Don't Play Games With God

Bible Book: Genesis  27 : 1-45
Subject: Christian Living; God, Grace of

Vance Havner preached a famous sermon that eventually became the title of one of his books. The sermon was called, “Playing Marbles with Diamonds”.

He began the message by telling the story of a man visiting the continent of Africa years ago, and coming up on a group of African children who were playing what appeared to be a game of marbles, only the marbles were diamonds.

Vance Havner made the application that this is what we often do with the things of God. We treat the diamonds of truth as little more than trinkets and toys.

Genesis chapter 27 is a narrative that shows the family of Isaac, and for that matter, the people of God, at their absolute worst. As one writer put it, “There are no heroes in this story – only sinners.”i Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob are all antagonists in this passage. At the center of this story is a blessing; a spiritual heritage from God to be passed on to the next generation. While the blessing is what drives the conduct of the characters in this story, the way behave themselves is anything but spiritual.

This text challenges us about playing games with God – of handling heavenly things in an earthly, ugly, human way – of playing marbles with diamonds. In the end, we find that God is faithful in spite of the folly of His people. His is truly a grace that is greater than all our sin. Even with that, there are some important warnings we should take away from this text. Let me point you to them. First of all, I believe we are warned here to:


The story begins with the head of the family, Isaac. And we are told immediately that, “…Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim…” As we read through the next few verses, we are prone to agree with A.W. Pink, who said, “…surely Isaac’s eyes were ‘dim’ spiritually as well as physically.”ii In the text, Isaac feared that he would die soon, and so he decided it was time to pass on the spiritual blessing of God to one of his sons. Yet, in spite of what God had already revealed His plan to be, Isaac set his blind eyes on Esau, the son that had been his favorite all along. Isaac’s actions in this passage warn us about letting our own desires and preferences interfere with whatever it is God wants to do in our lives. Notice this in the text. Consider with me:

A. The gift in Isaac’s hand

As I said, at the center of this chapter is the blessing. Isaac called Esau to his bedside, and in verse 4, he says, “…that my soul may bless thee before I die.” As we read on in the story we learn a little more about this blessing, and we see that it was really not a blessing from Isaac, but rather a blessing from God. The blessing that Isaac unwittingly pronounced over Jacob was actually a prayer for the blessings of God upon his life.

Yet in this text, Isaac treats the blessing as if it is really his to do with as he pleases. He treats selfishly what should have been handled spiritually. For us, there is a danger that we will see the blessing of our salvation as just another possession, rather than a privilege. We will do with it what we please and use it only when we think it should be used. The problem is that God has not saved us for ourselves. He has saved us from ourselves. His grace in our lives is given for His glory, not for our selfish consumption. The Apostle Paul put it this way in I Corinthians 6:19 and 20: “…ye are not your own…For ye are bought with a price…” God had placed a spiritual blessing into the hands of Isaac, but it was still God’s blessing, not Isaac’s.

With that in mind, consider not only the gift in Isaac’s hand, but notice that we see also:

B. The goal in Isaac’s heart

In verse 3, Isaac instructed Esau to get his hunting gear and go out and get dear old dad some of that meat he loved so much. In verse 4 he said, “And make me savoury meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die." While this was a moment when Isaac should have been searching his soul, he was only listening to his stomach. The close of chapter 25 revealed that Isaac had always favored Esau, mostly because of his ability to hunt and bring home meat for Isaac to eat. Yet, chapter 25 also revealed a prenatal prophecy regarding Isaac’s two sons. The prophecy revealed that Jacob was to be the heir and spiritual successor, not Esau. Aside from that, Esau had sold his birthright for a bowl of stew, and then further revealed his character by taking a couple of Canaanite women as his wives.

In spite of all this, Isaac was still determined that his favorite son would get the blessing, regardless of what God, Rebekah, or anyone else might have to say about it. In the end, God’s will prevailed, Jacob was blessed, and Isaac was left trembling with the knowledge of a God who will not be overruled by man.

Unfortunately, like Isaac, we often want our will done more than we want whatever it is that God has planned. Yet, our Lord Jesus teaches us that our prayer ought always to be, “Not my will, but Thine be done!”

Be careful of trying bless what God has not! Be careful of trying to go your own way when the way of God leads in another direction!

The first warning we find in this passage is to beware of selfish motivation in spiritual things. The second warning, then, is this:


If Isaac is an example of someone trying to use the right thing in the wrong way, then Rebekah and Jacob are examples of trying to get the right thing in the wrong way. In our text, Rebekah overheard through the tent flap the conversation between Isaac and Esau. She had her own favorite son, and she also knew that he was God’s choice as well. She was not going to let Isaac give the blessing to the wrong son. So, together, she and Jacob carried out what one writer described as “The Skins Game”iii

It was an elaborate ruse in which Jacob was dressed in Esau’s clothes, and to mimic Esau’s hairy body, covered with the skins of the goats whose meat was used as the decoy meal for blind-eyed Isaac. The whole thing was as clever as it was corrupt, but it speaks to us about the danger of using sinful means to accomplish spiritual ends.

Notice with me in the text:

A. The sins they committed

Obviously, there is here the sin of deception. Jacob himself bald-face lied to his father four times, one of the lies even venturing into blasphemy. When Jacob pops into Isaac’s room posing as Esau with a freshly prepared meal, Isaac asks in verse 20, “How is it that thou hast found it so quickly, my son?”

Jacob astoundingly answered, “Because the LORD thy God brought it to me.” What chutzpah that must have took!

While deception might be the foremost sin committed by Rebekah and Jacob in this text, it is not the first one. Their first sin was the sin of doubt. You see; God had declared His will in this matter. Jacob had been chosen, and he was to be the heir. But at this moment, Rebekah and Jacob doubted whether or not that would be true.

I love the way one old writer put it. He said of Rebekah, “…she cannot any longer quietly leave the matter in God’s hand, but must lend her own more skilful management.”iv

In other words, Rebekah stopped believing that God could handle it, and started thinking that God needed her help.

Some of you say that you believe and trust God, and yet how often are you busy trying to fix things through your own devices, sometimes even sinful ones, rather than just letting God be God? Maybe your hearts in the right place, but your head is not! God doesn’t need your help! He is perfectly capable of seeing that His plan is fulfilled, in spite of what you see as a danger to it! I know there are a number of men who think they are pretty good shade-tree mechanics. I have no such delusion. If something goes wrong with my truck, I don’t even lift the hood. It would do me no good! I go straight to a professional. The truth is that none of us are good mechanics on life. Only God can fix the misses and mess ups, and keep things moving forward!

Looking at the sinful means that Rebekah and Jacob employed in this passage, notice with me not only the sins they committed, but notice also:

B. The situation they created

Someone might be tempted to read this passage and say, “Well, sins aside, what they did worked! Jacob got the blessing instead of Esau.” The truth is, however, they really gained nothing by this sinful ruse. Instead, they lost much in the process.

The blessing was already Jacob’s by the Word of God. In the end, Rebekah and Jacob actually created a worse situation than the one they feared would happen.

Toward the conclusion of this story we find Esau on the verge of murder, and Jacob forced to flee for his life. In verse 43, knowing how angry Esau was, Rebekah said to Jacob, “…flee thou to Laban my brother [in] Haran.” In verse 45, she added, “…why should I be deprived also of you both in one day,” – that is, one son a corpse and the other a condemned murderer.

What neither Rebekah nor Jacob knew was that his little trip to Haran would take some 20 years, and that as far as we know, he would never see his mother again. Moreover, while in Haran, Jacob got a taste of his own crafty medicine when his uncle cheated him over the daughter he wanted to marry.

The point is this; not only do the ends never justify the means, but sinful means always lead to an end we didn’t mean to produce!

You should never plant with sinful seeds and hope for a crop that sprouts for the better.

There is a third warning we draw from this passage. Not only should we beware of selfish motivation in spiritual things, and beware of sinful means to spiritual things, but also, I believe the warning of this story is to:


The drama of this story is remarkable. The text says in verse 30 that Jacob had barely left his father’s bedside when Esau came in with a plate of food looking for his blessing. After Esau identified himself, verse 33 says, “And Isaac trembled very exceedingly, and said, Who? where is he that hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him? yea, and he shall be blessed.”

Isaac trembled when he realized what had happened. God had overruled him, the blessing had been given to Jacob, and as Isaac confessed, “…yeah, and he shall be blessed.”

The deed was done, but Esau couldn’t accept it. Verse 34 says, “And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father.”

Esau was sadly mistaken about the matter of this blessing, and his pitiful, painful cry in this text is a strong warning to us about mistaking the nature of spiritual things.

Let me explain. Consider with me:

A. Esau’s attitude in the past

In this passage, Esau seems very interested in this blessing, but as we know, that was not always the case.

At the kitchen table in this very home Esau had once said, “…what profit shall this birthright do to me?” (Genesis 25:32)

He had shown little interest in spiritual things. He had cared little for any kind of heavenly blessing or spiritual birthright. Now, the blessing he had cared so little about belonged to another. Esau persisted though. He asked in verse 36, “…Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?”

Isaac answered in verse 37, “…Behold, I have made [Jacob] thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him: and what shall I do now unto thee, my son?”

Now Esau’s negligent and flippant attitude towards the blessing has come back to bite him. He had it but didn’t want it. Now he wants it but can’t get it.

I think the lesson is clear! For those who now see little value in the things of the Lord, who care little for Christ and His cross, will surely someday realize how badly they needed the very thing they once neglected!

With that being said, we see something further from Esau in this text. Consider not only his attitude in the past, but look with me also at:

B. Esau’s assumption in the present

Though Isaac made it clear that the blessing had indeed been given to Jacob, Esau still assumed that there was something for him.

Look now at verse 38. It says, “And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept.”

Through Esau’s tears we can see the grave mistake he had made. Esau assumed that he could reject the blessing and still somehow receive it. He mistakenly assumed that there would be some kind of loophole, that the birthright would not really be lost, and that there was still a blessing that belonged to him.

In the text Isaac does pronounce a word over his son Esau, but it is really more of an anti-blessing, the opposite of what was promised to Jacob. I fear there are many like Esau still today. They know what God requires of them. They know full well what the gospel demands of those who would believe it. Yet, they live their whole life neglecting and belittling that gospel and the things of Christ. Like Esau they would rather eat what this world offers than cling too tightly to Jesus. And, all the while, they mistakenly assume that in the end there will still be a blessing for them. They think that the Heavenly Father has more than one blessing to give, and that they will come out alright in the end. But in the end, all the Father has to offer can only be found at the foot of a blood-soaked cross! There is no loophole! There is no exception. There is no other way into the blessing!

Beware of assuming that you can trade your birthright now and still inherit the blessings later! Beware of sadly mistaking on the matter of spiritual things!

In the midst of all the failures of the characters in this story, there is one bright truth. God’s overruled all this foolishness to accomplish His purposes and to carry forward His plan for His people. In spite of the selfishness, sinfulness, and outright corruption of the characters in this story, we see, as Marcus Dods put it, that, “…the truth and mercy of God still find a way for themselves.” He went on to point out how we are all too much like these characters, and that, “Were matters left in our hands, we [would] make shipwreck even of the salvation with which we are provided…and had not God patience to bear with [us], as well as mercy to invite us; had He not wisdom to govern us in the use of His grace…we [would] perish with the water of life at our lips.”v

Ultimately, God’s grace is greater than all our sins. He is able to overrule and override our blunders and work things out for His glory. Yet, that is no reason to play games with God! Let us not be like Isaac, selfish in our appropriation of spiritual things.

Let us not be like Rebekah and Jacob, sinful in our attempts at spiritual things. Worst of all, let us not be like Esau, sadly and eternally mistaken in our assumption of spiritual things.

i Hughes, R. Kent, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 2004), p. 348
ii Pink, Arthur W., Gleanings in Genesis, (Moody Press, Chicago, 1976), p. 241
iii Anders, Max, Holman Old Testament Commentary: Genesis, (B&H Publishing, Nashville, 2002) Amazon Kindle edition
iv Dods, Marcus, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, (Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1887), p. 66
v Dods, Marcus, p. 76