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Isaac, once betrayed by his father, Abraham, is now betrayed his wife and son, as they scheme together so the younger son, Jacob, gets the blessing intended for Esau, the older son.

Read the Working Preacher commentary here.

Read the scripture here.

Not long before this, Esau comes home famished, and trades his birthright as the oldest son to Jacob, in exchange for dinner.  (Genesis 25:29)  The birthright of the oldest son meant that he received a double portion of the father’s goods.  This time, seeking the blessing that should belong to Esau, Jacob, the schemer, takes a short-cut with his mother.

Isaac sends Esau out hunting, and Esau comes home to find his rightful blessing gone and his brother (“the supplanter,” Genesis 25:26) in his place.  Years before, when she was pregnant with these two struggling twins, God told Rebecca, “the elder [son] shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23) and now that word has come to fulfillment.  We have to wonder if Rebecca believes she’s following God’s plan, or just picking her favorite son?  Is she choosing the son she believes can carry the weight of God’s promises to this family?

Isaac seems to know that this is Jacob, not Esau, but he eventually goes along, and gives away the blessing to Jacob.  Does he feel that this is God’s will, or is he just too tired to ask any more questions?

We also have to wonder what role deception plays in the unfolding of God’s plans.  God’s designs are advanced by good people and bad ones, by truth-telling and by secrets.  Does the plan to make this family a great nation happen because of Rebecca’s deception, or in spite of it?  Does God work through deceit, or around it?

It’s hard to ignore Esau’s pain in this story.  Even if this deception fulfills God’s plans, it causes awful pain for Esau.  His mother and brother are allied against him, and his father doesn’t know him well enough, or isn’t strong enough, to stand up for him.  How do we care for the people who seem to be cheated out of God’s blessing?

Esau’s rage requires Jacob to flee, and again his mother helps him.  Jacob is instructed to go back to his mother’s family, and to find a wife there.  On the way, he stops to sleep, and his dream reveals God’s presence.  God is more present in the stillness of the empty desert than in the bustle of his family.  Even on this lonely journey, God stands beside him – very close, in a divine show of care.  God repeats the ancient promise that God made to Abraham, his grandfather, and to Isaac, his father.  No doubt these promises were repeated in often-told family stories, and now God gives Jacob his own version of the family promise.

Having tricked his way into one blessing, Jacob gets this one without any effort.  We – and he – understand the presence of God on his journey.

Sermon possibilities:

  • The sermon might look at the process of leaving home, and how we strike out on our own.  People in the congregation may be newly arrived in town, or beloved kids may just have left for college.  Some of our leave-taking is not geographic, but emotional and spiritual, as we leave behind the beliefs and habits of our upbringing.   Is there a way in which we have to leave home to meet up with God in a new way?
  • Or the sermon might consider how we come by the blessings in our lives.  Do we feel we have to work for them, or do they come by grace, unexpected and undeserved?
  • Church is one place where we strive for blessings.  The sermon might look at all the ways we try to earn God’s favor, or the church’s approval.  Serving on too many committees, doing too much, or feeling like it can’t be done without us are ways we try to earn the grace that we have already been given.
  • God’s speaks to us in dreams, and through other people, and in the way events flow.  The sermon might look at how God communicates, and our experiences of meeting God in our own journeys.

Where are your thoughts taking you this week?  We’re eager to continue the conversation in the comments section below.


Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian church.  She has recently started taking Spinning classes, and finds them to be a lot like church – the language is mysterious, you watch the clock a lot, and just when you think it’s over, there’s one more thing.  She blogs from time to time at Stained Glass in the City.  The art above is by He, Qi. Dream of Jacob, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46092


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5 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Real Families of Israel (Genesis 27:1-4, 15-23, 28:1-10)

  1. I have struggled with this all week!! Thanks Mary, for your helpful ideas. This selection of snippets from the Jacob / Esau story is frustrating – it assumes everyone will know what is in the intervening verses – but I know, in my context, I will need to do work to fill in those gaps.
    It’s one of the frustrating methods the NL uses to sweep through a story – it seems a bit arbitrary? I suspect I am going to either extend the reading, or use a dramatic version – I need something to explain why Jacob is now in the wilderness and on the run! (and my week has been such that it is already Thursday and I’m not decided on even hymns yet!)

    All of that said – deception; subterfuge; betrayal – and this is part of God’s plan?! Really?!

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  2. Right, Julie. The snippets don’t seem to do justice to the story. I love your idea of a dramatic reading, since the story itself is so dramatic.

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  3. I’ve decided to focus on Jacob’s exclamation, “Surely the LORD is in this place–and I did not know it!” That choice is prompted by a couple blogs I read online in the last couple days. The first one is about a rabbi who, while in Rome, shopped for a rosary as a baby gift for some Catholic friends, ended up with three of them courtesy of a persuasive salesman, and then found himself in conversation with a grieving Catholic man on the flight home and was able to share one of the surplus rosaries with him. (https://reformjudaism.org/blog/2011/05/18/rabbi-and-rosary-parshat-vayetzeh-genesis-2810-323)

    The second story is of a woman who, because she remembered a Peanuts cartoon she had seen as a child, recognized that her friend was ill and urged her to get medical attention–whereupon she discovered a life-threatening condition in time for it to be treated. (https://byrslf.co/how-charlie-brown-helped-save-my-best-friends-life-98cc82c8ce80)

    What I have not yet figured out is how I’m going to string those stories together in a meaningful sermon.

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