I wonder whether you’ve kept up with the soap opera surrounding the death of Anna Nicole Smith? She’s a former Playboy model, who, at 26, married an 89 year-old billionaire. J. Howard Marshall died 18 months later. And, swearing that she didn’t marry him for the money, her fight in the courts to inherit around $500 million was still going on.
But she died in February this year of a drug-overdose in the Bahamas, 6 months after giving birth to a daughter Danielynn.
The other actors in the drama are Howard K Stern, her long-term attorney, and recently, her partner. Then there’s Larry Birkhead, her ex-boyfriend. Both of them claimed to be the father.
Then there’s Virginia Arthur – her estranged mother. Who’s ALSO claiming custody of the baby. I wonder whether the inheritance has anything to do with it.
It’s a story with NO HEROES. No-one who’s side I’m on. It seems like everyone is working for their own interests. And I guess the baby is the one I feel really sorry for.
And, even though I hate to draw the comparison, these chapters of Genesis tell a similar story. A soap opera. Where no one comes out smelling of roses. A story with no heroes.
Look as hard as you like, and it’s almost impossible to find a hero. Look under every rock… and it’s hard to find a character you even warm to.
It’s like watching an episode of the Jerry Springer show. With a completely dysfunctional family. Who’ve all taken sides, who’ve tricked and schemed and betrayed each other.
Meet the Cast
Let me quickly introduce the cast. We’re starting out in verse 19 of Genesis 25. Our cast list begins with Abraham’s son… Isaac. This is the account of him. Although in the next few verses, it quickly becomes the account, not so much of Abraham’s son Isaac, as the account of Isaac’s SONS.
We’re going to see Isaac is a guy who lives for his stomach. A guy who plays favourites with his kids. A guy who constantly seems to devalue the promises of God.
Isaac’s 40 years old in verse 20, when he marries Rebekah; a determined woman, who also plays favourites with her kids. And plots and plans what look very much like underhanded deals with her favourite boy.
They’re the parents.
And in v21, Isaac’s praying to the Lord for his wife, because Rebekah’s childless. And God answers his prayer in DUPLICATE. She’s feeling an awful lot of kicking in there.
And when she asks God what’s going on, the divine ultrasound report comes back, and it’s twins. And the wrestling match is a sign of things to come. It’s not just two ordinary babies. But two NATIONS are going to come from her womb. Verse 23. Two entire peoples. One stronger than the other; and very curiously, against the usual order of things, the OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.
Which reminds me of that Bega cheese ad on TV not so long ago, where big sister can’t get over the fact that little brother has invented a better kind of cheese sandwich. Two slices of cheese on THE OUTSIDE with ONE slice of bread IN THE MIDDLE. And she says in a hushed voice, everything’s changed. He’s little. I’m the boss of him. Now he’s gone and done something cleverer than me. It just doesn’t seem right. It’s upside-down.
And that’s going to be typical of the troubled relationship between these twins. The younger brother, verse 23… is going to be master of the older.
They’re born in verse 25; Esau first; red, and hairy. And Jacob, not long afterward, grasping his heel, as if he’s trying to hold him back and get out first. A habit he keeps up his whole life.
Their names, in that quaint sort of insensitive ancient way, are very flattering. Esau means HAIRY. Jacob means GRASPER.
And that’s the cast. Keep them in mind as we search for a hero. Isaac. His wife Rebecca. And the twins Grasper and Hairy -wrestling in the womb. And with lots more wrestling to come.
a) A Tale of Two Meals – part 1
So let’s follow the plot and see how things develop. It’s a tale of TWO MEALS. First up, Meal ONE. ESAU’S meal and his BIRTHRIGHT.
Time’s passed. And the twins couldn’t turn out any more different. Esau’s an outdoors sort of guy; a man’s man. Loves dirt under his fingernails and killing wild animals. While Jacob loves sipping latte in the café. Jacob was a quiet man, verse 27, staying among the tents.
Now in the next verse you’ve got seeds of a disaster. Let me warn you: don’t try this at home. Because here’s a family heading for disaster. Adam and Marijke – don’t try this!
The parents… PLAY FAVOURITES. I mean, how dumb is this? They should have watched Doctor Phil. Verse 28. And it’s all because dad loves a good feed of wild goat. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau. But Rebekah… loved Jacob, who stayed home and watched the tents. A family split right down the middle.
And one day, when Jacob, with his apron on, is cooking up a lentil stew, hairy Esau comes in from a hard day’s hunting, and verse 29 says he’s famished. And he says to his smooth skinned stay-at-home brother, “Quick. I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. Let me have some of that red stew..”
And Jacob says to him, “You want stew? First… sell me your birthright.” He says, Before I give any stew, sign over to me the rights of the firstborn. Sign over to me the double inheritance you’re due for. And the responsibility as number one son to look after mum. Deal or no deal?
Now at this point I’d suggest it’s JACOB who’s the skilful hunter. Setting a snare. And it’s Esau who’s acting like the dumb prey. Sucked into the trap by a lump of bait.
He’s had a hard day. And he’s hungry. And the stew smells so good. And what good’s a birthright if he dies of starvation? And so, without so much as a though he agrees. It’s a deal.
And he swears an oath and he trades his birthright… and Jacob gives him some bread and some lentil stew, and Esau eats and drinks… and gets up and leaves. And doesn’t give it a second thought.
He lives for his stomach. And in the words of verse 34, DESPISED HIS BIRTHRIGHT. His view’s so short-sighted he’ll trade his rights and responsibilities in this very special family … for a plate of red lentil stew… that’s gone in a flash.
That’s the first act. Meal one. And there are no heroes here. It’s MEAN and CRAFTY on Jacob’s part. And STUPID on Esau’s. Esau’s appetite for a short term fix saw him giving up his future and his heritage. And grasping Jacob was ready to grab it.
We’re going to step right over chapter 26 today. Except to make the comment that the spotlight’s back on Isaac. And on how God CONTINUES to promise his BLESSING on the family, even when Isaac shows he doesn’t DESERVE it.
And then it’s into chapter 27. Which you’ll see from the outline is MEAL NUMBER TWO. ISAAC’S meal and his BLESSING. Isaac’s getting old. His eyes are so weak he can hardly see. Blind as a bat.
And he calls for his favourite son Esau, and says, listen boy… my time’s running out. Go hunt me some wild game. And bring it back and cook it for me. And I’ll give you my blessing before I die. My blessing to my favourite.
And so off he goes. Hairy Esau, heading for the open country with his quiver full of arrows and his bow.
But Rebekah’s been eavesdropping. And she says to Jacob – HER favourite – the one who prefers to hang round the kitchen, she says, “Listen. I’ve overheard your father. He’s sent Esau to get him some tasty takeaway… and he’s going to give him his blessing before he dies. So do what I say. Here’s the plan.
And verse 9 and 10, she hatches the scheme. Two goats from the flock. And she’ll cook them up to the same recipe, just the way the old man likes it; and Jacob’s going to take it in – and get the blessing instead. Easy! Your dad’s as blind as a bat.
But Jacob’s not so sure. Not about the MORALS of it. He’s not above a little TRICKERY. Just that he might get CAUGHT. He says, but mum, verse 11, Esau’s a hairy man; I’m smooth. What if dad touches me? He’d know I was tricking him; and bring A CURSE on me instead of A BLESSING.
But Rebekah’s got a plan. Goat skins. Instant hair! On his hands and the smooth part of his neck. And she puts Jacob into Esau’s best clothes; so he SMELLS like Esau. And verse 17, she hands her son Jacob the tasty food and bread she’s made. And sends him in.
I mean, this is a con job of the worst sort, isn’t it? Not to mention a lousy way to treat your dad. I mean, granted, there’s been this long standing promise that the older brother will serve the younger. And Esau’s shown he counts his birthright to be worth less than a bowl of stew. But surely this is not the way to be blessed by your dad. And no way to treat your brother, either.
There are no heroes here. At all.
And so as you watch it unfolding, you don’t know whose side to be on. Jacob comes in. “My Father.” “Who is it?”
Isaac might be blind, but he smells a rat. Because it SOUNDS like Jacob.
And even though he’s got concerns, whatever question he asks, Jacob’s got an answer. He’s got all the bases covered. Like a good con-man. He mightn’t SOUND like Esau, but he FEELS like Esau – thanks to the hairy goatskins. And he SMELLS like Esau – thanks to Esau’s clothes. And the food TASTES like Esau’s – thanks to Mum’s cooking.
And so, in v27, as Isaac smells the fresh earthy smell of Esau’s clothes that Jacob’s wearing, he senses all is well. And blesses him. In the words you can follow from verse 27.
You smell like a good paddock. So may God give you of heaven’s dew and earth’s richness – an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you, and peoples bow down to you. Be Lord over your brothers… and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed, and those who bless you be blessed.
Which is exactly what grasping Jacob seems to want more than anything else. To lord it over everyone he can. To be FIRST. Starting with his brother.
(pause) What happens next is predictable. Isaac goes OUT. Esau comes IN. And there’s a re-run of the same scene. Except it’s too late. Bless me too. And Isaac can’t. Because Jacob came and deceitfully took the blessing.
And Esau spits out the words in verse 36. “Isn’t he rightfully named Jacob? The grasper. The one who grabs for your heel and pulls you down. The backstabber. He’s deceived me TWICE… He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing.” Both gone.
And Esau leaves dejected and unblessed. All Isaac can give him are the scraps. The leftovers. “Your dwelling will be AWAY from the earth’s richness, AWAY from the dew of heaven above… you will live by the sword and you will serve your brother.
And, in verse 41, he COMFORTS himself with the thought of KILLING Jacob. He won’t let him win again.
But once again, Rebekah hears about it. So she races to Jacob. “Flee at once to my brother Laban in Haran, verse 43. Stay with him. Until your brother’s fury subsides. I’ll send for you when it’s safe. Why should I lose both of you in one day?”
And the poetic justice, the irony is/ she DOES lose Jacob. Because he’ll be gone for TWENTY YEARS. And she’ll DIE before he returns. But more of THAT story NEXT week.
Only One hero
Two contending sons. Parents who play favourites. No heroes here. Or IS there?
At the start of chapter 28, Jacob leaves with his father’s blessing. Genuine this time. It’s a blessing that reflects the blessing God’s given to Isaac, and to his father Abraham before him. It’s a blessing that God’s been reminding these men of / for more than a century. Something God has PROMISED will HAPPEN. 100% guaranteed. Look there in v3.
3 May God Almighty BLESS you and make you FRUITFUL and INCREASE YOUR NUMBERS until you become a community of peoples. 4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you MAY TAKE POSSESSION OF THE LAND where you now live as an alien, the land God gave to Abraham.”
And I think it’s HERE that we get a hint as to who the only hero in this story really is. The only one worth cheering for. The only one who does what’s right and just and strong and true. WHATEVER happens
It’s GOD HIMSELF. Who never changes. Who’s always reliable. And who’s promise to bring blessing out of mess/ is the only thing you can trust. In a grasping, cheating, lying world God promises BLESSING. And it’s an out and out gift.
And the Bible is the story of how God DID that. How he DID make Jacob into a nation – the nation of Israel. And how he gave the land to them. The PROMISED land.
But it’s also a story of how humanity CONTINUED to lie and cheat and scheme. Just like Jacob. And yet, through it all, God continues to work out his purposes – his BLESSING – to his people.
Blessing that CULMINATES – reaches its PEAK – in the sending of Jesus. The one who’s the fulfilment of ALL God’s promises. God’s ULTIMATE blessing to the world. The one who deals, once and for all, with the MESS. The one who’s DEATH pays the price to bring us back to God. And who’s RESURRECTION opens the door for us to spend eternity with him.
That’s a hero worth CHEERING for. Worth giving your life to FOLLOWING.
Don’t despise your birthright
(pause) But that seems a long way off from the terrible twins, Jacob and Esau, doesn’t it. And their parents who took sides Isaac and Rebekah. None of them heroes.
But here’s a question worth asking ANYWAY. When it comes to God’s promises. Is there anything we can LEARN from them?
I want to suggest that there is. And, just like the last few weeks, it’s all got to do with THE PROMISES of GOD.
Esau was someone born into a family with tremendous PRIVILEGE. Incredible potential. God had promised them descendants as numerous as the stars, and a country to call their own. But Esau had DESPISED HIS BIRTHRIGHT.
If you’re a Christian, then just the same as Esau, YOU’VE been promised an inheritance. When God makes you his child, when he forgives your sin, and gives you his Holy Spirit to live in you, and BE with you. He promises you an inheritance – an eternal home with him. And life NOW that’s got a new purpose and richness and satisfaction.
Wonderful, wonderful promises. But ones that can seem very quiet and unobtrusive. They can seem a bit dull, and a long way off.
And we can be tempted to UNDERVALUE them. To DESPISE them. To swap them for something tastier. Something more immediate, that satisfies our appetites, but which is infinitely less valuable.
We’ve been flicking over to Hebrews 11 the last few weeks (p852). As we’ve thought about what the life of Abraham means for us today. And all the way through that chapter, the examples are held up to us. Here are people who kept trusting God’s promises even though they couldn’t see them. Because that’s what faith is. Confidently living TODAY even though you can’t see God’s promises. Knowing that they’ll definitely be there. SOME time.
But then we get to Ch 12 (p852), where the writer to the Hebrews makes his point. Therefore, YOU should COPY THEM, throw off the sin that holds you back, and run the race with PERSEVERANCE, fixing your eyes on Jesus. Even though it’s tough, and you can’t see the BLESSING. Because that’s what FAITH is. And that’s what Jesus did.
And if you jump forward a few verses, we get to Esau. Down to verses 15. Here’s the lesson.
15 See to it that no one MISSES THE GRACE OF GOD and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is SEXUALLY IMMORAL, or is GODLESS LIKE ESAU, WHO FOR A SINGLE MEAL SOLD HIS INHERITANCE RIGHTS AS THE OLDEST SON. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.
The warning is you can MISS the GRACE OF GOD. You can know all his promises. Even be living as a Christian, and looking forward to heaven. But then something comes along that DISTRACTS you. That attracts you. That LEADS YOU AWAY from following Jesus. That tempts you to take a short-term view, rather than the long-term view of faith.
For Esau it was a bowl of soup. For you it will probably be something different.
It might be the temptation of an affair. Risking your salvation, sacrificing your family and your ministry, for some flattering attention. A few minutes of feeling good.
It might be the temptation of selling your soul to WORK, that consumes every waking hour. Our your mortgage – because you’ve got to keep up appearances.
For others, it’s not actually a CONSCIOUS decision. But you just start down the path of Sunday sport, or Sunday morning sleep in, or buying that boat, or that holiday house.
And before you know it, church, and then God, become forgotten. They just fade away. Drift further and further away.
Or let me suggest a temptation that’s relevant to TODAY. With Owen’s BAPTISM. Listen to the promises Adam and Marijke made. They promised to TEACH Owen from the Scriptures how to trust in Christ as his Saviour and to follow him as Lord. They promised to PRAY for Owen and to set him a godly example in their actions. And they promised, as part of their godly example, to be REGULAR AND DILIGENT IN MEETING with God’s people?
Now, let me tell you from experience, that those are HARD PROMISES to keep. They’re going to take some COMMITMENT and APPLICATION and EFFORT. And there’ll be plenty of OTHER things that will pop up that will seem EASIER, or more FUN to do, as Owen grows up.
But VALUING your birthright will mean MAKING an EFFORT. PERSEVERING at it, even when Owen gets old enough to complain – which he will at SOME STAGE.
Despising your birthright means DEVALUING the promises God’s made to you. Minimising how important they are for YOU, and for OWEN.
So learn the lesson from Esau. VALUE what God’s promised you. And SHOW that in your family life.
And YOUNG PEOPLE. Let me challenge you in the same way. But flip it OVER. Your parents have given you a WONDERFUL heritage. Of growing up in a family where Jesus is honoured. Where the Bible is read, and where prayer and a life following Jesus is modelled.
What are you DOING with that example? Are you just coasting along? Riding on the coat-tails of your parents? DESPISING your inheritance?
Or do you VALUE it? Have you CLAIMED it for yourself? Stood up for Jesus. And recognised his right to rule YOUR LIFE – not the life of your family. But YOU PERSONALLY. With all YOUR hopes and plans and dreams. And handed your life over to him.
Don’t follow Esau’s example. Don’t despise your birthright.
And finally, if you’re NOT a Christian, let me say as STRONGLY AS I CAN, that the Christian life is a birthright that’s WORTH PURSUING. Worth investigating. Because God’s promises are real. And he DOES bring blessing out of MESS. And you CAN trust them.
And the BEST thing about God’s promises is that they’re A GIFT. FREE. GRACE. You can’t CHASE them, BUY them, EARN them, ACCUMULATE them, NEGOTIATE them, TRADE something for them, or even TRICK anyone to receive them. That was JACOB’S mistake.
All you need to do is TRUST his promises. And ACCEPT them.
Eph 2 v4 puts it like this. And I’ll finish with these words.
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.