Genesis 26:34&35 “When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.”
For the first time in this chapter Esau, Jacob’s older brother, makes an appearance, and what a disastrous appearance it is. We are told that at forty years of age he took two wives and that they came from the Hittite nation. It is not that he had one night stands with them, or that he cohabited with them. They were not his mistresses. Each of these relationships was a marriage, the legal union of this man with each of these women so that they lived together (in the strange way polygamous marriages operate), and legitimate children were procreated. Since human beings are made in the image and likeness of God there is an awareness in every kind of society in the world, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated, that both men and women are designed for the marriage relationship, though some will remain single. Every kind of society recognizes this legal and social and loving relationship of marriage. There are various forms of initiation that regulate it. In our text we have evidence of this – even 4000 years ago – in the names of the wives Esau took, but more than this, the names of their fathers are recorded. “Who giveth this woman named Judith?” Her father Beeri would say, “I do.” “Who giveth this woman Basemath?” And her father Elon said, “I do.” It was properly done according to the light of that society. No doubt, there had been some kind of negotiation and dowry and paternal approval between Esau and the fathers. The end result was that Esau was given the right to have these two women as his wives, sexual and domestic partners, mothers of his children, for the remainder of their lives – ‘till death us do part.’ It was a serious agreement.
In the case of Esau, from the beginning, it was deeply flawed in two ways in that he took two wives, whereas the divine pattern is one wife, Eve, for one husband, Adam. Also that he took them from a pagan people, the Hittites. He was forty years of age when he took this step. In other words, he was exactly the same age his father Isaac had been when he married his mother. This timing, whether a coincidence or a deliberate statement, was a rebuke to Isaac but also it happened to be a rebuke to Esau.
1. THIS MARRIAGE WAS A REBUKE TO ALL CONCERNED.
Some newly converted people haven’t come from Christian homes, and all of the Christian life is new to them. They are on a steep learning curve about their fellow Christians, about the Bible’s teaching on Christian conduct, and about their relationships with people in the world. They must be immature in many areas of their lives and it is possible for them to make big blunders early on if they do not get and heed counsel. It was not like this with Esau. He was the grandson of Abraham, and the son of Isaac and Rebekah. He was one of the most favoured men in the world, and he was physically mature, forty years of age. He was without excuse for his actions. He deliberately went into a polygamous marriage with two worshippers of the gods of the Hittites, and this resulted in profound grief to Esau’s parents. They could not say – as I can say – that they could bless Jehovah for the partners their children had found. They could not rejoice in God’s kindness in giving their son such a fine spouse. Isaac and Rebekah could not say that. The marriage was a rebuke to all concerned. They could shake their heads and ask one another, “How much are we to blame for this?”
i] It was a rebuke to Isaac in this regard. There had been that scrupulous care taken by his own father, Abraham, in finding a wife for him. Abraham had sent his servant off with a commission to go his former country to find there a wife for his son among his own kinfolk. He made two things very clear to his servant, that on no account was he to take a wife from the daughters of the Canaanites. To do that would have been to deny faith in God’s promise that this land was going to belong to the seed of Abraham. It was going to be wrested out of the hands of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Jebusites and given to the seed of Abraham, the line of promise. Again, the servant was charged to stay within the boundaries of the Promised Land; “Do not go to Ur of the Chaldees!” so Abraham urged him. He was not to find a wife for Isaac in his former country. It was in this Promised Land that had been given to Abraham and Isaac and his seed that he was to find a suitable bride, and in this land a bride was obtained. Abraham made his servant swear that he would not take a wife from the non-Jehovahist people around him but that she would come from within the borders of this land. Then (you remember the story well) the servant sets out as described in that wonderful narrative of Genesis 24 – just two chapters earlier – and ‘being in the way’ he is led to Rebekah.
When Abraham’s son Isaac is 80 years of age, and his twin boys are 40 years of age what has Isaac done to copy his father Abraham in finding suitable wives for them? Nothing whatsoever! He has neglected his fatherly duties. We all are guilty of the sins of omission, and one of those sins may be failing to pray from the day our children are born for their choice of a spouse. After grace and salvation it is the biggest choice they will make. We can fail to talk about marriage naturally and easily as they are growing up. We can fail to encourage them to mix in camps and conferences with young people who are Christians. Pastors can fail to talk about marriage and the reasons why God created it and who are the ones that Christians should marry. We can bring trouble on our own heads by failing to talk to them directly and plainly about this, and then we are speechless when faced with a defiant fait accomplis. They a
re in a relationship the seriousness of which we did not guess, and they are not prepared to end it on any grounds at all. We often feel we have only ourselves to blame for some of the relationships entangling young people. They have suddenly moved in with a fellow, and we are gob-smacked, and while blaming them we blame ourselves ten times more. We feel we had a part to play in this, letting them down by a guilty silence. So it was with Isaac. He allowed forty years to pass without seeking wives for his two sons, until Esau peremptorily acted and married not one but two Canaanite women, and by the end of this narrative Jacob had been sent out of the promised land to Haran to one of the places his grandfather’s servant swore he would never take Isaac to find a wife (Gen.27:43).
So I am saying that Esau’s marriages were a rebuke to Isaac, to his non-involvement, his fatalism about whom his boys would marry and when. Isaac had failed to keep his promise to God. He had failed to instruct his children as Abraham his father had been careful to instruct him. We do not say, “Well, I will not interfere in my children’s lives. I am not going to tell them what is right and wrong. I am going to let them find out everything the hard way, by trial and error, by pain and perplexity, all by themselves.” We would not treat our children so cruelly. We will warn them about drug-taking and alcoholism and about becoming bullies and violent people, and emphasize to them duties, and the fact that other children exist, and they also have rights, and children must learn to wait their turn, and step aside, and be patient. Life does not revolve around an individual child. No child is an island. We are always belonging to a group, and we can encourage and help that group or we can increase its burden of cares. We will certainly tell our children about kindness and affection and respect and giving honour to whom honour is due. We will not brain-wash them; we will not abuse them, but we will share with them the blessedness and joy we ourselves have found in knowing the living God and doing his will. We are persuaded that there is a glory in this, and we don’t want to rob them of it by being silent. If the evolutionists are not silent we too will be quick to open our mouths.
ii] It was a rebuke to Esau. Esau was the first born of Isaac who had been the only child of Sarah and Abraham. If the aged Abraham had held him in his arms (and that seems to have been the case) he would have looked at him as the one in line to inherit the promises God had made to him. There had been Isaac, praise Jehovah! Now there was Esau! God was faithful! Yet what sadness was going to come from this baby’s life; Esau was to sell his birthright cheaply, for a bowl of lentil stew! Something so holy and precious thrown away in exchange for something utterly paltry. Esau could not have made a more eloquent gesture concerning his indifference to his birthright as the first born son and inheritor of this extraordinary promised inheritance.
Now Esau further despises the promise by deliberately taking two Canaanite women as his wives. Remember from Jehovah’s covenant with Abraham that the children of the Canaanites must one day be destroyed by the children of Abraham. That is part of God’s promise in giving to Abraham this land, but Esau jumps in and mixes the two lines, and his parents woke up to the announcement of what he’d done with broken hearts. Their daughters-in-law “were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah” (v.35). You find his mother and father talking together and his mother saying, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women” (Gen. 27:46). Were they loud, and coarse, and contemptuous of her and Isaac and their faith in Jehovah? Was it all take and no give by Judith and Basemath their daughters-in-law? Yes, all of that and more, but in spite of all of those things old Isaac was still prepared to give Esau his blessing (Gen. 27:4), if only Esau would kill a deer and make his old greedy father some venison pie. Both father and son, I say, seem to have been living in such a worldly way. The things of the world were so important to them. Great decisions were made on such carnal foundations; Isaac seems to have left his first love and have lost the divine gift of wisdom. Once he mediated in the fields; not any longer. Father and son have become lukewarm in their faith.
They are a great warning to us. Are you finding the companionship and wit and humour of the world more stimulating than the fellowship of the godly? Beware! Grey hairs are on you and you know it not. Are you finding the taste of good food enough to make you forget the marriage-feast of the Lamb that lies before you? Beware! Jesus said to some that because they were neither hot nor cold he would spew them out of his mouth. Beware of a religion that simply looks back to the early days, the good old days when you first knew the Lord. Even those days were not as you dream of them. Do not believe in the rosy glow of past religion. Then God had hidden realities from you in order to help you on your way as a toddler Christian. In your early walk with God you were an immature person. It was not that those were the days you were living for the Lord 100 per cent but not so today. There was an immaturity and big self then as there is today. It just takes another form now. The challenge at this moment is to love him with all your heart and to love your neighbour as yourself. Are you asking God to help you? Are you crying mightily to him to make you this day no longer a child, living in the past, and no longer luke-warm in the present, but a person who wants henceforth to be spent in serving the King of heaven?
2. THE MARRIAGE WAS IN DEFIANCE OF THE CLEAR WORD OF GOD.
The Lord had made it plain that his people should not marry those who serve and worship other gods. That is non-negotiable. It is not an understanding you arrive at after much prayer. It is a decision you take in simple obedience. It is not a matter of guidance. Let me show you this in the Scriptures; let us establish this fact that believers should not marry unbelievers. Let’s wake up and shuffle through the leaves of our Bibles together. Let’s fill this holy place with the noise of the turning of the pages of Scripture.
i] Genesis 6:2, “the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.” Let us say that the best meaning of this phrase ‘sons of God’ is that it refers to the promised line, the seed of the woman, while the ‘daughters of men’ refers to all the natural offspring of mankind, women indifferent and hostile to their Creator. The seed of God and the seed of Satan were by these marriages intermingled and compromised – through this plague of mixed marriages, and this results in the following generations being not just cool to God but far worse, every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually (Gen. 6:5). Right after the fall of man (only two other chapters have passed since Genesis 3) this problem is found in the world.
ii] Exodus 34: 15&16 “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons, and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.” They are words of God through Moses as to what happens when faith grows cold, and the worship of fertility gods beings and temp
le prostitution becomes acceptable in the Land of Promise. It was considered just as valid and acceptable a way of worshipping God as by the Tabernacle and its sacrifices and the confessing of sins at God’s altar. God is warning them, “Soon your sons will be marrying these good looking pagans and soon they will be off to the fertility rites. Ideas have legs; and these legs will be walking off to temple prostitutes.”
iii] Deuteronomy 7:3&4 “Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.” In this context the Hittites are particularly named as one of the people your sons are not to marry at any time. You want blessing on your marriage? Then why play with the fire of God’s anger as your children are influenced by those gods your spouse worships, and your kids are finding worshiping them much more fun than worshiping the Lord?
iv] Judges 3:4-6 “They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their forefathers through Moses. The Israelites lived among the . . . Hittites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.” God lets his people live in the world, surrounded by the world – not going off to live in a lonely deserted valley or behind the high walls of a Christian city. God puts us in the world for two reasons. To be a witness to the world, to be salt and to be light to our unbelieving neighbours, that is one reason, but there is another, and that is to test us, through education in secular schools and universities, and through exposure to the media and its ideas and stars, and through the companions we meet. God tests us to see if Christians are going to obey God’s commands when, for example, their hearts are beating with excitement at seeing a member of the opposite sex who gives many indications of liking us though he has no interest in the gospel at all. We are being tested again and again as to who comes first in our lives. What are our priorities? Is the living Lord more important to us than a man who worships dead idols?
v] I Kings 11:1-11 “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter – Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, ‘You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.’ Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods. The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command. So the LORD said to Solomon, ‘Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.’”
You might think that you have come to church today and heard a sermon on a theme that is utterly irrelevant to your circumstances because of your age, or because you think that you have far more wisdom than to get entangled with an unbeliever. Are you wiser than Solomon? Other than Jesus Christ isn’t he called the wisest man who ever walked this earth? Yet what happened to him when he got entangled with members of the opposite sex who worshipped other gods? He married them one after another, after another, and his wives changed his whole heart attitude to idol worship and took him away from the Lord, ruining the middle decades of his life. He built temples to other gods in Jerusalem itself. The son of David, the King of Israel, did that, once he let into his heart an infatuation with unbelieving women. You might think that as you grow older you will instinctively grow wiser. I tell you ‘it ain’t necessarily so.’ There is no fool as great as an old Christian fool and the church has too many of them, blind to their many follies, flattered by pretty younger women as Solomon was. And you think you are free from such temptations? The inheritance that Solomon left behind him for the covenant line of the woman was 200 years of civil war.
vi] I Cors. 7:39 “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.” That last phrase is almost a throw away line, just an aside because the main thrust is a widow’s freedom, if she desires, to marry again, but then these six words as he closes have an “of course” about them, of course “he must belong to the Lord.” It contains the echoes of all those verses from the Old Testament which we’ve been reading, but now it applies them to a situation almost a thousand miles from Jerusalem, to a thoroughly Gentile congregation living in Corinth, Greece, in Europe. It was addressed to the congregation, to fathers and mothers who might be tempted to think that a good match for their daughter would be a wealthy upwardly mobile young man. “No, there is a priority more important than that. Listen, you parents,” wrote Paul, “he must belong to the Lord.”
So I am saying from the plain teaching of Scripture this marriage of Esau was in defiance of the Word of God.
3. THIS MIXED MARRIAGE OF ESAU MISSED OUT ON THE BEST.
i] It missed out on the purpose of marriage. The view of marriage common in our world today, and the Bible’s view of marriage are very different. Scripture sees marriage in an extraordinary and mind-blowing way. You would not expect this, but marriage according to the New Testament, is a picture of the intimacy of God the Son with the people he’s redeemed who are going to be for ever with him. They are his bride, and he is their bridegroom. Here is a miniature masterpiece; see this portrait of a husband loving his wife so much that he is prepared to lay down his life for her; a wife is adoring, obeying and pleasing her husband in every way; each of them is giving his or her life in the service of God, and their life together as they work and rest and love and weep and rejoice shows to everyone looking on – especially their children – what the love of God the Son is like, and how his own redeemed people are favoured and blessed. “And lo, I am with you always even to the end of the world.” What a picture of the loving faithfulness of the Lord to his bride, the church.
Once I took the wedding of a couple of people who were not Christians. She told me that she could make no promise to obey her husband. She couldn’t think at all in those terms. It was a different univer
se, she said, from the one she lived in. She could not make such a public declaration. Her purpose in marriage was not to respond to the love of God the Son by freely submitting to this Lord for eternity and one way of showing this was by obeying her husband. That could not be. She did not know the Lord, so she did not obey the Lord, and so she had no desire to promise to obey her husband. When I marry two Christians henceforth I will say to the bridegroom, “John Smith, have you put your trust in Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour and Lord?” and he will reply, “I have.” And then I will turn to the bride and I will say to her, “Mary Jones, have you put your trust in Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour and Lord?” and she will reply, “I have.” They have believed in their hearts and they will confess with their lips that Christ is their Lord.
ii] It missed out on the goal of marriage. The goal of marriage is harmonious unity, a oneness in a multitude of dimensions between husband and wife. The union of two bodies is the simplest; this reflects and encourages the unity of values and emotions and strengths and service. Primarily in marriage is the union of two never dying souls to glorify and enjoy God throughout their lives and for eternity. They are united in how they spend their money, in the tithe that they both give to the kingdom of God. They are united in how they spend the first day of each week, that it is the Lord’s Day and they say together, “We are not living for our work, or for our children, or for one another. We are living for God, to begin our delight in him now in the Sabbath rest, and be with him for ever.” They are one at the deepest of values and levels. When they argue, and one is thoughtless and hurts the other then it will be the turn of the guilty one to say sorry and also go to the same mercy seat of the same King of Love worshipped by the spouse and confess to him that there’s been a failure of love. They receive the same forgiveness from the same Lord.
None of that is possible when you have different goals. Imagine meeting an old friend on Shrewsbury railway station and he tells you that he going north to Edinburgh. You say, “I am going down to Cornwall. Let’s travel together.” That would be ridiculous, because you are going in different directions. You cannot travel together unless you have the same goal. The Hittite wives had the goal of serving Hittite gods. Esau had the goal of serving the God of Abraham and Isaac. Marriage has the goal of husband and wife together, as one flesh, glorifying and enjoying God.
iii] It missed out on all the varied textures of our walk with God. The Christian life is a growing and varied life. For example, there is a progressive and increasing appreciation of the all-sufficiency of Christ. “Jesus, Jesus, all sufficient, beyond telling is thy worth,” sings the hymnist Pantycelyn. Less than Jesus could not satisfy us; more than Jesus isn’t needed. Our hearts go out to him and him alone as our God; we know that his abundance will supply all our need from the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus; his omnipotence will deliver us; his omnipresence will protect us; his omniscience will guard us; his love will animate us; his mercy will heal us; his grace will support us; his compassion will hold us to his heart; his pity will comfort us; his goodness will warm us; his tenderness will soothe us; his kindness will lift us up; his patience will bear with us; his justice will avenge us; his faithfulness will never let us down; his holiness will beautify us, his sovereignty will humble us; his life will revive us; his light will illuminate our minds his Word will educate us; his joy will delight us; his blessedness will give us peace his long-suffering will lead us to repentance; his immutability will secure the fulfillment of all his promises to us; his truth will be our shield and buckler; his invitations will draw us to him again and again; his covenant mercies will inspire us with gratitude and love. His all-sufficiency will satisfy us both in time and eternity. He is our living God and we know a growing relationship with him. This is the dynamic of the fellowship which exists between our kind and holy Master and every one of his disciples, but what if it is only one spouse in the husband and wife partnership who appreciates God in this way? What a shrinking of a marriage!
Again, think of the failures and sins and convictions that dog every home and even the happiest marriages. The bad days we all have; the silences in the home. For one unbelieving spouse the consequence of temporary estrangements will be satanic accusations coming in the shape of condemnation, a feeling of hopelessness and despair. The one who is without Christ will try to bluff out his guilt and shame, shrug his shoulders, shake it off and try to drown his sorrows. He will not seek God’s forgiveness at all. The cross of Calvary is not planted in his mind. For him there is no fountain that washes away his sins. But for Christian spouses who have fallen badly they will humble themselves; they will confess their sins to their partners and also they will plead for mercy to God; “I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight.” But they have the inner witness of the Spirit that reminds them of the sufficiency and finality of Christ’s shed blood to cleanse away all such sins. It brings the promise of hope and the joy of forgiveness. What a strength to a marriage when both husband and wife have the grace of mercy through the Lamb of God. Their prayers are not hindered. Don’t miss out on the best, when he or she is the prepared gift of God. Don’t snatch at the second best.
However, I must add this, the great truth we must all hold on to is that your situation is not out of God’s control and is known perfectly to God. Your situation as a Christian is numbered amongst those ‘all things’ that God will work for your good. Do not give in to beating yourself up, or despair. Do not resign yourself to a hopeless future. Plead the promises of God. Never forget that there is forgiveness with him even for defiant sins and their self-imposed consequences. Tell God, “I only have myself to blame.” Be honest with God. Tell him you are sorry and seek mercy.
Finally, never forget that God can completely change your situation. Ask God for one thing preeminently, that God will change your own attitude, that he will use this difficult situation to change you yourself, that he will make you a better wife or husband, father or mother. Pray that God will give you the patience, wisdom, love and grace you need to honour him where you are today. So you will commend your God to your spouse, without them hearing the word preached week by week. They will read it in you. Never stop praying for the conversion of your spouse, and never give up hope that God is able to answer your prayers and restore the backslider and give a new heart to the unbeliever. God chastens us, but that is for our good, and the same love that chastens can give us the desire of our hearts and convert our partners. God cares about your marriage and desires to help you. He has measureless resources to make over to you love, patience, kindness, joy, blessing and peace or whatever virtue you need. God delights to forgive, restore and supply our needs. The Lord
’s first miracle was at a wedding, and he can do a miracle of grace today in your marriage.
29th August 2010 GEOFF THOMAS