A sermon preached on Genesis 25:19-34, September 1, 2019 by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD. Week eleven of “Genesis: The Big Read,” a continuing sermon series through the book of Genesis, Ordinary Time 2019.
Introduction: Reaching Back (Setting the Stage for Jacob & Esau)
“These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son.” With these words, a new chapter in Genesis dawns on “the next generation” (yes, I got extra nerdy this week and stole that from Star Trek). And a lot has changed since chapter 22 and Abraham’s almost-but-not-at-all offering up of Isaac. Abraham has died. Sarah has died. Isaac is now married to Rebekah.
With our passage today, a shift occurs. We see now Isaac and Rebekah, not as son and daughter, but father and mother to Jacob and Esau. How will they respond to the incredible promises given to this family? How will God intervene in their lives to see those promises kept? What is the Lord teaching us in this passage today?
Part I: The Next Generation (vs. 19-28)
We learn from…
- The intercession of Isaac & barrenness of Rebekah
As this new chapter in Genesis begins, we see this new generation wrestling with, as Bruce Waltke puts it, “the lessons of faith” in midst of human circumstance. Isaac has to learn the lessons of patient intercession and prayer before God – twenty years of it! Rebekah must learn to trust God in spite of her barrenness.
Our lives are no different. I often think of parenting as the process of learning to “let go well” or “release well” our children. Our children have to learn to trust the Lord and his promises for themselves, don’t they? There is a massive difference between protecting the innocence of our children, providing for them, and diligently caring for them on the one hand and, on the other, trying to create a life where they never experience want or the need to trust the Lord. Here, the people of promise experience suffering and hardship and so will we. And so it’s important that we our kids this – even in small ways.
Isaac failed greatly in many ways (especially later in his life), but here we see him learning the lesson of intercession in the midst of Rebekah’s barrenness. He learns to trust the God of Abraham for himself. We must also teach our children to come to the Lord themselves, trusting him in prayer, reading his word, and experiencing the faithfulness of his promises in Jesus, for themselves.
Children and teens: don’t make idols out of your parents’ faith! What I mean by that is, don’t say, “my parents’ faith is strong, so mine doesn’t need to be. Rather, while you have the covering of their protection and blessing your lives, learn to grow strong in the Lord Jesus, so that when you’re older, you’ll be mature in the faith.
- God’s wisdom and sovereignty over human suffering
As the children are struggling within her, Rebekah cries out, literally, “Why this, I?” It’s a question many have asked. Some of us are asking that question right now. But, like the man born blind in John 9, Rebekah learns from the Lord that the struggle of the two children within her will display the glory of God. So, the Lord says to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” This is key. Rebekah and Isaac are told, right from the beginning, that in God’s wisdom, the line of promise will be inverted. The priority will not go to firstborn, but to Jacob.
And, you know, isn’t it one of the cruelest lies of the prosperity that God’s chosen people don’t suffer? For those who buy into the prosperity gospel, the saddest part is that, each time they suffer hardship, they not only suffer the hardship, but they have to wonder whether God hates them. It’s exactly the opposite of what we see happen here. We God’s faithfulness and wisdom in the midst of and despite human suffering.
- The preference of the parents & the opposite nature of the twins
At his birth Esau, the firstborn, was named for his red, hairy appearance. But he comes out with an ankle biter attached to him! And for this grasp, Jacob is named. Jacob’s name literally means, “to go behind someone” or “to betray.” (Genesis by Bruce Waltke, pg. 358) As much of his life will show, he was a trickster. Right from the beginning, we’re meant to see that they couldn’t be more different!
As this part of the passage comes to end, we see this, but also something else. We see a conflict being set up because the parents are playing favorites. Listen to verses 27-28:
27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
This will foreshadow both Isaac’s determination to bless Esau as the firstborn and Rebekah’s deceit to see Jacob receive that same blessing (chapter 27).
Part II: The Forfeited Birthright
All of this leads to a very telling scene. A scene that’s suppose to tell you who these guys really are (if there names haven’t already). Picture this: Esau comes in from the field, from the heat of the day, and is exhausted. Jacob is preparing a stew and Esau literally says to him: “give me red stuff before I die!” I picture Esau kind of an earlier version of Gaston from Beauty & the Beast. Jacob is calculated and cunning, but Esau lives for the moment. He has no foresight, he’s crass, and does whatever makes sense in the moment. So, in this moment, Jacob makes a deal. For what? The birthright.
- What is it?
Bruce Waltke very helpfully summarizes it’s meaning for us:
“The firstborn has privileged status and the right of succession. For his birthright, he receives a double portion of the father’s inheritance. … If there are only two sons, the firstborn inherits everything. Accompanying the blessing of the birthright is also the responsibility to be the family protector, the leader of the family.” (Genesis by Bruce Waltke, pg. 363).
- Why does it matter?
This entire passage might be summarized with a single question: who cares about the promises made by God? Answer: not Esau. Yes, Jacob is deceptive, but we are made to see the way in which he, at least, cares for covenant made with Abraham and his descendants.
“[Jacob] wrongly schemes against his brother because he correctly believes that the birthright in the line of Abraham and Isaac holds tremendous blessing and promise. Despite all of his weaknesses, Jacob lives within the vision of faith.” (Genesis by Bruce Waltke, pg. 365).
Now, reaching forward in Genesis, this entire scene is going to foreshadow what happens in Genesis 27 at the end of Isaac’s life. Here’s how it begins:
27 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, 4 and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”
And you know the rest of the story from there – Jacob pulls off the ultimate trick, stealing the blessing from Esau for himself.
Now, coming back to Isaac and his preference for Esau, we find here that the Lord gets the better of him! Despite Isaac’s stubbornness, the younger receives the blessing by God’s sovereign grace. Waltke writes here, ““Adam fails in eating, Noah in drinking, and Isaac, a gourmand, in tasting. God’s sovereign grace must now prevail over Isaac’s efforts to thwart the divine intention.” (Genesis by Bruce Waltke, pg. 363)
Just as a side note here, people often wonder why Isaac couldn’t just do a “take back” on the blessing given to Jacob. We find that kind of strange. But, in the culture of the day, blessings were a solemn, binding, once and for all affair. We need to recognize here that something similar still exists in our culture today with marriage. Once the vows are said, you cannot simply make yourself “unmarried.” You are married. So it was with the blessing.
- What do we learn from this?
Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob, So, what does the next generation teach us? It’s easy to look at the flaws and sins of the patriarchs and ask, how could God put up with them and use them in the way he did? But, that’s actually the point. In spite of themselves, God gives his grace and promises to sinful humanity. The longer we look at Genesis though, the less we ask that question because we see more of ourselves in them. But, we also see with clearer lines how much greater the grace of God is than sin because of their lives.
Our Lord himself says that many from all over the world, “from east and west [will] recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” Have you ever considered what a comfort this verse is? God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The Kingdom belongs to Isaac and Jacob? To stubborn Isaac? To deceitful Jacob? When we hear that phrase, “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” many often think of these patriarchs as towering figures in the faith – larger than life. In some ways that’s true, but this week’s reading has made me realize that I don’t think that’s actually what we’re suppose to see. We’re suppose to remember that God’s Kingdom is given to those who most definitely did NOT earn it. It came to them by the grace of God. And so it comes to us. The emphasis is always on the God of… . One day we will recline with these in the Kingdom, hearing so much more about the goodness of God in their lives. For now, we share the confidence that, just as their God, so he is our God by grace through in Jesus.
And so, all praise, honor, and glory be to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Amen.