Summary: God’s choice of Jacob to be the dominant brother teaches us that salvation is God’s doing from beginning to end.

We’re all familiar with the kind of TV shows parents don’t want their children to watch, you know, the ones with violence and bad language. But have you ever considered what shows children don’t want their parents to watch? I think Nanny 911 is one of such show. Nanny 911 is a television program on parenting. The show features Mary Poppins type child-experts who come into your home, observe how you parent, and give advice on how to provide better structure and discipline for your children. Children don’t want you watching this program because what child thinks it’s an advantage to have parents who are better at disciplining?

Nanny 911 isn’t the only show about parenting these days - a fact that seems to say parents are eager for advice on their children. It’s always been that way. Long before television and self-help books, a mother by the name of Rebekah turned to the Lord for advice on her children. What did she learn from God that’s good for us to know? Let’s find out.

Rebekah, a God-fearing, hardworking woman was married to Isaac - the long-awaited son of Abraham and Sarah. Rebekah had married into wealth and the promise of a bright future. God had told her father-in-law, Abraham, that he would be the father of a great nation. Rebekah, therefore, had every confidence that she would have children. But five, ten, then fifteen years passed and Rebekah still didn’t have a child. This concerned Isaac as much as it did Rebekah so he turned to the Lord in prayer and asked him to keep his promise and grant them a child. God answered Isaac’s prayer as he answers all prayers, in his own time and in his own way. Twenty years after they were married, Rebekah became pregnant. The joy of becoming pregnant, however, soon gave way to concern when Rebekah felt unusual activity in her tummy. Although she couldn’t get an ultrasound to see what was happening, she could and did sound out the Lord. The Lord made it known to Rebekah that she was going to have twin boys!

From Isaac and Rebekah’s example we learn something important about parenting: God is interested in hearing about our parenting concerns. Go ahead and search the internet for answers to your parenting questions but don’t forget to seek the Lord’s advice. After all he is the one who puts children together in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16). He knows how best to care for them. Ask for wisdom and then read Scripture to receive that wisdom and motivation to be patient and caring parents.

Although the news that she was going to have twins could to a certain extent explain the unusual movements inside Rebekah’s womb, the sacred record tells us that there was more to the thumping than two active boys getting their exercise. The twins were actually crushing each other in a pushing and shoving match! That tells us something about children doesn’t it? It tells us that our children aren’t as innocent as we might think they are. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, King David said bluntly: “I was sinful… from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).

Because children are sinful from the time of conception they are in need of forgiveness just as adults are. One way God provides forgiveness for babies is through baptism. Through the water that is sprinkled and the words spoken, the Holy Spirit enters the hearts of infants and delivers the forgiveness that Jesus won for them (Acts 2:38, 39). Parents, don’t just bring your children to be baptized, teach them what daily effect their baptism has on them. Let them know that in baptism their sinful nature was drowned so that they now don’t have to give into their sinful impulses but can do what is God-pleasing (Romans 6:1-14).

When Rebekah turned to the Lord for information on her babies, she learned more than any ultra-sound could tell her. God revealed to Rebekah that her boys would be the fathers of two different nations. He also said that the older son would serve the younger. In our society where birth order doesn’t count for much it’s hard to understand how shocking this news must have been. In Rebekah’s world the eldest son was the one to inherit the majority of his parents’ possessions and carry on the family name. As Isaac’s son and Abraham’s grandson this should have also meant benefiting from God’s promise that all nations would be blessed through him because through his family the savior of the world would come.

Why did God choose to make the younger twin and not the older the beneficiary of this promise? Was there something about the younger twin that made him a better choice? No. The younger twin was sinful just like older twin. In fact the name the younger twin was given highlighted a particular spiritual weakness he had. The younger twin was called Jacob, which literally means “heel grabber.” The name may sound more silly than sinister but it did describe the kind of person Jacob was. Jacob was the kind of guy who loved to pull your leg, that is, to deceive you. This wouldn’t have been so bad if Jacob was nothing more than a practical joker, but the reason Jacob pulled people’s legs was to trip them up so that he himself could get ahead. That’s certainly how things looked to those who attended Jacob’s birth. Jacob’s brother, Esau, was born first but Jacob was right on his heels, actually he had grabbed hold of his brother’s heel as if trying to pull him back in the womb so that he, Jacob, could be the first one out!

The Apostle Paul used God’s choice of Jacob to answer the question why God chose those he did before the beginning of the world to be his children (Romans 9:10-16). From Jacob’s example we see that God did not choose those whom he knew would be “good” people. The truth is we were all equally rotten choices. We are all sinful to the core, by nature always thinking and doing what is evil (Genesis 8:21). So why did God choose us? Well, why did God choose Jacob to be the dominant brother? He did so because he felt like it and to illustrate that our salvation totally depends on God and nothing we do. Paul made that clear when he concluded: “[Salvation] does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:16).

Did God’s choice of Jacob doom Esau to a miserable life? Not at all! Although Esau was destined to become his younger brother’s servant, there was no shame in that. It was still a job to which God had called Esau. Unfortunately Esau didn’t like the role God had assigned him and he resented God for it, as we shall see in our next sermon.

We may feel like Esau at times. We may wonder why God didn’t give us artistic or athletic talent like he gave to a sibling. Or we may question why we were born into the family we were and not the rich family across the street. Or we may wonder why we were born into a Christian family and not a family that doesn’t know anything about Christ. There is no answer to those questions other than God gave us what we have because he is gracious and merciful. So now what will we do with his grace? Will we continue to question God’s choices, or faithfully use the talents he has given to us? Will we spend precious minutes pondering why we have the spiritual blessings we do, or get busy sharing those blessings so that more may enjoy them? By God’s grace you know the answer to those questions.

Because of the rivalry that existed between Jacob and Esau, Rebekah and Isaac’s household would have made for a great episode of Nanny 911. It’s not like Rebekah and Isaac were clueless parents, however. They knew that when they had questions about their children they could turn to the Lord in prayer. God knew all about their boys, just as he knows all about our children and us. He knows that the greatest need we have is for forgiveness, a need he filled by sending his Son to die on the cross. Now that’s a truth you won’t learn watching Nanny 911. Thank God for this grace which is ours through Jesus. Thank God by being faithful parents and faithful children. Amen.