What Then Can I Do For You, My Son?

Thomas Stevenson was an engineer. His grandfather was an engineer. His father was an engineer. His brother was an engineer. His other brother was an engineer. His nephew was an engineer. His other nephew was an engineer. His brother-in-law was an engineer. His son was…a writer. His son was Robert Louis Stevenson, author of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island.

Thomas raised his son, his only child, to not so much be an engineer or to be a writer, but to believe the Bible. And if Robert was asked, “What is the chief end of man?” he could answer, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” And if Robert was asked, “What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?” he could answer, “The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”

Robert would attend Edinburgh University. There he would form a club which had as one of its mottos, “Ignore everything that our parents taught us.” His dad would discover this motto among some of his son’s things. It was then that Robert informed him that he no longer believed in the Christian faith. In what has been called an overstatement lacking the precision of truth, but carried the weight of sorrow, Thomas responded, “You have rendered my whole life a failure.” What does a dad then do?

Listen to something Robert wrote to a friend. “It was really pathetic to hear my father praying pointedly for me today at family worship, and to think the poor man’s supplications were addressed to nothing better able to hear and answer than the chandelier.”[1] It hurts to read these words. It hurts to hear these words until you realize what a father did for his son. This father prayed pointedly for his son. And this father continued to worship. And did you notice, the son was there to hear his father.

It is All About a Blessing

Genesis 27:1-40 seems really straightforward. It is all about a blessing. It is all about a blessing before it is too late. Isaac, Rebekah’s husband, seeks to bless their son before it is too late (Genesis 27:1-4). Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, seeks to have their son blessed before it is too late (Genesis 27:5-13). But there is a problem. Both parents are seeking the same, lone blessing for two different sons! Isaac seeks to give this blessing to Esau the hairy older son. Rebekah seeks to get this blessing for Jacob the smooth younger son.

And there is still a problem. How will each seek this blessing? It is the big question. And by each it is meant Isaac and Rebekah, Esau and Jacob. But especially Esau.

How Does Isaac Seek this Blessing?

How does Isaac seek this blessing? Pay careful attention to how it all begins. It is Genesis 27:1. “When Isaac was old…” We are first told that Isaac was old. How old? We do not know, except when Isaac’s mom was 89 years old she said she was old and she gave birth for the first time a year later (Genesis 18:13). And when Isaac’s dad was old, at least 140 years old, he remarried and had lots of kids (Genesis 24:1). In Genesis 27, Isaac was at least 100 years old (Genesis 25:26 plus Genesis 26:34). And we know that when Isaac died he was 180 years old (Genesis 35:28). And keep in mind that there are eight chapters in between Genesis 27 and Genesis 35. What is the point?

Pay careful attention to how Genesis 27:1 continues. “When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see…” So, not only was Isaac old, but he was blind. This is important because throughout Genesis 27, there is an emphasis on Isaac’s senses. “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son” (Genesis 27:21). “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (Genesis 27:22). “And he ate…and he drank” (Genesis 27:25). “And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said, ‘See, the smell of my son’” (Genesis 27:27).

There is an emphasis not just on Isaac’s senses, but all five senses – sight, touch, sound, taste, smell. And the emphasis is not so much about relying on these senses but thinking with these senses; one more than the others.

And when Isaac was old and blind he called for his son. Which son? Esau and only Esau. He called for Esau and said – pay close attention to what he says and how he says it – “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death.” Isaac was old, but was Isaac dying? Was Isaac close to death? No! He was closer to old than he was to death! But Isaac just states what was true. He was old and did not know when he will die. Why is he talking like this? It was because he was hungry! “Go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die” (Genesis 27:3-4).

And how does Isaac seek this blessing? It sounds so similar to the day that Esau sold his birthright. On that day he came in from the field famished, so famished that he was about to die! Who does that sound like, or better yet, where did Esau learn to talk like that? And on that day, Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for some stew because he was hungry. So, how does Isaac on this day seek this blessing? Before it is too late – I am about to die (not really). But more importantly, he seeks this blessing with the sense of taste and with hunger and he seeks to give this blessing after he tastes some delicious food and his hunger is satisfied. He will give the blessing for some delicious food.

How Does Rebekah Seek this Blessing?

How does Rebekah seek this blessing? Listen to Genesis 27:5. “Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau.” Rebekah was eavesdropping! So, she called for her son. Which son? Jacob and only Jacob. She shares with Jacob that Isaac is going to bless Esau before he dies, but not before he eats. Listen then to her plan. “Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies” (Genesis 27:9-10). But there is a problem and Jacob knows it. “Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me” (27:11-12). Jacob voices no objection! He is just thinking the whole thing through down to the last hairy detail.

But, how does Rebekah seek this blessing? Before it is too late! This all has to be done – the preparing the delicious food and preparing Jacob to give the delicious food – before Esau gets back. Remember, Esau was out in the field hunting game.

How Does Jacob Seek this Blessing?

How does Jacob seek this blessing? He gets the two good young goats so that his mom can prepare delicious food. But Jacob too needs to be prepared. Listen to Genesis 27:15-16. “Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck.” Jacob looks like Esau and he also smells like Esau. But there is a problem and Jacob will know it.

He takes the delicious food to his father looking like Esau and smelling like Esau. He is eager to give the delicious food to his father and for one reason: to get the blessing. There is so much suspense here! Isaac will not give the blessing until his hunger is satisfied. And he stalls. Who are you? How did you find the game and prepare it so fast? Come close that I may feel if you are really Esau my son (Genesis 27:18-21). But there is a problem. “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (27:22). Isaac’s ears are telling him that something is not right. Jacob spoke, but those hands are fooling his mind. Is this really Esau? And if Isaac was not so hungry…

We wait with Jacob as he waits. His father eats. His father drinks. His father desires his son’s affection. Jacob is waiting for that blessing. How then does Jacob seek this blessing? Before it is too late! Remember, Esau was out in the field hunting game and most likely now preparing delicious food. Jacob needs to get this blessing before it is too late, before Esau comes walking into the room. And when Isaac smells his son, it is the smell of Esau. So, Isaac gives the blessing because “See, the smell of my son!”

And the blessing is that which echoes God’s revealed will of Genesis 25:23. And we discover something. Isaac knew God’s revealed will of Genesis 25:23 for his sons. He knew the older (Esau) was to serve the younger (Jacob). But what was Isaac seeking to do? He sought to redirect God’s revealed will to his son Esau. Rebekah knew God’s revealed will too for her sons. She thought God needed a little help moving his will along. Instead of taking a moment to display a holy hope in God, she acted without seeking God.

How Does Esau Seek this Blessing?

How does Esau seek this blessing? “As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting” (27:30). Esau too had prepared some delicious food and brought it to his father. He was seeking the blessing. He knew he would not get the blessing until his father’s hunger was satisfied. He must have been so anxious and filled with some excitement for this was it. He had sold that birthright years ago. He too must have known about God’s revealed will and perhaps it is why he despised his birthright. But what mattered was not the past or God’s Word, no, what mattered was his father’s word, the words of the blessing that were mere moments away. But it was too late. How did Esau seek this blessing? It was too late.

And Isaac realized it too. He had inadvertently blessed the son that was to be blessed, but not the son he sought to bless. Isaac realized “the invincible determination of God to keep his word.” So, he declares, “Yes, and he [Jacob] shall be blessed” (27:33). Again, how did Esau seek this blessing? He sought it with tears and without repentance (Hebrews 12:16-17). He wanted it, he wanted it so badly! If only he never sold his birthright. And the saddest part for Esau is that Esau never used this as a chance to repent. He only grew bitter (Genesis 27:34, 38).

What Then Can I Do for You, My Son?

I feel, though, for…Isaac, the dad. Perhaps, it is because I am a dad and I have two children. When all is said and done, Isaac asks, “What then can I do for you, my son?” (Genesis 27:37). It is the problem of the chapter. I know there is blame to go all around in this family of four. No one is a hero. Everyone loses something in this chapter. But I feel that question in verse thirty-seven. What can you do for a child like Esau? What can you do for a child that has grown bitter; defiant; unrepentant; even despising the things of God? What can you do for a child like Robert Louis Stevenson?

1. Pray pointedly.

2. Worship continually.

[1] John Piper, The Satisfied Soul, page 58


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