Jacob and Esau
July 17, 2016
Let me briefly review Genesis. God created humanity in his image to represent him in all creation as they lived lives in dependence upon him. In so doing, they would display God’s greatness and glory as they depended upon his grace and power as the source of life. Yet just outside the starting gate, they are deceived and reject God’s goodness and grace and fall into sin. Sin is like a virus that wreaks havoc and chaos and destruction. Though we have rejected God, he is on a mission, a relentless pursuit to reconcile humanity to himself and reverse the curse of sin through a Deliverer. So humanity is divided into two lines or family trees, one line is made up of those who depend upon God, whose lives display the greatness of God and his grace, who depend on the Deliverer, Jesus Christ. The other line is made up of those who still live in rebellion against God, belittling his grace, and rejecting the Deliverer, Jesus Christ. This mission comes into focus when God chose to work through one man, Abraham, and his descendants. We see today the progression of the Abrahamic covenant through his decedents and two brother who represent those two lines within one family.
The story starts out with the phrase, “the generations of Isaac, the son of Abraham.” This points us to the transition from Abraham to Isaac as the Patriarch and the one through whom the blessings of the covenant come. As we have seen, Isaac is married but we find out that his wife Rebekah is barren. How can the promise of a Deliverer come true with Rebekah being barren? This was the plight of Abraham and Sarah also. But God promised them a child so they trusted him to fulfill his promise and he did. God is faithful to his promises. This theme is meant to show us that the promise to bless the nations through the coming Deliverer can only be accomplished by God. Isaac displays faith and dependence upon God by praying for Rebekah and she conceives. He prayed for twenty years until Rebekah conceived (26)! What is your natural response to the difficulties in your life? Do you take matters into your own hands or do you look to Him for help? Do you have barrenness in your life? Maybe you are literally barren. Maybe you have a child who is spiritually barren and you worry about their eternal destiny. Maybe you have not experienced God’s presence or power in some time. Perhaps some sin has its grip in your life and you cannot seem to overcome it. Maybe you are spiritually barren and have never been reconciled to God. God loves to display his power in human weakness because it showcases his glory and grace that meets human need.
But then we find out that not all is well with Rebekah’s pregnancy- there is great turmoil in her womb. She has twins who are destined for conflict, far greater than normal sibling rivalry. The word ‘struggle’ (22) means to crush to pieces and is to remind of us the promise in Genesis 3:15. This caused Rebekah great physical and emotional pain so she asks the Lord why is this happening to me (22)? She asks the Lord about it. What’s going on here? Rebekah knew from the promise to Abraham that from her God would bless the nations through the coming Deliverer. God tells her that two nations and two peoples are in her womb and that there will be a rivalry between the twins (23). This is no normal sibling rivalry, they are incompatible, hostile towards each other. This is not just God looking to the future and seeing what the relationship will be like; it is God prophesying it. The writer wants us to think of Genesis 3:15, “there will be enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.” One lives a life dependent upon God and his grace and the other rejects God and his grace. Not only this but one will be stronger than the other and the older will serve the younger (23). God is overruling the rights of the firstborn, the cultural custom that the firstborn has preeminence and authority over their younger siblings. The younger son is the son from which the promise will come. This is another theme in Genesis, that the promises of the covenant will not come through the firstborn because God is displaying his sovereign power and grace. God’s promises will, cannot not come through natural human ways or means.
When Rebekah gave birth the prophesy comes true. Esau comes out first and is red and hairy (25) and will grow up to be a man’s man, a hunter and outdoorsman (27). Jacob is not far behind, coming out holding onto Esau’s heel (26), Jacob grow up to be cultured and civilized, dwelling in tents (27). Then the writer makes this comment, “Isaac loved Esau because he liked wild game but Rebekah loved Jacob (28).” Each preferred one of the twins over the other. Now in family dynamics this is destructive to the children but that is not the point of this passage. The writer of Scripture is making a statement about Isaac’s spiritual sensibilities in the middle of his life. I think that Rebekah and Jacob had discussed the prophecy and its impact on the family and the covenant promises. Yet his sensual appetites motivated his love for Esau. Though no motive is given for Rebekah’s love for Jacob, I think she loved him more because he was the son of promise. The point is about God and his promise and his sovereign choice to undo human custom to ensure that his mission will be accomplished his way. I think Isaac had lost his spiritual compass and drifted off center, he had his spiritual priorities upside down later in life. Is your spiritual compass off course and so you are drifting off center?
Then we are given an incident that really is tragic yet a defining moment in their lives and God’s mission (29-33). Jacob is cooking stew when Esau comes in from the field, famished and starving and demands that Jacob give him some of the stew because he was starving! Jacob knows he has Esau over a barrel and capitalizes on it by demanding Esau’s birthright. Esau responds, “I am about to die, what good is my birthright to me?” Jacob has him, so to secure the birthright he demands Esau swear an oath to him and so Esau sells him his birthright for a serving of bread and some stew. The chapter closes with this editorial comment, “Esau despised his birthright (34).” Let me unpack this for a moment. God chose Jacob to be the one through whom the covenantal promises were to come, it was not by natural order it was by divine order. Yet the way he went about it was sinful. I think he was spiritually motivated but was sinful in the way he went about getting it. On the other hand, Esau was not spiritually minded, did not value his status as the firstborn, nor the covenantal promises. But here is the point, the mission of God advances despite human sin and family dysfunction. As individuals who struggle with sin daily and wonder if God can and will use you, you need to know that God set his affections on you in eternity past, died on the cross to reconcile you to himself, and will fulfill his purposes for you despite your struggle with sin. Then for us as a church, God has chosen us as his people, he died for the church, made us a people, and his mission through us will be victorious despite what it looks like.