Where faith exists in any of us, it is ever God's way to test it, as we have seen very clearly in the case of Abraham. The faith of Isaac, though less robust than that of his father, must now be subjected to a test. Canaan was watered with rain from heaven, and if the rain was withheld famine supervened. Egypt was watered by its famous river, and usually was the land of plenty. So when famine again descended on Canaan, Isaac's steps would naturally turn towards Egypt. But the word of the Lord to him was that Egypt was forbidden. He was to stay in the land and in spite of appearances God would bless him there and fulfil all that had been promised to Abraham. So Isaac descended to the coastal region, inhabited by the Philistines, and there for a time he dwelt.
But settling down amongst these people, there came the same test as confronted his father, and he met it in the same way, by subterfuge. Now subterfuge, practised by men of the world, may have considerable success; practised by a saint of God it always ends in failure, sooner or later. In Isaac's case it seemed to answer for a considerable time but at length the Abimelech of those days discovered the truth. Consequently we find again a man of the world, marked by a considerable measure of uprightness, rebuking the saint of Godâ€”a sorrowful sight! But one which has often been repeated from that day to this. Let each of us be careful lest it be repeated in our own history.
Nevertheless God did not forsake Isaac because of this lapse on his part. He had obeyed the instruction not to descend into Egypt and hence, in spite of the famine, God blessed him abundantly in his sowing, his flocks and herds and servants, so much so that he had to depart from the Philistine's land. In those days the Philistines were not numerous, since Abimelech, their king, had to confess that Isaac's large household had become mightier than they were. But one thing they had done to Isaac's disadvantage, as verse 15 records; they had filled the wells with earth.
In that land everything depended upon the well-springs, that made the rain of heaven available; hence the well becomes symbolic of the source of life and fertility, and ultimately of the Holy Spirit, springing up into life and blessing. The wells had been dug through Abraham, the man of faith, but the Philistines had stopped them with earth. Presently in Scripture we hear a great deal about the Philistines, who became numerous and powerful, and they have undoubtedly a typical significance. In these earliest mentions of them that significance becomes manifest.
They were a people who got into the land of promise, without being called into it by God. They were not like the Amorites, the old inhabitants of the land, mentioned in Genesis 15: 16 but they were a people who had got into God's land without being God's people, and therefore typical of the religious world rather than of the worldly and irreligious world. Now the religious world, whether nominally Jewish or Christian, has always concentrated on a purely earthly order of things. Stopping the wellsprings of divine and heavenly blessing has always been a favourite occupation of the Philistine, whether literal or typical, and earth and its things have ever been the material they have handled. The Apostle Paul had the typical Philistine in view when he penned Philippians 3: 19 and even when he wrote Colossians 3: 2.
Isaac had to dig again the old wells, but he called them by their original names for they had not changed their characters. He also dug new wells and some of these the Philistines claimed. The well, Rehoboth, however, he retained, for he left hid case in the hands of the Lord who made room for him. We may see an analogy to this in church history. Many a well of apostolic days was filled with earth as the centuries passed and has had to be dug again. But when dug it has the same old name. Luther and his co-workers in other lands dug again an important well. It had the old name of "Justification by faith."
With the well Isaac connected the thought of fruitfulness, as we see in verse 22. This fits in with its spiritual significance. We are only fruitful as we abide in Christ and He in us, as stated in John 15: 5 and of this we have knowledge, "by the Spirit which He hath given us" (1 John 3: 24). Isaac now returned to "The well of the oath" where his father had dwelt, and there again God appeared to him and renewed His promises, and there we see Isaac at his best, for there he pitched the tent of his pilgrimage, and there he had his altar of sacrifice and communion, in addition to the well.
There too the Philistine king and his servants approached him, and confessed that they had seen that the Lord was with him, and this in spite of the fact, of which Isaac reminded them, that they had disliked him because of his prosperity and had sent him away. They now wished that there should be an oath and a covenant of peace between them, and this was established. Isaac could now pursue his pilgrim way without further interference from the Philistines, and we can see how his course illustrates the injunctions of Romans 12: 17-19. Isaac had not recompensed evil for evil, nor sought to avenge himself, but as much as lay in his power he had lived peaceably with all men. May the same spirit be ours as we go through the world.
The two verses that close the chapter show us that at the age of forty Esau had developed a mind altogether opposed to that of both Abraham and Isaac, who made no alliance with the Canaanite. Esau established the most intimate connection, that of marriage, with two Hittite women. He thus brushed aside the thought of taking a wife from their own kindred, and linked himself with the people of the land whose iniquity was rising until their judgment fell some three to four hundred years later. Previously he had despised the birthright, now he despised a restriction that had Divine sanction. The call of God was nothing to him. It was a grief of mind to his parents and a challenging of the purpose of God.
In Genesis 27 we see the governmental result beginning to manifest itself. Isaac does not now appear in a very favourable light, nor indeed does Rebekah. Both were marked by partiality, as had been stated in verse 28 of the previous chapter, and were governed by their own special fancies. Isaac's loss of sight made him anticipate death a good many years before it came to him, and he was anxious to bestow the blessing on Esau, in spite of the fact that before birth it had been indicated that he was to serve Jacob. He was thus attempting to defeat the purpose of God, and the chapter reveals how his effort failed.
Rebekah, on the other hand, knew what God's purpose was, but in her anxiety for the blessing of her favourite she resorted to a calculated course of deceit in order to trick her blind husband. She instigated the deceit and Jacob practised it with success. Later episodes in Jacob's life reveal him to us as a man who was a master of artful and even underhand designs. It is a solemn thought that he got the earliest recorded lesson in this kind of thing from his mother. His bartering with Esau as to the pottage and the birthright was sharp practice, but had not in it the element of deceit.
Mankind is endowed with five senses, as we all know. One of the five was lacking with poor Isaac. Sight being gone, he was shut up to the other four, and this striking story shows that all the four were exercised. Rebekah's clever cookery presented the flesh of the kids as though it were venison, so his taste was deceived. Her production of Esau's garments, putting them on Jacob, was effectual in deceiving his sense of smell. Her plan of covering Jacob's hands and neck with the hairy skin of the slain kids was equally successful in deceiving his powers of feeling. One sense remained, that of hearing, and Isaac recognized the voice as that of Jacob. It was a case of three senses against one. Three senses declared that the son he could not see was Esau, and only one declared that it was Jacob. Isaac accepted the verdict of the majority and blessed the son he could not see.
Yet the majority verdict was wrong, and only the testimony of his ear was right. We see in this an allegory, illustrating a very important principle, namely that God-given faith comes by hearing. Faith is not sight, as we know. But there are many who seem to think that it comes by feeling; and that, not only among those who are desiring assurance of salvation, but also among those who are saved. Such would like to be guided by feelings or other natural senses rather than by simple faith in the word of God. We are living in an epoch in which God is addressing Himself, not to sight or feeling, but to the hearing of faith. We may safely trust His voice, even if all our natural senses contradict.
The deceit which Jacob practised, as instigated by his mother, was reinforced by a direct lie on his part, when he declared that he was Esau. Fully deceived, Isaac blessed him. Verses 28 and 29 give the terms of it, and we notice that it was all concerned with earthly things. He was to have plenty to eat and drink, and be served by his brethren and other nations, who would themselves be cursed or blessed by their attitude to him. There was no word as to God being his shield and reward, as we find with Abraham. Still, such as it was, it indicated the blessing on earth that was to be his. His descendants have forfeited it, as we know, but it will all be made good to them in the coming millennial day.
Our thoughts are now turned to Esau, who had been forestalled in this fraudulent way. Yet, as is so often the case, man's evil is overruled to work out the purpose of God. The great trembling of Isaac would seem to indicate that he was convicted of having tried to defeat God's purpose, and that having failed in this, and having been used to pronounce on Jacob what he intended for Esau, the thing was irrevocable. As for Esau, he at once recognized that here was the sequel to the wanton way in which he had sold his birthright. In regard to him we might summarize the whole sad story as:â€” The birthright: the barter: the bitter cry. The birthright was gone, and the bitter cry remained.
In Hebrews 12: 16, Esau is designated, "profane person," and coupled with a "fornicator." The appropriateness of the connection is apparent when we remember that this latter sin is used figuratively for unholy connections between the believer and the world; whilst the profane person is one who lives wholly for this world, and shuts God and His world out of his thoughts. Esau had not only done this but also had despised what was of God. Now when people go to the length of despising God and His blessing they perish, as is stated in Acts 13: 41. In our day and in our land there are multitudes slipping into that great sin in regard to the Gospel, and they stand on the brink of destruction.
Esau was now a pitiful sight. He wept. His tears could not undo the past or recover the birthright, but they did draw forth a blessing from Isaac, though not the blessing. And in uttering what he did in verses 39 and 40, he spoke doubtless as a prophet. For many a long century the yoke of Jacob has been off the neck of Esau.
But the feud between the two brothers remains to this day, and is one of the greatest forces provoking discord in the earth. The beginning of it and the root of it come before us in verse 41. But again we see that in all his thoughts Esau had not God before him, otherwise he would not have imagined he could defeat God's purpose by slaying his brother.
He miscalculated in thinking that his father's death was impending, when it did not take place for a number of years. His threat however reached Rebekah's ears and stirred her to a further plan on behalf of her favourite son. There was in it again, we think, an element of subterfuge. To explain to Isaac his sudden departure to Laban, she complained of the annoying behaviour of the Hittite wives of Esau, which doubtless was quite true, and insinuated that Jacob might follow this bad example. Really, however she only anticipated that Jacob's stay with his uncle would last for "a few days," and then, Esau's anger having evaporated, she would have her favourite son back again.
The incident that fills this chapter relates some sordid details, but contains some searching instruction. We see how God maintains His purpose and at the same time exercises His disciplinary government. Everybody suffered; Esau and Isaac, and finally both Jacob and Rebekah, since the parting lasted for many years, rather than "a few days," as she anticipated. Further, Jacob went forth to be deceived by others and Rebekah was left to the unwelcome society of the daughters of Heth. She dwelt upon her weariness as a reason and an excuse for sending Jacob off to her brother, but doubtless the discord between them was very real, and she was left to face it without her favourite son.
That Isaac was satisfied with Rebekah's explanation is evident as we read the opening verses of Genesis 28. Indeed at this point we see him in a much more favourable light, and speaking as a man of faith. He charges Jacob to go to Padan-aram and find a wife among his own people, and he blesses him in a way that surely indicates that he now accepted the purpose of God as to his two sons, which overruled and cancelled out his own natural inclinations. He calls upon God to give "the blessing of Abraham" to him, for that particular blessing, which carried with it the coming of the "Seed," in whom all nations should be blessed, was the very essence of the coveted birthright.
We notice further, that the possession of this blessing entailed the ultimate possession of the land of promise, but for the present strangership in the midst of it. This has a remarkable voice for us, since we read in Galatians 3: 14, of "the blessing of Abraham" coming "on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." In receiving the Spirit we have the Earnest of the heavenly portion that is ours, but for the present we are left as strangers in the place where we are. Our portion lies there in the age to come. Our strangership is here in the age that is.
Verses 6-9, are sadly illuminating as to the mind of Esau. He not only contracts a further marriage that was bound to displease his parents, but that also would contravene the purpose of God. In the previous chapter he appears as a prospective murderer: now he is again revealed as a deliberate and high-handed despiser of God and His word. We saw this contrary spirit characterizing him at the end of Genesis 26; we now see it breaking out even more decisively and flagrantly, so that it is not difficult to understand the statement in the last Old Testament book, "I hated Esau." As yet the history of Jacob has not furnished us with any clear reason why God should say, "I loved Jacob."