Things are not always what they appear to be. Sometimes, events we do not believe to be blessings from God actually turn out to be, and often the way God chooses to bring about His blessings is anything but predictable.
In Hebrews 11:20, Isaac pronounces “blessings” on Jacob and Esau. We are immediately struck with a sense of irony, if not bewilderment, at this language. For we know that Esau is the rejected son who does not inherit the blessing from Isaac—Jacob does. So, in what way was Esau blessed by Isaac?
When we examine the Old Testament chapter to which the author of Hebrews is referring (Gen. 27), we find Isaac on his deathbed, his eyes old and dim with age. His wife, Rebekah, has conspired against him with a plan to ensure that Isaac does not bestow his patriarchal blessing upon Esau.
From a natural point of view, Esau should have received the blessing. He was the oldest son, and the normal course of the world would expect that the oldest son should receive the blessing and carry on the family name, business, property, etc. But God’s ways are often different, and as the familiar story goes, God had rejected Esau and chosen Jacob even before the twin boys wrestled their way out of the womb (Gen. 25:23). Although Esau was older, in God’s sovereign and electing purposes, Jacob was the chosen, favoured one and thus “the older shall serve the younger”.
By the time we find Isaac on his deathbed in Genesis 27, it would seem that he has forgotten what God promised, for he calls for Esau with the apparent intent of bestowing upon him the blessing that God had said would fall on Jacob. Lest we be too hard on Rebekah, it would appear that her conspiracy was an attempt (however ill-conceived) to ensure that Isaac, in his failing state, did not mistakenly bless the wrong son. Thus, in a nearly comical display of costuming, she has Jacob dress up like Esau and attempt to fool Isaac into giving Jacob Esau’s blessing. Where would the long history of church plays and Sunday school lessons be without this comedic episode?