Genesis 25:19 – 34 Esau and Jacob
God calls Abraham into covenant and made the promise of descendants and called the nation to faithflness and the story unfolds telling the dramatic story of this family, this nation.
The story is at times murky – many families have what is sometimes called “skeletons in the closet” – things that aren’t talked about in polite company. Abraham fathered at least eight sons by three women. We know of Ishmael and his mother, the Egyptian slave Hagar. Then there’s Isaac who was born to Sarah. We read that after Sarah died, Abraham married Keturah, with whom he fathered six more sons. But Keturah’s family stories screech to an abrupt halt.
The covenant relationship splutters along, stalls, nearly careers off the rails due to the rather awkward lack of descendants a couple of times. But through it all God is present and active.
The story can simply be enjoyed as a rattling good yarn and with the knowledge that it is a story within a larger story that is one of faith. It is a story that can be enjoyed for its own sake, a sprawling messy, family saga.
Having dealt with Abraham and Sara and the wondrous birth of Isaac today we leap over that generation of Isaac and Rebekah and are already onto the commencement of the next generation of Esau and Jacob. Rereading this story it occurs to me again how small a part Isaac plays in the book of Genesis. This long awaited man appears and then quickly passes through the story before it settles on son (s) particularly Jacob who came to be known as Israel.
In today’s language we would describe this family as a“dysfunctional family.” We mean the way Abraham drives one wife and son out of the family home, and nearly sacrifices another. But we also mean the tensions without other members of the family. And this is a frequent theme in bible stories; especially tensions between siblings.
brothers or sisters. The narratives of Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Leah and Rachel, and finally Joseph and his brothers help us reflect on the possibility of a common life between beings who are similar and yet different, where it is not always easy to get along together and where jealousy is always a menace
So a couple of points to emerge. First, it is more than a bit of a relief that God can use broken, stumbling, less than squeaky clean individuals and families. We no longer have to pretend we or our families have got it all together. We are all “under construction”. Story of spending hours in youth hall putting together tt table. Groan when mate opened the box and saw the whole things in pieces. “Normally it comes virtually constructed”.
One of the more negative images Christians seem to have projected in the wider community is of being self righteous, judgemental, holier than thou, in a way that does not attract people who knew only full well they are struggling, that they do not measure up to those standards, and therefore fear if I was to show my face I would not be accepted , or at least not until I have changed and smartened up. Its like some church have a big container at the front entrance saying leave all you frustration, shortcomings, failuress, here and you can collect them on your way out but we don’t want them in our worship service.
Most feedback I have ever got on one of my sermons was the day I had to confess at the start of the sermon how I felt very conflicted. Because there I was standing up in front of 100 people about to deliver the word of the Lord (hopefully!) but I was a meeting ball of anguish inside. Why? Because there had been raised voices, angry words, possibly even a smack or two delivered to the children that morning. I was not the serene, got his act together person I was pretending to be at that moment and it ate me up. I can’t remember exactly what had happened. I do get a bit tense on Sunday mornings, probably even more so in the early ministerial days. And the kids were little, probably dawdled getting dressed, spilled food on their SS clothes, Who knows now, but I do remember the feeling of shame, hypocirisy, so I let it out worried that people may think less of me and the reverse happened. Never have I had so many people come up to and confess that they too felt the same. One said, just last week my wife and i had an argument in the car on the way to church, but we got out and pretended all was well. I always feel inadequate, like everyone else’s life is so much more together than mine. Why do we do this to ourselves and to each other? Not to say we are not committed to growing, improving, striving… but we are all a work in progress.
Second point complements the first and perhaps goes even further. First point is, that God is not shut out by our brokenness, unfaithfulness, waywardness. God can work with it and through it. Second, that God’s way in the world will very often have something to do with inverting the normal pattern of prestige, priority, authority. We see it quite clearly in the Esau and Jacob story unfolding. You see Jacob on more than one occasion was a cheat and a fraudster. Jacob is a schemer, he is good at tricking and manipulating situations and people. He can almost get people to say whatever he wants them to say by being smart with words.
Jack and Max are walking home from a religious service. Jack wonders whether it would be all right to smoke while praying. “Why don’t you ask the priest?” asks Max. So Jack goes up to the priest. “Father, may I smoke while I pray?” “No, my son,” says the priest. “You may not. That’s utter disrespect to our religion.”
Jack tells Max what the priest said.
“I’m not surprised,” says Max. “You asked the wrong question.”
So Max goes up to the priest. “Father, may I pray while I smoke?” “By all means, my son.” says the priest. “By all means. Pray anytime, anywhere! Pray without ceasing.” Moral: The reply you get depends on the question you
Embarrassingly he also happens to be God’s chosen instrument.
Parents sometimes can hardly believe they have children who turn out so differently. How can it be two or three or maybe even four people have the same parents and got raised in same home – and turned out so different. So it is with today’s twins. Any twins here? The babies born to Isaac and Rebekah are twins but everything about Esau and Jacob is contrasted. As the twins are born Jacob grips the heel of Esau, foreshadowing his desire to grasp what belongs to his brother. From then on they are contrasted at every point: one becomes a hunter, the other a ‘quiet man’; one an outdoors type, the other more fond of indoors. Esau is impetuous and strong willed, Jacob more reflective and thoughtful. Even the love of their parents is divided between them (v. 28). The intriguing little tale of how Jacob took advantage of Esau’s hunger to get him to give up his birthright, the portion of inheritance belonging to the oldest child (vv. 29-34), heightens the divisions. Esau despises what is a privilege and coveted by Jacob.
All this sets the scene for the reversal in relations and closeness these two brothers experience. This is prefigured in Yahweh’s speech to Rebekah – the elder, Esau, will serve the younger Jacob (25:23). Jacob will inherit the things due to his older twin, and for those who know the continuance of this saga they will recollect Joseph will later ascend over his older brothers which also became a sore point for them. The way Yahweh will work out his promise will not be in accord with human power, political, social or religious assumptions. David the little shepherd boy is not even considered as a possible candidate for king, but is anointed as the great future leader. The widow’s mite – that is the smallest offering – is upheld by Jesus as the greater gift because the woman gave in her scarcity not her abundance.
All this of course is a major theme when Jesus came preaching. He said things like, The first will be last and the last first; a child will lead the godly into the Kingdom and you must become as a child, the poor and sinful will enter the Kingdom ahead of many who think of themselves righteous, God uses what is despised and foolish in human eyes, even, and supremely, an outcast dying on a cross.
So God can use you and me.