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Birthright

Date: Jul. 29, 2018

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Genesis 25:19-34

Key Verse: Genesis 25:23

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."

On Thursday, while eating dinner, my kids mentioned that they were going to have a movie day on Friday. You see, Liz has been watching them during the day under the week and they were going to watch a movie. They were going to watch The Land Before Time. It is an older movie from 1988 and I have fond memories of it when I was a kid. My aunt took me to the dollar show to see the movie and sometime afterwards, I think my parents bought me a stuffed animal of the one of the main characters Littlefoot. So, when my kids were talking about the movie, I remembered that stuffed animal and just before bed, I found it and showed it to the kids. Lukey asked if he could have it and I told him he could, if he took really good care of it. Ella wanted Littlefoot, too, but there is only one of him, but I did show her a stuffed animal that was even more precious to me, one that I had since I was two, Tickle. These were just some old toys of mine, but I had fond memories attached to them. They were kind of like a part of their inheritance or their birthright. They were something that I could pass on to my children, and, maybe, they could even pass on to theirs, if they survive that long. I bring all this up because I want to talk about this idea of birthrights and inheritance. In this passage, we see the promise that started with Abraham get passed down the generations to his grandson as an inheritance or birthright.

Last week, Mike talked about Abraham’s legacy, the impact that Abraham had on successive generations leading up to the arrival of Jesus. Part of God’s promise was that all peoples would be blessed through Abraham. That happened because Jesus, Abraham’s descendant, was the promised Messiah who would come to save the whole world from sin. It wouldn’t matter if you were related to Abraham or not, salvation would be freely offered. That promise that was given to Abraham was inherited by Isaac, the son of the promise. Not only was Isaac part of the promise, but he was the heir of the promise. Last week, we saw the death of Abraham and the impact he had. It was a fitting end to Abraham’s life, but chronologically, this passage begins prior to the last one. Abraham died at the age of one hundred seventy-five, when Isaac was seventy-five years old, but this passage begins when Isaac was forty. The break is here because of a narrative reason. Last week saw the end of Abraham’s story in the last passage and, in this passage, we see the beginning of Isaac’s story. Isaac is kind of an in between story. His narrative is between that of his father and his son, both of whose stories are far lengthier than that of Isaac’s.

Our passage starts out, “This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.” (19-20) This is the introduction to a new section. The focus in this part is Isaac, the son of Abraham. We saw in the last passage, Isaac would be the one to inherit all of Abraham’s property and money. The other sons would receive gifts, but Isaac was the heir. None of those other sons are mentioned again, their resultant tribes sometimes are, but they themselves are no longer mentioned. The Bible turns its focus on to Isaac and his family line. Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn through the servant Hagar and Isaac was second-born, but God chose Isaac to be the child of promise even before he was born. And, again, in this passage, we see God choosing one brother over the other, even before they are born.

Before those kids could be born, there was a problem, “Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.” (21) Just like his mother, Isaac’s wife had difficulty in getting pregnant. We find out a little later that this lasted for twenty years. Isaac married Rebekah when he was forty, but they weren’t able to have children until he was sixty. It must have been a difficult time for them. At the time, the greatest measure of a woman was how many children she could provide for her husband. Rebekah had difficulty having children and her worth was in question, at least it could be in her mind. Thankfully, Isaac was a better husband than that. In fact, Isaac prayed for this wife because she was childless. Isaac took his wife’s problem and made it his own. He cared for and love his wife and the Lord answered his prayer. Rebekah became pregnant.

It was a momentous occasion, a time of joy, but it was also a time of freaking out. The passage continues, “The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord.” (22) Rebekah was pregnant with twins, but she didn’t know it. The babies jostled each other. It was like they were fighting in the womb and it was freaking out Rebekah. Now, I am not a woman and have never felt a baby inside me but fighting babies would freak me out too. She had no idea what was going on. Rebekah didn’t even know that she was carrying twins, all she knew was that there was a lot of movement going on in her womb. Instead of just freaking out about it, Rebekah also decided to ask God about it.

She inquired of the Lord, and the Lord’s response is pretty direct. “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.’” (23) God told Rebekah that she had twins and called them two nations and two peoples. God told her that one people would be stronger and the older will serve the younger. These kids would not be identically the same. One would be stronger, and that strength would carry over down their descendants. However, the Lord also mentioned that the older would serve the younger. This is unusual, because the older is usually the one who receives the biggest portion of the birthright and is usually in charge. The oldest sibling is the one that’s the boss, at least that is what my oldest tries to do. Here, however, the order is reversed, the older serves the younger. It is a reversal of the traditional order. Rebekah’s children would be twins, born only moments apart, but they could still only be born one at a time. One would still have the greater inheritance and birthright and traditionally that was the older, but God says that it would be the younger.

“When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.” (24-26) Like it was mentioned earlier, Rebekah gave birth to twins. The first one to come out was red and his whole body was covered in hair. His skin was very red. You know my two boys are hairy, they have hair on their backs already, but that pales in comparison to Esau. It says that his whole body was like a hairy garment. This baby was hairier that most full-grown men. Rebekah gave birth to a Wookie, and they named him Esau, which possibly means “hairy”. Although, if you ask me, they should have named him Chewbacca. His brother’s defining characteristic was that he was grasping Esau’s heel. Now, if you know anything about babies being born, they are supposed to come out head first, but the other baby came out hand first, holding on to Esau. He was grasping at Esau’s heel, so they named him Jacob, which means “he grasps the heel”. That is an interesting name, but “he grasps the heel” is also a Hebrew saying that means “he deceives”. Esau may have been called “hairy”, but Jacob was called “deceiver”.

Physically the boys were different, and the same was said for their personalities. “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.” (27) Esau became a hunter, a man of the open country. He was a man’s man and let the hair on his chest show, in part because there was so much of it, it could not be stopped. Esau went out into the country and hunted like a man would. He was rough around the edges and would look at home on a package of Brawny paper towels. Jacob was different. It was said that he was content to stay home among the tents. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he did things around the tents, but that he took care of the farming and caring for the flocks. A man of the open country has no problem spending days in the hunt in the great outdoors, but Jacob liked his bed and wanted to return to it every night. Jacob enjoyed a more comfortable life.

The differences among the boys didn’t go unnoticed by their parents and they each developed a preference. “Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (28) Isaac preferred his son Esau over Jacob, while Rebekah preferred Jacob. Isaac loved the meat that Esau brought in from his hunts, while Rebekah preferred the quieter, less hairy, Jacob. This would play a part in a later narrative, but it is brought up here to show the difference in how each parent would treat each son.

However, in this passage, the parents do not come into play. Instead, we see an interaction between the two brothers, “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.)” (29-30) Jacob was cooking up some stew, apparently some lentil stew, when Esau came rushing in. He had come in from the open country, perhaps from a hunting trip, but he was famished. For all his skill in hunting, Esau was unable to kill any game on this trip, so he was hungry and not thinking straight. He demanded that his brother give him some of the red stew he was making and by his demands, Esau earned a nickname Edom, which means “red”. He was now Red because of his skin tone and the demand for the stew.

Being the good brother, Jacob responds, “First sell me your birthright.” (31) Ok, I don’t know how hungry Esau was, but selling your birthright for a bowl of stew seems like a bit of a reach. It seems to come out of nowhere, but perhaps Esau has a history of thinking with his stomach and Jacob has been ratcheting up his demands until this point. We don’t know how old they were at this point, so something like this could have been going on for years, leading up to this point. We learn that Jacob is an opportunist and is willing to play the long game in order to get what he wants, so it is entirely possible that Jacob and Esau had been doing this for a while, with escalating stakes, until arriving at this point.

“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” (32) Esau was also prone to exaggeration. He said he was about to die. I highly doubt that was an accurate statement. If he were so weak, that he was about to die, he wouldn’t have stormed in, making demands. But, Esau did have a point, if he were about to die, then what good is the birthright to him? You don’t need a birthright or inheritance if you are about to die. What would you do with it? Bring it to the tomb with you? If you could do that, then your parents probably would have done it too. At any rate, Esau saw his current predicament as greater than any long-term issue. It was more important to take care of an immediate need than to ensure any long-term solutions. It is a concept that is very common today. People have so many immediate needs that it is hard to think about the future. All of our money goes into surviving life right now that savings accounts and retirement planning is minimal. We carry debt and don’t think about the days years from now. It is bad enough that many people who have retired have to get another job because they have not saved up enough to live.

Jacob, however, pushed on in his endeavor. “But Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.” (33) Jacob made Esau swear an oath concerning the birthright, and Esau did. He put his immediate need over that of his future. Now, I highly doubt that this oath was legally binding. It was probably closer to a pinky promise or one of those promises where you spit in your hand and shake on it. Jacob wasn’t forceful about it. He didn’t pull out his Batman voice and say, “Swear to me”. Jacob was a plotter and enticed Esau to do so and his did. Jacob gave Esau some of the stew, and he ate it and left. It was an inconsequential meal, like most of our meals, but it had a profound impact.

The passage ends with, “So Esau despised his birthright.” (34) It might seem like a stretch to say that Esau despised his birthright, but think about it, he just sold his birthright to his brother for a bowl of lentil stew. I hope that was some phenomenal stew. There are some hundred-dollar burgers out there and they had better be the most outstanding meal to cost that much. They had better be life changing in order to be worth so much. A birthright is worth more than a hundred dollars, so this must have been the most expensive bowl of lentils in all of history. If he valued his birthright at all, then Esau would not have sold it. You only sell the things you don’t like for so little. You find no value, so you think you get a good deal.

Now, we can think of this birthright in a couple of ways. One way is the material inheritance. The oldest would usually get the majority of the wealth, like the gold and silver, servants, and flocks and herds, when the father passes away. We saw this with Isaac, he was the sole heir, while the other sons of Abraham just received nice parting gifts. That is one way with the birthright. The other is the spiritual aspect. Isaac was the inheritor of the God’s promise to Abraham, and the birthright, here, is to also accept God’s promise as an inheritance. It’s wasn’t just stuff that Esau was selling, he was selling God’s promise. Esau didn’t just despise the stuff we would get from Isaac, he was despising God’s promise and despising God.

And, yet, God knew that this was going to happen. God knew that Esau would not find any value in God and throw away this promise. When they were still in the womb, the Lord said that the older would serve the younger. This means that the younger would get the birthright, not the older. Before they were born, God chose Jacob over Esau. It wasn’t because Jacob was better than Esau. Esau despised God and his promise, but Jacob was a deceiver, neither of which are good qualities to look up to, but it was God’s choice to choose Jacob. It wasn’t anything that Jacob did; it was simply by the grace and sovereignty of God.

We, too, have an inheritance. Jesus came into this world so that we could be given salvation from our sins by his death on the cross. Jesus did this so that we could come into our inheritance, being heirs to the kingdom of God. Our inheritance is heaven and God himself because of Jesus. When we accept what Jesus has done for us, heaven and God become our birthright. Think about that for a second. We inherit the creator of the universe. He loves us so much that we are his and he is ours and it is not something that we can earn. We don’t have to spend the night in some haunted house, like Scooby-Doo. This inheritance is given freely to us by the love and grace of God. Jesus died for all mankind, not for a select few. It is free and open to all who accept him.

Unfortunately, there are those on both sides of the negative coin. There are some who think they are going to heaven, simply because of their parents. Their parents may be believers, but that is no guarantee that you are saved. It is our individual faith that allows us to accept the Lord’s offer. Heredity is not a means of salvation. Look at Esau. He was first. He should have been the primary heir, but God chose Jacob, the second born. It is only by God’s choice that we are saved. On the other side of the coin are the people who think that they are too bad off to come to God and be saved, but there is no one who is too far gone. We aren’t saved by merit, but by faith and grace. Our morality is not a condition to getting into heaven. It doesn’t matter what you have done. Jesus died to wipe away all of your sin, so that you could have an inheritance that does not spoil or fade but is eternal. All you need to do is believe.

That is the crux of it all. Jesus died for us without condition. He freely gave his life so that we could be saved, but there is something small that we have to do, believe it. We have to accept that we are sinners in need of salvation and accept that Jesus came to take away the sin of the world, to make us as pure as freshly fallen snow. That’s it. There are no tests. There are no stipulations, no conditions of any kind. You don’t need to show any special talent or break out any dance moves. You just need to believe with every fiber of your being.

Unfortunately, if we don’t accept it and don’t believe, we end up like Esau and despise the birthright. When we don’t believe, we despise God. It was his plan to save us, but if we brush it off and say, “Nah, I’m good.” Then we despise everything that God stands for. We would be slapping God and spitting in his face. Who refuses a gift? Only someone who despises the gift and the gift giver. In both cases, the gift and gift giver is God.

God is giving us everything by making us heirs with Christ. Jesus is God’s Son, but because of Jesus, we get the same inheritance as him. We are all sinners. We have all done things that are wrong. There are things that we regret. Jacob was a deceiver, a name shared by the devil, but God still chose him to inherit the birthright of God’s promise of salvation. Jesus came to save all of us from our sins, if we only repent and turn to him. We need to take that regret and give it to God and believe that Jesus died on the cross for each and every one of us. If we don’t we become like Esau and despise the birthright. But when we believe, we become heirs of his heavenly kingdom and live a new life in the arms of our creator.

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Amos 6:1-14

Key Verse: 6:8b

The Lord GOD has sworn by himself, declares the LORD, the God of hosts:

  “I abhor the pride of Jacob
    and hate his strongholds,
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