I grew up watching sports. I do not believe I ever had the desire or the inclination to watch a musical, but love makes you do funny things. Ellen was once a part of the famed Troubadours of Northwestern High School. She grew up singing and going to musicals. As a couple, I have introduced Ellen to the NFL and rivalry weekend while she has introduced me to musicals. New Year’s Eve 2004, I got Ellen and me tickets to see Les Miserables in Washington D.C. I had no idea what to expect. The performance was absolutely incredible. I walked into the theater still skeptical of musicals only to leave deeply moved by the glorious redemption and the transforming love of the thief Jean Valjean.
In Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables, Jean Valjean was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s baby. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison. After his release, he landed at the home of a local bishop. In the middle of the night, Valjean wakes up and can’t sleep. All he can think of is the silver that was sitting on the table. He battled his conscience for an hour before deciding to steal the silver and leaving the bishop’s house in the dark of night. He stole the bread for his starving nephew, but this time, he stole the goods from an honest, faithful man who opened up his home to bless him. He stole from a man acting like a father. Valjean was arrested the next day and brought back to the Bishop. Hugo magnificently writes,
The door opened. A singular and violent group made its appearance on the threshold. Three men were holding a fourth man by the collar. The three men were gendarmes; the other was Jean Valjean. A brigadier of gendarmes, who seemed to be in command of the group, was standing near the door. He entered and advanced to the Bishop, making a military salute. "Monseigneur" said he. At this word, Jean Valjean, who was dejected and seemed overwhelmed, raised his head with an air of stupefaction… "Ah! here you are!" he exclaimed, looking at Jean Valjean. "I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?"
Jean Valjean opened his eyes wide, and stared at the venerable Bishop with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of… "In that case," replied the brigadier, "we can let him go?" "Certainly," replied the Bishop. The gendarmes released Jean Valjean, who recoiled. "Is it true that I am to be released?" he said, in an almost inarticulate voice, and as though he were talking in his sleep. "Yes, thou art released; dost thou not understand?" said one of the gendarmes. "My friend," resumed the Bishop, "before you go, here are your candlesticks. Take them…”
Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb. He took the two candlesticks mechanically, and with a bewildered air. Jean Valjean was like a man on the point of fainting. The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice: "Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man…
"Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and give it to God.
That one act kindness to a thief was the beginning of the redemption of Jean Valjean. Valjean cared for silver, but the Bishop cared for his soul. Valjean is redeemed, then becomes a tool of redemption.
God saves thieves. God saves and uses deceivers to accomplish his purposes. If you are deceiver, God can save you. If you are one who has been deceived, God can use it to save others. God will use all kinds of peoples and all kinds of activities to bring about his purposes.
The Dying Wish of Blessing of a Father
Last week, we saw how God appointed a wife, Rebekah, for Isaac. There was a mother in Israel who would carry the seed of the woman, but there was a problem. Rebekah, like Sarah, was barren. The problem does not take up much of the narrative for Isaac prayed to the Lord and the Lord answered his prayer and Rebekah conceived. It was a challenging pregnancy which began a challenging marriage. Genesis 25:22-28,
The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. 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.” When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau's heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
There was a prophecy given to Rebekah that Jacob, whose name means ‘deceiver’ rule over his older brother Esau. In that day, the firstborn son would receive everything from his father. Isaac loved his strong, skillful, manly son Esau while Rebekah loved her thoughtful, pensive, quiet son Jacob. The home became divided as these parents put their children before their marriage. Parents, the best thing you can do for your children is to honor your marriage above your children.
God reaffirmed his promise to Isaac saying, “I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give your offspring all these lands. In your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 26:3b-4) The promise of God is still the central theme of Genesis. Isaac knows that his offspring will carry on the promise. It must be his firstborn son, Esau, right? Genesis 27:1-4,
When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and 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.”
The dying wish of Isaac is to bless his son Esau. Remember Isaac loved Esau, but Esau is not worthy of God’s promise.
Isaac is blind in his love for Esau. There are several reasons why Esau is not fit to be the bearer of the promise. First, he sold his birthright for some red stew. Genesis 25:29-34,
Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
(Remember years later when Israel heard this, they would have been arch enemies of Edom.) Esau did not think much of the promise if he sold it for a cup of stew.
Secondly, Esau was not worthy because he married women from Canaan. He would have known how and why his parents met. Abraham sent his servant to his homeland because he was adamant that Isaac could not take a wife for the Canaanites, for they were destined to disinherit the land.
When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. (Genesis 26:34-35)
Isaac and Rebekah both knew what these marriages meant. Their life was bitter because their son disregarded God’s promise. Isaac should have known better than to desire to bless Esau, but he was blinded by his love for his son. As one scholar notes,
He should have noticed Esau was not worthy of representing God’s special people. But Isaac pushes blindly ahead. Isaac, like Esau, is controlled by his appetite. In his chapter, the narrator repeats the word game eight times and tasty food 6 times. Before he dies, Isaac wishes to savor once more the delicious game…”
Isaac, like Adam and Eve before him, was governed by his appetite (fruit was good for food). His love for Esau made Isaac turn from the love of God. How often do we choose our love for people, even with the best of intentions, over the love of God?
The Deceptive Ways for Blessing of a Family
The dysfunction of Isaac and Rebekah’s home continues to be put on display. Rebekah hears Isaac’s plan and decides to use her son to deceive her husband.
Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the LORD before I die.’ Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. 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.”
And Jacob hearing his mother’s plan does not object on the basis of his moral compass, but on whether he feels it will succeed.
But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me. So he went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved. 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. And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.” (Genesis 27:5-17)
This is an intricate, premeditated plan of deception. This was no momentary lie for passion or fear, but willful deception.
Jacob had followed his mother’s command and was ready to deceive his father, but would he go through it? Could he walk into his blind, dying father’s tent and lie to him to steal his blessing from his brother?
So he went in to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” (First lie.)
But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the LORD your God granted me success.” (Second lie, actually blaspheming the LORD)
Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands. So he blessed him. He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” (Third lie)
Then he said, “Bring it near to me, that I may eat of my son's game and bless you.” So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son. So he came near and kissed him.” (Genesis 27:18-27a)
Isaac tests Jacob three times and Jacob lies to him three times. He was so bold in his betrayal that he walked up and kissed his father. And his deception is rewarded,
So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said, “See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed! May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” 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. (Genesis 27:27-30)
As narrative progresses, it is apparent that Jacob is not worthy of the blessing just like Esau. Jacob is a deceiver. Does Jacob receiving God’s blessing mean that God approves of this deception? Jacob acted wickedly, but was blessed. Where are his consequences? And what of Rebekah, who masterminded the deception?
Jacob and Rebekah would both pay for their deception. Rebekah is forced to send Jacob away to her brother Laban and never sees her beloved son again. Her death not even mentioned in the Bible, but only alluded to with the death of her nurse. Jacob, the deceiver, would be deceived. Laban would deceive Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. He also would be deceived by his sons, who told him his beloved son Joseph was killed. “Jacob deceived his father with two young goats; his sons deceive him with the blood of a goat.” Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-12) You reap what you sow. Never mistake delayed consequences as approval. God will not be mocked.
The Divine Will of Blessing of the Father
When I first read this account, I felt so bad for Isaac and Esau. The raw emotion of the deception and loss is gripping. It is hard to read, but remember that Isaac and Esau were governed by their appetites. They both were blind to the promises of God. The pain and anguish you see here is only a glimpse of the pain caused by sin. It is a sad day when one experiences the harsh consequences of sin.
He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son's game, that you may bless me.” His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept. (Genesis 27:31-38)
The day is bitter for all involved. And yet, God’s promise continues.
The purpose of the narrative is to show how God’s promise continues even in the midst of people of a sinful people. God will use the worst of people to bring about his pre-determined plan. Israel needed the reminder as they stared into Canaan that God’s plan cannot be thwarted. We know that God can use evil to bring about his purposes. God would use the greatest act of evil the world has even seen in the slaying of the sinless son of God to save his people from their sins. Isaiah prophesied how the Messiah was going to die by the will of God. He said, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.” During the Last Supper, Jesus said speaking of his coming death, says, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.” God would use Judas’s appetite for silver to betray his friend with a kiss. Isaac betrayed his father with kiss as Jesus was betrayed by his friend with a kiss. And yet, it was all part of the plan of God. Peter preached at Pentecost,
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22-24)
God used a deceiver to extend his promise to Jacob, a deceiver. God used a deceiver, Judas, to extend his promise to deceivers, like you and I. We all have deceptive hearts. Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” No one can understand it. We all have a heart problem. We need new hearts. We need redemption. God promised his people in Ezekiel 36:26a, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” God sent Jesus to the cross to solve our heart problem. He died, but God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death. The resurrection of Jesus is the verification that if anyone calls upon the name of the Lord they will be saved. Have you experienced a new heart? Have you confessed your deception to God? Confess today and receive a new heart by the Holy Spirit.
We are not saved by our birthright or by our works, but on God’s mercy. When Paul taught on Jacob and Esau, he used it as an illustration on the immense mercy of God. Romans 9:10-16,
And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:10-16)
Salvation depends on God.
Jean Valjean was a deceiver, but the bishop showed him mercy. He responded to that mercy, by asking, “Is it true?” When we, fellow deceivers, hear of God’s mercy, and ask, “Could it be true?” Beloved, remember the great hymn of the faith,
He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
His mercy all, immense and free, for O my God has found out me. God’s promise cannot be stopped, for salvation is all of mercy. Have you fallen on God’s mercy? Do it today.
 Sydney Griedanus. 273.