Genesis 25: 24-28 “When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 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. The boys grew up, and Esau became a skilful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”
We have all heard parents of identical twins saying, “Actually they are quite different in so many ways.” Here with the birth of the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah, the uniqueness of each boy was noted by the Holy Spirit from the moment they appeared in the world. The Bible is interested in individuals; the Christian faith is personal.
1. GOD GAVE THEM TWINS WHO WERE DIFFERENT CHARACTERS.
i] Esau was the first born and from the very beginning he was red or ruddy, which is how the Bible later described Jesse’s son David when as a young man coming down from the mountain. He had been guarding the sheep but was summoned by the prophet Samuel to be anointed and set apart for kingship. He was ruddy, an enviable, much admired feature in the cultures of that time, a sign of strength and good health. So was Esau the first born of Isaac, and thus superior in his rude vitality. He was given the name ‘Esau’ which points to his other name ‘Edom’ (v.30) which sounds like the word for ‘reddish’ and there is a footnote to that effect in the N.I.V. Esau’s descendants were not called ‘Esauites’ but Edomites
Esau was also born covered with fine hair, in fact Moses writes, “his whole body was like a hairy garment” (v.25). From the beginning he was a rugged, hairy-chested, outdoors man who grew up to be strong, a skilful hunter, a man of action and ability, a restless rover. This is the first-born, the older brother, so naturally gifted and superior to his brother Jacob.
ii] Jacob was born immediately after his brother. Even in his birth he was the loser. He had jostled against Esau in Rebekah’s womb and had lost. Esau was taking his first breaths while Jacob was still in uterus, but not for long. His hand had been clinging to Esau’s heel and swiftly on the heels of his brother he also made his appearance. It is as if he had been desperate to push past his brother and be the firstborn, but he couldn’t make it. This grabbing onto the heel is suggesting that his nature was determined, contentious, a natural leader, someone who struggles and fights, unscrupulous to get his own way. There was to come a time in his life when he fought with God himself. This birth of these two important men was not only referred to by the apostle Paul but other writers, such as the prophet Hosea. The prophet wrote, “The LORD has a charge to bring against Judah; he will punish Jacob according to his ways and repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel; as a man he struggled with God.” (Hos. 12:2&3). Hosea is saying that even the unborn Jacob was a supplanter; he was trying to pull back Esau so that he would be the first to come out of the womb.
There are men who before their conversion are vigorous, dynamic, brash men. I am thinking of the aristocrat Brownlow North or the soldier Henry Havelock or the miner Richard Weaver. The greatest example of a Christian with that kind of personality is Saul of Tarsus. Men like that were leaders in their society, influencing others, leading them astray, single-minded in their pursuit of their pleasures, but then the grace of God touches them, changes them, makes them new creations; everything is new about them in their understanding of the world, their purpose in life, their enthusiasms, their very joys and griefs, how they spend their days, how they influence other people. What mighty men they become. Their personalities, prepared by God when he knit them together in their mother’s wombs, were admirably suited for a new life of Christian service. Jacob is the prime example of this, though a slow starter, hiding his ingenuity and initiative for some years. His aggression and struggle even show in the womb were later to become channeled into his unscrupulous determination to gain the heavenly inheritance.
You see this tension in his very name. He is called ‘Jacob’ and the derivation of his name is probably from a shortened form of the phrase “May God protect” or “God protects.” It is a typical Semitic name. It is referring to God’s favour resting on Jacob, that God has chosen him and he would have him as his own child one day. He would protect him from being dominated by his own determined, single-minded nature. So the name ‘Jacob’ is an honourable name, but the name also puns with a word which means “to seize someone by the heel, to go behind someone, to betray someone.” There is another footnote in the N.I.V. which seizes only on that meaning and it says, “Jacob means he grasps the heel (figuratively, he deceives),” but the N.I.V. does not say that it also means, “May God protect.” So the brothers were given significant names, Esau was named after his appearance, Jacob was named after his behaviour, a man with a proneness to deceive who yet was protected by God from his own instincts and drives. Thank God that he does protect us from ourselves.
As Jacob grew up you would not suspect that inwardly he was a dynamo. The very reverse! We are told, “Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents” (v.27). He busied himself with a responsible vocation, like his father and grandfather, neither of whom were hunters. Abraham was there in his tent directing the affairs of his land, his cattle and servants from his home, a shepherd-farmer. Jacob told his men where to take the flocks day by day, to till the soil and repair the wells. Jacob was attending to the affairs of the family, waiting on his mother Rebekah
and her needs. Jacob was at first a farm-manager, who seemed from outward appearances to have accepted the fact that he was the younger brother and he was not going to get the birthright, and yet, as the proverb says, ‘still waters rune deep.’ What was he thinking and planning? Everything seems to be pointing away from himself to Esau the “skilled hunter, a man of the open country” (v.27). Esau had come out of the womb stepping on Jacob’s head pushing him back to being second born, while Jacob had come out as the one bruising Esau’s heel! As Bill Baldwin points out, it is all backwards! The seed of the woman is supposed to crush the serpent, while the serpent is supposed to bruise the heel of the seed of the woman. At this birth of the son of Isaac we see the reverse. So everything appears to be pointing to Esau; he must be the true seed. Esau is the firstborn; Esau is strong and healthy; Esau steps on Jacob’s head, and Esau has his heel bruised. Providence is crying out that Esau is obviously the chosen seed, but the God was not saying that. He has chosen Jacob.
2. GOD CHOSE THE YOUNGER BROTHER JACOB RATHER THAN ESAU.
There is a pattern beginning here which then reappears throughout the Bible. God is anxious that we see and grasp this truth. It will help us in our Christian lives very much, in other words, in some of those testing providences when you are rejected and passed over, and others less gifted than you are advanced. It is then important to go back to the First Great Cause and see the hand of the God of the Bible at work in your circumstances, even as the same God worked back here at the time of the patriarchs. That will be greatly comforting. For example, I have seen men with great preaching gifts settled by God in places that seem out of the way and uninfluential. They have submitted to God’s decision in this and been blessed. I have seen people of maturity in congregations not being recognized for office while others (whom I judge to be more inadequate men) are set apart. I am asking you to look at a pattern in Scripture. God is sovereign in whom he chooses, and he chooses whomsoever he will, and to our amazement he chooses the weak things of the world.
I am saying that from the beginning of the Bible we see this pattern; firstly, it was Ishmael who was Abraham’s oldest son, but God passed him by and chose Isaac. Here in our text God chooses Isaac’s second born son, Jacob, not Esau. Jacob later has twelve sons but God chooses one of the youngest, Joseph, to be the deliverer. When Joseph brings his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh to be blessed by his father Jacob, he sets his older son Manasseh on the right side of Jacob so that Jacob’s right hand will be placed on his head and Manasseh have the chief blessing. But Jacob crossed his hands and placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head and resisted every attempt of Joseph to yank back Jacob’s hand onto the older man. “I know, my son, I know,” Jacob says to disconsolate Joseph. “God blessing Ephraim is not your plan, but this is God’s plan, to use your younger son. Hadn’t God passed by so many of Joseph’s older brothers and chosen him to be the protector and provider of the children of God? Then again God chose David, ignoring his older brothers; the youngest of the seven sons of Jesse became the king over Israel by God’s choice. He also chooses David to replace Saul, that erect man, head and shoulders above everyone else in Israel. He even chooses young David to defeat the giant Goliath who was taller still.
Then there is great David’s greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who comes into the world as a teenage girl’s baby boy, born in lowly circumstances, in a cave where animals are stabled. He who was eternally rich, beyond all splendour, all for love of us clothed himself in our clay. His mother’s husband was a carpenter; they lived together in an insignificant group of houses on a hillside of thorn trees and bushes. He showed hardly a single mark of his omnipotence as he grew up, and when he began his public ministry he was the humblest of men in his choice of disciples and his choice of friends. He had meals with ordinary people and even with some criminals who had come to put their trust in him. He did nothing to prevent soldiers arresting him, spitting in his face, punching his head, mocking him and whipping him until they drew blood. They killed him by crucifixion, the death of the cross.
This was the bruising of the seed of the woman, Jesus, the son of Adam, the son of Abraham and the son of Isaac. Calvary is Satan bruising Jesus’ heel. Did it seem that Jesus had made any dent in Satan’s kingdom after three years of public ministry? Had he crushed Satan’s head? We don’t see it until the third day when he rose from the grave with a mighty triumph o’er his foes. On the cross when he seemed so passive and weak he was actually destroying Satan soaking up all the hatred and destructive powers of hell and showing his superior might. They could not annihilate him. He seemed so helpless, unable even to raise a hand to stop the sun shining in his eyes, but then God darkened all the sun’s burning rays. God overcame all that the demons from the pit could do against him. They couldn’t throw away the keys of death and hell leaving Jesus dead for ever. They failed to do it, because God had given those keys to our Saviour himself. He is the resurrection and the life. On the third day he opened the door of death and out he came to live in the power of an endless life. Death itself did not have the last word; death was swallowed up in victory. It was in the hour of Jesus’ weakness as he submitted to where God had put him and what God was doing to him that was the scene of his greatest triumph. At that place and time he trod on and crushed the head of Satan – in his suffering death of Golgotha. He drank the cup that God had given to him.
This pattern of God choosing and using the weak who trust in him to overcome the strong has finally come to us. It has come, I say, all the way to our congregation and to this little handful of believers. Who are we? How does Peter refer to Christians in his first letter to them and its opening words? “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:” (I Pet. 1:1&2). God’s elect! Chosen of God the Father! Us! Us? Yes us, as much chosen by the Lord as Abraham was chosen when he was an idol worshiper in Ur, or Isaac, or Jacob, or Joseph, or David; the same God chose us who once chose Jacob in the womb of his mother. Remember Paul telling the Galatians, “God set me apart from birth” (Gals. 1:15). This note is everywhere in Scripture. What moves Paul to thank God for the Thessalonian congregation? “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction” (I Thess. 1:4&5).
You ask, “Are you telling me that I am a Christian because God loved me and chose me?” Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. Because he loved you he chose you, but why in the world he should have loved you or me or Jacob I have no idea. No Christian knows. We are so ordinary, and our Christian lives are so up and down. We are weak men and women. We deceive others just like Jacob and his mother deceived his father. God did not choose perfect
people. Aren’t I mighty glad of that fact? What does Paul say to the congregation in Corinth, Greece? “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before him.” (I Cors, 1:26-29).
If we are Christians today it is because God loved us from eternity. Then God gave us to his Son to care for and save by his coming, his life and his death. He chose us to live our lives for his glory and to enjoy him for ever, uninfluential people, poor people, ordinary people, weak things of the world, lowly and despised nobodies. He chose us to become the seed of the woman, to enter the kingdom of God, to become his children for evermore. I say to all of you, to come and stand in the fellowship of God’s elect, the Christian church, and bear the reproach of the crucified Christ along with him. Submit to God the Son. Come because you too are a nobody and uninfluential and weak and unwise. God doesn’t choose strong, beautiful, perfect people. Maybe that is your stumbling block. If it were the great and the good of this world who were Christians then you would eagerly enlist in this wonderful group. You would approach me immediately and say, “Write my name down on your church register!” But there is nothing like that. It is the guilty and lowly whom God loves, people who are not recognized and praised by the world; it is people whose trust is in Jesus. Come to this immeasurably strong Saviour, the conqueror of death. Come and hide in him; put your trust in him. Coming to him is the only way you can know whether God has chosen you. You can never tell until you obey the gospel. In fact it is in choosing him that you discover that he has chosen you!
Let me add this, that there isn’t the least connection between God choosing men and women and the idea that only a tiny proportion of people will be saved. Now the problem I have in preaching on this passage is that there are just two men here, and one is chosen and the other is passed by, and that encourages the thought that half the world is going to be lost and half are going to be saved. It’s a matter of fifty, fifty. What a terrible contraction of the number of those that are going to be saved; only half of mankind; half are going to be lost! The doctrine of election might seem to mean from our passage that God would allow half of mankind to go to hell. But worse than that, it introduces a horrible numerical or mathematical attitude into the saving decree of God’s election.
Now you must be aware that one of these sons stands for the seed of the woman, and the other son stands for the seed of the evil one. They are symbolic sons, even federal sons, sons of a certain headship. There were two only begotten by Isaac, and all of you must know that you each belong either to Jacob or you belong to Esau. Know that, but how many people belong to one or to the other no one knows. Certainly there is no reason to believe from Scripture that only a tiny group of folk are going to be saved. Yes, it is a narrow way and few find it, but the promise of the covenant of grace with Abraham was that his seed was going to be numerous, like the sands on the seashore and the stars in heaven. The vision in Revelation 7 is of a multitude that no man can number gathered safely around the throne of God and the Lamb. No way is the Devil going to carry the bulk of the human race down with him to hell.
We are to understand from the Bible that God has been utterly prodigal in the number of people he has chosen, his vast arms extended wide, wide, wide, as far as the east is from the west, as he takes to his bosom uncountable masses of people, far beyond human calculation. Our vision should be that where sin abounds grace did much more abound. However, whatever their number, let’s make sure we are counted amongst them. Nice, lovable people aren’t going to hell simply because they have the misfortune not to belong to the elect. Men are condemned to dishonour and wrath only for their sins.
God showed mercy on one son, Jacob, and that is not unjust is it? Generally men don’t consider a limited display of mercy to be unrighteous. Let me use this illustration: think of a high security prison. Islamic terrorists who have blown to bits boys and girls are incarcerated there. IRA killers – the murderers of innocent men and women shopping on a Saturday afternoon – are there behind its bars. Drug barons and rapists who in their different heinous ways have destroyed the lives of many are kept locked up there. Con-men are there, those who have plundered the pensions of thousands so that retired people have discovered themselves to be virtually penniless. Paedophiles are there. Thieves who have half killed old ladies and taken all their best possessions are there. Drunken joy riders who have mowed down school children and shown no remorse are also there. 200 such callous criminals are there, and these prisoners are informed one day that the parole board is meeting. Every single prisoner applies for parole. The parole board examine all the cases and they decide to give parole to 10 men. Is that act in itself unfair? Must they release all 200 for it to be fair? Of course not. They are all fairly arrested, tried and sentenced as guilty of serious crimes. Is there anything cruel or unrighteous in leaving 190 criminals behind bars to serve out their sentences? Have their sentences and punishments honoured the justice of the courts? Yes. Were the judgments that were passed upon them right? Yes. Did their punishments fit their crimes? Yes. They were enemies of the citizens of the state as lawbreakers without a conscience, and they were justly found guilty.
You can see immediately my application. The Bible tells us that all the world lies guilty before God. There is none righteous, no not one. Neither Jacob nor Esau were innocent. They were born in sin and shapen in iniquity. I am saying that God in his extraordinary love has saved a vast number of criminal rebels at the cost of the crucifixion of his own dear Son. The one man who was without guilt was punished; the guilty were pardoned. Is he unjust that he has not saved every one? No. He would be unjust only if he failed to deal with a single person absolutely fairly, and that he has not done. God has taken every fact into consideration as he has dealt with the world.
Let me use another illustration of particular love not being unjust love. The Liverpool daily paper each week would advertise the fact that there were teenage boys who were in need of fostering and adoption. A pastor friend of mine and his wife read the adverts each week; they talked together about offering to help, and then they applied and received two boys to be fostered and adopted, and then a year later, two more, and then a year later two more again. All their family and congregation admired them for taking into their home these needy abused boys. They didn’t have to foster any! Will we dare to criticise them for showing such parental love only to six fellows? No. We admire them. However, let Almighty God, the Lord who has been so terribly offended, bring many sinners to glory (when he could by-pass all sinners since he owes no sinner anything but justice – just as he bypassed the angels who rebelled against him), and then some would make out that God has become unfair or mean for not choosing to save every single person without exception. In the case of the couple who take to their hear
ts six boys we magnify their gracious act. In the case of God and wicked sinners, some people can affect of pose of moral outrage – they are “offended” at the divine Sovereign’s discrimination. They would “reject” such a God, they say, and they will vilify his character for claiming to be their sovereign judge. I say that God choosing one boy and bypassing another boy is amazing because neither of them deserved to be loved by God.
3. THE BOYS GREW UP AND EACH TOOK A PARENT’S AFFECTION.
i] “The boys grew up” (v.27). You could miss the significance of that, but think for a minute of the descriptions in the Bible of other children growing up. The reference in our text is to the natural development, and physical growth of these two boys. The glaring absence is to any mention of the spiritual maturation of the twins, as though they were simply physical entities lacking souls. When the Bible writes of the young Samuel it says, “The child Samuel grew before the Lord” (I Sam. 2:21). Then it underlines that saying five verses later, “And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the LORD and with men” (I Sam. 2:26). You find the same thing concerning John the Baptist; “The child grew and became strong in spirit” (Lk. 1:80). Or again the wonderful words that describe the Lord Jesus’ growing up, “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). We find nothing of that here; there was no saving grace evident in either of these boys. All we are told about them is that they grew up. What an absence! Do you see that it is not enough that our children have good health and that they grow physically? It is not enough that they pass their exams and are good at sport. What of their souls? Are they spiritually growing? Is God real to them? Are they asking the Lord that they might grow in faith and love and every grace, that they might know personally the God whom their parents know? Or again let me turn it in this way, that much of the propaganda that comes from the Church Growth movement is about growth in attendance, numerical expansion, more people sitting in more pews, but what of that other growth, of growing in love for God and love for one’s neighbour? What of growing in grasp of the Bible? What of growing in bearing the burdens of the weak?
Esau became a skilful hunter, but in spite of his talent he made the most ghastly mistake any man could make. He finally rejected the Messiah; he wouldn’t live by faith in him; he wouldn’t make serving the Lord the greatest duty and privilege in life. He could make fine weapons; he knew where to creep stealthily where the deer and the antelope roam. He could hit the heart of a running deer 50 metres away with one flight of his arrow. He barely returned empty handed from any hunting expedition. Esau attained so much, but he didn’t know the Lord. He was talented with his hands, and sharp with his eyes, strong in heart and limb but he couldn’t see the mighty Maker of every living thing in the world all around and didn’t bow before him and rejoice. Your friends may be gifted academically or musically or in various sports. They may have confident personalities and are natural leaders, but they don’t know God!
ii] “Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob” (v.28). The parents had favourites. They had only two children, and each chose one. What a disaster! The partiality of the parents helps to lay a foundation for big trouble in the future. Many sorrows would come from this and they would leave scars on the hearts of Dad and Mum that they would carry to their graves. How sad that this marvelous courtship and marriage, and their devotion to one another should turn to such folly. There should have been nobility and wisdom about their nurturing and admonishing of these boys. What an example that would have been to future generations. There were no other women involved in the marriage; there were no other children, and here was such an opportunity for a father and mother to counter the natural tensions between two such talented boys, doing things in love as an entire family, strengthening and encouraging where there were weaknesses in each child. Instead of this one parent championed one son so that he could hardly do anything wrong in that parent’s sight while the other parent showed the same favouritism to the other son.
Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau. Isaac had flocks and herds in abundance so that he could choose what meat to eat every day of the week, beef, or goat, or lamb, roast or boiled. But he had a taste for wild game and because of that he loved the son who provided it for him, Esau the hunter. Isaac was the ordinary son of a great father, and the ordinary father of a great son. He loved his son because of the meat that entered his belly through his son’s skill. Is that any reason for loving one son and ignoring another? It shows us a reason why the boys merely grew up and they failed to grow in wisdom and favour with God. It was because Isaac their father had failed to grow in love for God, but he loved fine food! He cultivated not an appetite for God but an appetite for venison and wild boar. This is Hollywood. This is the world of the WAGs, the wives and girl friends of over-paid sportsmen, and the expensive restaurants they attend. But before us in our text we are looking at the line of the seed of the woman, the godly line from whom the Messiah will come. Don’t Christians make mistakes? Yet God does not abandon us.
God had chosen Jacob, but Isaac chose Esau his brother, and he chose him because of his belly! The things of this world had begun to turn Isaac’s head. He had had close encounters with God. He had heard the voice of the messenger from heaven on Mount Moriah telling his father not to sacrifice him. He had seen the ram trapped by its horns as the sacrifice in his place. He had been given a wonderful wife and now God had blessed him with twins. He lacked nothing spiritual or material, and yet here he is rejecting God’s choice and taking the seed of Satan. All that matters, men and women, is what is covenantal and eternal, but Isaac had forgotten that and rather looked forward to eating delicious food. He is becoming like his son Esau who soon will sell the whole promised land for a bowl of stew. He will sell heaven itself to feed his stomach with meat soup. Isaac does it even though he knows the one who is God’s choice. Does Isaac think he can resist God’s will? How far Isaac has fallen! Aren’t we glad that the future of the world doesn’t lie with Isaac’s free will?
Rebekah, on the other hand, chose Jacob. Why did she choose him? Was it as a counterpoise to her husband’s obvious lavish affection for Esau and his boasts about his skills? Was her choice ultimately as arbitrary as Isaac’s? Was it just coincidence that her choice agreed with God? Whatever . . . just notice this, that through her foolish favouritism God brought his blessing on Jacob! God can use our weaknesses and falls to bring blessings to others – no credit to Rebekah or ourselves.
Don’t we meet troubles like this not only in the world but amongst true Christians? Aren’t we affected in our families by such tensions? Here is one son who wants the place and prominence of his brother. Here is a father at odds with God; he wants his son Esau to be number one but God has chosen his brother Jacob. Here is a wife and mother disagreeing with her husband and loving the second born and wanting him to be top. What is
going to happen here? There was an expensive American soap opera called Dynasty forty years ago which captured the U.K. and was watched by millions (not by me!). It was full of tensions like this. A family dynasty at odds with one another, favouritism, fathers and mothers arguing fiercely, brothers deceiving one another. It is all here in Genesis 25. Aren’t you glad that we learn from these chapters that all these things that affect us are in God’s hands? Let us rejoice that God is working out his purpose for the world and for us as individuals even though we behave as foolishly as Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Esau. God has accomplished his will through Christ even though all the world is against him. Salvation has come in spite of the weakness of these very patriarchs by whom the Holy God of heaven and earth identifies himself – “I am the God of Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob.” His glory is going to be shown to the ends of the earth by his own will and by his own power.
6th June 2010 GEOFF THOMAS