Throughout the Old Testament, in the psalms, in the Law, in the prophets and in the history of Israel, the Holy Spirit has hidden stories and pictures that present for us the glorious Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel that He will one day come to accomplish. None of these stories individually presents the whole gospel and even taken collectively, these foreshadows do not give us enough to see Jesus before He arrives in Bethlehem. But when the gospel does finally arrive in the person of Jesus and when He finishes His work on Calvary’s cross and is gloriously resurrected and when the gospel is explained and lived out in the rest of the New Testament, these stories scattered throughout the Old Testament take on new meaning and significance, because we see in them the story of the gospel and the face of our Savior. My point is that through the many of the narratives and prophecies and poetry of the Old Testament we can find some aspect of the Lord Jesus Christ foreshadowed. One example of this is in the story of Jacob and Isaac and Esau in Genesis 27:1-29.
What is also remarkable about these stories that foreshadow Jesus is that the stories themselves may involve characters who are overtly unrighteous. This is another proof that the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit takes the deeds and words of sinful men to give us an advance picture of the sinless Son of God. When the stories are said to parallel the gospel or to foreshadow the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no suggestion that the sinful men and women who are part of the foreshadow in any way represent the holiness of the Lord Jesus, for they cannot. All men and women are sinners and Jesus is perfectly holy. But what is amazing about these passages of Scripture is that, through the behavior of sinful men and women, we can see the gospel portrayed and we can see Jesus who is to come, and we can be edified thereby. This story from Genesis 27 is one such story where the deception of Jacob actually gives us a foretaste of the gospel of Christ.
OVERVIEW OF THE STORY
This story from Genesis is probably familiar to many of you. Very briefly, Isaac is old and getting feeble and decides that it is time to pass on the father’s blessing to his favorite son, Esau. Isaac’s wife Rebecca and her favorite son Jacob plot together to deceive the old man and get Isaac to bless Jacob instead of Esau. While Esau goes out to get the food that his father loves, Rebecca makes up a dish of stew for Jacob to take in to his blind father. Rebecca also puts goat skins on Jacob’s neck and hands so that Isaac will think that Jacob, a smooth man, is actually Esau, a hairy man. The final piece of the trick is to dress Jacob up in Esau’s clothes so that Isaac will be deceived into giving Jacob the blessing. Amazingly, the deception works and Isaac gives Jacob the blessing, instead of giving it to Esau. When Esau arrives with freshly made stew, Isaac refuses to give him another blessing because he only has one blessing to give. Esau bursts into tears and slinks off, hating Jacob and vowing to kill him as soon as he has an opportunity.
SEEING THE STORY THROUGH THE GOSPEL LENS
Jacob is the central character of this story and, indeed, this entire section of Genesis. What was Jacob like? What was the nature of his character? First, his name “Jacob” means “one who takes by the heel or one who supplants,” so by his very name he was a deceiver and a usurper. He was the brother who tricked Esau out of his birthright. Jacob was a mama’s boy and was conniving and tricky. He is an easy character to dislike. Jacob is definitely not the favorite of the father. So this is Jacob, and yet Jacob was the chosen one, the patriarch who would eventually have twelve sons and would bear the name of the entire nation. It seems strange that this deceiving trickster would be the patriarch of the nation of the Hebrews.
In this chapter, Genesis 27, we see Jacob’s character at its deceitful worst. With the help and encouragement of his mother, he consciously and premeditatedly deceives his father and lies to him multiple times. Yes, Jacob is an easy character to dislike. He is nothing but a little sinner who deceives others to get what he wants. So how would we ever see the gospel hidden in this chapter?
What Is the GOSPEL?
Well, before we look at the story, we need to answer the question, “What does the gospel teach?” We need to be clear on what the gospel teaches before we can discover the gospel veiled in this narrative. The gospel teaches that when any sinner, however wicked or vile, places their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, they are wrapped in Christ’s robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) and from that moment on they are wearing the “disguise” of Christ’s righteousness. Regardless of what sins the person has committed, whether they were a murderer or a thief or an adulterer or a deceiver or a liar, they are now disguised as the beloved Lord Jesus Christ and they appear to the eyes of God the Father as though they are righteous. Even though, in fact, they are still sinners and are still the people they were before, because of their faith in Christ, they are treated as if they have the righteousness of Christ. Because they are disguised as the favored One, as the Son of God, they receive the Father’s blessing. So if they can convince the Father that they are, in fact, Jesus Christ, they will receive Christ’s blessing. They need to put on a disguise that hides who they really are and makes them appear as if they are Christ. This is exactly what faith does. Faith in Christ imputes His righteousness to us and disguises us in Christ’s robes.
Observations and Comments on the Passage
There is tension and conflict within the home as evidenced by both parents playing favorites with the twins, Esau and Jacob. “Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau (27:5).” Then one verse later, “Rebekah said to her son Jacob . . .” It is clear that Rebekah and Isaac are not on the most intimate of terms and that Isaac prefers Esau and that Rebekah prefers Jacob. The house is divided and it will become apparent that even the wife is not ashamed to cheat and deceive her own husband to advance the cause of her favorite son, Jacob. There is tension and jealousy and discord.
In 27:6-10 Rebekah lays out her plan for how to steal the blessing from Esau for Jacob. Jacob reveals how little conscience or scruples he has in 27:11-12, when he identifies an obvious flaw in his mother’s devious plan. “Esau my brother is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me” and Isaac will realize that it is Jacob and not Esau. Their plot will be exposed and they will be ashamed. Jacob knows that if his father realizes that the person seeking the blessing is, in fact, Jacob, Isaac will forever reject him and curse him. What’s the solution? Jacob must be covered if he is to receive the blessing.
Ah, but Rebekah has thought about that and has a solution. Rebekah takes Esau’s best robes (or “garments”) and puts them on Jacob (27:15). Now Jacob is starting to appear as if he is Esau, since he is now wrapped in Esau’s robe. Jacob is starting to disappear and is starting to hide himself in Esau’s clothing. He is still Jacob, but he is starting to disguise himself as if he is Esau. If he can convince Isaac that he is, in fact, Esau, then he will receive Esau’s blessing.
Next Rebekah puts goat skins on Jacob’s hands and on the back of his neck, so that Jacob’s smoothness will be disguised and he will appear to be Esau, with Esau’s hairy hands and neck. Even though Jacob the deceiver, the usurper and the liar will be the one meeting with his father, if he disguises himself well enough to convince Isaac that he is Esau, he will still get the father’s blessing that rightly belongs to Esau. In other words, Jacob does not try to improve himself and does not try to earn his father’s favor or win his father’s love on his own merits. Instead his goal is to disguise himself as the favored one, the one who has already won his father’s love and affection. If he can appear as Esau, he will receive Esau’s blessing. Only if Isaac thought that Jacob was Esau would he be willing to bless Jacob.
Jacob then goes in to his father with the disguise on. Jacob also begins a series of lies to his father. “I am Esau your first-born. I have done as you told me.” These are two lies in as many sentences, for Jacob is not the first-born and he has not done what Isaac asked him to do. In 27:20 Jacob even includes the LORD in his plan of deceit. As Jacob comes close to Isaac, Isaac feels his hands and says (27:22), “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” Then the Scripture says that (27:23) Isaac did not recognize Jacob because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau. In other words, Isaac believed that Jacob was Esau, because Jacob was wrapped in Esau’s robes and had Esau’s hairy hands. Because he appeared to be Esau, he received the blessing.
In the next verse (27:24) Isaac asks Jacob a direct question about his identity and he boldly lies to his father again. Finally Isaac calls Jacob to come close and kiss him. When he does, Isaac smells Esau’s clothing and so is completely convinced that this person is Esau, the favorite, beloved son, and so he gives his blessing to Jacob.
Now with this narrative fresh in our mind, let’s begin seeing how this story does, in fact, foreshadow the gospel. The beauty of the Bible is that, through even the sinful acts of fallen men and women, we can see the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus portrayed, and in this story of Jacob’s deceit there are clear parallels to the gospel.
First notice that Jacob is a sinner who is distant from his father. His relationship is with his mother, but he has no real relationship with the father, Isaac. In the same way in the gospel the sinner is estranged from his heavenly Father and has no relationship with the Father.
Jacob sins against his father Isaac by lying to him and deceiving him and tricking him so that he will give the blessing to Jacob. Jacob sins against Esau again by stealing the father’s blessing from Esau. Jacob dishonors his father when he lies to him. So Jacob is a sinner and he has “sinned against heaven and in your sight, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son (Luke 15:21).” Just so, all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and are not worthy to receive God’s blessing. We stand condemned for our sin and are helpless to do anything about that.
Jacob then realizes that he does not have to earn Isaac’s favor himself. If he can appear to be Esau when he goes to Isaac, and if Isaac thinks that he is, in fact, Esau, Jacob will receive the father’s blessing as if he was really Esau. If the father thinks that Jacob is Esau, Jacob will be blessed based on Esau’s merits. Now think about this in terms of the gospel. I am a sinner and therefore am justly condemned for the sins that I have committed, but I realize that if God the Father thinks that I am Jesus Christ because I am wearing His robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) then I will be treated as if I am Jesus. I do not have to display my own righteousness to God the Father and earn His favor by my own good works, if I can convince Him that I am, in fact, Jesus. If God the Father thinks that I am His Son Jesus, then I will be blessed based on Christ’s merits and on Christ’s favor.
Jacob then allows himself to be wrapped in Esau’s robes and to be covered with hair that is like Esau’s. Jacob is attempting to hide himself completely in this disguise that makes him look like Esau. (Consider Colossians 3:3) Similarly in the gospel we want to be completely covered and wrapped by Jesus Christ. He must increase and we must decrease (John 3:30).
Jacob’s statements in 27:19 especially remind me of the gospel. Jacob says to Isaac, “I am Esau your firstborn.” But he is not Esau his firstborn. He is Jacob the deceiver, Jacob the usurper, Jacob the liar. Nevertheless, because of his disguise and his attempt to appear to be Esau, Jacob is bold enough to make the statement that he is, in fact, Esau. In the gospel, the same situation exists. The sinner says to God the Father, “I am Jesus, Your Firstborn.” But he is not Jesus. He is an adulterer, a blasphemer, a covetous man and a thief. Nevertheless, because of the robe of righteousness of Jesus Christ that was wrapped around him when he placed his faith in Jesus, the sinner is bold enough to make the statement that he is, in fact, to be seen as Jesus Christ.
Jacob makes another statement in 27:19 that hearkens the gospel: “I have done as you told me.” Jacob says this to his father Isaac, but this is a mountainous lie. Jacob has probably never done what Isaac asked him to do and his life is really marked by lying and deceit. But here again Jacob can reap the blessing based on Esau’s record of fellowship with the father and obedience to his father. While Jacob has often not done what Isaac commanded, he can still receive the blessing based on Esau’s obedience, if the father thinks that the disguised Jacob is really Esau. Again, this rings of the gospel, for we as sinners can never say to God the Father, “I have done as You told me.” We have often disobeyed the Father and have often broken His righteous laws and deserve His condemnation. But because of our faith in Jesus, we are now disguised in the robe of righteousness of Jesus. Since that is the case, we can reap the blessing of God the Father based on Jesus’ perfect obedience and perfect fellowship with the Father. Our robe of righteousness, our Jesus-disguise convinces the Father that we are, in fact, the favored Son, the Firstborn, and thus the Father has gladly chosen to give us the blessing (Luke 12:32).
One more set of verses will conclude this study. What I want to point out here is that Isaac almost appears to willingly allow Jacob’s deception. It almost seems that Isaac knows that Jacob is pretending to be Esau and, knowing about the pretense, he nevertheless blesses Jacob based on the merits of Esau. Let me try to explain and tie this in to the gospel. In 27:22 Isaac makes a very significant statement: “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” Ask yourself what is more determinative for you, the voice of your spouse or the feeling of the backs of their hands? If you are like me, I can identify Lisa’s voice in the midst of a crowded party or across the entire length of the house. Your voice is completely unique and will identify you to anyone who knows you. But here Isaac overrules the identifying power of Jacob’s voice for the very ambiguous feeling of the backs of his hands. It is almost as if Isaac willingly played right into Jacob’s ruse. The father allowed himself to believe that Jacob was Esau based on the somewhat clumsy disguise. Since Jacob appeared to be Esau, Isaac blessed Jacob as if he were Esau. It is very similar in the gospel. Our voice remains our voice; we do not have the voice of Jesus Christ. Our appearance and our actions remain our own and remain bent toward sin, although through sanctification we gradually begin to live obedient lives. We do not look like Jesus and we do not sound like Jesus and we do not act like Jesus, but because we have placed our faith in Jesus, we are received by the Father as if we are Jesus and as if our voice is His voice and His perfect obedience is our obedience. It is as if God the Father says this about us: “This person does not look like My Son Jesus and his voice is nothing like the voice of My Son Jesus, but because of this disguise, this robe that he has put on, I am going to willingly believe that this is My Son Jesus.” The Father accepts the person who is wrapped in the robe of Christ’s righteousness, almost willingly being ‘fooled’ into giving away the Son’s blessing.
Isaac asks, “Are you really my son Esau?” (27:24) Does Isaac suspect that Jacob is trying to deceive him and does Isaac know that it is Jacob and not Esau who is trying to get the blessing? I believe that Isaac is willing to assume that Jacob is Esau. And likewise, God the Father allows the robe of righteousness that Christ has wrapped around us to disguise Him from our true identity. “Are you really My Son Jesus? Because you look to me and you sound to me an awful lot like that sinner, Roy Britton. But if you confess to Me that you believe in My Son and that you will obey Me forever, then I am willing to accept this clumsy disguise as good enough to merit my blessing. If you have on a Jesus-disguise, then I will give you His blessing regardless of how sinful you are.”
So here in Genesis 27 we have seen that just as Jacob disguised himself as the favorite son Esau so that he could receive the father’s blessing, so we get wrapped up in the imputed righteousness of the favored Son of God, Jesus Christ, so that we look like Him and can thus receive the blessing of our God and Father in the heavens.
SDG rmb November 2015