Isaac’s son Jacob has coerced and tempted his brother, Esau, into giving him his birthright. At the same time, Jacob has lied and deceived his father, Isaac, into giving Jacob the blessing that should have gone to Esau. God tells us in the previous chapter that that was the plan from the beginning, that the younger, Jacob, would be blessed, and the younger would be served by the older.
Isaac realizes that he doesn’t like how this turned out, and he is going to become sorrowful. Isaac’s sorrow is going to be birthed out of the fact that he has been fighting and rebelling against God’s will. And so Isaac repents.
Esau is also going to realize that he has been deceived, and he is not going to like how all this happened. And he is going to be sorrowful also, but Esau is going to have a greater sorrow over the consequences that are going to happen to him. He is not going to truly repent, and we never see Esau truly resign himself to God’s plan and God’s will. And so what I think this story does through these two guys’ responses to all this is it shows us the difference between real, true, godly repentance in our lives and the fake, false repentance of the world.
In 2 Corinthians 7:8–9 (nasb) we read: “For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it—for I see that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.”
And so Paul makes it absolutely clear that when you are confronted with your sin, there are two kinds of sorrows that can come out of you. The first kind of sorrow that can come out of you when you are confronted with your sin is a sorrow that is from God, it aligns itself with God’s will, and it will produce in you a real, true repentance. There’s another kind of sorrow that can come out of your life when you’re confronted with your sin, and it will lead you not to true repentance in God’s will but to death.
Isaac is sorrowful but the sorrow came from the thought that I’m rebelling against God. Esau was sorrowful, but it was because of the consequences of his sin. Isaac was deceived, but he realized, This is God’s plan. I submit to God’s plan. Esau was deceived, but he views himself as a victim and becomes deeply bitter. Isaac humbles himself, submits himself to God, and you see peace settle over Isaac. Esau becomes enraged at God’s plan and becomes murderous in his heart.