“Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time…” Genesis 25:19-34

We are continuing our journey thru Genesis. Last week, God enabled Abraham’s servant to find a suitable wife, Rebekah, for his son Isaac. Now that Isaac had a wife, the Promise had a future.

Our passage today opens with, This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.”

But it really opens with the account of Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob.

Let’s read the passage for today, Genesis 25:19-23: This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram, and sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. The  Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

Right away, there is a problem with the fulfillment of the Promise. As suitable as everyone thought Rebekah was to be Isaac’s wife, like her mother-in-law, Sarah, she was, as it says, childless. I always think it’s interesting that it’s always the woman’s problem – sort of like Henry VIII and the lack of sons.

What about the Promise? In general, given the extreme importance of family in the Israelite tradition, barrenness was the ultimate calamity.

Isaac prays to the Lord, and Rebekah’s barrenness is reversed. Or, not to get too technical, perhaps Isaac’s prayer had certain words, but God did something else, and the result was the same. In Israel’s tradition, no act of God could be a more direct blessing than the reversal of barrenness.

Notice something else here. The fulfillment of the Promise thru the chosen seed of Abraham is not accomplished by human effort. The fulfillment of the Promise only happens because of prayer, and a specific act of God.

Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah, and 60 years old when the twins were born! How many would wait 20 years? I thought so.

Every mother, and somewhat vicariously, every father has felt and seen babies move around in the womb. I can only imagine what twins must be like. The twins, soon to be named Esau and Jacob, are wrestling with each other. Rebekah feels this struggle, this wrestling, as a bad omen about her offspring.

Perhaps she was concerned that the fighting between the babies would upset the fulfillment of the Promise. She asks a question all of us have asked God at one time or another, “Why is this happening to me?”

In response, she receives an oracle from the LORD, Verse 23: The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

Let’s continue, verses 24-28: When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them. 27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

In the Hebrew, Esau means “hairy one.” Jacob actually means “heel-grabber.” The Hebrew word for Jacob is also a term meaning to outwit an opponent, as in wrestling when a person grabs another’s heel to make him fall. Esau became a hunter, therefore his father’s favorite. Jacob liked to be in the tent, his mother’s favorite.

Now we come to the interesting part, verses 29-34: Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) 31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” 33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.

The oracle delivered to Rebekah so many years earlier has been fulfilled: “The older will serve the younger.”

The events in this passage are driven by Esau’s need, but also by Jacob’s cleverness. The brothers think these events are happening in isolation, but they are doing more than they realize! What they do not know is, like it or not, they are working out the purposes of God.

The exchange and the conflict are between an immediate blessing and a deferred blessing. Esau is hungry and cannot wait; we are not told if Jacob is hungry, but since he is making something to eat, he must also be hungry.

But Jacob can wait! Waiting can be done if one has confidence in the outcome, no matter what it is.

There is something going on here.

Let me ask something else – how many have heard “the law of primogeniture”? Primogeniture is the right, by law or custom, for the firstborn to inherit the entire estate, or a majority of the estate, to the exclusion of younger siblings.

Historically, the term implied male primogeniture, to the exclusion of females. The Japanese Chrysanthemum Throne for several years faced this issue regarding succession. Because there was no male heir, there was debate about the ability of a female to inherit the throne. There was some concern over this issue, until a son was born to the current crown prince.

In Scripture, primogeniture is the biblical tradition that the firstborn has preeminence and authority over those that follow in the family. In ancient Israel, the eldest son received half of the father’s estate, the others got the rest. Perhaps even more important, the eldest son would receive the father’s blessing at the father’s death.

Jacob anticipated the importance of the birthright, and as the younger son, he conspired to get it. As a matter of fact, next week we will we read how Jacob and his mother conspire to receive the blessing as Isaac lay dying.

There is ample evidence that Esau knew what he was giving away. Along with his birthright, Esau was giving up blessings which, because they were not of a material but a spiritual nature, had no particular value in his estimation. Verse 32: “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

The only thing Esau cared about was the physical enjoyment of the present. He was unable to estimate the spiritual blessings of the future.

So, as it says in our reading today, Esau despised his birthright. Esau was the oldest; he was his father’s favorite; and he gave up his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup!

In God’s eternal plan, the time-honored tradition of primogeniture was thrown out the window! How could God do such a thing? This was scandalous!

Look across the entire sweep of Scripture – how often does the older serve the younger? How often does the lesser serve the greater?

As far back as Genesis chapter 4, God chooses and approves the younger and the weaker to accomplish his purpose and bring about his blessing. The offering of Cain, the older brother, was rejected, whereas the offering of the younger brother, Abel, was accepted. The line of Seth, the still younger brother, was the chosen line. As we read previously, Isaac was chosen over his older brother Ishmael.

Later in the Old Testament, we read: Rachel was chosen over her older sister Leah; Joseph, the younger brother, was chosen over his other eleven brothers.

Behind all of these “reversals” was the recurring theme of God’s sovereign plan of grace. The blessing was not a natural, or traditional right, as a right of the firstborn son would be. Rather, God’s blessing is extended to those who have no other claim to it. They all received what they did not deserve.

What about the lesser vs. the greater in the New Testament? In scripture, it can mean the orphan, the widow, the alien, or tax collectors and gosh, even sinners! That includes even you and me! The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

God will choose whomever he wants choose. God will have mercy upon whomever he wishes to have mercy. Tradition is fine, but God decides in the end. In the power of the Promise, God is free to work his will in the face of every human convention and in every definition of correctness.

So, once again, what does God want me to pass along today?

As you know, our Pastor Nominating Committee has been working very hard since January. They have been meeting weekly, sometimes even twice a week.

Slowly and deliberately, your PNC is moving to that wonderful moment when Kaye Wentling will stand at the lectern and announce that God has identified a person to lead this great congregation. It will also be a wonderful moment for me. It will mean that God has named your next pastor, and my work here is finished.

Maybe some of you have certain expectations about who that person should be…

Or who that person should NOT be

Let me stop and ask a rather unusual question: How often do we see a couple where the man is shorter than the woman? I came across a survey on the internet that 4% of women said they would marry a man who was shorter than them. Much of it is biological, but we seem to have a tradition of the wife being shorter than the husband, at least in western culture.

Do you suppose the marriages where the woman is taller are not as happy? Are they unhappy because of their height? No, if God calls these two folks together, fine! Who cares who is taller?

God has historically called the younger, the lesser, the weaker. God gives his grace to those who don’t deserve it. And, thanks be to God, that includes us, right?

Do we all agree? God can do whatever he wants, right? No matter what we might think, God is in charge, right?

Let me give some additional statistics:

  • 27% of PCUSA pastors are women
  • In a 2006 study, 51% of seminary students were women
  • When I graduated in 2004, 2/3 of my classmates were women

At one church I served, the PNC ended up with six candidates; and what do you know? Four of them were women.

The one they chose was a woman, and she was fantastic. They are booming, and it’s a congregation just like this! Imagine that! God’s plan working! The Promise fulfilled!

Remember when Chuck Noll was coach of the Steelers? Each year, there was speculation as to which position he would draft first. And each year, he would surprise everyone and draft a player from a different position! Remember his answer? “He was the best person available…”

Your Pastor Nominating Committee is committed to finding whomever God wants for this great church – nothing more, nothing less. And God has promised the PNC, and all of us…

With God’s help, that person will be the best person available.

But in God’s eternal plan, which I hope we all support and welcome, for the Body of Christ called Hillcrest Church…

That person whom God chooses just might be a woman.

That person might not look like we think he or she is supposed to look, whatever that is

My friends, we are the lesser, the younger, the weaker.

We are those who do not deserve God’s mercy.

Just like with Isaac and Esau, God might choose to turn our tradition on its head.

But as he has done from all eternity, God will fulfill his Promise, regardless of what we might do or think.

And if our tradition is turned on its head, maybe we had just better stand back and praise God.