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Gen. 25:19 These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son.
Here we Introduce a new chapter in the book of Genesis, one that will focus on the household of Issac. While Isaac’s name is on the chapter heading, he moves backstage as the action is focused on the conflict between his two sons, Jacob and Esau.
After that beautiful story we looked at last week about Issac and Rebekah finding one another, we are told next to nothing about their next 20 years of marriage - only that (in verse 21) “And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren.” Like Sarah before her and her daughter-in-law Rachel after her, Rebekah also struggles to bear children. Yet the Bible doesn’t focus in on Rebekah’s infertility but only to say that in response to Issac’s prayer Rebekah does in fact conceive, and here is where the struggles begin. Literally.
Verse 22: The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.
The Hebrew literally says, “the children smashed themselves inside of her.” “The verb "is most frequently used figuratively of the oppression of the poor. Literally, it is used to describe skulls being smashed or reeds being broken. The use of such a term here vividly indicates the violence of the struggle within Rebekah’s womb.”
Ouch. To the degree in which she says “If it is like this, why am I here?” The pregnancy is so painful that she wonders if there is any point going on living. And so she goes on to inquire of the Lord - again, “the idiom employed means to seek divine guidance in a moment of great perplexity and anguish.” (JPS Torah Commentary). God’s answer is that this struggle, this crashing against one another, is not going to end after they depart the womb, in fact, the Lord tells her that the struggle is not going to only be throughout their lifetime, but that the struggle she is experiencing within her will go on for generations. “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” Now, we’ll come back to these words, for they are very important. Rebekah is not only told that the rivalry of her sons will continue, but also that the younger will gain the upper hand. And so, when it comes time to give birth to the twins, no when is surprised when the second child emerges clutching hold of the heel of the firstborn. They name the older son, Esau, and nickname him Edom, meaning “red” for his reddish complexion and hair. The second son, however, is named “Jacob” a play on the word “heel” as in “he takes by the heel”, or less idiomatically, “cheater”, “usurper”. This name will stick with Jacob “heel-grabber” and as we will see, is an apt description of his character for most of his life. And so the boys grow up:
Gen. 25:27 “Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Helpfully, Hollywood has recently made a movie about the two young men, so you can kind of visually get a picture of them.
You didn’t see that movie? It was pretty popular. Its a pretty good parallel; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel wasn’t intentional about the parallels. Esau, like Thor, is the favoured son of his father, strong, rugged and skilled. A man of the wild. Jacob is Loki, favoured of his mother, a quiet, internal man, yet a trickster, a deceiver, a heel-grabber. And can’t you just get a picture of Jacob as Loki in the following story? Esau comes in from the field, completely exhausted.
30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Isn’t that something Loki would do? Wait until he had his brother in a compromised position, and take advantage of him, selling him a bowl of soup for the privileged position in the family? The birthright was the firstborn’s sons claim to a place of “especial esteem in Israel; he was regarded as the first fruits of his father’s strength and dedicated to God. He was in turn specially privileged during his lifetime and when the inheritance was divided up. Deut 21:17 provides that the firstborn shall receive a double share, that is, twice as much as any other brother, of his father’s property.
As I said to the children, this was not just the first-born privilege of any family, for to this family had been given the very special promises of God, to be passed down through the generations. And so as much as we are to see Jacob as a cheater in this exchange, Esau comes off just as bad, for he exchanged God’s promises for a bowl of soup. Esau’s guilt is indicated in Hebrews 12:16 which warns us to see to it “that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.”
And if this were the only story of the two sons, we might be justified in thinking that, as bad as Jacob is in his trickery, Esau was worse in his neglect of God’s privileges. However, as we continue through the next few chapters, Jacob continues his deceitful ways, and usurps Esau’s position again. Which leads us to an uncomfortable reality:
An Uncomfortable Reality: God not only chooses Jacob the deceiver, but brings about his purposes through Jacob’s deceit.
This is a little deep for early in the morning on Canada Day. So let me break it down for you. When you watch the movie Thor, its called Thor, because Thor is the hero. When Loki uses deceit to usurp Thor’s position as heir to the throne, we understand that Loki is the villain. And we know that while Loki may steal the throne for a period of time, he can’t remain king, because that wouldn’t be fair. It would violate everything we’ve been taught about the morality of storytelling and heroes and villains. Loki can’t win. Thor must win. Yet in this story, Jacob wins. And not just in this episode with the soup, but he actually is the chosen son through whom God will execute his purposes. God not only chooses Jacob in spite of his deceitful character, but brings about his purposes through Jacob’s deceit. Which brings us to one of the most difficult verses of the Bible, found in Malachi 1:2-3 and referenced again in Roman’s 9:
Rom. 9:6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
In this passage, Paul is speaking about the difficult doctrine of election. He is specifically answering the objection that although God made his promises to Israel, not everyone descended from Israel experiences salvation through those promises. Why not? Well Paul’s answer in short, begins with the doctrine of election.
Paul’s first example begins, not with Jacob and Esau, but with Issac and Ismael. While both were offspring of Abraham, Paul notes that Genesis says that it will be only through Isaac that the “offspring will be named”, or as Paul says, God makes a distinction through which he indicates that only the children of the promise are counted as Abraham’s true offspring. This is the doctrine of election - that God makes a distinction and chooses who are reckoned as the sons of Abraham. Now naturally we might ask, on what basis does God make his choice? If we only were to consider Issac and Ishmael, we might come to the faulty conclusion that God chooses on the basis of ethnicity or nationality, for Isaac was born through Abraham’s wife Sarah, while Ismael was born through Hagar the Egyptian. Or we may come to the equally faulty conclusion, that Isaac was chosen by virtue of the morality of his parentage, as Sarah was Abraham’s wife by marriage, while Hagar was taken through exploitation. Or we might think, since Ismael was already 14 when Issac was born, perhaps there was something in his character which led God to reject him and elect his brother. This makes sense, because this is how we would choose. However, this is why both Moses and Paul emphasize the doctrine of election in the distinction between Jacob and Esau.
Unlike Isaac and Ishmael, they were true brothers, so there was no ethnic or familial distinction, nothing in there parentage as to why God might choose one over the other.
God made his choice before either of them were born, and so obviously the point is, before either of them had done nothing either good or bad. Jacob’s claim to be heir to the divine promises rests solely upon God’s predetermination, and not upon the character of either Jacob or Esau.
Additionally, as we see in Genesis, it had nothing at all to do with parental preference, or birth order, or any other thing, but solely upon the call and the wisdom of God, who surprising chooses Jacob, the second-born, the heel-grabber, as the son of the promise.
And so, coming back to Paul’s main point, not everyone to whom belongs the promises actually is a child of the promise: or as he puts it, not all who are descended from Israel, belong to Israel.
Now we wrestle with this doctrine of election, and we believe it because it is in the Bible, but let me explain why election is a hopeful doctrine:
The Elect Are Generally Secret: God’s disclosure of his election of Jacob over Esau is the exception in scripture. In nearly every other case, God does not reveal to us who are the elect. Since we don’t know who are the elect, it means that anyone, no matter how Loki-like they are, may be of those who will respond to the Gospel in repentance and faith. Jacob was a deceiver, Moses a murderer, David an adulterous murderer, Paul a persecutor. Yet each was chosen by God to salvation.
Election is Evidenced Not in a Moment, but in a Lifetime: The doctrine of election reminds us that although God new us before we were born, we might not know him until the end of our life, and we are no more or less elect for it. If you took a snapshot of Judas’ and Peter’s life at the moment of their betrayal, they would look nearly identical. Yet Judas was lost and Peter restored. Jacob does not remain Loki forever, but is given a new name after being called by God’s grace, Israel.
Apart from God’s Grace in Election, None Will Be Saved. Here’s the truth about the life of Jacob and Esau - neither one of them possessed the righteousness required for salvation. Jacob was a deceiver like Loki, but Esau was no hero like Thor. Apart from God’s grace in election, none could be saved. Charles Spurgeoun once said, “I'm so glad that God chose me before the foundation of the world, because he never would have chosen me after I was born!"
God Will Save the Elect: Because the doctrine of election places the efficacy of salvation entirely into God’s hands, we can trust that God will save the elect, even if they are unborn, even if they die in infancy, even if they cannot comprehend the gospel, even if they are born in a place in the world without a gospel witness, even if they wander from the faith. Our prayer that God may save any of the above categories, demonstrates the reality of the truth that God will save the elect. I say “will save” - that’s an important point
The Biblical Doctrine of Election Does Not Override Human Responsibility. Election does not obliterate human responsibility. Each person is held responsible before Almighty God as to what they will do with his Son.
Acts 13:48 “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
This is not a truth that applies only to those coming to faith, but also to those in the faith.
2 Peter 1:10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Election is not just to salvation, but to sanctification and glorification. In other words, those whom God has chosen are chosen not just to be saved, but also to be sanctified. Romans 8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.