When Esau Was a Type of Christ

This guest post comes your way courtesy of Kyle George Jones.

Typology in Scripture is not a term or concept most Christians are familiar with. David Murray, in his book, Jesus on Every Page, defined typology as “the study of how God used pictures to teach His people . . . It’s a kind of visual theology. God pictured the truth to preach the truth.” (136) Typology always includes two basic parts: the type and the anti-type. Again, Murray helps us here: “A type is a real person, place object, or event that God ordained to act as a predictive pattern or resemblance of Jesus’s person and work or of opposition to both.” (138) The anti-type is not opposed to the type. Rather, the anti-type is the fulfillment of the type. The anti-type always supersedes the type, replacing it with something better.

Despite not knowing the terminology, more Christians are aware of typology in Scripture than they realize. Example: the Passover Lamb. God established a lamb as the Passover sacrifice. Its blood covered the doors of people’s houses as a sign. God passed over them and spared their firstborns from death. In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist declares, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) Jesus’s blood is smeared on the wood of the cross. God passes over us, those covered by the blood of the Lamb, and we are saved.

Let’s look at a less obvious example. In Genesis 27, we read of how Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing of the firstborn. A blessing which should have gone to Jacob’s older brother Esau. Isaac could no longer see and felt his old age upon him. He told Esau to go kill and prepare his favorite meal, that he may eat and bestow the blessing of the firstborn upon him. This is the blessing God gave to Abraham and which Abraham gave to Isaac. Esau obeys.

Jacob, prompted by his eavesdropping mother, Rebekah, dressed in his brother’s best garments and covered his smooth arms and neck with the skin of a young goat. (Esau was a hairy dude!) Rebekah cooked Isaac’s favorite food. Then, Jacob brought it to his father and played the part of his older brother. “I am Esau, your firstborn.” (Gen. 27:19) Isaac bid Jacob near. He felt the goat hair on Jacob’s neck and arms. “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” (Gen. 27:22). Isaac smelled the smell of Esau, but after the meal he blessed Jacob.

You and I appear before God like Jacob before Isaac. We don’t deserve to be there. “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isa. 64:6). Yet, we receive the blessing of the obedient firstborn, the anti-type to Esau, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Like Jacob wearing Esau’s clothes, you and I wear Jesus’s wounds. We wear Christ’s clothes. We smell like him. Though our voices sound like ours, we smell of Christ’s death and resurrection. Though our skin is smooth, Christ’s wounds are felt on our hands and on our side. The garment we wear is washed in Christ’s blood, the blood of the Lamb, and made white. (Rev. 7:14) We put on these garments, these robes of righteousness, in Baptism. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:27) Martin Luther wrote in his Lectures on Psalm 45:

[Baptism] clothes you with the vestments and adornments of Christ. So the Eucharist clothes you with the adornments of Christ, the Gospel clothes you with the adornments of Christ. How could you wish for a better or more precious adornment than that with which Christ is adorned and adorns you?

In Baptism, God no longer holds our works up against the Law’s demands. Instead, he sees Christ’s perfect work as ours. The Father sees us as he sees his firstborn, and gives us the blessings the firstborn earned: forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal life. Jesus earned the garments we wear before God our Father by his incarnation. He lived the perfect life, doing everything the Father commanded him. He died the death we should have died and rose to new life.

Instead of taking our “best” gifts and works, Jesus took our sin and shame to the cross. In return, he gives us his sacrificial work to give to the Father just the way it was commanded: sanctified, without blemish, and complete. All we do is wear Jesus’s wounds and receive the blessing he earned for us. By his death and resurrection we are called children of God. He declares us righteous in his sight, forgiven, loved, and redeemed.

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  • David Murray, Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013).