians today have endless opportunities and ideas of how we might serve God. That’s great. But what’s good is for us to go where He’s sent us, where He’s leading us. We see this very clearly in Acts. Paul and friends try very hard to get into Asia, which is a great idea, except it’s not what God wanted these guys to be doing. Instead, He’s wanted them in Greece, where the Lord had gone before them to accomplish a specific and timely work. Paul was Godly enough to do what the Lord wanted instead of what he wanted and the result is that the Gospel was brought to Europe.

In verse 7 we have a gentle reminder of God’s gracious work in our lives. He brought us out of the household of sin and into the Kingdom of Promise. He’s the God who speaks to us and swears to us by His love. And now He sends us back into the world to invite others out, that they might be brought into the household of faith, too.

Genesis 24:9 – 9 So the servant placed his hand under his master Abraham’s thigh and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.

There was a lot of tension here. The servant has a great responsibility. The trip would be challenging. They had big expectations, but, in the end, they recognize that the woman might refuse to join the family. Along the way there would be many unknowns. So, the servant would need to stay focused and alert and keep his master’s directions in mind.

Maybe the servant found himself thinking, “This is never going to work. This is impossible.” It probably felt that way at certain points. We feel that way sometimes as we try to follow the Lord and obey our duties in the Christian life. In those moments remember that God goes before us and remember that God rewards those who seek Him, He will make your paths straight, and everything is possible for the one who believes.[7](Hebrews 11:6, Proverbs 3:5-6, Mark 9:23)

Genesis 24:10 – 10 The servant took ten of his master’s camels, and with all kinds of his master’s goods in hand, he went to Aram-naharaim, to Nahor’s town.

Your translation may say he took, “all his master’s goods,” but what is meant was all sorts. It could be read this way, “Every good thing of his master was in his hand.”[8](NET Study Bible NotesNET Study Bible Notes) God has not only sent us out in His name and with great authority, He sends us out with unyielding heavenly supplies. You and I have all kinds of our Master’s goods, not to be hoarded, but used and delivered to others.

Genesis 24:11 – 11 At evening, the time when women went out to draw water, he made the camels kneel beside a well outside the town.

The servant was practical. The goal was to find a wife, so he went where women would be found. Practicality doesn’t make us less faith-filled. Being Spirit-led doesn’t mean we’re not thoughtful and that we’re just weirdly mystical all the time. But, neither should we try to manufacture ministry and then claim God did it. What does the servant do? The entourage finally makes it to where they want to go and then he says, “Now we wait.” I think it may have been a comical scene trying to hold back 10 thirsty camels from drinking when they’re at a well. But he wants to be in step with God’s providence, not getting out ahead, and so they wait.

Genesis 24:12-14 – 12 “Lord, God of my master Abraham,” he prayed, “make this happen for me today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 I am standing here at the spring where the daughters of the men of the town are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the girl to whom I say, ‘Please lower your water jug so that I may drink,’ and who responds, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels also’—let her be the one you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

Should we pray this way? We see this passage as a type of how we’re to serve the Lord. We see these great principles working themselves out through this faithful man. We admire his reliance on God. And, I’ve suggested that God wants to specifically direct us in our real life choices – things like spouses and where to live and ministries to be a part of. So, should we mimic this style of prayer, asking for tangible proof of what God wants us to choose?

Jesus said, “an evil generation demands a sign.” He said it right after saying “blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”[9](Luke 11:28-29) Now, Jesus was speaking specifically to those who didn’t want to believe He was the Messiah – which He obviously was – but He demonstrates a difference between those who have the Word of God to refer to and those who don’t. Abraham’s servant didn’t have the Bible or the indwelling Holy Spirit, Who is given to us as a Counsellor and a Teacher, and convicts us of right and wrong and Who reveals the things of God to us.[10](1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

We have these powerful sources of direction which inform our decision-making. But, when choosing between two ‘goods’ – “should I go preach the Gospel in Asia or Macedonia?” – then we’re to go to the Word of God, seek the Spirit of God, and go to prayer, not asking God to jump through hoops but asking Him to give us peace.[11](Philippians 4:6-7) As we choose to love God and honor Him and listen to what He has said, He is then able to conform us and give us the mind of Christ, and we become fuller and fuller with the knowledge of His will, which then gives us all we need to make heavenly decisions that align with God’s desires.

The focus of the servant’s prayer was not, “Lord, let me off the hook and make it easy for me.” It was, “God, I want to do what I’ve been called to do. I’m unable to do it in my own power, so I trust You to be with me and do this great thing to bless my master, his son, and his future bride. Help me that I might be a profitable servant.”

Notice what he prays: Not, “God, bring me the most beautiful woman.” He prays, “Lord, bring me a lady who is full of kindness and compassion – a lady who is willing to serve and bless those around her.” This bride would need to be ready for a strange life, based on faith and service and others.

Genesis 24:15-16 – 15 Before he had finished speaking, there was Rebekah—daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor—coming with a jug on her shoulder. 16 Now the girl was very beautiful, a virgin—no man had been intimate with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came up.

In this case, God’s providence worked out with millisecond precision. Before he finished praying, there she was. That’s incredible! At other points, God’s providence can be put on hold for decades or centuries. His providential work for the nation of Israel is currently on hold, for example. But it will also be accomplished down to the specific day during the time of Jacob’s trouble.

So why pray at all when God’s providence can work this well? Well, the Lord uses human agents to accomplish much of His will. Without prayer, Rebekah would’ve seemed like every other woman at the well. As we seek the Lord, He’s able to reveal His movements and these opportunities that He is working out. God has, in His infinite wisdom, decided to include us in the things that He does. We see that interplay here. This incredible, miraculous providence is happening in conjunction with a willing servant who took the long trip and made himself available.

Genesis 24:17 – 17 Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me have a little water from your jug.”

Now, this would’ve been an interesting scene. Because he’s well-stocked for a long trip. He would’ve had water and skins to drink from. They would’ve had all their gear to tend the camels. And Rebekah would’ve seen it. Yet, here he is asking for a drink.

Genesis 24:18 – 18 She replied, “Drink, my lord.” She quickly lowered her jug to her hand and gave him a drink.

Now, he was waiting for her to offer about the camels. But at first, no such offer comes. One commentator points out there is a moment full of pressure.[12](See Alter) I wonder, how long did he drink?

Genesis 24:19-20 – 19 When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I’ll also draw water for your camels until they have had enough to drink.” 20 She quickly emptied her jug into the trough and hurried to the well again to draw water. She drew water for all his camels

Scholars estimate this likely would’ve been hundreds of gallons of water. Rebekah is bringing back and forth 2,500 pounds from the well to the trough.[13](CSB Study Bible Notes) And, remember, she does it all while other servants are just standing around! What a heart she has! Both she and Abraham’s servant give us such great examples of how to honor God in our service with hearts full of faith and humility.

Genesis 24:21 – 21 while the man silently watched her to see whether or not the Lord had made his journey a success.

Wasn’t that obvious? After all, she did the thing he asked for, right? But he still wanted to make sure that it was all in line with what his master had said. She still had to be one of Abraham’s family. The sign had to fit the command. This guy is just a great example of how to balance faith and fidelity to the Word and seeking the Lord and moving forward with thoughtfulness and expectation.

Verse 21 also reminds us that it is the Lord who makes our work a success, not us.

Genesis 24:22-23 – 22 As the camels finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing half a shekel, and for her wrists two bracelets weighing ten shekels of gold. 23 “Whose daughter are you?” he asked. “Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”

This is quite a tip for her service – it’d be worth at leasts $7,500 today. Recently, a group of businessmen went to a restaurant planning to each give their waitress a $100 tip. They ended up giving their server $2,200 in gratuity. Great story. Except, then the restaurant fired her for not giving the tip to be pooled among all the wait staff.[14](

Abraham’s servant was very generous, even if Rebekah wasn’t the lady he was hoping for.

Genesis 24:24-25 – 24 She answered him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” 25 She also said to him, “We have plenty of straw and feed and a place to spend the night.”

What a remarkable lady Rebekah is. She immediately extends hospitality and provision to them. She doesn’t wait for someone else to offer it, she’s ready to welcome these guys. Between her and the other servant we see absolutely no stinginess or covetousness, just warmth and generosity.

Genesis 24:26-27 – 26 Then the man knelt low, worshiped the Lord, 27 and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not withheld his kindness and faithfulness from my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.”

Our God does not withhold kindness from those who walk with Him. Looking back, Abraham’s servant recognized the incredible providence of God. The tensions of how would he find her and would she say yes and how could it happen were all real, but all dealt with by God’s ability. And so, through this story we see that God can be absolutely trusted to lead you right where you need to go in life. He knows what we need, He knows what is best, He know all the things we can’t possibly know, and His great desire is to include us in His work. As we seek Him and His Kingdom, all these things will be provided for us. God delights to give us His Kingdom. Our part is to be ready for service – to focus our attention on the Word which directs us, to fill our hearts with faith, knowing the Lord has gone before us and wants us to experience His providence, and expect Him to be engaging in our lives in all sorts of ways.

What a mind-blowing series of events this all was. And then…

Genesis 24:28 – 28 The girl ran and told her mother’s household about these things.

Wait! Where are you going? She ran away! This is hilarious. She becomes the original runaway bride. What must the servant be thinking? He’s left at well while Cinderella disappears into the night. For now, we end on the cliffhanger.

You can never tell what might happen next in life, but we know the Lord is with us. So, we can have joy, even when things are out of our control. Our part is to be ready, to serve, to seek the Lord, and to surrender our paths to Him.


1 (
2 (
3 (Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
4 (1 Corinthians 7:39
5 (Bible Knowledge Commentary
6 (Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary
7 (Hebrews 11:6, Proverbs 3:5-6, Mark 9:23
8 (NET Study Bible NotesNET Study Bible Notes
9 (Luke 11:28-29
10 (1 Corinthians 2:9-10
11 (Philippians 4:6-7
12 (See Alter
13 (CSB Study Bible Notes
14 (