There are two groups of people in this world, there are firstborns and there are later borns. That’s me, I’m a later born.
My brother is 6 years older than me and it certainly had its benefits when we were growing up. For instance, I had my very own Uber driver, only I didn’t have to pay. And back in the day when he bought the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Mega-Drive with his hard-earned cash, guess who got to play it for free? Mind you, he also got his pound of flesh from me, I didn’t stand a chance when it came to rumbling. He’d make me answer the phone (remember when there was just one landline home phone?) I’d be the one who’d have to go fetch the ball that went under the trees or climb under the bed, where it was all dusty. And of course, being the shorter one, he’d make me wipe the skirting boards when it came to the chores.
You know, there’s been a whole heap of studies done relating to birth order, with the common belief that birth order affects everything from IQ (sorry later borns, firstborns are higher) to personality to behaviour. So firstborns tend to be high achievers, perfectionists, rule keepers and responsible. Middle children are peacemakers, free spirits, competitive and flexible.
The youngest children are charmers, risk-takers, they challenge authority and are outgoing with a greater sense of independence.
Well, today we’re going to meet a family for whom birth order definitely mattered. In fact, there was a heck of a lot more at stake than personality. Romans 4:13 says that Abraham and his offspring after him received a promise to be - and I quote - “heir of the world” Whoa! The stakes don’t get any higher than that! And so it’s no surprise that there’ll be deceit, dysfunction and disobedience. We’re about to meet one messy family!
That’s one of the things I love about the Bible. If you’ve not read much of it then I invite you to take another look. It’s not full of squeaky-clean characters, who get it right all the time. No, it’s honest, it’s raw and it recognises that just like us, these guys stuffed up. Their world is our world, we’re all searching for hope and for forgiveness.
But first, before we see who’s going to claim the throne “heir of the world”, there needs to be a child and ideally at least two children. Abraham has died at the ripe old age of 175. Come Genesis 25:19, just as one chapter closes another one begins. Enter Isaac and his wife Rebekah, upfront we’re told, that just like Abraham and Sarah, this couple is also infertile.
If God’s going to come through on his promise that Abraham will have as many descendants as the stars in the sky then God himself will step in. This isn’t going to happen by sheer human guts and determination. And after Isaac prays, 20 years later, the Lord answers with twin boys! Hooray!
Now I’m sure the mums out there will all agree that any pregnancy is tough. It just dawned on me as I was writing this sermon that my wife, Teresa has spent 9 months x 4 kids. That’s 36 months, that’s 3 years of her life, carrying another life inside her body! And that’s not to mention the sleepless nights, sicknesses and stress that’s come with it! That’s at least another 3 years!
Rebekah’s pregnancy we’re told is particularly rough. Science tells us that twins in the womb start interacting from the age of 14 weeks. Let’s listen in to the sort of interaction Rebekah’s twins were having.
The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” ~Genesis 25:22 (NIV)
The original is more in-your-face, literally, it’s “the children smashed themselves inside her”. There’s a war going on in the womb to the point of Rebekah questioning why she’s even alive. God, you put these twins in my tummy what the heck’s going on? God answers
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.” ~Genesis 25:23 (NIV)
What Rebekah’s feeling is that it’s all God’s fault, you can’t blame bad genes from the parents, instead, God’s the one to blame.
God’s plan is this, both boys will make it out alive and they’ll grow up to be the fathers of nations. Which is true, Jacob was the father of Israel and from Esau came the Edomites. And what’s true in the womb, will continue out of the womb, division, disagreements and deception. The younger one will call the shots.
And sure enough, their entry into the world, even their names reflect this. Esau pops out first and he is one hairy dude. Usually, you see baby pictures and everyone says “Oh look, a full head of hair”. That was Esau, only the hair kept going!! hair all over his body.
No way was this kid Chinese! I could never grow a beard and I’m glad I don’t have to deal with back hair! This kid was definitely Middle Eastern. Then hot on his heels, literally, is Jacob, he pops out with a hand grasping Esau’s heel. His name means deceiver!
Each of my kids, more than once, have asked me, usually in a moment of weakness like when I’m about to doze off or when I’m distracted in the kitchen or driving along the M4. “Daddy am I your favourite child?” Any other parent here been asked that?
So far I’ve managed to cotton on to their ploy and my answer is always very diplomatic. To my only boy, I say: “You’re my favourite SON” and to the youngest girl, I say: “Absolutely, you’re my favourite 7-year-old in the whole wide world”
Well, there’s no diplomacy when it comes to Isaac and Rebekah, what you see is what you get.
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. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. ~Genesis 25:27-28 (NIV)
Esau is daddy’s boy and Jacob is mummy’s boy.
The stage is set for one dysfunctional family. Here’s the gunpowder and there’s the matches. The fireworks are about to go off! Over a tussle between birthrights and blessing.
Now along the way, I’m going to point out two small lessons, but that’s nothing compared to the really big lesson which we’ll come to at the end.
Lesson 1: Satisfying your senses is not your highest priority.
Sure enough what was true IN the womb. The niggling, the jostling and the grabbing ends up being true OUTSIDE the womb too. Only with Jacob and Esau - this sibling rivalry is taken to a whole new level!
Take the things that my kids fight over, things like, why does one child get to have a sleepover? Why does my sister get more screentime? Why does he get a more expensive bubble tea?
Jacob has got bigger ambitions, he’s got his sights set on Esau’s birthright.
Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” ~Genesis 25:29-31 (NIV)
Now in the ancient world, if you were the first male out of the womb, and that meant special privileges: a larger inheritance, a bigger blessing, family leadership and an honoured place at mealtimes, this was your birthright. As you can imagine, it’d be PRETTY hard for someone to steal your birthright, either you popped out first or you didn’t. Well, that didn’t stop Jacob from trying!
And so here you’ve got Esau, not only is he the eldest but he’s the eldest in a family and hand-picked by God himself! No other person on the face of the earth could make this claim! Yet how does he treat this privilege? Two words: like rubbish. Esau’s more interested in having a full belly instead of treasuring the very thing that made him unique. Guaranteed the next day, he would have woken up hungry again!
Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left… ~Genesis 25:34 (NIV)
Notice how matter of fact it’s described to us. Esau ate. Esau drank. Esau got up and left. Bang. Bang. Bang. The writer is deliberately trying to convey how flippant Esau was, how blasé he was about the whole thing, he couldn’t care less. Esau’s highest priority is feeling good right now.
Esau not only rejected his birthright.
...So Esau despised his birthright. ~Genesis 25:34 (NIV)
Esau had never heard of something called delayed gratification. He’d only heard of instant gratification. Right here. Right now. I want it now. I must have it now. Mind you, we can’t just point the finger at Esau, can we?
Look, there are times where I get it, we don’t deliberately do it, but we can so easily get fixated on the here and now because stuff and life just happens. Bills need to be paid, repairs need to get done, work deadlines pop up, relationships get messy or we get sick. And then when we’ve got a spare moment or two, we resort to temporary pleasures that kind of help us to escape all the mundane.
For me, I’ve realised that one of my weak spots is Facebook Marketplace. What often begins by just looking for one thing, like a kids bike escalates to, oh, gee - I’d like that home gym or how cool would it be to buy a motorhome! Facebook’s algorithm is so good at just luring me towards other things, other stuff I don’t need, other stuff I didn’t go looking for, but stuff that makes me think, oh yeah, it’d be cool to have that.
Or ‘Teresa, I think we really do need an Xbox, look it’ll even play DVDs!’
Lesson 2: Let God be God
Fast forward to Genesis 27, Isaac’s nearing the end, his eyesight’s starting to go and the time has now come to pass on God’s blessing to his son. Now Isaac’s known all along, right from the get-go, from when they were in the womb, that God had chosen Jacob instead of his preferred hairy, macho, game-hunting Esau. Jacob was already handpicked by God, announced while they were in the womb, to be next in line for God’s special blessing. But that didn’t stop his dad from having a crack.
Isaac goes against God’s plan. He wants to go his way rather than God’s way. Well, we know how that’s going to end... not a chance! And so what plays out in Chapter 27 is not so much twin versus twin but husband versus wife, mum versus dad with the kids caught in the middle.
It begins when Isaac pulls Esau aside.
Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.” ~Genesis 27:4 (NIV)
What is it with Isaac and Esau? all they can do is think with their stomachs, like father, like son! Isaac is so desperate that his entire soul wants to pass his blessing onto Esau. But Rebekah catches wind of her husband’s plan.
Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the LORD before I die.’ ~Genesis 27:6-7 (NIV)
Rebekah puts her favourite son, Jacob, to work. Fetch me some goats from out back and I’ll whip them up the way my hubby likes it. Rebekah’s smart, she knows the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. It certainly is for me! I’ve always said forget words of affirmation, forget gifts; food is my love language.
But probably the most cunning thing Rebekah does is still to come but the plan hits a snag.
Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.” ~Genesis 27:11-12 (NIV)
Take a listen to what mum says next.
His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.” ~Genesis 27:13 (NIV)
Hang on - what did she say? We’ve already heard how Isaac - how with every fibre of his being - how he wanted to give Esau his blessing with his entire soul. That’s now matched by Rebekah. She’s willing to cop her son’s curse, to let it fall on her! Husband and wife are definitely not on the same page here! As they use their children as pawns in a chess game.
Rebekah will even go to the lengths of giving Esau’s clothes, his best clothes! to Jacob, not only will Jacob look like Esau but he’ll smell like him too! But the costume design still isn’t complete, to solve the smooth skin problem, Rebekah has saved some of the goatskin which she whacks on Jacob’s neck. She shoves a plate of stew in his hands and sends him off to feed his dad. Rebekah’s plan is nearly complete, there’s just one more hurdle. Actually selling it to her husband! For that to happen, Jacob has to lie, not once, not twice but three times.
To Isaac’s question, “Is it you Esau”, Jacob answers
…“I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” ~Genesis 27:19 (NIV)
To Isaac’s question, how did you get this food so quickly? Jacob’s response
“The LORD your God gave me success,” ~Genesis 27:20 (NIV)
Errrrrr…… Flat out lie. Jacob brings God into this when this was Rebekah’s conniving plan all along. Isaac asks one more time, the voice is Jacob’s, but the hands are hairy like Esau’s.
“Are you really my son Esau?” he asked. “I am,” he replied. ~Genesis 27:24 (NIV)
And with that, Isaac is fooled into thinking he’s talking to Esau and poetically and passionately he hands over his blessing.
…“Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed. ~Genesis 27:27 (NIV)
And then thinking he’s managed to out-do God by overturning the earlier prophecy to Rebekah while the twins are in the womb. Isaac passionately blurts out:
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. ~Genesis 27:29 (NIV)
Jacob has successfully managed to pull, not the wool, but the goatskin over his father's eyes! This sad episode of events points to one thing and one thing only. A failure to let God be God.
First, there’s the failure to let God work things out in His timing.
Jacob knows he’ll eventually receive God’s blessing but he just wants it on his terms.
Second, Rebekah just can’t help herself, she jumps in to do the work of the Holy Spirit!
Third, Rebekah somehow justifies that because she’s nudging God’s will along. Bringing it to fruition as if that somehow excuses her dodgy behaviour. And Isaac, he’s got the guts to take God on and try to reverse which son will get his blessing.
Main lesson: God will come good on his promises.
Sure he may not do it when WE want him to but he WILL do it.
No ifs, no buts. He’s not going to let poor eyesight or a love of venison or one chaotic family get in the way.
Is this not a rebuke for all the times we’ve tried to take matters into our own hands? Or when we’ve tried to force God’s hand to achieve an outcome instead of letting God be God.
Let me share with you two areas where I’m trying to let God be God. First with the launch of MBM Parramatta, as we’re making decisions, as we’re day-dreaming about what church might and could look like. As a launch team, we’ve got our hopes and dreams and it’s exciting! But in amongst that, I need to rest on the promise that Jesus is building his church not Dan Lee. He’s committed to building it more than I am!
And second, I need to let God be God when it comes to parenting! Oh man, as a parent, I can so identify with Rebekah. Rebekah was the first helicopter parent and she won’t be the last. She so hovers over one son, whilst totally neglecting the other. When it comes to my kids, I so often find myself protecting them and shielding them. Yes, it’s a natural thing to want what’s best for your kids but there’s a line you can cross in wanting it too much.
Dan - resist the urge to step in and play God to my kids! Where I think as long as they go to the right school, that I give them the best opportunities. Sport. Music. That I try to make sure they hang around the right kids. I’m facing it now as a parent of a high-schooler, she’s navigating her own new world of independence, catching the train to school, having a phone and making decisions for herself.
If you’re like me, prone to try to control everything, to micro-manage the inputs so that the right outputs come about then the word for you and I is this.
Trust that God’s got it sorted.
That he doesn’t need our help to bump things along. He’s come through on all his other promises.
I’m pretty sure, he’s capable of coming through on the remaining ones. It’s as clichéd as that. But it’s as difficult as that!
Well, there’s been plenty of incidental lessons we’ve picked up along the way as we’ve traced Isaac’s family but none of those things are the main point of the story. So what is the main point? It’s this, God commits to messy people to show that his purposes WILL not and CAN not be thwarted.
Is Isaac’s family not one messed up family?! Lies. Deceit. Stealing. Cheating. Rivalry. Jealousy. Favouritism. These are everyday norms in this household. And yet, despite all that messiness. All that ugliness. God’s still committed to NOT breaking his promise.
Whereas we might be tempted to give up and to stay away from a family like this. God’s got other plans, He doesn’t give up on the line of Abraham just because there’s some disobedience. Some deceit. Some dysfunctional characters. It’s messy. Our God loves to work in and through the mess. It doesn’t take him by surprise. In fact, he uses the mess. The messiness of one hand-picked family, to bring about his promises.
Take Isaac, not exactly the pin-up boy celebrity, that you’re going to ask for his autograph when you meet him in heaven.
Unlike a good red wine, it seems as if he gets worse with age and I don’t mean physically. His commitment to God’s promises seems to fade over time. Let that be a warning to us, we want our best days as Christians to be ahead of us, not behind us.
Take Rebekah, we love her proactiveness but she’s not exactly the model of trusting God wholeheartedly is she? There are no shortcuts when it comes to godliness.
Take Jacob, we wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him!
'Deceiver' isn’t his middle name it’s his first name and boy does he live up to it.
Take Esau, he shoves his God-given birthright down the toilet.
Gee, you put each person side by side, next to each other and it’s a wonder God even chose them in the first place.
Chatting with Teresa, she’s a firstborn, I asked her how she felt about Esau missing out. She said “typical, younger kids always get away with it. Jacob doesn’t get punished at all. He totally went about it the wrong way.
It got me thinking, we often sing of God’s amazing grace but very rarely do we speak of God’s offensive grace. God’s scandalous grace, which this story of Jacob and Esau is all about.
God chooses who he chooses. He has mercy on who he has mercy. Listen carefully to how Romans 9 quotes Genesis 25.23
Yet, before the twins (that’s Esau and Jacob) were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” ~Romans 9:11-12 (NIV)
Does that not affirm that God has the right to call the shots or what? While they were in the womb, before Jacob deceived and Esau was off hunting deer. God chose.
Look, every Christian believes that they choose God and God chooses them. It’s just that some people think that God chose them because He knew I was already going to choose him. It’s back to front because that makes God sound passive. Well, this verse knocks that on the head, God is entirely on the front foot, He makes the decision. And I for one, am so thankful that it’s not on the basis of what I’ve done outside the womb! Because if God only accepted me on the basis of what I’ve done outside of the womb than man I’d be in big trouble! And I suspect you would be too.
No - God only accepts you and I on the basis of what another, what someone else, in our place has done outside the womb, the Lord Jesus.
In the Lord Jesus, we have one who is like us, who breathes the same air as us, who faces the same issues as us. Without the mess, without the stuff-ups. And yet he willingly dies in our place to pay for every stupid and selfish action of Isaac. Every conniving and deceitful scheme of Jacob. Every manipulative move of Rebekah. Along with all the other messed up things you and I bring to the table.
So, come, firstborns, later borns. Come middle children. Come youngest children. Come all you perfectionists. Come all you competitive. Come all you free spirits. Come all you rebellious spirits. God wants you to be part of his forever family. A family that has been purchased by the blood of his one and only Son.
A family that out of love, was hand-picked before the creation of the world.