Isaac and God's Free Gift
Passage: Genesis 25:19–26:33
How do God's blessings come to us?
Free. There’s something in us that gets excited when we see those words. Just this morning, I was out walking and there was a bunch of stuff on the sidewalk with signs on it that said “free” and I couldn’t help but check it out. Have you ever noticed that if a business wants to get your attention, they offer you something for free and make it the biggest word in all caps on the advertisement?
Free is a powerful word to us and getting something for free is a powerful experience. Have you ever been the recipient of someone doing “pay it forward”? Imagine you are in the Starbucks drive through. You order your drink off the menu. As you inch your way up to pay, you get your wallet out with your money ready. Arriving at the window, you hand your money to the barista who says, “You don’t owe anything. The person in front of you paid for your drink.
How does it feel to have this happen?
This evening we are continuing our series called Beginning the Journey Home in the book of Genesis. Last week, we finished the life of Abraham. We followed his journey of learning to trust God in any and every circumstance.
This week, the curtain has closed on the first act of this unfolding story in Genesis about God’s promises to bless Abraham’s family so that they can be a blessing to the whole world. The characters of Act 1 have taken their bow and now when the curtain opens for the second act, there are new characters on stage. We have already met one of them, Abraham’s son Isaac. But today will be the only time when the story is focused on him. Because even with the spotlight on him, it’s already on his two sons: Jacob and Esau. God made promises to Abraham, but now those promises are being handed down to Abraham’s sons and his grandsons.
The big question this passage answers is: How do God’s blessings come to us? How do God’s blessings come to us?
We’ll cover this passage in two parts. The first part in chapter 25 introduces us to Jacob and Esau.
Meet Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:19-34)
Chapter 25 verse 19 starts a new major section in the book of Genesis. Chapter 11 verse 27 began with “Now these are the generations of Terah.” From there until chapter 25 verse 18, the focus was on one of Terah’s sons: Abraham. Here, Isaac heads the sections but the focus will be on his two sons, Jacob and Esau, and primarily on Jacob.
We are told that Isaac was 40 years old when he married his wife, Rebekah, whom we met back in chapter 24. Sadly, she was barren and unable to get pregnant right away. But while barrenness was a big theme in Abraham’s story, that isn’t the case for Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac prays for his wife and God answers his prayer by enabling Rebekah to become pregnant when he is 60 years old.
But Rebekah becomes concerned during the pregnancy. It feels like there is some sort of wrestling match going on in her stomach. So she asks the LORD: “why is this happening to me?” Verse 23 says:
23 And the Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)
She is going to have twins and each will become a nation but they will be divided. They will be on conflict. And something unexpected is going to happen: the older shall serve the younger. Usually the oldest, the firstborn, would be head of the family in the father’s place and the other family members would submit to him but in this case, the older son is going to serve the younger. The roles will be reversed.
When the time comes to give birth, she has the twins. One has a lot of red hair on his body so they name him Esau, which sounds like the Hebrew word for “hairy.” Because Esau came out first, he would be considered the firstborn even though they are twins.
The second boy comes out holding the heel of Esau, so they name him Jacob which sounds like the Hebrew word “he grasps by the heel.” I guess it was just easiest to name kids by what they did right when they were born.
Verse 27 tells us they grew up and already hints at the division between them. Esau was a skillful hunter and Isaac loved Esau because of the game he brought home from hunting. Jacob was a quiet man who liked to stay home and dwell in the tents and Rebekah loved Jacob.
Let’s reread verses 29 through 34 of chapter 25:
29 Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?”33 Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:29-34)
As the firstborn, Esau was entitled to his birthright, which mean he would receive a double portion of the inheritance when his father died whereas his other brothers would receive a single portion. But in the case of Abraham’s family, it also meant he would be the heir of God’s promises. Just like God said Isaac, Abraham’s son, would inherit God’s promises from Abraham, we would expect Esau to inherit God’s promises from Isaac. God promises would continue through Esau upon Isaac’s death.
But Esau, coming in exhausted from hunting, sells his birthright away and for what? A piece of bread and some lentil stew. He says, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” This is quite the exaggeration, like when we say “I’m starving” when we are just hungry. Esau settles for instant gratification and sells his birthright for some lentil stew. Maybe I could understand selling it for some broccoli cheddar from Panera, but lentil stew? So we see the character of Esau: he completely undervalues the promises and blessings of God.
But we also see the character of Jacob. As he sits stirring his stew and breathing in the savory smell, he lets his brother beg for a bowl and makes his swear to sell his birthright. Jacob lives true to his name: he grasps for the promises and blessings of God. Coming out of the womb, he grasped his brothers heel and here he grasps onto him again to buy his birthright.
Having introduced these two characters who will become the focus of this story, chapter 26 introduces us to Isaac.
The Blessing Passed Down to Isaac (Genesis 26:1-33)
If some of the events in this chapter sound a lot like what happens to Abraham, that’s because they do. Abraham also experiences a famine. Abraham also lies about his wife being his sister. Abraham also talks with Abimelech, king of Gerar. Abraham also forms a treaty with Abimelech about wells. As we go through life, we often experience the same sorts of events multiple times in life and sometimes even the same sorts of events that our parents experienced. But the author of this book, Moses, has shown us these parallels between Abraham and Isaac so that we can see both the similarities and differences between these two men.
In verse 1, we are told there is a famine. Abraham experienced a famine right when he moved to Canaan and he went down to Egypt to survive it. Isaac perhaps has the same idea but doesn’t make it that far south. He only goes to Gerar near the Mediterranean Sea then verse 2 says:
2 And the Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. 3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. 4 I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (Genesis 26:2-5)
Whereas in the time of famine Abraham left Canaan, the land God promised him, God tells Isaac to stay where he is. This is his first step of faith: trust God to provide for their daily food when there is no food around. Then God confirms the promises for Isaac that he gave to his father. God will bless Isaac and his descendants. The oath he swore to Abraham is in effect for Isaac. God is going to multiply his offspring as the stars of heaven and is going to give him the land of Canaan. Isaac is going to be blessed to be a blessing to all other nations. Why? Verse 5 says: because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes and my laws.
This verse tells us two important truths. First, Isaac is blessed because of someone else’s obedience. Isaac is blessed because of someone else’s obedience. This is like that pay it forward scenario. What did Isaac do for this blessing? What did Isaac do for these promises? Nothing. The person before him in line paid for them. Abraham obeyed God’s voice and now Isaac is receiving this amazing gift totally paid for. How would that feel to receive these great promises from God for FREE? How would that change his life?
Second, God is gracious in his assessment of Abraham. God is gracious in his assessment of Abraham. In this verse, we get to hear what God thinks of Abraham. Abraham did obey God’s voice, Abraham did keep his charge, his commandments, his statutes, and his laws...most of the time. Go read through chapters 12 through 25 of Genesis. Abraham was far from perfect and yet God gives him this assessment. I don’t know about you, but if you are like me, I never feel like I am measuring up. I always feel like I’ve never done enough and what I have done isn’t good enough. I could always do better, I could always obey better, I could always do more for God. I imperfectly love my wife, I imperfectly love my son, I imperfectly love God’s people. This verse encourages me because it tells me this: because God is gracious, he is pleased with less than perfect obedience. Because God is gracious, he is pleased with less than perfect obedience. God desires obedience for sure. He wants us to keep all his instructions and commands. And Abraham was no bump on the log. He obeyed God even when it was extremely costly and risky, but he was imperfect and yet God’s assessment of his life is: Abraham obeyed my voice. In short, Abraham’s life is imperfect yet he is saying “yes” to God as much as he can.
This refers back specifically to chapter 22, but remember Abraham’s story. When did God count him as righteous? When he believed way back in chapter 15. Trusting God - taking him at his word - is what counted him as righteous. Every time Abraham failed to be righteous in his actions, he was covered by God’s gift of righteousness through his faith.
Let’s continue the story. Verse 6 tells us that Isaac listened to God’s voice and settled in Gerar. But like Abraham, he is afraid that the men there will kill him to take his wife from him because she is beautiful so she tells them that she is his sister. The king sees Isaac and Rebekah fooling around together and calls him in to rebuke him. Isaac put him in a position to cause them to sin. Like his father, when Isaac fears other people, he fails to be a blessing to them.
Abimelech lets him stay and protects them. Verse 12 tells us that he planted crops and reaps a hundredfold! This is a huge crop! God blessed him in the midst of a famine with a ton of food and he increased in other possessions too so the Philistine people send him away because he is becoming too mighty.
So Isaac searches for a place to settle. He redigs one well from his dad’s day, but the Philistines quarrel with him over it. So he redigs another well and they quarrel over that one too. So he digs another one and finally there he is able to settle.
Then he went to Beersheba, a place that his dad lived. Verse 24 says:
24 And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham's sake.”25 So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac's servants dug a well. (Genesis 26:24-25)
In the midst of these quarrels with the Philistines, it would be easy to fear. They first kicked him out then fought over wells with him. But God reassures him. In Genesis 15, God said the same words to Abraham: “Fear not.” Why should he not fear? Even though things aren’t going as he’d like, God is with him, will bless him, and will multiply his offspring for his servant Abraham’s sake. Remember Isaac, your future is bought and paid for by the person in line before you. So Isaac built an altar and worshiped.
Shortly after, Abimelech approaches with his adviser and the commander of his army. Abimelech had recognized that God was with Abraham so he treated him favorably but he hasn’t seemed to recognize God’s hand on Isaac’s life yet. When they approach, Isaac asks in verse 27:
“Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” (Genesis 26:27)
28 They said, “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.”30 So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths. And Isaac sent them on their way, and they departed from him in peace. 32 That same day Isaac's servants came and told him about the well that they had dug and said to him, “We have found water.” 33 He called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day. (Genesis 26:28-33)
Now the Philistines respond as they should to Abraham’s family so that they can be blessed by him as part of God’s plan.
The big question this passage answers is: How do God’s blessings come to us?
Here’s three answers that are true for Isaac and that are also true for us: by God’s grace, by God’s promises, by someone else’s obedience.
First, the blessings that come into Isaac’s life, both material and spiritual, are totally by God’s grace. Grace means undeserved favor. It’s unmerited and unearned. It’s free. Isaac did nothing for what God is giving him and yet he has it anyway. Even the fact that Isaac’s family has been chosen for God’s special purposes is grace because none of them deserve it.
So it’s true with us. Just God allowing us to draw breath in his creation is his undeserved favor. Remember the flood? We are citizens in rebellion against the king and we don’t deserve to enjoy the benefits of that kingdom any longer and yet God allows us to live in his kingdom with all its material benefits.
But even more, when we believe the good news about Jesus, Ephesians 1 tells us that God blesses us with every spiritual blessing. We are called beloved children of God, we are forgiven because of Jesus’ death, we are given the Holy Spirit to guide us and comfort us. This is all a display of his glorious grace!
Second, the blessings that come into Isaac’s life are by God’s promises. God made oaths and promises to Abraham and he isn’t going to break those. All throughout the Old Testament history, God makes promises that all find their “yes” in Jesus. The children’s Bible we use for the kids on Sundays calls the Old Testament “Promises Made” and the New Testament “Promises Kept.”
The spiritual promises that God fulfills in Christ can be summarized this way: saved from the penalty, power, and presence of sin. We are saved from the penalty of our sins in the past, we are being saved from the power of our sin in the present to live free from it, and we will be saved from the presence of sin in the future when we inherit the promised new creation.
Third, the blessings that come into Isaac’s life are by someone else’s obedience. Abraham obeyed and now Isaac gets blessed. For us, Jesus obeyed and now he gets blessed.
I’m sure we have all gone window shopping before. You walk by store windows, looking at all the cool stuff inside but don’t go inside because you could never afford it. You can do it digitally too.
The greatest gift God could ever give us is himself. But we have hurt the relationship. We’ve said “no” to God countless times, we’ve worked against his purposes. What we need is salvation. But looking in the shop window, when you look at the price tag on salvation, the price is “a perfect life.” If we want salvation, someone needs to pay for our sinful life with their perfect life. It’s an exchange. A perfect life gets exchanged for our salvation. Knowing we could never live it, we move on and never go in to purchase it.
But Jesus came to live the perfect life we could never live and exchanged it to purchase our salvation. He paid for all our wrongs, all our sins, all our times we said “no” to God. Now by his obedience, we can receive the blessing of a relationship with God.
Know that Jesus fully pays for the priceless gift of salvation. Jesus fully pays for the priceless gift of salvation. The gospel that Jesus preached was the good news of salvation free of charge. God has paid for it! It’s free!
But it is so easy to relate to this gift wrongly.
Like Esau, we can be unaware of the value. Esau was willing to trade the promises, privileges, and purposes of God in his life for a bowl of hot beans. Esau trades his birthright as heir of the promises of God for a bowl of lentils which aren’t even that great. We wonder how he could be so silly. But we trade our birthright as children of God away all the time for silly things. We’d rather scroll Facebook, or binge Netflix, or flip between all the sports games.
In his book, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis writes: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (C.S. Lewis, Weight of Glory)
Like Jacob, we can be unaware it’s free. Jacob lives up to his name. He grasps his brother and pulls him down to get the blessings. He is trying to scheme his way for them. Jacob relates to God in a transactional way rather than as a Giver. “I do, you give.” But God is a Giver. If we had to relate to God transactionally, we would never get anything. We would never deserve anything and he doesn’t need anything from us. What are we going to give him that he doesn’t already have?
In a book called Lavish Grace, Terry Virgo writes: “Beware the serious danger of trying to find your ultimate security and identity in anything other than the wonder that Jesus loves you and has chosen you for himself.” (God’s Lavish Grace, 84)
Lastly, like Isaac, we can fail to live in light of it. Instead of living in light of God’s promises for him, he lives in fear of other people so fails to be a blessing to them. So how do we grow to enjoy this gift? Simple: confession and forgiveness. We confess our sins to God and receive his forgiveness.
If we fail to confess, we aren’t aware of the price tag. We will take the gift for granted or ignore it. We’ll think that we are just short of the price tag and need God to bum you a few bucks.
If we fail to receive forgiveness, we will work and scheme for it. We won’t see it as free. We will work and scrape to buy it some day rather than living today with present enjoyment of it.
How do we confess? We tell God what we have done and what we deserve for it.
How do we receive forgiveness? We thank him for paying that penalty through his Son, Jesus.
How does God respond when we do this? He is eager to forgive. It’s already paid for. There’s nothing for you to do for it and no reason for him to hold back. You don’t have to beg God for forgiveness.
Jesus says once you start living in light of this forgiveness, this gift, you can’t help but forgive others. You can’t help but be generous. That’s why one of the tests the Bible gives for knowing whether someone truly trusts in Jesus is the fruit in their life. If this seed is planted in your life, it grows certain fruit.
What would it look like for us to be a family eager to give like our Father? What would it look like for us to be servants eager to give like King Jesus? What would it look like to be messengers so full of joy and excitement about our own salvation that we are eager for others to receive it? When I discover something for free that’s available to others, I want to tell them about it so they can get in on it. People are walking by the window and not even paying attention to salvation in the window because they either know they can’t afford it or don’t think they need it.
We are called to live as a family of servant messengers who both show and tell the world about our gracious, generous Giver of a Father.