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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 27

Simeon's Horae HomileticaeHorae Homileticae

Verse 35


Genesis 27:35. And he said, Thy brother came with subtilty, and hath taken away thy blessing.

IT is not within the reach of our limited capacity to conceive how many and how great events depend upon causes apparently unimportant. We can have no doubt but that parents so pious as Isaac and Rebekah, and who excelled all the patriarchs in the conjugal relation, endeavoured to discharge their duty towards their children in a becoming manner. But each of them felt a partiality for one of their children in preference to the other. Esau, the first-born, who was “a cunning huntsman,” and supplied his father with venison, was Isaac’s favourite: Jacob, on the other hand, who was of a more domestic turn, and had from the womb been designated by God himself as the inheritor of the birthright, was the favourite of Rebekah. To this circumstance, as it should seem, we must refer all the most important events of Jacob’s life. Isaac, in his partiality for Esau, had either misconstrued the intimations which God had given him respecting the birthright, or perhaps had forgotten them. He therefore, when he apprehended himself to be near death, told Esau to go out and bring him some venison, and to receive from his hands the blessings of primogeniture. Rebekah, alive to the interests of Jacob, and afraid that her wishes, as well as the counsels of the Deity, would be thwarted, suggested an expedient to Jacob, which, though adopted with reluctance, was conducted with art, and crowned with the desired success. She bade him fetch her two kids, which she dressed so that they might appear like venison. She moreover clothed him in an odoriferous garment belonging to his elder brother, and put the skins of the kids upon his hands and neck, in order that he might as nearly as possible resemble Esau. And then she sent him in to deceive his aged father, and, by personating Esau, to obtain the blessing. Jacob acted his part with more skill and confidence than could have been expected from a person unaccustomed to deceit: he hesitated not to accumulate falsehoods in support of his claim, and even to represent God himself as having interposed to expedite his wishes. His greatest difficulty was to imitate the voice of Esau. Isaac was blind; and therefore no discovery was dreaded from the difference which there must have been in their appearance. The taste of Isaac, as well as his sight, was easily deceived. His ear however was more capable of discernment, and excited strong suspicions, that the person who addressed him was not the person he professed to be, but Jacob in disguise. To satisfy his mind, he determined to call in the evidence of his other senses: and by these, as well as by the firmness of Jacob’s asseverations, he was deceived. He smelt the rich odours of Esau’s garment (which probably was preserved in the family as the distinguishing property of the eldest son), and he felt, as he thought, the roughness of Esau’s hands and neck; and therefore imputing his suspicions to his own infirmities, he proceeded without further hesitation to bestow his benediction, together with all the privileges of the birthright, on this treacherous impostor. When Esau, who had been thus defrauded, came to him, the unhappy father found out the treachery that had been practised upon him, and announced to his bereaved son the melancholy tidings; “Thy brother came with subtilty, and hath taken away thy blessing.”
Much is to be learned from this extraordinary portion of Holy Writ. Let us consider,


The event referred to—

The circumstances being so universally known, we need not go particularly into them. The fraud practised in order to obtain the birthright is that which more immediately calls for our attention—


In reference to the end, it was unnecessary—

[It is certainly true, that God had, while Esau and Jacob were yet in the womb, promised the birthright to Jacob the younger son: and no doubt, the birthright was a blessing greatly to be desired. It was also true that Isaac, either through forgetfulness or partiality for his favourite son, was about to bestow the birthright upon Esau. But were there no other means to be used in order to the accomplishment of the divine counsels? Why could they not have reminded Isaac of the promise which God had made, which, as it had been made seventy-six years before, might now well be supposed to have been forgotten by him, especially in his present infirm and dying state? Isaac was a pious man, and would not have dared knowingly and intentionally to thwart the revealed purposes of his God. But supposing, what indeed cannot be reasonably supposed, that this holy man could have so far declined from God as to set himself in deliberate and determined opposition to his will, was not God able to overrule his actions, and to constrain him, as he afterwards did Jacob himself, to cross his hands, and, even against his will, to transfer the blessing to him for whom it was designed [Note: Genesis 48:8-20.] ? At all events, if they could see no means of preventing the dreaded event, was God unable to effect it? and might not he be safely left with the execution of his own purposes? Was it necessary for them to resort to fraud and lying, in order to prevent his decrees from being superseded and defeated?]


As means, it was most unjustifiable and base—

[We are perfectly astonished when we see a person of Rebekah’s exemplary character devising such a plot, and a plain man like Jacob executing it in such a determined way; a plot to deceive a holy and aged man, a husband, a parent, in the very hour of his expected decease, and in reference to a point of such importance. We know from the whole of their lives that this was not their ordinary mode of acting: but from the address they shewed throughout the whole of it, we should have thought them the greatest proficients in the arts of dissimulation and fraud. Every difficulty seems to have been foreseen and guarded against with consummate skill: and where Rebekah’s experience had not suggested a precaution, the subtilty of Jacob supplied a ready remedy. Lies, when once begun, were multiplied without fear or shame: and because they were not sufficient, God himself was called in as aiding the deception. It was in vain to think that the circumstance of God’s having made known his will respecting the birthright could sanction any such means as these; or that they were at liberty to do evil in order that good might come. The whole transaction was vile and hateful in the extreme: and, as long as fraud, and lying, and hypocrisy before God, and uncharitableness and undutifulness to man, are odious, so long must this action merit the execration and abhorrence of all mankind.]
But that we may have a more complete view of this event, let us consider,


The reflections it suggests—

Truly profitable is it to the contemplative mind. Methinks, the most superficial observer cannot but remark from hence,


How mysterious are the ways by which God accomplishes his own purposes!

[He had determined that Jacob should have the blessing: but who could have thought that he should ever confer it in such a way? Who would have thought that he should employ all this treachery and deceit and falsehood in the bestowment of it? Let not any one however imagine, that the divine conduct is vitiated by overruling thus the wickedness of men; or that Jacob’s conduct was justified by accomplishing thus the purposes of Heaven. Evil ceases not to be evil because God overrules it for good: for, if it did, then would the crucifiers and murderers of the Lord of glory be innocent, because by their instrumentality God accomplished the redemption of the world. But as it was “with wicked hands that the Jews crucified and slew Jesus, notwithstanding he was delivered into their hands by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God [Note: Acts 2:23.],” so were Jacob and Rebekah most criminal, whilst God, who wrought by them, was holy, and just, and good. We must say respecting all the ways of men, of whatever kind they be, they shall eventually “praise God;” and, however contrary to his commands, shall assuredly both accomplish his will and glorify his name [Note: Psalms 76:10.].]


How weak are the best of men when they come into temptation!

[It is not to be supposed that either Jacob or Rebekah would have acted thus on any common occasion: but the importance of the occasion seemed to them to justify the expedients they used. Thus are even good men sometimes betrayed into the commission of evil. They are not aware how much they may be biased by interest or passion. They have an object to attain: that object is in itself desirable and good: how to attain it in a direct way, they know not. Therefore they incline to an indirect way, conceiving that the end will justify the means. It was thus that Peter brought upon him the rebuke of Paul. He doubtless wished to soften the prejudices of his Jewish brethren; and he thought that a little sacrifice of liberty on the part of the Gentiles might well be made for so good an end. Hence he required the Gentiles to make the sacrifice: and so plausible were his reasonings on the occasion, that even Barnabas was drawn away by his dissimulation. What wonder then if even good men be sometimes deceived by the specious reasonings of others, or of their own minds, especially when there is some great interest to serve, and when our tempters are those on whose judgment we rely? Let every man then stand on his guard, and beware how he be drawn by any authority whatever to the commission of evil. It will be of little avail to say, My adviser was my father or my mother: there is a plain path, from which no authority under heaven should induce us to deviate. We must walk always as in the immediate presence of God. We must not for a moment allow ourselves in guile of any kind. Little do we know whither we may be drawn, if once we depart from the path of truth and honesty. Who would have thought that Jacob should have been drawn from dissimulation and falsehood to the most horrid blasphemy, even that of making God himself his confederate in sin; and that Rebekah should go farther still, even to the very braving of the curse and wrath of God [Note: 3.] ? Beware then of evil in its very first approaches. Pray to God. that you may not be led into temptation of any kind. “Cease from man;” and learn not to follow him, any further than he follows Christ. If Satan can assume the form of “an angel of light,” and “his ministers appear as ministers of righteousness,” so may our relations and friends appear. Not that this consideration should induce us to disregard good advice; but it should lead us to try all counsels by the word and testimony of God: for “if men speak not according to the written word, there is no light in them.”]


How vain is it to hope for happiness in the ways of sin!

[Jacob was successful in his impious device. But what fruit had he of his success? “He sowed the wind, and he reaped the whirlwind.” Soon was he forced to flee from his brother’s wrath: and years of trouble followed his departure from his father’s house. Similar measure too was meted out to him both by Laban and his own children. Say, Jacob, what didst thou not suffer from the thought that thy beloved Joseph was devoured of wild beasts: yet was that only a deception of thine own sons for the purpose of gaining thy favour to themselves. Nearly did they bring thy grey hairs with sorrow to the grave; and thou deservedst it all, for thy treachery to thy father, and thy cruelty to thy brother. And let all know, that the sin which they roll as a sweet morsel under their tongue, shall prove gall in their stomach. Thou didst succeed, Gehazi; and thoughtest thyself exceeding rich when thou hadst deposited thine ill-gotten wealth in the house. But what was thy gain at last? or who envies thee thy newly-acquired wealth? So it will be with all who seek their happiness in the ways of sin. They behold, and covet, the bait: but ere long they shall feel the hook. Jacob for the space of twenty years was still under alarm and terror for the consequences of his deceit. In the first instance he was forced to flee in haste, and to go, unprovided, and unprotected, a journey of four hundred miles; and, when he got there, was doomed to experience evils to which in his father’s house he was an utter stranger. But where will your evils end, if you live and die impenitent and unrenewed? Consider this, Brethren, ere it be too late: and beg of God to keep your feet in the ways of holiness and peace.]


Those who despise their Birthright—

[Esau had despised his birthright, and sold it for a mess of pottage: and now “he could not recover it, though he sought it carefully with tears [Note: 8 with Hebrews 12:16-17.].” Nor was it any mitigation of his grief that he had been defrauded of it. So neither will it be any comfort to the sinners of mankind that Satan has beguiled them, or that they have been brought to ruin by the fraudulence of others. Dear brethren, what will it avail you to say, My mother, and my brother, were the instruments of my destruction? the loss is still your own, and must be your own to all eternity. If you duly value your Birthright, God will watch over you, and will preserve both it for you, and you for it [Note: 1 Peter 1:4-5.] — — — But, if you make light of God’s promised blessings, whatever may be the immediate means of your privation, you shall never enjoy them, nor ever so much as taste the banquet which your Lord and Saviour has prepared [Note: Luke 14:18; Luke 14:24.].]


Those who desire the Birthright—

[Seek it in a humble simple dependence upon God. In this both Jacob and Rebekah failed: they could not leave God to accomplish his promises in his own time and way. Hence they resorted to such unworthy expedients. But as Abraham felt assured, that, though the promised seed should be slain and reduced to ashes, the promises should yet be verified in him, so should we expect assuredly the fulfilment of God’s promises to us. Happy had it been for Jacob if he had thus believed: he might have enjoyed the birthright without any of the subsequent afflictions. Let us then guard against an unbelieving and impatient spirit. Let us commit our every concern to God, and expect, that in the mount of difficulty his interposition shall be seen. This is our wisdom and our happiness: for “His counsel shall stand, and he will do all his will,” even though earth and hell should be confederate against him. Let us comply with that important precept, “He that believeth shall not make haste [Note: Isaiah 28:16.],” and we shall secure beyond the possibility of failure the blessing we seek after: for “he that believeth in God shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end.”]

Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Genesis 27". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/genesis-27.html. 1832.
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