Summary: In a world marked by violence, the ancient story of Jacob and Esau reminds us that conflict has always been a part of the way God deals with his people, and it contains with...
We gather together today in the wake of the terrible terrorist attacks in London - violence that I suspect has left none of us unaffected.
Tony Blair said, “They will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear” , and it’s hard not to admire his resilience, even though we recognise, I think, that the root of the problem is not an anonymous ‘they’ who simply want to destroy all that we hold dear, and more than there is an axis of evil that simply wants to destroy all things democratic.
In our world at present there are vast numbers of people who feel, rightly or wrongly, that they area at war with the West. And, rightly or wrongly, a goodly number of these people feel that this sort of attack is the most effective means they have of waging war.
This attack was not simply the result of mindless violence or religious fanaticism. It was our invasion of Iraq (and Afghanistan) and the Israeli occupation of Palestine that gave rise to this attack. It was the result of the foreign policy of the US, Brittain and Australia.
Does this mean that we ought to change our foreign policy? Not necessarily. Not if these actions were right and proper. Maybe this is all just a part of the price we have to pay for doing the right thing. And yet this ongoing war must prompt us to ask again whether we really are doing the right thing, and whether we ever should have invaded those countries in the first place.
It is against backdrop of escalating world violence that we look at the ancient Biblical story of Jacob and Esau this morning - a story that, I will warn you now, will give us no guidance whatsoever as to how to solve these issues of global conflict.
Why should we look at it then? Well … partly because it too is a story of conflict, and so it reminds us of the fact that conflict has always been a part of the history of God’s dealings with our world. And also because it is a story about God’s promises, and a reminder that God holds true to His promises despite the conflict.
Now, having stolen the thunder from my sermon already, let me encourage you to stay with me nonetheless, as we may yet find some more surprises in the passage.
Our story today from Genesis chapter 25 picks up after the death of Abraham and focuses on Abraham’s younger son, Isaac, and Isaac’s wife, Rebekah. Isaac’s wife, like Isaac’s mother before her, is apparently cursed with barrenness!
It is amazing how many of the great women in the Bible struggled to have children! The exception of course is Mary, the mother of Jesus, who started having children much earlier than she intended. Rebekah though, like her mother-in-law Sarah, like Hannah the mother of Samuel, like Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, struggled with the fact that they could not naturally fall pregnant.
So Isaac prays. We suspect that Rebekah prayed too. God intervenes, and Rebekah falls pregnant, and yet we are told that her pregnancy is a difficult one.
Now we might have been better served today if we’d had one of our girls preaching on this text, as I’m really not the most appropriate person to explore this any further. Let me though make one theological (rather than gynaecological) observation - that the fact that you are God’s person, doing God’s will, even as a result of God’s miraculous intervention, doesn’t mean that the process will be easy. Indeed, the promises of God often bring with them great pain as well as great blessing.
As Rebekah struggled through her pregnancy, so she struggled with her birth. Strengthening her though in her pain was a word that she apparently got directly from God - that her struggle was part of a broader conflict that was already taking place within her womb - one that was going to play itself out in the lives of her children and indeed through generations to come!
Jacob and Esau were battling within the womb. When Esau emerges from the womb, Jacob already has a hold of him. As they grow up, they are in constant conflict, as the descendents of Jacob and Esau are to this day! When will it all end? This was no doubt Rebekah’s cry, and a prophetic lament that would echoe through the succeeding generations.
Now I don’t know whether any of you ever saw that comedy movie called ‘Twins’ with Arnold Schwarznegger and Danny De Vito, where the pair supposedly were twins. Jacob and Esau are a bit like that. All the testosterone seems to go to Esau!
This is clear enough from the birth itself. Esau emerges from the womb covered in hair! To no one’s surprise he grows up to be a great hunter, an outdoors man, captain of the local rugby team and, I suspect, an accomplished pugilist. Jacob, on the other hand, were are told was a quiet man and a ‘dweller in tents’. This means that he stuck close to his mum. He was good at cooking, needlework, and helping out around the house.