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The Books of Ishmael and Isaac

The Covenant Continues (The Life of Isaac)

Part IV

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jul 25, 1999

Genesis 25:12-34

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Genesis 25:12-34

The Books of Ishmael and Isaac

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis, chapter 25. The last time we were together we looked at the story of the death of Abraham. It came in the midst of the story of Isaac having already begun. And today we continue by seeing the genealogies of Abraham's sons, Ishmael and Isaac, and also a very interesting story in the very beginnings of the life of Jacob and Esau. It's a portent of things to come. So let's attend to God's holy word here in Genesis 25:

Genesis 25:12-34

Heavenly Father, we have heard parts of this passage from our youth. Perhaps countless lessons have been taught to us from it. We praise you for that. We do ask that you would give us hearing ears and seeing eyes as we come before Your word this night. Teach us truth for the living of these days by Your Spirit as He bears witness in our hearts to the truth of the word. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

This passage falls into three parts. From verse 12 to verse 18 we have an accounting of Ishmael's line. This perhaps is a natural place for this to occur because Moses has just told us in the previous verses that Ishmael was there for the funeral of Abraham, so immediately pops into our mind, I wonder whatever happened to Ishmael. I wonder about his descendants. And so Moses at this very point interjects some information about Ishmael, and we’ll look at that in just a few moments. A

And then as you look at verses 19 through 26, you see an account of the line of Isaac, the son of promise. He is listed after Ishmael in an order of climax as well as an order of age. And we are told about Isaac going through the same kinds of struggles that Abraham and Sarah had to go through in waiting for the fulfillment of God's promises for a family.

And then as you look at verses 27 through 34, Moses cannot resist telling you a little bit about Jacob and Esau, even though he's going to go right back to Isaac when you get to the next chapter. He's giving you a little foretaste of what is to come in the course of the history of Jacob and Esau. And the reason he does this is because in that middle section, in verses 19 through 26 God has told you something about His divine, His sovereign, His providential, His electing purposes that lets you know that the course of these men's lives have been meted about by the decree of God. And so Moses wants to tell you something about that now and see how even in the beginning of their lives there were certain character traits that were already very apparent in both of these men. Let's look at these three sections of this great passage together tonight.

I. God's promise to Abraham fulfilled regarding Ishmael.

First, we’ll begin with verses 12 through 18. Here God fulfills His promise to Ishmael. Actually, His promise to Abraham about Ishmael. You remember that Abraham had struggled long and hard before he settled with agreeing with God's determination to have Isaac as the son of promise. Over and over he begged that the Lord would bless Ishmael. And finally, in Genesis 16:20, God said to Abraham that He would indeed bless Ishmael, but He would bless him with temporal blessings. And here in verses 12 through 18 we see that God was faithful to fulfill His promises. And so even as God fulfills His promises to Abraham in Ishmael, we learn an important lesson. And that lesson is this: God is always faithful to fulfill His promises, but not all of God's blessings, not all of God's promises are saving blessings. Ishmael received the promises of God, but the passage itself reminds us that Ishmael is not part of the line of the covenant by his own choice. Look together at these verses. In the wake of Abraham's death, we are reminded of God's faithfulness to make Ishmael a father of princes and a great nation. Turn back to Genesis 17:20 and you can see this promise. Abraham has said in verse 18 of Genesis 17, “O that Ishmael might live before you.” And God has said no, Isaac is going to be the son of promise. And then in verse 20 of Genesis 17, the Lord says, “As for Ishmael, I have heard you and behold I will bless him and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly, and he will become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.” And so Moses goes out of his way to let you know that God had done exactly what He said He was going to do. He's made Ishmael a great nation, and he was the father of twelve princes. He tells you a little bit about their territories, a little bit about their cities, and he gives you their names. So to show us that God is faithful to His promise, Ishmael is mentioned first in the passage. This is natural. He was the first born of Abraham, and so he's mentioned first. But there's a little irony there. Even though he's the eldest, he's not the son of promise. And so the passage begins with the eldest. Where you might think it might end with the eldest as the climax of the blessings, it begins with the eldest and moves to the younger, because the youngest son, Isaac, is the son of promise.

The climax of this passage here in Genesis 25 is with Isaac. And so, not for the first time in Genesis, and certainly not for the last, the younger son is chosen by God to represent and lead the line of promise. Isaac would be the one through whom the promises of Abraham would come to fruition. We are told again, if you look at verse 18, that Ishmael settled in defiance against all his relatives, even the sons of Keturah. Apparently he had no relationship with. Ishmael separated himself from his brethren. He lived in their face, to the east somewhere. This again is part of God's providential plan to make sure that Isaac is the clear claimant to all the inheritances of the land. And yet this is an estrangement from which we never see a healing in the scriptures. This is the last time that we ever hear of Ishmael in the Bible. And so the last word is that he settled in defiance against all his relatives.

God was faithful to fulfill his promises to Ishmael, but those promises were not saving promises. They were not saving blessings. And we're going to see several times in the book of Genesis blessings pronounced which really do come true but which do not entail salvation. We’re going to see this in the life of Esau, and it's a sad thing. And it reminds us that people can love the gifts of God more than God himself. Or they can love the gifts of God instead of God himself. This was apparently the case with Ishmael. It was clearly the case with Esau. In fact, it's a little bit ironic, isn't it, that Genesis 26:12 through 18 begins with the story of Ishmael, and then tells us about a very similar man at the end of the chapter. This man Esau. And so we see that God is always faithful to fulfill His promises, but not all of His blessings are saving blessings. They may be true blessings, but not saving blessings. And Ishmael was the recipient of one of those true blessings which wasn't a saving blessing.

II. God tests the faith of Isaac and Rebekah.

Then if you look at verses 19 through 26 you see another phase of this story. Here, God tests the faith of Isaac and Rebekah just like He had tested the faith of Abraham and Sarah before, and He indicates specifically to Rebekah His surprising, electing purposes for Jacob. And we learn in this passage, in no uncertain terms, that God's ways are not our ways.

Everything about this middle passage is surprising. Everything about this middle passage takes us off guard. Let's walk through it. It really has three parts to it. The middle passage has verses 19 through 21 that tell about the testing of Isaac and Rebekah's faith. And then in verses 22 and 23 you have the story of Rebekah's uneasiness in her seeking the Lord for an answer as to why she feels this anxiety about these two children that are going to be born. And then in verses 24 through 26 we see as it were a portent of things to come in the description of these boys at birth. Let's look at each of these sections and see what there is to learn.

First, in verses 19 through 21, we see a test for the faith of Isaac and Rebekah. When you read in verse 20 that Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah. You not only think well that's similar to patterns that you see elsewhere in the book of Genesis where God tells us the ages of people when they married or when they bore children. Immediately implanted in the back of your mind is I wonder why Moses told me that. And in verse 21 you find out. You find out that though Isaac married when he was forty, Rebekah was unable to have children. And in verse 26 you are told that it's twenty years before this couple is able to conceive. And so immediately Moses keys you in with this information. He has shared it for a reason, and this reason is for the showing of us of the test that Isaac and Rebekah had to endure. Just like Abraham and Sarah, they were called upon to trust in the Lord when apparently there was going to be no answer. It seems like this line of promise was a dead-end line. It seemed like it would never come about.

And then in verses 22 and 23 we see God blessing Rebekah not only with a child, not only with a son, but with two of them. The Lord often answers our prayers beyond our asking. She will have twin sons, but she is filled with anxiety. Look at her words. We are told the children struggled together within her, verse 22. And she said if it is so, why then am I this way? Basically that passage translates with Rebekah saying, “Why me?” Lord, you've finally enabled me to have children and now I am filled with anxiety and foreboding. I don't know whether these boys were particularly active within her, but for whatever reason Rebekah felt very uneasy about the birth of these boys. And she cries out to God, “Why me?” But she doesn't stop there. She seeks the Lord in prayer, and she inquires of Him and He reveals to her some of His plans for these boys.

And look again what He says in verse 23. Two nations are in your womb. You've got twins, Rebekah. Two nations are in your womb. And two peoples will be separated from your body. So you’re not just going to be a mother of a nation, you’re going to be a mother of two nations. The intimation already is that these are going to be two distinct nations, even the use of the words “separated from your womb” tend to emphasize the division between these two sons. He goes on to say one people shall be stronger than the other. And, of course, you might think that that's a reference to Esau, the strong one. It's not. It's a reference to Jacob and the children of Israel, who throughout the history of Israel, beat up on Edom. David beat the Edomites, Amaziah beat the Edomites, John beat the Edomites. They were the perennial whipping boys of the Israelites. Anytime the Israelites needed a good victory in battle, you could always count on the Edomites, and they would defeat them.

And we are told also in verse 23 the older shall serve the younger. And this again is a surprising providence of God. Verses 19 through 21, you have the surprising wait for the conception of Rebekah. And then in verses 22 and 23, you have this surprising plan where again the younger son is going to be the one who is going to be the leader of the family. He's going to be one who eventually inherits the birthright. He's going to be one who receives the blessing of his father. Now the apostle Paul says this is a very, very significant thing.

Now I'd like you to turn with me to Romans 9 to see what Paul says about this particular event. This event, in fact, is a visual picture of the doctrine of election. Now you may have friends who don't like the doctrine of election. You may not even like the doctrine of election, but there is no question that what is being taught here in Genesis 25 is, in fact, the doctrine of election. And the apostle Paul makes it clear in Romans, chapter 9, and if you’ll look back in verse 6 you’ll see the context in which Paul is saying this. Paul is talking about the fact that many Israelites have rejected the Messiah. God has sent the Lord Jesus, the Messiah and many Israelites have rejected him. Many Jews have rejected the Messiah. And Paul says in verse 6, "it is not as though the word of God has failed, or they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." When somebody says to Paul: Paul, God's promises have failed. He has said He was going to save His people by the Messiah, and look at all these Jews who have rejected the Messiah? Paul's response is, 'Let me tell you something. Not all Israel is Israel. Not everyone who is physically descended from Abraham is actually a child of Abraham.'

And then the apostle Paul begins to stack up evidence for that particular assertion. He says, look at verse 7: “Neither are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants. But through Isaac your descendants will be named. That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is a word of promise - AT THIS TIME I WILL COME AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.” So in verse 9, he says this was the case with the birth of Isaac. It was not Ishmael who was going to be the son of promise through Hagar, it was going to be Isaac through Sarah. Sarah will bear a son.

And then he goes on, verse 10: “And not only this, but there was Rebekah also when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose according to his choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.’” You see what Paul is saying there; Paul is saying that the reason it was said to her that the older would serve the younger is to prove that the purposes of God would stand. His electing purposes that He has chosen Jacob and not Esau. Not that's just Paul. That's not Calvin. That's not Knox. That's not even Hodge, Berkhof or Warfield. That's just Paul. And so Paul makes it clear that God's election was active in this circumstance. And so we're going to learn something very important about that when we see the next section here in Genesis 25. But hold that thought in mind. Paul is telling us that the story of Jacob and Esau is a picture of God's electing work.

And then finally if you look at verses 24 through 26 in this middle section, you see that the differences between Esau and Jacob at birth were a portent of things to come. Just like their struggles in the womb let Rebekah know that something was going on. Even the name and the characteristics of these boys when they were born let us know that something was up. Esau comes forth red, and we see a parallel with this and the fact that he is called Edom or red when he goes after the lentil soup, which has a reddish color to it. So there's a lot of symbolism in the particular description of him when he's born. And we're told specifically in verse 26 that Jacob is born holding on to his twin brother's heel. And this is going to play in Jacob's name, which is a name that basically means “may God be at your heels.” If we were going to translate that in a more understandable way, we might say may God be your rear guard. May God be the one who's watching your back all through your life. But the word is a play on words and it can actually refer to Jacob's conniving tendency to supplant and to trip up. So there's a double entendre in the name, even in Jacob's name, and so we learn differences about these boys, even at birth.

III. God's electing purposes displayed in Esau and Isaac.

Now, in verses 27 through 34, we see God's electing purposes work themselves out in the lives of these young men. And so even as we learn in verses 19 through 26 that God's ways are not our ways, we learn in verses 27 through 34 that our choices and our methods display our hearts. If you want to see a person's heart look at their choices; look at their priorities and look at how they accomplish what they set out to accomplish.

Here in this passage we see Esau and Jacob's character displayed in the choices that they make and the message that they use. And let me say that it's not a pretty picture for either of them. Nobody comes out smelling like a rose in Geneses 25, verses 27 through 34, as God reveals the character of Jacob and Esau in the birthright incident. These are two very different men. Esau is a hunter and a man of the field, and we're told in verse 27 that Jacob was a peaceful man, or a plain man who lived in tents. By the way is not saying that Jacob was a sissy. A lot people interpret it that way, you know. Esau, hairy; Jacob, smooth. Esau in field; Jacob cooking. Esau, man; Jacob, sissy. Okay, that's not the picture. Jacob was a cattleman, just like his father and his grandfather. Ever known any sissy cattlemen in your time? Don't go up Starkville way and make that charge or you’re going to be in trouble. Jacob was not a sissy man, but he did take a more traditional role than Esau did. He was a man of the tents. It meant that he was probably the man of business in the house. He was the one who was doing engagements in terms of the business transactions with their people with whom they traded or did other kinds of business. He was the one who aspired to spiritual leadership amongst the family. He took a more traditional role, whereas Esau didn't like that; he would have rather been out hunting somewhere. So it's not a contrast between one man who's manly and another man who's sissy. Although it's very clear that one man is not concerned about the traditional responsibilities of taking leadership in the household and the other man wants it so bad that he's willing to cheat and deceive to get it. That's the contrast between these two men. It's a character picture that we're seeing here. And it's not a pretty picture in either of them, very frankly. Although we appreciate the fact that Jacob recognizes the importance of this role, we're disappointed in the fact that he seems willing to lie to his own father and to cheat his own brother in order to achieve the role. And so what we're seeing here is Moses displaying for us a picture of these two men.

And once again, isn't it interesting, the Bible never attempts to cover over the sins of even the great saints. If we were writing the Bible, we’d make it so Abraham had no flaws and Isaac had no flaws and Jacob had no flaws. But God wrote the Bible and by inspiration He tells us the whole biography, warts and all. And it's a testimony, isn't it, to the truthfulness of God's word. If you were going to fabricate a Bible you wouldn't write it the way that it's written. God tells us even the hard things. Now, in this culture, the birthright normally belonged to the first born. It is true that in this culture a birthright could be lost. You remember Reuben lost his birthright because of his sin. So you could lose a birthright. And we also know that you could trade a birthright. We are told, for instance, in other documents that one brother was able to purchase a birthright from his brother for three sheep. These were apparently relatively poor folks of modest means and an adopted brother purchased a birthright from a natural brother for three sheep. Now in comparison with that, men of modest means, think of what Jacob offered for the birthright. He was the son of a very wealthy man. He offered a bowl of soup, not even three sheep. And the thing about it is that Esau takes it. He shows no regard for the birthright. He shows no sense of its significance; no care for it. He just doesn't care. It's part and parcel of the character that Moses has been revealing to us. In this incident there's a commentary on the two men. Esau is a man who does not value the things of God; he does not value the things of the promises; he does not value things of the future. Listen to what Larry Richards says about him: “He was a man who valued the present rather than the future. The material rather than the invisible. The momentary satisfaction of physical desires seemed more important to him than the approval of God. The body, not the spirit, dominated his scale of values.”

Now we who live in a materialistic society ought to be careful about casting stones at Esau. We probably ought to be asking ourselves, have we been tempted to value temporal blessings over eternal blessings and to seek material prosperity before and above spiritual prosperity. This tale is a devotional reminder to us to examine our own hearts.

And then there is Jacob. Jacob, who is deceiving and conniving and grasping, and God is going to take that very characteristic, his tenacity and his ambition, and He is going to whittle it down, and He is going to craft it and turn it and use it for His own purposes. So that finally Jacob will not be a man who strives for himself, for his own agenda and for his own gains, but he will strive with God for God's blessing. And God will take that very vice of Jacob, and He’ll turn it into a virtue by His trying graces.

Now I've said that the third section of this passage is connected to the second section. We said that God chose Jacob before he and Esau were born. And then when we see Jacob and Esau in verses 27 through 34, we see two men, both of whom were sinners. Now this teaches us a lesson, doesn't it. God did not choose Jacob because he was good. Jacob became good because God chose him. And Moses writes it down for you here so that you will learn the lesson of the apostle Paul.

God's choice was so that His grace would triumph, not our works. Jacob's works did not purchase for him the love of God. It was the love of God which crafted Jacob into a man of God after many, many years of trials and tribulations. And so we see here the electing purposes of God working in a man who is very sinful and very unworthy. But who one day will be the prince of God in a man named Israel. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we bow before Your sovereignty and we acknowledge that You are the providential ruler of heaven and earth and You rule our lives. When we have a hard time making sense of what is going on, when our hearts are filled with the anxiety of Rebekah, teach us to seek You in prayer and teach us O Lord, that Your ways are not our ways, and that we ought to be able to trust You, for we ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

Genesis 25:12-34

The Books of Ishmael and Isaac

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis, chapter 25. The last time we were together we looked at the story of the death of Abraham. It came in the midst of the story of Isaac having already begun. And today we continue by seeing the genealogies of Abraham's sons, Ishmael and Isaac, and also a very interesting story in the very beginnings of the life of Jacob and Esau. It's a portent of things to come. So let's attend to God's holy word here in Genesis 25:

Genesis 25:12-34

Heavenly Father, we have heard parts of this passage from our youth. Perhaps countless lessons have been taught to us from it. We praise you for that. We do ask that you would give us hearing ears and seeing eyes as we come before Your word this night. Teach us truth for the living of these days by Your Spirit as He bears witness in our hearts to the truth of the word. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

This passage falls into three parts. From verse 12 to verse 18 we have an accounting of Ishmael's line. This perhaps is a natural place for this to occur because Moses has just told us in the previous verses that Ishmael was there for the funeral of Abraham, so immediately pops into our mind, I wonder whatever happened to Ishmael. I wonder about his descendants. And so Moses at this very point interjects some information about Ishmael, and we’ll look at that in just a few moments. A

And then as you look at verses 19 through 26, you see an account of the line of Isaac, the son of promise. He is listed after Ishmael in an order of climax as well as an order of age. And we are told about Isaac going through the same kinds of struggles that Abraham and Sarah had to go through in waiting for the fulfillment of God's promises for a family.

And then as you look at verses 27 through 34, Moses cannot resist telling you a little bit about Jacob and Esau, even though he's going to go right back to Isaac when you get to the next chapter. He's giving you a little foretaste of what is to come in the course of the history of Jacob and Esau. And the reason he does this is because in that middle section, in verses 19 through 26 God has told you something about His divine, His sovereign, His providential, His electing purposes that lets you know that the course of these men's lives have been meted about by the decree of God. And so Moses wants to tell you something about that now and see how even in the beginning of their lives there were certain character traits that were already very apparent in both of these men. Let's look at these three sections of this great passage together tonight.

I. God's promise to Abraham fulfilled regarding Ishmael.

First, we’ll begin with verses 12 through 18. Here God fulfills His promise to Ishmael. Actually, His promise to Abraham about Ishmael. You remember that Abraham had struggled long and hard before he settled with agreeing with God's determination to have Isaac as the son of promise. Over and over he begged that the Lord would bless Ishmael. And finally, in Genesis 16:20, God said to Abraham that He would indeed bless Ishmael, but He would bless him with temporal blessings. And here in verses 12 through 18 we see that God was faithful to fulfill His promises. And so even as God fulfills His promises to Abraham in Ishmael, we learn an important lesson. And that lesson is this: God is always faithful to fulfill His promises, but not all of God's blessings, not all of God's promises are saving blessings. Ishmael received the promises of God, but the passage itself reminds us that Ishmael is not part of the line of the covenant by his own choice. Look together at these verses. In the wake of Abraham's death, we are reminded of God's faithfulness to make Ishmael a father of princes and a great nation. Turn back to Genesis 17:20 and you can see this promise. Abraham has said in verse 18 of Genesis 17, “O that Ishmael might live before you.” And God has said no, Isaac is going to be the son of promise. And then in verse 20 of Genesis 17, the Lord says, “As for Ishmael, I have heard you and behold I will bless him and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly, and he will become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.” And so Moses goes out of his way to let you know that God had done exactly what He said He was going to do. He's made Ishmael a great nation, and he was the father of twelve princes. He tells you a little bit about their territories, a little bit about their cities, and he gives you their names. So to show us that God is faithful to His promise, Ishmael is mentioned first in the passage. This is natural. He was the first born of Abraham, and so he's mentioned first. But there's a little irony there. Even though he's the eldest, he's not the son of promise. And so the passage begins with the eldest. Where you might think it might end with the eldest as the climax of the blessings, it begins with the eldest and moves to the younger, because the youngest son, Isaac, is the son of promise.

The climax of this passage here in Genesis 25 is with Isaac. And so, not for the first time in Genesis, and certainly not for the last, the younger son is chosen by God to represent and lead the line of promise. Isaac would be the one through whom the promises of Abraham would come to fruition. We are told again, if you look at verse 18, that Ishmael settled in defiance against all his relatives, even the sons of Keturah. Apparently he had no relationship with. Ishmael separated himself from his brethren. He lived in their face, to the east somewhere. This again is part of God's providential plan to make sure that Isaac is the clear claimant to all the inheritances of the land. And yet this is an estrangement from which we never see a healing in the scriptures. This is the last time that we ever hear of Ishmael in the Bible. And so the last word is that he settled in defiance against all his relatives.

God was faithful to fulfill his promises to Ishmael, but those promises were not saving promises. They were not saving blessings. And we're going to see several times in the book of Genesis blessings pronounced which really do come true but which do not entail salvation. We’re going to see this in the life of Esau, and it's a sad thing. And it reminds us that people can love the gifts of God more than God himself. Or they can love the gifts of God instead of God himself. This was apparently the case with Ishmael. It was clearly the case with Esau. In fact, it's a little bit ironic, isn't it, that Genesis 26:12 through 18 begins with the story of Ishmael, and then tells us about a very similar man at the end of the chapter. This man Esau. And so we see that God is always faithful to fulfill His promises, but not all of His blessings are saving blessings. They may be true blessings, but not saving blessings. And Ishmael was the recipient of one of those true blessings which wasn't a saving blessing.

II. God tests the faith of Isaac and Rebekah.

Then if you look at verses 19 through 26 you see another phase of this story. Here, God tests the faith of Isaac and Rebekah just like He had tested the faith of Abraham and Sarah before, and He indicates specifically to Rebekah His surprising, electing purposes for Jacob. And we learn in this passage, in no uncertain terms, that God's ways are not our ways.

Everything about this middle passage is surprising. Everything about this middle passage takes us off guard. Let's walk through it. It really has three parts to it. The middle passage has verses 19 through 21 that tell about the testing of Isaac and Rebekah's faith. And then in verses 22 and 23 you have the story of Rebekah's uneasiness in her seeking the Lord for an answer as to why she feels this anxiety about these two children that are going to be born. And then in verses 24 through 26 we see as it were a portent of things to come in the description of these boys at birth. Let's look at each of these sections and see what there is to learn.

First, in verses 19 through 21, we see a test for the faith of Isaac and Rebekah. When you read in verse 20 that Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah. You not only think well that's similar to patterns that you see elsewhere in the book of Genesis where God tells us the ages of people when they married or when they bore children. Immediately implanted in the back of your mind is I wonder why Moses told me that. And in verse 21 you find out. You find out that though Isaac married when he was forty, Rebekah was unable to have children. And in verse 26 you are told that it's twenty years before this couple is able to conceive. And so immediately Moses keys you in with this information. He has shared it for a reason, and this reason is for the showing of us of the test that Isaac and Rebekah had to endure. Just like Abraham and Sarah, they were called upon to trust in the Lord when apparently there was going to be no answer. It seems like this line of promise was a dead-end line. It seemed like it would never come about.

And then in verses 22 and 23 we see God blessing Rebekah not only with a child, not only with a son, but with two of them. The Lord often answers our prayers beyond our asking. She will have twin sons, but she is filled with anxiety. Look at her words. We are told the children struggled together within her, verse 22. And she said if it is so, why then am I this way? Basically that passage translates with Rebekah saying, “Why me?” Lord, you've finally enabled me to have children and now I am filled with anxiety and foreboding. I don't know whether these boys were particularly active within her, but for whatever reason Rebekah felt very uneasy about the birth of these boys. And she cries out to God, “Why me?” But she doesn't stop there. She seeks the Lord in prayer, and she inquires of Him and He reveals to her some of His plans for these boys.

And look again what He says in verse 23. Two nations are in your womb. You've got twins, Rebekah. Two nations are in your womb. And two peoples will be separated from your body. So you’re not just going to be a mother of a nation, you’re going to be a mother of two nations. The intimation already is that these are going to be two distinct nations, even the use of the words “separated from your womb” tend to emphasize the division between these two sons. He goes on to say one people shall be stronger than the other. And, of course, you might think that that's a reference to Esau, the strong one. It's not. It's a reference to Jacob and the children of Israel, who throughout the history of Israel, beat up on Edom. David beat the Edomites, Amaziah beat the Edomites, John beat the Edomites. They were the perennial whipping boys of the Israelites. Anytime the Israelites needed a good victory in battle, you could always count on the Edomites, and they would defeat them.

And we are told also in verse 23 the older shall serve the younger. And this again is a surprising providence of God. Verses 19 through 21, you have the surprising wait for the conception of Rebekah. And then in verses 22 and 23, you have this surprising plan where again the younger son is going to be the one who is going to be the leader of the family. He's going to be one who eventually inherits the birthright. He's going to be one who receives the blessing of his father. Now the apostle Paul says this is a very, very significant thing.

Now I'd like you to turn with me to Romans 9 to see what Paul says about this particular event. This event, in fact, is a visual picture of the doctrine of election. Now you may have friends who don't like the doctrine of election. You may not even like the doctrine of election, but there is no question that what is being taught here in Genesis 25 is, in fact, the doctrine of election. And the apostle Paul makes it clear in Romans, chapter 9, and if you’ll look back in verse 6 you’ll see the context in which Paul is saying this. Paul is talking about the fact that many Israelites have rejected the Messiah. God has sent the Lord Jesus, the Messiah and many Israelites have rejected him. Many Jews have rejected the Messiah. And Paul says in verse 6, "it is not as though the word of God has failed, or they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." When somebody says to Paul: Paul, God's promises have failed. He has said He was going to save His people by the Messiah, and look at all these Jews who have rejected the Messiah? Paul's response is, 'Let me tell you something. Not all Israel is Israel. Not everyone who is physically descended from Abraham is actually a child of Abraham.'

And then the apostle Paul begins to stack up evidence for that particular assertion. He says, look at verse 7: “Neither are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants. But through Isaac your descendants will be named. That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is a word of promise - AT THIS TIME I WILL COME AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.” So in verse 9, he says this was the case with the birth of Isaac. It was not Ishmael who was going to be the son of promise through Hagar, it was going to be Isaac through Sarah. Sarah will bear a son.

And then he goes on, verse 10: “And not only this, but there was Rebekah also when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose according to his choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.’” You see what Paul is saying there; Paul is saying that the reason it was said to her that the older would serve the younger is to prove that the purposes of God would stand. His electing purposes that He has chosen Jacob and not Esau. Not that's just Paul. That's not Calvin. That's not Knox. That's not even Hodge, Berkhof or Warfield. That's just Paul. And so Paul makes it clear that God's election was active in this circumstance. And so we're going to learn something very important about that when we see the next section here in Genesis 25. But hold that thought in mind. Paul is telling us that the story of Jacob and Esau is a picture of God's electing work.

And then finally if you look at verses 24 through 26 in this middle section, you see that the differences between Esau and Jacob at birth were a portent of things to come. Just like their struggles in the womb let Rebekah know that something was going on. Even the name and the characteristics of these boys when they were born let us know that something was up. Esau comes forth red, and we see a parallel with this and the fact that he is called Edom or red when he goes after the lentil soup, which has a reddish color to it. So there's a lot of symbolism in the particular description of him when he's born. And we're told specifically in verse 26 that Jacob is born holding on to his twin brother's heel. And this is going to play in Jacob's name, which is a name that basically means “may God be at your heels.” If we were going to translate that in a more understandable way, we might say may God be your rear guard. May God be the one who's watching your back all through your life. But the word is a play on words and it can actually refer to Jacob's conniving tendency to supplant and to trip up. So there's a double entendre in the name, even in Jacob's name, and so we learn differences about these boys, even at birth.

III. God's electing purposes displayed in Esau and Isaac.

Now, in verses 27 through 34, we see God's electing purposes work themselves out in the lives of these young men. And so even as we learn in verses 19 through 26 that God's ways are not our ways, we learn in verses 27 through 34 that our choices and our methods display our hearts. If you want to see a person's heart look at their choices; look at their priorities and look at how they accomplish what they set out to accomplish.

Here in this passage we see Esau and Jacob's character displayed in the choices that they make and the message that they use. And let me say that it's not a pretty picture for either of them. Nobody comes out smelling like a rose in Geneses 25, verses 27 through 34, as God reveals the character of Jacob and Esau in the birthright incident. These are two very different men. Esau is a hunter and a man of the field, and we're told in verse 27 that Jacob was a peaceful man, or a plain man who lived in tents. By the way is not saying that Jacob was a sissy. A lot people interpret it that way, you know. Esau, hairy; Jacob, smooth. Esau in field; Jacob cooking. Esau, man; Jacob, sissy. Okay, that's not the picture. Jacob was a cattleman, just like his father and his grandfather. Ever known any sissy cattlemen in your time? Don't go up Starkville way and make that charge or you’re going to be in trouble. Jacob was not a sissy man, but he did take a more traditional role than Esau did. He was a man of the tents. It meant that he was probably the man of business in the house. He was the one who was doing engagements in terms of the business transactions with their people with whom they traded or did other kinds of business. He was the one who aspired to spiritual leadership amongst the family. He took a more traditional role, whereas Esau didn't like that; he would have rather been out hunting somewhere. So it's not a contrast between one man who's manly and another man who's sissy. Although it's very clear that one man is not concerned about the traditional responsibilities of taking leadership in the household and the other man wants it so bad that he's willing to cheat and deceive to get it. That's the contrast between these two men. It's a character picture that we're seeing here. And it's not a pretty picture in either of them, very frankly. Although we appreciate the fact that Jacob recognizes the importance of this role, we're disappointed in the fact that he seems willing to lie to his own father and to cheat his own brother in order to achieve the role. And so what we're seeing here is Moses displaying for us a picture of these two men.

And once again, isn't it interesting, the Bible never attempts to cover over the sins of even the great saints. If we were writing the Bible, we’d make it so Abraham had no flaws and Isaac had no flaws and Jacob had no flaws. But God wrote the Bible and by inspiration He tells us the whole biography, warts and all. And it's a testimony, isn't it, to the truthfulness of God's word. If you were going to fabricate a Bible you wouldn't write it the way that it's written. God tells us even the hard things. Now, in this culture, the birthright normally belonged to the first born. It is true that in this culture a birthright could be lost. You remember Reuben lost his birthright because of his sin. So you could lose a birthright. And we also know that you could trade a birthright. We are told, for instance, in other documents that one brother was able to purchase a birthright from his brother for three sheep. These were apparently relatively poor folks of modest means and an adopted brother purchased a birthright from a natural brother for three sheep. Now in comparison with that, men of modest means, think of what Jacob offered for the birthright. He was the son of a very wealthy man. He offered a bowl of soup, not even three sheep. And the thing about it is that Esau takes it. He shows no regard for the birthright. He shows no sense of its significance; no care for it. He just doesn't care. It's part and parcel of the character that Moses has been revealing to us. In this incident there's a commentary on the two men. Esau is a man who does not value the things of God; he does not value the things of the promises; he does not value things of the future. Listen to what Larry Richards says about him: “He was a man who valued the present rather than the future. The material rather than the invisible. The momentary satisfaction of physical desires seemed more important to him than the approval of God. The body, not the spirit, dominated his scale of values.”

Now we who live in a materialistic society ought to be careful about casting stones at Esau. We probably ought to be asking ourselves, have we been tempted to value temporal blessings over eternal blessings and to seek material prosperity before and above spiritual prosperity. This tale is a devotional reminder to us to examine our own hearts.

And then there is Jacob. Jacob, who is deceiving and conniving and grasping, and God is going to take that very characteristic, his tenacity and his ambition, and He is going to whittle it down, and He is going to craft it and turn it and use it for His own purposes. So that finally Jacob will not be a man who strives for himself, for his own agenda and for his own gains, but he will strive with God for God's blessing. And God will take that very vice of Jacob, and He’ll turn it into a virtue by His trying graces.

Now I've said that the third section of this passage is connected to the second section. We said that God chose Jacob before he and Esau were born. And then when we see Jacob and Esau in verses 27 through 34, we see two men, both of whom were sinners. Now this teaches us a lesson, doesn't it. God did not choose Jacob because he was good. Jacob became good because God chose him. And Moses writes it down for you here so that you will learn the lesson of the apostle Paul.

God's choice was so that His grace would triumph, not our works. Jacob's works did not purchase for him the love of God. It was the love of God which crafted Jacob into a man of God after many, many years of trials and tribulations. And so we see here the electing purposes of God working in a man who is very sinful and very unworthy. But who one day will be the prince of God in a man named Israel. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we bow before Your sovereignty and we acknowledge that You are the providential ruler of heaven and earth and You rule our lives. When we have a hard time making sense of what is going on, when our hearts are filled with the anxiety of Rebekah, teach us to seek You in prayer and teach us O Lord, that Your ways are not our ways, and that we ought to be able to trust You, for we ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.