Genesis 25: 19 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[a] 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.
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.”
24 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.[b] 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.[c] 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.
29 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.[d])
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 Old Testament tells the stories of the people to whom God made His first covenantal promises. The Old Testament, especially the book of Genesis, tells the stories of God’s blessings of a people. These are the stories of the Jewish people and the development of the Jewish faith. We should remember that Jesus was Jewish and these are the stories of His ancestors. It is through Jesus’ new covenant that the promises of the Old Testament are opened up to us. These Old Testament stories are our ancestry as people of faith in the One, True, Living God.
Several weeks ago, I talked about dysfunctional families. Well, God’s family is full of stories of dysfunctional people starting in the book of Genesis. God’s great covenant with the Jewish people originates with a severely dysfunctional family. It should give us hope for our own families that God is able to create a great nation from dysfunction. When God says He is going to bless us, He is going to bless us in spite of ourselves.
God makes a couple covenants with humanity before we get to the story of Abraham. It is with Abraham that God makes a great covenant. In Genesis 12:2, God says, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” God affirms that covenant in the covenant of circumcision in chapter 17 (v. 20).
In order for Abraham to become a father of a nation, he must first become a father. To this point, Sarah has not conceived a child. Abraham and Sarah are in their elder years and beyond the years of child bearing. But, that is no hindrance for God. The stories of Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Rebekah are stories of infertility which God redeems through children who father a nation. These children, though, are not without their problems.
When God promises Abraham that he will have a child, she doesn’t believe it will be her. Sarah gives Abraham her slave girl to conceive a child for Abraham. This is just the beginning of problems in Abraham’s life. The slave girl, Hagar, bears a son Ishmael who is the eldest son of Abraham and should traditionally receive his father’s blessing. But, Ishmael is not the only son to receive the fruits of his father’s blessing.
Hagar and Ishmael are sent away after Sarah bears Isaac. God tells Abraham it is okay to send them away as Sarah has requested (21:12), because God will too make Ishmael a great nation (21:18). The story of Hagar and Sarah and Ishmael and Isaac was once in time used to justify slavery. It was deduced that since Hagar was Sarah’s slave and Ishmael, Hagar’s son, then Ishmael was meant to serve Isaac. Thus, Ishmael’s descendants were to serve Isaac’s descendants. We must be careful not to read into these stories our own agenda. It was not the separation of blacks and whites. This story is where the Jewish and Muslim faiths depart. This is the story of two great nations blessed and created by God, not one favored over another. We follow the story of the Jewish faith, because through Jesus we inherit the promises of God.
As Abraham grows older and Isaac comes of age, Abraham concerns himself with finding a suitable wife for Isaac. Abraham’s servant goes to Aram, Abraham’s homeland, to find Rebekah. Abraham doesn’t want Isaac to marry a Canaanite, but a woman from his ancestry through whom God can bless Isaac. Abraham’s servant finds Rebekah, who the Bible says is Abraham’s great niece (22:23). Like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah are infertile until God intervenes with the birth of twins, Jacob and Esau.
Jacob and Esau are again the stories of 2 brothers at odds. The 2 sons jostled in Rebekah’s womb (25:22) and the Lord told her that 2 nations were in her and 2 people who would be separated, “one people will be stronger than the other and the older will serve the younger” (25:23). This is yet another story of 2 nations separated and a story used to justify slavery. Yet, we know through Jesus Christ service does not equal institutional servitude.
As the Lord says, there are 2 nations within Rebekah, only one can receive his father’s blessing. As Esau is the oldest, tradition holds that Esau should receive his father’s blessing.
The first boy born was red and hairy, so he was named Esau, which means hairy. Jacob came on his heel, literally holding Esau’s heel. The second son was named Jacob, which means he grasps the heel and was a Hebrew idiom for he deceives. Jacob was one who deceives or a trickster.
The boys were very different. Jacob was average, but Esau was great. Esau became a skilled hunter and Jacob was content to stay at home with his mom. Isaac preferred Esau while Rebekah preferred Jacob. Esau was a man’s man and Jacob was a momma’s boy.
Our Scripture today tells the story of Jacob’s first trick, stealing his brother’s birthright. Jacob was at home cooking lentil stew, likely with meat from his brother’s hunt, when Esau comes in famished. Esau, who thinks he is dying of hunger, swaps his birthright for a bowl of Jacob’s stew. Esau marries a Canaanite woman, so he lost his birthright to Jacob and the promise to be a great nation by marriage.
After tricking his brother out of his birthright, Jacob then tricks his father into blessing him. Isaac tells Esau to go hunt some game and prepare a stew, so he can eat before giving him his blessing. Rebekah runs interference and helps Jacob trick his father into blessing him. Rebekah prepares stew for Isaac. She covers Jacob’s arms in goatskins and dressed him in Esau’s clothes. Isaac questions why the son before him sounds like Jacob and how he made stew so quickly. He can’t see and relies on the sense of his touch of his son’s arms. Isaac feels the hair and assumes it is Esau in front of him, so blesses his son. Thus, concludes Jacob’s second trick. He has duped his father into blessing him.
Esau finds out and becomes angry with Jacob. Jacob has taken his birthright and his father’s blessing. Esau vows to kill his brother only after their father dies. Rebekah tells Jacob to flee to her brother’s house for safety. There he is to take a wife and wait for word from his mother that it is safe to return.
Along Jacob’s way, God affirms that He will bless Jacob and his descendants. Jacob will one day return to his father’s land, but first he must become a man. Next week, I will preach about part of Jacob’s coming of age story as it relates to his wives. The second part of his coming of age story is wrestling with God. Jacob spends the night wrestling with God after which his name is changed to Israel and he leaves with a limp. This evening of wrestling is symbolic of Jacob’s wrestling to identify himself as God’s seeking to know God and to receive His blessing.
Finally, Jacob goes out to meet Esau as he journeys home after a period of refuge in his father’s familial land. The scene when Jacob and Esau meet is a sign of their manhood. And, Jacob’s reconciliation to his brother is a sign that love of brother is part of loving God. Through God, broken relationships are mended and brothers are reconciled. The brothers meet and embrace. All is not forgotten and forgiven, but they are now both men and able to love one another.
The stories and Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob and Esau are very similar. Both are stories of nations that are misunderstood. Their stories are stolen to promote slavery, rather than read for the promises of God. Through Isaac and Jacob, God creates a nation who is blessed to be a blessing. These stories show us God’s faithfulness to His promised blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The descendants of Ishmael and Esau are not dismissed from God’s family; they are simply not chosen to be God’s covenant people. Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, will be held to the high standard of justice, reconciliation, and hospitality. Israel is called to be a blessing to the nations fathered by Ishmael and Esau.
The stories of Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob and Esau are also coming of age stories. The story of Isaac and Ishmael coming of age is not told in the Bible, but we know it to be true by one small verse. It is said that Isaac and Ishmael buried their father together (25:9). Something had happened over the years. Somehow, someway, Isaac and Ishmael had come to know one another and been reconciled enough that they came together for their father’s burial. In their coming of age story, they were reconciled as brothers. So, too, were Jacob and Esau.
The stories in Genesis highlight Jacob’s coming of age most prominently. Going to Aram and going back to Canaan, Jacob journeys with God. On the way, Jacob vows that God shall be his God (28: 20 – 21). On the return, Jacob wrestles with God and is forever changed. He becomes a man on that journey of refuge and return.
We all go through similar journeys in our lives. Our past can be marked by times when we chose God to be our God and claimed Jesus to be our Savior. With reflection, we can recognize the times we have wrestled with God longing to know God and desiring to be blessed by God.
After my reunion, I had the opportunity to reflect on my coming of age story. There are 2 of us from my class who were called to ministry. We both say we were the most unlikely to be called; some even said our stories of growth were most pronounced. The other minister, Chad, and I shared a little shop talk, but we were there to just enjoy the friendships that were forged so long ago. Some of my classmates shared with me their stories of salvation and others told me about their struggle to find a church family.
I realized that I grew up with these people, but that was it. They shared a part of my history, but they are not the people with whom I became a woman. There was one person who helped me become a woman by showing me the truth of Jesus Christ and a church family who helped me grow. It is within a church and with a few close friends that we come to know ourselves as children of God, to wrestle with God, to claim God as our own, and to journey in faith.
Now, we see children and youth among us who are making their journeys of discovery. Some have claimed Jesus to be their Savior through confession of faith and baptism; others have that journey ahead of them. As ones who have already made that journey, we are called to be a blessing to the young ones among us. We need to teach them justice, reconciliation, and hospitality. Just as Israel was blessed by God to be a blessing to all nations, we have been blessed by God to be a blessing to others. That is an awesome call to recognize our growth and help others grow so that their lives too may be forever changed.