Though there is much to be learned from his life, in comparison to his father and son (Abraham and Jacob), Isaac appears on the scene and passes relatively quickly from the pages of Scripture. However, before he departs from view, we encounter the story of Isaac’s blessing of Jacob and Esau. It is a familiar story, in that, it is a story that involves deception. Why should this not be the case? This is what we have now come to expect, and we will see it carried out all the way through the story of Joseph.
If we were to explore the Biblical narrative, we would see Abraham engaging in outright deception on two occasions, and Isaac engaging in the same type of deceptive practices on one occasion. How did those cases of deception turn out? One could say that they turned out pretty well in the immediate aftermath of the discovery of the deceptions (gaining of individual wealth), though the deceptions may very well have had long-term implications in the area of Israel’s relations with the Egyptians and the Philistines. In the case of Abraham, much wealth was added to him as a direct result of his engagement in deception, with those whom he defrauded supplying the material wealth. In the case of Isaac, wealth also came to him, but it was indirect, in that the Scriptural report is that “the Lord blessed him” (Genesis 26:12b). This blessing by the Lord, which Isaac would have been attributed by Isaac to the blessings of the covenant that had been made with Abraham, and which he now enjoyed (both the covenant and the blessings), is confirmed by what we see at the close of Isaac’s dealings with Abimelech of the Philistines. There, we bear in mind the Abrahamic covenant, and its being passed along to Isaac, when Abimelech says to him, “Now you are blessed by the Lord” (26:29b).
This family has displayed a history of a willingness to engage in deception, especially if such engagement is deemed to be crucial to survival (which is a questionable basis) or simply in their self-interest (much more likely). We do not here attempt to pass judgment on this, nor do we desire to make an attempt to downplay the facts of the matter. We do diffuse the potential argument in favor of the deceptions, in that they were dealing with those who were not, in a manner of speaking, “saved.” However, it mattered not that they were dealing with Egyptians and Philistines, who were those outside of the covenant, for the covenant was designed and purposed to extend God’s blessings to them, so as to make them a blessing to all nations.
These deceptive practices could very well have put in jeopardy the possibility of their being a blessing, but the results of the deception (the gaining of wealth and its attendant respect, whether direct or indirect) put them in a position to tell others about their covenant-making Creator God, His promises of blessing or cursing, and His transcendent nature as the God of all creation and all nations. The fact that the hearers could easily observe the wealth, power, and respect that had been garnered by these men would serve as a witness to their words. The accumulation of visual and historical evidence would then lead to an acknowledgment of their God, as we have seen here with Abimelech and his reference to “the Lord.”
More than anything, the willful acknowledgment of these deceptive practices (for there is no escaping what they are) causes us, as observers, to look past these men to the God that had decided to use them and to work through them to make His name known in the world. It appears to be an unavoidable conclusion that this covenant God works through flawed men in order to draw attention to Himself and to the accomplishment of His purposes. This is why passing judgment upon these cases serves little to no purpose. When we presume to judge, rather than simply observe and learn inside the foundational narrative of Scripture, we come to be focused on the characters that are on the stage, and we lose sight of the God that has created the stage on which the performance is taking place, and Who has a greater purpose that is being served. This is not to say that we sanction the activities (for neither is that our place), but again, we observe and learn inside the exile and exodus criteria that is provided by the foundational narrative so that we might learn more of this God, and through that, better know Him so as to serve Him within and towards His grand design as we await His climactic, consummating, and transformational action towards His creation. Naturally, we catch a brilliant glimpse of that climactic and transformational purpose in the Resurrection of Jesus, especially as we consider His crucifixion and Resurrection and how it can be understood within the increasingly obvious story of exile and exodus that is being so deftly told.
Why all this talk of deception? It seems like a bit of a black mark on the pages of Scripture. That may be so, but only in the sense that if it is a black mark at all, it is not a black mark on Scripture, but on these men, which is useful because it keeps us from elevating them to the position of demigods, while constantly reminding us of the Creator God that would eventually embody a human form so as to do what was necessary to provide humanity and His creation with an exodus from exile.