The Patriarchal Blessing
“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!”
Because we live far removed from the cultural setting of Genesis, it is hard for us to understand why Rebekah and Jacob so eagerly desired the patriarchal blessing. Yet their motivations become more clear when we consider the nature of the benedictions given by Isaac (Gen. 27:26–29, 39–40) and Jacob (49:1–27). Patriachal blessings were not merely a father’s wishes for his sons; they were unalterable (for example, Judah did come to lead Israel, 49:9–10). The family blessing was mediated by God through the faith of the patriarch; thus, receiving a blessing was clearly in Jacob’s best interest.
Isaac’s actions are borne of faith (Heb. 11:20), for he knows the Lord can give Abraham’s benediction to Jacob. True, he wrongly intends to bless Esau, revealing the depth of his ignorance even as he trusts God. Nevertheless, the Creator is pleased to use flawed people to carry out His plan; thus, despite Isaac’s immature faith and misdirected affection, God furthers His salvific intentions. In like manner, God uses His people today to further the growth of His kingdom.
The content of Isaac’s blessing is found in this passage. It is immediately apparent that its recipient will be the next to inherit Abraham’s place as the man greatly favored by the Almighty. The promise of the “fatness of the earth” looks forward to the day when Jacob and his offspring will enjoy long life in the Promised Land and need to harvest “grain and wine” for their many descendants (Gen. 15; 27:26–28). Jacob will also rule over many peoples, including his brothers, with the divine blessing or curse on any person dependent on how they treat him (12:3; 17:1–8; 27:29). John Calvin comments: God will “constitute him the chief and head of a holy and elect people, will preserve and defend him by his power, and will secure his salvation in the face of enemies of every kind.”
Jacob and his sons, in many ways, failed to serve God thankfully for His favor. Yet in His love, the Lord did not abandon His people but gave the blessing to His own Son, who as our perfect brother (Heb. 2:10–13) is entitled to our service (Gen. 27:29). And as we have seen, we too can be blessed if we bless Him with our whole life.
The Bible is clear that the patriarchal blessing finds its fullness in Christ, the truest son of Abraham. Moreover, in His grace, the Father has extended this blessing to all of those who believe in Him (Gal. 3:29). How readily do we forget that we who serve Jesus are the blessed people of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit to do His will? Reflect on this great status today as you go about your business and marvel at the Lord’s willingness to set His favor on you.
Passages for Further Study
- Deut. 23:3–6
- Pss. 72; 134
- Luke 12:8–9
- Gal. 3:7–9